By Christian Bracho*
Members of Mexico’s Coordinadora Nacional de Trabajadores de Educación (CNTE) at a mass mobilization in 2013. / Eneas De Troya / Flickr / Creative Commons
Teachers in Oaxaca and other Mexican states are increasingly fearful and resentful of both their union and the ruling Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI). Since the 1970s, Mexico’s Coordinadora Nacional de Trabajadores de Educación (CNTE) has operated as a formalized dissident caucus within the Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores de Educación (SNTE), the national union that has been an essential part of state machinery since the 1940s and strongly aligned with the PRI. CNTE rallied for many causes, such as union democratization, regional autonomy, and economic justice, and enjoyed the most popular support in the 1980s. As they accumulated power in the 1990s in states like Oaxaca, CNTE leaders turned to neo-corporatist strategies to incentivize teachers’ participation in union mobilizations. An extensive point system, for example, rewarded teachers for going to marches, camping out during strike periods, and attending rallies in Mexico City; teachers who failed to participate in a minimum amount of activities lost union privileges and benefits. By 2005, Oaxaca’s union had split over its focus on politics rather than pedagogy. Over the last ten years, dissident teachers have increasingly faced government pressure and violence.
- In 2006, military police broke up a rebellion led by striking teachers in Oaxaca state, in which dozens of activists were killed. In 2013, the massive teacher strike against President Peña Nieto’s constitutional reforms – which would require states to implement national education policies – ended with the violent eviction of teachers from Mexico City’s zócalo. In 2014, 43 student teachers in Guerrero state were massacred, and last year over a dozen protesters were killed in Nochixtlán, outside of Oaxaca’s capital city.
Although these incidents provide teachers’ unions considerable cause for continued mobilization, my research indicates that teachers in states like Oaxaca are less convinced that their ongoing struggles represent authentic political resistance. Many say they are fulfilling syndical obligations – less a reflection of personal convictions – because attendance is recorded and assures payment. Teachers tell me that they trust neither the government nor the union; they see government as an entrenched century-old political machine that has resurged with more impunity than ever, and the union – both nationally and regionally –as driven by special interests and cronyism. Maestros feel they have little recourse but to fend for themselves and families. They fear the violence that the government may visit upon them, but they also fear the public shaming they face if they criticize the union’s political tactics or support government reforms.
Education reform in Mexico is vital to improve the overall quality of teaching and learning – and to address the social and economic inequalities across the country. Government action is essential to such efforts, but endemic corruption has stained the public’s image of national and state leaders, cultivating distrust of top-down policies. The union is also essential to protecting teachers’ interests and challenging the hegemony of the national government, but its neo-corporatist strategies such as the point system delegitimize the activist banner waved by leaders in states like Oaxaca. Especially with increasing symbolic and physical violence, teachers are in an impossible position, stuck between two forces they don’t trust and facing dire consequences if they challenge the authority of either the government or union. Though dissident teachers are important to putting a check on government impunity and corruption, the union’s sustained mobilizations have negatively impacted their profession and student achievement. While “the teacher fighting is also teaching” – a common refrain in Mexico – teachers must also be free to step away from the march and into the classroom.
March 16, 2017
* Christian Bracho teaches in the International Training and Education Program at American University’s School of Education.
Posted by clalsstaff on March 16, 2017
By Chuck Call*
Juan Jiménez Mayor, Spokesman of the MACCIH Mission in Honduras, presented an update about MACCIH at the OAS in December 2016. / Juan Manuel Herrera, OAS / Flickr / Creative Commons
The OAS “Mission to Support the Fight against Corruption and Impunity in Honduras” (MACCIH) approaches its first anniversary in April with some gains and many challenges. Launched after months of negotiations with the government of President Juan Orlando Hernández, MACCIH was created partly in response to widespread street protests by the Indignados (the “Outraged”), angered that the president’s campaign had benefitted from $300 million embezzled by officials of the Social Security Institute (IHSS). Hernández was widely believed to accept the mission only because his tenure in office – and a possible second term – were in danger.
- MACCIH was inspired by Guatemala’s CICIG, the UN-backed commission supporting that country’s judicial institutions, but Hernández insisted on major differences. He consented only to a mission of the OAS, generally seen as weaker than the United Nations. MACCIH is weaker than CICIG in that it cannot initiate its own case investigations and must channel all its investigative and prosecutorial work through Honduran authorities. (CICIG enjoys full investigative police powers and can initiate its own wiretaps and surveillance.) MACCIH is headed in-country by a “spokesman” for the OAS Secretary-General, who nominally leads the mission from Washington, and its $2 million first-year budget has been only about one-sixth that of CICIG’s annual budget.
As a result, MACCIH opened to skepticism that its slow start hasn’t dispelled. Its investigations have produced virtually no corruption-related arrests or prosecutions. Setting up the office took much of 2016. The head of criminal investigations only arrived in the summer, and the public security office only opened this month. In contrast, a Honduran Police Reform Commission has sacked over 3,000 police officers. Civil society organizations complain of MACCIH’s lack of impact, and a novel “observatory” comprising academic institutions and civil society groups remains ill-defined. MACCIH’s decision not take up the investigation of the high-profile murder of environmental rights activist Berta Cáceres has seemed to sideline the mission from a case that emblemizes impunity, even if it seems not to involve far-reaching corruption.
- However, MACCIH has scored some wins. It has embarked on a handful of complex corruption cases, including the IHSS case that sparked its creation. The mission helped Honduran prosecutors prepare charges of arms possession against Mario Zelaya, the highest-profile suspect in the IHSS case, which kept him in jail long enough for more serious charges to be brought. It helped secure two laws – to regulate campaign financing and to create a nationwide anti-corruption jurisdiction with its own selected judges and prosecutors. MACCIH’s in-country leader, former Peruvian Prime Minister Juan Jiménez Mayor, has been forward-leaning in acting on his mandate.
- MACCIH gained support in an early test late last year. In November, its concerns about several Hernández nominees to the Tribunal Superior de Cuentas, an audit court with special powers over corruption investigations, earned the ire of Honduran senior officials who complained to Secretary General Almagro. The appointments were not altered, laying bare the mission’s limitations. But Almagro stood by his organization’s analysis and role, with Jiménez Mayor emerging stronger as his special representative, not just his spokesman.
- That same month, the board chair of Transparency International, José Ugaz, visited Honduras and urged civil society organizations to help ensure MACCIH’s success. Since then, they have showed a more positive attitude toward MACCIH, and more witnesses are now cooperating with the mission.
Comparisons between MACCIH with CICIG may arguably be unfair just one year out. Observers recall that CICIG had difficulty showing impact in its initial investigations and was criticized as ineffectual. Delivering on its ambitious mission to help curb corruption and impunity – in a country notorious for both – will be even harder. However, the mission has accomplished as much as CICIG did in its first year in case investigations and legal reform. Despite its limitations and slow start, MACCIH’s performance does not preclude obtaining far-reaching corruption convictions and strengthening the Honduran judicial system in coming years. As civil society groups seem to be getting past their disappointment that their country did not get a CICIG, their collaboration will be crucial to the mission’s success.
March 13, 2017
* Chuck Call teaches International Peace and Conflict Resolution at American University.
Posted by clalsstaff on March 13, 2017
By Matthew Taylor*
Brazilian President Michel Temer. / PMDB Nacional / Flickr / Creative Commons
Self-inflicted troubles are forcing Brazilian President Michel Temer into difficult choices between his party and an angry public. When he became president three months ago, his game plan was simple and bold: undertake legislative reforms that would put the government’s accounts back on track, enhance investor confidence, stimulate an economic recovery, and possibly set the stage for a center-right presidential bid (if not by Temer himself, at least by a close ally) in the 2018 elections. Allies in his Brazilian Democratic Movement Party (PMDB) would ensure that he had the backing of Congress to push through reforms that might not bring immediate returns, but nonetheless might improve investor confidence. Sotto voce, many politicians also assumed that the PMDB would be well placed to slow the pace of the bloodletting occasioned by the massive Lava Jato investigation and stabilize the political system.
Last week, the public’s worst suspicions of the PMDB-led government were confirmed by a two-bit scandal that claimed Government Secretary Geddel Vieira Lima, who was putting pressure – with Temer’s help – on a historical registry office to authorize construction of a Salvador building in which he had purchased an apartment. Temer sought to repair the damage by holding an unusual press conference Sunday in which he promised to veto a proposed congressional amnesty of illegal campaign contributions. But Temer now faces another important ethical fork in the road: how to respond to Chamber of Deputies approval of anti-corruption legislation yesterday that – while originally intended to boost efforts to clean up government – neuters the reforms and prevents judicial “abuses,” a move widely seen as an effort to intimidate judges and prosecutors. The bill now heads to the Senate, which seems unlikely to repair the damage and indeed, may further distort the bill in an effort to undermine Temer’s ability to resurrect the reforms through selective vetoes. The reform package had been a poster child for the prosecutors spearheading the Lava Jato investigation, and it was pushed by a petition drive that gathered more than two million signatures. Prosecutors have threatened to resign if Temer signs the severely mangled measure into law.
Despite Temer’s initial successes, the outlook for the remainder of his term remains grim. The bad news is going to continue, causing the Congress and Temer even more sleepless nights. A deal expected soon reportedly will require the Odebrecht construction firm to pay a record-breaking penalty for its corrupt practices (perhaps surpassing even the US$1.6 billion Siemens paid to U.S. and European authorities in 2008), and plea bargains by nearly 80 company executives might implicate as many as 200 federal politicians. It threatens to paralyze legislators and further weaken the PMDB’s already decimated crew, undermining Temer’s ability to coordinate with Congress. Economic forecasts now show economic growth of less than 1 percent in 2017 and, with 26 state governments facing budget crises, politically influential governors are begging for federal help. A much-needed pension reform promised by Temer has not yet been made public, much less begun the tortuous amendment process in Congress. Temer increasingly is being forced to choose between helping his allies and achieving reform, or satisfying a public fed up with politics as usual and baying for accountability and a political cleanup. It will take all of Temer’s considerable political skills and knowledge of backroom Brasília to revise his game plan for these challenging times.
December 1, 2016
* Matthew Taylor is Associate Professor at the School of International Service at American University and Adjunct Senior Fellow for Latin America Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. This is adapted from this CFR blogpost.
Posted by clalsstaff on December 1, 2016
By Ricardo Barrientos*
Iván Velásquez, head of the UN International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG). Velásquez and his team face a difficult task of bolstering Guatemalan anti-corruption efforts. / US Embassy Guatemala / Flickr / Creative Commons
Anti-corruption efforts in Guatemala have suffered serious setbacks in recent months, and the election of Donald Trump as U.S. president appears likely to hurt them further. A number of media reports have already documented that efforts by right-wing Army veterans accused of crimes against humanity during the civil war, politicians, and campaign financiers are seriously threatening anti-corruption efforts started in 2015, which swept former President Pérez Molina from office. President Jimmy Morales, who campaigned that he was “neither corrupt, nor a thief,” has failed to fulfill voters’ mandate to fight corruption, and instead has allowed Army friends to dominate his administration. Called la juntita, Morales’s closest advisors are former military officers who operate in the shadows, are widely suspected of crimes against humanity during the war, and are alleged to be using their influence for personal enrichment.
- The Supreme Court and Congress are also under pressure. Numerous media reports point to members of the Supreme Court, including its President, being tainted. One magistrate, whose son has already been convicted of illicit use of public funds, is widely suspected as well. In the legislature, the election of a new Directive Board increased the power of members long suspected of links with the mafias. (Some local observers speculate that the internal voting was conducted on the U.S. Election Day because U.S. Ambassador Todd Robinson, an advocate of anti-corruption initiatives, and his staff would be too busy to care about what was going on in the Guatemalan Congress.)
With the Central Square in Guatemala City empty and only memories remaining of the citizen mass demonstrations of 2015, the last line of defense against the “re-capture” of the Guatemalan State are Iván Velásquez, head of the UN International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), and Guatemalan Attorney General Thelma Aldana. They have already started investigations and are prosecuting corrupt members of Congress, including members of the new Directive Board. U.S. government support has been crucial. Ambassador Robinson may have crossed the thin line between active diplomacy and intervention at times, but many observers note that – quite unusual in Latin America for a U.S. ambassador – he enjoys strong support and sympathy from Guatemalans, and he is disliked by the Army veterans and others who are part of what in Guatemala is known as the “old politics.”
Corrupt Guatemalans appear to believe that their first hope – to neutralize the U.S. Embassy – moved one step closer to reality with the election of Donald Trump last week. Politicians and commentators opposed to U.S. support for CICIG celebrated. One proclaimed that “Democrats shriek; Republicans vote,” while another interpreted the message of Trump’s victory for Ambassador Robinson: “You’re fired!” The mafias would not expect a Trump Administration to support them, but rather – interpreting the President-elect’s campaign statements – simply adopt a policy of indifference toward Guatemala and its internal affairs. The corruption networks of the “old politics” in Guatemala hope that Trump will stay focused on nothing in Latin America except stopping migration. Analysts who say that everyone in Latin America is regretting Trump’s victory are wrong. Trump’s election may help the corrupt win a battle or two, but the war against corruption in Guatemala is far from over.
November 18, 2016
*Ricardo Barrientos is a senior economist at the Central American Institute for Fiscal Studies (Icefi).
Posted by clalsstaff on November 18, 2016
By Fabio Kerche*
PSB Nacional 40 / Flickr / Creative Commons
Brazil’s Federal Prosecutors – treated as heroes by parts of Brazilian society and the mainstream press – have become so powerful and aggressive that they face growing allegations of violating some civil and political rights. The Lava Jato (Car Wash) investigation that helped bring down President Dilma Rousseff is not the first time that prosecutors have been in the spotlight; they are often easier to find in newspapers’ political section than among crime news. For instance, during the 1990s State Prosecutors sued hundreds of mayors and became protagonists in the Mensalão, a campaign finance scandal during the administration of President Lula da Silva. But their activities have never been as intense as recently, leading to the unprecedented “judicialization” of politics, a term that political scientists use to refer to over-reliance on the judicial system to mediate policy debates and political disputes.
The roots of prosecutors’ extraordinary power are in the 1988 Constitution, which assured their autonomy and gave them extensive civil and criminal tools with which to act. At the same time, lawmakers created few processes to ensure prosecutor accountability, making them autonomous even in relation to the Procurador-Geral da República, who is supposed to be the chief Federal Prosecutor but cannot provide effective oversight under current law. After passing the pre-employment examination, prosecutors cannot be fired or demoted. They are an army of 10,000 who are entirely independent of politicians and society. Unlike in the United States, where the President can dismiss a U.S. Attorney and electors can vote out a District Attorney, Brazil lacks analogous mechanisms for ensuring prosecutors’ professionalism.
Two innovations during the Partido dos Trabalhadores (PT) governments of Presidents Lula and Dilma fed the powers that now try to devour them.
- While nominating Chief Prosecutors for their two-year terms, they essentially waived their right to choose by going with the candidates with the most support from their own agency colleagues, at times based on institutional interests (such as wages) rather than professional integrity and vision. Not only did this weaken the influence of the incumbent President; it opened the way for leading prosecutors friendly with past administrations to become relentless pursuers of PT leaders. Dilma also approved legislation expanding prosecutors’ authority to offer plea bargains, reducing suspects’ sentences in exchange for information about accomplices and their bosses. Prosecutors and the judge responsible for Lava Jato have been constantly ordering arrests of officials, whose only ticket out of prison is to turn over information. Yet, since potential snitches cannot receive credit for reporting cases and names that have already been provided by others, this process has created a voracious accusation market and a deluge of new “facts” and new names, particularly including PT leaders. Suspects are condemned by public opinion, creating a true cycle that feeds on itself.
A survey released last week by Vox Populi and Brazil’s largest trade union federation, the Central Única dos Trabalhadores (CUT), shows that 43 percent of Brazilians think prosecutors are “fair” and treat all politicians equally. But an almost equal number – 41 percent – claim prosecutors persecute politicians from the PT and do not act against politicians from its principal adversary, the PSDB. With Brazilian society split over the Brazilian Prosecutors Office’s integrity, the lack of any instrument for punishing or rewarding prosecutors is particularly problematic. Brazilian citizens have few political and legal tools to wield against prosecutors whom they believe abuse power. When institutions fail and do not shape behavior, personal and political agendas become paramount. This is not a good democratic model, even when prosecutors are supposedly fighting against corruption. It opens the door to political witch hunts and erodes popular confidence in democracy and its institutions.
October 27, 2016
* Fabio Kerche is a CLALS Research Fellow and Researcher at Casa de Rui Barbosa Foundation, Rio de Janeiro.
Posted by clalsstaff on October 27, 2016
By Eric Hershberg
A farm in Morazán, El Salvador, a department that has maintained some sense of normalcy through its strong social organizations. / Cacaopera de Cerca / Flickr / Creative Commons
A surge in violence in El Salvador over the past five-plus years demands a more comprehensive and inclusive strategy than the ongoing Plan El Salvador Seguro. A rigorous and highly readable study released last month by the Instituto Centroamericano de Investigaciones para el Desarrollo y el Cambio Social (INCIDE) employs quantitative and qualitative data to demonstrate that the pattern of violence in El Salvador has worsened. Murders increased 66 percent in the 2010-2015 period; the murder rate of 102.9 per 100,000 inhabitants in 2015 made it the most violent year in decades. Multiple-victim murders increased 126 percent in the same period, and murders of women skyrocketed 750 percent – from 40 in 2012 to 340 in 2015. Gang-on-gang violence has produced a 72 percent increase in deaths, while armed confrontations between gangs and state personnel are growing more frequent. Kidnappings and disappearance have surged. For the first time since the end of the civil war in 1992, El Salvador has experienced forced displacements, both within the country and to other countries, most notably an unprecedented flow of rural Salvadorans into Nicaragua.
The 2012-2013 truce among the gangs and the government of then-President Mauricio Funes reduced violence somewhat, but INCIDE notes that it also allowed gangs to consolidate their control over territory while government planners failed to address the deeper causes of the violence. While documenting that Salvador Seguro has had some positive results and won support, the study posits that the current strategy of frontal attack on gangs has also eroded the social and community fabric that represents an essential intangible asset for durable success in reducing violence. Many communities live in fear of violence from all sides. The INCIDE report emphasizes that the causes of spiraling violence are complex, deeply rooted, and require integrated responses tailored to specific conditions in different territories. What is needed, says INCIDE, would be a strategy that:
- Shuns one-size-fits-all national solutions. The government has failed for years to understand that the drivers of violence and stability are different across territories throughout the country. INCIDE advocates the creation of a “territorial map” detailing each community’s security situation, the resources it can bring to bear against violence, and what it needs from national-level programs in order to strengthen local communities.
- Empowers those local communities. A comparison between two locales – in Morazán and Jiquilisco – revealed that the former, which has fewer police and army personnel than the latter, has been able to maintain a more normal way of life because it has strong social organizations and a social commitment to preventing violence through informal vigilance, youth programs, and cooperation with authorities. Jiquilisco lacks these assets and lives essentially in lock-down mode.
More research and better-targeted territorial strategies are certainly essential, but even INCIDE’s Director, Alexander Segovia (who was a senior aide to President Funes and principal author of the INCIDE study), wouldn’t say they will guarantee success. In an extensive interview with the on-line magazine Revista Factum, he blamed the failure to stem the violence on the “negligence of the economic, political, and intellectual elites” of the country. He asserted that El Salvador must “change perspectives – to examine how it’s been dealing with the topic of violence and insecurity, from the design of public policies to the participation of the different actors who make up society.” Prevailing approaches emphasizing sectoral solutions – strengthening agriculture, industry or tourism in affected areas – have been too piecemeal to bring results. INCIDE’s research underscores the need for a more inclusive, comprehensive approach tailored to specific local conditions. Mobilizing and fostering cohesion in communities victimized by the violence may be a lot more difficult, but it is also potentially the most successful means to a solution.
Click here for the full text of INCIDE’s report and here for Director Alexander Segovia’s interview with Revista Factum.
September 26, 2016
Posted by clalsstaff on September 26, 2016
By Aaron T. Bell*
Left: Photo of Daniel Ortega celebrating his latest presidential triumph (July 20, 2012) / Fundación ONG de Nicaragua / Wikimedia / Creative Commons; Right: Anastasio Somoza DeBayle / DemonSabre / Wikimedia / Creative Commons
Events in Nicaragua this summer have demonstrated that President Ortega and his family have a vision for the future that erodes a key element of political democracy – the replacement of the executive through free and fair elections – and risks establishing a dynasty of corruption and authoritarian rule. In May 2016, President Daniel Ortega of the Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional (FSLN) announced his candidacy for a fourth presidential term – his third consecutive. Since then the government has taken several steps to ensure that Ortega and his family remain in power in November’s elections for President and National Assembly, and beyond:
- Voting irregularities, a lack of transparency, and accusations of fraud have marred several successive elections since Ortega’s return to power in 2007. In June of this year, Ortega announced that he would not permit international election observers to monitor this fall’s elections.
- Weeks later, the Supreme Court stripped opposition leader Eduardo Montealgre of his position as head of the Partido Liberal Independiente (PLI) and replaced him with Pedro Reyes, considered by observers to be an Ortega ally. In July, Nicaragua’s electoral council removed 16 sitting members of the National Assembly and 12 alternates after they refused to recognize Reyes.
- In August, Ortega announced that Rosario Murillo, his long-time partner and wife since 2005, would serve as his vice presidential candidate in the November election. Murillo has been a prominent figure in the Ortega government while serving as both first lady and chief spokeswoman. Her political ascension is complemented by the rise to prominence in recent years of her and Ortega’s children as operators of business and media interests, including the couple’s eldest son and presidential adviser on investments, Laureano Facundo, who helped sell the stalled interoceanic canal project to Chinese businessman Wang Jing.
Nicaragua’s opposition parties have thus far been unable to mount an effective response and have shown the lack of cohesion and focus that have plagued them for decades. Montealgre announced that the coalition led by the PLI would boycott the election and called on others to do the same. But rather than present a united front, opposition leaders are fighting amongst themselves to seize the mantle of leadership and challenge Ortega through several competing parties and coalitions. This will be no easy task: polling conducted by M&R Consultores this summer shows that over 60 percent of voters are likely to vote for Ortega, with the leading opposition parties drawing low single digits. Over a quarter of potential voters said they were unsure whom they would vote for. With the opposition beset by division and lacking much legitimacy – tainted as they are by a history of corruption, self-interest, and financial support from the United States – it is unsurprising that protests and civil unrest have been largely absent. The ouster of the PLI delegates has also stirred the FSLN’s old opponents outside the government, who have been largely quiescent in recent years but condemned the decision: the Bishops of the Episcopal Council, the Nicaraguan-American Chamber of Commerce, and the Consejo Superior de la Empresa Privada (COSEP), the largest business chamber that has enjoyed a working relationship with the Ortega government.
The FSLN’s authoritarian turn, Ortega’s long reign, and the rise to prominence of both Murillo and the couple’s children invite comparisons between Ortega and Somoza family dynasties. It may be from COSEP and the business sector, rather than among the weak and divided political opposition, that a serious challenge to Ortega could eventually emerge. It was after all the defection of non-Somoza family interests in the private sector, combined with a popular insurrection led by a guerrilla insurgency, that did away with Nicaragua’s previous family dynasty. But that combination only emerged following the shock of the 1972 earthquake and resulting massive corruption, the assassination of a national figure like Pedro Chamorro in 1978, and the particularly bloodthirsty turn that the Somoza regime had taken. With similarly game-changing circumstances absent at this juncture, the sort of cross-sector revolutionary movement that ultimately toppled the Somozas appears unlikely. For the moment at least, an Ortega family will be well on its way to firmly preserving its dynastic power come November.
September 19, 2016
* Aaron Bell is an Adjunct Professorial Lecturer in History and American Studies at American University.
Posted by clalsstaff on September 19, 2016
By Marcie Neil*
A photo from the protest on June 19. Credit: LibreRed / Google / Creative Commons
The Mexican government’s latest reaction to the country’s largest teachers union’s challenge to education reform is triggering accusations of gross human rights violations at a time that President Enrique Peña Nieto is already under severe pressure over the case of the missing 43 students from Ayotzinapa, even if the union’s reputation – and the government’s historical demonization of it – may undercut the teachers’ cause. Protesters associated with the Coordinadora Nacional de Trabajadores de la Educación (CNTE) clashed with state and federal police in Nochixtlán, Oaxaca, on June 19, leaving eight dead, more than 100 wounded, and at least 25 detained. The clashes culminated a series of CNTE-led protests over a 2013 reform that puts the onus on teachers for student success through government-mandated tests and teacher evaluations – akin to the U.S. “No Child Left Behind Act.” CNTE members consider the reform disconnected from the realities of teaching in Mexico’s underprivileged, indigenous, and rural environments, and view it as a threat to their collective decision-making authority and hard-won benefits from the 1980s and 1990s.
- The CNTE denounced Nochixtlán as another example of excessive police force, and press reports and citizen testimony have refuted the President’s claim that police met protesters unarmed. The administration subsequently offered to meet with union leaders to discuss the reform, but it was seen as offering too little too late.
The CNTE is not the country’s most respected institution, but its complaints about the brutal police reactions to its protests have merit and have stimulated a national debate on Mexico’s commitment to human rights. The union’s reputation has been tarnished by repeated disruption of school schedules, internecine strife, recent arrests of leaders on corruption charges, and a recently eliminated, but oft-cited, benefit that allowed union members’ children to inherit their jobs regardless of merit. But the state’s implicit culpability in the disappearance of the 43 students in Ayotzinapa and the death toll on June 19 seems to have tipped the perceptions of its dispute with the state momentarily in favor of CNTE. That dispute and others with popular organizations have deep roots – going back to mobilizations in the 1960s, including the Tlateloco Massacre in 1968, and the brutal repression of a 2006 teachers strike in Oaxaca. The historical pattern is one of state abuse against mostly harmless citizens who feel denied democratic participation.
The Peña Nieto administration’s reactions thus far do not suggest a desire to break with that pattern, even in the face of public outrage over this month’s killings. The Mexico representative of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and others have called for an independent investigation into the Nochixtlán violence, but the government’s stonewalling of the Ayotzinapa investigation suggests these attempts at overcoming impunity face dim prospects. Education Minister Aurelio Nuño’s statement the day after the confrontation confirming the government’s commitment to uphold the education reforms further fueled public anger. Absent an independent evaluation, the bloody events of June 19 could remain as evidence that the Mexican government is simply unwilling to overcome its historical tendency to attack those it considers subversive.
July 1, 2016
* Marcie Neil received her Masters in Latin American Studies at American University in 2015 and served as a Graduate Assistant at the Center for Latin American and Latino Studies.
Posted by clalsstaff on July 1, 2016
By Cynthia McClintock*
Photo Credits: Venezualan Government / Public Domain and Diario La Primera / Wikimedia Commons
Peru’s National Office of Electoral Processes (ONPE) will not announce the final results of Sunday’s run-off presidential election until later this week, but the current statistical tie is already setting the stage for serious tensions. The ONPE’s official count, with about 93 percent of votes counted, puts Pedro Pablo Kuczynski (Peruanos por el Kambio) at 50.32 percent and Keiko Fujimori (Fuerza Popular) at 49.68 percent. Some local observers say that late-arriving vote tallies from rural areas could give Fujimori the edge, but others point out that recent quick counts have reliably predicted final results. The campaigns may have aggravated tensions on Sunday night, when Fujimori’s spokesperson proclaimed her victory, and Kuczynski called on loyalists to “defend the vote” and “to be vigilant that they not steal votes from us.”
The campaign underscored the country’s enduring polarization over Fujimori’s imprisoned father, Alberto. Although Alberto Fujimori was convicted on charges of human rights violations and corruption, and although his 1990s government became increasingly authoritarian, he is still perceived by many Peruvians as the savior who restored order and broke the back of the Sendero Luminoso guerrillas. Primarily for this reason, Keiko Fujimori won almost 40 percent of the votes in the first round on April 10; Kuczynski was the runner-up with 21 percent, narrowly defeating leftist candidate Verónika Mendoza (Frente Amplio), with 19 percent.
- The last two weeks were a roller coaster. At the time of the first round, Kuczynski had held a slight lead over Fujimori, but only a week ago was trailing her by about five points. An international economist and banker who had lived for long periods in the United States, Kuczynski lost support in part because, after the first round, he spent eight days in the U.S., exacerbating perceptions that he was more gringo than Peruvian, while Fujimori traveled to remote areas of Peru. She claimed that, whereas her opponent favored big business, she favored small and medium business. Also, in the first debate, Kuczynski, who is 77, appeared at a loss to counter Fujimori’s attacks.
- In the last week, however, it was Kuczynski with the momentum. He effectively communicated integrity and a commitment to democracy just as memories of the corruption and authoritarianism during the government of Fujimori’s father were revived. A scandal implicating the head of her party, Joaquín Ramírez, in money laundering gradually took a toll, especially when her vice-presidential candidate was believed to have orchestrated the broadcast of a doctored audiotape in an effort to clear Ramírez’s name. Fujimori appeared to believe that “the best defense is a good offense,” but her increasingly confrontational style and dismissive tone may have been a factor in the decision by third-place Mendoza to strongly endorse Kuczynski. In the second debate a week ago Sunday, Kuczynski emphasized that Fujimori could not be trusted to keep her key pledge to fight crime when Ramírez and other leaders of her party were under criminal investigation.
The presidential campaign has reflected deep polarization and tensions since at least March, when electoral authorities disqualified two important candidates – Julio Guzmán and César Acuña – for violations of party and electoral regulations. Guzmán’s party had not kept to the letter of its internal party statutes and Acuña handed out cash at a campaign rally. The disqualifications prompted OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro to label Peru only “semi-democratic.” A key problem was that the laws were not consistently enforced; most saliently, Fujimori, captured on video passing out prizes at a campaign event, was not disqualified. Strains are likely to remain high this week, and could grow worse after ONPE’s final announced tally at the end of the week. Fujimori’s followers, embracing the polls showing her lead prior to election day, may cry foul if a Kuczyinski victory is declared. Many of Kuczyinski’s and Mendoza’s followers, for their part, intensely fear a return to Fujimorismo. In this context, it is not impossible that disqualified candidates Guzmán and Acuña and their supporters could call for a total do-over. Although serious, sustained instability remains unlikely, Peru’s 2016 election is by far its most problematic since the country’s return to democracy in 2001.
(Previous analyses on the Peruvian election are available here and here.)
June 6, 2016
* Cynthia McClintock is Professor of Political Science and International Affairs at George Washington University.
Posted by clalsstaff on June 6, 2016
By Eric Hershberg
Thousands of protesters in Maracaibo, Venezuela. Photo Credit: Google Images / Creative Commons
2016 is proving to be this century’s most complicated year to date for South American political systems, and the coming months will be critical to assessing how well the region’s democracies can govern amid declining economic conditions and spiraling corruption scandals. Brazil and Venezuela – two very different systems with very different problems – are suffering the most visible crises.
- In Venezuela, where the Bolivarian project has descended into an incompetent Putinism in the tropics, is collapsing under the weight of monumental mismanagement of the economy. Many of the ills of the Venezuelan petrostate predate Chavismo, but during a collapse in oil prices President Maduro has doubled-down on profligate economic policies introduced by Hugo Chávez, bringing the country to catastrophe made worse by increasingly draconian repression of loyal and disloyal opposition alike.
- President Dilma Rousseff’s mismanagement of coalitions in a presidential system predicated on coalition-building has opened the way to political and economic implosion in Brazil. Contrary to the fervent assertions of important segments of the Workers Party (PT), her impeachment does not precisely constitute a coup, but it may indeed amount to an ill-advised bending of institutional mechanisms by cynical legislators and aggressive judges, egged on by rightist sectors whose commitment to democracy is in fact dubious. Dilma didn’t invent the corruption and footloose budgetary practices that have been her undoing, but her fall does respond to overwhelming popular rejection of her performance. Interim President Temer’s appointment of an entirely white male cabinet that includes representatives of some of the country’s most retrograde interests suggests abandonment of many of the most laudable achievements of more than a decade under PT rule – and more backlash as well.
Other institutional crises may be on the horizon. Ecuadoran President Rafael Correa pursued a high-risk strategy of debt-driven expansion of the state, which is not sustainable amid economic contraction. Argentine President Mauricio Macri’s honeymoon may prove short-lived. Much-needed economic reforms are likely to provoke even greater inflation and have already stoked resistance from the Peronist opposition. Macri enjoys some unprecedented assets – for the first time non-Peronists also control the city and province of Buenos Aires– but Argentine public opinion overwhelmingly favors statist economic policies that he aims to dismantle, and no non-Peronist elected president has completed his term in office since the rise of Peronism as a political force. Chilean President Michelle Bachelet, wounded by a drop in mineral export revenues and comparatively minor corruption allegations involving her daughter-in-law, reshuffled her cabinet earlier this month but continues to tank in the polls. Latinobarómetro reports that 70 percent of Chileans believe their political system doesn’t work.
It’s not hard to envision other relatively stable South American democracies facing hard times ahead. The June 5 presidential runoff in Peru could leave the country deeply polarized, especially if Keiko Fujimori, heiress to the country’s darkest episode in recent history, wins. It is not a foregone conclusion that Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, who has staked his second term on a long-awaited and much-needed peace accord, will secure its ratification, risking lameduck status for the remainder of his administration. If the presidents elsewhere appear to be weathering the storm, democratic governance nonetheless faces important challenges. It would be rash to predict that democracy will fail the test – and that such failure will give rise to a new era of authoritarian rule – but it’s clear that the region will witness widespread instability during the coming years.
May 26, 2016
Posted by clalsstaff on May 26, 2016