Friday, November 22, 2019

Colombians protest -- mostly peacefully (Nov. 22, 2019)

An estimated 207,000 Colombians took to the streets yesterday around the country -- one of Colombia's biggest protests in recent history. The demonstrations were mostly peaceful, belying fears in some sectors of a "Chile" repeat. There were, however, clashes in some parts of Bogotá in the evening. In Cali there were clashes throughout the day, and authorities enforced an evening curfew after a series of social media messages about supposed attacks caused panic. At least eight civilians and 28 police officers were wounded in the clashes nationwide, according to authorities.

In the evening, residents kept up the protest from their homes in Bogotá, Cali, Medellín, Cartagena and Bucaramanga, with a Twitter-organized cacerolazo. There is a call for citizens to bring out pots and pans today, in a continuation of peaceful protest around the country. (Associated PressSemana, Semana, Semana, El Espectador, El Espectador, Wires)

Pensioners, students, unions and social groups marched for a plethora of reasons, but broadly against President Iván Duque's unpopular government, the peace process his administration isn't implementing, and against potential cuts to social programs. The strike was originally planned in response to a plan to cut pensions, though the reform hasn't been formally presented yet. But the day became a lightening rod for broader dissatisfaction with the government. The administration's failure to protect social activists, who have been assassinated at alarming rates, and recent revelations that the government covered up information about eight minors killed in a military operation also angered protesters. (Guardian)

The question is now whether Duque has heard the message, according to Semana -- and if he hasn't, whether indignation will keep people on the streets. The protests are undoubtedly Duque's greatest challenge thus far, but he doesn't seem to have realized it, according to La Silla Vacía. Duque said yesterday the administration believed in dialogue, and lauded those who marched peacefully. But he did not make reference to any concrete demands or possible responses, said critics. The strike's organizing commission asked for a meeting with Duque today.

More Colombia
  • Colombia's ambassador to Washington criticized the U.S. State Department's foreign policy clout in the Trump administration, in a secretly recorded private conversation with Colombia's designated foreign minister. (Associated Press)
News Briefs

  • Bolivian security forces broke up a funereal march protest with tear gas, yesterday in La Paz. Demonstrators carried the coffins of eight people killed in clashes on Tuesday in El Alto. At least 29 people have been killed in clashes since former president Evo Morales was ousted on Nov. 10.  (Al Jazeera, Reuters, see yesterday's post.)
  • Lawmakers are advancing towards a bill that would call new elections and includes a plan to review electoral roles and establish a new electoral tribunal. There is still disagreement over the mandate for the new electoral tribunal, and who will be able to field candidates in the new elections, reports La Razón.
  • Neither Morales nor former vice-president Álvaro García Linera will be candidates for their Movement for Socialism (Mas) party in Bolivia’s next elections. (Reuters)
  • There is truth in both the competing narratives over what happened in Bolivia: Morales was ousted by reactionary forces, and he had also become increasingly autocratic. "The danger today is that a post-Morales government will focus not on restoring the democratic principles that had eroded under his rule but on rolling back the inclusive policies that were the hallmark of his presidency," write Santiago Anria and Kenneth M. Roberts in Foreign Affairs.
  • Uruguayans will pick their next president in a second-round election on Sunday. Ruling Frente Amplio candidate Daniel Martínez will face off against Partido Nacional candidate Luis Lacalle Pou. Though Lacalle came-in second in October's election -- Martínez obtained 39.02 percent of the vote, over Lacalle's 28.62 -- the Partido Nacional candidate is expected to win thanks to a broad coalition with opposition parties. In a context of regional instability, Uruguay is a paragon of political stability and tolerance. (Washington Post, Associated Press)
  • Mexico's top military chiefs pledged loyalty to President Andrés Manuel López Obrador earlier this week, after an earlier critical speech from an army general raised fears of military dissent. (Reuters)
  • The U.S. will push Mexico to do more to stop migrants from reaching the countries' shared border, said the new U.S. acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf. He praised the Migrant Protection Protocols (Remain in Mexico) as a successful tool to decongest Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement facilities -- though the policy has led to assaults, kidnappings and extortion of migrants who are forced to wait in dangerous Mexican border cities. (Washington Post
  • Amnesty International denounced a deliberate policy of security force violence against protesters, aimed at intimidating people off the streets. "The intention of the Chilean security forces is clear: to injure demonstrators in order to discourage protest," said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas director.
  • Graphic videos and images appear show a car driving into a crowd of protesters in Antofagasta yesterday. (Washington Post)
  • Chile is likely stumbling towards a peaceful resolution after a month of intense protests -- but investment is unlikely to recover until the country's new model is clear, and "some fear a descent into fiscal populism," according to the Economist.
  • It would be a mistake, however, to believe that the mere announcement of a new constitution will resolve the underlying issues: the key is actually creating a new, more inclusive carta magna, with broad participation, writes Patricio Fernández in a New York Times op-ed.
  • The protest phenomenon in South America is, broadly speaking, a result of political system's inability to provide solutions perceived as fair, writes María Victoria Murillo in Americas Quarterly.
  • Brazilians must rebuild trust in political and legal institutions -- former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva writes in a Washington Post opinion piece. "In the Brazil I aspire to help rebuild, human and legal rights — including those of my political opponents — will be protected and strengthened."
  • Brazil's far-right President Jair Bolsonaro launched a new political party yesterday, the Alliance for Brazil (APB). The move reflects a break over control of the PSL party he traditionally formed a part of, but is risky and could fragment the president's electoral base. (Reuters)
  • Deforestation of the Amazon won't stop and is a cultural phenomenon, said Bolsonaro this week in response to data showing record rates of rainforest loss under his administration. (Washington Post, see Tuesday's briefs.)
  • Brazilian businesses can -- and should -- act as an ally in protecting the rainforest, argues Paulo Hartung in Americas Quarterly.
  • Bolsonaro's impact has, thus far, been mostly negative. But Congress has emerged as a surprising check on his power, reports the Economist. Optimists also say that the Bolsonaro culture wars have provided a smoke screen for economic reforms. 
  • A shootout in which a U.S. citizen killed a person in an Anguilla resort has put the two countries on a diplomatic collision course. (New York Times)
  • In Argentina, as elsewhere, it's trendy to aspire to "Nordic" public policies, with vague ideas of public schools or extended paternity leave. Historian Ernesto Semán recommends a far more concrete approach. The fundamental element of success for Norway's model is the government's use of oil extraction income to produce a model that makes that extraction obsolete and unnecessary, he writes in Panamá.
  • Speaking of which, president-elect Alberto Fernández should be wary about his approach to the oil sector -- Argentina's current strength is shale production, which will not weather an interventionist approach, reports Americas Quarterly.

Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take? Let me know ...


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