Monday, March 1, 2021

Bukele sweeps legislative elections (March 1, 2021)

El Salvador's Nuevas Ideas party won legislative elections by a landslide yesterday. Though the tally isn't final, President Nayib Bukele seems headed to a two-thirds majority of seats in the National Assembly, which means he would have the power to replace the attorney general, the electoral tribunal, appoint new Supreme Court justices, and reform the Constitution. The victory grants Bukele extraordinary power, and confirms him as a figure of unparalleled popularity in the region, according to El Faro. (See also El Diario de Hoy)

Though Bukele's popularity is sky-high, his growing control of democratic institutions is cause for concern among civil society and human rights groups who say Bukele is sliding towards authoritarian rule. Bukele has labeled critics traitors and attacked independent media. He has also refused to follow Constitutional Court orders regarding his coronavirus quarantines, which were deemed too restrictive. And a year ago, he led a brief military intervention of the National Assembly building. (Washington Post)

Salvadoran vice president, Felix Ulloa, acknowledged that some of the president’s actions had been questionable, in an interview with the New York Times. Ulloa argued that Bukele's approach will be tempered by an amenable congress willing to further the government's policy agenda. But critics worry that unfettered control will only lessen Bukele's restraint.

Broader concerns about democratic institutions don't resonate strongly among a voting public concerned about the economy and criminal violence, notes Tim Muth at El Salvador Perspectives. Salvadorans have also flocked to Bukele as an alternative to the corruption and scandal tainted establishment parties that governed the country since the 1992 peace accords, reports the Associated Press.

Indeed, in just two years he has made both the right-wing Arena party and his former party, the leftist-FMLN, largely irrelevant, reports El Faro.

Bukele could meet with opposition from the new U.S. Biden administration, whose Central America policy is focused on fighting corruption, strengthening democracy and encouraging economic growth to stymie migration.

News Briefs

  • Thousands of Haitians protested a growing wave of for-ransom kidnappings, and again called for the departure of President Jovenel Moïse, yesterday in cities around the country. It was deemed the largest demonstration since anti-government protests resumed earlier this year, and was organized by some of the country’s most prominent Protestant pastors and supported by various civic groups, political organizations and unions, reports the Miami Herald.
  • More than 400 inmates have escaped and 25 people have died in a Haitian prison breakout, the country’s largest and deadliest one in a decade, reports the Associated Press. The breakout on Thursday was believed to be an attempt to free gang leader Arnel Joseph. He escaped, but died Friday in an exchange of gunfire with police, after being spotted at a checkpoint in the town of L’Estere, reportedly still wearing prison chains on his ankles.
Regional Relations
  • "Given the importance of both China and the United States to Latin America, it makes sense that policymakers would try to maintain a productive relationship with both. But it is unclear how sustainable the strategy will be in the long term," writes Oliver Stuenkel in Foreign Policy. The battle is increasingly playing out across the region on the issue of 5G technology.
  • Brazil passed 251,000 Covid-19 deaths last week, the same day 1,582 Brazilians died from Covid-19, the highest daily toll so far, reports the Guardian.
  • Chile has become a global vaccination leader and aims to have 80% of its population immunised against the virus by June, reports the Guardian.
  • Mexico's government has put the country's poorest citizens first in line to be vaccinated against Covid-19. Experts have criticized the epidemiological logic of the plan, puts teachers in rural villages, some of the country’s poorest farmers, and elderly members of far-flung Indigenous communities ahead of health workers and populations of cities where the worst outbreaks have been, reports the Washington Post. Critics say AMLO is using the vaccine politically -- particularly with key constituencies like rural teachers -- but the president defended the approach: “We are merely starting in the most remote communities, where there are more needs and also where there is not enough health infrastructure to deal with covid cases,” he said.
  • This recent New York Times Español piece argues that, in general, poverty should be taken into account in vaccination schemes, since it is a mortality factor.
  • Mexico's Quintana Roo state is softening coronavirus restrictions -- cases have decreased -- just ahead of its busy spring break tourist season, reports the Washington Post.
  • While Mexico needs tourists, many are concerned that they aren't following coronavirus social-distancing protocols. Oaxaca's remote artisan communities, a tourism draw, are particularly vulnerable because they have little access to medical care, reports the Washington Post separately.
  • Monarch butterflies numbers in their central Mexico winter resting grounds decreased by about 26% this year. Experts blame the reduction on “extreme climate conditions”, the loss of milkweed habitat in the United States and Canada on which butterflies depend, and deforestation in the butterflies’ wintering grounds in Mexico. In 2020, four times as many trees in the area were lost to illegal logging, drought and other causes, reports the Associated Press.
  • U.S. President Joe Biden will speak by video conference with his Mexican counterpart, Andrés Manuel López Obrador. Migration is expected to be a central topic of the conversation. AMLO is a critical partner for the Biden administration's efforts to overhaul immigration policies, and they are expected to discuss addressing the root causes of persecution and poverty that force Central American families to flee to the United States. Nonetheless, AMLO worked closely with former U.S. President Donald Trump, and was a key partner in implementing the former administration's hard-line immigration agenda, notes the New York Times.
  • Colombia's special transitional tribunal (JEP) revealed that the number of extrajudicial executions of civilians, carried out by the military and falsely declared as guerilla combat kills, was far higher than previously believed. (See last Monday's briefs.) A new investigation revealed that at least 6,402 people were murdered in the "false positives" scandal. Achieving a lasting peace and a less divided country requires establishing the truth, argues Sinar Alvarado in the New York Times Español.
  • Argentina’s leftist government is unlikely to reach a deal with the International Monetary Fund to repay $44 billion in debt before the country’s October midterm elections. The government is wary of spending cuts, which would complicate reaching a deal, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • Allegations of fraud in Ecuador's recent presidential election are unsubstantiated, writes Mark Weisbrot in Market Watch.
  • Latin America's pink tide should really be seen as part of a series of progressive waves, argues former Bolivian vice president Álvaro García Linera. "If the first wave was framed in a more radical progressivism, with strong charismatic leaderships, the second is marked by a moderate progressivism without the presence of charismatic leaders." (Página 12)

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

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