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Mexico’s Andrés Manuel López Obrador Ditches the Party

October 2, 2012

by Juan Manuel Henao

Dean Martin said it often: “You’re nobody till somebody loves you.” And right about now, Mexico’s political Left is feeling the pinch after its alpha leader, Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO), exited the strongest of the left-of-center parties, the Partido de la Revolución Democrática (Party of the Democratic Revolution—PRD), after Mexico’s electoral tribunal declared Enrique Peña Nieto of the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (Institutional Revolutionary Party—PRI) president-elect.

Many, including Mexico City Mayor Marcelo Ebrard (PRD) saw the writing on the wall, but not the millions who watched AMLO become PRD party president, Mexico City mayor under the PRD and twice PRD’s candidate for president. At a public event at the nation’s zócalo (central plaza) on September 9, AMLO made two major announcements. First, that he would not recognize Peña Nieto as Mexico’s legitimate president; and second, that he was leaving the PRD with hopes of transforming his social movement, the Movimiento Regeneración Nacional (National Regeneration Movement—MORENA) to a new, left-of-center party.

In 2005, MORENA became AMLO’s grassroots arm with local committees all over Mexico. It developed coalitions with civil society organizations and other local groups in an effort to promote AMLO in the run-up to the 2006 presidential race. On paper, MORENA served as a civil society organization. In reality, and interestingly, MORENA had no formal statutes or rules for its members, except to follow the dictates of its grand leader AMLO. Fast forward to 2012 where AMLO plans to use this base of social soldiers to develop what he hopes will become the party “that will save Mexico.”

Many question whether MORENA will find its way. First, analysts note that AMLO is no strategist—and that he loathes counsel. Second, tearing the Left at a time when the Left needs unity in the upper and lower chambers of congress will only paint AMLO as inconsiderate and selfish, and portray its newly elected deputies and senators as incompetent and disorganized.

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Tags: Andrés Manuel López Obrador, Enrique Peña Nieto, Mexico

Monday Memo: AQ's Top Expected Stories for the Week of September 10

September 10, 2012

by AQ Online

Top stories this week are likely to include: a political fracture among the Mexican Left; one month before the Venezuelan election; impact of U.S. suspension of intelligence sharing with Honduras; and the tenuous El Salvador gang truce. 

A Split among Mexico's Progressives: Presidential runner-up Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s (AMLO) departure from the Partido de la Revolución Democrática (Party of the Democratic Revolution—PRD) that he led since 1996 sent shockwaves around the Mexican political establishment. AMLO, who made the announcement yesterday at a rally in Mexico City’s zócalo, ran for president under the PRD label in 2006 and 2012, and placed second both times. He announced that he would focus his efforts through the Movimiento Regeneración Nacional (National Regeneration Movement—MORENA) movement, which has not been formally registered as a party according to BBC. How will the formation of MORENA affect the PRD, and will it mean a great split among the electorate of the Mexican Left?

Venezuela Election Countdown: The presidential contest in Venezuela between incumbent Hugo Chávez and challenger Henrique Capriles Radonski occurs in less than one month, on October 7. While Chávez claims that his victory is “written in stone,” Univisión reports that he is been falling in the polls, resulting in attacks on Capriles Radonski. Before the weekend, Capriles Radonski challenged Chávez to a debate anywhere in the country.

Related: Americas Society and Council of the Americas will host a discussion on September 18 entitled “The Road to Venezuela’s Elections: A Look at the Media, Public Opinion, and the Economy.”

Fallout of U.S.-Honduras Intelligence Cooperation Suspension: After two separate incidents in which Honduran forces shot down a suspected drug plane in July, it was likely that counternarcotics cooperation with the United States would be affected in some way. Over the weekend, the U.S. State Department announced that it was suspending intelligence sharing efforts with Honduras. This comes after a steady build-up in cooperation between the two countries. What will be the effect in overall security cooperation and on efforts such as the Central America Regional Security Initiative?

A Break in the El Salvador Gang Truce: Break in the El Salvador Gang Truce: After negotiation of a truce earlier this year between the Mara Salvatrucha and Calle 18 gangs, El Salvador has observed a dramatic drop in its murder rate. But is this delicate truce beginning to unravel? A new report from Fox News Latino seems to suggest that recent killings may point to a new reality in which gangs operate. “The truce was never intended to be the answer to El Salvador’s crime problems, but what it has done is placed increased urgency on finding solutions to prevent crime in the first place. This fragile peace is an opportunity for the country that cannot be missed,” notes AQ Senior Editor Jason Marczak.

Tags: El Salvador, Mexico, Venezuela, Honduras, Hugo Chavez, Counternarcotics, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, Henrique Capriles Radonski

Post-Election Mexico

August 13, 2012

by Juan Manuel Henao

After last month’s mass elections, Mexico is buzzing.  Will second-place Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) of the Partido de la Revolución Democrática (Party of the Democratic Revolution—PRD) take to the streets should the nation’s highest electoral court, the Tribunal Electoral del Poder Judicial de la Federación (TEPJF), fail to invalidate July’s presidential vote as a result of alleged voter fraud? Will the victorious Partido Revolucionario Institucional (Institutional Revolutionary Party—PRI) return to its old ways? And what will ever happen to the outgoing Partido Acción Nacional (National Action Party—PAN)?

An angry President Felipe Calderón summoned a number of PAN party leaders to Los Pinos for a series of meetings the week after the election. Everyone, except the party’s presidential candidate Josefina Vázquez Mota, received a mouthful from the president—with the most severe reserved for private secretary Roberto Zuarth, who ran Vázquez Mota’s failed campaign, and state governor Marco Adame whose political operation failed to prevent the PRD from taking the executive’s seat in the state of Morelos. Calderón also suggested that party president Gustavo Madero resign to allow for a rebirth of the party. It was this last suggestion that caused an intense and divisive internal battle between Maderistas and Calderonistas for power over the PAN. The battle includes naming rights over the PAN’s leader slots in the deputies and senate chambers when the new congress forms on September 1, as well as overall agenda-setting and decision-making over who keeps a job at PAN headquarters. 

Calderón and Madero have never seen eye-to-eye. Madero considers the president worn-out, intrusive, a micro-manager, stubborn and the main reason the PAN lost the presidency. Calderón, on the other hand, blames Madero for the PAN’s loss and wants the party to continue pushing his social and anti-narco policies well after he leaves office. Both have taken to the road, meeting with state and local PAN leaders. Calderón asks for Madero’s head; and Madero asks members to respect party statute, which stipulates a vote for new party leadership no earlier than May 2013.  It remains unlikely the 300-member National Council will hold a vote before the legal date, but it is not entirely impossible. At the height of power, Calderón expelled party president Manuel Espino from party ranks for “excessive use of freedom of speech”—Espino weighed against Calderón during primaries in 2006 and heavily criticized the president in books and interviews—and replaced party presidents and executive leadership in three separate occasions.   

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Tags: Felipe Calderon, Partido Revolucionario Institucional, Partido Acción Nacional, Partido de la Revolución Democrática, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, Enrique Peña Nieto

Monday Memo: AQ’s Top Expected Stories for the Week of July 16

July 16, 2012

by AQ Online

Top stories this week are likely to include: López Obrador files a legal challenge to Peña Nieto’s win; cholera spreads in Cuba; standoff between Bolivia and a multinational Canadian mining firm; the Chávez factor in the U.S. presidential election; and Unasur sends a delegation to Paraguay.

López Obrador Contests Peña Nieto’s Victory: Although Enrique Peña Nieto won the July 1 presidential election according to the independent electoral authority Instituto Federal Electoral (Federal Electoral Institute—IFE) earlier this month by over 6 percentage points, runner-up Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) has now filed a legal challenge to the ruling, claiming fraud on the part of Peña Nieto’s Partido Revolucionario Institucional (Institutional Revolutionary Party—PRI). AMLO’s team says it will prove that “illicit money” was used to buy votes. Despite IFE having recounted over half the ballots and still upholding its verdict of Peña Nieto’s win, AMLO’s legal challenge submitted to IFE will now be forwarded to the Federal Electoral Court; in turn, the Court will deliver a ruling before early September.

AQ Editor-in-Chief Christopher Sabatini notes, “While fraud remains a problem in Mexican elections and with it people's trust in the results, AMLO is going to have an uphill battle explaining the direct, logical connection between any allegations of fraud and 3 million plus votes of difference between him and the winner, Enrique Pena Nieto."

Cuba and Cholera:
According to the Cuban health ministry in a release over the weekend, there have been no new cholera-related deaths since the three ones reported earlier this month in the eastern city of Manzanillo. However, the health ministry has reported 158 cases of the disease, a significant increase from the 56 initially disclosed. Given that the health ministry has remained rather quiet, leading to rumors about a wider problem with the outbreak, pay attention this week to growing concerns about the spread of cholera. 

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Tags: Canada, Cuba, Bolivia, Paraguay, Hugo Chavez, UNASUR, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, 2012 Mexico elections, 2012 elections, Enrique Peña Nieto

Monday Memo: AQ’s Top Expected Stories for the Week of July 9

July 9, 2012

by AQ Online

Top stories this week are likely to include: post-election protests in Mexico; OAS to issue its report on Fernando Lugo’s ouster; anti-mining protests continue in Peru; Raúl Castro arrives in Vietnam; and ASEAN-Latin America Business Forum gets underway.

PRD Alliance Questions Peña Nieto’s Victory: Although officially declared the winner on Friday by the autonomous Instituto Federal Electoral (Federal Electoral Institute—IFE), Mexican President-elect Enrique Peña Nieto still faces criticism of fraud by second-place candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) of the Partido de la Revolución Democrática (Party of the Democratic Revolution—PRD) . Ricardo Monreal, AMLO’s campaign manager, accused the PRI of vote-buying at a press conference this morning. In addition, tens of thousands of demonstrators claiming to belong to no political party protested over the weekend in Mexico City decrying the IFE result. Will the situation turn to a repeat of 2006?  AQ Senior Editor Jason Marczak notes there’s a clear difference between the 2012 election and what happened six years ago: “With only a few hundred thousand votes separating López Obrador and Calderón in 2006, AMLO saw an opening for a recount through protests and pressure on a still fragile electoral process. But this time, in losing by about 3.5 million votes, AMLO will only serve to discredit his nationwide appeal by crying foul and once again being a sore loser.”

Updates on Lugo’s Ouster: The Organization of American States (OAS) is expected to release its report today on its fact-finding mission last week to Paraguay to investigate former Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo’s removal from office. The delegation was headed by OAS Secretary-General José Miguel Insulza. The U.S. has said it would wait for the OAS verdict to issue a formal statement on the legality of the ouster—a move that has drawn criticism. With Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolás Maduro reportedly endorsing a military coup to restore Fernando Lugo to power, the situation in Paraguay is still contentious and perhaps the OAS report will provide more clarity on the issue.

Peruvian Anti-Mining Protests Heat Up: After police clashed with protesters demonstrating against natural resource extraction in northwest Peru, the death toll has climbed to five. A state of emergency has been imposed in the Cajamarca region, and Peruvian President Ollanta Humala has come under fire for his administration’s handling of the demonstrations. Nevertheless, tensions are still high and this week could very likely see a new wave of protests. AQ Editor-in-Chief Christopher Sabatini, who is in Huaraz, Peru this week, notes, “President Humala will have to do something to address the protests, including trying to verify claims of pollution and improving overall access to social services in mining communities—while not appeasing some of the more extreme groups.”

Raúl Castro in Vietnam: After wrapping up a trip to China last week, Cuban President Raúl Castro arrived in Vietnam yesterday for a four-day official visit aimed to strengthen bilateral relations. This is Castro’s first visit to Vietnam as Cuba’s president, and he is scheduled to meet with Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung, Community Party General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong and Vietnamese President Truong Tan Sang. Sabatini observes, “The purpose of the trip is twofold: First, to help Raúl and the group better understand the process of economic and limited political reform that has taken place in Vietnam as a model for Cuba—though the comparison is thin. But second, Cuba—in this and other efforts it has made—is trying to diversify its economic relations and lifeline beyond Venezuela.” 

ASEAN, Latin America Deepen Commercial Ties: The third annual business forum between Latin American nations and ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) members takes place today and tomorrow in Jakarta, Indonesia. The theme of the forum is: “Towards a Sustainable Future.” ASEAN is comprised of Brunei, Burma, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam. For more information on the forum, including programs, speakers, organizers, and partners, access its website.

Tags: Peru, Cuba, Mexico, Organization of American States, Raul Castro, Paraguay, mining, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, Fernando Lugo, Nicolás Maduro, Ollanta Humala, Enrique Peña Nieto

Mexico Recounts Majority of Votes in Presidential Election

July 5, 2012

by AQ Online

Mexican electoral authorities said yesterday they would recount votes cast at more than half of the polling places in Sunday’s presidential election, following inconsistencies in vote tallies and allegations of vote-buying.

Edmundo Jacobo, executive secretary of Mexico’s Instituto Federal Electoral (Federal Electoral Institute—IFE), said that ballots from 78,012 of the 143,000 ballot boxes used in Sunday’s vote (54.5 percent) will be opened and the votes recounted. In addition, 61.3 percent of the votes for Senate seats and 60.3 percent of votes for seats in the lower house of Congress will also be recounted, said Jacobo.

The recount began early in the day yesterday, and electoral officials expect it, as well as the final overall count on the presidential vote, to be complete by Sunday. They do not expect it to significantly alter the preliminary outcome of the results, in which Enrique Peña Nieto of the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (Revolutionary Institutional Party—PRI) won 38.15 percent of the votes, and runner-up Andrés Manuel López Obrador of the Partido Revolucionario Democrático (Party of the Democratic Revolution—PRD) secured 31.64 percent of the votes.

Mexico’s electoral law states that votes should be recounted in the following instances: inconsistencies in the final vote tallying reports; a difference of one percentage point or less between the first- and second-place finishers; or all the votes in a ballot box in favor of the same candidate. López Obrador has demanded a complete recount and not yet accepted the preliminary vote tallies, saying his team detected irregularities at 113,855 polling stations.

There have also been allegations of vote-buying, including an accusation by the incumbent Partido Acción Nacional (National Action Party—PAN) that Peña Nieto’s campaign acquired 9,500 pre-paid gift cards worth 71 million pesos ($5.2 million) at supermarket chain Soriana to give away in exchange for votes. An investigation is currently underway.

Tags: Mexico, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, Enrique Peña Nieto, Mexico presidential election 2012

Seven Lessons from Mexico’s Electoral Process

July 2, 2012

by Arjan Shahani

With an estimate of around 37 percent of the votes, Enrique Peña Nieto’s victory in Mexico’s presidential race will be analyzed from multiple angles, including what this will mean with regard to the war on drugs, the economic model in place, relations with the U.S. and the rest of the world, and many other topics.

For the most part, Peña Nieto’s tenure will not imply radical changes in Mexico, for better or worse but the return of the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (Institutional Revolutionary Party—PRI) to power does say a lot about the way Mexico’s society thinks and operates. This electoral process has opened up an interesting window into the Mexican collective psyche. These are some of the lessons from the 2012 election.

Debates are not yet a vehicle for voter decision in Mexico.  There were three presidential debates (two official ones and one organized by #YoSoy132 to which Peña Nieto did not attend) during the presidential race. Peña Nieto’s participation in these dialogues was considered lukewarm at best. His rhetoric was empty but his poor performance was not enough to shift voter preference away from him and toward a second viable option.

We still have a long way to go to build political awareness and education. Peña Nieto’s success cannot be attributed to a strong and enriched political platform or to his superiority as a candidate over his competitors. One could not say that he is smarter, better prepared or better equipped to be president than his competitors. Peña Nieto’s success shows that Mexican voters can easily be manipulated (or convinced) through robust campaigning, a large TV presence and looks. As different media showed when they interviewed people at political rallies (for the three major candidates), a large quantity of voters had no idea of where candidates stood on relevant issues. “I trust him,” “He’s cute” and “I’ll vote for him because the other one is crazy” were some of the compelling arguments that gave Peña Nieto a victory on July 1. Sadly, we still have a long way to go to create an informed voter base. The candidate you saw more billboards and TV ads from, is the one that came out on top in voter preference.

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Tags: Mexico, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, Enrique Peña Nieto, Josefina Vázquez Mota

Monday Memo: AQ’s Top Expected Stories for the Week of July 2

July 2, 2012

by AQ Online

Top stories this week are likely to include: Enrique Peña Nieto appears set for victory in Mexico; OAS sends a delegation to Paraguay; Vietnam to build trade ties with Latin America; Julian Assange still under consideration for asylum; and Hugo Chávez and Henrique Capriles Radonski officially begin campaigning ahead of October’s election.

Enrique Peña Nieto Claims Victory: The Instituto Federal Electoral (Federal Electoral Institute) quick count gave Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI) presidential candidate Enrique Peña Nieto a nearly 7 percentage point lead when results were announced yesterday at 11:15 pm in Mexico City (12:15 am Eastern).  Official results will be announced on Wednesday. Peña Nieto received about 38.2 percent of the vote with second-place candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) candidate of the Partido de la Revolución Democrática (PRD) winning roughly 31.8 percent. Josefina Vázquez Mota, candidate of the incumbent National Action Party (PAN), received about 25.6 percent of the vote.

Vázquez Mota conceded defeat last night while AMLO said that “the last word still has not been said” but that he would not act irresponsibly—a reference to his protest of the 2006 victory of President Felipe Calderón. “Yesterday's election yet again showed the significant strides that Mexican democracy has made in the last 12 years. The key question for Peña Nieto will be how he works with a Congress where the PRI will likely have the most seats but not a majority to move forward needed labor, financial, fiscal, and energy reforms,” says AQ Senior Editor Jason Marczak.

Insulza Heads to Paraguay: Organization of American States (OAS) Secretary-General José Miguel Insulza arrived in Paraguay last night to try and resolve the crisis gripping the landlocked South American nation that saw its former president, Fernando Lugo, rapidly impeached by Congress and Lugo’s vice president, Federico Franco, sworn in as his successor. Insulza will meet with both Lugo and Franco today and report back to the OAS Permanent Council later this week. He is being accompanied by the permanent representatives to the OAS of the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Haiti, and Honduras. Paraguay was suspended last week by Mercosur but not slapped with economic sanctions by the South American bloc. The U.S. will wait for Insulza’s report before rendering an opinion on the Paraguayan situation. Notes AQ Editor-in-Chief Christopher Sabatini, “After UNASUR and Mercosur have acted, will any OAS action have an impact beyond attempting to get to the bottom of the constitutionality of the impeachment process?”

LatAm-Vietnam Trade: In yet another sign of the growing commercial ties between Latin America and the Far East, a trade and investment forum is taking place on Thursday in Hanoi, Vietnam, titled, “Vietnam-Latin America: Trade and Investment Partners for Development.” Bilateral trade between Vietnam and Latin America has grown seventeen-fold in the past 10 years. Over 16 Latin American nations plan to send delegations.

Assange Update: WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange still remains holed up in the Ecuadorian Embassy to the United Kingdom while Ecuador’s government considers his request for asylum. There may be an update in the coming days—Assange has been confined there for nearly two weeks—although Assange has already refused a police order to leave the embassy.

Venezuela’s Presidential Campaigns Begin: President Hugo Chávez and his main challenger, former Miranda Governor Henrique Capriles Radonski, officially kicked off their campaigns yesterday for the October 7 election. Chávez already released his first commercial with the hashtag #SoyChávezdeCorazón. Capriles Radonski, on the other hand, campaigned in Venezuela’s southern towns that border Brazil, citing Brazil as a state model he would like to follow. While Chávez leads most polls, Capriles Radonski is counting on Venezuela’s undecided voters—as much as 35 percent of the electorate—to tip the balance in his favor.

Tags: Mexico, Jose Miguel Insulza, Organization of American States, Venezuela, Paraguay, Hugo Chavez, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, Enrique Peña Nieto, Josefina Vázquez Mota, Henrique Capriles Radonski

Mexico: Election Day Approaches

June 29, 2012

by Juan Manuel Henao

Never a dull moment just days before Mexico´s presidential poll on July 1.  Two days after candidates concluded campaigning, a number of allegations, counter allegations, false arrests, accusations, and finger-pointing overwhelm already tried and tired campaigners.  Making matters worse is intrigue and possible underhandedness encircling the Institutional Revolutionary Party’s (PRI) candidate, Enrique Peña Nieto, whose Little Jet had an emergency landing in the state of Puebla earlier this week as Nieto traveled to one of his final campaign appearances.  Mechanical failure was blamed for the unscheduled landing.         

The National Action Party (PAN), which remains in third place behind the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), has been busy trying to win over voters and collect evidence of possible fraud. The charge is that the PRI is providing charged debit cards in exchange for the support of voters in economically depressed neighborhoods.  Campaign manager Roberto Gil Zuarth held a full press conference, complete with debit card, to showcase one of his opponents´ tricks in the run-up-to the vote—a tactic that he, and many others concede, is part of the PRI repertoire dating back to the 1930s.  Nothing will happen, however, as candidates are rarely sanctioned directly.  Mexico´s campaign laws only sanction political parties, and normally after Election Day.  If a sanction does take place, a fine is paid and life continues for the party.            

While polling companies are easily bought by campaigns and candidates with funds derived from state and municipal coffers, there is an obvious, across-the-board tendency: Enrique Peña Nieto maintains a strong and healthy lead with 44 percent of the intended vote, followed by Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) of the PRD with 29 percent, and the PAN´s Josefina Vázquez Mota with 25 percent.  Nieto´s 15-point lead is, by all means, difficult to shatter.  Notwithstanding, the PRI may need this strong advantage as disenfranchised youth energized by social movement #YoSoy132 take to the polls. They will vote for everyone except Nieto who they label as a young politico in dinosaur cloak who will reintroduce the PRI´s authoritarian and godfather brand of politics into political administration.                      

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Tags: Mexico, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, Enrique Peña Nieto, Josefina Vázquez Mota

The Path of #YoSoy132

June 27, 2012

by Arjan Shahani

#YoSoy132 has been called many things: “the voice of a new generation;” “the Mexican Spring;” and “young people manipulated by the PRD [Partido de la Revolución Democrática, or Party of the Democratic Revolution]” are just a few. Whatever its true nature, this youth movement has left a new mark on electoral processes in Mexico—one which could shape not only the outcome but the aftermath of the 2012 Mexican elections next Sunday.

It all began on May 11 when Enrique Peña Nieto, presidential candidate of the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (Institutional Revolutionary Party—PRI), belittled a group of student protesters that had gathered at the Universidad Iberoamericana to repudiate his presence there. Peña Nieto called them a small group of rabble-rousers, accused them of not being actual students and minimized their protest to opposition made up of only 131 people.

This led to the students uploading a YouTube video showing their university IDs and claiming that their cause was shared by many more young people. The video went viral and the story spiraled into Twitter via the hashtag #YoSoy132 (“I Am 132”). Without a cohesive agenda or clarity with regards to what “being 132” really meant, people sympathized with the students and began retweeting that they too were 132.

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Tags: Mexico, Felipe Calderon, Youth, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, Enrique Peña Nieto, Josefina Vázquez Mota

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