Friday, March 30, 2018

Costa Rican elections showcase regional evangelical trend in politics (March 30, 2018)

Costa Ricans vote Sunday in a presidential race that has been dominated by the issue of gay marriage. The two candidates in the run-off are statistically tied in polls, reports the Associated Press.

Political outsider and conservative Christian Fabricio Alvarado Muñoz shot up in opinion polls in January when he denounced an Inter-American Court of Human Rights ruling that called for legalization of same-sex marriage. The former television announcer, representing a small evangelical party, led the February election with 25 percent of the vote -- not enough for an outright win. 

He faces off against ruling-party candidate Carlos Alvarado Quesada, who served in the cabinet of President Luis Guillermo Solis.

The election is seen as a barometer for the mood in Latin America, where countries that passed laws favoring same-sex unions in recent years hold presidential elections over coming months, according to Reuters.

The Costa Rican campaign demonstrates how voter dissatisfaction with political elites has favored the rise of religious parties, writes former Costa Rican vice president Kevin Casas in a New York Times Español op-ed. As traditional politicians have lost credibility, voters turn to religious figures who "propose the return of moral certainties that have diluted in times of relativism, ideological ambiguity, and opportunism, that today define the democratic politics everywhere."

Alvarado Muñoz is part of a growing wave of evangelical political power in Latin America that could make the region into the new bible belt, reports the Miami Herald. In the region social conservativism transcends left-right divisions and is reflected by Central America's draconianly strict laws banning abortion.

Alvarado Muñoz has promised to fight the "secular state" and "gender ideology." The latter term in particular is appearing throughout the region as a bogeyman to rally social conservatives. In a recent New York Times Español op-ed, Silvio Waisbord analyzed how the discourse is used to oppose rights advances in the region. "As a hobbyhorse, "gender ideology" is a vague and opaque term, but is used strategically with a very clear objective: to oppose any group or action that represents the principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948, that is to say,dignity, justice, and equality."

That the term holds little (if any) concrete meaning has only contributed to its efficacy however, warns Gillian Kane in the Guardian. "The phrase is neither a legitimate academic term, nor a political movement. It is a theory drummed up by hard-right religious activists, who present it as a gay- and feminist-led movement out to upend the traditional family and the natural order of society. It’s a catchall phrase to sell a false narrative and justify discrimination against women and LGBT people. And it is winning elections."

Not that Costa Ricans don't have other concerns. The country has been downgraded four times over the past five years by the main ratings agencies, and the incoming government will have to implement measures to reduce the fiscal deficit, reports Bloomberg.

In a final debate this week, Alvarado Quesada criticized his opponent's governance plan as "poor," and lacking in concrete measures, reports EFE.

News Briefs
  • Even in a Venezuela increasingly accustomed to tragedy, the jail fire that claimed at least 68 lives this week is jarring, reports the New York Times. (See yesterday's briefs.) Accounts so far indicate that gangs running the overcrowded jail were holding a party and fought with a guard. Police set fire to mattresses, which started a blaze that spread through the cells. And families outside demanding answers clashed with police and were tear gassed. Yesterday the United Nations human rights office criticized the attack on the relatives and reiterated reproach regarding dire conditions in prisons. Experts such as Roberto Briceño-León, the head of the Venezuelan Violence Observatory, point to associated problems such as the country's reliance on temporary holding cells.
  • Switzerland announced sanctions against Venezuelan individuals, including seven Venezuelan ministers and high-ranking officials, reports Reuters
  • A Brazilian judge ordered Facebook to pull fake news published about assassinated Rio de Janeiro councilwoman Marielle Franco. Judge Jorge Novelle wrote that his decision targeted "propagation of crimes like slander against the dead, and hatred and racial and gender prejudice against someone who can no longer defend herself," reports the AFP. (See Monday's briefs.)
  • Colombia blocked access to a cell phone app it said might be connected with Cambridge Analytica, reports Reuters.
  • Peru's new president, Martín Vizcarra, will name opposition lawmaker Cesar Villanueva as his prime minister next week, according to Reuters. The move is aimed at bridging increasingly polarized political divides. Villanueva is characterized as a centrist who has worked with parties on the left and right, and led calls to impeach former president Pedro Pablo Kuczynski on charges of corruption.
  • Last week Chile's new conservative government altered the protocols on a recent law decriminalizing abortion. The changes allow private institutions that deny women the possibility of carrying out an abortion to continue to receive public subsidies. Critics say the "conscientious objector" rule will effectively reduce access to legal abortions, reports EFE.
  • About a third of Brazil's cabinet will resign over the next week in order to start campaigning for Congressional seats in October's election, reports Reuters.
  • Police arrested two close friends of Brazilian President Michel Temer yesterday, in an investigation into alleged corruption in relation to a port concession, reports Reuters.
  • Six people have been arrested in connection with the murder of a Mexican journalist in the northern border city of Nuevo Laredo, reports EFE.
  • Diplomatic sparring aside, Mexico and the U.S. are teaming up with Colombia to target drug smugglers off South America’s Pacific coast in an operation that starts on Sunday, reports the Associated Press.
  • This week at InSight Crime Managing Editor Josefina Salomón and Senior Editor Mike LaSusa discuss the latest developments in the never-ending Odebrecht scandal and its impacts on politics around the region.

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