1. A recent Colombia Ipsos poll (via Semana and WOLA) showed Colombians becoming much more pessimistic about the peace process. Those number are after the FARC ambush of Colombian soldiers, but before their announced end of the unilateral ceasefire. 69% of the population is pessimistic about the potential for an agreement and 64% want a hard deadline on the talks.

    If there is anything positive to be taken from these numbers, it is that only 27% of Colombia's population wants to immediately terminate the peace talks and restart a military offensive.

    To be blunt, I find myself more pessimistic as well. I think the peace talks are the right thing to do. I think a peace process is a critical part to improving Colombia's long-term security. I have zero doubt about the willingness of President Santos to engage in peace talks. I think the Colombian government should remain at the negotiating table.

    However, I've always wondered whether the FARC were being genuine in their desire for peace and those doubts have increased as the process has dragged along. I think those doubts are shared by many Colombians, especially those who remember the previous peace process under President Pastrana and the FARC's cynical effort to obtain a demilitarized zone in order to increase strength during those talks.

    Among the FARC's key weaknesses is the fact they have never understood nor reflected Colombia's larger public opinion. It's a group that has never had more than 5% support in any modern public opinion poll. They have always been a very tiny minority and their position has only weakened in the past fifteen years. It's quite possible that the FARC leaders do not understand that their actions over the past months are destroying what may be their best opportunity for a peace process that includes a significant amount of amnesty and concessions on political topics important to them, more than they will ever receive if this process breaks down.
  2. NYT:
    According to the indictment, several international soccer events were tainted by bribes and kickbacks involving media and marketing rights: World Cup qualifiers in the Concacaf region; the Gold Cup, a regional championship tournament; the Concacaf Champions League; the Copa América; and the South American club championship, the Copa Libertadores. The indictment also claims that bribes and kickbacks were found in connection with the selection of the host country for the 2010 World Cup.
    That's a lot of focus on the major FIFA events in the Western Hemisphere. The indictment is here.

    Among the people indicted include officials from Argentina, Brazil, Cayman Islands, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Trinidad & Tobago, Uruguay, USA, and Venezuela.
  3. Suriname President Desi Bouterse is a corrupt president, former coup leader, former military dictator and convicted drug trafficker. Nearly every neighbor in South America and nearly every commodity-based economy around the world have seen an economic slowdown and a fall in political approval. None of those facts appear to have stopped Bouterse's NDP from winning yesterday, likely securing the president's reelection.

    President Bouterse’s NDP took 27 seats in the election, giving them a majority in the 51 member parliament which will break the current political deadlock. The opposition V7 took 17 seats. A group called Alternative Combination won five seats. Those are early voting results and may change slightly.

    Suriname, like its neighbor Guyana, is a presidential-parliamentary hybrid system. The president needs 34 votes (2/3 of total seats) in the parliament to be reelected. Most observers think that the results yesterday make it likely Bouterse will be reelected. The V7, assuming it could stick together, fell just short of being able to block his election and negotiate some concessions.
  4. The front page of Mexico's El Universal this morning focuses on cybercrime and the robbery of bank information in Mexico. The experts they quote say there were 700,000 instances of personal data being stolen in 2014, most of it done via online phishing, to access the victims' online banking accounts, ATMs or open up credit cards with their personal info. That number is more than double the instances in 2011. They estimate two billion pesos (about US $130 million) in damage.

    And that's just what is reported. Many people do not report these robberies to the authorities. Banks are not required to report all instances of data theft either. The numbers given in the article are almost certainly well below the actual instances.

    The article also reports that Mexico is 11th place in the world in terms of stolen identities online and yet lacks serious national legislation to make online identity theft a major crime.
  5. M&F poll: Scioli 33, Macri 32, Massa 14

    In January I wrote that there are three ideological positions for candidates in Argentina's presidential elections. In February I used the words "three way race."

    However, Massa is underperforming and has been dropping for several months. This leads to one of three scenarios:
    1) This becomes a two-way race.
    2) Massa re-rises in the polls.
    3) Another candidate rises to take Massa's place on the middle ideological ground.

    There are a lot of candidates in single digits who would like to be the third candidate in this race. There are also many Argentines who both dislike Kirchner but are not fully on board with Macri. There is an ideological opening there for a candidate who can figure it out if Massa continues to fall.

    At the same time, most Argentines know how their electoral system works (to win in first round, candidate needs 45% or 40% and a 10% advantage over the candidate in second place). As Scioli inches towards the 40% mark, there is a strategic voting reason for the electorate to consolidate around a single opponent, Macri, rather than divide up the opposition vote.

    I'm not going to predict which scenario is going to happen right now, but a good argument could be made either way.

    The M&F poll also had President Kirchner with 40% approval, 52% disapproval. That is an important number to watch as it directly relates to Scioli's chances of winning.
  6. Reporte Confidencial provides these numbers from Delphos:
    Llama la atención la despolarización que empieza a concretarse en Venezuela, pues ya el país no se divide simplemente entre chavistas y opositores. 15,4% de los consultados afirma estar “resteado con Maduro”, 16,4% es “chavista no madurista”, 25,3% considera que “todos los políticos son iguales”, 13,3% es “oposición no MUD” y 29,5% está “resteado con la MUD”.

    Briceño destacó que la mayoría de los consultados (55,1%) está fuera de los polos, pues es “oposición no MUD” o “chavista no madurista”.
    The party split is a number I've long tracked in Venezuela. While I'm not sure how accurate Delphos is, and this question is asked differently than other polls such as those by Datanalisis and Keller, let's run with these numbers from mid-April 2015 for a moment. What are the implications of this party divide in Venezuela?

    1) That is a significant divide within the Chavistas. The Chavistas retain their 30-35% base of support in the country, but only half of those Chavistas support President Maduro. It reinforces something I've written before, that Maduro's biggest threat to power is within his own party.

    2) The MUD are doing better, with 30% of the country supporting them, and 43% supporting a generic political opposition. But that's still not over 50%. It's amazing to think that with all the problems Venezuela has, it does not have an opposition leader or party in the country that is close to uniting a majority. That's a serious problem for whomever comes next (whenever that happens), because they will likely win due to the unpopularity of Chavismo, not a unifying idea for fixing the country's problems.

    3) 25% are definitely in the ni-ni category and perhaps as much as 55% if you add those who do not identify with either Maduro or the MUD opposition leadership.

    As I wrote in April 2014:
    The polarization of the country's politics means that people have been forced to choose sides or not participate at all. Neither Maduro nor Capriles are suggesting that the dialogue include someone to represent the ni-nis, the disaffected Chavistas, the moderate opposition or the swing voters, even if that broad dialogue would be more representative of society.

    Venezuela doesn't just need a dialogue in which political leaders talk with each other. Venezuela's political leaders need to have a dialogue with the rest of the population.
    These poll numbers continue to show that a majority of the population do not feel represented by the political leaders who clash on a daily basis in the media and claim to speak for the public.
  7. Somehow, there are still corrupt government officials left to arrest in Guatemala. Yesterday, sixteen people including the president of the Central Bank and the vice president of the Social Security Institute (IGSS) were arrested as part of another CICIG investigation.

    Plaza Publica highlights the connections between the president and Juan de Dios Rodriguez, who President Perez Molina put in charge of the IGSS to clean out the corruption within and who is now detained. Rodriguez was the personal secretary of the president at the beginning of his administration and later the legal representative of a construction firm that won government contracts. His connection to Perez Molina goes back to his time in the military and he was apparently involved in a property purchase from the president several years ago.

    Guatemala President Otto Perez Molina had to stress yesterday that he wasn't planning to resign. As Greg Weeks wrote on Twitter, that's never a good sign.

    Mike Allison wrote:
    Otto Perez and his administration have been an unmitigated disaster for the people of Guatemala. It's growing increasingly difficult to see him finishing his four-year term. Your guess is as good as mine as to what happens next.
    It's also not a good sign when political scientists are predicting an unscheduled removal from office.
  8. Over the past month, multiple US officials have defended the practice of aerial fumigation of coca. As I wrote in late April, Colombia's gradual success in reducing coca has come with increased government presence and improved security over the past 15 years, not due to dropping chemicals from the air. I agree with Adam Isacson on this that aerial fumigation, even if you put the health issues aside, is counterproductive to long term peace and security.

    That said, while the US government position hasn't changed, the tone certainly has.

    In an op-ed on 10 May, Ambassador Kevin Whitaker wrote:
    Independientemente de la decisión soberana que tome Colombia, les reitero a los colombianos que Estados Unidos continuará trabajando con ustedes, nuestros amigos y aliados, para enfrentar el narcotráfico y el crimen transnacional. Contamos con otras herramientas, aunque menos eficaces, para hacerlo. Los colombianos pueden seguir contando con Estados Unidos. Hemos permanecido al lado de Colombia, aun en sus momentos más difíciles. We have your back.
    The ambassador has reiterated that point numerous times in interviews, telling the NYT, "This is their sovereign decision to make, and we will respect that and we will continue to use the tools that are available to us, as Colombia wishes us to do, to continue to be a partner with them in this fight."

    It is difficult to be certain of a hypothetical, but that would almost certainly not have been the US government position under previous administrations. In past decades, the US found a way to dictate counter-narcotics policy to Latin America and punished countries that disagreed. A Colombian decision like this ten years ago would have led to an uproar in both the executive and legislative branches and program cuts as punishment.

    This tolerance of other policies has been a key part of President Obama's drug policy reform both domestically and internationally. While the administration hasn't been overly pro-active in experimenting with new approaches to drug policy, particularly on the international level, they have permitted others to do so in a way that is unprecedented for the US. Whether it is Washington state and Colorado legalizing marijuana or Colombia banning fumigation, the US federal government has cautiously accepted disagreements and differences in policy and tried to find the best path forward. The US has been much more open to discussions in Latin America of alternative policies, including the debate at the Summit in Cartagena in 2012, the OAS's drug policy report, and Uruguay's current attempt to legalize marijuana.

    For people in favor in drug policy reform, the Obama administration's policy is far from perfect, but their acceptance of other approaches is also the best we've ever seen from the US and it has made a difference in the drug policy debate globally. The US isn't leading on drug policy reform, but it also isn't standing in the way blocking new ideas and policies. It's a good sign going into UNGASS 2016.
  9. In his speech in Brazil, Premier Li Keqiang said, "China will be a long-term buyer of Brazilian minerals…and also of farm products." There is little doubt that is accurate, but big questions remain about Chinese investments in Brazil and the region.

    A study by the Brazil-China Business Council, a local think tank, found that little more than a one-third of the $68.5 billion in Chinese investments announced between 2007 and 2012 were actually realized.
    Eric Farnsworth writes:
    Questions arise, however, about the terms under which Chinese investments will be made, the sensitivity that might be paid to issues of corruption, labor rights and environmental protection, and, of course, political influence that may accrue with the announcement and potential completion of massive infrastructure projects.
    The Guardian cited critics of the railway plan who said it would harm the environment. Guy Edwards writes that Chinese investments are increasing Latin America's carbon emissions.
  10. Bolivia's bakers have gone on strike to protest the removal of a flour subsidy. To counter shortages during the strike, Bolivia President Morales is using the military to produce and distribute bread. On top of being an entertaining event, this story reinforces several recent narratives.

    First, Morales has proven to be more fiscally responsible than many of his ALBA allies. His removal of the flour subsidy follows his usual pattern of using fairly strong "leftist" rhetoric while implementing relatively conservative macro-economic policies.

    Second, Morales has a strange and awkward relationship with his military, but he makes it work. The military leadership can't be overly happy that they are being used as bakers, but they are following orders and showing no signs of dissent.

    Third, Morales's terms in office have been a string of protests, but he has successfully overcome each crisis. The president walks a fine line that often creates tension. Usually he gives in to some of the protesters' demands, and I expect him to do so again here. However, his flexibility in managing and countering protests has been a key to his success.