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Colombia set for highly polarised presidential vote

On 24 May, the five main candidates running in Colombia’s 27 May first-round presidential election took part in a final debate.

Abstention mars Maduro victory but what’s next for Venezuela?

Venezuela’s President Nicolás Maduro was re-elected on 20 May until 2025 which, if he serves out his term, would mean 26 straight years of Bolivarian governments. The result was no surprise; the suspense lay in the reaction to the result and, above all, the size of the turnout. The US and Lima Group of 14 hemispheric nations stepped up sanctions while, with the notable exceptions of China and Russia, the international community refused to recognise the result. Maduro celebrated the biggest electoral victory since Venezuelan military dictator Marcos Pérez Jiménez was overthrown in 1958. But turnout was by far the lowest since then and Maduro fell well short of the 10m votes he wanted to try and confer some credibility on an electoral process denuded of legitimacy by his government’s actions.

Is Mercosur asleep on the job?

During the decade of the commodity boom (roughly the ten years to 2012) the governments of Argentina and Brazil (the two dominant members of the Mercosur trade bloc, whose other members are Paraguay and Uruguay [and Venezuela – suspended since 2016]) neglected the customs union and bickered between themselves over protective tariffs. When there was a political swing to the centre-right in Argentina (late 2015) and Brazil (mid 2016) there was a lot of talk of reviving Mercosur and making a new commitment to open trade and regional integration. But has anything really happened?

It’s the corruption, stupid!

Famously, the 1992 Bill Clinton election campaign headquarters had a sign up on the wall proclaiming “it’s the economy, stupid” – an exhortation to focus on what was seen as the top issue of the time. More than a quarter of a century later, current and would-be Latin American presidents could do well to have their own version of the sign pinned up in their offices saying “it’s the corruption, stupid!” Corruption is beyond doubt one of the top political problems in the continent. The Summit of the Americas (held in Lima on 13-14 April) issued a new declaration on how to fight against corruption, but many worry it will be no more than another ineffectual declaration of good intentions.

Introduction

The theme of our May edition of the Regional Report: Brazil and Southern Cone is challenging the status quo. Against the constant noise of corruption scandals, economic volatility, and insecurity, it is easy to lose sight of the region's potential. But with a raft of innovative reforms bubbling under the surface, there is plenty of room for improvement.

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