elections

Weekly InSight: Honduras Electoral Chaos and Organized Crime

In our November 30 Facebook Live session, Senior Investigator Héctor Silva Ávalos spoke with Senior Editor Mike LaSusa about the potential crime and security impacts of a hotly contested election in Honduras…

Read this piece in its entirety at InSight Crime. Watch the full video below:

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Political Killings in Rio Raise Fears of Crime Infested Elections

The head of Brazil‘s federal election commission has warned that criminal groups are attempting to influence local politics in the country’s second largest city through a combination of financial coercion and outright violence…

Read this piece in its entirety at InSight Crime.

Haiti’s Martelly Set to Rule by Decree, Reviving Memories of Duvalier Dictatorship

On the eve of the fifth anniversary of the devastating 2010 earthquake that killed nearly a quarter million people in Haiti, protesters demanding the resignation of President Michel Martelly were reportedly shot at with water hoses and tear gas by police.

Similar protests have been occurring for months as the country’s latest political crisis has continued to escalate. Now, on the anniversary of the tragic natural disaster, Haiti’s government looks likely to dissolve, setting up Martelly to rule by decree.

In a prescient article in Foreign Policy last November, Peter Granitz hypothesized that “if Martelly moves into a position of complete control, it could spark massive protests by the opposition that could further destabilize the Western Hemisphere’s poorest country.”

“There will be chaos,” predicted Steven Benoit, a senator from Port-au-Prince who once supported Martelly but broke ranks over frustration with corruption and incompetence in the administration. Benoit remains among the most pragmatic in the opposition. He has not backed the protests. “There will be a vacuum of power. The bad people love that,” he said.

Despite not having held elections since 2011, the U.S. has been reluctant to forcefully challenge Martelly’s administration on human rights and political freedoms in Haiti. Martelly had promised legislative and municipal elections in October 2014, but they were cancelled amidst denunciations of electoral manipulation by the opposition.

report by the Center for Economic and Policy Research entitled “Haiti’s Fatally Flawed Election” highlighted the numerous irregularities in the election process that brought Martelly to power, including the “exclusion of over a dozen political parties from the election — including Haiti’s most popular political party, Fanmi Lavalas,” as well as accusations of ballot manipulation and voter intimidation.

Sadly, this is neither new nor entirely surprising. As Council on Hemispheric Affairs researcher Clément Doleac wrote in November:

In the past five decades, Haitian people have suffered systematic human rights violations that were rarely condemned, thus preventing any state from having real democratic institutions and impeding any democratic political regime to exist.

From 1957 to 1986, the Duvalier family exerted a harsh dictatorship in Haiti without respect for fundamental human rights, such as rights of association, social rights, of economic rights and cultural rights. These dictatorships received millions in U.S. government aid under various security and humanitarian reasons because of their role as a bulwark against communism (such as the Trujillo dictatorship in Dominican Republic).[1]

The United States’ support for corrupt, violent and repressive governments in Haiti continued even after the Duvalier era. As the L.A. Times wrote on November 30, 1987, “The first free election in Haiti in 30 years collapsed…in gory violence. At least 30 people died in Port-au-Prince alone, 17 of them in a brutal and bloody schoolhouse massacre,” allegedly carried out by U.S.-supported troops, kicking off a long period of instability and intermittent military rule.

The Haitian National Intelligence Service (SIN) was created by the CIA in 1986 mainly as a counter-narcotics unit, but according to the New York Times:

Having created the Haitian intelligence service, the agency failed to insure that several million dollars spent training and equipping the service from 1986 to 1991 was actually used in the war on drugs. The unit produced little narcotics intelligence. Senior members committed acts of political terror…including interrogations that included torture.

In the wake of the 2010 earthquake, the U.S. sent in some 20,000 members of its military to help “secure” the country. For many observers, this brought to mind occupation that followed the 1994 reinstatement of popular leftist president Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

After becoming Haiti’s first popularly-elected president in 1990, Aristide was forced from his office in a military coup only a year later. He returned to power in 1994 through a deal with the Haitian armed forces brokered by former U.S. president Jimmy Carter. Some 20,000 U.S. troops were sent in to police the country’s “transition to democracy.”

In 1996, Aristide handed the office to his handpicked successor, René Préval, and returned himself to the presidency for a second term in 2000. In Doleac’s words, “Aristide’s second term, however, was undermined by the governments of the U.S. and France.”

Despite massive protests supporting Aristide in Port-au-Prince and the acceptance of an international peace plan by President Aristide on February 21, [2004] the U.S. and French governments, “invited” Aristide to leave the country in order to bring peace and security again to the country. In fact, the U.S. military “accompanied for his own security” the constitutionally elected President on a U.S. Air Force flight. The Dissident Voice reports that since then “a quasi UN trusteeship had begun. Since that time the Haitian National Police has been heavily militarized and steps have been taken towards recreating the military”.[17] With the end of Aristide’s second presidential term, human rights violations have begun to rise again. [18]

The UN occupation force, known as MINUSTAH, has been plagued by ongoing reports of serious abuses ever since. Disturbingly, a video released on YouTube last month appears to show United Nations peacekeepers firing live ammunition on unarmed anti-Martelly protesters. Amnesty International called for a thorough investigation of UN and Haitian police in response to the incident, which the UN promised to carry out.

U.S.-backed security forces helping governments carry out political repression and violence is not so much a “news story” in Haiti as it is a historical pattern. According to a recent New York Times report, “Perhaps no Haitian institution has seen more focused international assistance than the police.”

Since 2011, when Martelly took office, the U.S. has provided Haiti with roughly $80 million in military and police assistance, much of it under the International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement program for anti-drug efforts, “stabilization operations” and “security sector reform.”

Still, according to the Times, “[m]any people wonder if the Haitian officers will be ready” for a planned drawdown of UN troops in the country, from the current level of around 5,000 to 2,370 by June. Haiti’s police force currently has about 12,500 officers of its own, giving the country a ratio of approximately 122 police personnel per 100,000 citizens (roughly 150-175 per 100,000 including the UN troops), one of the lowest in the region. The country has also experienced numerous mass prison escapes in recent months and years.

In addition to being poorly staffed and underpaid, the Haitian security forces do not appear to have the trust of local citizens. According to the Latin American Public Opinion Project at Vanderbilt University, only 38.6 percent of Haitians are satisfied with the performance of their police, once again placing the country among the worst in the hemisphere. As the Times put it, “some Haitians still accuse officers of being incompetent and heavy-handed agents for the elite.”

Some current and former U.S. officials have praised Martelly’s tenure, including former president Bill Clinton, who called Martelly’s administration the “most consistent and decisive government I’ve ever worked with across a broad range of issues,” citing “the sheer volume of investments they’ve attracted, everything from hotels to clean energy to healthcare.”

However, according to a representative from the World Food Program, “Persistent chronic poverty and inequality, environmental degradation and continuing political uncertainty threaten achievements Haitians have made over the past five years.” In addition, Haiti, along with Venezuela and Paraguay, ranks among the worst countries in the Western Hemisphere on Transparency International’s Corruptions Perceptions Index.

Severe poverty, inequality and corruption, abuses by security forces, and the apparent political power grab by Martelly are not the only injustices the Haitian people have had to endure in recent years. Millions were displaced by the 2010 earthquake and tens of thousands are still living in makeshift shelters without adequate sanitation and other public services. Many “reconstruction” and “development” projects have been plagued with waste, abuse and incompetence.

Additionally, both UN and U.S. experts have concluded that a massive 2010 cholera outbreak that killed more than 8,000 people and sickened hundreds of thousands more was caused by the negligence of UN “peacekeeping” forces. Nevertheless, a U.S. judged ruled late last Friday that Haitians affected by the epidemic could not sue the UN in the U.S. legal system.

To make matters even worse, the desperate situation of many Haitians has been exploited by many international corporations. According to the International Labor Organization, the country is the second worst in the world when it comes to modern day slavery. The U.S. Department of Labor concluded in 2013 that “Haiti made a minimal advancement in efforts to eliminate the worst forms of child labor.”

After Martelly’s questionable election, Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy called for the U.S. to suspend aid to Haiti. Nevertheless, Martelly moved to reinstate the armed forces, which were disbanded by Aristide in 1995, in part due to their history of abuses against the population.

Following his death in late 2014, Martelly’s government even considered giving a state funeral to the former dictator and U.S. ally “Baby Doc” Duvalier. After Martelly’s election, the late Baby Doc had presumably felt safe enough to return to the country he was accused of terrorizing and plundering to live out a comfortable life after years in exile in Europe.

Martelly’s government ultimately backpedaled after a wave of outrage from victims of the brutal regimes of Baby Doc and his father, during which tens of thousands of Haitians were tortured, killed and forced to flee the country. Martelly himself nevertheless hailed Duvalier a “true son of Haiti.”

Despite the dictators’ death, Haitian activists are not backing down from their pursuit of justice. The struggle of the victims of U.S.-backed political violence in Haiti is mirrored by that of the victims of the government Guatemalan dictator Efrain Rios Montt, whose conviction on genocide charges was overturned in 2013 and whose new trial was recently delayed. It also echoes the struggles of other Latin American countries, such as Argentina, BrazilChile and others to come to terms with their histories of political violence.

In many of these cases, an austere neoliberal agenda was imposed with the help of massive campaigns of state-sponsored violence and terror, creating a cycle whereby the poor were devastated and criminalized. The injustice of this policy needs to be recognized, whether its perpetrators are alive or not.

Whether or not those responsible can be punished, the factors that led these atrocities must at least be publicly acknowledged and discussed so they can be understood and prevented from happening again in the future.

Former Obama adviser and CAP dude blames Central America for refugee spike

In an interview with Fox News Latino, Dan Restrepo, President Barack Obama’s principal adviser on the Americas region from 2008 to 2012, made some pretty ignorant comments.

Responding to Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez’s accusation that the United States’ large-scale consumption of the drugs that flow through his country has fueled crime and violence in the region, and thus contributed to the increase in refugees heading northwards, Restrepo seemed to blamed the victim.

“It’s convenient when the president of Honduras blames the United States and our drug culture,” Restrepo said. “The Honduran economic and political elite have systematically and historically failed the people of Honduras.”

First, a little background on Hernandez. The current Honduran president was one of the generals who led the 2009 coup against the elected President José Manuel Zelaya, who was elected as a liberal but began to turn further left once in office.

According to the Center for Constitutional Rights, “the United States became the single loudest voice legitimating a [post-coup] election that was held in a context so problematic and laden with violence that respected election observers from the United Nations, Organization of American States, the European Union, and the Carter Center refused to monitor or support the elections.”

That election brought right-wing nationalist Porfirio “Pepe Lobo” Sosa to power. Lobo’s administration presided over cuts to social spending, declining economic growth rates and increasing poverty and unemployment. The country also maintained one of the world’s highest murder rates during that time.

In November 2013, another election was held, this time between Lobo’s man Hernandez and Xiomara Castro de Zelaya, the wife of the deposed president. The election was marred by allegations of vote-buying, intimidation and criminalization of Xiomara’s supporters.

The 2009 coup didn’t stop the flow of US security dollars, despite the US law that bars military and police assistance to governments established by coups, and the Obama administration was quick to congratulate Hernandez’s “victory” in 2013, despite the widespread concern over the legitimacy of the results.

Restrepo had left the Obama administration by the time Hernandez was elected, but he is currently a senior fellow at the Obama-friendly Center for American Progress, which basically defended the 2009 Honduran election and had nothing to say one way or the other about Hernandez’s questionable 2013 “victory” (neither did its blog, ThinkProgress).

In the interview with Fox, Restrepo continued: “The wealthy families, a small number of economic classes, have enjoyed success, and have significant political influence. But they haven’t gone about the hard work of working toward a state that functions.”

Restrepo pointed to “[t]he Colombian elite, the political and economic elite” as an example of good leaders who had “realized that for the long-term survival of their country, they needed to invest in the state, and create an environment where people wanted to invest.”

He did not mention the fact that after years of US assistance, Colombia still has the 10th-highest murder rate in the world, as well as persistently high poverty and inequality. Restrepo also failed to mention the numerous scandals that have swirled around the “Colombian elite,” from high-ranking officials ordering the extrajudicial killings of civilians by security forces to mining companies accused of funding paramilitary groups responsible for human rights violations.

There is an element of truth to Restrepo’s statement that the “Honduran economic and political elite have systematically and historically failed the people” of their country, but he ignores the United States’ role in supporting the very elites he criticizes. In fact, those elites have largely carried out US-dictated policies (or else they wouldn’t get billions of dollars per year in US funding).

This is not to say that Hernandez is entirely correct either, but at the end of the day, the blame game is unproductive and childish. It would be nice to see powerful folks like Hernandez and Restrepo eschew it for serious discussion.

I won’t hold my breath.

Uruguay’s presidential elections explained

On 26 October 2014, Uruguay will hold a presidential election to decide who will replace current President Jose Mujica (Broad Front), who is constitutionally prohibited from pursuing a second term. If no candidate receives an absolute majority, a runoff election between the top-finishing candidates will take place on 30 November 2014…

Read this piece in its entirety at Southern Pulse.

Colombia’s Presidential Election and the Prospects for Peace with the FARC

Colombia has been at war for over 50 years. The internal armed conflict between the government and the Marxist guerrilla group known as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC after their Spanish acronym, originated in the aftermath of a bloody period of political violence during the 1950s known as “La Violencia,” or “The Violence…”

Read this piece in its entirety at Truthout.

What You Should Know about Costa Rica’s Elections

Costa Rica held elections yesterday and the preliminary results are in. Because no candidate received more than 40% of the votes, there will be a runoff election to determine the country’s next president on April 6. Here’s a quick explanation of the background of the elections and the issues the country’s next president will face.

Background

Poverty in Costa Rica has been stuck around 20% for the last two decades (along with persistently high inequality) despite strong economic growth relative to the rest of the region. Poor infrastructure has long been a concern and the country has the fastest-growing public debt in the region, making spending on public works projects difficult. Moody’s recently issued a warning of a downgrade from the country’s current rating of Baa3, their lowest investment-grade rating.

According to a poll last year, 95% of Costa Ricans believe their government is corrupt. Current president Laura Chinchilla (who is ineligible for reelection due to constitutional term limits) is disastarously unpopular as a result of high unemployment and a string of corruption scandals. According to local English-language paper the Tico Times;

Chinchilla…leaves behind a fiscal deficit of 5.4 percent, public debt that tops 50 percent of gross domestic product, and a polarized society that has the unfortunate distinction of showing the greatest economic inequality in Latin America in 2013.

Like its Central American neighbors, Costa Rica is also increasingly becoming a transshipment country for Andean cocaine destined for the US and other international markets. This has come with an increase in violent crime including a 71% jump in the homicide rate between 2005 and 2010. While the most important issues for voters in this election were economic (cost of living, inequality, and unemployment), crime and insecurity were close behind.

Frontrunners

Johnny Araya – Araya was predicted by many polls to be the top finisher, despite his association with the deeply unpopular Chinchilla’s National Liberation Party (PLN). While the party brands itself as center-left and social democratic, it’s members tend to fall on the rightward end of the political spectrum in Costa Rica. For example, former PLN president Oscar Arias pushed various neoliberal reforms during his time in office and his successor Chinchilla has opposed gay marriage, abortion, contraception and the separation of church and state.

José María Villalta – Villalta, who also polled strongly before the election, is the only legislator currently representing the leftist Broad Front (FA) party. The lawyer and activist is the most left-leaning candidate, describing his campaign platform as “progressive, socialist, feminist, environmentalist, and pacifist.” He has proposed reforms to the public health and education systems as well as stronger workers’ rights protections, job creation initiatives, raising taxes on the wealthy, and expanding social programs.

Luis Guillermo Solís – Solís  is the presumptive winner of the first round of elections. Though most polls predicted a third- or fourth-place finish for him, the many undecided voters likely swung the race in his favor. A former member of Araya and Chinchilla’s PLN, Solis left the party for the left-of-center Citizen’s Action Party (PAC) in 2005, saying that the PLN had “lost its soul.” Solis has never held elected office, though he has been involved in government as an analyst and observer for many years as well as serving as Ambassador to Panama. However, his outsider status could have contributed to his strong showing in this election.

Run-off

Solis holds a slight lead over Araya (30.8% and 29.6% respectively; Villalta came in third place with 17.2%) , but since no candidate received the 40% necessary to avoid a run-off, the final round of elections will be held in April between Solis and Araya. While many Villalta voters are likely to cast ballots for Solis in the run-off, Araya polled strongly in the run-up to the first election and the second round will likely be closely contested.

In an interview with the Tico Times, Solis described himself as “a very unusual candidate” and summed up his electoral strategy: “I have to convince that 63 percent of people who say they don’t have a [political] party that I’m the one…I have to get to that group. My political strategy is aimed towards those who think professional politicians are no good.”

In that same interview, Solis connected the issue of the country’s underdeveloped infrastructure to the political establishment’s “liaisons with private monies” as well as corruption and lack of transparency. He also hit on other populist policies like a proposed pay freeze for top administration officials (including the president) and his party’s conviction “that fiscal policy is required to redistribute wealth.” He also proposed establishing a “banco de desarrollo” (development bank) to provide microloans to small and medium-sized entrepreneurs.

Asked how he plans to deal with the gridlock that plagues Costa Rica’s parliament, Solis dismissed the idea of legislative reform and said “People have become uneasy about politicians making deals, but politics is dealing! Dealing with transparency and with good purpose, but you need to talk to each other.”

Costa Rica has a long history of leftist politics (even the centrist PLN is a member of the Socialist International), but the PLN and the Social Christian party (PUSC) are the only political parties to have held the presidency in the last 50 years. While left-right coalitions are far from unheard-of in Costa Rica, whoever ends up as the country’s next president will face pressing economic problems as well as political ones, especially the challenge of managing the divided parliament. As sociologist Manuel Rojas told AFP, the next president “will not be able to govern only with his party as has been done in the past.”

[Photo: PAC candidate Luis Guillermo Solís; credit Alberto Font/The Tico Times]