Friday, February 2, 2018

Gay marriage marks Costa Rica's presidential race (Feb. 2, 2018)

The issue of gay marriage has roiled Costa Rica's presidential campaign, ahead of voting this Sunday. The current poll leader, Evangelical Christian lawmaker Fabricio Alvarado, is trying to position the vote as a referendum on gay marriage, in response to a recent Inter-American Court of Human Rights calling on Costa Rica to legalize same-sex marriage.

Alvarado is unlikely to win outright, nor is he likely to win in an eventual run-off election, according to Reuters. However, his rhetoric has pushed other candidates to take more conservative positions.

A final poll published this week by University of Costa Rica’s Center for Research and Political Studies (CIEP) shows the race to be a statistical rollercoaster, reports Americas Society /Council of the Americas, which reviews all of the candidates. Alvarado has 17 percent, five points above PLN candidate Antonio Álvarez. If he does not make it into the second round, it will be the first time since 1953 that the party is not one of the top two vote getters in a presidential election.

The race is also marked by discontent with establishment politicians, according to the Economist. Among other factors are an increase in homicides (though the rates are still far lower than elsewhere in the region) as well as growing income inequality.

News Briefs
  • Ecuadoreans also head to the polls on Sunday, in a referendum that will ask them to weigh in on presidential term limits, among other reforms that could be rolled back. (See Tuesday's briefs and Jan 5's post.) The reinstatement of term limits would most affect former President Rafael Correa, who got rid of them in 2015, reports the Miami Herald. He has campaigned against the referendum questions, which would also undo other reforms he enacted, such as a citizen committee with power to appoint or fire the country's attorney general. The referendum is seen as a political showdown between Correa and his former vp, President Lenín Moreno. Less than a year after taking office, Moreno has broken decisively with his predecessor, in a range of policies. U.S. News and World Report notes in particular his emphasis on dialogue and a rollback of media repressive policies.
  • Peru's government should revoke the humanitarian pardon granted to former autocratic President Alberto Fujimori, Human Rights Watch said ahead of Inter-American Court of Human Rights hearing on the case. Fujimori was serving a 25-year sentence for his role in extrajudicial killings, abductions, and enforced disappearances. There are strong reasons to believe that the release was the result of a negotiation in response to growing pressure from Fujimori supporters in Congress, including a recent attempt to impeach President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski (PPK), argues HRW in an amicus brief submitted to the court. CELS and Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo also submitted an amicus curiae brief in the case, arguing that such a pardon is incompatible with human rights violations, and how the pardon generates additional vulnerabilities for the original victims of Fujimori's policies.
  • Fujimori's younger son, lawmaker Kenji Fujimori, split with his elder sister who leads the Fuerza Popular party. Kenji, whose support is surging, created a new faction in Congress with 10 dissident lawmakers, and has promised to support PPK, reports Reuters. (See yesterday's briefs.) Kenji has dubbed his group the Avengers, and told journalists that Fuerza Popular ignored his calls for internal reform after the party narrowly lost two presidential elections. 
  • Geoff Ramsey at Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights analyzes the potential avenues for a deal between Venezuela's government and the opposition -- talks will likely conclude next week, with or without an agreement. A draft version of the agreement captured in a journalist's picture seem to indicate a potential delay of elections (set to happen before April 28) and a possible recomposition of the electoral authorities -- though its not clear that these proposals, aimed at ensuring a more fair electoral process, will prosper. In yesterday's post I incorrectly said Chile had withdrawn from it's mediating role -- it has actually threatened to do so if there are no advances, notes Ramsey. 
  • U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson's Latin America tour, which started yesterday in Mexico, has a retrograde agenda focused on drugs, gangs, and illegal immigrants (with the addition of Venezuela), said the Latin America Working Group. "The United States should raise tough questions for governments of left and right, urging actions to protect human rights, strengthen the rule of law and democratic governance, and fight corruption. Instead, it seems to be a return to the past: Latin America as a threat, a rerun of the failed war on drugs, pressure for democratic change directed largely to left-wing governments, and turning back the clock on U.S. policy towards Cuba. This is accompanied by ever escalating demands to block migrants and refugees from crossing the U.S. border. We’ve seen this movie before," said Executive Directo Lisa Haugaard. (See yesterday's briefs.)
  • During the trip Tillerson will attempt to convince nervous allies in Mexico, Argentina, Peru, Colombia and Jamaica "that U.S. foreign policy is deeper and more nuanced than the sometimes hostile rhetoric emerging from the White House," according to the Los Angeles Times. The piece quotes Cynthia Arnson, director of the Latin American program at the Woodrow Wilson Center, who says Latin American agendas and Trump are out of synch in many ways.
  • U.S. Senators Marco Rubio and Bob Menendez, from both sides of the aisle, have urged Tillerson to raise the issue of potential Russian meddling in elections in the region, reports CBS News.
  • The case of Mexican teen Marco Antonio Sanchez, who disappeared for five days after being taken into police custody, has struck a chord in a country accustomed to frequent enforced disappearances, reports the Los Angeles Times. Though authorities deny wrongdoing, critics point to frequent human rights abuses by security forces and corrupt officials.
  • At least 106,000 guns coming from the U.S. were linked to crimes in Mexico between 2011 and 2016, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, cited in a new report by the Center for American Progress. Of those, 70 percent were purchased legally in the U.S. Other estimates suggest that close to 213,000 firearms are smuggled across the U.S.-Mexico border each year.
  • A controversial Bolivian law allows children as young as 10 to work, allowing families wrestling with poverty a potential lifeline. But the measure has been criticized by The United Nations, the International Labor Organization and other groups, who say it does not grant enough protections to the young workers, reports NBC News.
  • A security forces crackdown in Jamaica's Montego Bay, conducted within a recently extended state-of-emergency, focused on reducing homicides and criminal organizations. Damion Blake at the Conversation explains the role lotto scammers play within the area's violence ecosystem: "Montego Bay also has a long-standing history of gang disputes in poor neighborhoods. So lotto scammers, who generally come from those same violent areas, often use their dirty money to secure protection. They pay criminal organizations to defend their homes and families and bribe police. Rich, protected and powerful, many lotto fraudsters eventually use their illegal earnings to purchase weapons and manpower, forming criminal gangs of their own and fighting for control over turf in Montego Bay."
  • El Salvador's Supreme Court has preemptively blocked a bill that would bar same-sex marriage, reports the Associated Press.The ruling blocks lawmakers from ratifying the measure due to procedural missteps.
  • El Salvador has one of the world's most draconian bans on abortion -- including threat to the woman's life -- but that doesn't mean that it's not a common practice in the country, reports El Faro. Of course, access to safe termination of pregnancy is an economic luxury. El Faro has a heartbreaking in-depth on the women and families affected by the policy, criticized by an Inter-American Commission on Human Rights report earlier this week. (See Tuesday's briefs.)
  • The recent loss of 44 members of Argentina's navy in a submarine accident has revived a debate as to what use the armed forces could have in the country. In lieu of an external enemy, there have been calls to employ the military in a fight against "terrorism." However, while proponents tend to link "terrorism" with "drug trafficking" the two are hardly that related. Nor is the military the best instrument against terrorism, argues Juan Tokatlian in La Nación. (See briefs for Dec. 8, 2017.)
  • Fidel Castro's eldest son committed suicide in Cuba, where he was receiving treatment for depression, reports the New York Times.
  • This week Chile created five new national parks and extended three others -- adding 10.3 million acres of land to the national park system. In part, the conservation efforts are based on the work of Tompkins Conservation, which donated about one million acres. In a New York Times op-ed, Kristine McDivitt Tompkins, extolls the "crucial" leadership role of President Michelle Bachelet. "Anyone can conceive of big ideas, but to carve them into being requires political leaders with the courage to protect important landscapes."
  • Foul-mouthed former Haitian President Michel Martelly has been banned from participating in two city's Carnival celebrations, reports the Miami Herald.
  • Latin America's electoral supercycle, is marked by a geopolitical lull -- "free from major battles for regional influence, perhaps, but also devoid of any vision grand enough to unite all or significant part of the Americas" -- write Michael Camilleri and Ben Raderstorf in Americas Quarterly. Though the authors do not see the situation as negative, "the question is whether this is a lasting new reality: an Americas devoid of nations with the will, much less the capacity, to project power and influence beyond their own borders." They analyze potential scenarios, including a strengthened Chinese influence in the region.

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