Monday, April 2, 2018

Costa Ricans back gov't candidate in favor of gay marriage (April 2, 2018)

Costa Ricans decisively chose the governing Citizen Action Party candidate, Carlos Alvarado Quesada, in yesterday's run-off election. The former labor minister and novelist had 60.74 percent of the vote as of this morning. Nearly 67 percent of eligible voters participated, and the absentee rate was 33 percent, according to the electoral authority.

Alvarado Quesada's overwhelming win defied polls that predicted a statistical tie against his opponent, former legislator and television announcer, Fabricio Alvarado Muñoz (no relation). Alvarado Muñoz narrowly won the first round of the election in February. He had experienced a surge in popularity by strongly opposing gay marriage an an Inter-American Court of Human Rights decision pushing for marriage equality. (See Friday's post.) 

Alvarado Quesada backed the Inter-American Court of Human Rights decision, which was in response to a petition by Costa Rican President Luis Guillermo Solís, who pledged to implement the ruling, reports the New York Times.

The young, 38-year-old president-elect campaigned on a progressive platform under the slogan "Elijo el futuro," reports the BBC.

The election marks the first time neither of the country's two traditional parties had a candidate in the run-off, notes the Washington Post.

In the campaigns final debate, Alvarado Quesada called his opponent's comments homophobic, reports Reuters. In February the country's ombudsman reported an increase in in aggressions against LGBT people in the aftermath of the first round of voting, notes the NYT.

Though Alvarado Muñoz lost, pundits still point to a trend of growing evangelical Christian influence in Latin American politics. But Alvarado Quesada's win offers hope to progressives battling their socially conservative platforms in the region, according to Reuters.

In part, the divergence from predictions can be explained by the high level of undecided voters and a lower than expected absentee rate -- all of which went to Alvarado Quesada, according to Guatemalan economist Fernando Carrera. But he also noted the heavily territorial nature of the vote, with urban areas favoring Alvarado Quesada and rural zones Alvarado Muñoz. "The 40 percent of votes for Fabricio Alvarado is an indicator of the high percentage of Costa Ricans that are port of a counter culture where politics and religion are intertwined, and where hope is deposited in religion and not public institutions or market opportunities. The inclusion of these sectors in the process of national development is one of the big challenges for the future of Costa Rican democracy."

News Briefs
  • Former Guatemalan military dictator Efrain Ríos Montt died yesterday. The 91-year-old general was found guilty of charges of genocide and crimes against humanity in a national court in 2013 and sentenced to 80 years in jail. He was convicted of trying to exterminate the Ixil ethnic group, a Mayan Indian community whose villages were wiped out by his forces, reports the New York Times. "For Guatemala it broke ground that these people are no longer untouchable," expert Jo-Marie Burt told the NYT. "The Ríos Montt trial was another example of Latin America leading the way in showing that it is possible to bring war criminals to trial and to bring some measure of reparation to the victims, and to rewrite the historical record so that it’s a more accurate reflection of what happened and who was responsible." But the ruling was later thrown out by the country's highest court, reports the BBC. The retrial order dismayed human rights activists and victims who fought to see Ríos Montt punished for his crimes, reports the Associated Press. The case had resumed behind closed doors, due to Ríos Montt's frail health, last October. At that time the International Justice Monitor reviewed the complex specifics of the case.
  • U.S. President Donald Trump used Twitter to again call for a tougher immigration law, rail against NAFTA and call off a deal to protect immigrants who entered the U.S. as children, called "Dreamers." Experts suggest that Trump has grown frustrated with lack of funding for his pet project, a wall along the Mexican border, reports the Guardian. He accused Mexico of doing "very little, if not NOTHING", to stop migrants crossing its borders, reports the BBC. "They laugh at our dumb immigration laws. They must stop the big drug and people flows, or I will stop their cash cow, NAFTA. NEED WALL!" Today Trump again called on Mexico to stop "caravans" of migrants from crossing into the U.S. He is apparently referring to a large group of Central Americans -- many Honduran families -- who are heading through Mexico in hopes of reaching the U.S., reports the Guardian. "Organized by a group of volunteers called Pueblos Sin Fronteras, or People Without Borders, the caravan is intended to help migrants safely reach the United States, bypassing not only authorities who would seek to deport them, but gangs and cartels who are known to assault vulnerable migrants," reports Adolfo Flores for Buzzfeed.
  • Last week Trump frustrated experts when he compared the Mexican border to the Korean DMZ, reports the Washington Post. Notably, Mexico and the U.S. are not at war, though the comparison fails on numerous other fronts as well.
  • At Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights David Smilde emphasizes the importance of Swiss and Panamanian sanctions against Venezuelan officials. Last week Switzerland essentially applied the EU sanctions, which"is very important because of Switzerland’s tradition of neutrality and because it is the preeminent place to park illicit money because of its tradition of banking secrecy," he writes. Panama became the first Latin American country to sanction Venezuelan officials and enterprises, and is another country known for banking secrecy. The Panama Papers showed extensive financial involvement of Venezuelan officials in off-shore and shell companies, notes Smilde.
  • He also analyzes the recent fire that killed at least 68 inmates in a Venezuelan police prison. Though the victims were initially reported have been killed in a fire that ravaged the facility, family members are saying some have gunshot wounds or other injuries, suggesting a confrontation with guards. Advocates say the state has not released enough information regarding the deaths, reports the Associated Press. Smilde notes more broadly that the chronic overcrowding of the prison system "is the result not just of not building enough jails, but of a completely dysfunctional justice system."
  • At least seven people -- six of them police officers -- died in a prison riot in Veracruz on Saturday, reports Animal Político. The officers were engaged in the transfer of four dangerous inmates who were running criminal networks in the area, according to state authorities. The officers were apparently ambushed when entering the prison. Inmates then lit a fire that led to the officers' death by asphyxiation. Though Veracruz governor Miguel Ángel Yunes did not name the criminal gang involved, the Zetas cartel has long dominated in the area, reports the New York Times.
  • The corruption investigation launched against Mexican presidential candidate Ricardo Anaya has been characterized as political maneuvering by the ruling PRI party by critics. But the net beneficiary is front-runner Andrés Manuel López Obrador, notes the Economist with concern.
  • Mexican avocado exports to the U.S. are a case of trade win-win -- U.S. producers have seen their prices increase too with the increased demand fed by imported products, reports the New York Times Magazine in a piece exploring Michoacán’s "green gold."
  • Soy crops have led to unsustainable agriculture practices in Argentina, and are creating broad new river ways in the central province of San Luis, reports the Guardian.
  • Argentine President Mauricio Macri has made a clever political calculation in calling for Congress to debate legalizing abortion, argues Hugo Alconada Mon in a New York Times Español op-ed. The polarizing issue distracts from other uncomfortable issues, such as the economy and cabinet members linked to corruption. In addition, the issue cuts across party lines, and allows Macri to appear progressive, undercutting his rival, Senator and former President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. (Who notably opposed such a debate.) Best of all for Macri, the bill is unlikely to pass the Senate, which means Macri will likely not have to deal with the fall out of actually passing the measure which is rejected by his core, writes Alconada.
  • Conservative watchdog Judicial Watch filed Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuits against the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) for records relating to their alleged funding of Open Society Foundations' "political activities" in Romania and Colombia. Judicial Watch characterizes OSF grantees such as Verdad Abierta, Fundación Ideas para la Paz and La Silla Vacía as "Soros NGOs" La Silla Vacía responded, noting Judicial Watch's lack of credibility (it denies climate change and has falsely reported the existence of ISIS training camps in Mexico). In the case of La Silla Vacía, the digital newspaper notes that it receives a small portion of its budget from OSF, and has only received USAID funding once. In that case the funding was to investigate the use of public funds allocated for peace deal implementation in several regions.
  • Uruguay is a quiet success story in South America thanks to efforts made since 2002 to diversify the economy and attract investment, according to the Economist.
  • A new statue in Copenhagen draws attention to a little known chapter in Denmark's colonial history, a female led labor revolt in St. Croix, in what would later become the U.S. Virgin Islands, reports the New York Times.

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