On 8 April Brazil’s Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva (Lula) surrendered to the authorities, pursuant to an order of the Supreme Court which refused his appeal against a 12-year jail term for corruption. He is the first former Brazilian president to be jailed, and cannot run for president in the October elections, in which he was the leading candidate. Though his supporters came out in large numbers to protest, a majority of Brazilians seem relieved that the system has reached out to punish the highest in the land.
Costa Rica voted in the second round of presidential elections on 1 April. With candidates of both traditional parties – the PLN and PUSC – out of the running for the first time in the country’s history, the election was between front runner Fabricio Alvarado, an ultra-conservative evangelist, and Carlos Alvarado, of the centre-left party of outgoing President Guillermo Solís. Carlos won with 61 percent. A thriving democracy which abolished its army in 1948, Costa Rica suffers from a crisis of governance and popular unrest, though it is better off economically than its Central American neighbours.
On 22 April in Paraguay’s presidential elections, 46-year old Mario Abdo Benitez (Marito), candidate of the ruling right wing Colorado Party, defeated his centre-left rival Efraín Alegre by 46.49 percent to 42.72 percent. For the past decade Paraguay has been a battleground between left and right. The son of the secretary of former dictator Alfredo Stroessner (1954-89) promised national reconciliation and continuation of liberal economic policies of the outgoing government. Paraguay’s principal resources are agricultural, mainly soya. Growth has been impressive over past years but inequality is high with more than 25 percent living in poverty. China is investing heavily and is welcomed, though Paraguay recognises Taiwan.
On 11 March, Colombia voted for members of the House of Representatives and Senate. The forces of the right, concentrated around former President Alvaro Uribe did well. His party, Democratic Centre will be the largest. Its presidential candidate, 41-year old Ivan Duque is committed to dilute (since they cannot tear up) the peace agreement with the FARC. The Conservative Party, and former Vice President German Vargas Lleras’s Radical Change - which kept a discreet distance from the peace process - also did well. The standard bearer of the left is Gustavo Petro, former mayor of Bogotá of the Human Colombia movement. On the extreme left are the FARC, which under the peace agreement are guaranteed 10 seats in the Congress and Senate, encountered widespread antipathy. The presidential elections, scheduled for 27 May, are expected to see a runoff on 17 June between Duque and Petro.
On 11 March Cuba, also voted in a very different form of election. More than 8 million Cubans ratified the selection of 605 members of the National Assembly, pre-selected by a national commission on the basis of proposals made by municipal and other nominating assemblies. 548 of the candidates are members of the ruling Communist Party, while the rest have been screened by party officials. The average age of the parliamentarians is 49 years – 530 were born after the 1959 revolution - and only eight of them were in the Assembly when it was formed in 1976. The Assembly voted on 19 April to elect as the new President 57-year old Miguel Diaz-Canel, the first Vice President of the Council of State (Cuba has 10 VPs in two councils). 86-year old outgoing President Raúl Castro continues as Secretary General of the party, at least till 2021, and exercises significant influence. Diaz-Canel criticised the US for pursuing imperial policies, “resuming a Cold War rhetoric” and of “attacking” the Cuban revolution. Raúl Castro’s reforms since 2006 allowed Cubans to travel, own cellphones and property, use internet, albeit within limits. He encouraged small private businesses from hairdressers to restaurants and foreign investment. Key reforms such as the unification of Cuba’s dual currency system fall to his successor. His famous rapprochement with President Obama in December 2015 led to an opening of human and economic exchanges with the US, but these have been rolled back to some extent under Trump.
Peru’s President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski resigned on 22 March, a day before a no confidence motion was to be voted in Congress, over allegations he lied about receiving more than $782,000 for his financial-consulting business, Westfield Capital Ltd., from Brazilian construction company Odebrecht between 2004 and 2007. In December, Kuczynski narrowly survived a similar vote by allegedly buying the support of the son of imprisoned former president Alberto Fujimori, who he pardoned days later. His principal opponent, Keiko – daughter of Fujimori – presented videos showing Kuczynski’s supporters allegedly trying to bribe parliamentarians for support. First Vice President Martin Vizcarra assumed the presidency on 23 March.
Peru hosted the hemisphere’s leaders at the Summit of the Americas 13-14 April. US President Trump did not attend as planned, apparently occupied with the Syrian crisis, and sent his Vice President. Trump has not visited a single Latin America country since taking office in January 2017. The Summit itself was as subdued as it was awkward. Trump’s absence made little difference since most of the region has been wary of his actions. Corruption was the elephant in the room, with every president of the host country in the past two decades accused or indicted. The confrontation between left and right in Latin America was evident with the absence of most of the ALBA bloc leaders. The Venezuela question - with Maduro absent, his invitation revoked by the hosts - continued to haunt the leaders meeting in a forum founded 24 years ago to promote democracy and free trade in the hemisphere.
May 9, 2018