Political Developments - January 2017

Fidel Castro passed away on 26 November, ending an era. After he handed over power to his younger brother Raúl in 2006, because of ill health, and the presidency de jure in 2008, Cuba began changing slowly. The monolithic communist political economy Castro had overseen for almost half a century welcomed foreign investment and private enterprise, subject to conditions, and loosened restrictions on movement and ownership for its citizens. Castro saw the US government re-establish diplomatic relations and lift several restrictions on Cuba. His legacy may be more romantic than political, but he has earned his place in history. Castro’s wish that no public place shall bear his name, nor any monuments or buildings be erected in his honour, became Cuban law on 27 December.

Donald Trump’s election as US President has shaken many Latin American establishments. Mexico is likely to be most affected, with Trump’s insistence on building a wall (to be paid for by Mexico) along the border to stop illegal immigration; deport illegal immigrants; and scrap free trade agreeements like NAFTA - which has boosted the Mexican economy – and the TPP. Trump’s intemperate language about ‘rapists, criminals, drug dealers, etc.’, and other disparaging remarks, have alienated populations and governments across the region.

Central American countries, which have a free trade agreement with the US, are apprehensive about thousands of migrants in the US who will be shipped back, drying up vital remittances. Brazil, Argentina, Peru, with new right-leaning governments have been drawing closer to the US, but are unsure what to make of the new administration. The ongoing US rapprochement with Cuba may also be redefined, with more pressure on left-wing LAC regimes, according to some analysts.

Nicaragua’s President Daniel Ortega was re-elected easily to his third consecutive term on 6 November, facing a weak opposition and considerable voter abstention. Opponents have accused the 70-year-old former guerilla fighter of trying to set up a "family dictatorship", with his wife as the Vice President and relatives in key posts.

Ortega represents the new, authoritarian left in Latin America. After his Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) toppled dictator Anastasio Somoza in 1979, he led the 1980s civil war against US-backed Contra rebels, which killed around 30,000 people and unleashed an economic crisis. After losing the 1990 election, he won in 2006. He changed the constitution in 2014, ending presidential term limits. He has managed the economy relatively skilfully, reduced poverty, co-opted a pliable private sector, and kept Nicaragua in the left-wing ALBA grouping. He has avoided open confrontation with the US while enhancing relations with Russia and China.

On 24 November the Colombian government signed a revised agreement with the FARC insurgent group in Bogotá. The government calls it a “truly new accord…(which)… includes more than 80 percent of the concerns of those who voted ‘no’ ” in an October 2 referendum on the original agreement. Opponents, led by former President Uribe, claim there are several unacceptable aspects. The new agreement, referred to the Congress – not referendum – for approval, was overwhelmingly passed, as was a law for immunity to FARC members and Colombian military from prosecution for minor crimes. Serious offenders will be tried by special tribunals. The FARC will also use its funds to contribute to reparations.

On 2 December, as it had warned earlier, Mercosur announced Venezuela’s suspension on account of human rights violations and failure to adopt rules and norms of the bloc (which it joined in 2012)
comprising Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay. Mercosur cited economic and immigration agreements Venezuela would be violating. The opposition in Venezuela appears under siege. The Supreme Court, packed with government nominees, refused to ratify a referéndum to recall the President this year and postponed local elections due in December.



January 5, 2017

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About the Author

Ambassador Deepak Bhojwani

Former Ambassador of India to Colombia, Venezuela and Cuba and Distinguished Fellow, Ananta Centre

Ambassador Deepak Bhojwani joined the Indian Foreign Service (IFS) in 1978. He retired in February 2012. During his career, he was accredited as Ambassador in seven Latin American countries, resident in Colombia, Venezuela and Cuba, concurrent in Ecuador, Costa Rica, Cuba and the Dominican Republic, and was Consul General in Sao Paulo. He served abroad in three Continents – Asia (Indonesia and Malaysia), Europe (Spain and Czech Republic) and Latin America.

In the Ministry of External Affairs, he served in the Divisions dealing with Administration; West Asia and North Africa; US and Canada; and had a brief stint at the United Nations.

Ambassador Bhojwani also served as Private Secretary to the Prime Minister of India, Mr P.V.Narasimha Rao for two years from 1994 to 1996, and as Special Assistant to the Minister of State for External Affairs and for Science and Technology, Mr K.R.Narayanan, from 1985 till 1988.

He writes extensively on Latin America and its relations with India. He has written a book published in 2015 titled ‘Latin America, the Caribbean and India: Promise and Challenge’.

He is currently a Consultant for Latin America and the Caribbean through his firm LATINDIA (www.latindia.in)

Ambassador Bhojwani also serves as Independent Director on the Board of Bharat Petroleum Corporation Ltd., one of the largest state oil and gas companies of India.

Since January 2017 he has been Country Manager and Director, Magotteaux Industries Pvt. Ltd.

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