Tensions in Ecuador over delayed electoral results (Feb. 21, 2017)
Sunday's presidential election in Ecuador is too close to call, say authorities. They say it could take days for votes from remote areas and abroad to be tallied. And the delays have prompted frustration and concerns over fraud, according to the Financial Times
The most recent counts put Alianza País candidate Lenin Moreno in the lead, with 39.18 percent, with 94 percent of votes tallied. That's within reach of the 40 percent the incumbent party candidate. Conservative banker Guillermo Lasso is second, with 28.38 percent. (See El Universal or El Comercio for updated counts.)
Protests demanding a second round and a rapid vote count are gearing up. A roundtable of opposition parties called for people to take to the streets to demand results, reports El Comercio. Lasso supporters have snarled traffic in Quito, reports El Universal, and people are coming in from other parts of the country to protest outside the electoral authority, reports El Comercio.
Guayaquil mayor Jaime Nebot called a meeting later today to organize a massive march to demand a second round, reports El Tiempo. (See post for June 26, 2015, regarding his role organizing anti-Correa protests.)
Moreno called for calm, in response to opposition calls for mobilization against alleged fraud, reports El Comercio. The electoral council asked political parties to await results peacefully, reports El Comercio.
Observers praised the transparency of the polls and asked for calm in awaiting results, according to TeleSUR.
Many opposition parties have said they'd wait for final results before determining whether they'd back Lasso in an eventual second-round, reports El Universal. (See last Thursday's and Friday's posts.) Lasso promised a "dialogue table" for all political sectors and unions, heading into a second round, reports El Comercio. Third place candidate Cynthia Viteri promised to back Lasso.
Ecuador's Episcopal Conference called on electoral authorities and citizens to pray for the country and for electoral results to "reflect the truth," reports InfoBae. And the Armed Forces also added their voice to the chorus of calls for peace and transparent results, reports El Comercio.
El Universal has some interesting data on voting trends, noting that Moreno has won in eight of the country's ten most populated cities.
And it looks like Alianza País will have a legislative majority, reports El Comercio.
The Latin America terrorism threat
Excellent fact check by Geoff Ramsey and David Smilde in Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights, regarding talk of Islamic terrorism using Latin America as a launchpad. Specifically, that Venezuelan authorities, under the leadership of current vice president Tarek El Aissami, issued illegitimate passports to members of Hamas and Hezbollah. They conclude that the rumors -- which featured in a letter from U.S. members of Congress to Trump and prominently in a two-part CNN investigation -- are based on very thin evidence. Though they emphasize that this does not exonerate El Aissami from the claims that he has has ties to drug trafficking or to Hezbollah and Hamas, "the idea that there are Venezuelan passports floating around the globe providing terrorists with an opportunity appears to be a tempest in a teapot." They further make the interesting point that the narrative is being pushed by "officials seeking the attention of the Trump Administration as it settles in. Linking Venezuela to a supposed terror threat emanating from the region has long been a key goal of sectors seeking U.S. intervention and given Washington’s new “normal,” it is perhaps not surprising that the story has gained legs again. By linking Venezuela to terror, stakeholders seek to make a nuisance and human rights crisis into a national security threat, and thereby generate the action they seek."
They cite Christopher Sabatini, who last month argued in Latin America Goes Global, that pushing such inflated or even disproven claims "risks alienating our partners in the hemisphere and making it more difficult to secure the sort of cooperation we need to keep U.S. citizens safe." He picks apart several "extreme claims" of "Islamo-alarmism."
He does however note the potential links between El Aissami and Hezbollah, including reports that "was active in Hezbollah in his youth and has maintained his ties to terrorist groups both while he was in the Interior Ministry and now in the vice presidency. "
Sabatini also points to what is a potential terrorist concern in the region: "the possibility of a returning ISIS fighter staging a rogue attack. According to two sources, the United States is carefully tracking a troubling number of citizens from the region—primarily the Caribbean—that have left to join ISIS. The fear is that they could come back and launch self-guided attacks on U.S. soil or against U.S. interests in their home countries. Besides the fact that it is how the most recent terrorist attacks have occurred in Europe and—very loosely—in the U.S., it also has more logic than the idea that Iran would launch an attack given all it would risk."
Addressing such concern, however, would require cooperation with countries in the region, rather than antagonism, he notes.
Today the New York Times has a report on how Trinidad and Tobago officials in particular are seeking to staunch a steady stream of young Muslims headed to Syria where they join ISIS ranks.
"American officials worry about having a breeding ground for extremists so close to the United States, fearing that Trinidadian fighters could return from the Middle East and attack American diplomatic and oil installations in Trinidad, or even take a three-and-a-half-hour flight to Miami."
Trinidad has a history of Islamist extremism, according to the piece. The White House said President Trump spoke by telephone over the weekend with Prime Minister Keith Rowley of Trinidad and Tobago about terrorism and other security challenges.
Beyond terrorism, the U.S. should be concerned about how Trump's policy is creating an enemy along the southern border where there was never any reason for antagonism, argues Stephen Kinzer a Boston Globe correspondent. "We don’t pay much attention to Mexico, but it is one of the most important countries in the world to us. Our economies are integrated, with annual trade exceeding half a trillion dollars. Our cultural ties are deep. Mexico gives the United States vital help in areas ranging from drug control to immigration — turning back 150,000 Central Americans trying to reach the United States in the last year alone. Most important, Mexico’s friendship helps keep us safe because it means we have no strategic threat on our southern border. All of this may now begin to change." (See last Friday's briefs and Feb. 13's post.)
Carnaval is coming up, but at least 48 towns and cities in Brazil have cancelled festivities due to the massive national recession's impacts on local budgets. A New York Times op-ed by Vanesa Barbara notes the particularly bad situation Rio de Janeiro state finds itself in, considering official promises about Olympics related windfalls. "The budget disaster in Rio could be attributed to many factors, such as the fall in the oil prices, the expansion of the government payroll and the general recession. But there’s no doubt that reckless spending on the World Cup and the Olympics played a role. The city of Rio will be paying off the debts it amassed for years, while it also now has to maintain the arenas it built ... The Olympic euphoria is definitely gone, as pensions and salaries are held up indefinitely and police officers fight against one another in the streets. But tourists should not worry: Rio’s Carnival is still guaranteed."
Prosecutors from Brazil and ten other countries -- Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, Panama, Peru, Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Portugal -- signed an agreement last week to create a combined task force with bilateral and multilateral teams to coordinate an investigation into Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht, reports the Wall Street Journal. It's the latest development in a case that is reverberating across the region, after the company admitted in December that it paid nearly $800 million in bribes around the region. (See Feb. 8's post.)
But the sprawling Operation Car Wash in Brazil shouldn't affect Brazil's asset prices, according to "emerging markets investment guru" Mark Mobius, interviewed by the Wall Street Journal.
A homemade bomb wounded nearly two dozen police officers and two civilians near a Bogotá bullring, reports the Associated Press. Authorities said the attack did not appear to be related to the resumption of bullfighting at the ring, though it as police officers in riot gear were gathering ahead of a protest by animal rights activists. Some local media speculated that the ELN was behind the bomb.
As in other parts of the region, Argentine voters are incensed about corruption. But corruption investigations hardly spell out the end of a politicians career. In Argentina, "citizen indignation about corruption has not had a conclusive electoral impact in recent history," argues Martin Sivak in a New York Times Español op-ed. He uses the case of former President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, who is reportedly analyzing running for congress, to illustrate increasing citizen mistrust in judicial processes, and how politics have become increasingly "judicialized." What is needed is an integral reform of the judicial power, he argues, though, such a move would not necessarily push Argentines to vote against corrupt officials -- poverty and unemployment have proved more lasting concerns.
A U.S. company town swallowed up by the jungle with a few squatters occupying former exec quarters sounds like a scene out of a magical realism novel. But it's actually what happened with Fordlândia, a company town founded in 1928 by the industrialist Henry Ford in the far reaches of the Amazon River Basin, reports the New York Times.
The Olympics pop-up soup kitchen Refettorio Gastromotiva -- co-founded by super-chef Massimo Bottura -- has become a large initiative in which chefs of world-renowned create meals with soon-to-expire products donated by supermarkets and restaurants for people in need, as well as providing vocational training in culinary arts to favela residents, reports the Wall Street Journal. (See briefs for Aug. 15, 2016.)
Topless protests carried out in several Argentine cities earlier this month may have seemed like a lighthearted feminist caper. But the push to liberate norms governing women's bodies takes on a special relevance within a broader social context in which a femicide is perpetrated every thirty hours, I argue in a New York Times op-ed. "... There is a connection between a culture of violence against women and a breast-obsessed society that is scandalized when women’s breasts escape the control of the screen, Photoshop manipulation or artfully exaggerated cleavage to breast-feed in a public space or participate in a relaxed afternoon at the beach. Such fraught symbolism attached to real bodies has proved to be dangerously combustible." A piece in Cosecha Roja looks at some of the most recent cases of femicide in the country, showing the ghastly nature of what is turning into a quotidian phenomenon. A local organization of civil society estimates that 57 women were killed in the first 43 days of 2017.