On 17 December, in the second round of voting, Chile re-elected conservative former President Sebastian Piñera (2010-2014) to succeed Michelle Bachelet. Piñera got 54.57 percent of the vote to 45.43 percent for his centre-left opponent Alejandro Guillier, the ruling coalition candidate. Politically stable Chile has focused on economic and social reform. President Bachelet, whose Broad Front coalition included the communists, passed progressive but controversial legislation on education and taxation. Piñera will contend with a divided Congress and an electorate looking for economic stimulation as well as social justice.
After the 26 November presidential election Honduras was wracked by riots. The opposition Alliance against the Dictatorship candidate Salvador Nasralla took an early lead but on 17 December, after a controversial recount, 49-year-old sitting President Juan Orlando Hernandez, of the governing National Party, was declared re-elected with 42.98 percent of the vote, against 41.39 percent for the journalist and TV personality. Given the ‘accumulation of irregularities and serious deficiencies, which have surely affected the electoral result’ recorded by the observer mission, the Secretary General of the Organisation of American States refused to endorse the election and called for ‘fresh general elections within the framework of strict respect for the rule of law’. Nasralla was backed by Manuel Zelaya, a former left wing president deposed in a coup in 2009. Right wing, pro-US Hernandez was allowed to run for re-election by a Supreme Court decree in 2015. The alleged motive for the deposition of Zelaya - who wanted to steer Honduras towards Cuba and Venezuela before he was deposed by the military in 2009 - was that he tried to change the constitution to allow re-election! Honduras, with a population of 9 million, has major problems of homicide, crime gangs, narco-traffic and illegal immigration. It is also on the frontline of a power game in the region and a member of the Alliance for Progress - along with Guatemala and El Salvador - which receives US funding to counter organized crime, migration and narcotics. The US is wary of Russia’s military and economic cooperation with Nicaragua, and China’s economic expansion in Central America.
The strategic divide over Venezuela between Russia and China on the one hand, and the US and EU on the other, sharpened with the former (joined by Egypt and Bolivia) refusing to attend a US organised informal meeting of the UN Security Council on 13 November to debate the situation there, claiming this would be ‘meddling in the internal domestic affairs of Venezuela’. Russia also agreed to restructure Venezuela’s debt of $3.15 billion over a 10 year period with minimal payments over the first six years. EU Foreign Ministers agreed on a travel ban and assets freeze on targeted Venezuelan officials, embargo on sale of arms and instruments of lethal repression. Canada joined the fray with Caracas and Ottawa expelling ambassadors simultaneously in December. Chinese hydrocarbons major Sinopec, in an unusual move, filed a suit in a US court against Venezuela’s national oil company PdVSA for $43.5 million against supplies in 2013, indicating a growing impatience with the current establishment, which is wooing $14 billion of Chinese investment in the hydrocarbons sector.
Relations with Israel were in focus with the decision by Guatemala to move its embassy to Jerusalem. Seen as a cynical move by President Jimmy Morales to divert attention from allegations of corruption, it was significant for Israel, which has built support steadily in the region. Guatemala and Honduras voted against the UNGA resolution condemning Trump’s move to shift the US embassy to Jerusalem; Argentina, Mexico, Jamaica and the Dominican Republic abstained.
On 25 December President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski of Peru pardoned former President Alberto Fujimori, sentenced in 2005 to 25 years for crimes against humanity. Days earlier Kuczynski had narrowly survived a no-confidence motion in Parliament over alleged corrupt dealings with Brazil’s Odebrecht. The motion was defeated thanks to the abstention by 10 parliamentarians led by Fujimori’s youngest son, Kenji.
January 9, 2018