Friday, March 11, 2022

Entre Libertad y Esperanza -- Boric in Chile (March 11, 2022)

 Thirty-six-year-old Gabriel Boric was sworn in as Chile's youngest president today, ushering in a new generation of leadership in a country that is undergoing a massive process of redefinition. He will be accompanied by a cabinet that includes several fellow former student protest leaders, and in which more than a majority of posts are held by women.

"Know that we are going to do our best to rise to the challenges we face as a country," he said upon receiving the presidential sash. (El Mostrador)

It's the sharpest shift in Chile's politics since the country's return to democracy three decades ago, reports Reuters.

Boric was accompanied by foreign leaders, including Argentine President Alberto Fernández, Peruvian President Pedro Castillo, and former Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff. (El Mostrador)

Boric has vowed to send Chile's once-lauded neoliberal economic model -- which dates back to General Augusto Pinochet's dictatorship -- to the "grave" and promises to symbolically eschew the traditional political elite trappings, reports AFP. He shuns ties and makes no attempt to hide his tattoos. He will live in the edgy downtown Barrio Yungay, where eclectic rows of low-rise homes and graffitied facades line cobbled streets. Symbolically, his home on Orphans Street sits between streets named Freedom and Hope, notes the Guardian.

The challenges he faces are significant. Chile faces a migration crisis in the north, and tensions with Indigenous Mapuche groups in the south. The social and political upheaval of the October 2019 protests still has not been resolved, and a Constitutional Convention is drastically reimagining how the country's government could work. (See this week's Constitutional Updates.)

Boric's legacy will be determined in large measure by how he handles the constitution, but the situation could prove difficult, warns Robert Funk in Global Americans. Among other scenarios, voters could reject the proposal, the new constitution could lead to new elections, or the new magna carta could create significant governance headaches.

News Briefs

  • Boric is the latest in the millennial generation of Latin American leaders, which must escape the pull of the established left and right – and resist the urge to dominate, argues Casey Cagley in Americas Quarterly.
  • Argentina's Chamber of Deputies approved an agreement with the International Monetary Fund to refinance a $45 billion debt this morning, after a marathon debate that divided the country's governing Frente de Todos coalition. The overwhelming vote of 202 to 37, came in the midst of angry protests outside Congress, in which some demonstrators started fires and threw rocks at security forces. (Associated Press)

  • Most of the votes against the agreement, which must be ratified by Congress to go into effect, came from members of the governing front. Lawmaker Máximo Kirchner, son of Vice President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and former head of the Frente de Todos block in the Chamber, voted against the deal, as did members of the political movement he is affiliated with La Campora. They did not, however, speak out in the Chamber agains the project, reportedly in order to avoid fanning political disputes. (Infobae)
Regional Relations
  • The geopolitical destabilization provoked by Russia's military intervention in Ukraine has specific challenges for Latin America, For Latin America, this paradigm shift "does not promote economic development, let alone the prospect of implementing an international agenda based on pragmatism and diversification," write Ariel González Levaggi and Nicolás Albertoni in Global Americans.

  • Nonetheless, economically Latin America could be hit less severely than other emerging-market regions, writes Catherine Osborn in the Latin America Brief. "World commodity prices are continuing a rise that began with coronavirus-related supply chain disruptions, and many countries in the region are major commodities exporters. They are also less reliant on Russian and Ukrainian wheat than are Africa and the Middle East."

  • Latin American opposition to Russia's military moves in the United Nations came from across the political spectrum and is broader than opposition to Russia's 2014 annexation of Crimea. This reflects the region's traditional democratic principals, and a long-standing diplomatic "emphasis on non-intervention, sovereign equality, and the rejection of territorial conquest. Even abstaining countries like Cuba have been compelled to justify their positions, invoking respect for international law," write Tom Long and Carsten-Andreas Schulz in Global Americans.

  • Cuba is far less dependent on Russia than it was historically on the Soviet Union, but it still cannot afford to spurn the only major power that has stood by it over decades of U.S. hostility, writes William LeoGrande in Responsible Statecraft. U.S. sanctions against Russia will also further complicate Cuba's finances. The situation put Cuba in the uncomfortable diplomatic balancing act of expressing sympathy and understanding for the indefensible actions of Russia, the country's principal ally, without actually endorsing them, and simultaneously trying to uphold the international principles of state sovereignty and non-intervention that their ally has violated.

  • U.S. President Joe Biden told his Colombian counterpart, Iván Duque, that he plans to designate Colombia as a major non-NATO ally, a strategic move as the U.S. seeks to align the region on it's side in the conflict with Russia, reports Reuters.

  • Venezuelan Vice President Delcy Rodríguez and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov met yesterday to review their countries' strategic alliance and discuss the "complex" international situation, she said in a message on Twitter. The meeting took place five days after U.S. officials met with President Nicolás Maduro, reports Reuters. (See Monday's post and Wednesday's.)
  • Venezuela’s government is prepared to restart talks with opposition politicians, after a high-level meeting with U.S. officials last weekend. Francisco Torrealba, a member of President Nicolás Maduro’s negotiating team, said the government is willing to resume talks in Mexico with a “wider” group that includes other members of the opposition and U.S. Ambassador to Venezuela James Story, reports Bloomberg. Russia will continue to help represent the Maduro government when the talks resume, Torrealba said.

  • The U.S. meeting with Maduro was a massive shift in policy towards Venezuela, that strengthens him at a time when opposition leader Juan Guaidó and his allies, who are still recognized by the United States as Venezuela’s interim government, struggle to remain relevant, reports the Washington Post.
  • Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said that criticism he has faced over a string of journalist killings is part of a campaign to undermine his administration and tantamount to a “soft coup” orchestrated by media firms, reports Reuters. Mexico has consistently been one of the most lethal places in the world for journalists in recent years, and seven reporters have been killed so far this year.
  • Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei initially applauded a law passed by Congress this week increasing penalties for abortion and outlawing sexual education in schools. (See yesterday's post.) But yesterday he announced he would veto it, alleging it violates the constitution. (AFP)

  • His announcement came after the Human Rights Ombudsman said he would challenge the law on human rights grounds, but it’s unclear if that's why Giammattei stepped back, reports El Faro.

  • Former Guatemalan presidential candidate Thelma Cabrera, a Maya Mam woman, is seeking to organize the country’s indigenous people into a mass political force, reports Americas Quarterly.
  • Colombian's head to the polls on Sunday in presidential primaries combined with legislative elections to select the 296 members of its Congress. (AFP)
  • The arrest and possible extradition of former Honduras police chief Juan Carlos Bonilla Valladares ("El Tigre") suspected of drug trafficking could provide explosive evidence in the case against recently-detained former president Juan Orlando Hernández – accused of drug crimes by the U.S. government, reports InSight Crime. (See yesterday's briefs.)
  • The U.S. government barred nine Nicaraguan lawmakers, officials and judges from entry into the United States this week, reports Reuters. The Biden administration banned all of Nicaragua's elected officials, including President Daniel Ortega and his wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo, from entering the U.S. following sham elections last November.

  • Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo have crushed civil society and thrown their former comrades in jail. For many the death, in prison, of former guerrilla leader Hugo Torres, represents the final blow to the original Sandinista ideal, writes Alma Guillermoprieto in the New Yorker.
El Salvador
  • El Salvador's President Nayib Bukele touts a reduction in gang homicides as a great success of his administration, but experts point to more complicated dynamics, including negotiations with gangs, gang efforts to enforce control, and increases in disappearances that account for some of lower body counts, reports Vice News.
  • Dominican Republic President Luis Abinader is emulating former U.S. president Donald Trump's proposal of a border wall as a one-stop solution to counter irregular migration, human smuggling and drug trafficking. But, as U.S. experience has shown, it's complicated, reports InSight Crime.
Dominican Republic
  • The Dominican government has always aligned itself with white supremacism, following the United States’ lead on immigration policies towards Haitians, according to Nacla.

  • Filmmaker José María Cabral's new movie tells the story of the 1937 Parsley Massacre on Hispaniola, the island shared by Haiti and the Dominican Republic. The ethnic cleansing by Dominican dictator Rafael Leonidas Trujillo Molina has long been shrouded in silence despite being a catalyst for the anti-Haitian and anti-Black sentiment that permeates Dominican society today, reports the Miami Herald.

  • The Dominican Republic has dismantled a transnational cybercrime network believed to have defrauded hundreds of U.S. citizens to the tune of more than $200 million, in just the latest example of the growing threat posed by financial crime operations in the Caribbean, reports InSight Crime.
St. Lucia
  • St. Lucia's government commemorated International Women's Day on March 8 by presenting a novel domestic violence bill in Parliament. The proposal, which is gender neutral, broadens the definition of domestic violence to include psychological abuse, coercion, molestation, and arbitrary deprivation of liberty or forced confinement. (See this week's Just Caribbean Updates.)
Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take? Let me know ...

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