Friday, February 18, 2022

Latin America and the new Cold War (Feb. 18, 2022)

News Briefs

Regional Relations
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin's meeting this week with his Brazilian counterpart Jair Bolsonaro, is the latest example of how Russia's leader is angling to forge stronger relationships in Latin America, far from Russia’s traditional sphere of influence, reports the Washington Post.

  • Bolsonaro, in turn, has sought to portray himself as a relevant geopolitical player, and ascribed Russia's alleged troop withdrawal from the Ukrainian border to his influence. (Folha de S. Paulo)

  • Bolsonaro met with Hungarian President Viktor Orbán yesterday. They emphasized their agreement on conservative approaches to issues like migration, Christianity and family values. Bolsonaro called Orbán his “brother,” and said their shared values are encompassed by “God, Fatherland, Family and Liberty.” (Folha de S. PauloAssociated Press)

  • China has increasingly trained its sights on Central America, a traditional Washington stronghold, as a strategic counterbalance to U.S. encroachments in Asia, writes Kate Linthicum in the Los Angeles Times. And "unlike the United States, which often conditions its development aid based on a country’s adherence to Western-style democracy, China has a policy of what it calls 'non-interference.'"

  • It is worth noting that Latin American leaders have national agendas they are pursuing within the new geopolitical power struggles. "U.S. pressure on Brazil to cancel the trip was seen in Brasília as an undue interference in Brazil’s affairs, and may have had the inadvertent effect of encouraging Latin American countries to preserve their ties to other major global powers," writes Oliver Stuenkel in an Americas Quarterly piece that urges the U.S. Biden administration to move debates on China and Russia to closed-door meetings in the upcoming Summit of the Americas, rather than pushing for public declarations. 

  • While Bolsonaro's timing was particularly fraught geopolitically, the visit "also demonstrates continuity in Brazil-Russia relations ... In fact, one of the most vocal defenders of Bolsonaro’s decision to take the trip was Lula’s former foreign minister and current foreign-policy advisor, Celso Amorim. Amorim defended the trip as a method of avoiding “submitting to an agenda of Washington,” a motto that sums up Brazil-Russia ties more broadly," writes Catherine Osborn in the Latin America Brief.

  • Nor should the U.S. assume that leftist governments in the region are necessarily more pro-China than U.S., he argues. "On several fronts – such as the fight against climate change – leaders like Chile’s Gabriel Boric or Brazil’s Lula da Silva are likely to be much more constructive partners than Jair Bolsonaro or Chilean right-wing presidential runner-up José Antonio Kast." (Americas Quarterly)

  • Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega appeared in public after a 36-day absence to close a visit with Russian dignitaries, in which he expressed Nicaragua's complete support for Russia in light of U.S. and European "imperialist aggressions." (Confidencial)
  • Nicaragua's government continued its onslaught against organizations of civil society, cancelling seven NGOs. The move pushes the total groups shut-down under a controversial law limiting foreign financing up to 90. (Confidencial)

  • The OAS will meet today to resume discussions on Nicaragua's political illegitimacy, after fraudulent elections in November. (Confidencial)

  • Trials against seven of Nicaragua's political detainees are scheduled to continue today for a fourth consecutive day, a prolongation that relatives say is tantamount to another method of torture. (Confidencial)

  • Twenty-one of Nicaragua's political prisoners are over the age of 60, an issue of increasing concern as their health deteriorates under deplorable detention conditions, say relatives. Last week former General Hugo Torres, aged 73, died in detention. (Confidencial, see Monday's briefs.)

  • Nicaragua's ruling Sandinista Party has turned electoral fraud into a lucrative political business, reports El Confidencial. The FSLN has taken in a little over US $60 million dollars through Nicaragua’s laws for public campaign financing, a murky system characterized by its lack of transparency.
  • Ecuadorean lawmakers approved regulations to allow women and girls access to abortions in cases of rape, following a constitutional court ruling that decriminalized such abortions. The new measure allows abortions up to 12 weeks of pregnancy for adult women in urban areas and up to 16 weeks for minors and adults in rural areas, reports the Guardian.
  • The death toll from floods and landslides in Rio de Janeiro state's mountain city of Petropolis rose to at least 117 yesterday and local officials said it could still rise sharply, with 116 more still unaccounted for. (Associated Press)

  • Bolsonaro is defunding the National Institute for Space Research (INPE) landmark Cerrado savannah deforestation monitoring program. "What escapes no one is that the defunding of INPE comes amid international outcry over spiking deforestation, which the government has proved helpless to contain, when it hasn’t actively encouraged it," writes Mac Margolis in the Washington Post.

  • Former Brazilian president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva is a frontrunner in this year's presidential election. He has sought to broaden his appeal beyond his traditional left-wing base, and will likely choose a center-right running mate. "Lula’s outreach and emphasis on building a moderate unity government seem intended both to win the election and set a new tone in Brazilian politics – leaving speechless those who accused him of being radical," writes Fábio Kerche at the Aula Blog.
  • Thousands of Haitian garment workers protested in Port-au-Prince yesterday to demand higher wages following weeks of similar demonstrations over pay and working conditions at firms that export to U.S. clothing retailers, reports Reuters.
Costa Rica
  • Both of the finalists in Costa Rica's presidential runoff are largely aligned economically and ideologically. The main difference between José María Figueres and Rodrigo Chaves are personalistic, and mark a growing disenchantment in Costa Rica with establishment parties, according to Nueva Sociedad.
  • Chances for a viable centrist unity candidate in Colombia's presidential elections this year seem increasingly distant, and a run-off between populist candidates on the left and right– in the vein of similarly divisive elections in 2018 -- seems the most likely outcome of May's vote, write Theodore Kahn and Silvana Amaya in Americas Quarterly.

  • An "invisible" Colombian drug lord whose criminal history dates to the country's former paramilitary army has been revealed to have set up drug routes with dissident guerrilla fighters, an example of how the erstwhile enemies are finding new opportunities to advance mutual trafficking interests, reports InSight Crime.
  • Peruvian President Pedro Castillo's approval rating is at its lowest point since he took office last July, according to a new Ipsos poll. Only 25 percent of respondents in the February poll approve of Castillo, while 69 percent disapprove. (Latin America Risk Report)
  • For a year, Latin America has been on the receiving end of COVID-19 “vaccine diplomacy,” but in recent months, several Latin American countries have swapped roles, and are now donating vaccines abroad. In all, 11 Latin American countries have cumulatively donated at least 7.7 million vaccine doses, according to calculations by the Wilson Center’s Latin American Program. (Wilson Center Weekly Asado)

  • Latin American countries scored poorly on Transparency International’s latest corruption index: of the 19 Latin American countries ranked, three-quarters scored below 50 in the Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) for 2021. The worst was Venezuela, which scored below North Korea and Afghanistan, reports InSight Crime.

  • For those concerned about leftist economic plans in the region, it's worth noting that Latin America's centrist and right-wing governments in recent years were neither good for economies nor capable of reining in deficit spending, writes James Bosworth in the Latin America Risk Report this week.
  • The last living speaker of Yamana, the language of the Indigenous Yagan community in Chile, died at age 93. (Reuters)
  • Mexican marathon champion Germán Silva's is running across the length of his country, a journey that shows a relatively unknown Mexico, writes Kevin Sieff in the Washington Post.
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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