Tuesday, June 8, 2021

Castillo inches ahead in Peru (June 8, 2021)

 Leftist presidential candidate Pedro Castillo has inched ahead by a razor-thin margin in Peru's runoff vote. Opponent Keiko Fujimori has alleged irregularities in the count, which has Castillo ahead by about 0.4 percent, with more than 97 of ballots processed. (ONPE, see yesterday's post)

Fujimori called on supporters to share videos supporting allegations of fraud on social media, reports El País. Fujimori said there was "clear intention to boycott the will of the people" by his party, though offered little concrete evidence,  reports Reuters.

However, an Inter-American observer mission did not report any irregularities and said the ballot passed off correctly, complying with international standards, reports the Guardian.

Last night Castillo addressed a large crowd of supporters in downtown Lima and in a tweet called on them to "defend democracy which is expressed in each one of our votes, inside and outside our beloved Peru."

The electoral victory will be by a tiny margin, which is a testament to Peru's polarized politics, and will lead to challenges and likely protests.  Critics warned that no matter the outcome, the country’s fragile democracy is under threat, reports the Washington Post. Prospects for a stable government ensuing are slim, warns Cynthia McClintock in today's Latin America Advisor. Nonetheless, allegations of fraud are unlikely to hold water given the presence of international observers and the electoral authorities being seen as impartial, writes Nicolás Saldías in the same article.

Harris in Guatemala

U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris walked a delicate diplomatic tightrope during her visit to Guatemala yesterday, where she promised U.S. support for an anti-corruption unit of the attorney general's office (FECI) that has been attacked by her host, President Alejandro Giammattei. "We will look to root out corruption wherever it exists," she said. The U.S. State and Justice Departments will also establish a task force to investigate corruption cases that have links to Guatemala and the United States, while also training Guatemalan prosecutors, she announced.

In her first international trip, Harris sought to thread the needle between working to restore the battered U.S. relationship with Guatemala and taking a hard stance against the corruption that critics see reflected in Giammattei’s record, reports the Washington Post.

Harris warned would-be migrants from Central America, that they “will be turned back” if they attempt to cross the U.S. border illegally. “I believe if you come to our border, you will be turned back,” Harris said during a joint news conference with Giammattei. “So let’s discourage our friends or neighbors or family members from embarking on what is otherwise an extremely dangerous journey.” (Los Angeles Times)

Migrant advocates have been critical of the U.S. Biden administration's approach, and said yesterday that Harris' message discouraging migrants from trying to cross to the border undermined their right to seek asylum in the United States, reports the New York Times. Harris encouraged would-be migrants to apply for permission to enter the United States from home, days after aides announced plans to establish a new center in Guatemala where people can learn about obtaining asylum protections or refugee status while still in Central America, rather than traveling to the U.S. border.

Harris also met with met with a large group of leaders in Guatemala’s civil society, including well known activists Rigoberta Menchú, a Nobel Peace laureate and veteran campaigner for indigenous rights; former Vice President Eduardo Stein, who has long worked on behalf of migrants and refugees; and Helen Mack, a prominent human rights defender whose anthropologist sister was assassinated by the Guatemalan military three decades ago.

The Biden administration also outlined an investment of $48 million in entrepreneurship programs, affordable housing and agricultural businesses in Guatemala, part of a four-year, $4 billion plan to invest in the region.

Harris faced sceptical questions over whether the measures she announced would represent a real change in U.S. policy in the region, at a time of worsening poverty and corruption, reports the Guardian.

Harris cannot be expected to achieve a miracle cure for irregular migration -- rather "success will ultimately rest on something lost in the headlines — the ability and willingness of the United States government to constructively disrupt a failed status quo in the region and in the U.S. migration system itself," argues Dan Restrepo in The Hill. This means alleviating acute causes of migration, such as humanitarian assistance in response to natural disasters, as well as working to address root causes, such as entrenched corruption. It also means disrupting the U.S.'s own neglect of legal avenues for migration from northern Central America, writes Restrepo.

It is also time for the U.S. to take a more nuanced approach to migration from Central America, argue Anita Isaacs and Jorge Morales Toj in a New York Times guest essay. In the case of Guatemala, economic factors are the main motivation for would-be migrants. Getting results will require channeling aid directly to local communities for sustainable projects, they write.

News Briefs

  • Harris arrived in Mexico last night, the second and last stop on her trip. Both countries agree discursively on tackling the root causes of migration, but differ in what that means in practice, reports El País. While the U.S. has focused on addressing corruption in the Northern Triangle, Mexico's government favors direct aid.
  • Mexico's ruling Morena party emerged as the biggest winner in Sunday's midterm elections, but lost its super majority in Congress, as well as the aura of invincibility President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has enjoyed since coming into power three years ago in a landslide, reports the Washington Post. (See yesterday's post.)
  • AMLO still enjoys approval ratings around 60 percent. But polls offer poor assessments of his handling of the economy, security and the pandemic, reports the Guardian.
  • The results are chastising for the opposition, which has largely coalesced around battling AMLO rather than propositions, writes Viri Ríos in a New York Times Español guest essay.
  • It was the largest election in Mexico's history -- and also the deadliest: 89 politicians, including 36 candidates, were murdered since campaigning began last September. Hundreds more candidates were threatened or attacked. (Conversation)
  • Colombian President Iván Duque announced a police reform initiative, after over a month of popular protests that have been met with security force repression and violence. The announcement was made ahead of a visit by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, to investigate violations during protests. (CNN)
  • The Brazilian city of Manaus ordered schools closed and suspended public transport after the police shooting of an alleged leader of a drug trafficking ring sparked retribution attacks from gangs, reports the Associated Press.
El Salvador
  • Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele's move to adopt bitcoin as legal tender is a sleight of hand to distract from grave problems at home, including a mass grave discovered at a former cop's house that could indicate former security forces' participation in civilian disappearances, writes Paolo Luers in El Diario de Hoy.
  • On Friday El Salvador's government announced it would pull out of its agreement to cooperate with the International Commission against Impunity in El Salvador (CICIES), an international advisory and monitoring commission against corruption and impunity created in 2019. Today OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro accused Bukele of attempting to use the CICIES as a weapon against the opposition. (El Faro)
  • Gangs raided multiple police stations for weapons in Haiti's capital, Port-au-Prince. Nine police stations have been attacked over the past week, at least 15 weapons stolen and a Haitian police inspector killed. Another seven officers have died in metropolitan Port-au-Prince amid violent clashes between warring gangs that have forced thousands of Haitians to flee from their homes along the southern edge of the capital since the start of this month, reports the Miami Herald.
  • Haiti postponed a controversial constitutional referendum schedule for June 27, due to coronavirus concerns. No new date was set, further deepening the country’s political crisis, reports Al Jazeera.
  • Haiti still has not received a single coronavirus vaccine, notes Bloomberg.
  • Coronavirus remains a significant issue in South America, where Uruguay, Paraguay, Argentina and Colombia all have current deaths per capita rates higher than the worst seven day average experienced by the US in early January. -- Latin America Risk Report
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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