Monday, February 4, 2019

Bukele sweeps ES (Feb. 4, 2019)

Nayib Bukele, a 37-year-old running as a political outsider, comfortably swept into El Salvador's presidency yesterday with 53 percent of the vote. The former San Salvador mayor capitalized on anti-establishment sentiment in his campaign, and the country's two main parties were easily outdistanced by the challenger. The conservative ARENA coalition obtained 31.8 percent, while the governing FMLN party got just 14 percent. (TSEEl Diario de Hoy) Bukele won easily in all of the country's 14 departments, surpassing 50 percent in eight of them, reports El Faro.

The election marks the end of El Salvador's post-war period said Bukele in his victory speech last night. (El Diario de Hoy) He wore blue jeans and a leather jacket -- in keeping with his social-media savvy campaign portraying him as a reformer. It also marks deep seated discontent with the political establishment, pushing voters to gamble on a relative newcomer, notes the New York Times. It will be the first time the country is not governed by ARENA or the FMLN. (See Friday's post and El Faro's analysis of ARENA's reaction and the implications of the FMLN's massive rout.)

Corruption and violence mark voters' primary concerns. Bukele set himself up as an anti-graft crusader, promising to create an international anti-impunity commission like Guatemala's CICIG. (See Friday's post.) Former Guatemalan attorney general and possible presidential candidate Thelma Aldana accompanied Bukele yesterday. (La República

Bukele will inherit a complicated situation, with powerful and violent gangs and a police force accused of human rights violations and extrajudicial killings, notes the Washington Post.

Bukele has also promised to distance himself from iron-fist security policies and proposed "a raft of social programs and public-works projects meant to increase youth employment and draw young people away from the violent MS-13 and Barrio 18 gangs," reports the Wall Street Journal.

He now faces the challenge of governing with a National Assembly dominated by opposition parties, in what promises to be a difficult negotiating scenario, reports La Prensa Gráfica. Though Bukele ran on a right-wing party ticket, GANA was notably absent from his victory celebration, notes El Faro.

Diplomatically Bukele will be faced by U.S. President Donald Trump's frequent threats to cut aid if the government doesn't do more to curb migration to the U.S. But he could also become an important voice in regional politics. He is critical of Venezuela and Nicaraguan leadership, but also Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández. "A dictator is a dictator, on the ‘right’ or the ‘left’," Bukele wrote last week on Twitter. (Reuters)

There were no major problems reported with voting. More than 4,500 election observers, including representatives of the Organization of American States and the European Union, were on hand. (Associated Press) About half of eligible Salvadorans participated, reports La Prensa Gráfica.


Pressure mounts on Maduro gov't

Tens of thousands (hundreds of thousands according to some) of Venezuelans protested against Nicolás Maduro on Saturday in Caracas and cities around the country -- demanding the ouster of a president whose second term is widely considered illegitimate. Demonstrators called for new elections and humanitarian aid in what appears to be one of the largest anti-Maduro marches yet. At a rival pro-government march, Maduro struck a defiant note, promising to maintain Venezuelan sovereignty in the face of U.S. imperialism. (GuardianNew York TimesEfecto CocuyoWashington Post, Wall Street Journal, and Washington Post again)

Thirteen European countries including Spain, France, the UK, Germany, Sweden and Denmark threw their hats into the international legitimacy battle. (See last Friday's post and last Monday's.) On Saturday they recognized National Assembly leader, Juan Guaidó, as Venezuela's interim president, after Maduro rejected the European's call for new elections. (Guardian and Washington Post)

The European countries joined the U.S., Canada, and several of Latin America's largest countries in what has become a face-off against Russia and China, which maintain support for Maduro's government. In an attempt at a third option, the European Union -- along with Uruguay, Costa Rica, Bolivia, and Ecuador -- announced the creation of a contact group that will seek to mediate between the two sides and hold elections within 90 days. (See Friday's post.) The first meeting will be held this week in Montevideo, reports El Observador. Mexico, which has maintained neutrality on the issue, will also be participating in the meeting. (Excelsior. For more on Mexican foreign policy on Venezuela, check out this New York Times Español op-ed foreign ministry official Maximiliano Reyes and this Crisis Group analysis.)

Guaidó rejected offers of mediation, and urged China to switch sides after Beijing said it hoped to continue working with Caracas “no matter how the situation evolves," a statement that suggests a weakening of support for Maduro. (Guardian)

But experts are increasingly warning of the dangers of the winner takes all international strategy. "The spiral of violence and chaos could start imminently," write Francisco Rodríguez and Jeffrey D. Sachs in a New York Times op-ed calling for a negotiated transition.

The "international tug-of-war over Venezuela’s future has grown increasingly dangerous – and unhelpful," argues Simon Tisdal in the Guardian.

U.S. leadership on the issue belies significant risks, including smaller armed groups and fanning the flames of anti-imperialist sentiment that is beneficial for Maduro, explained WOLA's David Smilde to NPR. It is also strengthening Russia and China's determination to support Maduro, warns Cynthia Arnson of the Wilson Center for Scholars in the same piece.

U.S. sanctions against Venezuelan oil, announced last week are aimed at undermining military support for Maduro. (See last Tuesday's post.) But policy makers likely also intend to increase citizen hardship and provoke opposition to Maduro. "It’s hard to see these sanctions doing much apart from increasing the suffering of normal people," WOLA assistant director for Venezuela Geoff Ramsey told the Guardian last week. 

Even without the sanctions, suffering is pretty bad and pushing people to the streets, reports the New York Times n a harrowing man-on-the-street. Venezuela has grown increasingly violent and "food shortages, electricity cuts and water shortages are the new normal."

Guaidó and the U.S. are mobilizing humanitarian aid shipments expected to arrive in coming days, a challenge to the Maduro-loyal military, reports the Wall Street Journal.

Ahead of Saturday's protests, top air force official released a video breaking with Maduro and pledging allegiance to Guaidó, an important defection for the opposition which seeks military support. "Ninety percent of the armed forces do not support Nicolás Maduro," said Division Gen. Francisco Esteban Yánez Rodríguez, the air force official. "I ask my comrades in arms to not turn their backs on the people of Venezuela, do not repress anymore." (New York Times and Washington Post)

Maduro said security forces will be shored up with members of the National Bolivarian Militia, a sign that more troops are needed for repression or to make up for desertions, according to some analysts. (Efecto Cocuyo)

Maduro stood firm in an interview with Spanish journalist Jordi Évole, warning U.S. President Donald Trump of involving the country in another Vietnam, and insisting that he will not call elections because Europe says to. (Guardian)

Guaidó is crisscrossing Caracas trying to build up local support -- sometimes even weaving through traffic on the back of a motorcycle -- while shoring up international efforts to create a transition government, writes the New York Times in a glowing report.

More from Venezuela
  • The Lima Group meets in Canada today to discuss how to support Guaidó -- who will be represented by Julio Borges. (Efecto Cocuyo)
  • Youths detained in relation to protests by security forces in several states have been released with shaved heads. (Efecto Cocuyo)
  • Venezuela's ambassador in Iraq, Jonathan Velasco, joined Guaidó's ranks. (Efecto Cocuyo)
  • Feb. 2 marked the 20 year anniversary since Hugo Chávez took power in Venezuela -- in a New York Times Español op-ed Michael Shifter and Bruno Binetti look at his long legacy and remember a prophetic interview with Gabriel García Márquez.
News Briefs

  • Footage of the Brumadinho tailing dam collapse in Minas Gerais shows the scope of the tragedy that killed at least 115 people. 2.5 billion gallons of sludge were released when the dam structure broke. Recovery workers say the 248 people who are still missing are likely dead, and recovering bodies is difficult if not impossible at this point. (GuardianAssociated PressNew York Times)
  • A decision could come soon in the landmark New York trial against Sinaloa cartel leader Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán. But regardless of the verdict, the major legacy will be exposure of widespread corruption in the Mexican government, including allegations of a $100 million bribe paid to former president Enrique Peña Nieto, according to the Guardian. (See Jan. 16's briefs.)
  • The horrifying details presented by a slew of witnesses in the case are somewhat mesmerizing and will, no doubt, provide fodder for a new generation of Netflix series -- the latest allegation is that Guzmán raped girls as young as 13, believing sex with them increased his vitality. (Guardian)
  • At least 28 people died when a boat smuggling Haitian migrants sank off the Bahamas. (New York Times)
Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take? Let me know ...

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