Monday, October 28, 2019

Argentina, Uruguay, Chile, Bolivia ... oh my! (Oct. 28, 2019)

Argentina's Peronist comeback

Peronist candidate Alberto Fernández won yesterday's presidential election handily, though by a far closer margin than expected against incumbent Mauricio Macri. (Can this finally be oft-reported but never-true end of pollsters?) Fernández, who ran with former president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner obtained 48.10 percent yesterday, an outright win. Macri got 40.38, a surprisingly strong showing that means his Cambiemos alliance will remain a force to be reckoned with. Preliminary results at 9 p.m. yesterday confirmed Fernández's win, and there were no major reports of irregularities. Fernández's Frente de Todos coalition won by a landslide in the Buenos Aires province, while Cambiemos retained its traditional power district in the city of Buenos Aires.  (La Nación)

Moderate voices are optimistic that a positive bipartisan equilibrium might be in the offing. (Too soon?) Macri's concession speech last night was conciliatory, and he invited Fernández to a working breakfast this morning. (Currently happening.) The winners' speeches were less friendly, and warned the outgoing government that they are responsible for policy during the 40-day transition ahead. Frente de Todos has promised collaboration, but not "cogovernance." (Ambito)

This is in large part because the grim economic situation means that unpopular measures are inevitable. Victory speeches last night focused on hard times ahead and "hope," rather than immediate relief in a country where 35 percent of the population is under the poverty line and afflicted with inflation and recession. Indeed, the Central Bank announced stricter capital controls yesterday at midnight, severely reducing the amount of dollars citizens can buy per month (from $10,000 to $200) in an effort to stanch the foreign reserve hemorrhage -- $22 billion since the August primaries. (La Nación, Ambito)

Fernández was elected in great measure because of the economic crisis, but will of course now face the challenge of governing it -- and a repeat performance of Argentina’s 2003 economic turnaround unfortunately is unlikely, according to Jennifer Pribble at the Conversation.

Fernández's ability to bring politicians together will be sorely needed -- he faces a divided Congress that will require deal-making to pass legislation, notes La Politica Online.

Others: Expect a conflictive relationship between Fernández and Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who has threatened to kick Argentina out of the Mercosur. He wouldn't be able to do so easily, and there would be resistance from Brazilian interest groups, warns Oliver Stuenkel in Americas Quarterly -- but the threat is indicative of a new diplomatic tone between the neighbors and traditional allies. Fernández hasn't shied away either. Yesterday he wished former Brazilian president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva a happy birthday and flashed the “Lula Livre” sign in a social media picture with supporters.

Uruguayans voted too!

Uruguayan voters backed the governing Frente Amplio yesterday, but not by a large enough margin to avoid a run-off, which will be held on Nov. 24. Former Montevideo mayor Daniel Martínez obtained 39.17 percent of the vote, and the Partido Nacional candidate, Luis Lacalle Pou, came in second with 28.59 percent. Lacalle Pou, a senator and political family scion, is expected to attempt a broad opposition coalition aimed at displacing the Frente Amplio which has governed for 15 years. He immediately received support from the two main runners up in yesterday's election, Partido Colorado candidate Ernesto Talvi and Cabildo Abierto's Guido Manini Rios. (El País)

Voters rejected a security reform that would have created a militarized internal security force, and permitted night-time raids, among other mano-dura measures. A plebiscite on the "Vivir Sin Miedo" proposal obtained 46 percent support, but no the 50 plus required for the constitutional reform. (See last Thursday's post.) Nonetheless, the new right-wing party, Cabildo Abierto, received a strong showing of 10.88 percent and represents a new trend to watch for in Uruguay.

Cabildo Abierto increased its parliamentary representation, while Frente Amplio lost seats and the Partido Nacional basically remained static. The incoming government will face a split congress and will have to negotiate legislation with the Cabildo Abierto and Partido Colorado lawmakers. (Infobae)

Chileans unite against system

About 1.2 million protesters gathered in Santiago de Chile on Friday afternoon -- considered the most massive demonstration since the country's return to democracy. The peaceful march -- without leadership -- appears to have put a stop to a week of often violent demonstrations and security force crackdowns that killed several people and wounded hundreds. Joined by thousands of protesters around the country, the demonstrators left Chile's government with a clear message and little margin to maneuver, reports El Mostrador. (See also BBC)

President Sebastián Piñera lifted the state of emergency last night. On Saturday Piñera asked his entire cabinet to resign. "We're working to form a new team that represents change," he wrote. He has promised  increases in minimum wages and public pensions and the freezing of a planned increase in electricity rates. (NPR)

Nonetheless, protesters remain on the streets -- despite increasing reports of security force repression and rubber bullet, birdshot and other firearm wounds that have cost people eyes. (EFE)

The human rights toll of the protests thus far is alarming. Yesterday the National Institute for Human Rights (INDH) reported that there are 3,193 people detained in relation to the protests. There are 1,092 people wounded in hospitals -- 272 hit with birdshot, and 126 with eye wounds. The organization has lodged 88 complaints thus far, 5 homicide and 17 for sexual abuse allegations that include a case of rape. There are 72 reports of possible disappearances said INDH director Sergio Micco last night. The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, former Chilean president Michelle Bachelet, announced last week that she will send a verification mission to examine allegations of human rights abuses.

The Guardian adds detail to the statistics, reporting on the difficulties many working-class victims face to obtain treatment for their wounds. "In the packed waiting room at Posta, groups of anguished protesters monitor injured friends. Shooting victims clad in bloodsoaked T-shirts, thick white bandages on their heads, wait to have bullets removed. Others carry deep gashes after being hit by metal teargas canisters blasted into crowds by riot police." Activists denounce that government officials have sought to cover up the extent of repression protesters face.

Piñera's announcements of new social programs are promising, but were clearly insufficient to defuse the crisis. This is because "Chile is experiencing social unrest, but also a cultural and political crisis, writes Carlos Peña in a New York Times op-ed. "Piñera must promote a more peaceful and effective dialogue without sacrificing the democratic process."

But the problem with that is that its not clear who Piñera should talk to. The protests do not have clear leadership, nor concrete demands. Instead they show the shortcomings of Chile’s unpopular, discredited political parties, according to Latinobarometro head Marta Lagos. (Guardian)

It's tempting to see reminders of Chile's history in the protests and government reactions -- but many Chileans who did not live through 1973 "seem tired of relitigating" the Allende-Pinochet battles of yesteryear, argues Lili Loofburow at Slate. Indeed, the current contingent of protesters is focused on the systemic failures of Chile's democratic rule, including several presidents from the left, she writes. Loofburow also points to several factors that complicate hopes for a neat resolution. Massive demonstrations in recent years failed to have significant impact, adding to frustration that likely fanned flames (literally) this time. Another difficulty is the lack of leadership to negotiate with. "This does not seem likely to be an “organized plan,” though the president and some members of his cabinet have suggested otherwise. ... No one knows what’s happening, but whatever it is, it seems less like a calculated plot than a garden gone to seed through neglect." 

Inequality is the central point, reports anybody who talks to protesters. The Associated Press gives a good look at how both poor and middle-class protesters expressed frustration with "a widely criticized private pension system, and two-tiered health and education systems that blend the public and private, with better results for the minority who can afford to pay." (Somebody should alert Mary Anastasia O'Grady, who says a devious Cuba-Venezuela plot is the only explanation for Chilean protests. And warns that the only reason for Argentina's calm today is that the right-wing doesn't set cars on fire when it loses.)

Regardless, don't expect anything to ever be the same again in Chile, warns Thomas Traumann, in an Americas Quarterly piece that looks at the long-term repercussions of Brazil's 2013 protest movement. "Street movements of such intensity are turning points for society's relationship with their elected representatives, but also for consumers with their favorite brands – and even for citizens with democracy. The new normal is more and more voices claiming their rights and reaffirming their positions - exercising a citizenship that screams loudly and does not always behave with good manners. It’s better to get used to it."

OAS to audit Bolivian vote

Bolivia's government is reportedly close to a deal for the OAS to audit Oct. 20's contested presidential election, according to Reuters. The OAS said on Saturday that it expected to begin the audit mid-week and government officials said negotiations were now focused on the terms of an audit, including the selection of chief auditors. President Evo Morales has said he would call a second-round run-off vote with his closest rival Carlos Mesa if the OAS’ audit turned up any evidence of fraud. He also invited countries in the region that have called for him to hold a runoff vote — the United States, Brazil, Argentina and Colombia — to take part in an audit of the official tally. (ReutersAssociated Press.)

Mesa called for a strike in La Paz today, continuing days of protests that have turned violent in several cities. Morales has threatened to urge his rural supporters to lay siege to cities where protests continue, and said unrest is part of an attempt to illegally oust him from office.

News Briefs

  • An Honduran prison inmate involved in the trial of the president's brother, Tony Hernández, was dramatically stabbed and shot to death in prison. Nery López Sanabria, also known as Magdaleno Meza Fúnez, was allegedly ambushed by other inmates in El Pozo prison on Saturday -- but his lawyer blames the Honduran government. Nearly a dozen notebooks belonging to López Sanabria appeared as evidence in the New York trial of Tony Hernández, who was found guilty of drug trafficking earlier this month. López Sanabria's lawyer said the evidence could implicate Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández. Security camera footage (warning, graphic) purportedly of the killing showed a man being shot and then repeatedly stabbed by a group of men inside the prison some 100 miles (160 km) northwest of the capital Tegucigalpa. (Associated Press, Reuters)
  • Not to lose our protest theme of the month: last week Honduran security forces repressed thousands of protesters in Tegucigalpa with tear gas and water cannon. Protesters called for Hernández's resignation, and called him a "narcodictator." (Deutsche Welle)
  • Haiti is in its seventh week of anti-government protests. Two people were killed in Port-au-Prince protests yesterday, one man was beaten to death and then burned by some demonstrators who claimed that he opened fire on a crowd of marchers, reports AFP. Separately, Police and supporters demonstrated for the first time in the current crisis, and demanded better salaries, reports Al Jazeera. Police officers said they have not been paid for months, reports Voice of America.
  • Bogota residents elected Alianza Verde candidate Claudia López for mayor in Colombia's local elections yesterday. Anti-corruption crusader López will be the city's first female and first openly-gay mayor. The election was marked by violence during the campaign season: Seven candidates were killed, a dozen were attacked and more than 100 received threats across the country, according to the electoral observation mission. Centrist and progressive party candidates won several important posts yesterday, the first local elections since the signing of the 2016 FARC peace deal. (El País, BBC, Al Jazeera, Associated Press)
Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take? Let me know ...  


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