Sao Paulo leaders raised the price of a bus fare from 3 reals to 3.20 reals. That small price increase became symbolic of the economic hardships and inflation that is hitting Brazil's middle and lower classes and has sparked protests across the country. While Sao Paulo remains focused on the bus fare, many others across the country complain that the government is spending more money to develop infrastructure for foreigners visiting next year's World Cup than it is to help the population.
At the very least, these protests have shattered the popularity bubble around President Dilma Rousseff. Even if the people taking the streets represent a vocal minority, they are the leading edge of a lot of discontent in Brazil over the economy. Brazilians think they should be doing better. The protests are well timed to the Confederations Cup, which is a trial run for next year's big event.
As Rio Gringa writes, perhaps the most surprising aspect for Brazil's political elite is that these protests appear to have been organized outside the traditional political structures. They have been organized and gained momentum via social media, without the leadership of a union, religious group or political party.
One question becomes whether these protesters can maintain some form of unity and create a coalition that turns into a viable political movement before next year's elections? It's unlikely, but if they can pull it off, Rousseff's reelection will be much more difficult.
The United Nations food relief agency said it remained extremely concerned by the plight of 1.5 million people in Haiti who need food assistance, following extreme weather conditions and poor harvests.
In addition to the 1.5 million people facing food insecurity, a further 6.7 million people in Haiti are struggling to meet their own food needs on a regular basis.That would mean over 70% of Haiti's population is facing some sort of food insecurity. The UN says they need to spend over $17 million on improving food supplies including pre-positioning emergency stockpiles before the upcoming hurricane season.
The current situation is bad. One bad hurricane or a sudden spike in global food prices, both of which are possible in the coming months, would make the situation much worse.
A Datafolha poll from early June shows Brazil President Rousseff's approval rating dropping to 57%, down from 65% in the previous poll. Nearly everyone believes the reason is the economy.
Brazil's economic growth is too slow, but citizens and government officials appear more concerned about inflation. The poll shows voters, particularly women, concerned about rising prices and believing that inflation will get worse.
Policies to fix one side will likely harm the other in the short term, making it a tough puzzle to resolve. While Dilma's administration has tried to hold back spending a bit, Congressional pork combined with needed infrastructure investment is going to push that spending ahead in the coming two years. The stimulus will probably force inflation above the levels wanted by the Central Bank. Though voters complain about high prices, in an election year, most incumbent politicians believe 5% growth and 8% inflation would be better than 2.5% growth and 6.5% inflation.
The good news is that, after years of complaining about US currency policies and how they artificially boosted the value of the Real, Brazil's currency is finally weakening. Oh wait, Brazil now thinks its weakening currency is a bad thing, because expensive imports are increasing inflation rates. Just yesterday, Brazil spent $2.1 billion to prop up the Real against the dollar, which is now trading around 2.15.
El Tiempo via InSight Crime reports that Colombia's bandas criminales (BACRIM) have begun using landmines to protect coca growth and control territory. While this has long been a strategy of the FARC, the movement of new criminal groups into these sorts of explosives is very troubling.
First, it means that a peace agreement with the FARC will not mean an end to new landmines in Colombia. Colombia is part of the Ottawa Convention and the government has done significant work to demine areas of the country in recent years, but it's hard to demine when groups continue to plant those explosives.
Second, the knowledge and strategy transfer from the FARC to other criminal groups in Colombia suggests that same transfer could occur to criminal groups outside the country. There haven't been significant reports of these sorts of landmine fields in Peru, Bolivia or Central America, but for any criminal group trying to control and protect rural territory from government intervention or rival forces, it is certainly an option.
With Secretary of State John Kerry traveling to Guatemala for the OAS General Assembly, it's worth going back to read what Senator John Kerry wrote with other senators in March 2010 and November 2012 about the problems at the OAS. His 2012 letter said "the OAS is sliding into an administrative and financial paralysis that threatens to condemn this honored institution... to irrelevance." Kerry's 2010 op-ed was even more harsh:
For too long, the organization has not received the sustained attention from member countries to guarantee its success -- a serious flaw for an organization designed to be member-driven. Sadly, its culture of consensus has often been the breeding ground of the ideas that reflect the lowest common denominator, rather than the highest ambitions of diplomacy and cooperation. Too often it is seen as the pliable tool of inconsistent political agendas, and some critics even call it a grazing pasture for third-string diplomats.OAS Secretary General Insulza has an interview with El Pais this week where he accepts some of the criticisms of the organization's administrative problems, admitting that the OAS lacks the budget and should cut programs that aren't inside its core mission.
While much of the commentary this week will be on drug policy, this administrative issue is at the core of the OAS's problem. What exactly should the OAS do and how is that mandate funded and supported by the hemisphere? Kerry should push the OAS forward on some of the administrative and financial proposals he made as a senator.
My Macbook Pro decided to die last weekend due to battery issues and other problems. Also, some thugs took my iPad a few weeks ago at gunpoint (consider it field research into the Central American crime problem). Plus, I'm in the process of packing up to move.
Computer problems/theft plus moving logistics mean I'm going to be stuck in technology limbo for several weeks. Then I'm spending two months traveling. Thus, blogging will be less regular than usual.
The Honduran gang leaders of MS-13 and Pandilla 18 signed a truce today officially mediated by the Catholic Church and the OAS. The truce, modeled off the one in El Salvador, looks to reduce violence across Honduras, but particularly in San Pedro Sula. The Honduran government says it supports the truce but will not give concessions to the gangs. However, it appears that like El Salvador, the Honduran government is more involved in this truce than they are admitting publicly.
Coverage: Heraldo, Tiempo, InSight Crime
1. The truce is unlikely to have the same level of success in Honduras as it did in El Salvador. Even those brokering the Honduran truce admit that. The gangs in Honduras are more diverse with less centralized leadership. There are also other actors involved in the crime and violence, including the Honduran police, that complicate the issue.
2. Let me add a bit of caution to that first point. Many analysts, myself included, underestimated the potential success of the Salvadoran gang truce when it was first reached. I did not expect the truce in El Salvador to lower the violence by nearly half, nor did I think it would remain so solidly in place over a year later. I'd be happy to be similarly wrong about Honduras if it means reducing violence by half.
3. Even a little success with this truce would be good. A 10% decline in murders would be hundreds of fewer deaths, particularly in San Pedro Sula. For that reason, we shouldn't hold this truce to the standard of El Salvador and we should be happy for any sustainable decline in violence that it can bring.
4. Lessons learned from El Salvador include issues to watch. Do the gangs shift tactics or increase non-violent crimes to make up revenues? Do NGOs identify increases in disappearances and extortion that aren't reported by official statistics? If violence is reduced, does the truce provide gangs political leverage over the government through their potential threat to undo the progress?
The Pacific Alliance held a meeting in Colombia this week. Four members - Mexico, Colombia, Peru, Chile - met with three aspiring members - Guatemala, Costa Rica, Panama - and a mob of observers and otherwise interested countries and businesses. What happened:
- The four current members dropped tariffs on 90% of the goods traded among them (something that was mostly done due to bilateral free trade agreements) and committed to completing the final 10% within the next few years.
- The countries have dropped visa requirements with each other.
- The four countries will likely create a joint visa system - Visa Alianza del Pacífico - that will allow tourists to visit all four countries on just one visa.
- Peru dropped business visa requirements for the other three members.
- The four current members agreed to open joint embassies in Africa and Asia.
- The countries will conduct a coordinated trade mission in Africa and tourism promotion globally.
- The creation of a fund to support small and medium sized businesses.
- A fiscal transparency agreement to prevent businesses from avoiding taxes.
- Agreement on educational exchanges, including 400 annual scholarships.
- Agreement to consolidate a scientific network on adapting to climate change challenges.
- Mexico signed an agreement with Chile to export meat.
- Mexico moved forward on integration into the Integrated Latin American stock Market (MILA).
- Costa Rica signed a free trade agreement with Colombia.
- Guatemala and Peru will have a free trade agreement within the next few months.
- Guatemala dropped its tourist visa requirements for Colombia.
A few months before El Salvador's gang truce began, President Funes named two recently retired generals, Munguía Payes and Salinas Rivera, to be Minister of Public Security and Director of the Police. The appointments appeared to violate the spirit of the peace accords and constitution which state that the positions should be civilian led.
El Salvador's Supreme Court agreed with that position last week, declaring their appointments invalid and removing the ministers from their posts. The government of President Funes has said it will comply with the ruling, though they clearly are not happy about it.
The gangs, on the other hand, held a press conference to denounce the ruling and claim that it places the truce at risk. To criticize a Supreme Court ruling about cabinet appointments emphasizes:
1) The gangs have become political actors with a political agenda and
2) The ongoing truce gives the gangs political leverage as they can threaten to restart the violence.
This goes straight to the questions about the legitimacy and sustainability of the truce. While it is certainly good news that homicides have dropped so significantly in El Salvador, it can't be good for democracy to have gangs making threats of violence if they don't get their way.
The Mexican government placed a military officer in charge of security in the state of Michoacan and is sending additional military forces to the state to battle the various criminal and militia groups there. (El Universal, LA Times, InSight Crime)
Interior Minister Miguel Osorio Chong said the federal forces will be in the state until peace and security existed. That is a long way from the Peña Nieto campaign promise to remove military forces from the streets as soon as possible.
The EPN government insists this deployment is very different from 2006, when President Calderon deployed troops to Michoacan. They say there is better intelligence and coordination among government forces (even though they are reducing coordination and intel sharing with the US) and promise to obtain better results than the previous administration.
Unfortunately, this deployment appears to be very similar Calderon's strategy, or lack thereof, in the early years. With few other options available in the short term, the EPN government is sending military forces into the state and simply hoping that security improves. They don't appear to have a plan, a timeline, metrics for success or a clear explanation of the resources needed.