Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Bolivia's retribution cycle (March 17, 2021)

 Bolivia's political powers have come full circle since the botched 2019 elections and Evo Morales' ouster with the pretrial detention of former interim-president Jeanine Áñez this weekend. (See Monday's post.) The move is likely an attempt by President Luis Arce to consolidate political control by attacking a discredited and unpopular opponent. Arce is complicated by MAS party setbacks in recent local elections, and a strained relationship with Morales, as well as ineffective pandemic policies. It has "cooled hopes that Arce might be a moderating force in Bolivian politics," writes Raul Peñaranda U. at Americas Quarterly.

But the arrest could also backfire by polarizing nationally and wasting international diplomatic capital. “We are in a cycle of retribution,” warned Jim Shultz, the founder of the Bolivia-focused Democracy Center. “If you’re in a government and the government changes at this point, you can pretty much count on them coming after you … [This] feels less like a legal process and more like they are taking turns trying to destroy one another.”

Áñez has a lot to criticize, but experts say the case that she plotted a coup against Morales to assume power is shaky. Human Rights Watch reviewed Áñez’s charge-sheet and found no evidence of crimes, reports the Guardian. Rather, what appeared to be unfolding was “the abuse of the justice system against political opponents," according to Americas Division Director José Miguel Vivanco.

A blanket amnesty Arce granted to those accused of crimes during the Áñez government, last week, adds to questions about the government's commitment to justice. "While it’s true that the Añez government unfairly persecuted MAS partisans during her time in office, the broad nature of the decree appears to grant amnesty to even those MAS supporters who committed serious crimes," notes Boz at the Latin America Risk Report.

The detention has also raised deeper questions about Bolivia's judicial system, which lacks independence and tends to hew to the current holder of power, writes Pablo Stefanoni in DiarioAR.  The case against Áñez and other actors is messy and broad, with vague categories like "sedition," "terrorism" and "conspiracy." Observers note that Áñez's government lobbed similar accusations against former president Evo Morales -- most of which have not been mentioned since she handed the presidency over to Arce in October.

Arce's gambit on Áñez seems even more misguided considering that there are serious human rights accusations against Áñez should be taken to court, like the Senkata and Sacaba massacres, in which security forces used lethal weapons to suppress protests opposing the Áñez government, leaving 21 people dead and over 70 wounded. (CELS) Human rights violations like these "should be seriously investigated with full respect for due process," tweeted Human Rights Watch Americas Division Director José Miguel Vivanco. That could happen later this year, reports the Guardian. On Monday, Arce’s justice minister announced that an investigation into those “bloody massacres” would be complete by June and said the mothers of the victims were crying out for justice.

The case against Áñez also holds relevance for other democratization processes in the region and will serve as a cautionary example for authoritarian leaders who might consider handing over power to electoral victors, warns the Latin America Risk Report.

On a broader level, the case points to general complications with investigating -- or looking the other way -- with current or past top officials accused of illegal conduct, write Victor Menaldo, James D. Long, and Morgan Wack in the Conversation. While everybody should be held accountable to rule of law, leaders "are often popular, sometimes revered. So judicial proceedings against them are inevitably perceived as political and become divisive. If the prosecution of past leaders is brought by a political rival, it can lead to a cycle of prosecutorial retaliation."


Vaccine "Diplomacy"

A U.S. government report appeared to show that the United States had tried to dissuade Brazil from buying the Russian produced Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine. The Health Attaché office within HHS’s Office of Global Affairs pushed the country to turn down offers of help from the Russians last year, according to the report. The report outlined the agency’s diplomatic efforts to counter what it described as attempts by countries, including Russia, to increase their influence in the region, to the detriment of U.S. safety and security. (Reuters, Washington Post)

In a Monday night statement, the U.S. Embassy in Brazil said that its diplomats “have never discouraged Brazil from accepting vaccines against Covid-19 that have been authorized by their respective regulatory bodies.” But that response didn’t amount to a full denial, since Brazilian regulators have yet to approve the Sputnik V vaccine.

The news comes as Brazil reported a record number of Covid-19 deaths yesterday:  2,841 deaths. (Reuters) Experts warn that Brazil’s hospital system is on the brink of collapse, with occupancy peaking near or even pushing past capacity in over half the states of the country, reports the Washington Post.

News Briefs

More Vaccines
  • Taiwan is helping Paraguay, its sole diplomatic ally in South America, to buy Covid-19 vaccines. The move comes amid mounting anti-government protests in Asunción. The United States has expressed concern at Beijing’s efforts to win over Taiwan’s remaining allies, reports Reuters. (See yesterday's briefs on how China is obtaining goodwill in the region by making vaccines available.)
  • Mexico has asked the United States to share doses of AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine it has in stock, the U.S. has not indicated whether it will do so. The request comes as Mexico's own production of the same vaccine, in collaboration with Argentina, has been delayed, possibly due, in part, to lack of essential supplies from the U.S., reports Reuters.
  • Venezuela has announced that it will not authorise AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine after several European countries suspended their rollouts of the jab due to possible side effects, reports Al Jazeera.
  • Chile is, by far, the region's vaccine success story -- due to multilateral deals with vaccine producers and an extensive public health system, with clinics in even some of the remotest areas. However, data released by the Chilean government reveals some potential socio-economic disparities in who’s getting vaccinated, Jenny Pribble, an associate professor of political science and global studies at the University of Richmond, told the Washington Post.
  • Paraguay's initial success at containing the pandemic by closing its borders contrasts with its subsequent failure to prepare its health care system and procure vaccines. The country is among the least immunized in the region. Though the protests against the government were catalyzed by lack of basic supplies in hospitals, a political dispute between President Mario Abdo Benítez and former president Horacio Cartés is also behind the political crisis, reports Nueva Sociedad.
  • Former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva is, by far, Brazil's best hope for democratic reconstruction, writes Carol Pires in a New York Times Español op-ed. Despite Lula's failings, and Brazil's need for a political generational change, ousting its current leader, Jair Bolsonaro in next year's elections is a democratic priority. It's not quite fair to posit Bolsonaro and Lula as polar opposites, she argues. The first is an autocratic leader, whose failed coronavirus policies have mired the country in a health crisis, while Lula presided over a period of economic growth and social mobility. (See March 9's post.)
  • "Although it is unclear whether Lula will actually run again next year, the very fact that he can has shifted Brazil’s political terrain," writes Andre Pagliarini in the Guardian. Lula has an "ability to sell a conciliatory message, one rooted not in ideological confrontation but in a reclamation of the basic republican values that Bolsonaro nakedly disdains."
  • "The question of what sort of country Lula would inherit were he to win, and what he could do to fix it, or at least arrest the velocity of destruction, remains open," writes Forrest Hylton in the London Review of Books. "But like Brazil ... Lula has been down many times before, and, miraculously, has come back every time."
  • Malu Gaspar’s definitive history of the Odebrecht case offers an insightful and page-turning perspective on the evolution of business-state relations in Brazil over three generations, according to Matthew Taylor at the Brazil Research Initiative.
  • Most Brazilians want stricter gun laws, but relaxing regulations is among Bolsonaro’s top priorities for rallying his political base, reports the Associated Press. Bolsonaro announced four presidential decrees designed to facilitate legal access to weapons, last month. (See Feb. 16's briefs, and Feb. 19's.)
  • The United States expected to apprehend more migrants along its southwestern border this year than at any time in the past two decades, warned U.S. secretary of homeland security Alejandro Mayorkas yesterday. The situation underscores the urgency of addressing the chronic issue of Central American immigration, despite the daunting challenges, reports the New York Times. (See yesterday's post.)
  • Ecuador’s CONAIE indigenous advocacy group urged its supporters to spoil their ballots in the country's April 11 presidential runoff, after a court denied indigenous candidate Yaku Pérez’s request for a recount of first-round election results, reports Reuters. If the number of spoilt, or invalidated, ballots exceeds the total number of votes received by the two candidates in the runoff, the whole election is declared null and void under Ecuadorean law.
  • Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández received cocaine shipments from Colombia -- and duped the US anti-drugs agency, according to testimony given by a former drug trafficker in a U.S. federal trial. (AFP, see last Wednesday's post)
El Salvador
  • Most of the lawmakers who will take oath in El Salvador on May 1 will be first timers, though nearly two dozen are coming from President Nayib Bukele's government. Bukele will have a supermajority of 84 allies in the incoming National Assembly, 15 of whom have allegations of corruption or wrongdoing, reports El Faro.
  • Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has requested an inquiry into a judge who last week ordered the suspension of a government-backed electricity reform, reports Reuters.
  • Peru’s populist presidential front-runner Yonhy Lescano plans to renegotiate a fairer distribution of mining wealth he wins next month's election, reports Reuters.
  • Shade-grown coffee farming is giving Peru's remote Mayni community a chance for economic development that protects the local cloud forest's biodiversity, reports the Guardian.
  • Pope Francis has studiously avoided returning to Argentina since ascending to the Roman Catholic Church's highest post in 2013. This allows him to avoid the heated polarized politics at home, but is also a missed opportunity to help soothe the country's festering "grieta," argues Marcelo J. García in a New York Times Español op-ed. Though visiting Argentina could expose the pontiff to criticisms, "his presence and words would act as a necessary unifying force in a country where division dominates."
  • Adding to Brazil's long list of scientifically unproven coronavirus responses, one Brazilian politician has suggested using helicopters and planes to spray his town with hand sanitizer, reports the Guardian.

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