Tag Archives: latin america

Moreno holds on to perpetuate leftist rule in Ecuador

Lenín Moreno was elected president of Ecuador by a narrow margin last weekend. (Facebook)

It shouldn’t have been a surprise that Lenín Moreno won election as Ecuador’s president on Sunday. 

He came just a hair within winning the presidency outright in the first round of the election on February 19 and, even then, led his challenger, conservative businessman Guillermo Lasso, by double digits.

So if anything, his very narrow victory in the April 2 runoff was an impressive showing for Lasso and his supporters, even if it was not quite enough to prevent another five years of left-wing correísmo that will attempt to build on (or improve upon) the last decade of so-called ’21st century socialism’ under outgoing president Rafael Correa.

Moreno has billed himself as something of a more moderate version of Correa, under whom he served as vice president from 2007 to 2013. In some measures, Moreno will have to be more moderate — rising public debt, lower oil prices and a weakened economy will mean Moreno will have less freedom to pursue the same level of expansionary fiscal policy that unfolded under Correa’s administration. Moreno will also be working with a much reduced majority within the ruling Alianza PAIS in the Ecuadorian national assembly, which could also narrow Moreno’s governing path.

 

After elections of relatively center-right presidents in Peru and Argentina in 2015, and with Brazil’s social democratic president Dilma Rousseff impeached last year, Ecuador was an important test for the Latin American left, which has suffered increasingly across the region.

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RELATED: As Lasso rises, Ecuador could be next
leftist domino to fall in LatAm

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In some ways, however, though Correa started off on the populist left alongside fellow nationalists like Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez and Bolivia’s Evo Morales, his government charted a more complex course. Under Correa — the longest-serving president of Ecuador in its history — the country maintained the use of the US dollar as currency, an important anchor against inflation. Despite standing up to Ecuador’s bondholders early in his presidency, Correa gradually wooed foreign investment from both China and the United States, and used the proceeds of Ecuador’s oil wealth to double social spending. In that regard, Correa’s approach to government looks no different than many of the center-left and even center-right leaders of Latin America, from Mexico to Brazil, over the last two decades. Ecuador after Correa fits more into the international mainstream than Argentina after the Kirchners or even, perhaps, Brazil after the crashing defeat of lulismo after 15 years (though lulismo may have an opportunity for a comeback in 2018).

Though he’s tried to cast himself as a slightly more conciliatory figure than Correa, Moreno campaigned on a  pledge to increase social spending. Moreno may (or may not) truly be more moderate than Correa. Circumstances almost certainly mean that he’ll be forced to moderate and reform some of the excesses of his predecessor. Moreno will also deal with a staggering corruption problem — the Brazilian construction company Odebrecht paid over $35 million in bribes to officials in Correa’s government for special treatment in awarding Ecuadorian contracts. Jorge Glas, who has served as Correa’s vice president since 2013 and will continue as Moreno’s vice president, is himself one of the most compromised figures as corruption allegations compounded during the campaign.

 

Nevertheless, the more mild-mannered Moreno is an optimistic figure who spent much of the last three years working as a special envoy for the United Nations promoting access for the disabled (Moreno himself is confined to a wheelchair after muggers shot him in 1998). Perhaps the best model for Moreno is the former Uruguayan president José Mujica, whose personal story and everyman charisma allowed him to chart a decidedly progressive course in a way that punched well above its weight on the international stage.

As Lasso rises, Ecuador could be next leftist LatAm domino to fall

Former vice president Lenín Moreno hopes to keep the Latin American left’s hopes alive with a victory in Ecuador on Sunday. (Facebook)

No one has more riding on the outcome of the April 2 presidential runoff in Ecuador than Julian Assange. 

The Wikileaks founder has been shacked up in the Ecuadorian embassy in London since 2012. Officially, Assange is evading an extradition to Sweden to stand trial for sexual assault charges. Ecuador’s outgoing president Rafael Correa granted Assange asylum five years ago, a populist move responding to the eccentric Australian native’s fears that he might ultimately be subjected to the grips of US extradition.

If one-time frontrunner Lenín Moreno, Correa’s former vice president, and the heir to Correa’s self-proclaimed ’21st century socialist’ Alianza PAIS movement, wins Sunday’s election, Assange can rest assured that Ecuador’s government will not revisit that arrangement anytime soon.

But if center-right insurgent Guillermo Lasso has his way, he will evict Assange from from Ecuador’s protections within 30 days of taking office.

Though Assange’s fate is drawing global headlines, Ecuador’s election represents a fascinating showdown between two very different policy views for the country’s future outcome — and a referendum on Correa’s decade-long rule. The result will hold deep consequences for the country, its rule of law, its electorate and Latin America generally.  A country of 16 million that, since 2000, has used the US dollar as its currency, Ecuador is today the eighth-largest economy in Latin America.

It’s the latest battleground in a series of contests in the mid-2010s that have generally brought setbacks to the populist left. A Lasso victory on Sunday could add pressure to Venezuela’s increasingly autocratic government, and boost conservative opposition hopes in Chile’s elections later this year and in Bolivia’s in 2019.

Guillermo Lasso narrowly forced his opponent into a runoff in what is now a clear referendum on Rafael Correa’s decade-long presidency. (Facebook)

Former bankers do not typically make great politicians, but Lasso narrowly forced a runoff by holding former vice president Lenín Moreno to just below 40% in first round on February 19.

That gives Lasso a head-on opportunity to face Moreno without dispersing multiple opposition forces within Ecuador. Third-placed candidate Cynthia Viteri, a former legislator and a social conservative, has endorsed Lasso. Fourth-placed Paco Moncayo, a leftist who served as Quito mayor from 2000 to 2009, has refused to endorse either of the two finalists — a snub to Correa and Moreno.

Viteri’s support and Moncayo’s ambivalence have both boosted Lasso’s runoff chances, though it may still not be enough — Lasso finished more than 11% behind Moreno in the first round. Indeed, most polls give Moreno a slight edge over Lasso, a longtime president of the Bank of Guayaquil whose political experience is negligible — he served briefly as ‘superminister for finance’ in 1999 during the scandal-plagued administration of Jamil Mahuad, sentenced to a 12-year prison sentence in 2014 for embezzlement. In 2012, Lasso formed a new opposition party, Creando Oportunidades (CREO, Creating Opportunities) to back his presidential ambitions in 2013. Lasso finished a humiliating second place (with just 22.7% of the vote) to Correa, who won a first-round victory with 57.2% support. But that race put Lasso in position to consolidate support as the chief opposition candidate this year.  Continue reading As Lasso rises, Ecuador could be next leftist LatAm domino to fall

Castro’s legacy? Libertador or monster? Depends on where you sit.

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Fidel Castro and Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara in 1959, when Cubans were briefly united in support behind the young new revolutionaries.

History will remember him in the same breath as Mandela or Gandhi for 1959.cuba

History will remember him in the same breath as all the other 20th century monsters for every year that followed.

That’s the tragedy and the shame of the Castro legacy. Continue reading Castro’s legacy? Libertador or monster? Depends on where you sit.

Mask slips on potential Rendón dirty tricks across Latin America

J.J. Rendón is the most well-known political strategist in Latin America. (El País / Colprensa)
J.J. Rendón is the most well-known political strategist in Latin America. (El País / Colprensa)

If you haven’t had a chance yet, you should drop everything to read the amazing 4500-word-plus scoop from Bloomberg about the potentially criminal role of hacking in the political universe of J.J. Rendón and his still-unclear ties to Andrés Sepúlveda, a Colombian hacker now serving a decade-long prison sentence for hacking, espionage and other crimes related to the 2014 Colombian election.Mexico Flag IconColombia Flag Icon

Even if you take Sepúlveda’s accusations with a fair share of skepticism, that he’s sitting in jail and subject to such heavy security from the Colombian government lends at least some credence — and the chicanery in that 2014 election is only one example in a story that looks and feels like it was ripped right out of the latest season of House of Cards:

He says he wants to tell his story because the public doesn’t grasp the power hackers exert over modern elections or the specialized skills needed to stop them. “I worked with presidents, public figures with great power, and did many things with absolutely no regrets because I did it with full conviction and under a clear objective, to end dictatorship and socialist governments in Latin America,” he says. “I have always said that there are two types of politics—what people see and what really makes things happen. I worked in politics that are not seen.”

The very mention of Rendón’s name can strike fear into the heart of an opponent in any Latin American election. He’s been called the ‘Karl Rove’ of Latin America and, it’s true, he’s helped dozens of center-right candidates win office. He helped boost Juan Manuel Santos, both when he was minister of defense in Colombia, and in the 2010 election, in which Santos won the presidency.

In 2014, however, after Santos launched landmark peace talks with FARC and Santos’s one-time mentor, former president Álvaro Uribe, turned on Santos, Sepúlveda found himself working for a right-wing opponent Óscar Iván Zuluaga, who wanted to end the peace talks. Though Zuluaga narrowly won the first round, Santos triumphed in the runoff, and the talks have deepened and progressed in Santos’s second term. (Rendón was working for Santos, though he resigned after accusations linking him financially to drug cartels.)

It’s not just Colombia, though. Continue reading Mask slips on potential Rendón dirty tricks across Latin America

How the BP spill led to today’s Cuban embassy opening

bpdeepwaterPhoto credit to Reuters.

When US secretary of state John Kerry raises the US flag above the American embassy in Havana today, it will be a diplomatic highlight of the final 18 months of the Obama administration.USflagcuba

But its genesis lies partially in an unrelated disaster of the Obama administration’s first 18 months – the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. US officials worried initially that weather patterns would disperse the oil to Cuban waters, exacerbating an already troubled relationship, and it’s a fluke of the oceanographic currents that the oil largely flowed chiefly westward back to the US coastline and not eastward internationally. But they also increasingly worried that growing Cuban designs for its own nascent offshore oil drilling program (in the Caribbean Sea just north of Havana, close to the Florida coast) could cause an even more serious accident that could pollute US waters.

William LeoGrande, a professor at American University and the co-author of a new book on decades of back-channel negotiations between Havana and Washington, argues that informal discussions over environmental hazards and future potential ecological disasters built trust between US officials and Cuban policymakers in a multilateral Caribbean-wide framework, paving the way for bilateral talks on normalization, environmental standards and offshore oil production.

It took the US government a while, however, to warm to the idea. Continue reading How the BP spill led to today’s Cuban embassy opening

Photo essay: Cuba on the cusp… but for what kind of future?

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HAVANA — On my first evening in Cuba , my bar ran out of mojitos, as fitting metaphor as any for nearly a week in the Cuban capital.cuba

Sure, it wasn’t the bar at Havana’s Hotel Nacional, but it was still a reasonably tourist-oriented cantina with a Chilean theme hugging the Malecón, the popular avenue that runs along the sea. For the record, the restaurant also ran out of shrimp and tostones (the fried plantain chips I’ve always thought taste like fried discs of baking powder with a hint of banana).

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I’ve been to poorer countries, but it’s hard to think of a place that’s more broken. The keys, the doors, the cars, the buildings, the stores, the distribution channels and yes, even the much-vaunted health care system. The idea that the United States and its legions of consumers and tourists will transform the country virtually overnight is incredibly fanciful.

For many Americans, there’s an element of romance to seeing old cars from the 1950s and the faded mojitos-and-daiquiris glamour of what was once a Caribbean playground. There’s also an electricity that comes from a place that’s so close geographically but so distant ideologically, politically, economically and culturally. One comparison that springs to mind is the 12-mile distance between Jerusalem and Ramallah.

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Another comparison is Korea — for all the easy talk about reconciliation between the United States and Cuba, the distances between the two countries are nearly as stark as those today between North Korea and South Korea. That isn’t quite so surprising because Fidel Castro came to power only six years after the 1953 armistice than ended the Korean War in quasi-permanent stalemate. Today, there is a Cuban-American culture that is as distinct from Cuban culture as Sicilian-American culture is from life in modern Palermo. Celia Cruz and Cafe Versailles belong to the former, Osmani García and the inventive home-grown paladar restaurants belong to the latter. Continue reading Photo essay: Cuba on the cusp… but for what kind of future?

Latin America should stop worrying (about term limits) and start to love incumbency

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My latest for Americas Quarterly argues that the hand-wringing over the advantages of incumbency in Latin America is overwrought, and that term limits may actually hinder the development of sustained policy gains.brazil

In particular, Colombia’s Juan Manuel Santos, Bolivia’s Evo Morales and Brazil’s Dilma Rousseff each won their respective presidential contests since June. But two of those three elections were incredibly competitive:

Incumbent victories in Brazil and Colombia, the two largest economies of South America today, are also much more fragile than they appear. Rousseff only narrowly defeated challenger Aécio Neves, and her margin of victory was the smallest of any presidential election since the end of Brazil’s military dictatorship in 1985.

Santos actually lost Colombia’s first-round vote in May to the more conservative Óscar Iván Zuluaga, who had threatened to shut down talks between the Santos government and the leftist Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC) that have destabilized the country for a half-century. More notably, the country’s March parliamentary elections transformed the Colombian Congress from a rubber-stamp chamber into a much stronger check on presidential power.

In both countries, democratic competition is on the rise. Even in countries lacking truly fair elections, such as in Venezuela, Henrique Capriles nearly defeated President Nicolás Maduro in April 2013, despite the widespread institutional advantages from which Maduro benefitted after over a decade of chavismo.

 

Read it all here.

Pope-acabana: How the Catholic Church and the Latin American middle class could forge a symbiotic electoral majority

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Although Pope Francis made global headlines last month by appearing to accept that some priests might have same-sex attractions, it’s easy to forget that the comments, which came at a press conference on his flight back to the Vatican, capped the new pope’s first trip abroad to Brazil, which neighbors former cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio’s native Argentina.vatican flagbrazil

Francis’s comments touched on a wide range of issues, including the role of women in the Catholic Church, but his remarks risk overshadowing that the pontiff’s visit to Brazil, where Francis delivered a mass to three million Brazilians on Copacabana beach in Rio de Janeiro, had already been viewed as a massive success, and showcased that Francis is determined to lead a global Church.

What does all of this have to do with Latin American politics?

First, after the perceived hardline doctrinal conservatism of Benedict XVI and John Paul II, the new pope is certainly more media-savvy about communicating that the Catholic Church will be more open than it’s been perceived in previous years.  Francis may not necessarily be any more doctrinally liberal about social issues like homosexuality, abortion or birth control, but his tone, warm and unjudging, is much different.  The fine print may not even matter if Francis downplays more contentious doctrine in favor of issues of more relevance to economic policymaking.  Even though one of Benedict XVI’s three encyclicals covered the topic of the virtue of social justice and the dangers of global development (Caritas in Veritate — ‘Charity in Truth’), published in the wake of the 2008 global financial crisis, it is instead Francis who has been credited as the pope willing to take the Church’s teachings into the most dangerous corners of the world and to the poorest in society.  Francis has spoken out against poverty repeatedly since his election as pope earlier this year and while in Brazil, he toured Varginha, one of Rio’s most notoriously poor and violent favelas.

Secondly, the Catholic Church, which has long been a global church (one out of two Catholics worldwide now lives in the Americas, and three-fourths of the world’s Catholics live outside Europe), now has a truly global leader.   Continue reading Pope-acabana: How the Catholic Church and the Latin American middle class could forge a symbiotic electoral majority

Chávez’s radical antics provide space for progressive Latin American left

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In a piece for The National Interest today, I stepped back from the immediate issues surrounding Sunday’s presidential election and the fallout, increasingly tense, with challenger Henrique Capriles canceling a march today against potential fraud in the election and with president-elect Nicolás Maduro very much using the threat of state violence to shut down the opposition’s mobilization for a full recount.brazilVenezuela Flag Icon

It’s a piece I’d been hoping to write for some time, and I wish I’d published it sooner, but it’s still relevant given how much the late Hugo Chávez (pictured above in happier times with the late Argentine president Néstor Kirchner and former Brazilian president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva) looms not only over Venezuela, but over all of Latin America.  I’ve written that his radical, anti-American antics have allowed other more moderate leftists in Latin America room to develop a truly progressive, social democratic movement for the first time ever, really.  Chávez, at home, transformed Venezuelan politics from a right-left contest to a battle between a more business-friendly, democratic left, as personified by Capriles, and a more socialist, militant leftism, as personified by Maduro.

I argue that Lula da Silva, in particular, has been incredibly canny in triangulating himself between the U.S. center of gravity and chavismo, exquisitely playing one against the other:

But the tidy duality of a moderate lulista left and a radical chavista left obscures the complex, often symbiotic relationship between the two forces. In particular, Lula da Silva was always incredibly cunning in using Chávez as a foil in hemispheric politics. Lula da Silva made three failed presidential bids prior to his election in 2002, fully four years after Chávez took power. By the time Lula da Silva took office, Chávez had arguably done more than anyone else in Latin America to make Lula da Silva seem moderate in contrast.

It’s certain that Lula’s vast social reforms would seem more radical—and may have met more domestic and international disapproval—if not for Chávez’s ad hoc expropriations and anticapitalist fulminations from Caracas. By giving Chávez his full support, he guaranteed especially kind treatment of Brazilian private interests in Venezuela, and his fervent support for Maduro in a taped endorsement earlier this month was provided in no small part to ensure kindness from a Maduro administration. Brazilian officials have already started casting aspersions on the Capriles camp, which has called for a full recount of the vote. But Lula da Silva’s support for Chávez also gently reminded U.S. diplomats that they had an interest in boosting the Brazilian model as a counterweight to the Venezuelan model throughout the region.

 

Lula’s Maduro endorsement highlights strategic Brazilian ties to Venezuela

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Though the full-throated nature of the endorsement of former Brazilian president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva of acting Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro is perhaps somewhat of an eyebrow-raiser, it should not be unexpected, and it highlights the extent to which much of official Latin America has a vested interest in the continuation of chavismo — for now at least. brazilVenezuela Flag Icon

Lula is perhaps second to just Fidel Castro in terms of living politicians who are nearly universally popular throughout Latin America, so his hearty endorsement gives Maduro some international credibility, extolling both Chávez and Maduro for their passion for the rights of the poor, and it may well sway some voters who are on the fence between Maduro and challenger Henrique Capriles:

Lula says in a video released by VTV, astate-controlled television station, that he got to know Maduro in his years as foreign minister, and that Maduro will carry on Chávez’s grand hope of transforming Venezuela into a more just country where oil wealth is shared with those suffering most in society.  While Lula (pictured at top, left, with Chávez) notes that the decision is for Venezuelans alone, and he doesn’t want to interfere, but he could not help but share his testimony about Maduro, declaring, ‘Maduro Presidente; es la Venezuela que Chávez soñó‘ (Maduro for President! It’s the Venezuela of which Chávez dreamed!

But as Reuters noted last month, there may be more to Lula’s endorsement than just ideological solidarity:

“In the near term, a Maduro win would be best,” said Jose Augusto de Castro, head of Brazil’s Foreign Trade Association….

Key infrastructure projects launched during the 14 years of Chavez’s government, from the Caracas metro expansion to bridges across the Orinoco river that divides Venezuela, are run by Brazilian firms like Odebrecht.

Lula refused throughout his tenure as president from 2003 to 2010 to criticize Chávez openly, to the consternation of U.S. foreign policymakers.  But Chávez’s more strident socialist path may have made Lula’s more moderate leftism seem even tamer in contrast, and Lula’s example in Brazil stands as a pointed counter-example to chavismo in many ways — Lula managed to reduce poverty in Brazil much as Chávez did in Venezuela, but he did so while also cultivating ties to the business elite and development from the United States, the European Union and the People’s Republic of China alike.

Lula’s friendship with Chávez meant that Brazilian firms were shielded from many of the tumultuous aspects of doing business in Venezuela, most of all Chávez’s snap decisions to expropriate and nationalize industries.  Furthermore, Brazil has benefitted from Venezuela’s oil wealth, and trade between the two countries quintupled over the course of Lula’s presidency, though the ties were strategical as well:

[T]he main goals of Lula and Chávez were geopolitical. Samuel Pinheiro Guimarães, the most influential diplomat in the Brazilian chancellery, explained that Brazil’s strategy sought to prevent the “removal” of Chávez through a coup, to block the reincorporation of Venezuela into the North American economy, to extend Mercosur with the inclusion of Bolivia and Ecuador and to hinder the US project to consolidate the Pacific Alliance, which includes Chile, Colombia, Mexico and Peru.

If you didn’t need a reminder, Latin American leaders and politicians from the moderate left, populist left and the right all attended Chávez’s funeral in March — showcasing just how entrenched chavismo has become in the region, if for no other reason than as a channel for oil subsidies and alternative finance.

Indeed, with the suspension of Paraguay from Mercosur (Mercado Común del Sur) following the impeachment and removal of Fernando Lugo in June 2012, Brazil and other countries wasted little time in making Venezuela a full member — Paraguay’s senate had long blocked Venezuela’s membership.

Campaigning kicked off today officially for the April 14 presidential race.  I attempted yesterday to argue a rationale for supporting each candidate — the policy case for Maduro is here, and the policy case for his challenger, Capriles, is here.

What the election of the first Latin American pope means for world politics

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So it’s Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the archbishop of Buenos Aires, who will take on the name Francis (or Francesco, in Italian — or Francisco in Spanish) as the Catholic Church’s first Latin American pope — an election that recognizes the centrality of Latin America in the Catholic Church but which also shines a spotlight on the Church’s role in Latin America during the Cold War and the liberation theology that developed in Latin America, which melds church teachings with the concepts of economic and social justice.

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I noted a few days ago on Twitter that, given the reticence to appoint an Italian pope, the closest thing that the conclave could have done is appoint an Argentine pope, given that Argentines have so much Italian ancestry anyway.  That turned out to be more prescient than I realized.

The conclave, consisting of  115 cardinals — 67 of whom were appointed by the retiring pope, Benedict XVI, and 48 of whom were elected by his predecessor, the late John Paul II — elected Bergoglio after just four ballots.  That’s the same number of ballots featured in the 2005 conclave that elected then-cardinal Joseph Ratzinger — Bergoglio, age 76, is rumored to have been the runner-up to Ratzinger in the previous conclave.  He’s been a cardinal since 2001 and the archbishop of Buenos Aires since 1998.

Bergoglio is also the first Jesuit pope — as Rocco Palmo of the invaluable Whispers in the Loggia blog writes, he’s certainly more moderate than either Benedict XVI or John Paul II:

This ain’t Francis I so much as John Paul I.

Although as the Bishop of Rome, Francis is the head of state of Vatican City, the world’s smallest sovereign country, he’s now the leader of the Catholic Church to which 1.2 billion people belong — one out of every six people worldwide.  Church teachings, for Catholics and non-Catholics alike, shape policy decisions throughout the world, with implications for civil rights (notably with respect to gender and sexual orientation), family planning and reproductive rights, and public health across the globe.

Latin America is home to 41% of the world’s Catholics — more than even Europe at this point — and in some ways, Bergoglio’s election can be seen as the arrival of Latin America’s centrality to global Catholicism.  It’s too much to say that geography was the main rationale for selecting the next pope, of course, but it has symbolic value and certainly the cardinals in the Sistine Chapel today and yesterday knew that.  With the Mormon church and protestant Christianity making inroads into Latin America, Bergoglio’s selection could both energize Latin American Catholicism and shine a light on some of the shortcomings of the Church in Latin America in previous decades.

So there’s no denying that the election of Francis I will have profound consequences on world politics — notably in Argentina and Latin America, but also in Europe and throughout the rest of the developing world.

Bergoglio is a long-time resident of Buenos Aires, and he’s been intimately involved in Argentine public life.  The selection will certainly shine a spotlight on Argentina, which under the rule of president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, faces a potential debt default in 2013 amid ever-tough economic times.

But it will also bring to light tough questions for Bergoglio, who’s received criticism, along with the entire Church in Argentina, for not doing enough in the light of the military junta that took control of Argentina from 1976 to 1983 that initiated what’s known as the guerra sucia (‘dirty war’) that resulted in between 10,000 and 30,000 ‘disappearances’ of various political activists:

The Argentine church has acknowledged its failure to challenge the military’s anti-leftist repression, which according to human-rights groups left 30,000 people dead or “disappeared,” including dozens of Catholic clergy and lay activists.

To the harshest critics, church leaders were not merely indifferent to the violence but complicit in it. They say that includes Bergoglio, 68, who led Argentina’s Jesuits at the time. Such charges were revived after the death of Pope John Paul II, when Bergoglio was being mentioned as a possible successor.

An Argentine tribunal in January 2013 found that the Catholic Church was complicit in those crimes:

En lo que los corresponsales calificaron como un fallo histórico, la corte dijo que la jerarquía de la Iglesia Católica cerró los ojos y a veces incluso actuaron en connivencia, ante los asesinatos de sacerdotes progresistas.  Los jueces dijeron que aún hoy en día la iglesia sigue renuente a investigar crímenes cometidos durante el régimen militar.  [In what correspondents described as a landmark ruling, the court said that the Catholic Church hierarchy closed its eyes, and sometimes colluded, with the murders of progressive priests.  The judges said that even today the church is reluctant to investigate crimes committed during the military regime.]

As archbishop of Buenos Aires, Bergoglio has been viewed as a modernizer in pulling believers back to the Church, in the 1970s and early 1980s one of Latin America’s most conservative, following the fraught years of the guerra sucia.

In other ways, Bergoglio’s election brings to light the broader — and more uncomfortable — topic of the Catholic Church’s role in Latin America during the Cold War.  Latin American Catholics developed the concept of ‘liberation theology’ — the idea that church teaching is consistent with the struggle for economic and social equality.  As you can imagine, that concept was incredibly controversial during the Cold War under a pope, John Paul II, who grew up in Poland and became one the world’s most avowed foes of communism and the Soviet Union.  Church conservatives at the time argued that Latin American proponents of liberation theology were hijacking church teaching in the service of third-world Marxism. Continue reading What the election of the first Latin American pope means for world politics

Correa wins expected reelection in Ecuador

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It’s probably one of the least unexpected victories of world politics this year, but Rafael Correa has won reelection as Ecuador’s president, extending Correa’s term in office through 2017.ecuador flag icon new

According to exit polls, Correa ultimately won 61.5% of the vote, thereby avoiding an April 7 runoff, just as he did in his quest to win a second term — Correa was the first Ecuadorian presidential candidate to avoid a runoff in 2009 in the 30 years of modern Ecuadorian elections since the end of military rule in 1979.

Correa has already declared victory.

In fact, it’s the highest first-round total of any election since 1979 in Ecuador, and Correa’s reelection means he will have served a longer consecutive term than any Ecuadorian leader since Ignacio de Veintemilla, president from 1876 to 1883 and, in five months, Correa will become Ecuador’s longest-serving consecutive leader since independence from Spain.  José María Velasco Ibarra ultimately served over 11 years as Ecuador’s president in four stints between 1934 and 1972.

For more thoughts on what this means for Latin America, the future of the Latin American populist left and Ecuador’s politics and economy, read my piece from last week outlining five key take-aways from today’s election.

The runner-up, Guillermo Lasso, a banker and former president of the Banco de Guayaquil, finished a distant second with just 20.9% of the vote.

Lucio Gutiérrez, a former president from 2003 until massive protests forced his ouster in 2005, won just 6.0, and Álvaro Noboa, one of Ecuador’s wealthiest businessmen and who finished first place in the first round of the 2006 election that Correa ultimately won, won just 3.5%. Alberto Acosta, Correa’s former oil and mining minister and co-founder of the Alianza PAIS, won 2.9%.

In separate parliamentary elections held today, it is expected that Correa’s ruling Movimiento Patria Altiva i Soberana or Alianza PAIS (Proud and Sovereign Fatherland, or ‘PAIS’) will win a majority in the 137-seat, unicameral Asamblea Nacional (National Assembly).

Five things that Correa’s likely reelection tells us about Ecuador (and South America)

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On Sunday, Ecuadorian voters will go to the polls to elect a new president and, like in the Armenian presidential election that will be held one day later, there’s very little suspense about who will win.ecuador flag icon new

Incumbent president Rafael Correa (pictured above) seems set to win his third consecutive term outright on the February 17 vote, avoiding the need for a runoff, which would occur nearly two months later on April 7, and thereby extending his rule through 2017.

One recent poll from Opinión Pública Ecuador shows that Correa leads his nearest opponent with 56% to 13%, and other polls have shown Correa with over 60% support.

Furthermore, in the simultaneous elections for 137 members of Ecuador’s unicameral parliament, the Asamblea Nacional (National Assembly), Correa’s party, the democratic socialist Movimiento Patria Altiva i Soberana or Alianza PAIS (Proud and Sovereign Fatherland, with ‘PAIS’ an acronym that’s also Spanish for ‘nation’) formed in 2006 to boost Correa’s initial presidential run, is set to extend its legislative lead.  It currently holds 59 of the 124 seats in the current Asamblea Nacional, with the less-dominant populist Partido Sociedad Patriótica 21 de Enero (PSP, January 21 Patriotic Society Party), headed by former president Lucio Gutiérrez as its nearest competition, holding just 19 seats.

So what does that say about the current moment in Ecuador and, more generally, Correa’s contribution to Latin American politics?

Here are five takeaways from Sunday’s likely result. Continue reading Five things that Correa’s likely reelection tells us about Ecuador (and South America)

Don’t worry about Cuba’s shamtastic elections — focus instead on Castro’s reforms

Cuba — the Caribbean’s most populous nation with over 11 million people — is holding parliamentary elections this Sunday.cuba

But those elections are so stage-managed by the Cuban government that they make the recent troubling Jordanian elections look like best practices in liberal democracy.

As a technical matter, Cuban voters will elect all 612 members of the Asamblea Nacional del Poder Popular (the National Assembly of People’s Power).

Fortuitously, there are exactly 612 candidates who have been selected for the honor of running in the election, which follows virtually no campaigning or fundraising or any of the other effluvia of modern elections.  It’s fair to say that, in contrast, the selection of the Politburo Standing Committee of the People’s Republic of China, has much more drama.

That’s probably all the same, anyway, given that the Partido Comunista de Cuba (PCC, Communist Party of Cuba) has been enshrined in the Cuban constitution as the country’s governing party since 1959.

The National Assembly meets just twice a year, and although it’s officially the ultimate law-making authority in Cuba, the reality is that its role is essentially to ratify decisions made by the executive branch of Cuba’s government, where the real power lies with Cuban president Raúl Castro (pictured above, left, with his brother Fidel Castro).  He heads both the Consejo de Estado (the Council of State), a 31-member body that exercises legislative authority in between the two annual sessions of the National Assembly, and the Consejo de Ministros (Council of Ministers), essentially the Cuban government’s cabinet:

Since virtually all decisions are made as executive orders by the Council of Ministers, the parliament is relegated to rubber stamping decisions already made and sometimes already implemented.

Virtually all votes are unanimous and any debates among the members are held behind closed doors. Even an abstention is highly rare. This is to say 612 deputies routinely agree with every executive order passed by the Council of Ministers.

Despite the sham elections, it’s nonetheless a dynamic time for Cuban policymaking, so there’s never been a more optimistic time for proponents of economic and even political reform.  Furthermore, given the advanced age of both Castro brothers — Raúl is currently 81 — it’s nearly certain that Cuba’s leadership will pass to a new generation sooner rather than later.

Continue reading Don’t worry about Cuba’s shamtastic elections — focus instead on Castro’s reforms