1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

    WSJ:
    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.
  5. 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.
  6. Fernando Henrique Cardoso, Brazil's former president, was interviewed by the Financial Times and talked about a "crisis of legitimacy" in Brazil.

    The interview shows Cardoso's inner politician clashing with his inner political scientist. Cardoso the politician points to the recent corruption scandals as the cause of Dilma's recent public opinion problems and her inability to get economic reforms passed. Cardoso the political scientist looks at the institutional and constitutional factors that would impact any president.

    Understanding that Cardoso remains a politician, a leading political figure among Brazil's opposition, and holds a personal grudge against Lula, his political science side makes two very direct critiques of Brazil's overall institutional model:

    1) Brazil's president is de facto required to give cabinet seats to congressional allies in order to form a coalition that can pass legislation. This quasi-parliamentary practice, as Cardoso refers to it, means that weak presidents can be held hostage by the legislative leaders.

    2) The proportional representation system makes individual politicians less directly accountable to the voters and allows parties to give positions to less known politicians. The fact voters do not know their individual representatives further hits the legitimacy of the system.

    Cardoso proposes an electoral reform to deal with the second problem, but he doesn't offer any solutions in the interview for dealing with the first (other than perhaps a "stronger" president, which goes back to the politician).
  7. The protests in Guatemala were larger on Saturday than they were before the resignation of Vice President Baldetti. Rather than helping the government tap down the growing public anger, her resignation appears to have confirmed the worst suspicions about corruption for some in Guatemala. Perez Molina has few options to placate the protesters at this point, and may simply need to ride them out over the coming weeks, hoping that no additional negative information comes to light.

    Tico Times says there are rumors that Perez Molina is considering "resignation" and quotes one person as suggesting a "coup" is possible. I would stress that those rumors are unconfirmed. Mike suggests that the PP is probably done as a political party.
  8. Li Renfang, Latin American analyst at Southwest University of Science and Technology in Sichuan province (quoted by FT):
    “I think it’s safer for China to lend the money to centre-right governments.”
    Chinese Premier Li Keqiang is traveling to Brazil, Chile, Colombia and Peru this month to promote more Chinese investments, including a rail link across Brazil and Peru. Most of China’s loans to the region have gone to countries like Venezuela, Argentina and Ecuador, but this visit itinerary by a very high level official may signal China’s government is coming to the realization that sustained investment in less risky economies may bring better long term returns, both in terms of commodities and geopolitical gains.

    In fact, the Wall Street Journal reports:
    Senior Chinese officials say China wants to diversify trade with South America by importing more value-added products from the manufacturing and aviation sectors.
    While that may just be lip service to calm those in Latin America worried about the region’s dependency on commodities, if it is a true policy statement, it would be positive for any country in the region that can structure and maintain a solid manufacturing investment. It would also be a more pragmatic view by China, investing in areas that will return benefits.

    The trip’s itinerary is just one event and it is too soon to say that China is generally moving away from ALBA or towards the Pacific Alliance. Certainly, China has shown a generous willingness in recent years to throw good money after bad in Venezuela and use its loans to virtually control the vast majority of oil exports in Ecuador.

    Additionally, China's continued work with Brazil, including the promise of $50 billion in investment, is simply a smart play into the region’s largest economy. That will continue under any ideology for the foreseeable future.

    That said, these investments should reinforce that China's pragmatic investments outweigh their ideological ones in the region. Where China's interests are more economic than political, it isn’t trying to recruit the anti-US states into its bloc. In many cases, it is trying to form alliances and secure investment with the same countries and businesses with which the US government and private sector want to work. That creates the possibility for overlap, cooperation and/or competition that will be far more complex than trying to label any particular government as falling under one or the other’s sphere of influence. Additionally, to the extent that the US and China can cooperate in the region to make our aid and investments mutually beneficial, we should take advantage of where these overlaps occur.
  9. Close election. According to the initial results, the APNU+AFC coalition led by David Granger received 206,817 votes while President Ramotar’s PPP won 201,457 votes. In Guyana, the leader of the party that receives the most votes in the legislative elections wins the presidency. Additionally, the split will likely leave the legislature in the hands of APNU+AFC by a single seat (33-32), though the seats have not yet been allocated by the election officials.

    Not conceding yet. International observers, including the Carter Center and the OAS, said the election was fair and the vote counting accurate. However, Ramotar claimed the vote count was rigged. When asked if he would give up power, Ramotar said, "I haven’t closed any options.” That’s a troubling way to answer that question. Additionally, while it is possible in such a close election that a recount may be necessary, claims that political institutions are rigged against a political party that has held power for more than two decades don’t pass the common sense test.

    Ethnicity. A key narrative of this election is the victory of a multi-ethnic coalition. Many of PPP's arguments in this election were focused on APNU’s past and how the Afro-Caribbean party had treated the Indian population before it lost power in 1992. Guyana’s voters weren’t swayed with arguments about how a party behaved more than 20 years ago. David Granger, a former military general, must now figure out how to translate his multi-ethnic coalition’s message into a governing strategy that is inclusive of the entire population.

    Economy. As I wrote last week, nearly every president in South America has seen a drop in popularity in recent months. That regional drop is likely linked to the drop in commodity prices globally hitting economies that depend on commodity exports. Guyana’s economy is heavily dependent on mining and agriculture. Its main exports include gold and sugar. While the main narrative is about ethnicity, people vote with their pocketbooks and Guyana’s public opinion may well have been following the economy.

    An incumbent loses power. While dropping presidential popularity is a regional trend, so is presidential reelection. While we don’t consider Guyana as a part of Latin America and its voting system has some very parliamentary features, Granger’s victory over a sitting president seeking reelection is still a rare outcome on a continent where presidents almost never lose reelection bids.
  10. I did a brief interview with AS-COA on cybersecurity issues in Latin America that you can listen to here. While my comments in the interview highlight the threats to businesses in the region, cybersecurity is also a critical infrastructure issue that goes beyond any one company and impacts the public at large.
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