Monday, April 12, 2021

Elections in Peru and Ecuador (April 9, 2021)

  This Sunday is a super election day in South America -- elections scheduled in Peru, Ecuador and Chile showcase the difficulty countries face in balancing political and social tensions with surging Covid-19 cases and health concerns. Chile chose to postpone the vote for Constituent Assembly members, while Peru and Ecuador are pushing forward with the first and second round presidential elections, respectively. Bolivia is also holding gubernatorial runoff elections in four departments.


Peruvians will vote in a fragmented presidential race, in which most of the 18 candidates are expected to get single digit percentages. A runoff in June is virtually assured. All seats in congress, too, are being contested. Nearly a third of voters say they remain undecided, and the race is one of the most unpredictable for years. It will be "the most fragmented election in the history" of the country, according to Ipsos Peru chief Alfredo Torres.

Front-runner Yonhy Lescano is in the lead, but very narrowly. Recent polls put him at ten percent, barely ahead of second and third place runners leftist anthropologist Veronika Mendoza and conservative economist Hernando de Soto, each with nine percent. The following candidates are former football player George Forsyth, and opposition leader Keiko Fujimori, who each have eight percent. The top five candidates are within the range of a technical tie. Other polls have Fujimori and De Soto in the lead, but also in single digits. (AS/COAS has profiles of the candidates and diverse polling information.)

The Congress will likely be fragmented, which bodes ill for the next president, who will be vulnerable to impeachment, a perennial issue in Peruvian politics.

Peru is currently governed by a caretaker government headed by Fernando Sagasti, since President Martín Vizcarra was ousted by lawmakers last year, an episode followed by violent street protests. (See post for Nov. 13, 2020.)  While Covid-19 cases are surging, electoral authorities said postponing the vote would risk further political instability. Instead, they expanded the number of polling sites, many of which are outside, and extended voting hours in an attempt to curb contagion risk.

Despite contagion concerns, candidates have held rallies with hundreds of people in recent weeks. Four of the presidential candidates have contracted the virus, most Forsyth, forcing him to cut short his last week of campaigning. 


Ecuador's voters will choose between conservative businessman Guillermo Lasso and Andrés Arauz, a disciple of former president Rafael Correa, in Sunday's runoff vote. The contest is ultimately about whether the country needs a neoliberal or state-centered approach to its current economic malaise, according to Reuters. Low oil prices and the coronavirus pandemic have left a third of the population in poverty and some 500,000 workers without stable employment.

Arauz, who has promised to renegotiate a deal with the International Monetary Fund and expand social welfare programs, is in the lead, but barely. A former banker, Lasso has lost the last two presidential contests. He favors free-market policies and Ecuador’s rapprochement with international organizations, reports the Associated Press.

Though both candidates are socially conservative, they have sought to expand their support by broadening their agendas to include LGBTQ+ rights, race and gender, reports the Guardian.

Arauz won first place in February's presidential election, with more than 30 percent of the vote, while Lasso was virtually tied for second place. He made it to the second round with half of a percentage point over environmentalist Indigenous candidate Yaku Pérez. Pérez refrained from backing either of the two finalist candidates, but later announced he would support Lasso's bid in order to avoid the return of Correismo, which he said “criminalized and persecuted” its opponents. Pérez was arrested five times for protesting against Correa’s presidency, reports Vice.

Indeed, many opponents of Lasso's views are supporting his candidacy as the lesser of two evils, writes Iván Ulchur-Rota in the New York Times Español.

More Ecuador
  • Ecuador's presidential race also has global implications, writes Greg Grandin in The Nation. Beginning in 2016 the country took leadership in a global campaign against the use of offshore tax havens. The upcoming election will be key in determining if that leadership will continue, he explains.
  • Ecuadorean President Lenín Moreno apologized after dismissing a woman who had complained that her family was hungry as a “fatty.” (Vice)
News Briefs

St. Vincent and the Grenadines
  • St. Vincent and the Grenadines'  La Soufriere volcano erupted today. Authorities were still evacuating residents in the volcano's "red zone" after experts warned about an imminent explosion yesterday. Residents of affected areas evacuated by traveling to nearby islands, boarding cruise ships or moving into emergency shelters on other parts of St. Vincent. (Washington PostCaribbean News Service)
Regional Relations
  • El Salvador’s President Nayib Bukele refused to meet with U.S. special envoy Ricardo Zuñiga, who traveled to San Salvador this week, part of the Biden administration's efforts to address the root causes of Central American migration. (See yesterday's briefs.) Bukele's move is a response to what he sees as a pattern of slights from Democrats and the Biden administration, reports the Associated Press. Bukele has told aides that he won’t meet with any Biden officials until the U.S. softens criticism raising doubts about his commitment to democracy and the rule of law.
  • Record numbers of asylum seekers are applying for sanctuary in Mexico -- in March the government received petitions from more than 9,000 people, the highest monthly tally ever. This, in large part, reflects the difficulty for migrants to enter the U.S., but Mexico has also become an increasingly attractive destination in its own right for refugees, reports the New York Times.
  •  A Brazilian Supreme Court justice ordered the Senate to investigate the government’s handling of the coronavirus crisis, reports the Associated Press. The full Supreme Court court ruled that churches can be barred from reopening during the pandemic, a decision that will likely further strain the relationship between President Jair Bolsonaro and the judiciary. Bolsonaro has repeatedly criticized the Supreme Court for upholding the power of governors and mayors to establish restrictions on economic and personal activity during the pandemic. Last year, he attended protests against the court.
  • Civil society organizations in Venezuela have found themselves greatly weakened by the complex humanitarian emergency and the restriction of democratic spaces. A new research report by Dejusticia, “Defending Human Rights in Venezuela: Challenges Facing Civil Society in Confronting the Closure of Democratic Spaces," aims to amplify the voices of Venezuelan activists to the rest of the region, raise visibility of the precarious situation that they face and the strategies adopted to drive the movement and, ultimately, offer a series of recommendations to other regional actors that seek to support the human rights movement in Venezuela.
  • Venezuela has the capacity to produce the experimental Cuban coronavirus vaccine candidate known as Abdala at a Caracas biomedical facility, Vice President Delcy Rodriguez said yesterday. (Reuters)
  • This week Venezuela’s Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza blamed international economic sanctions against Maduro's government for the country's lack of coronavirus vaccines. (AFP)
  • The number of people who have disappeared in Mexico since the start of the country’s drug war now stands at 85,006, the government reported yesterday. (Associated Press)
  • Mexico’s Senate majority leader said lawmakers may postpone the debate on a landmark bill that would decriminalize cannabis. The move could be a setback to creating one of the world’s largest markets for the plant, reports Reuters.
  • Argentina's Congress passed a wage tax cut to benefit more than one million workers hard hit by recession and high inflation, reports Reuters.
  • Uruguay, which was a regional Covid-19 oasis for most of 2020, is grappling with one of the world’s highest Covid infection rates, reports Bloomberg.
  •  Across Latin America and the Caribbean, one in every six people aged 18 to 29 has left work since the coronavirus pandemic began, reports Reuters.
Have a nice weekend! Latin America Daily Briefing

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