Monday, September 6, 2021

El Salvador's Supreme Court permits Bukele reelection

El Salvador's top court ruled that presidents can serve two consecutive terms, on Friday. The constitutional chamber of the Supreme Court of Justice ordered the Supreme Electoral Tribunal to enable a president who had not been in office "in the immediately preceding period to participate in the electoral contest for a second occasion."

The decision contradicts previous court interpretations of El Salvador's constitution, which was understood to require a two-term waiting period between one presidential mandate and a second one. The justices who participated in the decision were appointed by El Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele earlier this year. They determined that all Bukele must do in order to seek reelection in 2024 is to resign from his post five months before the vote, and said the constitutional text responds to antiquated needs from previous decades.

Opposition politicians protested the move, and experts said it was unconstitutional. The chargé d’affaires at the U.S. Embassy in San Salvador, Jean Manes, said at a news conference that the U.S. government condemns the decision, and criticized what she said was a government strategy to undermine judicial independence. She compared Bukele to the late Venezuelan leader Hugo Chávez, who used his popularity with voters to mask a systematic dismantling of democratic checks and balances.

Last week Bukele loyalists in the National Assembly passed a reform that forces judges and prosecutors to retire once they turn 60 or after completing 30 years of service, affecting one-third of all judges and dozens of prosecutors. (See last Thursday's briefs.)

More El Salvador
  • A Chinese company project to purchase an island off El Salvador's coast, which U.S. officials said was the object of a successful Chinese effort to bribe El Salvadoran politicians, is moving forward, reports NBC News. The project has some U.S. officials concerned that the planned construction of a deep-water port would give China a significant economic and strategic foothold in what has traditionally been the U.S. sphere of influence.

Bolsonaro marches tomorrow

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has called for supporters to demonstrate tomorrow, on Brazil's Independence Day. Bolsonaristas will be out in full force, a move aimed at bolstering the president's dropping popularity ratings ahead of next year's presidential election. But the predicted massive rallies in Brasilia and Sao Paulo have also fanned fears that Brazil's democracy is under threat. There is increasing concern that Bolsonaro supporters -- many members of state military police forces, others armed civilians -- could clash with opponents. Others fear that the marches could emulate the January Capital riot in the U.S. More than 5,000 police officers will reportedly be deployed to protect Congress. And some are concerned that Bolsonaro might even be plotting a self-coup, by which the democratically elected president tries to seize dictatorial powers. (Guardian)

An open letter from an influential international group of former presidents, prime ministers and leading public figures on the left claims the rallies represent a danger to democracy and amount to an insurrection modelled on Donald Trump supporters’ attack on the US Capitol on 6 January, reports the Guardian.

Bolsonaro's anti-democratic discourse is of concern to opponents in Brazil.  Supreme Court Justice Ricardo Lewandowski recently wrote a newspaper article pointing out that any action against the constitutional order by armed groups, civilian or military, constitutes a crime, reports Bloomberg.

Last week, the chief justice of Brazil’s supreme court, Luiz Fux, said people should be aware of the “judicial consequences of their acts”, whatever their political leanings. “Freedom of expression does not entail violence and threats,” Fux warned.

"Whether Bolsonaro and his supporters will manage to topple Brazilian democracy and keep him in power remains to be seen, but September 7 is already shaping up to be a bold step in that direction," according to The Intercept.

More Brazil
  • Brian Winter delves into the complexities of the U.S. Biden administration's diplomatic relations with Bolsonaro -- a balance between distance from the controversial president and keeping Brazil aligned against China. "While the Biden administration has so far refrained from directly criticizing Bolsonaro’s behavior, there may come a point where the parallels with the January 6 uprising in Washington become too obvious for US officials to stay silent," he writes in Piauí.

  • Ahead of next year's presidential elections, Brazilian economy minister Paulo Guedes is running out of time for his proposed slew of reforms, reports the Economist.

  • Brazil’s health regulator suspended the use of just over 12.1 million doses of the coronavirus vaccine manufactured by China’s Sinovac after learning that vials containing the shots were filled at an unauthorized production base, reports the Washington Post.

Giammattei accused of accepting bribe

Guatemalan prosecutors are investigating allegations that Russian businessmen paid a bribe to President Alejandro Giammattei to obtain a dock in one of the country’s main ports. The inquiry arose out of information publicized in media reports, said a spokesman for the attorney general’s office.

Guatemala’s top anti-corruption prosecutor had begun to look into allegations by a witness who said he had personally delivered a rolled-up carpet filled with packages of cash to the president’s home. But just weeks after their inquiry began, the prosecutor, Juan Francisco Sandoval, was abruptly dismissed by the attorney general and fled to the United States with the evidence he had compiled, reports the New York Times. (See June 26's post.)

According to Sandoval, four Russian businessmen with mining interests in Guatemala sent the bribe in April, seeking space to establish a dock in the Caribbean port of Santo Tomas de Castilla. The Guatemala-based mining company linked to the men denied that any bribe had been paid. (Reuters)

On Friday the attorney general's office also confirmed an arrest warrant for Sandoval, who Attorney General Consuelo Porras said was under investigation for allegedly leaking confidential information, among other allegations. Upon leaving Guatemala in July, Sandoval accused Porras “leading a strategy to criminalize and persecute all the people who have contributed for years to strengthening justice and combating corruption and impunity,” and of meddling in the port bribery probe. (Associated Press)

"The arrest warrant against Sandoval is yet another sign that forces within Guatemala’s judiciary are doubling down on efforts to shut down anyone tackling high-level graft," reports InSight Crime.

News Briefs

  • Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega's thorough crackdown on opponents since May has detained 7 presidential candidates and dozens of political activists and civil society leaders, leaving the president "running on a ballot devoid of any credible challenger and turning Nicaragua into a police state," reports the New York Times. "The crackdown, which has extended to critics from any social realm, has spared no political dissidents, no matter their personal circumstances or historical ties to Mr. Ortega."

  • Political detainees in Nicaragua are mistreated, reports Confidencial: they are in isolation cells, with insufficient food and access to outdoors, sleep with lights on, and are subjected to intense interrogation.
  • Covid-19 infection rates have dropped dramatically in South America -- experts are not certain what is behind the decrease, though some say it is partially because of the speed of vaccinations (despite initial delays), reports the New York Times.
  • The Paraná is South America's second largest river. A heavily reduced water flow this year has left communities scrambling for freshwater, and upended delicate ecosystems in the vast area that straddles Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay, reports the New York Times. Experts say deforestation in the Amazon, along with rain patterns altered by a warming planet, are helping fuel the drought.

  • Successive political scandals in Argentina have spurred political apathy among voters, in addition to delegitimizing establishment politicians, argues Hugo Alconada Mon in New York Times Español.
  • A recent U.S. Supreme Court decision reviving a controversial Trump administration policy that forces asylum seekers to await resolution of their cases in Mexico was quietly welcomed by some Biden administration officials overwhelmed by a surge in migrants arriving at the country's southern border, reports the New York Times. (See Aug. 25's post.)

  • Colombian President Iván Duque's move to welcome as many as 4,000 Afghan refugees -- a temporary stay fully paid for by the United States -- is less as an act of solidarity than a bid to improve his image with the United States, reports the Washington Post.
  • Venezuela's informal dollarization has boosted access to goods in the country's wrecked economy, and brought a fragile stability, writes Virginia López Glass in New York Times Español.
  • A World Cup qualification game between Brazil and Argentina was stopped by Brazilian health authorities yesterday a few minutes into play, in the midst of a dispute over coronavirus quarantine regulations. (New York TimesWashington Post)
Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take? Let me know ... 

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