Political Situation in Latin America: May 2014
May-30-14 - by Rosendo Fraga

1. The US policy towards Cuba gives signs of change, Congress presses for sanctions against Maduro and Kerry urges him to maintain dialogue. An important group of former officials who were in office for Latin America, specialized academics and business people who work in the region issued a joint document urging the Obama administration to relax the embargo imposed on Cuba for more than half a century. This statement is a sign that the United States is "re-devising" the policy towards the isle. Showing the growing importance of the Hispanic minority, Obama is poised to appoint a Hispanic politician as the new Secretary of Housing. The Secretary of State (Kerry) was in Mexico last week to activate the bilateral agreements signed by Obama on his last visit to the country and confirm the priority that Mexico has in US foreign policy, which does not extend to the rest of the region. Kerry called on Maduro to maintain dialogue with the opposition to prevent sanctions – for which he should make concessions - at the same time that a White House spokesman said that the Obama Administration has no interference on the Venezuelan crisis. The reality is that pressure from Congress on Obama to adopt sanctions against officials of Chavism - in the style of those imposed on Russia, aimed at people and not at the country- is growing. At the same time, the American justice sentenced a former President of Guatemala (Portillo) for money laundering, which came from a bribe received from the Government of Taiwan.

2. Subcomandante Marcos left the Zapatista movement in Mexico; gang violence escalates in El Salvador and luxuries of the Castro brothers in Cuba are reported. The insurgent movement of indigenous base that suddenly burst in southern Mexico two decades ago, has survived with difficulties based on political agreements with the Government, but has been losing strength and Marcos’ announcement confirms it. At the same time, Mexico grows less than expected, despite which remains the "star" economy of Latin America, primarily due to its prospects in the energy field. So far in the year, the murders of the "maras" in El Salvador reach 220, a significant figure compared to previous years, confirming that the country is one of the most insecure in the world according to its crime rate–population ratio. In Guatemala, the Spanish justice investigates human rights violations during the last military Government - at the same time the Justice of Spain rejects the investigations of the Argentine justice on human rights abuses under Franco’s regime - in an expression of the so-called "universal justice" from decisions of national judges. The Castro regime first blocked and then was forced to unlock the digital diary released weeks ago by dissident blogger Yoani Sánchez. The broadcasting of images of the luxury surrounding the Castro brothers is now enhanced by digital media.

3. In the Andean region, the candidate of former President Uribe won the first round of the presidential elections and Venezuela protests marked the 100 days without dialogue. Against what would have seemed unlikely two months ago, a former Minister of Finance from the earlier Government (Zuluaga) won with 29.2% of the votes over President Santos, who came in second with 25.5%, in what constitutes a strong defeat of the latter and a political success of former President Uribe. It is clear that the extensive and unfinished peace negotiations with the FARC, who the President thought was going to be his winning card, ended up playing against him. A candidate of the Conservative Party (Martinez) was third with 15% and the same percentage was obtained for the candidate of a left coalition (Lopez) who reached the fourth place a few points away. The candidate of the Green Party (Peñaloza), which only two months ago disputed the second round with Santos, was in fifth place with 8%. Zuluaga starts the campaign for the second round, which takes place June 15 with some edge, but Santos may have more chances of partnerships. In Venezuela protests have completed 100 days and dialogue is broken despite the attempts to reopen it by the Foreign Ministers of Unasur and the Nuncio. The economic situation is complicated and the country has debts worth $ 14 billion for imports. Maduro has opted to pay the foreign debt sacrificing the local industry for that, which cannot manufacture if deprived of supplies. A march of lawyers, professors and students who asked not to "criminalize" the lawyers of political prisoners was repressed and in the elections held to replace the imprisoned opposition mayors from two towns (San Cristóbal and San Diego), the opposition candidates won overwhelmingly.

4. In South America, in Brazil, Dilma starts her electoral campaign with Lula before the World Cup and in Chile, Bachelet presented her first assessment, facing criticism from the left and the right. Two weeks of the initiation of the World Cup, Brazil faces a strike of teachers in several States, of transportation in Sao Paulo and of the police in different parts of the country. The economy continues to give results lower than expected with a strong dollar leak, which is not a common phenomenon in Brazil, unlike other Latin American countries. Aware of her weakness, Dilma has started her campaign along with Lula, whose positive image is superior. A latest poll gives a slight improvement for her, reaching 40% of voting preferences for the presidential election, with 20% for the most voted opposition candidate (Neves) and 11% for the third candidate (Campos). In Chile, Bachelet made her first balance sheet before Congress, defending the education, fiscal and constitutional reforms. But the students have rejected the first, announcing new marches, and conservative sectors are opposing a President’s bill to legalize abortion. In Uruguay, mandatory and simultaneous primaries are scheduled for June 1 to appoint the candidates for the presidential election that takes place on October 26: it is a sign of what will happen that day.

5. To conclude:

a) In the US, signals anticipate an easing up of the embargo on Cuba and the White House faces the Congress pressure to penalize Maduro for repression.

b) In Mexico, the Caribbean and Central America, Subcomandante Marcos is no longer the spokesman of Zapatista movement; in Cuba, the opposition denounces the Castro brothers’ luxuries and the crime rate increases in El Salvador.

c) In the Andean region, in Colombia, the candidate of former President Uribe was first to compete in the runoff, and in Venezuela, protests complete 100 days without foreseeable dialogue.

d) In the Southern Cone, protests do not yield in Brazil days before the start of the World Cup but Dilma benefits from the electoral support of Lula, and in Chile, Bachelet is criticized by the left and the right.