By Aaron Bell
Frente Amplio Uruguay / Flickr / CC BY-NC 2.0
The Frente Amplio (FA) emerged from Sunday’s general elections in Uruguay looking stronger than observers had forecast – and signaling Latin Americans’ confidence in the center-left. Despite a rough campaign season, which included polls showing the FA’s support stuck in the low 40s, and public sniping between the party’s leaders – candidate Tabaré Vázquez and current president José Mujica – just days before the election, the FA gained last-minute momentum in the polls and won 47.9 percent of the vote. As expected, Vázquez received less than the outright majority needed to avoid a second round of voting on November 30 against the candidate of the Partido Nacional (PN), Luis Lacalle Pou, who won 31 percent of the vote. But the FA preserved its majority in the lower chamber of parliament, and it can have the edge in the senate if Vázquez wins in November, as his vice president, Raúl Séndic, would hold the deciding vote. The Partido Colorado (PC) candidate, Pedro Bordaberry, won only 12.9 percent of the vote and placed third in every department.
The elections revolved around Vázquez and Lacalle Pou’s leadership identity and policies; neither candidate argued for substantial structural changes. In exit interviews, those who voted for the FA credited it with positive changes in its decade at the helm. The 41-year-old Lacalle Pou has run as a youthful leadership alternative to the 74-year-old former president Vázquez, and he promised fresh ideas for taking on crime and education, considered leading concerns for Uruguayan voters. While exit interviews suggest that this message appealed to his party’s voters, it did not translate into substantial youth support. Polling by Factum prior to the election showed that 51 percent of voters aged 18-37 preferred the FA. Public security has been the leading concern for Uruguayan voters, and both traditional center-right parties, the PN and PC, supported a referendum (also held on Sunday) that would have lowered the age of criminal responsibility for major crimes from 18 to 16. But long-term polling trends have shown a decrease in the number of Uruguayans prioritizing security from its peak last year, and indeed the referendum failed with 47 percent of the vote; almost the entirety of undecided voters ultimately chose to oppose it.
The FA now has momentum and is well positioned to win the second round and enjoy the support of a parliamentary majority. A likely PN-PC voting bloc in the second round once held a slight lead over the FA but now appears likely to fall short because of tensions between them. The PC’s underwhelming performance at the polls has been compounded by Bordaberry’s decision on Sunday night to support Lacalle Pou without consulting PC officials, and his offensive off-the-cuff verbal attack on the Vázquez camp during a conversation with a PN official that same night, for which he has since apologized. The left-leaning Partido Independiente, which came in fourth place with 3.1 percent of the vote, will make a decision on which candidate to support this week; their votes alone would be enough to push the FA over the top. As a result, barring a major turn of events, it appears as though the incumbent pink tide will prevail in Uruguay – with implications, perhaps, beyond. Indeed, a second-round FA victory will be the sixth this year for a left-leaning party, following the pattern set by Chile, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Bolivia, and Brazil. While the citizenry may be impatient with the pace of progress in Latin America following nearly a decade of left-leaning governance, voters seem to be eschewing the right and maintaining the modestly but consistently leftward tilt that has characterized the region’s politics for much of the 21st century.
Posted by clalsstaff on October 30, 2014
By Eric Hershberg and Matthew Taylor
Sala de Imprensa / Flickr / CC BY-NC 2.0
President Dilma Rousseff’s reelection – by a tight 3.28 percent of the vote – sets the stage for a period of challenges and political uncertainty. The Social Democratic Party (PSDB) candidate, former governor Aécio Neves, was truly a formidable contender, and Dilma and the Worker Party (PT) showed new weaknesses. The battle was marked by a strong desire for change – even Dilma’s campaign slogan was “Governo Novo, Ideias Novas” (New Government, New Ideas) – and the big question now is what sort of change will come from the PT’s fourth consecutive turn in office.
- Dilma lost overwhelmingly in the Worker Party’s (PT) old stomping grounds of the southeast (by 2-1 margins), but picked up support in Neves’s state of Minas Gerais and thoroughly dominated the northeast (by 3-1 margins in many places), including Pernambuco, which had gone to Marina Silva in the first round.
- The lower middle class, known widely as Classe C, ultimately appears to have thrown its lot to Dilma – apparently driven by the PT’s relentless message that only it could be trusted to protect their interests and social programs like the Bolsa Família.
- The PT emerges from the battle bloody and bruised. The Rousseff campaign’s systematic deconstruction of Marina Silva in the first round buys the resentment of a solid fifth of the electorate. Former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva was an uneven participant in the campaign, inexplicably absent at critical moments and losing his cool at others.
- The PT won 19 of 27 governorships, and Dilma’s alliance did well in the Chamber of Deputies and Senate, but the opposition is likely to be far more assertive, as the combined issues of the economy, public services and corruption proved during the campaign to be useful wedges to drive between the middle class and the PT. A newly combative and forceful Aécio will be the clear leader of the opposition.
Dilma faces formidable challenges. The economy was moribund for almost all of her first term, and fairly urgent work is needed to cope with a deteriorating current account, the weak fiscal results, resurgent inflation, and declining personal credit, especially among the politically influential Classe C. Management of public services – theoretically manager Dilma’s strong suit – needs attention, and she actually has little hope of driving meaningful change singlehandedly. The corruption story, moreover, is an immediate threat. If the testimony of foreign exchange dealer Alberto Yousseff, who was given whistleblower protection in exchange for testifying to the police, is to be believed, this is an enormous scandal that may shake the administration to its core. In light of this political scenario, it is perhaps not surprising that Dilma’s victory speech focused on building consensus, suggesting she would push political reform via plebiscite, promising anti-corruption reforms, and suggesting, after largely downplaying the issue on the campaign trail, that inflation and fiscal balance will be key priorities during her second term. Whether she can actually accomplish these goals on her own timetable is a big question.
(Click here to read the full version of this article.)
Posted by clalsstaff on October 27, 2014
By Robert Albro
infocux Technologies / Flickr / CC BY
A year after Edward Snowden’s dramatic disclosures about NSA surveillance in Latin America, U.S. companies hoping to make inroads into the region’s fast-growing information and communication technology market are running into increasing obstacles. If the political costs were immediately forthcoming, especially in Brazil, the fallout for Silicon Valley’s tech giants has taken longer to assess. The biggest problem is the lingering lack of trust resulting from the revelation that the U.S. companies enabled the NSA’s eavesdropping by giving it direct access to their servers. A 2014 NTT Communications survey found that, in response to the Snowden affair, 88 percent of information and communication technology decision-makers around the world, including Latin America, have changed their buying behavior around large-scale data storage. In Brazil, Argentina, Mexico and Chile, “data sovereignty” has become a major issue, in the form of new data privacy and disclosure laws now shaping the direction of the region’s developing market.
According to the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation, U.S. software firms are expected to lose $35 billion in sales overseas through 2016. Forrester Research, an independent technology and market research company, puts potential losses as high as $180 billion. Latin American investors have been questioning the wisdom of using US data storage companies, and established U.S. dominance in the cloud computing sector has already taken a hit. Cisco’s last quarterly earnings, for example, were down 7 percent – 27 percent in Brazil – even as the cloud computing market in Latin America is predicted to grow at a 26 percent clip through 2018. The emergence of Miami as a major global tech hub and gateway to Latin America’s fast-growing information technology markets is threatened by a proposed EU-Brazil trans-Atlantic cable to circumvent the city as a key node for Latin American access to the global internet. As investor e-news service 4-Traders has reported, Chinese tech giants like Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent are establishing and expanding beachheads in Latin America, while China’s government pursues cooperative partnerships with Latin American counterparts to accelerate the development of the region’s information infrastructure. Meanwhile, US-based data mining and analytics firms like Choicepoint Inc., currently major players in the region’s business intelligence and online security markets, have become the subject of investigation by skeptical governments and privacy advocates in the region.
The U.S.-centric view of the internet as “free and open,” a basic feature of the business model of U.S. tech firms, is being challenged in Latin America, where the regulatory balance between free expression and privacy is increasingly tilting toward the latter. Despite the fact that the region’s online population is the world’s fastest growing and that it boasts a dynamic tech start-up movement, U.S. internet technology firms should expect more such challenges. Regional trends in internet governance are largely anti-American, focused on displacing U.S. commercial dominance of the internet, and promoting open-source software as alternatives to U.S. products and services. As Latin America builds out its cloud computing market, it is doing so in ways poised to compete and not collaborate with U.S. companies. Privacy controls and requirements to conform to local laws already create new and costly disincentives for U.S. companies, which might opt to pull up stakes. Meanwhile, business models for Latin American start-ups are not copycatting U.S. models as frequently as in the past. If Latin American entrepreneurs have maintained close ties with U.S. centers of innovation and investors, they are now more focused on developing their own intellectual property, instead of technology transfer, to meet specific demands of their local and regional markets. What just yesterday seemed wildly improbable – that U.S. tech giants might lose their edge in Latin America – has become a credible scenario.
Posted by clalsstaff on October 23, 2014
By Fulton Armstrong
Rodrigo Barquera / Flickr / CC BY
The disappearance and apparent massacre of 43 students from a city in Mexico’s Guerrero state is a rude reminder to President Peña Nieto that economic reform and increased foreign investment aren’t enough to help the country overcome the scourge of narcotics-fueled violence. Federal and State prosecutors agree that the police in Iguala – who, along with the city’s mayor, have strong ties to the Guerreros Unidos cartel – handed the students over to the narcos after a confrontation during a student protest turned violent, already leaving six students dead. Residents on a nearby ridge noted an increase in police and truck traffic soon after the showdown, but the dozens of bodies uncovered by searchers at mass graves in the area so far have not been the students’. The mayor and police chief are in hiding, but Federal authorities say three dozen police and accomplices have been arrested and many have confessed. None apparently has identified where the bodies were dumped.
As the scope of the crime, which occurred three weeks ago, has become clearer, the President’s rhetoric has been increasingly forceful, committing to investigate and bring the perpetrators to justice. The Federal police have been directed to take control of security in the area and nearby municipalities. The government announced last Friday, that the “supreme leader” of the Guerreros Unidos has been arrested, while another committed suicide after a standoff with police. But critics point out the federal authorities’ own problems with corruption, and criticism of Peña Nieto’s efforts to stem the violence has been growing, especially in the wake of his administration’s many self-congratulatory statements about progress in the security area. A new 5,000-strong national civilian gendarmerie he rolled out in August was ridiculed as too little, too late. His continuation of his predecessor’s emphasis on arresting drug kingpins – resulting this year in the spectacular arrests of Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán Loera (of the Sinaloa cartel), Héctor Beltrán-Leyva (of the Beltrán-Leyva Organization), Fernando Sánchez Arellano (of the Arellano Félix cartel), and others – has failed to eliminate the underlying systems of the drug trade.
During the presidential campaign in 2012, Peña Nieto promised to reduce violence, and his decision not to obsess over the problem – as his predecessor, President Calderón, had – may have given him a respite. But his administration apparently ignored clear signals of trouble – such as indications that in Guerrero state and elsewhere the cartels’ were expanding and consolidating their influence over government – and the problem seems to be roaring back with a vengeance. The President’s focus on reforming the economy and attracting foreign investment makes strategic sense, but its long timeline doesn’t help him fight the fires of violence that envelop parts of the country. There’s also merit in creating something like the gendarmerie and other institutional tools, but that approach seems to ignore that the rot of corruption has deep roots at all levels – federal, state, and local – that must be dealt with and that an elite unit tied to a federal capital hundreds of kilometers away can do little in places like Guerrero. Calderón had shown the challenge wouldn’t be easy, but Peña Nieto has not yet shown that he – and Mexican society – are up to it either.
Posted by clalsstaff on October 21, 2014
By Fulton Armstrong
Photo credit: a-birdie and Free Grunge Textures / Flickr / CC BY
Haiti buried Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier last week, but his and his father’s ghosts continue to haunt Haitian politics and keep institutions so weak that, after two decades of operations, the United Nations decided to renew its mandate there yet again this week. Duvalier didn’t get the state funeral his family and closest supporters wanted, but his sendoff was dignified enough to demonstrate that political elites have forgiven his excesses – including thousands of extrajudicial killings and unbridled corruption – or were at least nostalgic for his version of “law and order.” President Martelly tweeted that Duvalier was “an authentic son of Haiti” and sent his personal friend and counternarcotics chief, Gregory Mayard-Paul, to the service. While a small group of protestors outside the church demanded justice for the dictator’s abuses, several hundred of Haiti’s economic and political elite applauded the eulogies for Baby Doc, who was forced into exile in 1986 and returned in 2011. Duvalier outlived by three months the first president to be elected after his removal, Leslie Manigat, who himself was overthrown in a bloodless coup after serving less than six months in office (1988). The next democratically elected successor, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, was ousted in two coups (1991 and 2004) and last month was put under house arrest for alleged corruption.
Institutional weaknesses dating back to the Duvaliers’ rule and before continue to stymie progress in Haiti. Because the government is unable to provide even basic police services for the people, this week the United Nations Security Council again – for 20 years in a row – authorized an extension of a mission to provide either peacekeeping or “stabilization” support. The vote was unanimous and, according to the UN’s own press report, the MINUSTAH mission would continue “for another year, until 15 October 2015, with the intention of further renewal.” Like past resolutions, this week’s called on Haitian political leaders “to work cooperatively and without further delays to ensure the urgent holding of free, fair, inclusive, and transparent [elections]” at the legislative, partial senatorial, municipal, and local levels. Senate elections are three years overdue, perpetuating the sort of political crises that have long plagued the country. Officials’ reassurances to U.S. Secretary of State Kerry and others last week that elections will be held this month lack credibility in the absence of an electoral law and the complex preparations necessary for voting.
It would be inaccurate and unfair to say that Haiti has made no progress since Jean-Claude’s ouster almost 30 years ago. The vicious and corrupt Haitian military has been disbanded, and – although the Tonton Macoutes that the Duvaliers deployed to force the population into submission were never brought to justice – vigilantes no longer roam the streets terrorizing entire neighborhoods. Haitian elections have been messy but, in many observers’ estimation, clean enough to give Presidents and legislators a good bit of legitimacy. But the tragedy of Haiti that keeps repeating itself is one of unfulfilled aspiration. Individual Haitians are deeply committed to education – sacrificing huge portions of family income to keep children in school – and, when jobs are available, work as hard as anyone in the hemisphere. Despite billions in aid, the country’s institutions are too weak, and the elites’ interest in keeping them that way is too strong, to move the country faster. The politically and economically powerful who prospered under Duvalier surely hope that any responsibility they had for his excesses was buried with him, and if Haitian history is any guide, they’ll get away with it – while the UN and international community keep internal Haitian tensions in check and help provide basic services.
Posted by clalsstaff on October 16, 2014
By Eric Hershberg and Luciano Melo
Aécio Neves – Senador & World Economic Forum / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA
The first round of Brazil’s presidential election has set the stage for a runoff playing primarily to class differences. By the eve of the election, polls hinted at the real possibility that the center-right candidate Aécio Neves of the Brazilian Social Democratic Party (PSDB) would edge out the other principal opposition contender, former Minister of the Environment Marina Silva. Silva enjoyed a spike in the polls after she replaced the late Eduardo Campos, who perished in a plane accident in August, as the Brazilian Social Party (PSB) candidate. Sunday’s results confirmed Silva’s decline, as she captured only 21.3 percent of the votes compared to 33.5 percent for the PSDB and 41.6% for incumbent President Dilma Roussef of the Worker’s Party (PT). The PT used its potent propaganda machine to portray Silva as a potentially dangerous candidate – an indecisive leader who could not be trusted to sustain popular social programs such as the Bolsa Familia conditional cash transfer program, which has helped lift millions of Brazilians out of poverty. Also, Aécio and Rousseff built their images upon two iconic ex-Presidents – the former on Fernando Henrique Cardoso (FHC) – seen by the middle and upper classes as the leader who managed to defeat hyperinflation and putting Brazil on track for economic growth – and the latter on Lula, Rousseff’s mentor, who is idolized among the most disadvantaged parts of Brazilian society as the President who helped the poor become less poor.
To win the runoff on October 26, Aécio needs at least 70 percent of Silva’s votes – she has only hinted at supporting him – while Rousseff would succeed with only half of that. It is clear that Dilma and the PT will double down on their negative advertisements, now aiming at Aécio rather than Marina. The PT’s barrage over the airwaves will highlight the risks of abandoning the course set out by Lula and followed by Rousseff. Voters will be told that the opposition may underfund cash transfers, privatize the state oil company Petrobrás or treat it as a profit-making enterprise rather than as a development bank, thus increasing unemployment as occurred during the Cardoso years. And the PT will no doubt remind voters of its consistent efforts to boost minimum wages and chip away at the vast inequalities that had long characterized Brazil. Surely they will portray Neves as an elitist out of touch with the majority that has benefited from the PT’s redistributionist agenda. Aécio and the PSDB, by contrast, will highlight the worrisome slowdown in growth under Rousseff, the failure to significantly improve public services – it was frustration over health, education and, particularly, urban transportation that drove the social protests that began in mid-2013 – and the over-regulated and over-taxed economy. Most of all, Neves’ campaign will harp on the persistent scandals that have bedeviled the PT over the past decade and that have helped to fuel popular disdain for politicians.
The election results in Brazil are likely to become increasingly polarized in terms of class. Dilma appears poised to prevail in the poorest states of North and Northeast, where Bolsa Familia and other cash transfer programs, subsidies, wage increases and Lula’s image are compelling. In turn, Aécio should come out ahead in the richer states such as São Paulo, which offer the largest pool of voters and where highly educated and middle- and upper-income Brazilians are concentrated. We make divergent predictions: Hershberg anticipates a PT victory, since for all the speculation about the travails of the Latin American left, it has built very substantial foundations of support in societies that credit the left with finally making some advances to tackle Latin America’s yawning inequalities. Warnings that Aécio represents a return to elite rule will resonate among the PT’s electoral base, and the PT’s success will be nourished by its powerful organizational capabilities. Melo, by contrast, anticipates a PSDB triumph. In this scenario, the corruption, disappointing growth rates over the past two years as the commodity boom has slowed, and widespread frustration about the quality of public services will generate an anti-incumbent dynamic that will bring to an end a dozen years of PT rule.
Posted by clalsstaff on October 10, 2014
By Fulton Armstrong and Eric Hershberg
OAE-OAS & tgraham / Flickr / Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)
The Summit of the Americas isn’t until next April, but interest in how Panama as host handles near-unanimous pressure from Latin America to invite Cuban President Raúl Castro, and how the United States and Cuba will respond, is growing fast. Speaking to reporters at the United Nations last week, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Roberta Jacobson answered several questions on the U.S. position. Key excerpts follow:
- Asked “if the United States is still opposed to Cuba attending.” On the Summit of the Americas, I think we’ve been pretty clear in our position on the summit, which is that obviously Panama is the host country for the summit, and as the host country they will make the decisions on invitations to that summit. … And the fact of the matter is we have said from the start that we look forward to a summit that can include a democratic Cuba at the table. We also have said that the summit process, ever since Quebec in 2001, has made a commitment to democracy, and we think that’s an important part of the summit process. But the decision about invitations is not ours to make, and obviously there’s been no invitations formally issued to the United States and other countries. And so there is no acceptance or rejection yet called for or made. …
- Asked “is there a chance that the U.S. might refuse going.” Again, I think you won’t be surprised to hear me say that we’re really not going to answer hypotheticals in the future yet. Obviously, the Summit of the Americas is in April and that’s not a situation that we can answer, although I think we have made clear that we believe the summit process is committed to democratic governance and we think that the governments that are sitting at that table ought to be committed to the summit principles, which include democratic governance. And therefore that’s our position at this point. Obviously, we have a position on Cuba which does not at this point see them as upholding those principles.
Panama’s likely invitation to Cuba – reflecting the consensus of 32 hemispheric nations at the last Summit – will draw protests from official quarters in Washington. But it’s far from certain that the Obama Administration would risk blame for torpedoing the 20-year Summit process. Obama survived a handshake with Raúl Castro at Nelson Mandela’s funeral last December, and being in the same room with him again as a President in the second half of his second term will have little political consequence. A workshop in Mexico City in June, in which CLALS researchers participated, and another in Ottawa in September, sponsored by the Center and the University of Ottawa, explored likely outcomes. Mexican international relations specialists speculated that a reasonable outcome was for the United States to show up like a polite guest, and thus avoid having the anachronism of U.S. antagonism toward Cuba overshadow its broader relations with Latin America. Canadian experts were deeply concerned that Cuba’s inclusion might undermine the centrality to the OAS of the Inter-American Democratic Charter, but they agreed that failure to convene a Summit would constitute a serious blow to the OAS and to the regular summits that provide Canada a seat at the inter-governmental table.
The reality is that Cuba does not conform to the Democratic Charter or to the broader OAS criteria of democratic rule, but equally real is that Latin America sees Cuba as a full member of the hemisphere and has lost all patience with those in Washington who would deny that. Either Washington — and Ottawa — set aside their objections to Cuba’s inclusion or they bid farewell to such fora and their constructive impact on regional relationships that ought to matter to them. Moreover, if they acquiesce to Cuban participation but then try to commandeer the agenda and make the Summit a seminar on democracy and human rights, it will only reinforce the widespread sense in the region that Washington cannot move beyond its obsession with the trivial matter of Cuba and get on with a serious conversation among equal partners. They would thus sacrifice an opportunity to discuss issues on which significant, substantive advances are possible through dialogue among leaders of countries throughout the hemisphere. The value of the Summit rests with the capacity of all involved to act like grownups. President Obama did so at Mandela’s funeral, and it will be telling whether he can do it again in Panama this coming April.
Posted by clalsstaff on October 2, 2014
By Aaron T. Bell
Photo credit: Frente Amplio (FA) / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA
Uruguay’s elections on October 26 – once seen as a sure bet for the ruling Frente Amplio’s presidential candidate, former president Tabaré Vázquez (2005-2010) – have become a tight race, perhaps signaling challenges for other left-leaning Latin American governments as well. The FA’s slight slip in the polls since the beginning of 2014 has been matched by sustained growth by the Partido Nacional, led by Luis Lacalle Pou, the son of a former president. While Vázquez still holds a ten-point lead, he’s well below the absolute majority needed to avoid a run-off election, whose numbers look even bleaker for the ruling party. In February, Lacalle Pou was running twenty-five points behind Vázquez in a head-to-head matchup, but the latest polls now show him only two points back. Lacalle Pou will need the support of his party’s long-time rival, the Colorado Party, to win a second round against the FA, but Colorado candidate Pedro Bordaberry has thus far refused to concede the first round to the PN despite trailing them by 17 points. Nonetheless, Vázquez was defeated by just such a second-round alliance in 1999. Complicating things for him, polling strongly suggests that FA could lose control of both houses of the national legislature this fall.
The Lacalle Pou campaign has focused on public security and education. Uruguay’s homicide rate remains one of the lowest in the region, but a modest increase in crime in recent years has spurred both urban and rural Uruguayans to rank security as the principal problem facing the nation – well ahead of the second leading concern, education. The October elections will coincide with a referendum on lowering the age of criminal responsibility from 18 to 16 for serious offensives, with polls showing Uruguayans closely divided but leaning toward approval. On the education front, the FA’s Plan Ceiba has helped provide laptops to every student, but 2012 assessment data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development still place Uruguay’s students well below the international average in math, science, and reading.
The FA’s political situation is paradoxical: it has presided over major socioeconomic improvements in the last decade and won international acclaim, but earned a more tepid response at home. Uruguay’s decision to legalize marijuana was widely celebrated abroad as a step toward a more progressive drug policy in the region, but polls continue to show that a majority of Uruguayans oppose legalization, and it has not won the FA much support even among proponents of cannabis, who have resisted the creation of a registry of buyers. (Vázquez recently suggested the registry would be used to develop rehabilitation programs.) The FA seems to have not yet figured out how to respond effectively to the perception of insecurity, nor has it overseen a decided improvement in education, which is central to long-term development prospects. With Brazil’s Partido dos Trabalhadores facing an uncertain future, and political crises in Argentina and Venezuela simmering, the FA may be the first case of a larger regional rollback of the first wave of 21st century leftwing movements.
Posted by clalsstaff on September 30, 2014