Monday, February 5, 2018

Ecuador's voters back Moreno, term limits (Feb. 5, 2018)

Ecuadoreans voted to reinstate presidential term limits, a political win for current President Lenín Moreno and a blow for his predecesor Rafael Correa. The referendum undoes a 2015 constitutional amendment pushed by Correa that permitted indefinite presidential reelection. Presidents are now limited to one reelection, reports the New York Times

More broadly, the results back Moreno after he won the presidency by a slim majority last year. About 64 percent of voters backed the rollback of the term-limit amendment. Correa warned the result would be political instability, reports the Associated Press. He argued that the 34 percent vote against rolling back the term limit amendment demonstrated that his political force remains the most dominant in the country. Both Moreno and Correa came from the same party, which has been divided since the two have feuded over the legacy of the "Citizens' Revolution," reports the Miami Herald.

A majority of voters around backed Moreno in all seven of the referendum questions posed to them several of which also angled against Correa administration reforms, such as political ineligibility for officials convicted of corruption, and another that gives Moreno more control of a citizen council that has authority over national institutions. Another key Correa reform that was eliminated is a capital gains tax on real estate. Other questions that were backed by voters included eliminating the statute of limitations for prosecution of sexual crimes committed against minors and prohibition of metal mining in protected areas. El Comercio has the full results.

Moreno promised the National Assembly will quickly advance on the legal reforms required to enact the referendum questions, reports El Tiempo.

A key issue in the election has been the debt taken on by the Correa administrations, between 2007 and 2017, reports the Los Angeles Times. Since taking office last year, Moreno revealed that Ecuador owed the Chinese about 500 million barrels of crude, the equivalent of three years' production. That means nearly all of this years oil production must be used to pay off debts, notes the piece.

Voters also chose to limit oil extraction in the Yasuni national park, home to 40 per cent of Ecuador’s petroleum reserves and one of the country's last uncontacted tribes, notes the Financial Times.

Most of the media reports mark that the results make Ecuador buck a recent trend of eliminating or softening term limits in the region.

Costa Rica election turns into referendum on marriage equality

Former television journalist and Pentacostal singer Fabricio Alvarado Muñoz won nearly 25 percent of the vote in Costa Rica's presidential election yesterday. The lawmaker was initially a long-shot, but was propelled to first place last month by his opposition to an international court ruling that obliges countries in the region to implement same-sex marriage. (See Jan. 10's briefs and Feb. 2's post.)

Alvarado Muñoz will face off against the ruling party candidate, former labor minister Carlos Alvarado Quesada (no relation) in an April 1 run-off. Alvarado Quesada got about 22 percent of the vote, reports the New York Times.

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights ruling was in response to an inquiry by outgoing president, Luis Guillermo Solís, but the ruling also applies to some 20 countries that acknowledge the court’s jurisdiction. The decision demonstrated the conservatism of Costa Ricans, most of whom disapprove of the directive. 

As Alvarado Quesada supports the ruling, the run-off will effectively turn into a referendum on the issue of gay marriage, according to Reuters. Alvarado Muñoz has called the ruling a violation of the country's sovereignty and has threatened to pull out of the regional court.

News Briefs
  • Ahead of his ongoing LatAm tour, Tillerson warned countries in the region against trade with China, reports the New York Times. "China’s offer always comes at a price," he said in a speech at the University of Texas, Austin. "Latin America does not need new imperial powers that seek only to benefit their own people." The NYT notes that he did not mention how U.S. withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement is part of what left a vacuum for China to fill economically. (See Jan. 24's post and briefs.)
  • In the same speech, Tillerson suggested that regime change in Venezuela could be carried out by the military, reports Reuters. "In the past, "when things are so bad that the military leadership realizes that they just — they can’t serve the citizens anymore, they will manage a peaceful transition," he said according to the New York Times, which cites it as an example of poor communication with a region still sensitive about military regimes backed by the U.S.
  • But U.S. efforts to influence regional politics -- though most countries share concern regarding Venezuela -- have been undercut by President Donald Trump's rhetoric, notes the NYT. Miami Herald columnist Andrés Oppenheimer celebrates the decision to try to wrest the region away from Chinese influence. "Trouble is, you can’t win over Latin American countries if you’re constantly insulting them."
  • The U.S.'s top career diplomat, Tom Shannon announced plans to retire last week from his post as under secretary of state for political affairs. The move will make room for hardliners in the Trump administration to take a stronger stance against Venezuela and Cuba, reports the Miami Herald. His 35 years of diplomatic experience were particularly focused on Latin American, and he served as ambassador to Venezuela in the 1990's, notes the Atlantic. Shannon's diplomacy was critical in avoiding stronger U.S. sanctions against Venezuela, for example, and he argued they would be counterproductive. The move also comes amid a moment of crisis for the Foreign Service -- 60 percent of the State Departments’ top-ranking career diplomats have left and new applications to join the Foreign Service have fallen by half.
  • Disenchantment among voters in Venezuela will present a formidable obstacle to an already weakened political opposition headed into upcoming presidential elections, reports Reuters. Not only that, but the opposition is fragmented and many of its most well-known members have been barred from running, notes the piece.
  • Media outlets in Mexico are beholden to government advertising funds, a situation that complicates freedom of the press in the country. The country's Supreme Court has ordered Congress to regulate public advertising, in response to a case brought by Artículo 19, and must do so by the end of April. But the regulation will be made difficult by lack of funding and time, argues Carlos Bravo Regidor in a New York Times Español op-ed. He outlines the paradox: "The arbitrarity of public advertising has distorted the financial model of a good part of Mexican media. Given that the market of private advertising could not sustain a media system of the size of Mexico's, the industry has become dependent on the income through public advertising. That dependence, in the best of cases, leaves the media in a very vulnerable position to political pressure ... and in the worst of cases, perverts them with the incentive to become deliberately rentier." Yet eliminating public funding would also affect media viability.
  • InSight Crime interviews CICIG head Iván Velásquez, who said the U.N. backed anti-impunity commission's investigations have proved their working hypothesis: "that those in power seek total control of the state. ... So this phenomena, which isn’t just co-option of specific sectors of the government, seeks power over the state in its entirety. It’s also a problem that has developed over time, which has allowed us to come to the conclusion that corruption is not just circumstantial, or just a singular case, nor does it stem explicitly from the government or those certain people. Rather, it’s a structural issue, one that is already endemic in a corrupt system. All the things that we do to remove those who co-opt the state make those who have control of the state use everything in their power to prevent the state from being freed — that is, to prevent them from losing power, and losing their control."
  • Nicaragua's homicide rate is quite low for Central America, where El Salvador is one of the world's most violent countries. Though it has many factors in common with it's murder-prone neighbors, its success in this aspect can be traced to post-revolutionary innovative policing focused on prevention, and an anti-machista culture promoted by Sandinista women, according to The Nation
  • Brazilian Supreme Court chief justice spoke out against political criticisms of the court, in response to criticisms that judges are politically motivated, reports EFE.
  • The issue has been in vogue lately, with the extremely popular former president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, being blocked from running for president after an appeals court upheld a corruption conviction against him. "Many point to the decision as the highest example of justice being served in a country where impunity for the powerful has always been the rule," writes Alex Cuadros in the Atlantic. "But while an abundance of evidence shows that Lula received special favors from government contractors—and he still faces several other accusations of wrongdoing—legal experts with no special sympathy for him have argued that due process may have been abbreviated in order to convict him. The matter is all the more concerning given that Lula had planned another run for president this year, and is still by far the frontrunner."
  • U.S. aerospace giant Boeing wants to buy Brazilian jet-maker Embraer, but the deal is apparently opposed by the Brazilian government, which can veto change in ownership in national company, reports the New York Times
  • Lasers used from planes above the Guatemalan jungle show about 60,000 previously undiscovered Mayan structures, reports the New York Times. "The findings suggested an ancient society of such density and interconnectedness that even the most experienced archaeologists were surprised."

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