Political Developments - November 2017

Brazil’s leading prosecutor filed a document containing 230 pages with the Supreme Court charging former Presidents Lula and Dilma Rousseff with running a criminal organisation involving cartel formation, corruption and money laundering through state-owned oil firm Petrobras. The charges indicted 6 other Workers Party (PT) functionaries, including two former Finance Ministers. On 14 September, President Michel Temer was charged with obstruction of justice and racketeering. Collusive parliamentarians blocked a two-thirds (342 vote) majority required for his prosecution in the lower house of Congress. Prosecution on earlier corruption charges against Temer was similarly defeated by Congress in August.

Venezuela conducted elections of Governors in 23 states on 15 October. The government announced that candidates of the official Socialist Unity Party of Venezuela (PSUV) had won 18 governorships. PSUV got overall 54 percent and the opposition 43.7 percent of the votes. The opposition MUD (Democratic Unity Roundtable) coalition split, with four opposition governors taking oath before the Constituent Assembly. Mr. Henrique Capriles, former opposition presidential candidate exited the coalition. Apathy and infighting were reportedly the causes for the opposition’s poor showing. The Lima Group (Grupo de Lima) which had earlier condemned President Maduro’s Constituent assembly, issued a statement on ‘…acts of intimidation, manipulation and irregularities that characterized the elections… consider it urgent that an independent audit of the whole electoral process is carried out with the assistance of specialized and renowned international observers…’ The statement was issued in the names of Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay and Peru.

On 4 September the Colombian government announced it had reached a ceasefire agreement with the National Liberation Army (ELN), a group smaller than the FARC, and the last major holdout in the government’s efforts to end the five decade long civil war. ELN was recently involved in kidnappings, extortion and blowing up of oil pipelines. The ceasefire came into effect 1 October and will last till 9 January. Talks with ELN began in neighbouring Quito, Ecuador and are continuing for a final settlement.

Diplomatic ties painstakingly built up during the Obama administration with Cuba, already under a cloud within the Trump administration, were hit by allegations that 21 US diplomatic personnel were the targets of a Decibel War. They suffered physical symptoms such as dizziness, fatigue, etc. allegedly due to sonic waves directed at their offices and residences by unidentified assailants. On 29 September, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson ordered the recall of all non-essential US diplomats from the embassy in Havana and expelled a corresponding number of Cuban diplomats from Washington. Cuban visa applications were suspended. A low-key meeting between Tillerson and Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez in Washington, in early October did not resolve the stalemate.

On 14 September, the US designated 22 countries as major narcotics producing or transit nations. Of this list, 18 are from Latin America and the Caribbean (India also figures). Bolivia and Venezuela were named for having “failed demonstrably” during the previous 12 months to adhere to their obligations under international counter-narcotics agreements. A White House memorandum stopped short of including close US ally Colombia in this category, despite its “extraordinary growth of coca cultivation and cocaine production over the past 3 years, including record cultivation during the last 12 months.” Decertification by the US of a country for not cooperating in the war on drugs has implications for US aid and other cooperation.

The report, on top of President Trump’s blandishments to LAC leaders and general policy dysfunction towards the region, impacted his dinner for the region’s leaders in New York on 19 September during the UNGA (UN General Assembly session,) which Mexico’s Peña Nieto and Peru’s President Kuczinsky did not attend.

Ecuador’s political crisis deepened on 2 October with a court ordering the incarceration of Vice President Jorge Glas, who had been relieved of his duties by President Moreno in August over allegations of bribery involving Brazilian company Odebrecht. He protested that this step was political, not legal, even as Moreno appointed an interim Vice President. Glas’s assets are frozen and he cannot leave the country.

 

 

November 9, 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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