Monday, April 12, 2021

Lasso wins Ecuador's presidency (April 12, 2021)

Conservative banker Guillermo Lasso won yesterday's presidential runoff election by nearly five points, according to preliminary counts. Lasso obtained 52.42 percent of the votes yesterday, and made a victory speech rife with references to religion and God, reports El País.

The victory is a huge blow to former President Rafael Correa, who's candidate, Andrés Arauz, had a significant lead over Lasso in the February presidential elections. The runoff election was posited as a battle between Correismo and anti-Correismo. (See last Friday's post.)

The election council figures show 1.6 million null votes, which were probably the result of Indigenous politician Yaku Pérez, who narrowly lost to Lasso in February's first round, calling on supporters to spoil their ballots. (Al Jazeera)

Indeed, this year's campaign was marked by the emergence of the country’s long marginalized Indigenous movement as a key driver of the political conversation, reports the New York Times. Lasso will be forced to reckon with the country’s Indigenous party, Pachakutik, which won enough seats in February's vote to become the second-largest presence in Congress.
In his speech last night, Lasso made it clear that he would not support the growing demands from Ecuador’s women’s movement to decriminalize abortion. Under the current laws, abortion is illegal except in cases where a woman’s life or health is at risk, or if the pregnancy is the result of a sexual crime against a mentally disabled woman.

Leftist union leader surprise victor in Peru's elections

Peru's presidential elections yesterday fulfilled predictions of extreme unpredictability: the apparent victor in an extremely fragmented playing field is Pedro Castillo, a union leader and primary school teacher, who did not lead in a single poll before the election. Castillo will likely face-off either against conservative economist Hernán de Soto or right-wing opposition leader Keiko Fujimori in a second-round election to be held in June. (Updated preliminary results at ONPE)

Early results tend to over-represent urban voters, and an unofficial quick count by the Ipsos polling firm pointed to a likely second round between Castillo and Fujimori, notes Bloomberg. Some 25 million people were eligible to vote -- which is mandatory -- the day after Peru reported its highest-ever daily toll in the pandemic, reports AFP.

None of the 18 presidential candidates had more than 12 percent in polls -- a trend that held yesterday. Castillo had nearly 17 percent this morning, while De Soto had 13.1 and Fujimori had 13.  The results auger a polarized second round with Peruvians choosing between diametrically opposed candidates, according to El Comercio.

Castillo, whose Free Peru party calls itself “socialist left”, has pledged to redraft the constitution to weaken the business elite and give the state a more dominant role in sectors such as mining, oil, hydropower, gas and communications, reports Reuters. His anti-establishment discourse won him followers in Peru’s poor rural areas -- he wears a straw hat to most public appearances, and went to vote on horseback yesterday. (Bloomberg)

Peru is in a period of political instability -- it is currently led by interim-president Fernando Sagasti, who took the post after his predecessor Martín Vizcarra was ousted by Congress. Vizcarra in turn acceded the presidency after former President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski resigned amid accusations of corruption. The winning candidate in this election will become Peru's fifth president in three years. (See Friday's post.)

Whoever is sworn in later this year is likely to have the weakest mandate of any elected president in recent history, and will be forced to deal with dual economic and health crises likely to shape the country for years to come, reports the New York Times.

Peruvians also voted for lawmakers, and the Congress looks set to remain highly fragmented with some 10 parties appearing to reach the threshold for representation in the legislature but none with a clear majority, notes Reuters.

La Soufrière threatens local communities

La Soufrière volcano on St. Vincent and the Grenadines continued to explode today in what experts called a “huge explosion” that generated pyroclastic flows down the volcano’s south and south-west flanks. (Associated Press) The volcano started to erupt Friday, covering the entire island in white ash. (iWitness News) The ash plume reached as high as 6 miles into the air, with wind taking it as far as 25,000 feet east of St. Vincent, reports the ABC News. Volcano activity continued into the weekend, with Vincentians reporting that rumblings could be heard coming from La Soufriere at night. There were no immediate reports of injuries or death.

Authorities compared the scene to a battle zone. Experts are concerned that there will be more eruptions that could endanger communities in the area with pyroclastic flows — the fast-moving volcanic ash, lava droplets and hot gas that can incinerate everything in its path, instantly, reports the Miami Herald

About 20,000 people have moved to the south of the island. Many are staying with friends and family, while around 4,000 people have moved into the 72 shelters that have been set up by residents, and three cruise ships will be used as temporary shelters. Authorities said they evacuated most of the residents living in the danger zone, though some insisted on staying and only finally agreed to leave after the explosions occurred. At least four empty cruise ships were waiting nearby to take evacuees to other islands that have agreed to temporarily receive them, including Antigua and Grenada.

The island suffered a massive power outage yesterday. (CNN)

The volcano has been inactive for nearly 42 years. While people are more familiar with the volcano's 1976 eruption, La Soufriere's current activity is more akin to the 1902 eruption, which claimed 1,600 lives at a time when early warning systems and evacuation capabilities were not as advanced, reports iWitness News.

News Briefs

  • Bolivia held a runoff vote for departmental elections yesterday -- preliminary results indicate the MAS party is losing, reports Nodal.
  • Mexico, which is increasingly straining to cope with the influx Central American families the U.S. expels along the two countries' shared border, is now limiting the number of families it will allow back, reports the Washington Post. That’s forced the U.S. government to accept most of them, as their numbers soar: About 53,000 members of family units were taken into custody in March, compared with 7,300 in January.
  • Chile's government enacted a new Migration Law yesterday. The law took 8 years to be approved and has received a barrage of criticism from the opposition and pro-migrant organizations, for imposing greater border "rigidity" and speeding up deportations, reports the Rio Times. (See Nodal.)
  • Four people were killed in a Nariño party, the latest of 27 massacres so far this year in the violence afflicted Colombia municipality. (Nodal)
  • Colombian cities began the first weekend of strict lockdowns on Saturday, in a bid to reduce the spread of the third wave of the coronavirus following several days of more than 10,000 daily infections. (EFE)
  • Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro said the country signed a deal to produce two million doses per month of Cuban Abdala coronavirus vaccine. He also said adding that the government managed to secure funds to acquire 11.3 million vaccine doses through Covax. (Al Jazeera)
  • Hunger and food insecurity are on the rise in Covid-19 battered Brazil. A new study found that 19 million Brazilians have gone hungry during the pandemic, while nearly 117 million – more than half the population – live with some level of food insecurity. Experts point to high unemployment exacerbated by the coronavirus, cuts and reductions to social programmes and sharp price increases on basic food staples as some of the reasons behind the problem, reports Al Jazeera.
  • Brazilian meat plant workers' health will be endangered by an industry-backed plan to reduce breaks given to employees, say workers’ rights groups in the country. New rules under discussion would limit the regular breaks given to workers enduring cold temperatures, which labor specialists say helps reduce the potential for injury, reports the Guardian.
  • Argentine President Alberto Fernández could be released from his Covid-19 quarantine period today, in time to meet with Juan González, the U.S. the National Security Council’s senior director for the Western Hemisphere, who is in Buenos Aires. The agenda is officially focused on climate change and pandemic impact in the region, but unofficial topics of interest include Venezuela, and Chinese influence in Latin America, particularly the increasingly fraught issue of Chinese fishing fleets. (Ámbito)
  • Argentina's government will act as a plaintiff in a case investigating whether former president Mauricio Macri broke the law in securing a record US$57-billion loan from the International Monetary Fund in 2018. (Buenos Aires Times)
  • Argentine economy minister Martín Guzmán is on a Europe tour, where he hopes to build support among G7 and G40 nations for a renegotiation of its multibillion-dollar debts to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the Paris Club group of creditor nations. (Reuters)
Costa Rica
  • Costa Rican President Carlos Alvarado said cutting the country's deficit will be his legacy, even if it has a popularity cost, reports Bloomberg.
  • Ecuador's Yaku Pérez, leader of the Indigenous Pachakutik party, is part of a larger generational shift in Latin America’s leftist movements, which are prioritizing environment, gender and minority issues over the "Marxist doctrine" of their mentors, according to the New York Times.
Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take? Let me know ... Latin America Daily Briefing

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