Monday, January 3, 2022

Boric is part of new leftist wave (Jan. 3, 2021)

Gabriel Boric's victory in Chile's presidential elections on Dec. 19 -- confirmed the country's leftward swing in the wake of massive social protests in 2019. The 35-year-old is the country's youngest president-elect. Boric gained prominence as a protest leader ten years ago, when student movements rallied to demand free public education, and is seen by many as the institutionalization of widespread generational anger at Chile's unequal social system. (New York Times)

Boric had campaigned on the promise of installing a "social welfare" state, increasing taxes and social spending in a country with one of the world's largest gaps between rich and poor. After proclaiming victory, Boric pledged to maintain an "orderly economy." (Reuters)

He will face high expectations and social movement pressure to deliver on his campaign promises, notes Nacla. Despite the president-elect's stirring rhetoric, his agenda won't be too revolutionary, according to the Economist. "The relationship between the presidency, the constitution-writers and legislators will determine how far the country lurches to the left."

Indeed, Boric's biggest immediate test will be his leadership in the midst of an ongoing constitutional rewrite that will be put to citizen referendum later this year. The 2019 protests decanted into a push to change the country's magna carta, drafted under the Pinochet dictatorship, which enshrined a market approach that made the country's a regional economic leader and created the social system demonstrators chafed against.

"In the presidential seat, Mr. Boric will have to walk the fine line of championing the new Constitution — which could inevitably circumscribe his own power — and not alienating that part of the electorate that doesn’t share the progressive values of the drafting committee members who themselves are still debating key provisions," writes Cristian Farias in a New York Times op-ed.

Boric forms part of a regional leftward shift. But while some analysts are again discussing the "pink tide," most agree that the current panorama is far more heterogenous than the leftist government's that characterized Latin America in the 2000's. "Latin America’s new crop of leftist leaders are, on average, less uniform and more measured," reports the Washington Post.  Notably, Boric represents a generational change in the region's left -- one characterized by concerns over minority rights, and the environment. "His more nuanced positions set him up to be Latin America’s first woke president, a leader built for an age of gender-neutral pronouns and Greta Thunberg," according to the Post.

U.S. President Joe Biden called Boric last week to congratulate him and the two leaders discussed their shared commitment to social justice, democracy, human rights and inclusive growth. Biden "applauded Chile’s free and fair elections as a powerful example to the region and the world," the White House said in a statement. (Reuters)

Chile's Constitutional Convention
  • Chile's Constitutional Convention will select new leadership tomorrow, six months after starting the process of drafting a new magna carta. Five women are vying to replace Elisa Loncón, who currently presides over the CC, including Beatriz Sánchez of Boric's Frente Amplio.  (La Bot ConstituyenteThe Clinic)

  • It's a critical election as the Convention heads into a crucial phase: commissions are concluding their proposals for new constitutional norms, which the convention plenary will begin to vote on in February, reports El País.

  • Chile's approach to the environment is among the central issues the convention is analyzing -- with likely large impacts on the country's key mining industry, reports the New York Times

  • A proposal to create autonomous regions within Chile, replacing the current unitarian system, has majority support within the relevant commission within the Convention, and will be voted on by the plenary, reports La Tercera.
News Briefs

  • Latin America, once a hot spot of Covid-19 deaths, now leads the U.S. and much of the world in vaccinations, though wide disparities remain between urban and rural regions, reports the Wall Street Journal. (AS/COA reviews how countries in the region performed on vaccinations in 2021.)

  • Burgeoning "minilateralism" in Latin America may be foreshadowing the revival of large-scale regional cooperation in Latin America, according to Foreign Policy's Latin America Brief. "That could affect policies from migration policy to vaccine manufacturing."

  • Education in Latin America was particularly affected by Covid-19, the region had the longest school closures, and pandemic shutdowns exacerbated socio-economic and gender gaps in access to education. "Preventing mass dropout will require both immediate action and a long-term strategy," writes Mercedes Mateo-Berganza, chief of the education division of the Inter-American Development Bank, in Americas Quarterly.
El Salvador
  • Salvadoran authorities released three Salvadoran women who were sentenced to 30 years in prison under the nation’s strict anti-abortion laws after suffering obstetric emergencies, on Christmas Eve. President Nayib Bukele commuted the sentences of the women, who served between six to 13 years after miscarrying due to “health emergencies," say abortion activists. El Salvador has one of the region's harshest abortion bans. (AFP, Associated Press)

  • A former senior Salvadoran anti-corruption prosecutor, Germán Arriaza, said his team compiled documentary and photographic evidence that President Nayib Bukele’s government struck a deal with the country's dominant street gangs in 2019 to reduce murder rates and help the ruling party win legislative elections. Arriaza said the government then shut down his unit's investigation, reports Reuters. Arriaza’s comments mark the first time a former Salvadoran official has publicly accused the Bukele government of making a deal with the gangs -- El Faro published investigations backing the accusations, and, in December, the U.S. Treasury Department also claimed the talks took place. (See post for Dec. 9, 2021)

  • Some users of El Salvador's national "El Chivo" bitcoin wallet report missing funds -- an example of the system's vulnerability to piracy, according to economist Steve Hanke. (El Diario de Hoy)
  • At least 24 people have died and 50,000 have been left homeless by deadly floods in northeastern Brazil, last week. Local officials said they have never before seen flooding on this scale -- part of a pattern of weather extremes Bahia has faced in recent years, reports the New York Times. (See also Reuters.)

  • President Jair Bolsonaro rejected an aid offer from Argentina, but was countered by Bahia's governor, who said local authorities would welcome help from any nation and that foreign countries should feel free to contact the state directly, reports AFP.

  • Bolsonaro announced a $125.67 million relief credit line to help the northeastern region with the impacts of severe flooding, reports Reuters.

  • Brazil's government is polling citizens on whether children should be vaccinated against Covid-19 -- and Bolsonaro's supporters have been highly engaged on messaging apps trying to pressure parents to swing the results against inoculation, reports the Associated Press.

  • Former Brazilian judge Sergio Moro made his reputation as an anti-corruption crusader who put former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in jail. But subsequent revelations that his decisions were partial and politically motivated tarnished his reputation -- now he is struggling to present a third-way alternative in the presidential race led by Lula and Bolsonaro, reports The Intercept.

  • Lula "is gearing up for an electrifying bid to reclaim power in next October’s presidential election," reports the Guardian. Simultaneously Lula will make a series of overseas trips that allies say are designed to repair Brazil's international reputation and denounce Bolsonaro’s threat to the country's democracy.

  • Bolsonaro has been admitted to hospital with abdominal pain and is being examined to see if surgery is necessary, reports Reuters.
  • Key commitments of Colombia's peace deal with the FARC aimed at addressing the root causes of the country's decades-long conflict: poverty, brutal inequalities in the countryside and the absence of government services. But the agreement's promise remains unfulfilled, writes WOLA President Carolina Jiménez Sandoval in a New York Times op-ed. Whoever wins Colombia's presidential election in May will have to double down on rural investment and tackling violence against social leaders in order to defend the country's fragile peace, she argues.

  • The group that attempted to bomb Colombian air force planes at the Cúcuta aiport on Dec. 14th, killing three people, were members of a criminal gang hired by the dissident elements of the FARC guerrilla group operating out of Venezuela, according to Colombian authorities. (Miami Herald)
Regional Relations
  • China has opened an embassy in Nicaragua for the first time since 1990, less than a month after the central American country cut ties with Taiwan, reports the Guardian. Nicaraguan foreign minister, Denis Moncada, said there was an “ideological affinity” between the two countries and thanked China for donating 1m doses of the Sinopharm coronavirus vaccine.
  • Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro said on Sunday he will soon visit Iran to finalize new agreements on cooperation between the two countries. Iran has become Venezuela's top ally in boosting oil output amid U.S. sanctions, reports Reuters.

  • Venezuela almost doubled its oil production in 2021 over 2020's decades-low, reports Reuters, separately. The reversal began as state-run Petroleos de Venezuela won help from small drilling firms by rolling over old debts and later obtained steady supplies of a key diluent from Iran. 
  • Declining birthrates in Mexico last year defied experts' expectations that the pandemic would lead to an increase in unplanned pregnancies, and demonstrate that many women are determined to avoid pregnancy in current conditions, reports the Washington Post.

  • Tourist demand for recreational drugs is a major reason Mexico’s Mayan Riviera is increasingly party to violence between rival criminal groups, reports the Washington Post.
Culture Corner
  • Sharing soup joumou on 1 January represents what Haitians bring to the world – but remembering that inequality prevails is arguably more important, argues Haitian novelist Lyonel Trouillot in the Guardian.
Very Happy New Year to all!

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