Ecuador’s Former Vice President Lenin Moreno (2007-13), candidate of the ruling party ALIANZA PAIS, was elected President in the second round of voting in the presidential election on 2 April. Moreno, a paraplegic who had done better in the first round in February, defeated the conservative businessman, Guillermo Lasso of the CREO party, by 51.1 to 48.9 percent. This victory has come as a relief for the Left in South America, where allied regimes have lost to the Right recently in Brazil, Argentina and Peru. Outgoing President Rafael Correa, who since 2007 had introduced the ‘Citizen Revolution’ and stabilised the economy, putting it firmly in the leftist, anti-US camp, is expected to retain influence behind the scenes as head of the party. The fall in price of oil, 35 percent of Ecuador’s export, shrunk the economy by 1.7 percent in 2016 and drove up its debt.
The Supreme Court of Venezuela, packed with government nominees, sought to grab the functions of the unicameral National Assembly, dominated by the opposition, on 29 March. It held the lawmakers “in a situation of contempt,” for swearing in 3 legislators whose election had been held in abeyance. The justices would step in to “ensure that parliamentary powers were exercised directly by this chamber, or by the body that the chamber chooses.” After four LAC countries recalled their Ambassadors from Caracas and Venezuela’s Attorney General denounced the Court’s move, the Supreme Court rescinded the order on 2 April, at Maduro’s instance. The court however, blocked a move by the Assembly to prevent President Maduro from pursuing oil ventures without legislative approval, as prescribed under the constitution.
On 7 April, the Venezuelan Comptroller disqualified from holding public office, for 15 years, a state Governor and leading opposition figure, Henrique Capriles, who lost the 2015 presidential election to Maduro by a very slim margin. Capriles reportedly accepted donations, gave out contracts without bidding and did not submit the budget bill on his governance in 2013. All over Venezuela there have been protests by the opposition, some violent, even in areas considered sympathetic to the government. Dozens have been killed and thousands injured or arrested.
The Organisation of American States (OAS), which had been debating the situation in Venezuela, passed a hard-hitting resolution on 3 April, with 17 votes and 4 abstentions, condemning the “serious unconstitutional alteration of the democratic order” in Venezuela, demanding restoration of “the full authority” of the National Assembly. Bolivia (chairing the session), Venezuela and Nicaragua left the session after denouncing it as “illegal” and an “institutional coup d’etat”. After 19 countries voted for the OAS to again debate the situation in Venezuela, Maduro’s government formally withdrew from the organisation, which includes all the countries in the hemisphere barring Cuba, which refuses to rejoin it. The actual exit under OAS rules will take effect in 2019.
Brazil’s infamous ‘Lava Jato’ corruption scandal involving leading politicians, Brazilian national oil company Petrobras and engineering multinational Odebrecht among others, continues to erupt. Hours of video footage recorded by investigators showed executives from Odebrecht explaining how they bribed officials to win lucrative contracts. The accounts cover decades and mention dozens of politicians, including all five of Brazil’s living presidents. A Supreme Court judge commenced investigations into 87 high profile politicians: eight serving Ministers, including the President’s Chief of Staff and the Foreign Minister; 12 governors and dozens of legislators. President Temer has said Ministers must resign if formally charged. Odebrecht has been fined $2.6 billion by a US court for bribes in US, Brazil and Switzerland. It is linked to more than 100 construction projects in Angola, Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Guatemala, Mexico, Mozambique, Panama, Peru and Venezuela.
The United Nations narcotics control board (INCB), in its annual 2016 report released on 2 March, warned that the production and consumption of cocaine in South America had increased, especially in Colombia, where coca cultivation increased 39 percent from 69,000 hectares (170,000 acres) of in 2014 to 96,000 in 2016. Drug use among students in South America is now higher than in North America. The highest consumption is in Brazil, Argentina, Chile and Colombia.
May 11, 2017