Monday, January 24, 2022

Honduran Congress in crisis (Jan 24, 2022)

Honduran lawmakers brawled in the midst of a heated altercation among president-elect Xiomara Castro's allies over who should head Congress. Castro sought to install a lawmaker from the Partido Salvador de Honduras, an ally that helped Castro claim electoral victory last year. But a group of lawmakers from her Libre party refused, and allied with Honduras's most traditional parties to install a member of their own caucus to head Congress.

Lawmakers split into two sessions, each of which chose a different leader, an unlikely political crisis that will affect Castro's ability to govern.

The lawmakers said the appointment was aimed at protecting Castro's incoming government, but Castro called them traitors. Her husband and the head of Libre, former President Manuel Zelaya, responded by expelling the rebels from the party. The expulsion, if it stands, would reduce Libre’s congressional bloc to 38 out of 128 lawmakers, complicating Castro's ability to pass laws and appoint officials.

The rebellion strengthened Honduras' traditional parties -- the Partido Liberal and the Partido Nacional -- which supported the move, and will hinder Castro's ability to follow through on campaign promises that affect the country's highly-corrupt status quo, like bringing back international anti-corruption investigators and rooting out drug trafficking from the highest levels of the government and security forces.

The situation will likely impact the U.S. Biden administration's efforts to reduce migration from Central America -- the U.S. has increasingly looked at Castro as a likely ally for policies aimed at tackling factors that push people to move, particularly corruption. And if Castro fails to live up to Hondurans’ widespread desire for change, even more citizens could flee to the U.S. border because of violence and political instability, the International Crisis Group's Tiziano Breda told the New York Times.


Peru declares environmental emergency

Peru's government declared a 90-day "environmental emergency" in damaged coastal territories, on Saturday, after an oil spill that saw 6,000 barrels of crude oil pour into the sea, reports Deutsche Welle. Peruvian authorities say that this measure will allow for "sustainable management of the affected areas," through "restoration and remediation" work. (See last Thursday's post.)

The spill has already caused devastating environmental impacts in an area known for maritime biodiversity, reports the Washington Post. Dead seals, fish and birds have washed up on the shore covered in oil, while fishing activities in the area have been suspended, the government has said. Experts estimate that the amount of oil spilled could cover about 960 sq km of ocean. (La República)

Peru also asked for international assistance to respond to the spill, which has affected nearly 200,000 square feet of the country's Pacific coast beaches.  After an outcry over a cleanup operation widely seen as inadequate, Peru's government said on Thursday that it had asked experts at the United Nations and the U.S. National Response Team to help ensure proper remediation and compensation from Repsol, the Spanish oil company that operates the refinery where the spill occurred, reports the New York Times.

 Repsol said on Friday it had enlisted fishermen to help clear up the oil, but that cleanup efforts would take until the end of February, reports Al Jazeera.

News Briefs

  • Chilean president-elect Gabriel Boric's cabinet announcement last week reflects both generational change and continuity with Chile's leftist history. A picture of the new Defense Minister Maya Fernández cradled as a baby by her grandfather, Salvador Allende -- - she will be in charge of the armed forces that led the 1973 coup that killed Allende -- symbolized for many in Chile and the region the hope sparked by the incoming government. (See Friday's post.)

  • Boric named several former student protest leaders to the new cabinet,  which includes at least six ministers under the age of 40 and has a majority of women. But Boric also reassured markets by naming Central Bank chief Mario Marcel as finance minister. (Associated Press)

  • The pluralistic cabinet, particularly the finance minister pick, is a huge signal, writes Brian Winter in Americas Quarterly.

  • "Boric’s choices for the most part reflect the desire to implement change that is real, profound, but also pragmatic and technical. There is little sign of political idealism or ideology in this cabinet," writes Robert Funk, also in Americas Quarterly.
  • It would be a mistake to interpret the rise of leftist-minded governments in Latin America as a return to the "pink tide" era, "in terms of policy pledges, this new ‘turn to the left’ is more mild and less transformative than that of the early 21st century," writes Pablo Stefanoni in IPS

  • "These are administrations of a ‘progressivism with lower intensity’, acting as they must in a context of continuing economic crises, declining regional integration, resurgent organized crime, and anemic voter loyalty." In addition, the region's governments face both political polarization and party fragmentation, "with the result that elected presidents are often unable to govern with parliamentary majorities. This, in turn, leads to increased instability." (IPS)
  • Brazil’s relations with China stand to improve greatly if former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva is elected in October, former foreign minister Celso Amorim told Reuters. But a Lula administration would not seek a preferential relationship with China over and above its good ties with the United States, the European Union and Latin American neighbors, he said. Amorim said Brazilian foreign policy would be “pragmatic and not ideological” if Lula returns to power.

  • Rio de Janeiro's powerful gangs are increasingly evangelical -- known as "narco-pentecostals," many have incorporated Christian symbols into their ultra-violent trade, reports the Guardian.
  • Colombia's Constitutional Court was evenly split on whether abortion should be eliminated from the country's penal code. A ninth judge was granted recusal in the long-running lawsuit brought by a coalition of more than 90 pro-choice organizations, Causa Justa. The court agreed to appoint a new ninth judge for an eventual re-vote, reports Reuters.

  • Causa Justa asked for celerity in a decision -- the lawsuit was presented in 2020 and each year 400 women are legally prosecuted for attempting to access abortions, and an average of 400 more die due to unsafe terminations. (El Tiempo)
  • Nicaragua's government did not formally respond to the requests and steps taken by OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro to allow the arrival of a high-level delegation from the regional organization to negotiate the holding of new elections in Nicaragua, reports Confidencial. Almagro’s efforts are part of a Permanent Council resolution approved in December, in another effort by the regional body to use diplomatic channels and political negotiation to find a way out of the country’s socio-political crisis.
  • Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó called for supporters to take to the streets on Feb. 12 in peaceful marches against President Nicolas Maduro. He called for the country's political opposition -- which has been increasingly fractured in recent years -- to unite ahead of 2024's presidential elections, reports Reuters
St. Lucia
  • St. Lucia has not been able to hold a homicide trial for two years, because courtrooms are too small to safely seat a jury under Covid rules, even as the murder rate has risen to record levels. It is one of the most extreme examples of the damaging impact of the pandemic on access to justice globally, according to the Guardian.
  • Mexican journalist Lourdes Maldonado López was killed in Tijuana this weekend, the third reporter killed in the country in 2022. She had previously said she feared for her life, and was enrolled in a scheme to protect journalists, activists said. (BBC)

  • Mexico’s plan to favor its own state-owned electrical power plants and limit energy sales by private, foreign-built projects could affect U.S. investment in Mexico, reports the Associated Press.
  • In Guatemala, safeguards against corruption, impunity, and state violence are being dismantled by the politicians, elites, and military and some fear the return of an authoritarian state, reports Nacla.
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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