Monday, October 19, 2020

MAS headed for landslide in Bolivia (Oct. 19, 2020)

 Two exit polls in Bolivia suggest a landslide win for MAS party candidate Luis Arce: 53 percent in one and 52.4 percent in the other. If he effectively obtains over 50 percent of the vote in yesterday's presidential election, he will win outright. The polls indicate an insurmountable lead for Arce, a strong rebuke of the interim government that replaced his ousted predecessor nearly a year ago. (Guardian, Washington Post)

Voting yesterday was largely calm -- a relief given fears of electoral violence and assertions from both leading candidates that fraud is a possibility. In a surprise decision Saturday, Bolivia’s electoral tribunal announced it would not release the traditional quick-count projection of the outcome as initially expected on Sunday, reports the Washington Post. The tribunal said it would instead wait to release results until all ballots were counted or tallies showed an indisputable trend. The decision is precautionary, as quick tallies last year were at the center of allegations of irregularities that spiraled into violent protests and ultimately, with army support, the ouster of then-president Evo Morales. 

And it seems prudent: A recent poll by the nongovernmental organization Fundación Jubileo found that just 40 percent of Bolivians trust the country’s electoral body, despite major efforts to overhaul it since last year. (New York Times) But the move, which might have Bolivians waiting a day or two, and potentially up to a week for official results, could also ratchet up tension in what is already a polarized tinder-box situation, warn experts.

Twelve months after last year's crisis, "Morales’ Movement Towards Socialism could be about to pull off a sensational political comeback in Sunday’s twice-postponed presidential election," reported the Guardian this weekend. This is in part because of Jeanine Áñez's caretaker government's failures -- it has been accused of judicially persecuting her predecessor's allies -- and divisions among opponents to the MAS party. 

But the election was widely viewed as a referendum on Morales' 14-year political project, which lifted hundreds of thousands out of poverty but whose policies and rhetoric often divided the country, reports the New York Times.


Cienfuegos case demonstrates high-level corruption in Mexico

Former Mexican defense minister Salvador Cienfuegos is being charged in the U.S. with laundering money and trafficking heroin, cocaine, methamphetamines and marijuana from late 2015 through early 2017. (See Friday's post.) He was arrested upon arrival in Los Angeles last week and is the highest-ranking Mexican official ever charged with drug-related corruption. U.S. investigators accuse Cienfuegos of collaborating with the extremely violent H-2 cartel -- a partner of the Beltrán Leyva criminal organization -- which trafficked thousands of kilos of cocaine, heroine, methamphetamines and marijuana to the U.S. Intercepted Blackberry messages indicate that Cienfuegos directed military operations away from the cartel and toward its rivals in exchange for bribes. Investigators say Cienfuegos even tipped off H-2 leadership about investigations carried out by the U.S. Indeed, official statistics from his tenure indicate a decrease in clashes between the military and suspected criminals in Nayarit state, where H-2 was based. (Aristegui NoticiasNew York Times, Animal Político)

The impact on Mexican politics and relations with the U.S. is expected to be significant, reports the Wall Street Journal. The arrest is expected to damage bilateral cooperation and trust in the campaign against narcotics trafficking; harm the image of one of the few institutions in Mexico that enjoy broad public support; and raise more doubts about Mexico’s strategy of relying on the army to chase cartels. The case is a major blow to the armed forces and the current administration's reliance on the military for a range of tasks, from battling criminal organizations to distributing medication, reports Reuters. (See Friday's post.)

The allegations against Cienfuegos support President Andrés Manuel López Obrador's claims that past administrations were hopelessly corrupt. (See Sept. 16's briefs.) The Cienfuegos case comes on the tail of the arrest of former security chief Genaro García Luna at the end of last year, he is accused of accepting bribes from the powerful Sinaloa cartel while he was in office from 2006 to 2012. Since the two men worked for different Mexican administrations and are being accused of aiding different drug cartels, it’s impossible to dismiss a possible nexus between the Mexican government and organized crime as a short-lived problem linked to a single president or a single drug gang, reports the Washington Post.

But the two cases also call into question the U.S. role in Mexico's drug war, according to NYT. If the allegations hold up, some of those same Mexican leaders were playing a double game. Indeed, AMLO said the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) should also be held accountable for its actions in Mexico. (Reuters)

News Briefs

  • Massive rallies commemorating the anniversary of last year's anti-government protests devolved into a nighttime riot and clashes with police in Santiago, yesterday. Tens of thousands of people gathered around the country, overwhelmingly peacefully, many advocating a "yes" vote in next week's referendum on whether to reform Chile's constitution. Later incidents of violence included setting fire to two churches and supermarket looting. (Reuters, Wall Street Journal, BBC)
  • Chile's citizens should definitely reform their dictatorship-era constitution, argues Michael Albertus in the New York Times. "Persistent authoritarian influence under democracy is a recipe for inequality and democratic discontent. Democracies with authoritarian-era constitutions have weak political accountability and not enough citizen involvement in forming policies. And their political systems favor elites tied to the former regime rather than common citizens."
  • The Trump administration secretly deported numerous Venezuelans this year, even as it sought to overthrow their country’s government because of horrific abuses of its citizens. Deportations were made through third countries to conceal the actual destination of the Venezuelans being forcibly returned to their troubled homeland, according to documents released by U.S. Senator Robert Menendez, the senior Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. (Los Angeles Times)
  • A Brazilian cabinet member confirmed that agents of the country’s secret service were part of the delegation sent by President Jair Bolsonaro’s government to the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Madrid in December, reports EFE.
More Mexico
  • A military official removed from her post with Mexico's civil guard said the force has been controlled by the army since its start. In an injunction request granted by a Mexican federal judge, the former director of citizen relations for the national guard said the novel security force was never under civilian command, as required by the constitutional amendment that created it. (Animal Político)
  • Haitian police fired tear gas and rubber bullets against anti-government protesters in Port-au-Prince on Saturday, injuring several people. Demonstrators blocked roads and set fires, the latest in more than a year of protests against the government. (Associated Press, Al Jazeera)
  • Thousands of indigenous demonstrators marched to Bogotá, in a protest over an increase in violence in their territories. (BBC)
  • Peru, which has the world’s highest per capita death toll from the new coronavirus, set another grim record by becoming the first country to record more than 100 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants. With 105 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University, Peru leads the world in the mortality metric ahead of Belgium with 90, and followed by Bolivia and Brazil with rates of 74 and 73 respectively. (Bloomberg)
  • A generation of poor children has been shut out of schools and learning by the pandemic. Already disadvantaged by poverty and inequity, they are now in danger of falling further behind, reports the Washington Post. In Peru, a massive wave of unemployment is reversing the nation’s lauded success at fighting poverty. Low-income Peruvians have been hit disproportionally, raising fears of further inequality in a region already among the most unequal in the world. Already, more poor children are leaving school and analysts  fear a mass desertion next year.
  • Archaeologists uncovered a previously unknown feline geoglyph etched onto a Peruvian hillside sometime around 200BC and 100BC, one of the Nazca lines the area is known for. (Guardian)
I hope you're all staying safe and as sane as possible, given the circumstances ... Comments and critiques welcome, always. 


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