Dexter Boniface

Posts Tagged ‘Venezuela’

Latin America’s Elections in 2012: The Dominican Republic

In Dominican Republic, Elections, Mexico, Venezuela on May 6, 2012 at 4:22 pm

Latin Americans head to the polls in 2012 to elect presidents in the Dominican Republic (Sunday, May 20), Mexico (Sunday, July 1) and Venezuela (Sunday, October 7). Voters in the United States do the same on Tuesday, November 6.

The Dominican Republic. In a partial replay of the 2000 contest, the 2012 presidential election in the D.R. pits former President Rafael Hipólito Mejía (2000-2004) against incumbent party nominee Danilo Medina of the PLD (Dominican Liberation Party). One of the more remarkable aspects of the election is who is not running. After contemplating a new round of constitutional changes to enable his re-election, current and three-time President Leonel Fernandez (1996-2000; 2004-2012) declined to seek a fourth term (though he will be eligible to run again in 2016). Fernandez’s wife, first lady Margarita Cedeño, followed suit, declining a presidential bid. She opted instead to run as Danilo Medina’s vice-presidential running mate on the PLD ticket. Danilo’s challenger Hipólito Mejía (whose presidency was marred by a severe economic crisis) trails by a small margin in recent polls. Like the 2000 contest, the 2012 election is likely to be seen as a referendum on the market-friendly policies pursued by President Leonel Fernandez; under his tenure, the Dominican Republic has experienced positive economic growth but unemployment, poverty and inequality remain stubbornly high.

Rise of the Transnational Voter? The other remarkable feature of the election is that it could be decided by (Dominican) voters in the United States. In recent decades a growing number of Latin American countries have extended the right to vote to citizens living abroad. In 2012, lawmakers in the Dominican Republic went a step further, enacting new legislation which enables foreign residents to choose seven overseas representatives (three from the United States and Canada), in addition to casting their vote for President and (under the new legislation) Vice-President as well. Historically, Latin American voters living abroad have not had much of an impact on election outcomes. This election could be different for two reasons. First, the size of the D.R.’s foreign electorate is relatively large (recent numbers compiled by the Observatorio Politico Dominicano indicate that one in twenty Dominican voters resides abroad, most of them in the United States; out of a total of 6.5 million eligible voters, more than 223,000 reside in the United States). Second, the presidential election is relatively close. Then again, as blogger James Bosworth points out, if Dominicans living abroad do not hold a strong partisan preference (in contrast to, say, Venezuelans abroad), or do not turn out in high numbers (turnout is generally low among foreign voters), their impact on the 2012 election may yet be inconsequential.

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Latin America’s Elections in 2010

In Elections on February 1, 2010 at 10:35 am

There were a variety of important elections in Latin America in 2010:

Costa Rica (Feb. 7, 2010). The winner of Costa Rica’s presidential election is the ridiculously named but no nonsense former VP Laura Chinchilla (picture below). She defeated rivals Otto Guevara and Otton Solis.

Colombia (May 30 and June 20, 2010): Uribism without Uribe? Manuel Zelaya’s attempts to remold the Honduran constitution appear amateurish when contrasted with President Alvaro Uribe’s drive to (again) amend the constitution and seek a third consecutive term. However, in a surprising development, Colombia’s Constitutional Court rejected Uribe’s bid to hold a constitutional referendum, leaving Colombia’s presidential elections wide open. Former defense minister Juan Manuel Santos, an Uribe ally, quickly emerged as the front-runner – though he faced a challenge from Green Party nominee Antanas Mockus. Santos easily won the run-off on June 20 garnering 69% of the vote.

Venezuela (Sept. 26, 2010). What’s remaining of Venezuela’s “democracy” was on display during legislative elections in September. Before the election even occurred, Chavez sycophants such as actor Sean Penn and analyst Mark Weisbrot were already upset that the international media would use the occasion to highlight the government’s lack of democratic legitimacy. As Chavez’s support at home continued to dwindle, others worried he would seek to cancel the elections altogether. In the end, Chavez’s party lost the popular vote but maintained a majority of the legislative seats through gerrymandering.

Brazil (Oct. 3 and Oct. 31, 2010). Who will replace Brazil’s beloved Lula? The contenders included Lula’s chief of staff Dilma Rousseff, former Sao Paulo state governor Jose Serra, and environmentalist Sen. Marina Silva. In the first round of voting, Rousseff claimed 47% of the vote, compared to 33% for Serra and 19% for Marina Silva. A run-off election pitting Rousseff and Serra took place on October 31st; Rousseff won 56% of the vote. She was inaugurated as Brazil’s first female president on January 1st, 2011.

Haiti (Nov. 28, 2010). In light of the devastation caused by the 2010 earthquake (what remains of the country’s electoral council headquarters is pictured below), Haiti’s legislative elections (originally scheduled for February 28th) were postponed until November 28th (also the date of the country’s presidential elections). Prior to the earthquake, the legislative elections were already generating controversy after the country’s presidentially-appointed electoral council banned more than a dozen parties (including ousted former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s Fanmi Lavalas) from participating. Critics alleged that election officials were stacking the deck in favor of President Preval’s newly created Unity party in a bid to change the constitution and boost executive power.

In 2011, Haitians (March 20),  Peruvians (April 20), Guatemalans (September), Argentines (October 23), and Nicaraguans (November 6) will head to the polls to pick new presidents.

The Return of the Military in Latin America?

In Military on November 12, 2009 at 3:39 pm

Don’t Call It a Comeback

Latin America’s militaries have undoubtedly lost influence since the advent of the third wave of democratization some three decades ago. For example, the Economist recently heralded the fact that more Latin American citizens “now approve of their governments than trust the armed forces.” However, recent trends suggest militaries still play a powerful (and perhaps growing) role in Latin America’s politics.

Geopolitical Tensions. Military tensions between Colombia and Venezuela have recently escalated. In the wake of a series of brutal slayings, 15,000 Venezuelan soldiers have been dispatched to the Colombia border. One headline read, “Chavez to troops: Prepare for war with Colombia.” Brazil and the United States have appealed to the two countries to talk it out.

Colombia’s U.S.-backed war on drugs has long generated tensions with its neighbors who fear the country’s drug-related violence will spill-over across its borders. More preposterously, the increasingly unpopular Venezuelan president has cited a recent military agreement between the United States and Colombia as evidence that the United States seeks to topple him from power and seize Venezuela’s oil reserves using Colombia as a surrogate (for a more plausible explanation, see here). The United States, for its part, maintains (though not without controversy) that the agreement merely formalizes existing arrangements with Colombia and enables the U.S. to use one additional air force base (Palanquero) for counter-narcotics operations following Ecuador’s decision to restrict America’s use of an airstrip in Manta. At the same time, the Colombian government has accused several of its neighbors, notably Venezuela and Ecuador, of providing refuge to the FARC guerrilla movement. In a dramatic military action last year, Colombian troops attacked a guerrilla camp on the Ecuadorean side of the border, leading Ecuador and Venezuela to freeze relations with Colombia. Adding fuel to the fire, military spending has accelerated in all three countries (see below).

Rising Military Spending. In a recent editorial, Costa Rican President Oscar Arias noted that, “This year alone, the governments of Latin America will spend nearly $50 billion on their armies. That’s nearly double the amount spent five years ago, and it is a ridiculous sum in a region where 200 million people live on fewer than $2 a day and where only Colombia is engaged in an armed conflict.” Latin American military spending is indeed on the rise with Brazil, Venezuela, Chile, Colombia and Ecuador topping the list in terms of new military purchases. Most worrying, perhaps, is the notable military build-up in Venezuela which, according to the Miami Herald, “has already bought more than $4 billion worth of Russian arms since 2005, including 24 Sukhoi fighter jets, dozens of attack helicopters and 100,000 Kalashnikov assault rifles.” Venezuela is also procuring some 300 Russian-made battle tanks, anti-aircraft missiles (including man-portable SAM-24s), and munitions from Russia.

The Military as Police: The War on Drugs, Gangs, and Organized Crime. Latin America’s militaries have also become increasingly active on the homefront, particularly in the violence-plagued countries of Mexico and Central America where militaries have been mobilized to supplement and/or supplant traditional police forces. In gang-ravaged El Salvador, for example, the government recently announced that the army will send an additional 2,500 soldiers (adding to an existing contingent of 1,200) to crime-plagued parts of the country to carry out joint patrols with police. Still, nowhere is this trend more evident than in Mexico where President Felipe Calderon has relied heavily on the military in his war against drug smuggling–some 45,000 troops have been dispatched to drug hot spots across Mexico. Tragically, Mexico’s local and state police have furnished an unreliable ally in the country’s war on drugs.  In this year alone, soldiers have confronted Monterrey police officers suspected of helping drug cartels on more than 65 occasions! According to recent reports, “The general in charge of army operations in northeastern Mexico has warned police chiefs that his men are ready to open fire on police if it happens again.”

Civil-Military Tensions. In a few countries in the region, furthermore, tensions between elected leaders and the military have threatened democratic stability. As President Arias further stated in his editorial–in direct reference to the recent democratic crisis in Honduras, “the combination of powerful militaries and fragile democracies creates a terrible risk.” In Paraguay, President Fernando Lugo recently replaced the country’s top military commanders amid (unsubstantiated but not implausible) rumors of a possible coup conspiracy. Elsewhere in South America–notably in Argentina, Chile and Uruguay, civil-military tensions have taken on a different hue as former military dictators have been put on trial for past human rights abuses. Recent death threats against President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner are being blamed on supporters of the Argentine military as a form of retaliation against new trials. The past era of military rule continues to weigh heavily in the politics of the Southern Cone countries.

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