Friday, August 9, 2019

Guatemalans vote Sunday (Aug. 9, 2019)

Guatemalans will choose their next president on Sunday, in a run-off election between former first lady Sandra Torres and a former national penitentiary system director, Alejandro Giammattei. Giammattei has run for president in each election since 2007 without winning, but he is expected to claim victory this weekend, largely due to voter rejection of Torres. 

Enthusiasm is low -- polls indicate that a quarter of voters on Sunday plan to cast null or blank ballots, reports Americas Quarterly. Giammattei has 39.5 voter intent, while Torres, who won in the first round, has 32.4 percent according to a recent CID-Gallup. However, 30 percent of respondents said they supported neither, so the results are far from determined. Giammattei is popular among urban voters, while Torres dominates among rural voters. Geograhical turnout will also impact results. (Reuters)

A controversial migration pact with the United States, signed by the outgoing government, has come to dominate the final phase of the campaign. In poll by Prodatos for the Prensa Libre newspaper, 82 percent of respondents opposed the deal that would force thousands of migrants to apply for humanitarian asylum in Guatemala rather than the U.S. Both candidates have avoided strong stances on the deal, though they were critical. Torres in particular said the accord would need Congressional ratification. (AFP)

The deal puts the winner of Sunday's election in a lose-lose situation: the country is ill-equipped to handle the potential influx of migrants who would represent a significant strain on Guatemalan resources. But backtracking would likely arouse the ire of U.S. President Donald Trump who threatened a travel ban, tariffs and remittance fees before Guatemala acceded to the plan. According to the World Bank, remittances account for 12 percent of the country's GDP.

Whoever wins will have to deal with a divided Congress, writes Americas Quarterly. And major issues for Guatemala, like corruption and security, have not been debated in depth in the campaign. Both candidates have been fixtures of Guatemala's political landscape for decades, and -- due to significant accusations of wrongdoing against both -- are unlikely to revive a landmark international commission against impunity whose mandate expires next week. And both are expected to revive unsuccessful iron fist security policies, reports the Washington Post.

News Briefs

More Migration
  • The safe third country agreement between Guatemala and the U.S. continues a legacy of exploitation for Indigenous and working class peoples in Central America, argue Linda Alvarez, Suyapa Portillo Villeda, and Alicia Ivonne Estrada in NACLA.
  • U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi spoke critically of the deal in a visit to Guatemala this week and of U.S. treatment of migrants, reports Reuters.
  • Rumor has it that a top U.S. diplomatic official for Latin America, Kimberly Breier, resigned this week in disagreement over a migration deal with Guatemala. (Washington PostGuardian, see yesterday's briefs.)
  • Sweeping migration raids in the U.S. state of Mississippi arrested nearly 700 people on Wednesday. The governments of Mexico and Guatemala said 300 of their citizens were detained in the crackdown on illegal migration. (Reuters)
Climate Change
  • Honduras and El Salvador are afflicted by climate-change induced drought that affects food sufficiency in both countries and pushes people to migrate. El Gato Encerrado, together with, reports on how government policies aimed at helping the agricultural sector are insufficient to tackle the problem.
  • Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro's administration is sending a clear message to loggers that regulations will not be enforced, said the recently sacked director of a national agency tasked with tracking Amazon deforestation. The result has been a brutal assault on Brazil's rainforest since Bolsonaro took office in January, said Ricardo Galvão in an interview with the Guardian
  • Bolsonaro's cavalier attitude about deforestation could have an impact on Brazilian trade ambitions, reports Americas Quarterly. Chinese concerns over the environment are growing, and Mercosurs new trade deal with the EU could be impacted by Brazilian environmental policies.
  • On Wednesday Brazil's Supreme Court suspended former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva's transfer to a São Paulo jail. Ten of the 11 justices on the Supreme Court overruled a lower court ruling, and decided Lula should stay in Curitiba until they can judge other pending appeals filed by his lawyers seeking his release, reports Reuters.
  • The U.N. high commissioner for human rights, Michelle Bachelet, criticized the potential humanitarian impact of new U.S. sanctions against Venezuela's government. (See yesterday'sWednesday's and Tuesday's posts.) "The sanctions are extremely broad and fail to contain sufficient measures to mitigate their impact on the most vulnerable sectors of the population," said Bachelet yesterday. (AFP)
  • The new sanctions have failed to convince Venezuela's military to defect from President Nicolás Maduro. Rather, such economic measures "could have a devastating effect on the country, deepening the migration and refugee crisis in which more than four million Venezuelans have fled their country," writes Michael Shifter in a New York Times op-ed.
  • Some analysts believe President Nicolás Maduro's pull out from Norwegian mediated talks with the political opposition in Barbados this week is tactical posturing in the face of increased U.S. pressure, reports the New York Times. (See yesterday'sWednesday's and Tuesday's posts.)
  • Nineteen mutilated corpses were found in the Mexican city of Uruapan. Nine of them were hanging from an overpass alongside a banner threatening drug gang rivals. They are believed to be victims of a turf war between three Mexican criminal organizations -- Jalisco New Generation Cartel, the Knights Templar cartel and Las Viagras -- battling over control of the region's avocado industry. This type of bloody attack is a throwback to massacres carried out during cartel clashes in the 2006-2012 period. (GuardianAssociated Press)
  • Mexico's ever increasing homicide rate could be partially related to political turnover, reports InSight Crime
  • Mexico's new National Guard is a civilian institution on paper, but in practise it is a military force. Creating a new militarized security agency is the continuation of previous failed policies, argues Catalina Pérez Correa in New York Times Español.
  • Argentines vote in national, simultaneous and obligatory primaries on Sunday -- what essentially translates into an informal first round of voting ahead of October's general election. Parties who receive less than 1.5 percent of the vote will be weeded out from the next round. The two main contenders for the presidency -- which will likely be determined in a November second round -- are incumbent Mauricio Macri and Alberto Fernández, who is seconded on the ballot by former president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. The Fernández-Fernández ticket -- which has a slight edge for now -- has pulled together a broad coalition of leftists and peronists who seek to convince Argentines that their economic management will be more beneficial than that of the current government, reports Reuters. Macri's campaign has focused on rejecting the country's populist recent past and promising economic rectitude as a recipe for eventual long-term success. (Poll data at AS/COA)
Costa Rica
  • Costa Rica is in the midst of its own landmark corruption investigation, dubbed the cementazo. Americas Quarterly profiles attorney general Emilia Navas and her focus on transparency in order to ensure legitimacy.
  • A new Mercosur trade bloc deal with the European Union took 20 years to hammer out, but the agreement's importance might ultimately be to serve as a steppingstone to a series of additional trade agreements for South America’s two biggest economies, argue Benjamin Gedan and Nicolas Saldías in Americas Quarterly.
  • Peruvian President Martín Vizcarra's attempt to solve the country's intractable governability crisis by moving up national elections -- which would end his term and that of lawmakers a year early -- is a sort of Solomonic solution to a Congress that has consistently proved an obstacle to governance, explains Americas Quarterly. In order to carry out the plan, however, opposition lawmakers will have to agree to essentially vote themselves out of office.
  • The UNESCO asked Peru's government for information regarding a new airport planned near Machu Picchu. Critics say the plan could be devastating for the Inca archeological ruins that are the country’s biggest tourist attraction and a world heritage site. (Guardian)
Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take? Let me know ...

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