By Stefano Palestini Céspedes*
On April 3, a special meeting of the OAS Permanent Council voted to condemn Venezuela’s action that allows the Tribunal Supremo de Justicia (TSJ) to take over the functions of the National Assembly. / Juan Manuel Herrera/ OAS / Flickr / Creative Commons
Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro seems determined to validate critics’ claims that the separation of powers in Venezuela has been breached, thereby strengthening diplomatic efforts to force him to reverse course. After the OAS Permanent Council met for two days to discuss Secretary General Almagro’s call for Caracas’ suspension, Venezuelan courts on March 29 authorized the Tribunal Supremo de Justicia (TSJ) to take over the functions of the National Assembly, and to limit the immunity of the members of the parliament. The action reinvigorated an exhausted domestic opposition and further infuriated international observers. Two days later, the TSJ overturned the two rulings after Maduro, casting himself as a mediator between competing constitutional powers, requested it. These erratic actions signaled the worsening erosion of the rule of law as well as the divisions in the government and the Bolivarian movement.
- The reversal did not take the edge off OAS General Secretary Almagro’s and others’ condemnation of the power grab as an autogolpe or “self-coup.” The Inter-American Democratic Charter was designed in 2001 precisely to provide the OAS with instruments to deter self-coups in the aftermath of those carried out by Alberto Fujimori (Peru) and Jorge Serrano (Guatemala) in the 1990s.
The TSJ decisions and Venezuela’s defiance didn’t put Almagro’s suspension efforts over the top, but the Permanent Council is now much more actively involved in the crisis. Venezuela has isolated itself within the Permanent Council. Speaking at the Council, its delegation severely criticized individual member states the day before the TSJ decisions. Chile and Peru recalled their ambassadors for consultation after it. Ecuador, an ally since the time of Hugo Chávez, distanced itself from Maduro. On April 1, MERCOSUR invoked the Protocol of Ushuaia – the group’s democracy clause – against Venezuela, and it joined Colombia and Chile in a forceful public statement on behalf of UNASUR. Mexico, historically a jealous guardian of the principle of non-intervention, has assumed the leadership in holding Venezuela accountable for its undemocratic practices. As a result, the Permanent Council on April 3 approved a resolution condemning the TSJ decisions and committing to “undertake as necessary further diplomatic initiatives to foster the restoration of the democratic institutional system,” including convening a ministerial meeting.
Building a consensus for tougher action in the Permanent Council will be difficult, however. Last week’s resolution was approved by 19 member states, but four abstained and 10 were absent. Any proposal to suspend Venezuela will require two-thirds of the members’ affirmative votes. Although there is still a long way to go to make the OAS part of the solution of the Venezuelan crisis, the General Secretary’s activism has set an important precedent in rallying a majority of states in the Americas to come together to discuss a member’s erosion of democratic principles and institutions – and to condemn the non-democratic actions of a democratically-elected government. This is a first for the organization, and it is a big step toward fulfilling the original purpose of the drafters of the Inter-American Democratic Charter.
April 10, 2017
* Stefano Palestini Céspedes is a CLALS Fellow and Postdoctoral Fellow at the Department of Political and Social Sciences at the Freie Universität Berlin, where he specializes in international organizations and regional governance.
Posted by clalsstaff on April 10, 2017
By Maxwell Cameron*
A participant in a march in Venezuela holds up the country’s constitution. / TeleSURtv / Flickr / Creative Commons
Recent events in Paraguay and Venezuela raise yet again the issue of whether political leaders are capable of deliberating and acting in ways that show an appreciation for constitutional essentials, or whether they choose instead to perform their roles and offices in ways that continuously test constitutional principles and, over time, contribute to their erosion. The principles of re-election and term limits are important in every presidential democracy, the product of historical circumstance. In the case of Paraguay, a dictatorship under strongman Alfredo Stroessner from 1954 to 1989, sensitivity to the idea of a president serving for too long is strong. Venezuela’s elimination of term limits a few years ago set a dangerous precedent. Other constitutions limit incumbents to one term (Mexico, Paraguay) or two terms (United States, Colombia); in some constitutions, presidents cannot be re-elected immediately but can run later after a term has elapsed (Peru, Uruguay).
- More important than the constitutionality of term limits is that the re-election issue be settled in a way that commands the assent of all parties – within a certain spirit of constitutionalism. Paraguayan President Horacio Cartes’s error was to think that he could change the constitution by means that violated this spirit, even if the public would arguably support a modification of the re-election rule if pursued in the right way. (Since the fall of Stroessner, the Partido Colorado, the pillar of his rule, has won every election except in 2008, when Catholic priest Fernando Lugo was elected. Lugo was deposed in 2012.) The President of the Senate, Roberto Acevedo, opposed the change and was outraged by the way it was adopted: the Senate voted in a special session held behind closed doors. In that session, 25 Senators approved the measure, bypassing the opposition Partido Liberal Radical Auténtico.
The showdown in Venezuela over President Maduro’s effort to shut down the congress was another undemocratic blunder. A decision by the Tribunal Supremo de Justicia (TSJ), Venezuela’s supreme court, to arrogate legislative functions to itself or delegate them to other branches or agencies was unconstitutional. (The TSJ has the power only to declare a law invalid or that another branch of government is operating outside the law.) When the Fiscal General de la República, Venezuela’s equivalent of attorney general, Luisa Ortega Díaz argued that the TSJ’s decision was unconstitutional, she gave herself political cover by expressing loyalty to the Constitution of 1999 – the legitimacy of which has long been undermined by the fact that it is a document made to measure for chavismo. As a result of this and significant domestic and international pressure, the government backed down – a rare event. The attorney general’s insistence that the constitution not be violated indicates that a spirit of constitutionalism among chavistas is not completely dead, but it also shows that it remains a mechanism for coordinating the actions of agents within the government. Her position also raises the possibility of a split between constitutionalists and hardline militarists within the regime.
Democracy is not just a system of rules. It requires politicians to acknowledge and respect the essential constitutional agreements that have to underpin the struggle for power in a self-governing community. The crises in Paraguay and Venezuela both forewarn of the dangers of excessive partisanship and the risks of playing fast and loose with constitutional rules. Something similar seems to be playing out in Ecuador, where allegations of fraud have been made by the opposition. If spurious, they are condemnable; if supported by evidence, they are deeply disturbing. Either way, they reflect mistrust in institutions after a decade of rule by Rafael Correa (Likewise, U.S. Senate Republicans’ threats to use of the “nuclear option” to confirm Judge Gorsuch threatens to deepen the politicization of the U.S. Supreme Court.) The cost of the failure of politicians and citizens to cultivate a spirit of constitutionalism is very heavy. In Paraguay, it has resulted in deadly protests and resignations by top officials; in Venezuela it has taken the country to the brink of civil war; in Ecuador, there is a real prospect of debilitating governance problems as Lenín Moreno of Alianza PAIS takes office; and in the United States we are starting to see the kinds of governance problems that have long been associated with the “politicized states” (to use Douglas Chalmers’s phrase) of Latin America.
April 5, 2017
* Maxwell A. Cameron is Director of the Centre for the Study of Democratic Institutions at the University of British Columbia.
Posted by clalsstaff on April 5, 2017
By Stefano Palestini Céspedes*
Luis Almagro, OAS Secretary General, met with Freddy Guevara, First Vice President of the National Assembly of Venezuela, in Washington, DC in early February 2017. / Juan Manuel Herrera, OAS / Flickr / Creative Commons
OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro’s second report on Venezuela, issued on March 14, reflects his personal commitment to enforce the principles enshrined in the Inter-American Democratic Charter, but risks getting ahead of the organization’s member states and could ultimately hurt the credibility of the charter and OAS. The 73-page document states that the government of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro has become a “dictatorial regime” that violates “every article” of the Charter; concludes that all attempts at dialogue have failed; and essentially calls for the OAS to suspend Venezuela’s membership in accordance with the charter’s democracy clause. Almagro said the UNASUR negotiation (supported by the Vatican) has failed to achieve any of its proposed objectives and has become “a tool for reinforcing the regime’s worst authoritarian features domestically and, externally, for not engaging in international condemnation and pressure.”
- The report concludes with an ultimatum: If the government does not call for general elections, release all political prisoners, restore all laws it has annulled, and select a new electoral authority and a supreme tribunal in the next 30 days, Venezuela should be suspended from the OAS. Few observers believe Maduro could meet these conditions even if he wanted.
Almagro’s actions, including his forceful call for application of Article 21 of the Charter – the “democracy clause” – moves his office and the OAS into uncharted territory as it would be the first time it is applied against an elected government. Article 21 was applied against the government in Honduras that came to power in a coup in June 2009, but the sanctions were initiated at the request of ousted President Zelaya and strongly supported by Latin American governments – including Hugo Chávez – and Washington. To enforce Article 21 against an incumbent government, a strong consensus needs to be built.
The Secretary General’s showdown with President Maduro presents a test for the Charter and, ultimately, for the OAS, as it pushes the organization beyond its traditional institutional limits. Any decision on suspension must be approved by a two-thirds majority of member states, whose delegates represent executive branches that traditionally have shied from intervening in each other’s affairs. Some insiders also grumble that the Secretary General has fallen short in his consultation with the member states; instead he seems to take a partisan position such as by inviting Maduro’s opposition to OAS headquarters this week for a press conference. If the members back Almagro’s call for suspension, he will have demonstrated that principled arguments can break even strong institutional barriers – moving OAS into a new phase. In that case, the Secretary General together with the member states will need to come up with a post-suspension plan; only then will OAS become part of the solution to Venezuela’s crisis. If member states do not support the Secretary General’s call, Almagro will be respected as a leader moved by convictions, but the OAS will probably move one step down towards irrelevance.
March 21, 2017
* Stefano Palestini Céspedes is CLALS Fellow and Postdoctoral Fellow at the Department of Political and Social Sciences at the Freie Universität Berlin, where he specializes in international organizations and regional governance.
Posted by clalsstaff on March 21, 2017
By Angelika Rettberg*
“Colombian peace is our American peace.” / urban_lenny / Flickr / Creative Commons
Amid the increased political juggling in Colombia as the government’s peace deal with the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) has advanced, one key lesson is that the nature of “local ownership” will have an impact on its success or failure. After the razor-thin victory of the agreement’s opponents in the referendum on October 2 propelled the country into uncertainty, its proponents – buttressed by the informal deadline created by the Nobel Peace Prize being awarded to President Juan Manuel Santos on December 10 – tried a different track. Instead of calling for a new referendum, as many expected, the government appears to have learned its lesson about the perils of direct democracy and sent the new agreement to Congress, where it was approved by an undisputed majority in both houses. A Constitutional Court ruling on December 13 gave Congress fast-track authority to approve required changes in the law, paving the way for implementation. Meanwhile, FARC fighters have begun moving toward the more than 20 camps in which complete disarmament is expected to conclude by June 2017.
The country’s shifting approach to the accord has been caused by uneven local ownership. As scholars and practitioners alike underscore, broad participation in transitional countries must be involved in order to achieve sustainable peace. To avoid difficulties such as those experienced by Guatemala, where many felt the agreement was imposed by international actors, societies need to feel that agreements and the resulting commitments have been developed bottom-up, or at least with domestic actors. The Colombian process was touted as one “by Colombians for Colombians.” International participation was intentionally kept to a low profile and key players in the negotiations were all Colombians. But when the results of the October referendum temporarily pushed the country back to square one – “Nada está acordado” – it became clear that local ownership in this case had a broader meaning: Paradoxically, submitting the agreement to the popular will did not cause collective responsibility behind it to surge but rather gave a boost to people’s sense that they had the democratic right to reject the deal altogether. Similarly, despite the actions of Congress and the Constitutional Court, debate on how the agreement will be translated into action is taking place within and among the domestic institutions, including the Presidency, Congress, the courts, and several control organisms.
Colombia’s peace deal has powerfully posed the question not of whether to include popular opinion in peace deals, but how to do so in the most constructive way. The result will be very much a reflection of the Colombian people’s and their institutions’ capabilities to negotiate and establish priorities and to design policy accordingly. After all, peace is a public policy. The Colombian case thus holds many lessons for peacebuilding in general, and for the potential tensions and dilemmas needed to balance peace, majoritarian democracy, public opinion, and justice. The agreement itself may turn into a moving target as different sectors on all sides of the debate seek to steer implementation toward their interests. Regardless of what happens, the quality of “local ownership” will be central to determining the shapes and contents – and the durability – of Colombian peace.
December 22, 2016
* Angelika Rettberg is a Professor of Political Science at La Universidad de los Andes in Bogotá.
Posted by clalsstaff on December 22, 2016
By Eric Hershberg
Presidential candidate preference, by race or ethnicity / Pew Research Center
In unprecedented numbers, Latino voters flexed their muscles in the bitter and destructive U.S. presidential campaign, but that wasn’t enough to elect a competent but mistrusted centrist and block an erratic TV showman espousing policies anathema to their interests. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton lost in the electoral college, which in the American system is what actually matters, but she won the popular vote by a slim margin – little consolation to Latinos. Donald Trump and the forces that will accompany him into the Executive branch have pledged to begin efforts to deport millions of undocumented immigrants, build walls to keep Latin Americans out of the country, and reverse decades of policies meant to strengthen ties among the Americas. The election highlighted deep cleavages in U.S. democracy:
- An inclusive coalition of the well-educated, urban dwellers, youth, and racial and ethnic minorities lost to a bloc of angry white working-class, rural, and small-town voters rallied by a man whose behavior and rhetoric were called repugnant by leaders of even his own party. The outcome testifies to the degree to which vast segments of the American population feel ignored and denigrated by political and cultural elites and alienated by profound social changes that accelerated during the Obama administration, including shifts regarding such issues as gender and sexual identity and, particularly, racial diversity and empowerment.
- The Trump-led “whitelash” has been largely rhetorical up to this point, but it will soon be manifested in public policies with life-changing consequences for immigrants, minority populations, and impoverished citizens. There’s a possibility that, once charged with running the country, the Trump faction will moderate on some issues, but it’s frightening to recall that no fewer than 37 percent of German voters mobilized behind an analogous cocktail of racial resentment and violent impulses in 1932. In 2016, nearly half of the American electorate did just that, with profound implications for civil discourse, tolerance, and respect for sometimes marginalized sectors of the country’s population. If Trump’s exclusionary rhetoric becomes translated into concrete policies that diminish the country’s diversity, the U.S. will lose its status as among the most dynamic and creative places in the world.
The Latino vote was expected to be among the decisive factors that would sweep Clinton into the White House and swing the Senate back to Democratic control, albeit by the slimmest of margins. But while it was influential, diminishing Trump’s margin of victory in reliable Republican strongholds such as Arizona and Texas, and enabling the Democrats to eke out victories in states such as Nevada, New Mexico, and Colorado, the Latino vote was insufficient to rescue Clinton’s fortunes in the pivotal states of Florida and North Carolina. Whereas in 2012 Obama had an estimated 71-27 percent advantage among Latinos against his opponent, Clinton failed to match that total – exit polls indicate roughly a 65-29 percent split – even against a candidate explicitly targeting Latino interests. Trump called for mass deportations of the country’s 10 million undocumented Latino residents and a rollback of the Obama administration’s efforts to provide safe haven and legal status for at least half of this vulnerable segment of American communities. Whatever the reasons for their low participation, these communities now confront existential threats.
- If Trump follows through on his promises, the impact will be manifested in numerous domains beyond immigration and related human rights that have profound implications for the welfare of U.S. Latinos, including the composition of the Supreme Court and its commitment to voting rights; protection against discrimination in employment, housing, and financial services; access to health care for 20 million people who for the first time gained coverage through the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”); opportunities for pre-school and tertiary education; and environmental regulations needed to protect public safety and health.
Political scientists and informed citizens must now revisit their assumptions about the impact that a growing Latino population may have on the outcome of presidential elections. The gap separating the two parties in terms of Latino preferences is vast and increasingly consolidated, suggesting an enormous and enduring disadvantage for the Republicans. But whether the Latino vote can become a decisive, rather than merely influential, component of the electorate is much less certain. The anger among white voters – at least this time around – carried the day. This “whitelash” may or may not be a transitory phenomenon, but the prospects for efforts to make the United States a force for good in the world, and to make government an agent for social and economic justice for all, will depend in large part on the future mobilization of the Latino community. Arguably, the future of the United States – and by extension the world’s – hinges on the capacity of Latino voters to make America great again.
November 10, 2016
Posted by clalsstaff on November 10, 2016
By Fulton Armstrong and Eric Hershberg
The U.S. general election on November 8 could give Latino voters their biggest chance yet to flex their political muscles. The Pew Research Center has released new projections showing that a record 27.3 million Latino voters – 4 million more than in 2012 and 12 percent of the U.S. total – are eligible to vote this year. Millennials (born since 1981) now make up 44 percent of Latino eligible voters, and Pew Research says that first-time voters represent one-fifth of those who say they are “absolutely certain” to vote. (Only 9 percent of those over 36 are “absolutely certain.”) Pew is agnostic, however, on whether their turnout in November will set a record. Latino non-participation rates are generally high: their turnout rate was only 48 percent in 2012. Indeed, analysts at the New York Times cautioned last month that comparisons between Clinton’s support among Latinos now and Obama’s in 2012 – which are similar – indicate that she can’t take them for granted.
Latinos’ political preferences – traditionally Democratic except in the Cuban-American community, which itself is trending towards the Democrats – appear poised for an unprecedented surge in favor of Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton next month. The “Vote Predict” model of Latino Decisions shows Clinton stands to win 82 percent of the Latino vote, and her Republican counterpart, Donald Trump, 15 percent, with a 5.5 percent margin of error. This 67-point gap breaks the previous record of a 51 percent split between President Bill Clinton and Senator Bob Dole in 1991, and the 71-to-27 difference between President Obama and Mitt Romney in 2012. Press reports indicate that, despite unhappiness with aspects of the Obama Administration’s immigration policies which Clinton supported as Secretary of State, Latinos judge that Donald Trump’s policies of walls and expulsions call for active opposition. Pew’s polls confirm that two-thirds of Millennial Latinos say their support for Clinton is more a vote against Donald Trump than for her. The Republican Party’s own “autopsy” of its resounding 2012 electoral defeat underscored the importance of attracting Latino voters, who were dismayed by anti-immigrant and xenophobic stances they associated with the GOP. In nominating Trump, the party fulfilled its strategists’ worst fears.
An overwhelming Latino majority for Clinton seems almost certain. Political scientists increasingly predict that their rejection of the Republican brand may endure for generations to come, with profound implications for the viability of the Republican Party beyond the Congressional district and state levels. Latinos may not get credit as the crucial swing vote in the presidential race, but they could be crucial in other contests. The Latino vote could prove critical to the outcome of key Senate races in states such as Florida, North Carolina, and Arizona. While the absolute number of Latino voters appears likely to rise, turnout in this unusual – even unsightly – presidential contest is one of the most unpredictable variables confounding polling experts, who see signs that many Americans’ faith in democracy and its processes is dropping, at least temporarily. A survey reported in the Washington Post, for example, showed that fully 40 percent of 3,000 registered voters say they “have lost faith in American democracy,” while just 52 percent say they have not. An astounding 28 percent said they probably would not accept the legitimacy of the outcome if their candidate loses. These trends, along with Trump’s allegations that the election may be rigged, make the timing of the coming-of-age of Latino Millennials truly ironic in this extraordinary election year. Many Latinos, or their parents or grandparents, left polarized, imperfect democracies and, after earning U.S. citizenship and the right to vote, find themselves in a polarized, imperfect democracy with deep historical roots but an uncertain near-term future.
October 20, 2016
Posted by clalsstaff on October 20, 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