Elections, protests, political disputes, and more – catch up on the region’s news with Open Americas


In the headlines: Protests take over Bolivia, Chile, Ecuador, and Haiti; Argentina puts Peronists back in power; Brazil suffers the largest oil spill in its history while former President Lula is released from prison; and more.

Argentines elected to put Peronists back in power after the presidential election last month. President Mauricio Macri lost the vote to leftist Alberto Fernandez and former President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, who ran as his running mate. Fernandez won with 47% of the vote, enough to prevent a run-off election, and gained most of his support from those hoping a different party will fix the country’s economic crisis. Many seem optimistic that Fernandez and Kirchner will be able to improve the economy. Fernandez vowed to work with Macri in order to have a seamless transition of power.

After a contentious presidential election last month that led to massive street protests, President Evo Morales resigned following a report from the Organization of American States (OAS) found “clear manipulations” in the vote count. Bolivia’s Electoral Board abruptly halted the public tally with only 83% of votes counted, claiming the stoppage was intended to focus on a slower official calculation. After a 24-hour silence, official election results were announced with 98.4% of the votes counted, giving Morales a 10% lead over Carlos Mesa, just enough to avoid a run-off election. Following the vote, the opposition called for peaceful protests, but clashes between pro- and anti-government protesters were violent, leaving three dead. Roadblocks brought business to a stop, protesters burned government buildings and forced resignations from politicians aligned with Morales, and the military and police supported the protests suggesting Morales resign to bring peace.

An oil spill off the coast of Brazil has become the largest oil spill in the nation’s history as it covers over 2,400 kilometers of shoreline in the northeast of the country. The oil is spread between at least nine states on 132 beaches. Since September 12, 4,200 tons of oil have been collected, and scientists are worried about the damage done to ocean ecosystems. There is an investigation into the cause of the oil spill, with the Brazilian government stating the oil originated from three Venezuelan oil fields and suspects four Greek-affiliated tankers of leaking the oil. The Brazilian Navy has over 8,000 personnel conducting the cleanup operation alongside numerous volunteers, many of whom fell ill from cleaning the crude oil without proper equipment. Brazilian scientists have called on international colleagues to help determine the cause of the spill and have criticized the government’s response.

A young indigenous land defender and member of the “Guardians of the Forest,” Paulo Paulino Guajajara was killed by illegal loggers in the state of Maranhão. This death comes after multiple attempts from the Guajajaras and the state government to warn the federal government about the risk the illegal loggers and miners pose on the indigenous groups. As the Brazilian government has cut resources for indigenous protection and increased protections for the illegal land-grabbers, Brazil’s indigenous people have struggled to preserve their land and have resorted to creating groups such as the “Guardians of the Forest” to combat logging gangs in the region.

Brazil’s Supreme Court ruled that defendants may remain free while exercising their court appeals. This decision could release nearly 5,000 inmates in the country, including the former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. For Lula’s supporters, this decision “restores a sense of hope,” as his imprisonment was seen as a political conspiracy. When released on Friday, Lula spoke to supporters outside a union in São Paulo, promising to prove his innocence and faulting police, prosecutors, and judges for “working to criminalize the left.” For those in support of the corruption investigation Lava Jato, this decision is seen as a blow that could impede anti-corruption efforts in the country as a whole.

Chileans took to the streets last month in protest of the country’s growing inequality. Ignited by a government increase in transportation fares, university students raided subway stations without paying in defiance of the increased fees. Even though the government immediately revoked the fee increase, the protests have grown and there is no identified leader as various groups have joined together to burn and loot subway stations, supermarkets, and government buildings. President Sebastian Pinera initially declared a state of emergency, instituted curfews, and claimed the government was “at war” with the violent protesters. While the protests began after an increase in transportation fares, the movement is protesting expensive education and health care, rising public service costs and lower pensions, and a 10% increase in electricity costs in June. In an attempt to calm the protests, Pinera proposed a new social agenda aimed at these issues. However, there is hostility towards the government’s initial reaction to the protests. The United Nations, Amnesty International, and Chilean prosecutors are conducting investigations into claims that police tortured protesters during the state of emergency last month.

For the 28th year in a row, the United Nations has voted to end the US-Cuba economic, commercial, and financial embargo. The vote was 187 in favor of ending the embargo to three opposing it – the United States, Israel, and Brazil. This is the first year Brazil has voted in favor of the United States. Ultimately, the United States has control to continue or end the embargo, but the UN vote was based on the belief that the embargo inhibits the development of the Caribbean region as a whole.

After his decision to end decades-old fuel subsidies, the country’s indigenous population led mass demonstrations that forced President Lenin Moreno to reverse his action. After almost two weeks of protests that brought Quito to a standstill, Moreno agreed to repeal the subsidy law and work with the indigenous population to form measures aimed at cutting government spending, increasing revenue, and reducing public debt. The protests consisted of roadblocks, burned debris, and closed businesses. Seven people died in the protests, over 1,300 were injured, and 1,150 were arrested.

Protests since August calling for President Jovenel Moïse to resign have brought the country to a halt. The political discontent began in February 2017 after allegations of voter fraud during the election that put Moïse in power. Since then, the unrest has escalated with revelations of government misappropriation of public funds. Schools, businesses, and churches have closed. Cities have gone for months without electricity and hospitals are unable to keep patients alive due to shortages in medicine and power. Moïse declares it would be “irresponsible” of him to resign and has created a commission to find a solution to the crisis. The United Nations has called on “all actors” to acknowledge and lend support during the humanitarian crisis that is denying citizens access to food, health care, education, and other basic needs. The United States has allotted food donations, but will be delivering them through the UN World Food Program rather than with US troops.

President Juan Orlando Hernandez’s brother, Juan Antonio “Tony” Hernandez, was found guilty in a drug conspiracy case. Tony Hernandez was arrested in Miami in 2018 for drug trafficking and possession of illegal weapons. While President Hernandez denies all allegations that he used his political influence to incite “state-sponsored drug trafficking,” the trial included testimonies revealing significant campaign contributions to him from drug cartels. Tony Hernandez’s lawyer says they intend to appeal the decision.

After a government attempt to arrest El Chapo’s son Ovidio Guzman Lopez, armed cartel members launched a deadly counterattack, overwhelming the government mission and forcing Lopez’s release. The confrontation shocked the town of Culiacan and demonstrated the strength of the Sinaloa cartel against the Mexican government. In addition to Lopez’s release, gang members also staged a jailbreak, where 51 of their members escaped. There are accusations that the government colluded with the drug cartel, but officials insist there was not and assert their ability to confront organized crime in the country.

Protesters are still calling on President Daniel Ortega to step down, in an opposition movement that began early 2018. While the opposition has remained fairly peaceful in their protests, a new opposition group recently took responsibility for a series of small explosions throughout the country. The Nicaraguan Patriotic Alliance (APN) said it will continue to carry out attacks “until the dictatorship is broken.”

President Martin Vizcarra dissolved the opposition-led Congress after they failed to pass his anti-corruption reform bill. Vizcarra, backed by the nations’ army and police, declared there will be new legislative elections on January 26 and blamed the opposition party for blocking his anti-corruption proposal in an effort to block themselves from investigation. Following Vizcarra’s announcement, opposition lawmakers refused to leave the chambers, suspending his presidency and swearing-in Vice-President Mercedes Araoz as acting leader of the country. While both claim to be the legitimate leader of Peru, the government stated the congressional action is void since it was done after Congress was officially dissolved. Peruvians took to the streets in support of Vizcarra and his approval rating increased from 52% to 82%. The political standoff will likely be settled in court.

United States
The United States became the first and only country in the world to pull out of the Paris Agreement. The announcement was made by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who cited an unfair economic burden on American workers as the main reasoning for the decision. The withdrawal will be complete in one year, after the one-year waiting period has passed.

The US and Honduran governments have signed a deal allowing the US government to deport people seeking asylum in the United States to Honduras. El Salvador and Guatemala have already signed similar agreements with the United States as well. These laws will be forcing asylum seekers to return to the violence they were escaping. Activists and experts say these agreements will only exacerbate the migration issues, as the countries are not equipped to accept asylum seekers.

Despite widespread criticism for its human rights record, Venezuela won one of Latin America’s two seats on the United Nations Human Rights Council. Prior to the vote, Costa Rica entered the race to try to drive Venezuela out and Human Rights Watch urged members to vote against Venezuela. Brazil won Latin America’s other seat on the council.

After El Salvador ordered President Nicolas Maduro’s diplomats out of the country, Maduro reciprocated the move by giving the Salvadoran diplomats in Venezuela 48 hours to leave the country. El Salvador expelled the Venezuelan diplomats, saying that they will receive diplomats appointed by opposition leader Juan Guaido. The Maduro government blamed El Salvador’s decision on the United States, claiming Salvadoran President Nayib “Bukele is officially assuming the sad role of a pawn of US foreign policy.”

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Image from Wikipedia.