Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Bukele's legislative carte blanche (March 2, 2021)

 El Salvador's Nuevas Ideas party won 56 seats in the National Assembly on Sunday -- exactly a two-thirds majority of the 84 seat Congress. That means President Nayib Bukele will be able to pass legislation without requiring any political negotiation with opposition parties, reports El Faro. In addition, Bukele can count on the 5 representatives of the allied GANA party, giving him an even more comfortable margin. The two parties dominant in El Salvador in recent decades -- Arena and FMLN -- will have a very reduced representation in the AN, 14 seats and 5, respectively.

This kind of carte blanche power is unprecedented in El Salvador's democracy. Since the peace accords, the ruling party has resorted to alliances with smaller parties to pass legislation, notes El Faro.

The legislative campaign for Nuevas Ideas was focused on support for Bukele, to the point that the party's symbol is just the initial it shares with the president: "N." The overwhelming win only adds to concerns about Bukele's "authoritarian drift," reports Americas Quarterly.

The tone of Bukele's upcoming institutional clashes will likely be seen soon, if the independent electoral tribunal (TSE) tries to sanction Bukele for violating campaign laws, writes Boz at the Latin America Risk Report. El Salvador’s president campaigned through election day, made irresponsible allegations of voter fraud and electoral problems even as he won, and used the institutions of government to benefit his campaign.

But it's important to keep in mind that Bukele has the overwhelming support of the population. Many voters are unconcerned with Bukele's attitude towards democratic institutions, and prioritize economic concerns and reductions in criminal violence. Bukele has also capitalized on longstanding disgust with the political establishment parties. (El Salvador Perspectives, see yesterday's post.)

"The TSE estimates that 51 percent of eligible voters cast their ballots— a high figure for a legislative election — after a vitriolic and sometimes violent campaign season, branded by the image of the president and which became a referendum on El Salvador’s old guard of political parties stained by years of corruption scandals," notes El Faro.

News Briefs

  • "Bukele’s trajectory echoes what has already happened in Nicaragua and Honduras, where elections have consolidated power for autocratic forces – and could do so again later this year. Guatemala also merits concern," write Patricio Navia and Lucas Perelló in Americas Quarterly. "The erosion of democracy via the ballot box in this part of Central America is closely tied to years of corruption on the part of political elites."
  • The trial of the U.S.-trained former military officer accused of masterminding Berta Cáceres' assassination five years ago has been scheduled for next month. David Roberto Castillo Mejía, ex-military officer and president of dam company Desa, has been indicted as the “intellectual author” of the environmental activist's 2016 murder. (Guardian)
  • Brazilian Covid-19 deaths are soaring, and hospitals are nearly overwhelmed, reports the Guardian. Deaths have hit a new high, averaging 1,208 per day over the past week. Intensive care units in 17 of Brazil’s 26 states were near capacity, while six states and the capital Brasília had run out of intensive care beds altogether. Politicians from across the spectrum voiced anger and exasperation at the deteriorating situation, yesterday. (See yesterday's briefs.)
  • The global implications are significant, say experts, pointing to the potential for the virus to mutate, as it already has in the P.1. variant that has devastated Manaus in the Amazon. Laboratory experiments suggest that P.1 could weaken the protective effect of a Chinese vaccine now in use in Brazil. (Washington Post, New York Times)
  • Brazil's health system is actually excellent at vaccinations -- which makes its failure with regards to coronavirus vaccinations even more troubling, writes Vanessa Barbara in a New York Times op-ed.
  • Hundreds of migrant children still separated from their parents by the former U.S. Trump administration may be allowed to reunite with their families in the United States — and some families may have the opportunity to stay, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas announced yesterday. (NPR)
  • The Dominican Republic plans to construct a fence along its 376-kilometer border with Haiti, a move aimed at curbing unauthorized migration and illicit trade, DR President Luis Abinader announced Sunday. He specifically said it would limit drug trafficking and movement of stolen vehicles. The barrier will include a double-fence in the “most conflictive” sections, along with motion sensors, facial recognition cameras and infrared systems, he said in an address to Congress. (Reuters, BBC)
  • Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has obstinately refused to listen to feminist demands -- to which the movement must respond by remaining determined, writes Viri Ríos in the New York Times Español. In a country where the opposition to the ruling Morena party is weak, "I think women are becoming his main opposition, the most legitimate and the most visible."
  • The latest case of AMLO's refusal to value feminist perspectives is the Morena candidate for Guerrero state governor: Félix Salgado Macedonio, who has been accused of sexual violence and rape by five women dating back as far as 1998. AMLO has dismissed feminists as a foreign fad, a sign that he has not understood Mexico's real social and political struggles, writes Guadalupe Nettel also in New York Times Español.
Regional Relations
  • AMLO met, virtually, with U.S. President Joe Biden yesterday. The two issued a joint declaration affirming their will to cooperate on migration issues, particularly the long-term goal of creating more jobs in southern Mexico and Central America. But whether Biden can get Mexico’s immediate help to contain the growing border influx was not clear, reports the Washington Post. AMLO asked the U.S. for help in ensuring that coronavirus vaccines are available to poorer countries such as Mexico.
  • Exporters in Ecuador are worried that critical trade with China will suffer as a result of a controversial agreement the US says is aimed at shutting China out of the South American country’s 5G telecoms network, reports the Financial Times. (See yesterday's briefs on how 5G is a key issue in the China-U.S. battle for influence in Latin America and the Caribbean.)
  • Controversies over 5G networks, and especially China’s Huawei, have demonstrated how far geopolitics have infected digital infrastructure, writes Emily Taylor in World Politics Review.
  • Ecuador's health minister starred in the region's latest episode of vaccine scandals. He stepped down on Friday after questions were raised about his participation in an inoculation effort at a nursing home where his mother lives, reports Al Jazeera.
  • Ecuadorean officials said prison riots that left 79 inmates dead last week were linked to organized transnational crime. The riots underscored the problems of overcrowding and underfunding that plague the county's penitentiary system, reports Reuters. Catholic bishops are calling for a “humanization” of detention centers in Ecuador. (Crux)
  • Argentina's jails are at 95 percent capacity, a particular danger in the pandemic context, according to a government report. (Tiempo Argentino)
  • Coca gives Colombian small farmers a stable livelihood but also endangers their lives, as criminals battle over the drug trade and authorities try to shut it down. Bogotá and Washington should abandon their heavy-handed elimination efforts and help growers find alternatives to the hardy plant, according to a new International Crisis Group report.
  • The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights recently determined that laws against the “abominable crime of buggery” and acts of “gross indecency” effectively led to state-sanctioned violence against LGBTQ+ Jamaicans. It is a watershed moment, writes one of the claimants in the case, Gareth Henry. "Unlike my numerous appeals to the police for justice, such a well-reasoned and categorical judgment from an authority of this kind cannot be easily dismissed." (Guardian, see last Thursday's briefs)
French Guiana
  • Illegal fishing off the coast of French Guiana surged amid the COVID-19 pandemic, as French maritime patrols struggled to mobilize resources, luring illegal fishing crews to the country’s pristine waters, reports InSight Crime.

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

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