Friday, December 1, 2017

Honduras on brink of political crisis (Dec. 1, 2017)

Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández has a slight lead in the ongoing vote count for last Sunday's election. As of yesterday evening, Hernández was up by 46,586 votes over challenger Salvador Nasralla. Hernández had 42.9 percent of the vote to Nasralla's 41.4 percent. 

Last night the electoral commission (TSE) said it would be hand counting the remaining votes -- irregular ballots -- before party representatives, reports El Heraldo. The manual process is expected to extend throughout today. International observers are also invited to attend, reports La Prensa.

The questioned votes number about 300,000, enough to turn the election results, according to Honduras Culture and Politics. Calls from the OAS and the European Union to finish counting all the votes before declaring an official winner were surprisingly supported by the COHEP, the Honduran council of private enterprise, notes the blog.

The delayed results have led to increasing political tensions and allegations of fraud, notes Reuters. The country is "teetering on the brink of its worst political crisis since the 2009 military coup," according to the Guardian.

While the TSE blamed technical glitches for the long counting process, critics say they are fraudulently countering an early trend in favor of Nasralla. TSE officials also said protests outside their Tegucigalpa offices forced them to evacuate when tear gas entered the building, reports the Associated Press.

Riot police clashed with Nasralla supporters yesterday, reports the BBC. There are reports of one death and several injuries after protesters burned tires and threw rocks at security forces who threw tear gas, reports the Guardian.

One of the four magistrates on the electoral tribunal said yesterday that the TSE system had been hacked, after the system fell down early Thursday morning. He called for an independent audit of the  Other officials said it was a technical glitch.

Regardless of who actually wins Honduras' contested election, the real winner will likely be iron fist security policies, argues InSight Crime, pointing to a regional trend of weak presidents turning towards the popular (though ultimately ineffective) approach. "The unsteady footing with which either presidential hopeful will enter office makes it likely that hard-line security strategies, which produce short term results and build political cache, will continue."
News Briefs
  • Representatives of the Venezuelan government and the opposition are meeting in the Dominican Republic today for negotiations aimed at resolving the country's ever more entrenched political crisis. Geoff Ramsey at Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights reviews what is known about the talks that will take place over the next few days. Each side has chosen three countries to accompany: Bolivia, Nicaragua and St. Vincent and the Grenadines in the case of the government, while the opposition has asked Chile, Mexico, and Paraguay to join. Despite schisms within the opposition MUD alliance, most of the opposition-controlled National Assembly voted in support of the negotiations this week. And seven opposition parties, including the four most important, back the talks, reports Efecto Cocuyo. Optimism, however, is in short supply, and few believe the negotiations will lead to a breakthrough, according to Reuters. If history is a guide, the opposition is at a disadvantage, writes Miguel Ángel Santos, in a New York Times Español op-ed. The opposition leadership is under real threat in Venezuela, and many who would have participated are in detention or exile.  “The meeting in the Dominican Republic coincides with one of the darkest hours of the opposition,” he argues. “On the one hand, they come from losing the elections for governors, an overwhelming and disconcerting defeat whose causes still have not been processed or clearly communicated. This failure has split it in three pieces: those who are willing to live with the regime in exchange for certain parcels of regional power, those who still believe in a negotiated electoral exit, and those who do not believe in negotiations or elections in the current conditions.” Nonetheless, the opposition has laid out clear objectives for the talks, explains Ramsey, including establishing conditions for free and fair presidential elections next year. They are also aiming for the government to accept offers of international aid, release political prisoners, and recognize the legitimate constitutional authority of the National Assembly.
  • This was a pretty bad year for Venezuela overall, reports Reuters, in a review of 2017. “Going into a fourth year of crippling recession, Venezuela’s 30 million people found themselves skipping meals, suffering shortages of basic foods and medicines, jostling in lines for ever-scarcer subsidized goods, unable to keep up with dizzying inflation rates, and emigrating in ever larger numbers.
  • Two former top Venezuelan oil officials were arrested in relation to corruption allegations, just days after they were replaced by military appointments, reports the BBC. Critics say the corruption probe is an attempt by the government to consolidate power ahead of next year’s elections, reports the Associated Press. (See Tuesday's briefs.)
  • Of the 755 people who died violently in Caracas between May and September of this year, 280 parents left behind children under 18 years of age. The cases of murdered parents correspond to the most violent municipalities in Caracas, according to a Victims Monitor project carried out by and Caracas Mi Convive. "With precise data and names, the Victim’s Monitor registry tries to visualize those invisible victims of the homicides that take place in Caracas. Most of these victims are children and adolescents who do not receive any assistance from the government, and aren’t the focus of protective public policies," reports (English translation at InSight Crime.)
  • A Venezuelan creditors meeting in London this week was attended by sovereign debt advisors, a concrete sign that bond holders are strategizing together, reports Reuters.
  • A coalition of Chilean leftist parties refrained from outright endorsing Alejandro Guillier for next month’s run-off election, though they called on him to clarify his social and economic policies, reports Reuters.
  • A German court decided to take the case of a Peruvian farmer against an energy giant in relation to climate change in the Andes. The court said the case was well founded, reports AFP. The prosecution argues that RWE, one of the world’s top emitters of climate-altering carbon dioxide, must share in the cost of protecting farmer Saul Luciano Lliuya's hometown from a glacial lake that threatens to overflow as a result of global warming.
  • Washington opposition has only strengthened Bolivia's president's resolve to run for office again. President Evo Morales said U.S. concern over a Constitutional Court decision permitting eliminating term limits actually convinced him to run, reports Reuters. "I was not so determined; now I am determined," he said at a Cochabamba event. Protesters opposed to the ruling, which cannot be appealed, clashed with security forces yesterday. (See Wednesday's briefs.)
  • An in-depth New York Times Magazine piece this week profiles a member of El Salvador's street gangs. (See yesterday's briefs.) His "comments showcase the cycle of violence that still persists in El Salvador and how the country’s gangs use it to their advantage," according to InSight Crime's analysis. "The gangs not only use violence as a bargaining chip, but also to wield political power."
  • Mexico's newly launched PRI presidential candidate José Antonio Meade lags behind front-runner, leftist Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) by about 14 percentage points, reports Reuters. Meade, who has a technocratic profile and a politically independent history is polling at 17 percent intent to vote, while AMLO has 31 percent. (See Tuesday's briefs.)
  • A new report from the University of Texas found that human smuggling routes through Mexico have shifted, and are increasingly relying on cargo trucks along less travelled routes. The switch, aimed at eluding increased crackdowns on migrants transiting through Mexico, has led to an increase in migrant deaths, reports InSight Crime.
  • Argentina's navy officially abandoned rescue attempts for the 44-person crew of a submarine that went missing two weeks ago. The efforts are now focused on recovering the presumed wreck, reports the BBC. Relatives of the crew are angry at what they call misleading information aimed at keeping hopes alive in the initial days after the submarine disappeared, reports the Guardian.
  • A beautiful op-ed by Malvinas War veteran Roberto Herrscher in the New York Times Español recounts the long path of the hundreds of unidentified Argentine soldiers buried in the Falklands, who are now being identified. "From Antigone's stubborn quest to give a proper burial to her brother Polyneices who died fighting against the dictator in ancient Greece, putting names on the tombs of the dead is a sign of humanity and civilization. In Puerto Berrío in Colombia, in Iguala in Mexico, in Rabinal in the mountains of Guatemala, and in Franquismo's common graves in Spain, the families of the disappeared continue seeking to identify their own." (My translation does not do it justice.)

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