Political Developments - November 2018

On 28 October, Brazil elected Jair Bolsonaro as President in the second round. A former military officer, 63-year old Bolsonaro has represented the Social Liberal Party (PSL) in Brazil’s Congress (parliament) from Rio de Janeiro since 1991. His left-wing challenger, Fernando Haddad of the Workers Party (PT), did better in the second round with 44.8 percent to Bolsonaro’s 55.2. Haddad was a late entrant to the race and labored under the shadow of his patron, former President Lula – the original front-runner in the election - who was imprisoned earlier this year on corruption charges. None of the other candidates, including those from the former ruling Social Democrats (PSDB) stood a chance. The deeply polarized election saw massive abstention in a country where voting is obligatory. Around 21 percent did not vote, while another 10 percent cast invalid or blank votes.

Former President Dilma Rousseff lost her Senate election and her party PT was defeated in its stronghold of Minas Gerais State. While it won the highest number of seats in the lower house (56), it is a long way from exercising influence in a Congress with 30 political parties. Bolsonaro’s PSL, with 52 seats, may be able to attract enough support to manage legislation. Establishment parties PSDB and PMDB (Centre Right) fared badly.

Though a parliamentarian for 27 years, Bolsonaro was relatively unknown on the national stage till this year when he galvanized support with tough rhetoric, promising to abolish corruption, expressing nostalgia for the military dictatorship (1964-85), and his anti-liberal line on most issues from abortion to gay rights to climate change. The prospect of his election led to a coalescence of political forces behind Haddad after the first round on 7 October, but it was too late. Popular Brazilian disgust with corrupt politicians, deteriorating law and order and precarious economic conditions sustained support for Bolsonaro, an evangelical labelled as the ‘Trump of the Tropics’. The markets recovered with the prospect of market friendly measures and extensive privatization of government assets. While his views on foreign policy are still to crystallise, Brazil is expected to be far more insular, protectionist and conservative under his leadership. The impact on participation in IBSA, BRICS (Brazil is to host the 2019 summit) and other institutional arrangements, apart from cooperation on energy and trade with India, will become more apparent after his swearing in on 1 January 2019. 

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague delivered on 1 October a long-awaited judgment on the lawsuit brought by Bolivia against Chile in 2013, seeking access to the sea. By a 12-3 vote, the ICJ ruled that Chile is not legally obliged to negotiate with Bolivia to give the landlocked nation “sovereign access” to the Pacific Ocean. Bolivia lost 400 kilometres of coastline and 120,000 sq. kilometres of territory to Chile as a consequence of the 1879-1880 War of the Pacific. It claims Chile unjustly captured its territory and only gives Bolivia duty-free access to the northern Chilean port of Arica. Bolivia aspires to have a corridor, including a train line and port under its own control. Chile has argued that the 1904 Treaty of Peace and Friendship between La Paz and Santiago settled the border issue. The ICJ ruled that documents, notes and declarations exchanged between the two countries, over the last 116 years, imply that Chile has been willing to negotiate but does not have a legal obligation. Access to the sea is a major Bolivian foreign policy goal. President Morales, who travelled to The Hague for the verdict put on a brave face, claiming Bolivia would maintain its demand through political channels like the United Nations.

As the crisis in Venezuela continued, its regional ramifications intensified. Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Paraguay, Peru and Costa Rica, along with Canada, approached the International Criminal Court to investigate Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro for human rights abuses. After a speech in the UN where Ecuador’s President Lenin Moreno criticised Venezuela for the refugee outflow (over 300,000 in Ecuador alone), Venezuela’s Information Minister, close to Maduro, called Moreno a liar, leading to the expulsion of the Venezuelan Ambassador in Quito. Ecuador is a member of the left-wing ALBA grouping that is losing momentum with the meltdown in Venezuelan and its consequent inability to subsidise oil supply to the region and finance other joint programs. Moreno has distanced Ecuador from the ideological leanings of his predecessor Rafael Correa – now a fugitive from Ecuadorean justice – and does not claim any solidarity with today’s Venezuela.

Paraguay, which in May became the third country to move its Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, announced it would shift back to Tel Aviv. Foreign Minister Luis Alberto Castiglioni said the status of Jerusalem “should be addressed by the parties involved through negotiations, in accordance with provisions laid out by international institutions.” The decision taken by former President Horacio Cartes was overturned by the newly elected Mario Abdo Benitez. Israel announced it was breaking off diplomatic relations with Paraguay.

The United States on Friday recalled for consultations its envoys to the Dominican Republic, El Salvador and Panama, that recently switched diplomatic ties from Taiwan to China. Washington accused Beijing of destabilising cross-Strait relations and engaging in a campaign of "political interference" by poaching Taiwan's allies in the western hemisphere.


November 30, 2018

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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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