Friday, February 1, 2019

Bukele leads in El Salvador, EU announces Venezuela contact group (Feb. 1, 2019)

Salvadorans head to the polls Sunday -- in what is being widely heralded as a game-changing election. Former San Salvador mayor Nayib Bukele is in the lead, and has a shot at winning outright. Even if he does not obtain 50 percent and goes into a second round, it will be the first time in 30 years that Salvadorans aren't picking between the two main established parties -- FMLN and ARENA. (Associated Press and Americas Quarterly)

Bukele is an outsider candidate, though he was elected mayor on an FMLN ticket and later broke with the party. He's also touted as a millennial, who is savvy at exploiting social media and makes many key announcements on Facebook. Participation is expected to be high this year, with a high youth turnout in particular. (CNN and PRI)

Bukele has not given many policy specifics -- he is mostly riding a wave of discontent with the political status quo, note many analysts. He has also avoided interviews and debates with the other candidates. Countering his message of radical change is the fact that he's using a smaller right-wing party known for corruption as an electoral vehicle. (The Nation and The EconomistHe has promised to maintain independence from the party.

Bukele has however taken a strong stance against corruption, which is a major source of discontent. One of Bukele's campaign slogans is: "There’s enough money when no one steals." (Guardian) He said he will back an international anti-graft commission, like Guatemala's CICIG. (Associated Press) He has also promised to push infrastructure projects, one of his signature achievements as mayor of San Salvador. (Reuters and The Economist)

Other pressing issues -- namely gangs -- are largely off the electoral radar. (The Nation)

The 37-year-old front-runner is followed by right-wing candidate Carlos Calleja, who is also presenting himself as an innovative challenger to the status quo, though he represents the traditional ARENA party.

More than 23,000 police agents will be deployed for security during the polls, covering all 1,595 polling centers. (El Diario de Hoy)

More analysis 
  • Check out El Faro's interview with Rodolfo Cardenal, director del Centro Monseñor Romero de la Universidad Centroamericana (UCA)
  • Corruption is a major issue -- El Faro has a report on extras paid out to government officials, a hint at how deeply entrenched graft can be.

EU announces contact group for Venezuela

The European Union announced the creation of a contact group with Venezuela, with the aim of holding new elections within 90 and resolving the country's explosive legitimacy crisis. The group has specific milestones, and will be dissolved if they are not met -- with the overall goal of finding a democratic solution within the framework of the Venezuelan constitution, explained the EU diplomatic chief, Federica Mogherini. The group will be composed by the EU, member states including France, the UK, Germany, Portugal, Spain, The Netherlands and Sweden, as well as several Latin American countries, including Ecuador, Costa Rica, Uruguay and Bolivia. (EFE)

The EU was on the brink of recognizing National Assembly leader and self-declared interim president Juan Guaidó as Venezuela's legitimate leader yesterday -- but was reportedly held back by Italy's opposition, reports the Wall Street Journal. Italy's government refuses to recognize Guaidó, because he has not been elected, but also does not recognize Nicolás Maduro, 
whose second presidential mandate is based on an election widely considered illegitimate, reports EFEThe contact group proposal is a last ditch diplomatic effort. (More on discord within the EU at Efecto Cocuyo.) Turkey warned the EU that recognizing Guaidó could spur civil war in Venezuela. (EFE)

WOLA's Geoff Ramsey emphasizes the relevance of the move, in particular the concrete goal of holding an election rather than focusing on dialogue. A WOLA policy brief in January by Ramsey and David Smilde emphasized the potential of a contact group to negotiate an eventual solution for Venezuela. "The most successful example of this model in Latin America is the Contadora Group launched in the early 1980s, which helped put an end to armed conflicts in Central America. ..."

EU negotiation efforts are "are all the more important now given the uncertainties generated by the recognition of Guaidó’s interim presidency, the danger of crackdowns by the government and potentially even the risk of foreign military intervention," according to a new Crisis Group report. (See yesterday's post.)

It is not yet clear how the EU's proposal could work with Uruguay and Mexico's offer to mediate in Venezuela. (See yesterday's post.) Today self-declared interim president Juan Guaidó, head of the National Assembly, rejected Mexico and Uruguay's offer to mediate dialogue, saying he's only interested in a negotiation that will end the "ursurpation" of power by Maduro. (Efecto Cocuyo)

Venezuela's current crisis is nominally about legitimacy, but the underlying issue is a major power struggle between national and international forces, without a clear winner yet -- New York Times Interpreter.

A central issue in Venezuela's power struggle is the military, which up until now has remained loyal to Maduro, despite reports of growing divisions within the ranks. (See yesterday's post.) Guaidó has hoped to help sway security forces with an Amnesty Law. (See Monday's post.) Human Rights Watch called for the proposal to exclude gross human rights violations.

Though U.S. national security advisor John Bolton has consistently fanned interventionist fears (see Tuesday's post), he said today that the U.S., Brazil and Colombia are not planning an immediate military intervention in Venezuela, reports Efecto Cocuyo.

On the humanitarian front, Sweden promised $7.2 million in aid, destined for Venezuela as well as refugees in Colombia. (Efecto Cocuyo)

More from Venezuela
  • Three EFE correspondents detained Wednesday by Venezuela's intelligence agency were released yesterday, reports Efecto Cocuyo. Maduro security forces have increasingly focused on quashing coverage of opposition protests, reports the Washington Post. (See yesterday's post.)
  • Guaidó laid out a plan yesterday for reversing the humanitarian crisis, including seeking financial aide from multilateral organizations, tapping bilateral loans, restructuring debt and opening up Venezuela’s vast oil sector to private investment. (Wall Street Journal)
  • A blueprint plan of economic action by a group of experts led by Ricardo Hausmann says price controls and the threat of expropriation are the first step in reestablishing Venezuela's destroyed economy. (The Economist)
  • U.S. sanctions against Venezuela's oil sector announced this week blindsided some top officials at the departments of State, Energy and Treasury and members of Congress, reports McClatchy DC. (See Tuesday's post.)
  • Hezbollah’s support for Maduro could be an indication of links between Venezuela's government, the terrorist organization and organized crime groups, according to InSight Crime.
News Briefs

  • Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro rode a wave of anti-corruption disgust to electoral victory. But a month into his presidency, his son Flavio is facing allegations of corruption and ties to organized crime that are casting a pall over his promises to root out graft, reports the Guardian. (See Jan 23's briefs on Flavio Bolsonaro's alleged ties to a Rio de Janeiro death squad suspected of carrying out councillor Marielle Franco's assassination last year.)
  • Brazilian mining giant Vale SA is already in talks with Minas Gerais state authorities to start paying damages to victims of last week's dam collapse which has claimed at least 110 lives, reports the Wall Street Journal. (See yesterday's briefs.)
  • An arrest warrant is expected imminently for an investor in a former Trump branded Rio hotel. (New York Times)
  • A border wall with the U.S. won't do anything to solve drug trafficking -- but harm reduction programs like Programa Compañeros, working in border towns "have a long record of stopping deadly consequences of opioids and connecting people to living-saving treatment," writes OSF program officer Marc Krupanski in The Hill.
  • A U.S. arms embargo on Haiti has done little to stop illegal arms trafficking -- the country is awash in illegal weapons and politicians are accused of complicity, reports the Miami Herald.
  • Chile's hilly Valparaiso is a nightmare for trash collectors. Artist Natasha Cross illustrates the travails of binmen who carry heavy sacks of trash on their backs. (Guardian)
Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take? Let me know ...


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