Bolivians narrowly reject Morales' bid for further reelections (Feb. 22, 2016)
A constitutional referendum in Bolivia which would permit President Evo Morales to run for a fourth consecutive term in office appears to have been narrowly rejected by voters yesterday. Final counts are not yet in, Ipsos predicted the "no" side won by 52.3 percent, while the "yes" is estimated to have obtained 47.7 percent, reports La Razón.
Another estimate, by Mori, has a virtual tie: 51 percent no to 49 yes, reports El Deber.
Preliminary results given by the electoral tribunal at midnight yesterday had a slightly wider margin in favor of those who voted against the amendment: 56.5 percent to 43.5 percent. The proposed change would allow for a third consecutive term. Morales would be allowed a fourth on a technicality, a court determined that his first term doesn't count as it occurred under a previous constitution.
Despite the close call, opposers of the proposal celebrated in plazas in Santa Cruz, Tarijas and Cochabamba.
Vice President Álvaro García questioned the rapid celebration, noting that the race is close and within a margin of error, notes La Razón. He said the opposition had waged a "dirty war" in it's campaign against the reforms, reports the Guardian.
The government considers the result a technical tie, and is calling on the population to await the final count, reports El Deber.
Of course the results reflect regional disparities: "no" appears to have triumphed in Potosí, Chuquisaca, Beni, Santa Cruz, Tarija and Pando, reports Página 7. On the other hand, voters in El Alto, adjacent to La Paz, heavily supported Morales' proposal, notes Página 7. La Paz and Cochabamba also favored the "yes" camp, while there was a tie in Oruro, reports El Diario.
In any case it's a far cry from the 61 percent Morales obtained in his 2014 reelection, and the 70 percent approval he had predicted for the referendum.
The president's approval rating has been hit by a scandal after revelations about an ex girlfriend who holds an influential position in a Chinese company that has benefitted from lucrative government contracts (see Friday's briefs), the revelation that the vice president doesn't hold a college degree and charges that the ruling party is involved in the deaths of six people in a fire resulting from a protest last week, according to El Deber. (See Thursday's briefs.) (The New York Times gives more details on all of the allegations.)
(Argentina's La Nación has an interesting interview with the ex girlfriend, Gabriela Zapata, who rejects the accusations as demeaning to her as a woman.)
The president rejected corruption allegations as "a hoax by the US embassy" to discredit him, and insists that he has "nothing to hide," reports AFP.
The results show a wearing down of the government, in the face of allegations which also include rumors of corruption at the Fondo Indígena, according to El Día. Analysts also point to an active citizen campaign against the referendum, with widespread use of social media, and an unfavorable international economic context that is starting to impact the country.
The mixed results show a divided country, and should entail a change of attitude from the government, according to Página 7. Morales still has four years of presidency left to go, but many analysts are looking at what the defeat could mean for the ruling MAS party, and who Morales' successor might be and how he'd be selected. Facing a divided opposition the party could very well win elections again in 2019, according to some analysts.
The results could presage a bitter political battle in the ruling MAS party to become the next candidate. El Día has more analysis. It is the beginning of fractures inside the party, but only the beginning, according to an expert quoted by the New York Times.
But Morales has plenty of time before the next election to pick a successor and otherwise influence Bolivia's future, said Michael Shifter, head of the Washington-based Inter-American Dialogue think tank told Reuters.
Analysts are pointing to a tactical error on the part of the government calling such a referendum at the beginning of the current mandate, reports El Día, which also notes that yesterday's results are the worst for Morales since the beginning of his presidencies.
Analysts had expected Morales to easily win the vote after calling for the referendum last year, reports the Wall Street Journal. But he was hit hard by the recent scandals.
Morales, who is Bolivia's first indigenous president, has been credited with slashing poverty by spending a natural gas windfall on welfare programs and new infrastructure since taking office in 2006, reports Reuters.
Economic growth over the past eight years has averaged 5.1 percent, the highest South America, and per capita income has tripled, social programmes have expanded and inflation has fallen along with poverty and inequality, according to the Guardian. However, conservationists are angered by the spread of extractive industries and policies opening up natural reserves to oil and gas companies.
Despite impressive results, critics accuse him of an authoritarian streak and of favoring his own Aymara majority over other indigenous groups, reports the Guardian.Voting took place in relative calm around the country, though there were reports of irregularities in Santa Cruz, reports El Diario. International observers say the incidents were isolated cases and that the voting was generally peaceful, reports El Día.
Morales has been abandoned by his once-loyal constituents, coca growers, peasants and indigenous organizations who say he no longer represents them, according to the New York Times in a piece from yesterday (before the results).
Morales is already the longest serving democratic leader, notes AFP, "a rare accomplishment in a country known for military coups and shaky, short-lived governments." Yet voters were uncomfortable with extending the president's term in office, according to the Guardian.
In an interview with the Guardian Morales claimed his latest move to stay in office is a response to popular pressure. "Before I promised to stop, but now the communities obliged me to modify the constitution," he said. "I have to respond to the people. It is not the power of the Evo, it is the power of the people."
El País has another interview with Evo from yesterday, in which he blames erosion of support on "machismo, corruption and internal divisions in the MAS party."
The referendum was seen as the latest test for Latin America’s leftist governments, according to theWall Street Journal. The results appear to be another nail in the coffin of the region's pink tide, though, as in other cases, the bigger takeaway is deeply divided electorates.
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Miguel Díaz-Canel is widely expected to succeed Cuban President Raúl Castro when he steps down in two years. A meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama on his upcoming visit to Havana would be a strong sign that he will actually succeed the Castro brothers. But what would that mean in "a Marxist dictatorship run not by voters but by the military and the Communist Party," asks the Miami Herald. Some answers might start to emerge at the Communist Party congress in April, and most observers seem to believe that Díaz-Canel will replace Castro when he steps down, according to the piece.
Steven Rattner extols the virtues of capitalism and decries the failure of socialism in Cuba in a New York Times op-ed. "... while our embargo didn't succeed in reforming the country, the slow, steady infiltration of capitalism just might."
And, in the Miami Herald, Andrés Oppenheimer argues that if Obama doesn't meet with peaceful opposition leaders during his visit, he will have helped legitimize "the longest-running dictatorship in the Western Hemisphere."
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Senator Delcídio do Amaral of Brazil's ruling Workers' Party was ordered released from jail on Friday. He's been held on charges of obstructing a federal investigation since November, when he was arrested with Brazilian billionaire investment banker André Esteves, reports the Wall Street Journal. The two were accused of conspiring to pay millions in bribes to a witness in the investigation into corruption at the state-owned oil company, Petrobras. Do Amaral will be able to return to the Senate and will remain under house arrest during evening hours and days off.
Venezuelans facing the first gasoline price increase since 1995 fear it will feed into what is already predicted to be 720 percent inflation for this year, reports the New York Times. President Nicolás Maduro announced the increase last week, a touchy subject in Venezuela, where in 1989, there were riots when the government tried to raise gas prices. (See Thursday's briefs.) The gas prices, virtually frozen for the past 20 years and virtually free due to inflation, costs the government an estimated $12 billion per year reports the Los Angeles Times. As much as 10 percent of Venezuelan gasoline is sold as contraband in Colombia and Brazil. The savings from the price increase announced last week will be of about $2 billion and will be applied to food, according to Maduro.
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Conspiracy theories and rumors abound regarding Zika. The New York Times has a feature on those which should be doubted, including that it is spread by genetically modified mosquitoes and or that vaccines are to blame for the microcephaly uptick in Brazil.
Zika is spreading fast in Colombia, where more than 26,000 men and women have contracted the disease since October, and up to 600,000 could be infected by June, according to health authorities. While there have not yet been any cases of Zika-related microcephaly in the country there is a fear of an upcoming wave of the birth defect as women who fell ill during pregnancy come to term, reports the Los Angeles Times.
Desperate for cash, Puerto Rican public agencies are cracking down on widespread theft and cheating that went unpunished in the past, reports the Associated Press.
The New York Times has an interesting graphic on the evolution of Mexican cartels since the 2006 "decapitation" strategy by the President Felipe Caldrón, targeting cartel leaders. Violence quickly shot up and cartel turfs were reconfigured.
Mexico's fastest growing drug trafficking gang, Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generación, has reached Tijuana and is fighting to expand its influence, reports the San Diego Union Tribune. The group's presence coincides with an increase in homicides since last spring.
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Uncontacted tribes in the Amazon -- in Brazil and Peru -- are suddenly coming out of reserves, creating a conflict for governments which want to protect them from germs that could wipe them out and from threats to their way of life. In the Guardian, filmaker Angus MacQueenwrites on his experiences filming a group that came into contact in Brazil two years ago