Monday, March 2, 2020

Bolivia election analysis causes controversy (March 1, 2020)

A study by MIT election experts casts doubt on the claim that Bolivian election officials engaged in fraud in favor of then-president Evo Morales, in last year's October vote. The study, commissioned by the Center for Economic and Policy Research, claims to debunk, vía statistical analysis, an Organization of American States (OAS) allegation of fraud. (See Friday's briefs.)

The stakes are high -- for Bolivia, for the OAS, and for diplomacy in the region. Though the study only focuses on one aspect of an OAS report that pointed to irregularities in last year's vote, the OAS response has been scathing, and insists that the original analysis was correct.

Morales was forced from office in the aftermath of the election, in the midst of increasingly violent protests and pressure from the armed forces. Critics say the OAS played a politicized role in Morales' ouster. The claim is particularly relevant as OAS Secretary General, Luis Almagro, is running for reelection later this month.

Though experts have been cautious about the new study, the results have been seized on by pundits and politicians in the region who say it bolsters claims that Morales' ouster amounts to a coup d'etat, undermines the legitimacy of Bolivia's interim government, and adds to a growing body of evidence that Almagro has acted with political bias in his dealings with the region's governments.

Morales tweeted from Argentina that the OAS “owed many explanations to the Bolivian people and the whole world." He has previously described the organization as a tool of the US, reports the Guardian. Leftist leaning governments in the region, particularly Mexico and Argentina, have referred to the new study and asked the OAS for clarification, reports Reuters.

On the other hand, Brazil's foreign minister, Ernesto Araujo, insisted that fraud in Bolivia’s election had been “crystal clear."

The MIT researchers' study looks at a specific allegation of fraud made by the OAS: that differences in results reported before and after a pause in the initial vote count pointed to evidence of fraud in favor of Morales, reports the New York Times. The researchers concluded that such a change was entirely plausible. “There does not seem to be a statistically significant difference in the margin before and after the halt of the preliminary vote,” they wrote. (In this interview with Folha de S. Paulo, one of the researchers, John Curiel, delves more into the methodology.)

The OAS has responded that the study doesn't address other allegations of wrongdoing, such as a hidden computer server designed to tilt the vote toward Morales.

News Briefs

  • Guyana holds general elections today -- voters will select a new 65-member National Assembly, the leader of the largest coalition or party becomes president for the next five years. Incumbent President David Granger faces rival Irfaan Ali for the top post, reports the BBC. The election is particularly significant as Guyana is at the cusp of an oil boom -- its economy is predicted to grow 85.6% in 2020, up from 4.4% in 2019.
  • This Economist piece dives into the debate over how to control the country's new oil wealth, as well as environmental concerns and the impact of racially divided voting in a country that is increasingly mixed race. (See also last Friday's briefs.)
  • A U.S. federal appeals court blocked the Trump administration's controversial Migrant Protection Protocols (also known as Remain in Mexico) on Friday, though judges later granted the government an emergency stay. Government officials said they feared an influx of 25,000 migrants who are currently waiting for their asylum cases to be decided in Mexico. (Washington Post
  • On Friday migrants flocked to the Mexican border as initial news of the court decision about MPP spread, only to have their hopes dashed by the later decision to grant the emergency stay, reports U.S.A. Today. The case will likely reach the Supreme Court.
  • MPP has been strongly criticized by human rights groups and immigration advocates, who say migrant rights are being violated by being forced to stay in some of Mexico's most dangerous cities, where they are easy targets for criminal gangs, reports the Guardian. Though Mexico has promised to provide work permits and access to healthcare, housing and educational opportunities, resources are sorely lacking. One example are critically ill asylum seekers turned away at the border and forced to wait in conditions without adequate access to health care, reports the Washington Post.
  • Venezuelan asylum seekers pose a particular challenge for the Trump administration, as its broadly restrictive immigration policies are applied to a group the government is politically sympathetic to, reports the Washington Post.
  • Pro-government vigilantes, known in Venezula as "colectivos," fired on an opposition march led by National Assembly leader Juan Guaidó in Barquisimetro on Saturday. A 16-year-old was injured in the incident, which is believed to be the first time Guaidó was personally targeted by a colectivo, reports the Associated Press. A photo shows a masked man brandishing a pistol pointed toward a group of opposition activists, including Guaidó.
  • WOLA's Adam Isacson analyzes the recent United Nations report on human rights defenders' assassinations in Colombia. (See Friday's briefs.) "It is a very useful document, full of hard-to-obtain statistics. It also makes some reasoned, high-credibility judgments about controversial topics like implementation of the peace accord and government efforts to protect threatened social leaders."
  • Colombia's constitutional court is set to rule on a landmark abortion case, that could effectively legalize terminating early pregnancies in the country. Justices were actually asked to consider a full abortion ban, but instead have decided to consider legalization, a choice that could have ripple effects in a region where abortion rights are usually quite restricted, reports the New York Times. If the court legalizes abortion, this nation of nearly 50 million will become the largest to openly permit the procedure in Latin America, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • Argentine President Alberto Fernández promised to send Congress an abortion legalization bill within the next ten days. He spoke at the inauguration of legislative sessions, the equivalent of Argentina's state of the union address, and emphasized the government's obligation to protect women. "“Society in the 21st century needs to respect the individual choice of its members to freely decide about their bodies," he said. He is the first sitting president to openly support legalization, which lawmakers will vote on later this year. (Guardian)
  • The IMF and Argentina are both under relatively new management, and mutually seeking a way out of the South American country's looming debt crisis. The IMF has recognized that Argentina's debt load is "unsustainable," but should also contribute to restoring the country's economic health, argues the Economist.
  • F. Allen “Tex” Harris, the U.S. diplomat who exposed hundreds of killings and kidnappings by Argentina’s military dictatorship during the “Dirty War” in the 1970s, died last week, at 81 years old. (Wall Street Journal)
  • Children under the age of 13 -- some as young as 8 -- were found working 40-hour weeks picking coffee beans later used by Starbucks and Nespresso, according to a new media exposé. (Guardian)
  • The U.S. migration crackdown has the unintended consequence of creating diverse diasporic communities in Mexico, reports the New York Times.
  • Mexico became the second Latin American country, after Brazil, to confirm a case of Corona virus, on Friday. (Wall Street Journal)
  •  A cruise ship turned away from two ports because of Corona virus fears was eventually permitted to berth in Mexico -- and the passengers turned out to just have the flu. (Washington Post)
  • The New York Times' "Weekly" looks at the case of a Mexican state police chief who cut a deal with cartel informants in exchange for information. "It was a gentleman’s agreement with men trained in violence."
  • The Rev. Ernesto Cardenal, a poet and priest who served as government minister in Nicaragua's revolutionary Sandinista government in the 1980's died at the age of 95 -- New York Times.
  • Diego Fonseca calls on Latin American citizens to stand up and defend democracy from populism. But his New York Times Español op-ed also recognizes that behind the region's Messianic leaders is the failure of everything else -- parties, bureaucracies, political organizations -- that was supposed to work.
Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take? Let me know ... 

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