Monday, December 18, 2017

OAS calls for new Honduran election, Piñera wins in Chile, impeachment proceedings started against PPK (Dec. 18, 2017)

President Juan Orlando Hernández was officially declared the winner of Honduras' elections. Hours later, the OAS called for new elections, saying the vote carried out last month was of "low technical quality," plagued by irregularities and lacking integrity, reports the Guardian

This morning security forces dispersed protesters in Tegucigalpa with tear gas, reports Reuters.

The electoral commission, which is controlled by government allies said Hernándz had won by about 50,000 votes over the opposition candidate, Salvador Nasralla. Yesterday's announcement came after a call by OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro to hold back on the announcement, after the an electoral observer mission criticized the quality of the election. 

The OAS report described irregularities - including deliberate human intrusions in the electoral computer system, pouches of votes opened or lacking votes, and “extreme” improbability around voting patterns it analyzed, reports Reuters.

In what could be a sign of an escalating fight between the OAS and the Honduran government, a top presidential advisor Almagro of violating the observation mission’s protocols and of "generating more violence," reports the New York Times. He also said Almagro had schemed with Nasralla to steal the election.

An analysis for the OAS by Georgetown University professor Irfan Nooruddin found that "the difference in vote patterns between early- and late-reporting polling stations shows marked changes that raises questions as to the accuracy of the late-reported returns. ... The differences are too large to be generated by chance and are not easily explicable, raising doubts as to the veracity of the overall result."

However, both the OAS and the European Union electoral observer missions noted that there were no significant differences between the tally sheets held by the political parties and those counted by the electoral commission.

The vote count following the Nov. 26 election was highly questioned by opposition parties. Protests repressed by security forces led to 17 deaths. Nasralla is in Washington D.C. and is meeting the US State Department, the OAS and organizations of civil society. He said he will present evidence of alleged fraud.

News Briefs
  • Sebastián Piñera won Chile's presidential election yesterday. The former president obtained 54.57 percent of the votes to his opponent's 45.23 percent, reports Reuters. Piñera's margin over Senator Alejandro Guillier was wider than expected in recent days. Piñera's win forms part of a right-ward trend in regional politics. The election itself was viewed as a referendum of sorts on the government of current President Michelle Bachelet. Though neither candidate represented a major shift in the country's free-market friendly model, Piñera is an investor favorite and is seen as more pro-miner. In addition to the left-right wing narrative, the Chilean election represents a light model of insider-outsider disputes that are seen in other elections coming up in the region, according to the New York Times.
  • Chilean voters are disillusioned with the country's governance -- though it is considered an international success story, high inequality means that for the average Chilean "wages and pensions are low, living expenses high, and basic public services — particularly health care and education — of poor quality. Adding to voters’ concerns, economic growth has been sluggish in recent years because of a drop in prices for copper, a major export," reports the Washington Post.
  • Peruvian political parties agreed on Friday to start impeachment proceedings against President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski (PPK). Analysts expect he will be ousted by the opposition-led Congress on Thursday -- though according to La Republica only the Fujimorista Fuerza Popular is determined to advance with the impeachment. The president is accused of failing to disclose payments made by Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht to a consulting firm he owned. PPK denies wrongdoing and has refused to step down, calling the move an "assault against the democratic order," yesterday. He has promised to open his bank accounts to inspection. (See Friday's post.) PPK also linked the move to impeach him to Fujimorista efforts to oust head prosecutor Pablo Sánchez, reports La República. (See post for Nov. 22.)  Critics say nearly $5 million in payments were made to a company he directed, and one owned by a business partner, during the time PPK served as finance and prime minister in the government of Alejandro Toledo (2001-2006). The Guardian quotes investigative journalist Gustavo Gorriti, who said: “The president has worn down the truth repeatedly," and that at least one payment was made while PPK served on the cabinet. Neither of the country's two vice presidents would open the door to new elections by resigning in the event of PPK's ouster, reported Reuters last night. If PPK is impeached, First Vice President Martin Vizcarra would immediately replace him. New elections would be called if Vizcarra and Second Vice President Mercedes Araoz resigned. "We’re going to ensure that this government continues in power. Peru elected the three of us and both of us vice presidents are going to defend our mandate," Araoz told Reuters. And Odebrecht has said that the payments made to PPK do not form part of the vast web of corrupt deals it made throughout the region in exchange for public works contracts, reports Reuters separately.
  • Children in Venezuela are dying of starvation in alarming rates, according to doctors in public hospitals. Though the Venezuelan government has not made malnutrition death statistics public, a five-month investigation by the New York Times gathered data from doctors around the country, who said "that their emergency rooms were being overwhelmed by children with severe malnutrition — a condition they had rarely encountered before the economic crisis began." Before the crisis, child malnutrition cases tended to stem from parental neglect or abuse, said the doctors. "But as the economic crisis began to intensify in 2015 and 2016, the number of cases of severe malnutrition at the nation’s leading pediatric health center in the capital more than tripled, doctors say. This year looks even worse." Official statistics are carefully guarded or inexistent. Doctors say they are scared to report information that could be critical of the government, and that they have been warned not to include reports of malnutrition in official records.
  • Venezuela's government and opposition leaders will resume talks aimed at resolving the country's political crisis in January, after they failed to reach an agreement on Friday, reports Reuters.
  • Venezuela's government has awarded licenses to Russian energy giant Rosneft to develop two offshore gas fields, reports the BBC.
  • Mexico's Congress passed an internal security law strengthening the military's role in battling organized crime, a measure that critics say will increase human rights abuses, reports the New York Times. Those opposed to the law say it cements the military strategy against criminal organizations, reports the Guardian. The new rule would allow the government to unilaterally militarize parts of the country, and doesn't allow for eventual handover to reformed police forces. Advocates counter that for the past decade, the national war on drugs has been militarized without a legal framework, and that the new law aims to rectify the situation. Critics especially criticize the lack of civilian oversight over military troops that would be carrying out internal security under the new law. The United Nations high commissioner for human rights, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, and the United Nations special rapporteur on arbitrary executions, along with other United Nations experts, also raised concerns.
  • Leftist Mexican presidential front-runner Andrés Manuel López Obrador entered into a polemic coalition with the Social Encounter Party (PES), a tiny party with religious roots that pushes an anti-gay and anti-abortion agenda, reports Reuters. Analysts say it could provide him with votes needed to win in next year's election, but the alliance is provoking cracks in his progressive base.
  • U.S. President Donald Trump's stance against Cuba is strengthening the hand of Havana hardliners who seek to slow down economic reform and rapprochement with Washington, write Fulton Armstrong and William M. LeoGrande at the AULA blog. "Cuba has long been adept at dealing with U.S. sanctions and pressure, so Trump’s policies are more an irritant than a threat, but the effect they have in Havana is to slow the implementation of changes that would improve the standard of living of ordinary citizens and to reduce the willingness of Cuba’s leaders to engage with Washington in ways that would serve the interests of both countries."
  • Bolivian President Evo Morales will run for a fourth consecutive term -- he was officially nominated ruling Movement Toward Socialism (MAS) party on Sunday, reports EFE.
  • Paraguayan Senator Mario Abdo Benitez, a lawmaker with ties to a former Paraguayan dictator, won the ruling Colorado Party’s presidential primary yesterday. The result is a rebuke to President Horacio Cartés of the same party, reports Reuters.
  • Brazil's Workers' Party formally supported former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva's presidential run for next year, despite a conviction of corruption that could hinder his candidacy, reports Reuters.
  • Brazilian police and prosecutors successfully stopped a scheme to illegally export precious hardwoods from the Amazon to China. Two Chinese entrepreneurs apparently agreed to pay a Brazilian company $15 million dollars (and had already paid $3 million) in order to export 50,000 sq meters of wood, reports the Guardian. That company then bribed environmental authorities in order to launder the illicit wood as "sustainably harvested." Authorities say they saved the state from $30 million worth of potential environmental damage.
  • Colombia’s leftist ELN rebels said on Sunday they are willing to extend a ceasefire set to expire next month if there is sufficient progress at peace talks with the government, reports Reuters.
  • Argentine judge Claudio Bonadio's accusations of treason and arrest for former President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and members of her government of the federal judiciary's offensive against the former administration, "a sort of selective mani pulite," writes José Natanson in a New York Times Español op-ed. He reviews the case against Fernández, noting that much of the evidence is frail and the interpretations forced. He criticizes the institutional design of the federal justice system, which concentrates discretional power in the hands of few judges. As a result of their clout, successive administrations have discarded reform projects. "Warned of the risks, government prefer to reach implicit coexistence agreements rather than facedown a handful of powerful judges that habitually sleep with their fingers on the trigger."
  • The former head of Interpol has denounced Bonadio's accusation that he colluded in an alleged coverup of Iranians suspected of masterminding a 1994 terrorist attack in Buenos Aires. American Ronald K. Noble vehemently rejected the accusation and countered that the judge has brought forth a poorly investigated case, reports the New York Times
  • A mudslide in near Chaiten in Chile killed five people and left 15 missing, reports Reuters. Bachelet declared the area a disaster zone.
  • On the region's right-ward swing: In an interview with EFE, the executive secretary of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) said the conservative shift in countries like Brazil, Argentina, Peru and Paraguay has prioritized economic growth without giving up social progress.

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