• A version of this post ran on the author's blog. The views expressed are the author's own.
This week El Salvador has two groups of judges, each claiming to be El Salvador's Supreme Court. On Sunday July 1, the judges elected in 2006 and 2012, entered the Supreme Court offices to claim their positions. They entered in a tense atmosphere with armed police surrounding the building. Those judges, however, were acting in defiance of the rulings of the Constitutional Chamber which said their elections were invalid.
At the same time, the president of the Supreme Court and president of the Constitutional Chamber, Jose Belarmino Jaime, has convened a court made up of justices elected in 2009 as well as substitute justices ("suplentes") to allow the Supreme Court to do its work until the National Assembly complies with the rulings requiring the legislators to conduct new elections of the judges from 2006 and 2012.
As I mentioned in my last post, this is a dispute about who has the last word when there is a constitutional issue. El Salvador's Constitution appears to give that power specifically to the Constitutional Chamber.
Article 183 of El Salvador's Constitution states:
The Supreme Court of Justice, through the Constitutional Chamber, shall be the sole tribunal competent to declare the unconstitutionality of laws, decrees, and regulations, by their form or content, in a general and compulsory manner, and it may do so on the petition of any citizen.
That ultimate role would seem to be superior to the treaty which set up the Central American Court of Justice:
Article 145 Treaties in which constitutional dispositions are in any manner restricted or affected shall not be ratified, unless the ratification is done with the corresponding reservations. The dispositions of the treaty on which the reservations are made are not law of the Republic.
Article 146 Treaties shall not be formalized or ratified or concessions granted, that in any manner, alter the form of government or damage or impair the integrity of the territory, the sovereignty and independence of the Republic or the fundamental rights and guarantees of the human person.
and Article 149 states, in part: The declaration of unconstitutionality of a treaty, in a general and obligatory manner, shall be made in the same form foreseen by this Constitution for the laws, decrees and regulations.
Civil society and commentators have been widely critical of the National Assembly and the refusal to acknowledge the ruling of the Constitutional Chamber.
The archbishop of San Salvador, José Luis Escobar, in his weekly Sunday press conference, called on all parties to respect the rulings of the Constitutional Chamber which was fulfilling its role under the Constitution.
Carlos Dada, editor of El Faro wrote:
We have gone back to the days when institutions of the State are made to accommodate the whims of the rulers. ... The Constitutional Chamber is empowered to rule on the constitutionality of state decisions just so long as it does not resolve them against the interests of their new fancies. Because if not, they have already shown how far they will go. But along the way, to eliminate some justices who make them uncomfortable, they are destroying the system.
Commentator and former Salvadoran ambassador to the United States, Ernesto Rivas described the installation of the new judges as a "circus" and "shameful" and referred to it as the installation of "spurious magistrates leading to a violation of the most basic constitutional principles, despite the overwhelming opposition to their illegitimate election."
An editorial from the University of Central America titled the "Empire of the Lie" focused on the actions which the Constitutional Chamber had taken over the past two to three years to act in favor of democracy and against the entrenched power of the political parties and big media. Calling it a "lamentable episode of the Salvadoran political night," the UCA editorial lamented that the executive and legislative branches had decided to get their way by force rather than respecting the Constitutional Chamber's prerogative. The UCA also chided President Funes about calling for respect of the Central American Court of Justice under a treaty, when his own government is in default under judgments rendered by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights on matters like the Serrano sisters case.
• A version of this post ran on the author's blog, bloggingsbyboz.com. The views expressed are the author's own.
Foreign Policy published the annual Failed States Index along with its "Postcards from Hell" that show pictures from each of the worst 60.
In terms of this hemisphere, Haiti is in the top 10 most failed states in the world. Colombia and Bolivia both make the "critical" level. My analysis is that Honduras and Venezuela are both far worse than Colombia or Bolivia, but that's a separate issue.
It is neither useful nor responsible to rank states according to their perceived failings. It is bad enough that the index focuses exclusively on the most negative aspects of a state's performance. Worse still that it ranks states in a way that suggests they are in any way comparable, when we know – to paraphrase Leo Tolstoy – that unhappy countries are all unhappy in completely different ways. If we are to advance our understanding we need to understand these differences.
Worst of all, the label "failed state" implies no degree of success or failure, no sense of decline or progress. Failed means there is no way back. Failed means a binary division between those countries that are salvageable and those beyond redemption. It is a word reserved for marriages and exams. It does not belong in a pragmatic debate.
Media outlets and think tanks like rankings because they inspire debate and media coverage, but I think the Guardian has this correct. I also agree with the criticism that "Postcards from Hell" is offensive. To define 60 countries as "Hell" is to use their worst qualities to define them as completely irredeemable, which they are not.
– James Bosworth is a freelance writer and consultant who runs Bloggings by Boz.
Hardly an article can be written about the winner in Mexico's presidential election Sunday without discussion of ... the victor's hair.
Forget the race's impact on the democratic future of Mexico. More intriguing to Mexicans is winner Enrique Peña Nieto's glistening locks. They're hard to overlook. He's also got glistening teeth. And great bone structure, not to mention what appears to be a perma-tan, all of which has led reporters to liken him to JFK and Barbie's Ken.
His followers showed up to rallies wearing wigs styled in his emblematic coiffure, the best way they knew how to show their solidarity for the candidate of the PRI, which took back power after 12 years.
But really, were the wigs they sported even necessary? After all, Mexicans have great hair, plain and simple. Enrique Peña Nieto's do might be the most celebrated right now, but it's certainly not an anomaly south of the border.
As one irreverent columnist from the alternative weekly the Dallas Observer wrote in an “Ask a Mexican” column, “If there's one body feature that Mexicans can boast about,” he writes, with a few side notes edited out for the purpose of this family newspaper, “it's follicles, repositories of the world's hair DNA. Kinky, straight, curly or wavy, the Mexican head is pregnant with possibility, and Mexicans do everything possible to draw attention to what humans can do with a comb and three pounds of gel.”
I happen to be writing this as I look out my window in Mexico City, where I can see ... five heads that would be the envy of the world. I am also writing this as the wife of a bald man, as in shaved off, completely bald. In the six years that we've lived here, I have been painfully aware of the looks of pity from Mexican women. (Though, ladies, don't feel so bad, it serves an amazing pragmatic purpose here: I can spot my husband in a flash second in this vast megalopolis.)
I queried my former editor, a Monitor colleague, on the subject. Over the years working together, he'd often commented on the many shapes a mullet can take in Latin America. His first comment backed my evolving thesis here that Mexicans might possibly have the best hair on earth. He was just in China with a group of MBA students, including a Mexican. He says the Chinese couldn't get over the man's well-gelled curls. “He was a hit at every stop in every city we visited,” said the colleague. “They are used to straight hair and never seen such a fantastic set of glistening male curls. Many wanted to touch and he was happy to oblige."
Of course, not all Mexican styles would be revered around the globe. The Dallas Observer column was in response to a query on why Mexican men would favor the mullet or deploy a vat of Vaseline per hairstyle.
All of this hair talk and Peña Nieto has peeved quite a few. Many women, like Anabel Gomez in our profile of Peña Nieto, have said that they were voting for the man simply on his looks. This has fed into the fear of critics that he is vacuous, just a pretty face hiding a corrupt past, in which the PRI is accused of rigging votes and having a free political rein in Mexico from 1929 to 2000. It's also part of a narrative of student protesters who say that the star-like treatment of Peña Nieto coverage by the major TV networks gave him an unfair advantage.
That might be true. But if we just isolate the hair from all the rest, I see a positive story here. Mexico gets a bad rap most days. And I am sure Peña Nieto will bear his share of it, garnering many foes along the way. This paper will be reporting about all of it. But for now, let's celebrate the indisputable fact that his slicked-back style has shined a light on one of the natural and not-so-natural wonders of the world: the Mexican 'do.
• A version of this post ran on the author's blog, bloggingsbyboz. The views expressed are the author's own.
The quick count, exit polls, and the early vote totals all point to a win by Enrique Peña Nieto in Mexico. It appears the president-elect will have a plurality but not a majority in Congress. The PRI also took several more governor posts including the state of Jalisco. Five points about the new president-elect:
A well-managed campaign. From a political consulting point of view, Peña Nieto's advisors ran one of the best, though far from the cleanest, campaigns I've seen recently in Latin America. They kept the candidate on message, got the media coverage they needed, led from wire to wire in the polls, and turned out the votes they needed on election day.
Lack of a specific mandate. Peña Nieto won less than 40 percent of the vote. His party, the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) doesn't have a revolutionary platform to implement once they retake office. Peña Nieto's only mandate is to do better than President Felipe Calderon. One of the things that is unclear is whether he will push forward with some bold change on a specific policy or just try to incrementally improve things across all policies from where they are today.
Effectiveness... After 12 years out of the presidency (though certainly still around in local government), the PRI is remembered for at least two things: effectiveness and corruption. I think Peña Nieto won because Mexico's desire for the first outweighed concerns about the second. Now Peña Nieto and the PRI have to deliver. Citizens want better economic results and improved security and they expect the new president to pull it off.
...and Corruption. With the PRI coming back into national office, they are going to be watched like never before for signs of corruption. While the old party may have been able to pay off traditional media, new journalism websites and an online movement that started with #yosoy132 are going to provide oversight that the PRI never saw during their previous decades in office. If Peña Nieto and the PRI try to run things as they were run before, the corruption scandals are going to be ugly and publicized.
The Unscripted Presidency. Peña Nieto's advisors won't be able to script his presidency the way they did his campaign. While the campaign was well run, perhaps one of the most concerning parts of the campaign was how poorly the president-elect handled the unscripted parts of the last few months. Whether it was being asked his three favorite books or the rise of the student protest movements against him, the unplanned parts of the campaign showed that he preferred to evade the problems rather than adapt and confront it. The presidency doesn't always offer that option. One of the real questions about Peña Nieto will be how he handles the unplanned crisis moments of the presidency.
--- James Bosworth is a freelance writer and consultant who runs Bloggings by Boz.
Insight Crime researches, analyzes, and investigates organized crime in the Americas. Find all of Patrick Corcoran's research here.
Mexico’s presidential campaign has come and gone without any major acts of election violence, but this could simply be a sign that criminal influence on the vote has gone underground.
On July 1, Mexico elected Enrique Peña Nieto to succeed Felipe Calderon when the presidency changes hands on December 1. In addition, voters replaced the members of both Congress chambers, and selected new governors in seven states. Despite fears of criminal violence marring the election day amid all this turnover, the process went smoothly, both on Sunday, and, for the most part, throughout the campaign.
There were some provocative acts of violence (see InSight Crime's map), but few could be clearly linked to organized crime and the elections. One of the few spectacular attacks in recent days -- a bomb attack on the Nuevo Laredo city hall, which injured seven -- occurred in a region where no elections were planned beyond the presidential race, so it’s not clear that there was a political motive for the bombing. In another of the incidents making headlines, Marisol Mora, the mayor of a small town in Veracruz, was abducted from her home last week, and found dead in neighboring Oaxaca days later. She had worked on the campaign of government candidate Josefina Vazquez Mota, who finished in third place, but there is little to suggest that the attack was provoked by the election.
Prior to election day, the government issued a map highlighting the regions with the most serious threats of campaign violence. They had also promised to mount military patrols in some of the more turbulent regions, to discourage electoral manipulation. Whether or not it was because of these measures, the reports of criminal groups exerting influence on 2012's elections have been tamer than any other in Mexico’s recent history.
A handful of episodes over the past few years have fueled worries about attacks on the democratic process. In June 2010, weeks before an election for the governor’s post in Tamaulipas, the leading candidate, Rodolfo Torre Cantu, was murdered in an incident most chalked up to one of the state’s two main criminal groups, the Zetas and the Gulf Cartel. In November 2011, reports emerged from Michoacan that members of the Caballeros Templarios gang had worked to boost the turnout for Fausto Vallejo, bringing about the surprise result: despite opinion polls that consistently put him several points behind his rival (and the president's sister) Luisa Maria Calderon, Vallejo pulled off a narrow victory.
Why was this year's election spared these splashy attacks and examples of criminal manipulation? One explanation is, as InSight Crime noted in the aftermath of the Michoacan election, that presidential and congressional votes are less appealing targets for criminal groups than the gubernatorial contests that sparked the incidents mentioned above. Congressmen in Mexico are constitutionally limited to one term, so there are no influential political lions operating from the legislature, and they don’t control police departments the way executive officials at every level do.
A presidential election, in turn, is simply out of reach for most criminal groups. With more than 40 million voters, the absolute margins of victory are so large even in closely fought elections that affecting the outcome is difficult. In addition, while he controls any number of agencies whose support would be a major asset for organizations like the Zetas, the president is far less accessible than a governor, which makes the victory of one candidate rather than another less important to the gangs. Furthermore, the level of media attention discourages deals with criminals; should emissaries of one presidential candidate sit down with a group of capos, there is a much greater risk of being caught.
Due to these factors, from the criminal’s perspective, buying off the subordinates responsible for implementing security policy is a safer move than trying to influence the impact of a presidential contest through intimidation or bribes.
Another, less optimistic explanation for the electoral season calm is that politicians are less inclined to resist the advances of criminal groups, so there is little need for acts of intimidation. Conversely, the criminal groups may have developed a better idea of how to surreptitiously put their thumb on the electoral scale. Rather than shooting candidates or leaving audio recordings revealing politicians' deals with rival gangs, criminal influence is wielded where it is most effective: beyond the reach of the public eye.
While it doesn’t result in public terror or acts of violence, such a scenario is far from good news for Mexico.
--- Insight Crime researches, analyzes, and investigates organized crime in the Americas. Find all of Patrick Corcoran's research here.
US anti-drug officials in Mexico have been accused of pressuring captured drug suspects to claim to be relatives of the most wanted Mexican drug kingpin in order to influence upcoming presidential elections in the country.
When brothers Felix and Kevin Beltran Leon were arrested on June 22, many news sources incorrectly identified Felix as the son of Joaquin Guzman, alias “El Chapo.” When his true identity was revealed a day later, it was dismissed as an embarrassing mishap for Mexican authorities.
Now however, it has emerged that there may be more to this initial mix-up. La Jornada reports that the defense lawyer of the brothers, Juan Heriberto Rangel Mendez, is claiming that his clients were offered incentives to pretend that they were related to El Chapo. Mr. Rangel says that the brothers spoke with Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) personnel who said the ruse only had to last until the upcoming July 1 elections, after which they would be freed.
Felix refused to cooperate, according to Rangel, despite the assurance of officers that he would be freed if he did so.
InSight Crime Analysis
Amidst concern over presidential frontrunner Enrique Peña Nieto’s commitment to combating organized crime with US assistance, it makes sense that the US would seek to boost the chances of the National Action Party (PAN) candidate by making it seem as though the current PAN government is hot on El Chapo’s trail.
However, the evidence for Rangel’s allegations is extremely flimsy. As proof that his clients spoke with DEA agents, he says Felix claimed that those who questioned him were “blonde, tall and spoke English,” which is far from indisputable proof and sounds more like a fabrication based on stereotype.
More likely, the claim is an attempt by the lawyer to exploit endemic mistrust of the US and its role in the war on drugs to drum up support for his clients. Peña Nieto is leading PAN candidate Josefina Vazquez Mota by at least 15 points in the polls, and the US would not likely risk a damaging controversy on a move that would likely have limited effect on that lead.
– Geoffrey Ramsey is a writer for Insight – Organized Crime in the Americas, which provides research, analysis, and investigation of the criminal world throughout the region. Find all of his research here.
• A version of this post ran on the author's blog, Caracas Chronicles. The views expressed are the author's own.
Last week in Rio, the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (a follow-up to the historical Earth Summit of 20 years ago) went through without attracting the same attention of its predecessor. Few top world leaders attended and the final document left almost everyone unsatisfied.
Hugo Chávez was resigned to stay home this time, so he couldn’t repeat the Copenhagen experience of almost three years ago. But what about the Venezuelan delegation? Were they just passive observers or did they achieve something concrete? Not a bit of it…
Claudia Salerno, Deputy Foreign Minister for North America and head of the delegation, previewed the role of the Bolivarian government, days before the summit began:
“What is necessary right now is to review the deep causes of what causes the crisis of the planet… Capitalism is a model that is exhausting the capacity of Earth’s regeneration… and we [Venezuela] are part of the struggle against the predator of the planet that is capitalism.”
How her actions backed those ambitious words? Prepare to be surprised…
According to Kumi Naidoo, International Executive Director for the enviromental NGO Greenpeace, Venezuela made a “sinful alliance” with the United States to block the Oceans Rescue Plan, a proposal made to fight pollution in the high seas and protect biodiversity. Canada and Russia joined to block that proposal as well.
That wasn’t the only thing that the Venezuelan delegation blocked. A specific deadline to end all fossil fuel subsidies by 2020 was suppressed from the draft text by the objection of Venezuela and other oil producing countries. What else can be expected from the country that spends more on keeping its gasoline the cheapest in the World than it does on education?
The Bolivarian delegation also tried to hijack the meeting to discuss events in Paraguay and Salerno made headlines of her own by denouncing an attempt of aggression by a member of Greenpeace. The NGO denied Salerno’s claims.
Chavismo’s grandiose green rhetoric might not be so hard to swallow, if it wasn’t for its terrible, terrible environmental record at home.
Remember that big petroleum coke mountain in Anzoátegui? In less than a year it has almost doubled in size. Nearby, the number of oil spills in the Puerto Píritu Bay in the first half of the year has already surpassed the total number of spills registered on 2011. PDVSA can’t even be bothered to stop oil spills it knows are happening, even when they threaten to pollute thousands of people’s water supplies. Its overall environmental record is one long trail of tears.
Somehow, we have to take lectures on the unsustainability of capitalism from these guys!
Parece que para el medio ambiente no hay corazón venezolano…
– Gustavo Hernandez Acevedo is a writer for Caracas Chronicles, the place for opposition-leaning-but-not-insane analysis of the Venezuelan political scene since 2002
Mexico may be fielding its first female candidate from a major party for president, a milestone for women in politics here, but there is just as much buzz for female candidates at the local level.
In the conservative city of Guadalajara, one candidate even opted to go topless to get attention for her bid to congress. Even though she's been criticized for objectifying women, she sees it differently. “We had to do something that would have an impact,” says Natalia Juárez of the leftist Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), as campaigning wrapped up before Sunday's race. Mexicans will vote this weekend for a new president, governors in a handful of states, and a whole new congress.
Ms. Juárez raised eyebrows recently when she disseminated provocative photos during her campaign. The first, a billboard image of the candidate and six other women nude from the waist up, their left hands covering breasts, brought widespread attention. Similarly controversial images followed.
For some women it showed she would be an honest politician, with nothing to hide. But not all of the reaction was positive. Critics from around the world accused her of objectifying women for political gain. But Juárez, a philosophy professor at the University of Guadalajara, shrugs off criticism. Her intention was to fight prejudices and “help demystify the feminine body,” she says.
She acknowledges that disrobing as a campaign tactic is a radical notion for some, but it’s not the only unconventional proposition Juárez advocates. She also supports the legalization of drugs, particularly marijuana, as a way to combat the country’s spiraling drug violence. And she believes it’s time the country focused more attention on the rights of women and gays.
On Wednesday, the last day of campaigning in Mexico, Juárez shook hands with dozens of vendors at a bustling market in the heart of the city. But she spoke little of the more controversial aspects of her campaign. Instead, she distributed yellow backpacks with her party’s logo and took shots at the more powerful political parties, promising to work for progress in her diverse district.
“It’s time for change,” she told Sandra Flores Mendoza, who was selling a variety of fresh produce at the market.
Ms. Flores, who clutched a campaign leaflet of Juárez’s nude photo in her hands, says she plans to vote for the professor.
“Her photo says a lot about her,” says the vendor. “It says she is bold and uninhibited; that can serve her well in Congress. I think she’s a strong candidate who has nothing to hide.”
After chatting with Juárez nearby, vendor Pedro Mejia Rodriguez says he likes what he hears. But he views her use of nudity to try to win votes as immoral.
“People's actions, their work, should speak for themselves," he says. "Is the next step to get naked in Congress?”
Not a chance, Juárez says.
• A version of this post ran on the author's blog, Caracas Chronicles. The views expressed are the author's own.
Since its beginning, the Chavernment [Chavez government] has exploited Venezuelan historical figures for its own benefit. From action figures to cheap TV movies and even Chinese satellites named after them, Chavismo has always tried to push the narrative of a permanent struggle for independence into all walks of life.
So, what is left to do with the “Venezuelan heroes” theme? An amusement park, of course!
The Tourism Ministry announced that is working on the first stages of a new theme park to be located in Campo de Carabobo, place where the final battle of our fight against the Spanish is remembered. The park would be part of the so-called “Ruta de los Libertadores”.
At least, the idea sounds more viable than a Formula 1 circuit inside Caracas…
– Gustavo Hernandez Acevedo is a writer for Caracas Chronicles, the place for opposition-leaning-but-not-insane analysis of the Venezuelan political scene since 2002
The police presence outside the Bolivian presidential palace isn’t there to ensure President Evo Morales’ safety today.
Sectors of the Bolivian police entered the sixth day of a strike today as their leaders negotiate a salary increase with the Morales government. Over the past week protesting rank and file officers sacked police buildings around the country and confronted government supporters outside the president's offices in the Andean city of La Paz.
On Sunday, President Morales claimed right-wing forces had infiltrated the police protest in an attempt to set the stage for a coup. That's a powerful word in Bolivia – and Latin America – today, as memories of protests by Ecuadorian police in 2010 and the Paraguayan Senate's removal of President Fernando Lugo last week loom large in the national consciousness. However, police protest leaders roundly deny any plans to precipitate a coup.
Their key demand is a basic salary raise of about 30 percent to nearly $300 a month, which would bring police salaries in line with those of armed forces. Though life in most cities across the country has been unaffected, the situation in Plaza Murillo in La Paz is tense, as officers wearing masks and wielding stakes dominate the area.
Adding to these tensions is the impending arrival of more than a thousand indigenous marchers protesting a government-planned road that would cut through the National Park and Indigenous Territory Isiboro Secure (TIPNIS).
The march, which has covered more than 300 miles, is the second in less than a year by indigenous people from Bolivia's eastern lowlands heading to the square where the presidential palace is located. Leaders planned to enter the Plaza Murillo today, but put off their arrival because the police strike currently dominates the city. The Morales administration has also accused the indigenous march of seeking to destabilize the government. Marchers deny that charge and say they want a firm commitment from the government that the road will not cut through the national park, and respect for their communal lands.
So far the army has not been called on to intervene in the police strike. That's a relief to many Bolivians who remember February of 2003, when the army and police entered into a violent clash that left more than 30 people dead. For now, La Paz remains watchful, as residents wait for the result of the police negotiations and the arrival of the march.