Friday, November 11, 2005

Chavez calls Fox a "puppy of empire"

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez called Mexican President Vicente Fox a "puppy of empire" for supporting US-led free trade agreements in the Americas. (Bloomberg)

Brazil, EU continue to spar over farm subsidies

In anticipation of next year's Doha round of World Trade Organization discussions, Brazil and the European Union failed to make headway in removing the barriers that prevent the two from negotiating further free trade reforms. (Miami Herald)

Peru rebukes Japan for supporting Fujimori

Peru has withdrawn its ambassador in Tokyo after the Japanese government continued to express support for the former Peruvian ruler, who also holds Japanese citizenship. (BBC)

Debate: Should the US end the trade embargo on Cuba?

The United Nations voted Tuesday 182-4 to urge the United States to end its 44-year old trade embargo against Cuba, the fourteenth straight year the international body has voted for such a move. Though the United States has routinely ignored the resolutions, many are concerned that the embargo has kept innocent Cubans in poverty, while doing nothing to foster democracy. Should the United States end the embargo?

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Elections in Review: Update

Sweeping changes in store for the region
-Taylor Kirk

Latin America is poised to undergo major changes in the next year, with no fewer than 10 elections set to take place in the next 15 months. Some regimes will fall, others will be reinforced, and the only certainty is that the region will experience several ‘firsts’ that will take it in an unknown direction. Much ado of a ‘pink revolution’ has been made in the U.S. press, though the political processes happening all over Latin America are far too divergent to constitute any general trend or revolution, let alone a much-feared ‘pink’ one. Democracy is likely to be further consolidated in nations like Chile, Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, and Costa Rica, while power contests in Bolivia, Nicaragua, Venezuela, and Peru will test the foundations on which their political systems rest.

*Bolivians will go to the polls December 18, a date set amid controversy over the redistricting of several important Congressional seats. Incumbent President Eduardo Rodriguez Veltze has been the "caretaker" since Carlos Mesa's resignation June 9th, and will not run in December. Much to the consternation of the US, recent polls show coca farmer Evo Morales as the front runner, though with only
34% of the likely vote. The mere thought that a Socialist narcotics producer could become President of the potentially profit-bearing country puts fear in the heart of foreign investors and US officials alike. In a recent visit to Spain Morales himself remarked that his election would be a "triumph for the Bolivian people and a nightmare for the United States". His optimism may come too early, as former President Jorge Quiroga is less than 6 percentage points behind him. Quiroga named Maria Rene Duchen his running mate October 22nd, who would become the nation's first female Vice-president should Quiroga make a last-minute comeback. The Organization of American States has offered to monitor the elections.

*Nicaraguans will vote at an undetermined date next year, in an election also watched closely by American officials. Current President Enrique Bolaños is up for re-election, but a strange pairing of Sandinista leader Daniel Ortega and former President Arnoldo Alemán has come together to defeat him, or perhaps even boot him from office before the election. The trouble began just after Bolaños, Alemán’s former Vice-president, won the 2001 presidential elections on an anti-corruption platform. Bolaños then shocked insiders by doing exactly as he had promised on the campaign trail: he began proceedings against his former boss, Alemán, for corruption and embezzlement. Alemán was handed a 20-year sentence in 2002, after US officials seized $5 million worth of his illicit assets held in Florida.

Alemán then appealed to his one-time political foe Ortega, who through the Sandinista legacy holds effective control of Nicaragua’s court system. In return for Alemán’s support through his Constitutionalist Liberal Party, which controls the legislature, Ortega secured Alemán’s release from house arrest, and he is allowed to roam Managua as a free man. The two have since done everything within their power to make trouble for Bolaños, from trying to prosecute him for allegedly spurious campaign finance law abuses to attempting to impeach him. An effort to strip Bolanos of his immunity from prosecution was struck down by Congress October 27th.

Much ado has been made in the international press about the possible return of Ortega to the leadership of the Central American nation, though polls in
August suggested that the Sandinista leader is unlikely to garner more than 12% of the vote. Instead, his former party-mate Herty Lewites leads the pack at 25%. Nicaraguans are not impressed with the Oertega/Alemán pact, and some polls indicate that up to 80% of the population opposes them. If Enrique Bolaños manages to stay in power until elections are called next year, the people will make their preference known.

*Farther south, Chileans are expected to elect their first-ever female President this December, making Michelle Bachelet of the Socialist Party also the first Chilean President to govern under the new Constitution signed in September. Current President Ricardo Lagos cannot run again, though Bachelet is of his party and is expected to carry on the center left reforms he began. As the former Minister of Defense, she holds
41% of the probable vote, making it likely that she will be in a runoff election in January. Her most formidable competition comes from billionaire Sebastián Piñera, who has split the right between himself and former Pinochet administration member Joaquín Lavin. If triumphant this December, Bachelet will be handed a booming economy, new bilateral trade deals, and increased prospects for Chilean leadership in a recently more cohesive region.

*In tiny Costa Rica former President and Nobel Prize winner Oscar Arias Sánchez of the PLN (National Liberation Party) is looking to make a comeback in elections in February next year, after Congress passed a law in 2003 to allow presidential re-election. He is still quite popular, almost
30 points ahead of his nearest competitor, Ottón Solis of the Citizen’s Action Party. Sánchez is a strong supporter of CAFTA, in a country where 47% of voters view the free trade agreement as a positive move for their country, versus 25% who do not favor the agreement. Solis has come out against it, calling CAFTA a “menace” to the country. Current President Abel Pacheco has postponed ratification of the agreement, pending fiscal reforms that must first pass Costa Rica’s Legislative Assembly.

*April 2006 will see the election of a new Peruvian president, though the full slate of candidates is uncertain. Current President Alejandro Toledo is barred by the one-term limit from running for an immediate second term, and in any case his current 12% approval rating does not bode well for his chances of re-election. Several of his ministers have indicated that they will resign before October 7th in order to run, as is required 6 months before the elections by Peruvian law. Prime Minister Pedro Pablo Kuczynski has indicated that he will not run, prompting a sigh of relief from those who attribute Peru’s longest unbroken stretch of economic growth to him, and prefer that he stay put.

International attention to Peru’s presidential contest has focused primarily on former President Alberto Fujimori, who was running an almost farcical campaign from exile in Tokyo until he made a surprise visit to Chile where he was promptly arrested. Peruvian officials are scrambling to extradite him back to the country to face charges of corruption and human rights abuse. Congress long ago adopted a resolution banning him from public office until 2010, though Fujimori has steadily ignored the prohibition. Unfortunately for the would-be comeback kid, polls suggest that he would be
unlikely to garner much support, and Popular Christian Party member Lourdes Flores remains the front-runner.

*Mexicans will elect a replacement for President Vicente Fox in July next year, the first election in which Mexican expatriates will also be allowed to vote. Though 4 million eligible voters live in the United States, candidates are prohibited by Mexican law from campaigning there. The
current favorite is former Mexico City mayor and PRD (Democratic Revolution Party) member Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who was the target of an investigation instigated by Fox on flimsy charges that he constructed a hospital on private lands after ignoring a court order not to do so. Lopez Obrador’s Democratic Revolution Party will go up against Felipe Calderon of Fox’s National Action Party and Roberto Madrazo of PRI (Institutional Revolutionary Party). Mexico's government recently paid off $1.4 billion in foreign debt in an attempt to ensure financial stability during the elections.

*Colombia’s Constitutional Court is set to rule soon on whether popular President Alvaro Uribe should be allowed to run for re-election, and if allowed, he is sure to win. The Court is widely expected to return a positive verdict for Uribe, as he has already cleared the hurdle of changing the constitution to allow re-election of the president. The Court's decision will refer to whether the constitutional change will apply to the current president. Given the absence of a prominent opposition candidate, an unlikely prohibition of his re-election would likely only prompt him to anoint a successor as soon as possible to carry on his agenda for the country.

*In neighboring Venezuela elections are also tenatively scheduled for next year, though Latin Americanists debate whether former coup-plotter-turned-democratically-elected-President Hugo Chavez will attempt to hang on to power by undemocratic means. His approval ratings dipped slightly below the critical 50% level for the first time recently, though as in Colombia’s case, the opposition is fractured and without a leader. His Fifth Republic Movement (MVR) party holds a lead in upcoming legislative elections.

*Despite alarmist cries from the right in the United States of a “pink revolution” sweeping the region, there is no such thing. Though Latin American voters may have decided to reject a whole-hearted embrace of the neo-liberal economic reforms promoted by the Washington Consensus, they are by no means veering far to the left. Wall Street’s virtual heart attack when Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva was elected turned out to be unnecessary trepidation, as Lula implemented fiscal reforms that have kept the country stable and able to pay its debts. Similarly, the citation of Evo Morales’ rise in Bolivian politics as a return to Communism in South America is overblown. His rise in politics reflects a preference in Bolivia for increasing protectionism, though this is understandable in light of how poorly privatization has been carried out in the country. Chile’s Michelle Bachelet is a member of the Socialist Party, but the reforms implemented by party-mate Ricardo Lagos have given the country the strongest growth in the region. The U.S. right can always turn to its Colombian friend Alvaro Uribe as an example of a success from the right, as he has been able to achieve significant breakthroughs in his country’s cycle of violence and coherent economic policy while retaining popularity.

*It is possible that Hugo Chavez’ prominence in the U.S. media has given many the impression that Latin America is once again becoming a problematic neighbor of the U.S. Chavez has adopted a belligerent attitude towards U.S. policy and is
very publicly rallying Latin American countries to wean themselves from dependency on their northern neighbor. The impression of Chavez applied to the rest of Latin America is flawed, however, and is due more than anything to Chavez’s flamboyant personality, his love of publicity, and the discomfort in the relationship between him and U.S. President George W. Bush. His antics should not blind Latin America-watchers to the fact that much of the region is consolidating democratic political institutions and growing economically, albeit slower than desired. Elections throughout Latin America will demonstrate how each nation is approaching these processes in individual ways that don’t constitute a feared ‘pink-revolution’ that will cause the region to regress.

***Many thanks to Canadian consulting firm
Angus Reid for polling data.

Wednesday, November 9, 2005

Plaintiffs against Chevron received threats, says legal petition

-Contributed by Erwin Cifuentes. Plaintiffs in a case against multinational oil company Chevron allege that they have received threats, according to a petition filed with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights Tuesday. Chevron is being sued in Ecuadorian courts on accusations that one of their predecessors dumped 18 billion gallons of toxic water into the Amazon rainforest. (Mercury News)

Lobo Sosa leads Honduran presidential race

-Contributed by Erwin Cifuentes. National Party candidate Porfirio Lobo Sosa holds an eight point lead over Liberal party candidate Manuel Zelaya, according to a survey conducted last week. Lobo Sosa, the former National Congress head, has indicated that he would reinstate the death penalty if elected, while Zelaya opposes such a measure. (Angus Reid)

Peruvian official: Fujimori will not affect economy

-Contributed by Erwin Cifuentes. Peru’s finance minister believes that any political insecurity caused by the arrest of ex-president Alberto Fujimori would not affect Peru’s economy. "I think that in Peru we have learned to isolate economic issues from political ones….I don't see any impact that political issues can have on the economy”, said Fernando Zavala to reporters. (BusinessOnline)

Dominican Republic and Canada aim for a free trade agreement

-Contributed by Erwin Cifuentes. Last weekend, the Dominican and Canadian governments agreed to hold negotiations for a bilateral free trade agreement. Trade between these two countries reached $101 million in 2004. (Forbes)

OAS to monitor Bolivian elections

-Contributed by Erwin Cifuentes. The Organization of American States and the Bolivian government signed an agreement last week that would permit the OAS to monitor Bolivia’s general elections. Elections in Bolivia are slated for December 18th. (USInfo)

Brazilian Amazon battered by worst drought in four decades

-Contributed by Erwin Cifuentes. Warmer ocean water has caused a drought in Brazil’s Amazon region that has spread disease amongst children and led to increased poverty in small towns and large cities like Manaus. (STLToday)

Columnist: Bush broke campaign promise on Supreme Court nominees

-Contributed by Erwin Cifuentes. San Diego Union Tribune columnist Ruben Navarette expressed his ire at lack of a Hispanic nominee for the Supreme Court. Navarette noted that there are several strong, moderate Hispanic candidates that could have been chosen including Circuit court judges Emilio Garza and Jose Cabranes. (Courier Post)

UN votes to end embargo against Cuba

-Contributed by Erwin Cifuentes. All but five countries from the UN’s General Assembly voted to halt the U.S. embargo of Cuba. All Latin American states voted against the embargo except El Salvador who abstained. (Article)

Castro tells Maradona that Cuba is “a great moral power”

-Contributed by Erwin Cifuentes. During an interview aired Monday on Maradona’s weekly television show, the Cuban dictator justified the 1959 Cuban Revolution and even presented Maradona with a military jacket. Maradona has recently made several political overtures including appearing with Venezuelan head Hugo Chavez during an anti-free trade rally at last weekend’s Summit of the Americas. (BBC)

Brazil may help sink next month’s WTO talks

-Contributed by Erwin Cifuentes. In anticipation of next month’s World Trade Organization conference in Hong Kong, Brazil and India warned that an international compromise on free trade may not be reached. Brazil’s trade minister warned that another round of talks may have to occur soon after December in order to iron out differences between developed and underdeveloped countries. (Guardian)

Mexican presidential candidate promises to modify NAFTA

-Contributed by Erwin Cifuentes. Claiming that U.S. and Canadian subsidies are hurting Mexican farmers, Ricardo Madrazo promised to modify NAFTA if elected as president. Madrazo, the former governor of the Mexican state of Tabasco, appears to be the likely candidate for PRI as a recent poll indicated that he is in second place behind ex-Mexico City mayor Andrés Manuel López Obrador representing the PRD. (Angus Reid)

Tuesday, November 8, 2005

Bush's underwhelming tour through Latin America

After spending 5 days in the region, US President George W Bush left many wondering what the visit accomplished, and whether it reinforced the negative feelings felt by many Latin Americans toward the lame duck leader. Bush left the region Monday after failing to reignite talks on a Free Trade Area of the Americas, a stated priority for him. (SignOnSanDiego)

Chile denies bail for Fujimori

Chile's Supreme Court denied bail for Former Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori, who was arrested in Chile after a surprise visit to the country from Japan. Peruvian officials are working with their counterparts in Chile to extradite Fujimori on charges of human rights violations and corruption. (Reuters)

Latin America's hot new export: telenovelas

Latin American telenovelas have become popular the world over, from Eastern Europe to Asia. Foreign Policy magazine examines the trend and what may become of it. (FP)

US soldier charged with smuggling cocaine from Colombia

Army Staff Sergeant Victor Portales was set to stand trial Monday for taking part in a scheme to smuggle cocaine from a US military base in Colombia to the United States, using military aircraft. Two of his co-conspirators, both US soldiers, have pled guilty and are serving jail time. (CNN)