LatinNews Daily - 30 May 2022

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Main Briefing

On 29 May, Colombian voters selected two anti-establishment candidates to compete in the 19 June presidential run-off vote – left-wing Gustavo Petro (Pacto Histórico) and populist Rodolfo Hernández (Liga de Gobernantes Anticorrupción).


Colombia is headed for drastic change. Petro was until recently seen as the main anti-establishment contender in this election, but his populist message has been eclipsed by that of Hernández, who has devoted almost all his campaigning efforts to denouncing the ruling political class. Whilst backers of the right-wing candidate Federico Gutiérrez (Equipo por Colombia) are likely to fall in line behind Hernández, Petro will struggle to expand his voter base. The poor performance by centrist Sergio Fajardo (Coalición Centro Esperanza) further limits the pool of voters who might prove amenable to Petro’s message. His best hope is to campaign hard on policy issues, but Hernández has ducked debates in the first round and will endeavour to keep his campaign on the friendly terrain of rallies and social media.

  • With 99.99% of votes counted, the latest results from Colombia’s national civic registry put Petro on 40.32% of the vote (8.52m votes), Hernández on 28.15% (5.95m), and Gutiérrez on 23.91% (5.05m). Fajardo took just 4.20% (888,000). Voter turnout was 54.91%. With no candidates having achieved the requisite 50% of the vote to win outright, the election will proceed to a run-off.
  • Hernández has managed to progress to the second round despite being a largely unknown entity – his campaign has been largely conducted on social media, where he relentlessly railed against corruption but provided few clear policy proposals. If elected, he has pledged to immediately declare a 90-day state of exception to tackle corruption at all levels of government.
  • Hernández’s unexpected surge in the final weeks of campaigning has ironically left Petro looking like the more ‘establishment’ of the two candidates, despite being painted by right-wing contenders as a serious threat to democratic stability. Petro is certainly the better-known entity, having progressed to the presidential run-off against incumbent President Iván Duque in 2018 and maintained his position as the leader of the Colombian left in the four years since. That name recognition may now count against Petro, as Hernández seeks to tar him with the same brush as the right-wing and centrist candidates who fell in the first round.
  • Facing relentless accusations that he seeks to conduct mass expropriations and weaken democratic institutions, Petro has sought to calm nerves in the business community and the middle class. In April, he ruled out conducting any expropriations if elected. Yet his pledges to disincentivise the ownership of large tracts of unproductive land and to implement a progressive tax reform are likely to be viewed by better-off voters as expropriations in all but name.
  • Gutiérrez conceded defeat and urged supporters to vote for Hernández in the second round to avoid “putting the future of Colombia at risk”.

Looking Ahead: Based on the vote distribution, Hernández appears to have the advantage in the second round. He can expect to receive the backing of most Gutiérrez supporters, which if added to his own result in the first round would give him the edge over Petro. Meanwhile, Fajardo’s poor showing limits the utility of an endorsement for Petro. Petro’s best hope will be to exploit Hernández’s lack of policy detail, which will face far greater scrutiny in the second round. Meanwhile, Hernández is due to face trial in July for improperly awarding a recycling contract during his tenure as mayor of Bucaramanga (2016-2019), which could undermine his anti-corruption message.


*The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has approved a successor two-year arrangement for Peru under the Flexible Credit Line (FCL), designed for crisis prevention, of about US$5.4bn. According to an IMF statement, Peru qualifies for the FCL by “virtue of its very strong economic fundamentals and institutional policy frameworks, a track record of implementing very strong policies, and commitment to maintaining such policies”. Established in 2009, the FCL allows its recipients to draw on the credit line at any time and is designed “to flexibly address both actual and potential balance of payments needs to help boost market confidence. Drawings under the FCL are not phased nor tied to ex-post conditionality as in regular IMF-supported programmes”, according to the IMF. It adds that this large, upfront access with no ex-post conditionality is justified by the very strong policy fundamentals and institutional policy frameworks and sustained track records of countries that qualify for the FCL. While the IMF notes that Peru meets this criteria, it adds that the “Peruvian economy remains exposed to elevated risks, including from renewed waves of the [coronavirus] Covid-19 pandemic, slowing economic activity in key trade partner countries, the war in Ukraine, tighter global financial conditions, and political uncertainty”.


Following nationwide outrage in Brazil over the brutal killing of a mentally-ill, black man by federal highway police (PRF) officers, on 28 May the PRF reversed its position and admitted to wrongdoing.


Even in a country accustomed to repeated scenes of violence, the latest case of blatant police brutality was shocking. The resulting public outcry, including that of legislators and the United Nations (UN), will heighten international scrutiny and may help to institutionalise proper police procedures, change mentalities, and force a higher level of transparency.

  • Genivaldo de Jesus Santos, aged 38, was stopped by three PRF officers on 25 May in Umbaúba town, Sergipe state, apparently for not wearing a helmet. Following a pat-down and verbal altercations, Genivaldo is seen being pinned on the ground, tied up, and thrown into the boot of a car, according to video footage on social media. Dangling feet are seen twitching and screams are heard as the car fills with tear gas.
  • We watched with indignation the events that took place in Umbaúba involving federal highway police officers that resulted in [Santos’] death”, the PRF said in a statement. “The procedures seen during the action are not in accordance with the guidelines in our institution's courses and manuals.”
  • The PRF had previously said that the officers used the “least offensive” measures and that his death was unrelated to their actions. Pressure on the police had mounted after protests and an outcry of anger across society.
  • The death of Genivaldo, in itself shocking, once again calls into question the respect for human rights in the actions of the police in Brazil”, said Jan Jarab, who heads the South America regional office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.  Many Brazilians likened the case to that of George Floyd who was killed in the US on exactly the same day two years earlier.
  • President Jair Bolsonaro, who himself often rides a motorcycle without a helmet, sidestepped a question about the case to instead recall another incident in which policemen had been killed by a homeless person.

Looking Ahead: The police are likely to face further pressure after an investigation by the ‘Fantástico’ TV programme produced by the Globo news site, broadcast on 29 May, suggested that it was not an isolated case, but part of a pattern with at least 18 other documented incidents in recent years.

* Brazil’s state-owned electricity company, Eletrobras, has submitted its privatisation offer to the Comissão de Valores Mobiliários (CVM), the federal entity which regulates Brazilian stock markets. The submission of the privatisation plan to the CVM marks the final stage in Eletrobras’ privatisation plan, which would see the federal government decrease its overall shareholding in the company from 72% to 45%. This came on the same day that international credit ratings agency Fitch maintained Eletrobras’ long-term foreign and local currency issuer default ratings (IDRs) and outstanding senior unsecured bond ratings at ‘BB-’ with a negative outlook. Fitch notes that it did not take the planned privatisation into account in the assessment “since it is an uncertain event.”

Central America & Caribbean

On 27 May Honduras’s 128-member unicameral congress approved a decree which authorises attorney general office (AG)’s specialised unit against corruption networks (Uferco) to proceed in high impact cases without the AG’s authorisation.


Approved by 69 votes, the decree has the backing of Honduras’s new President Xiomara Castro and her ruling Libertad y Refundación (Libre) which swept to power in November 2021 on a pledge to fight corruption. These promises have so far seen Castro’s predecessor Juan Orlando Hernández (Partido Nacional, 2014-2022) extradited to the US to face narcotrafficking and weapons related charges, among other things. However, the decree is proving contentious amid claims that such a move requires a constitutional reform which would require a two thirds majority.

  • The decree has been questioned by the head of the AG, Oscar Chinchilla who tweeted that the move required a constitutional reform – a view shared by others such as well-known political analyst Raúl Pineda. The local media has cited doubts raised by representatives from civil-society groups such as Asociación para una Sociedad más Justa (ASJ), the local chapter of anti-corruption NGO Transparency International (TI) which, while applauding efforts to strengthen the fight against corruption, question the constitutional nature of the decree.
  • The clear efforts to assign Uferco additional powers comes as the integrity of Chinchilla, whose term ends in 2023, has been questioned by legislators as well as civil-society activists such as Gabriela Castellanos, executive director of national anti-corruption council (CNA), a civil-society umbrella group. On 11 May a congressional committee called for Chinchilla to face action, along with Rolando Argueta, the head of the supreme court, for their handling of extradition cases. Speaking at an international forum on 12 May Castellanos dubbed the two the “duo of impunity” in Honduras.
  • Chinchilla’s name featured in the trial last year in the US of former drug trafficker Geovanny Fuentes which implicated Hernández. A US Department of Justice (DoJ) statement dated 22 March 2021 announcing the guilty verdict regarding Fuentes cites Hernández as allegedly saying that Chinchilla would “help protect” Fuentes’ drug trafficking activities.

Looking Ahead: The fight against corruption in Honduras is likely to come under scrutiny for other reasons, following the 27 May murder of prosecutor Karen Almendares in Nacaome, (Valle department) who was shot dead outside her home by unknown perpetrators. Her murder has prompted outrage locally and abroad.

*Panama’s government led by President Laurentino Cortizo and the Coalición por la Unidad de Colón (CUCO), which groups various unions in Panama’s Colón province, have announced an agreement which puts an end to a strike which has affected the province since 9 May. This was called by CUCO over demands that the government deliver on various promises announced in November 2021 related to infrastructure and construction projects as well as more general complaints over the high cost of living. Signed by Deputy Labour Minister Roger Tejada, Guillermo Salazar, director of the institute for development planning, a government entity, and CUCO general coordinator Román Macías, the agreement stipulates that the government will carry out various public works worth US$900m in the province, including the resumption of stalled works such as the construction of a new hospital, Manuel Amador Guerrero, and baseball stadium, Roberto Mariano Bula, the construction of an arts and culture centre Colegio Abel Bravo and expansion and overhaul of seven colleges. It also includes the pledge to carry out an employment programme ‘Capacítate para el empleo Colón’ with monetary support for those that begin and finish various training courses, an initiative to repair roads, ‘Asfaltando tu distrito’ as well as a national freeze on fuel prices for public transport – keeping it at US$3.95 per gallon which was announced on 27 May. The measure will last three months and cost the government US$100m.


On 29 May, leading figures from Mexico’s ruling Movimiento Regeneración Nacional (Morena) party attended the closing campaign activities for candidates in the upcoming gubernatorial elections.


This was the last weekend of campaigning ahead of the elections that will see new governors selected in Aguascalientes, Durango, Tamaulipas, Hidalgo, Oaxaca and Quintana Roo on 5 June. Morena is seeking to take all six states, which would take its governorship tally to 22 out of 32. However, although Morena is likely to enjoy considerable success, the latest polls suggest a clean sweep of states is unlikely.

  • On the final weekend of campaigning, Morena heavyweights were out in force. Yesterday, Interior Minister Adán Augusto López, showed his support for Mara Lezama, Morena’s gubernatorial candidate in Quintana Roo, having attended campaign activities of Aguascalientes candidate Nora Ruvalcaba and Durango candidate Marina Vitela along with Mexico City (CDMX) mayor, Claudia Sheinbaum, the day before.
  • Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard was scheduled to attend the campaign closing of Salomón Jara, Morena’s gubernatorial candidate in Oaxaca. However, he cancelled his visit due to disruption caused by Hurricane Agatha, showing support through Twitter instead.
  • On 24 May, the opposition Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI) denounced López, Sheinbaum and Ebrard before the national electoral institute (INE) for “participation in acts in support of Morena candidates”, which the PRI claimed violated the principles of impartiality and fairness in the electoral process.
  • Morena is hoping to triumph in all six states, which are currently under the control of parties in the tripartite Va por México alliance, comprising PRI, Partido Acción Nacional (PAN) and Partido de la Revolución Democrática (PRD). However, the most recent data from pollster Consulta-Mitofsky shows PAN’s Tere Jiménez with a significant lead in Aguascalientes. According to Consulta-Mitofsky president, Roy Campos, Durango is also not a guaranteed win for Morena, remaining too close to call.
  • In addition to the gubernatorial elections, voters in Durango will take to the polls to elect mayors, municipal officials and town councillors. Local deputies will also be elected in Quintana Roo. In total, 436 elected positions will be at stake.

Looking Ahead: Morena remains bullish ahead of the elections, with politicians and supporters using the #6de6 (six of six) hashtag on Twitter. The anticipated loss in Aguascalientes will no doubt be glossed over if Morena triumphs elsewhere, especially if Vitela pulls through in Durango. 

* Mexico’s government has committed to purchasing 521,000 tonnes (t) of corn through its food security body, Segalmex, as part of a wider anti-inflation plan. In a statement, Mexico’s agriculture and rural development ministry (Sader) said Segalmex will purchase corn from national suppliers to help build up a reserve of 800,000 t and guarantee a supply of corn to the most vulnerable in the country. Segalmex also plans on providing up to 150,000 t of corn for the dough and tortilla industry. According to Segalmex director, Leonel Cota Montaño, the organisation already has 279,000 t of corn in its warehouses. The corn will be used mainly to supply the more than 20,000 Diconsa community stores, which provide affordable food for around 22m people living in poor rural communities and require on average 600,000 t of corn per year. The scheme is part of the government’s wider anti-inflation plan, known as the package against inflation and high prices (Pacic), which aims to shelter consumers from the rising prices of basic goods.

Southern Cone

On 28 May Chile’s President Gabriel Boric launched a campaign to encourage his fellow citizens to vote in the constitutional referendum scheduled for 4 September.


Boric said his government would fulfil its duty to inform citizens of the constitutional options, noting that approving or rejecting the text currently being finalised by the constitutional convention (CC) were both “valid and legitimate options”. Despite this, right wing opposition parties including Renovación Nacional (RN) and Partido Republicano (PLR) have accused the President of favouring the approval vote, a claim rejected by Giorgio Jackson, secretary general of the presidency, who insisted that government campaign, entitled ‘Let’s Make History’, was merely intended to ensure they will make an informed choice.

  • The constitutional reform process comes at a time when, less than three months after being sworn in, Boric is politically on the defensive. A new poll by Cadem shows 57% of respondents now disapprove of Boric’s performance, up from 20% when he took office. His approval rate, which was 50% in March has now dwindled to 36%. Boric had particularly high disapproval rates for his handling of public order, migration, crime, and the Mapuche conflict in the south of the country.
  • As far as the new constitution is concerned, the public continues to show a notable lack of enthusiasm. According to the survey, the “reject” vote remains the largest with 45% support, while 37% of the electorate intends to vote “approve”. The numbers suggest there is now a significant hard core of opposition to constitutional change, with 30% saying the draft should be rejected and replaced by an entirely new constitution-writing procedure.
  • The 154 CC delegates still have work to do on the draft, which currently consists of 499 articles distributed in 11 chapters and threatens to be one of the longest constitutional texts in the world. A process of editing and eliminating any internal contradictions is needed, as well as decisions on the preamble, on the consultation rights enjoyed by indigenous communities, on transitional clauses, and on the procedures for future constitutional reforms.

Looking Ahead: While Boric has attempted to draw a line between the business of government, on the one hand, and the drafting of a new constitution on the other, it is clear that rejection of the new constitutional draft in September's referendum would be a major setback for his presidency.

*Argentina’s government led by President Alberto Fernández has announced it will raise the lower limit at which workers must pay income tax as of June. The measure, which raises the minimum salary from which income tax is paid from Ar$225,000 (US$1,814) a month to Ar$280,792, will mean 1.2m workers will be exempted from paying the tax, according to an economy ministry statement. In addition, those who earn between Ar$280,792 and Ar$324,182 will see their tax reduced. “Our government is a government that carries out policies to defend the interests of workers, while during the four years that preceded us [under former president Mauricio Macri (2015-2019)] there was a fall in production, a fall in employment, a fall in real wages,” said Economy Minister Martín Guzmán at a press conference, adding that, “today we are seeing a growth in production, employment, and an improvement in the purchasing power of wages.” The Fernández administration is currently battling to rein in inflation and protect poor and vulnerable sectors of society from its effects, implementing other measures such as bringing forward minimum wage increases and announcing bonus payments for informal workers.

Washington Watch

Ecuador: On 18 May US First Lady Jill Biden began a visit to Ecuador as part of a six-day visit which also included Panama and Costa Rica where she met with regional leaders and paid visits to US-supported initiatives. Biden used the tour to emphasise the value of collaboration between nations ahead of the US-hosted Summit of the Americas which is taking place 6-10 June. The success of the summit is subject to doubt after various regional leaders threatened to boycott the event after the US indicated that only democratically elected leaders would be invited, which US officials suggest would exclude Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela. Biden’s agenda for the tour to Ecuador, Costa Rica and Panama was pointed in its emphasis on the benefits of collaboration: she visited an accelerated learning programme receiving US aid in Ecuador, an HIV/AIDS care home in Panama funded through the US President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), and a children’s hospital in Costa Rica collaborating with US cancer researchers, among others. In a show of support, during her speech at the presidential palace in Ecuador, Biden hailed President Guillermo Lasso for “reaching out to those who have often been ignored or left behind, by listening to those who have faced inequality and discrimination and poverty and finding solutions for their lives”.  As she continued, her message to wavering nations was clear, “but alone you can only do so much… when we work together, we can make our nations and our world stronger”.

Brazil: On 25 May newswire Associated Press (AP) reported that Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro had signalled that he is, after all, prepared to attend the US-hosted Summit of the Americas and that he would hold a bilateral meeting with US President Joe Biden. The AP report was based on comments made by Brazilian officials speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to speak publicly. This followed weeks during which President Bolsonaro’s attendance remained a question, with some media reporting he had ruled it out. He is among other Latin American leaders such as Mexico’s President Andrés Manuel López Obrador whose attendance has been in doubt threatening a major embarrassment for the US.

Cuba: On 20 May Cuba’s foreign minister, Bruno Rodríguez slammed the decision by the US government to again place Cuba on its list of countries that the US maintains are not “cooperating fully” in its fight against terrorism. The others were Venezuela, Iran, North Korea and Syria. Rodríguez tweeted that the US is “well aware of Cuba's clean slate in the struggle against terrorism as well as Cuba's experience as victim of State terrorism. It resorts to slanders in such a sensitive issue as a pretext to continue the unremitting economic warfare repudiated all over the world”. In a further tweet he said :“Void of pretexts in its efforts to exclude countries of the region from the hemispheric Summit in Los Angeles, the US resorts once again to slanders and declares that Cuba does not sufficiently cooperate in the combat against terrorism. One more lie”.

Mexico: On 18 May US Trade Representative Katherine Tai announced that the US had asked Mexico to review whether workers at a Panasonic auto parts plant in Reynosa city, Tamaulipas state, are being denied the rights of free association and collective bargaining. The request marks the third time that the US has requested Mexico’s review of freedom of association and collective bargaining rights issues under the Rapid Response Labour Mechanism (RRLM) in the US-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), all of which have been in the automotive sector.  On 18 April the Interagency Labour Committee for Monitoring and Enforcement (ILC), which is co-chaired by the US Trade Representative and the Secretary of Labour received a RRLM petition from Sindicato Nacional Independiente de Trabajadores de Industrias y Servicios (SNITIS), a Mexican union, and Rethink Trade, a US-based advocacy organisation.  The petition alleged that workers at the Panasonic automotive parts facility are being denied the right of free association and collective bargaining. The ILC determined, in response to the petition filed on 18 April that there is sufficient credible evidence of a denial of rights enabling the good faith invocation of enforcement mechanisms. As a result, the US Trade Representative has submitted a request to Mexico that it review whether workers at the Panasonic facility are being denied the right of free association and collective bargaining. 

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