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Paraguay: Vilmar Acosta arrested in Brazil

On 4 March Paraguay’s interior minister, Francisco de Vargas, confirmed that Vilmar ‘Neneco’ Acosta Marques, the former mayor of the Paraguayan town of Ypejhú wanted on suspicion or ordering the murder of a local journalist, had been arrested by the police in Brazil.

Mexico’s ‘La Tuta’ captured; Murillo Karam released

It might have been with a sense of relief that Mexico’s President Enrique Peña Nieto escaped to the United Kingdom (UK) for a three-day State visit this week. Feted abroad for an ambitious multifaceted structural reform programme to drive Mexico’s development, Peña Nieto is increasingly reviled by a large and vocal sector at home, where many Mexicans are yet to feel the full benefits of his government’s groundbreaking reforms but have borne witness to the indelible stain of violence, notably the disappearance and presumed murder of 43 students in Iguala, Guerrero state, in September 2014. This incident ultimately compelled Peña Nieto to replace his beleaguered attorney general, Jesús Murillo Karam, at the weekend, although his government struck a blow against organised crime with the capture of two of its top targets, including the drug kingpin, Servando ‘La Tuta’ Gómez.

When President Peña Nieto took office in December 2012, forging a cross-party accord to drive through significant structural reforms, he managed for a time to present a different image of Mexico to the violence-riven one projected by his predecessor, Felipe Calderón (2006-2012). The Iguala infamy incontrovertibly changed all that, but Peña Nieto was, understandably, keen to showcase the dynamic reform-minded Mexico during his State visit to the UK.

While delivering the annual Canning Lecture in London on 3 March, Peña Nieto spoke at length about the 11 structural reforms his government has pushed through congress and is implementing: six of these seek to increase Mexico’s productivity and competitiveness, such as the energy and telecommunications reforms, and attract new investment to the country; and five to strengthen social and political rights, such as the education reform and new criminal procedures and legal protection laws to overhaul the justice system. Peña Nieto also discussed Mexico’s leading role in the burgeoning Pacific Alliance trade bloc, which has gone beyond free trade to free movement of capital and services. The UK is one of 30 Pacific Alliance observer nations worldwide.

Peña Nieto said that the reforms all contributed to the overriding objective of improving the quality of life of ordinary Mexicans by bringing greater prosperity, but he admitted that the big challenge was to translate the reforms and constitutional amendments into concrete benefits for all. He singled out the recent launch of a youth employment programme to provide credit support for young entrepreneurs between the age of 18 and 30 who want to launch a business or expand an existing one.

Peña Nieto also briefly mentioned his government’s commitment to transparency and combating corruption at all levels of government. It was clearly not the forum to respond to the recent allegations of conflict of interest against him [WR-15-04], but Peña Nieto possibly missed a trick by failing to mention the anti-corruption law approved by the federal lower chamber of congress on 26 February after agreement between all three major parties, which aims to strengthen oversight of public officials and designate a special prosecutor to tackle corruption.

Economic storm clouds gather in Brazil

Things are not looking good for Latin America’s largest economy. To try and rebuild confidence, the government led by President Dilma Rousseff is obliged to tighten both fiscal and monetary policy, amid an adverse political situation dominated by the major corruption scandal at the state oil major Petrobras and an increasingly rebellious congress.

President Fernández says a Judicial Party has arisen, bent on destabilising her government

‘What is coming? A coup d’état. By whom? Cristina Fernández [...] On Sunday the President will tear up the constitution.’ This was the prediction made on 25 February by Elisa Carrió, leader of the Coalición Cívica ARI and aspirant to the vice-presidency. She was alluding to the President’s scheduled 1 March address to the legislative assembly (formed by both chambers of congress in joint session). Headliners in the media translated this as ‘Cristina plans an autogolpe’, using a term, literally ‘self-inflicted coup’, first applied to Peruvian president Alberto Fujimori (1990-2000) when in 1992 he dissolved congress, dismissed the supreme court and suspended civil liberties.

Parties on the defensive over controversial election candidates

Mexico’s three main political parties have selected almost all of the candidates that will be competing on their behalf in the 7 June midterm federal legislative, state and local elections. Some candidates have proven so controversial that the parties have had to publicly defend them before the race has even begun.

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