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Analysis Beyond the Echo Chamber

The Americas Blog seeks to present a more accurate perspective on economic and political developments in the Western Hemisphere than is often presented in the United States. It will provide information that is often ignored, buried, and sometimes misreported in the major U.S. media. For more information, sign up for our Latin America News Roundup or visit the archives.

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CARICOM Stands Up to Bolivian Coup Regime — And to Almagro's Interventionist Agenda
It went largely unnoticed in the media, but toward the last few days of 2019, the Permanent Council of the Organization of American States (OAS) passed a resolution challenging the narrative pushed by the United States and OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro regarding the situation in Bolivia, including the removal of president Evo Morales in a coup on November 10.
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Since 1986, US budget bills have included a provision ― commonly identified as Section 7008 ― that expressly prohibits providing financial aid to governments that have taken power via a military coup. In its most recent form, the provision reads:

None of the funds appropriated or otherwise made available … shall be obligated or expended to finance directly any assistance to the government of any country whose duly elected head of government is deposed by military coup d’état or decree or … a coup d’état or decree in which the military plays a decisive role: Provided, That assistance may be resumed to such government if the Secretary of State certifies and reports to the appropriate congressional committees that subsequent to the termination of assistance a democratically elected government has taken office: Provided further, That the provisions of this section shall not apply to assistance to promote democratic elections or public participation in democratic processes….

The language of this provision is clear, yet the State Department often fails to act when coups take place. In some cases, this is because the US government supports the coups (in some cases aiding or orchestrating them). It would appear that the US government has a selective approach to dealing with military coups, depending on whether they are seen as favorable or detrimental to US power and influence in the region. In cases in which the US government considers a coup a positive development, the secretary of state often avoids complying with Section 7008 by simply choosing to ignore that a coup has taken place. The aftermath of the overthrow of Evo Morales’s government in Bolivia provides the latest example of how US leaders disregard the law in this way, and indeed how they are growing bolder in doing so.

When Egypt’s elected president Mohamed Morsi was forced from office by the Egyptian army and replaced by former general Abdel el-Sisi in 2013, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki was faced with questions about whether or not the event was a military coup, thus calling $1.5 billion in annual US aid to Egypt into question. Her response was that “[t]he law does not require us to make a formal determination as to whether a coup took place, and it is not in our national interest to make such a determination.” Though every major media outlet in the world identified el-Sisi’s takeover as a coup, the State Department ― to this day ― has refused to do so.

In this November 12 video — excerpted from Mexican president Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s morning press conference — Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard describes how Bolivian president Evo Morales was transported to Mexico aboard a Mexican Air Force plane.  

The plane landed at Chimoré airport, located in the department of Cochabamba and controlled, at the time, by the Bolivian military. It was from here that Morales was eventually flown to safety.

Ebrard describes the tense negotiations that took place between the governments of Mexico and Bolivia, and the challenges posed by the vacuum of power in the hours following Morales’s forced resignation, when the military were visibly in command. Though his presentation is sober and diplomatic, Mexico’s top diplomat makes it clear that Evo Morales’s life was in danger, and that the attempt to rescue him almost ended in disaster.

Ebrard describes how other South American countries responded to Mexico’s attempt to retrieve Evo Morales. He recalls how several governments that had initially authorized the Mexican aircraft to transit through their airspace or refuel, including Peru and Ecuador, suddenly reneged on their word.

Ebrard makes clear that the decision to revoke permissions to land or use airspace were made at the highest level of government in each of these countries. The Mexican foreign minister’s assertions raise serious questions: Why did these governments change their mind? And were these countries under international pressure to prevent Morales from flying to safety?

Updated January 16, 2020

CEPR recent work and media appearances involving Bolivia include:

Preliminary Analysis of the Findings of the Final Report on the OAS Audit, by Jake Johnston, December 12, 2019
This is an analysis of the OAS final audit of the Bolivian elections, published on December 4, its actual findings and of the neutrality and rigor of the audit itself. It finds the audit appears intended to “justify the organization’s … unsubstantiated claims of fraud" and that it raises troubling questions about the OAS’s trustworthiness in conducting the audit and reporting its results. (Spanish here.)

Unnatural Claims in a ‘Natural Experiment’: Escobari and Hoover on the 2019 Bolivian Elections, by David Rosnick, December 12 2019
This examines a short paper by Diego Escobari and Gary Hoover purporting to show that there was fraud in the October 20 Bolivian presidential election that affected the results. It replicates the results of Escobari and Hoover, discovers errors in their analysis, and eventually finds that their approach essentially confirms our own findings that the change in margin was predictable.

Lola Allen's post The Americas Blog, "CARICOM Stands Up to Bolivian Coup Regime — And to Almagro's Interventionist Agenda," January 15, 2020

Brett Heinz's post for The Americas Blog, "Calling a Coup a Coup: The State Department Ignores the Law, Again," January 7, 2020

Guillaume Long's op-ed in OpenDemocracy, "How the OAS, and the Media’s Lack of Scrutiny, Caused a Violent Coup in Bolivia," November 25, 2019

Guillaume Long and Lola Allen's blog post, "Evo Morales’s Life was in Danger, and He Almost Didn't Make it Out of Bolivia," November 20, 2019

Mark Weisbrot's op-ed in MarketWatch, "The Organization of American States Has Deceived the Public, Terribly, on the Bolivian Election," November 19, 2019

Mark Weisbrot on The Real News, "How OAS Deception Helped the Coup in Bolivia," November 19, 2019

The economic crisis in Argentina continues to intensify, with high inflation, rising poverty, and decreasing investor confidence. The implementation of a record $57 billion IMF bailout program, rather than alleviating Argentina’s economic woes, has seen poverty and unemployment rise, and a surge in debt levels. 

Argentine political sentiment was tested in August when voters went to the primary polls and delivered a decisive defeat to President Mauricio Macri and his ruling coalition. With a nearly 16-point lead, Alberto Fernández and his running mate, former president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, are in a strong position to win the general presidential election on October 27. Their broad-based, progressive coalition is also poised to capture the legislature and key governorships, significantly reshaping Argentina’s political terrain.

In light of these developments, and Argentina’s uncertain future, on Tuesday, September 24, three economists, who have been closely following political and economic developments in Argentina, presented their analysis to congressional staffers and civil society representatives at the Longworth House Office Building in Washington, DC. 

A recent report on Venezuela by the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) is a grim portrayal of a country in a severe crisis. Yet, given the extensive media coverage given to this report, it is important to contextualize what is going on in Venezuela in light of the situation in other countries in the region.

Comparing the rates of violent abuses of state security agents in Venezuela with those of state actors like Brazil, Colombia, El Salvador, Honduras, or Mexico, it becomes clear that Venezuela is far from being an outlier, but rather part of a disturbing pattern of abusive, tough-on-crime, “mano dura” (“iron fist”) security policies in Latin America. What is an outlier, however, is the disproportionate media attention directed at Venezuela’s human rights situation, in comparison to other Latin American nations.

Another outlier is the US approach to Venezuela, which is clearly driven by the political aims of President Donald Trump — not by any particular concern for human rights. To get a sense of Trump’s double standard when it comes to human rights, one need look no further than how his administration treats Venezuela’s neighbor, Brazil.

The first two Democratic Party presidential primary debates in Miami covered a lot of foreign policy ground — but it is a stretch to say the candidates’ statements rose to the level of a real “debate.” They tended to agree with one another and merely emphasize different priorities.

There were two exceptions to this consensus:

  1. Four candidates (former congressman of Maryland John Delaney, Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, former HUD secretary Julián Castro, and Congressman Tim Ryan of Ohio) called China one of the US’s greatest geopolitical threats, while two candidates (former Colorado governor John Hickenlooper and entrepreneur Andrew Yang) argued for a new relationship with China built on cooperation.

  2. Ryan argued for maintaining US engagement in Afghanistan, while Hawai’i Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard and former vice president Joe Biden called, without reservations, for withdrawal.

Very little in these debates shed light on the differences among these candidates in how they would approach foreign policy if elected. However, given the great range of foreign policy issues raised, one can hope that the candidates will engage in a more robust conversation on foreign policy as the field winnows—including talking about many issues that have thus far been left out.

Here were some of the foreign policy issues the candidates discussed:

Climate

These debates marked a major shift in the extent to which presidential candidates have addressed climate change, with two candidates (California Senator Kamala Harris and Washington Governor Jay Inslee) referring to a “climate crisis.”

In our paper, “Sanctions as Collective Punishment: The Case of Venezuela,” we looked at some of the ways in which the sanctions on Venezuela imposed by the US government curtail access to essential and life-saving imports, and some of the data on impacts such as mortality. We concluded that US economic sanctions since August 2017 have likely caused a dire rise in mortality and a grave aggravation of Venezuela’s economic crisis. We concluded that the sanctions imposed since January will be much more devastating in terms of increased hunger and mortality, and of economic losses, than have the prior US executive orders and other economic sanctions.

The fact that these sanctions cause extreme suffering and deaths should not be a matter of dispute. If you cut off access to medicines, medical equipment, imports needed to maintain water and sanitation infrastructure, and for spare parts, and you prevent an economy that is in a deep depression from recovering, a lot of people are going to suffer diseases and premature mortality.

Economists Miguel Angel Santos and Ricardo Hausmann have challenged our claim that the sanctions dramatically worsened Venezuela’s crisis of oil production and exports, and therefore of the ability to finance food and medical imports.

In what follows, we look at their arguments, which are based on easily identified errors. 

On January 23, the United States recognized Juan Guaidó as president of Venezuela. As CEPR Co-Director Mark Weisbrot has pointed out in The Nation, this is not a merely diplomatic maneuver:

On January 23, the Trump administration announced that it was recognizing Juan Guaidó, currently head of the Venezuelan National Assembly, as “interim president” of the country. By doing so (together with politically allied countries), Washington basically imposed a trade embargo against Venezuela. This is because any revenue from oil sales to about three-quarters of Venezuela’s export markets―the United States and its allies―would no longer go to the government but to the “interim president.”

On Tuesday, the International Crisis Group’s Ivan Briscoe wrote in Foreign Affairs that around 90 percent of the Venezuelan population receives food aid from Maduro’s government, a crucial lifeline currently endangered by US policy:

The state now provides citizens with monthly boxes of subsidized rations that offer high-carb sustenance—pasta, rice, and flour—along with a few tins of tuna. According to a recent independent social survey, these boxes are now provided to more than seven million households, or around 90 percent of the population; a high-level government source estimates the cost at more than $400 million a month.

But the state’s food supply is now in peril. At the end of January, the United States sanctioned Venezuela’s state-run oil firm, PDVSA, which until then had been the Maduro government’s single largest source of hard currency. By freezing the proceeds on its purchases of Venezuelan oil, the United States hoped to starve the regime and convince factions within the government to abandon Maduro, making way for Guaidó and free elections.

In the Financial Times, noted Venezuelan economist Francisco Rodríguez wrote that humanitarian aid was inadequate to make up the shortfall resulting from Venezuela’s economic collapse:

Last week, humanitarian aid was at the center of discussion of the Venezuela crisis in the US, and evidently at the center of Juan Guaidó’s plans to challenge the Maduro government’s hold on power in the country. The New York Times noted that:

The battle over the legitimate leadership of Venezuela — which has included rallies of thousands, international diplomacy and oil sanctions — is now focused on a single heavily guarded shipment of humanitarian aid.

Venezuela’s opposition, which has relished a month of victories in its effort to challenge President Nicolás Maduro and take over as the country’s legitimate government, brought the donated supplies of food and medical kits to the country’s border with Colombia.

Its goal was to bring the supplies into Venezuela, forcing a confrontation with Mr. Maduro, who has refused the help. This would cast Mr. Maduro in a bad light, opposition leaders said, and display their ability to set up a government-like relief system in a nation where the crumbling economy has left many starving, sick and without access to medicine.

Last week, the US formally adopted sanctions on Venezuelan national oil company PDVSA, as well as on CITGO, its US-based distribution arm, as part of its press for regime change in Caracas. National Security Advisor John Bolton estimated the actions would affect some $7 billion in assets and would block $11 billion in revenue to the Venezuelan government over the next year. The State Department was quick to add, “These new sanctions do not target the innocent people of Venezuela…”

But of course they do. The Wall Street Journal reported:

The sanctions could create deeper gasoline shortages in Venezuela. The country’s refineries are already operating at a fraction of their capacity, crippled by a lack of spare parts and crude. Venezuela only produced a third of the 190,000 barrels of gasoline it consumed a day as of November, according to Ivan Freites, a leader of the country’s oil union.

“Immediately, it’s going to hurt the average Venezuelan,” Mr. Freites said.

Meanwhile, The New York Times noted:

But just across the street, a group of senior citizens waiting in line to collect their pensions worried that the Trump administration’s actions would further bankrupt their country and deepen the humanitarian crisis that has left so many starving, sick and without basic services.

“The United States has no business meddling in this,” said Aura Ramos, 59, a retiree who can barely afford blood pressure medicine. “It’s the regular people who will be affected.”

The Washington Office on Latin America released a statement criticizing the announced sanctions, writing:

However, we are deeply concerned at the potential for the recently announced U.S. sanctions to intensify the severe hardships and suffering that millions of Venezuelans are enduring. Venezuelans are already facing widespread scarcities of essential medicines and basic goods. Venezuela’s oil exports represent the main source of hard currency used to pay for imports. Without this revenue, it is clear that the importation of food and medicine could be put at risk. In turn, this will further accelerate a migration and refugee crisis that has strained neighboring countries and put many of the over 3 million Venezuelan migrants and refugees at risk.

It appears as though there is increasing acceptance of the basic fact that the US sanctions on Venezuela will have a negative impact on the people of Venezuela, but all this analysis misses two important points. First, the Trump administration had already imposed broad economic sanctions in 2017, though apparently both The Wall Street Journal and New York Times were unaware of this development.

Puerto Rico’s economy has had considerable problems over the last decade, and Hurricane Maria, which struck the island just over one year ago and was the worst natural disaster on record in Puerto Rican history, greatly exacerbated them.

Despite nearly unanimous recognition of the island’s ongoing economic woes, Governor Ricardo Rosselló touted employment growth last month as the economy gained 100 jobs in July (this was revised down to a loss of 400 jobs). Rosselló was looking at the household survey, which surveys people, rather than the establishment survey, which surveys businesses — and is the standard for reporting month-to-month employment numbers. (The household survey, which Rosselló used, might be better at including the informal sector, but it’s worse at reliably tracking jobs created and lost.) Employment fell in August as well, with another 1,000 jobs lost. Rosselló has claimed the island is seeing an “economic recovery.”

As the fortunes of South America’s “pink tide” have turned and right-wing movements have recaptured power, conservative judiciaries and legislatures, egged on by elite-controlled media cartels, have engaged in dubious judicial procedures against various left-wing figures. In 2015, Argentina elected a right-wing neoliberal president, Mauricio Macri, and former left-leaning president Cristina Kirchner was charged with treason and other crimes. In Brazil, the Senate impeached sitting president Dilma Rousseff ― though her alleged crimes were dismissed by federal prosecutors ― and replaced her with the conservative Michel Temer. More recently, Lula, who polls suggest would easily win reelection, has been convicted of corruption and jailed, despite the absence of material evidence backing the charges against him. This decade has effectively become one of politico-judicial persecution ― lawfare ― against pink tide political figures, as right-wing movements try to ensure that their left-wing rivals won’t return to power.

Ecuador’s former president Rafael Correa appears to be the latest victim of lawfare against left-wing politicians. On July 3, 2018, a court in Ecuador ordered Correa’s arrest and extradition following his failure to serve a subpoena to appear in court. Judge Daniella Camacho of the National Court of Justice alerted Interpol to detain Correa if he tries to leave Belgium, where now resides with his Belgian wife. His offer to depose testimony at the Ecuadorian diplomatic mission in Brussels was rejected.

Originally subpoenaed to appear in court in mid-June, Correa was included in an investigation concerning the attempted kidnapping of lawmaker Fernando Balda in 2012. A former member of Correa’s Alianza PAIS party, and Correa’s supporter in his 2006 presidential campaign, Balda quickly became a political adversary of Correa after criticizing him over what Balda claims was “arbitrary and exclusionary management” of Alianza PAIS’ national board, as well as later accusing Correa of wiretapping his political adversaries and seeking campaign financing from Colombia’s FARC insurgent guerrilla force. By 2009, Balda had left Alianza PAIS and joined the Patriotic Society Party ― led by former army colonel and ex-president Lucio Gutiérrez, a leading figure in the 2000 Ecuadorian coup who oversaw neoliberal reforms as president from 2003 to 2005 until he was removed by Congress for the alleged abandonment of his constitutional duties.

En español

I have rarely responded to trolls because ― well, what’s the point? It’s not like they care about facts or logic.

For example, Francisco Toro, a blogger who fulminates about Venezuela and appears in the Washington Post, has been trolling me for years and I have almost always ignored him. Dany Bahar, an economist at the Brookings Institution, actually trolled me on a TV show, excitedly holding up to the camera a Guardian article that I wrote nearly five years ago, to castigate me. Cathy Newman, a news presenter for Channel 4 ― one of the top three most-watched TV stations in the UK ― did the same thing in the middle of a newscast in which she was supposedly interviewing me. And now Brian Ellsworth, a journalist  for Reuters who reports from Venezuela, has joined the latest avalanche of trolls, bots, and blowhards who swarmed me because I dared to mention on BBC World TV, on Friday night, that Trump’s financial embargo against Venezuela makes it more difficult for any government to stabilize the economy ― a fact that no economist would dispute. Indeed that is the purpose of the embargo.

Let’s start with what all of these trolls ― including the more educated ones noted above ― have in common.  They all rely on one article (out of dozens) that I wrote about Venezuela. Not one of them challenges a single fact in that article. That tells you a lot right there about the weakness of their “argument.”

Their glorious “gotcha” is not about any facts but rather a prediction. I wrote that Venezuela was not facing any serious threat of hyperinflation. That was certainly true in November 2013, the date of the article. Economists most often define hyperinflation as a rate of inflation that exceeds 50 percent per month. Although we don’t have official statistics for inflation in Venezuela since 2015, available estimates (from the opposition-controlled National Assembly) do not show Venezuelan inflation at that level until November of 2017, four years later.

The trolls imply that I should have known in November 2013 that Venezuela would eventually reach hyperinflation. At the time, as I noted in the Guardian article, Venezuela was facing a dynamic in which there was a significant parallel market for the dollar, and the price of the dollar in that market was rising.  This increased inflation (by increasing the price of imports). The inflation, in turn, drove more people to buy dollars, which pushed the black market price of the dollar up further. If such a spiral is allowed to continue it will eventually lead to hyperinflation.

With its authority recently upheld by the courts, Puerto Rico’s Federal Management and Oversight Board (known simply as “the Board”) continues to impose harsh austerity measures on the people of Puerto Rico. But while residents face pension cuts, school closures, massive layoffs, and a continued recession, the same austerity does not apply to the Board itself, which is spending hundreds of millions on its own expenses and a myriad of consultants, advisers, and lawyers. Nor does the austerity appear to apply to some of Puerto Rico’s bondholders either.

Last week, the Board, along with the government of Puerto Rico, announced they reached a deal with owners of bonds in Puerto Rico’s Sales Tax Financing Corporation (COFINA), proudly claiming it would save the commonwealth $17.5 billion in debt service. While technically true, the claim obscures the fact that the deal will still see Puerto Rico use its scarce resources to pay these creditors some $33 billion over the next 40 years on what was initially $17 billion in principal. Overall, the bondholders will recover nearly 75 percent of the initial value of their investment, a fairly generous settlement from a bankrupt entity still trying to recover from a lost decade — without economic growth — followed by  the devastation of Hurricane Maria.

In fact, judging from the Board’s most recent fiscal plan, Puerto Rico won’t even have the money to pay for the bonds that would be issued as part of the settlement. The board projects the island to have about a $4 billion surplus over the next 40 years, leaving authorities at least $28 billion short of satisfying this deal with creditors. The settlement is actually based on revenue projections from an earlier version of the Board’s fiscal plan, which were revised down in June when the newest version of the plan was certified. This mistake, rather than the overall generosity of the offer, now puts in question the future of this deal. Will the Board revise its fiscal plan yet again to demand even greater austerity in order to satisfy these creditors’ claims?

To make matters worse, a close look at who the current COFINA bondholders are reveals a series of vulture funds that bought the bonds at steep discounts after the initial default, and immediately after Hurricane Maria. Investors now stand to make huge profits from that move, while most Puerto Ricans suffer through continued austerity. One of the largest investors in COFINA bonds, GoldenTree Asset Management, more than doubled its holdings in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. Court filings show that as of August 1, 2018, GoldenTree owned $1.5 billion in COFINA bonds, up from $587 million in August 2017. The bonds in question traded as low as 20 cents on the dollar during this time period, which means a 75 percent recovery rate could amount to an enormous profit.

GoldenTree is far from the only vulture fund that stands to benefit though. Initially, one of the loudest voices against reaching a deal with COFINA bondholders was the group representing General Obligation (GO) bondholders, who claimed that they had priority over other creditors for repayment. However, two of the biggest GO bondholders, Aurelius Capital Management, and Monarch Alternative Capital have recently started buying up COFINA bonds, and now stand to benefit from this agreement themselves. Since the storm, court filings show how the two funds have increased their holdings of COFINA securities to $488 million from $39 million.

Welcome to our live blog of Mexico's historic elections today. See our introductory post here.

All update times are Eastern time zone.

UPDATE 11:12 PM: FEPADE provided an updated tally on electoral complaints received throughout the day. Throughout the country there were 394 complaints at the federal level, and even more concerning local races. 19 people were arrested for federal electoral crimes. 

UPDATE 11:08 PM: And now President Donald Trump has tweeted his congratulations to president-elect Obrador. 

 

UPDATE 11:01 PM: Mitofsky has now released its Senate exit polls, which indicate a possible majority for Morena and allies with 56-70 seats. There are 128 seats in the senate. 

Mitofsky mex sen poll 

UPDATE 10:36 PM: U.S. Congressional Progressive Caucus co-chairs, Rep. Raul Grijalva and Rep. Mark Pocan, have released a statement following Obrador's likely victory. 

CPC mexico

UPDATE 10:27 PM: Pollster Mitofsky has just released exit poll data estimating Moreno and it's allies in "Together We Will Make History" winning between 256 and 291 seats - a majority. 
WhatsApp Image 2018 07 01 at 10.17.10 PM

UPDATE 10:12 PM: Argentina issued a statement congratulating Obrador on his election victory. Again, official results are based on only 0.32 percent of total ballots, but as Richard Ensor of The Economist points out, these early returns indicate a broad-based victory for Obrador:  

UPDATE 9:45 PM: Official results have just started being posted by INE, but the results appear irreversible. Ricardo Anaya of the PAN has also just conceded defeat to López Obrador. 

UPDATE 9:31 PM: More exit polls are giving AMLO around 50 percent of the vote. ADN has AMLO with 51 percent to Anaya's 23 percent, with Meade again at 18 percent. The Washington Post is reporting: "Several exit polls gave Lopez Obrador a double-digit lead over his two closest competitors...."

UPDATE 9:18 PM: El Financiero is also projecting Morena with 38 percent of the vote for the chamber of deputies (the legislative lower house), the PAN with 22 percent, the PRI with 18 percent, the PRD with 6 percent, and the PT (Workers' Party) with 4 percent.

UPDATE 9:16 PM: The ruling PRI's presidential candidate, Jose Antonio Meade, has conceded defeat to Obrador before official results are announced. 

UPDATE 9:11 PM: El Financiero's presidential exit poll has been released and it shows Morenas' Obrador with 49 percent of the vote. Anaya of the PAN is in second with 29 percent, and the PRI's Meade is in third with 18 percent, according to the poll. 

UPDATE 8:52 PM: The 5:00 pm report from Diálogos por la Democracia is now available. They say they "received and tracked and directed" 198 citizen complaints, of which 52 were for "soliciting votes for payment, promises of money, or other consideration."

UPDATE 8:43 PM: An observer in Tlaxcala reported at 8:20 pm:

[They're conducting the count for] President and diputado at the same time here In Tlaxcala. All mesas/casillas can decide if they are going to take additional security measures. At this casilla, they signed (have to confirm how many / who) as an extra security measure. Most we visited today were not signing. In another area of Tlaxcala they had stolen some ballots previous to the election. In addition to reprinting, they required signatures (2 mesa, 2 partidos) on every ballot. Wind in a tent is complicating working with lots of paper ballots...

Counting in Tlaxcala.

UPDATE 8:37 PM: In a series of tweets (ongoing), the #Verificado2018 project reported the confirmed cases of electoral violence and irregularities in Puebla state today. A PRI activist was killed in the municipality of Acolihuia. At the Emiliano Zapata school in Barranca Honda, 8-10 gunmen showed up at around 2 PM and fire off shots, temporarily closing the center. At a voting center in Colonia Fuentes de San Aparicio shots were fired and ballots for president and governor were stolen. Ballots were also stolen in San Sebastián by seven armed individuals. 

UPDATE 8:28 PM: An observer in Jilotepec reports:

Here in Section 2260 in Jilotepec, the counting of blank ballots is finished and now a poll worker is reading out the number of registered voters that have voted on each page of the thick voter registry for casilla contigua 3 while all of the party representatives confirm that his count matches their count, page by page. In a few places there are discrepancies which they resolve. In total, 459 of 650 registered voters deposited ballots in the urns of this casilla.

Counting at Jilotepec section 2260.

With that done, on to the tallying, starting with the ballots for the presidential election. They are all dumped on a table by the president of the casilla, and the poll workers begin to unfold each ballot. Another long process. [They're tallying the municipal ballots and the presidential ballots at the same time.]

UPDATE 8:20 PM: At 8:06 pm, observers reported that rain did indeed begin to pour at casilla 0734 in Coyoacán, "forcing a hurried move inside an auditorium next to the casilla."

Rain at casilla 0734 in Coyoacan.

UPDATE 8:16 PM: Exit polls being reported by El Financiero project the next governor of Jalisco will be the Citizens Movement candidate Enrique Alfaro, and in Guanajuato the "Por Guanajuato al frente" candidate Diego Sinhué. The governor's race in Yucatán is projected to be between the PAN and Citizens Movement candidate Mauricio Vila and the PRI-Green Party candidate Mauricio Sahuí. In Veracruz, the race is projected to be down to the “Together We Will Make History” candidate Cuitláhuac García and the "Por Veracruz al frente" candidate Miguel Ángel Yunes. In Puebla, the race is projected to be between Miguel Barbosa of the "Together We Will Make History" coalition, and the candidate of the "Por Puebla al frente," Martha Erika Alonso.

In 1991, Argentina fixed its peso to the US dollar, but the increasing value of the dollar led to a deep recession beginning in mid-1998, and default on dollar-denominated debt in December 2001. The currency board devalued the peso by 29 percent in January 2002, before the peso fell further over the year as the peg was abandoned completely.

The year 2001 also represented a low point in Argentina’s commodity prices. From 2001 to 2011, prices rose 187 percent — much faster than import prices generally, which rose 42 percent over the same period. This was the largest relative increase in commodity prices since 1933, shortly after Argentina abandoned the gold standard.

This has led some observers to attribute Argentina’s rapid economic growth after coming out of recession to a commodity boom, but an increase in commodity prices can cut both ways, increasing the price of purchases as well as sales. Indeed, there was considerable improvement in the terms of trade over 2001–2011, and the price of gross domestic product (GDP) relative to that of domestic demand (domestic consumption and investment) grew only about 7.5 percent. This suggests that the impact on real output was modest — perhaps less than 3 percent over the decade.

For more than a week, Nicaragua was convulsed in protests that were met with heavy-handed repression that has reportedly left at least 30 dead. Tear gas. Rubber bullets. Live ammunition. Barricades and burning buildings. Daniel Ortega, the revolutionary Sandinista leader — and president for the past 11 years — “is suddenly facing a revolution of his own,” The New York Times reported.

“The Nicaragua of a week ago no longer exists,” José Adán Aguerri said to The Times. “The break was really with the [Ortega government’s] social security [reforms],” Aguerri later told The Washington Post. Aguerri is the head of COSEP, “the country’s main business organization, which organized one of the biggest protest marches,” The Post reported.

Based on much of the media coverage so far, it would be fair to think that this “revolutionary” leader has opted to cut pensions — screwing the very base that has kept him in power — and providing the impetus for a broad movement to oust him. But missing from almost all of the international news analysis has been salient information on what those reforms actually are — and perhaps more importantly, what sort of alternative reforms are actually being proposed by many of those, like COSEP, now criticizing the government.

Nicaragua’s social security system, INSS, is facing a budget shortfall — that much is true. The IMF said last year that the institution was broke, and called for urgent reforms. The shortfall is actually running at about $75 million a year, or about 0.5 percentage points of GDP. A potential problem? Yes, but far from the calamitous situation that it has been described as.

Months after Hurricane Maria the lights are still not back on for all Puerto Ricans. The extensive damage caused by the storm, along with the slow pace of restoring electricity have highlighted the struggles of Puerto Rico’s Electric Power Authority (PREPA). Prior to the storm, PREPA was already dealing with old and failing infrastructure, and a debt burden of about $9 billion dollars. When the storm hit, the embattled utility was not prepared to respond to the damage.  

The Fiscal Plan released by Puerto Rico’s government does not question whether privatizing PREPA is needed, but rather presents it as the only viable option. The plan claims that by privatizing the utility, it will “transform” it into an efficient, reliable, and cost-effective energy provider. The proposed privatization process consists of a mix between selling assets, and offering concessions to private companies to run operations.

However, privatization is no panacea for fixing public utilities, and Puerto Rico’s past experience should ring alarm bells. Two failed attempts at privatizing water services resulted in the government having to retake control of the utility in even worse shape. The disastrous results of Puerto Rico Aqueducts and Sewers Authority (PRASA) contracting with private companies to manage its operations are detailed in this report by Puerto Rico’s Comptroller’s Office.

This interview with Marco Ramiro Lobo, a non-voting member of the Honduran electoral authority (TSE by its Spanish acronym) was published on December 3rd by El Faro. In the days since, the TSE has conducted a partial review of actas in an attempt to satisfy concerns raised by international observers and the political opposition, and has agreed to recount the 5000 actas discussed in the interview. However, both the second and third-place finishers continue to reject the results provided by the TSE, which they say has lost all credibility. Both parties filed legal challenges to the results requesting a full vote-by-vote recount and the annulment of the elections, respectively. More than two weeks since the election, many questions remain about how things went so wrong.

He’s an alternate member but, after the president of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE in Spanish) of Honduras, he is the most visible of the tribunal’s four magistrates. He doesn’t have a vote, but he has a voice and he has made certain that he is heard. Marco Ramiro Lobo was appointed by the Honduran congress three years ago, and today he appears to be the magistrate most opposed to the decisions of the tribunal’s president, David Matamoros. He’s demanding an in-depth investigation of two system failures by the TSE’s vote-tallying technology. He admits that the TSE bears the primary responsibility for the political and social crisis gripping Honduras a week after its presidential election.

The tribunal consists of a magistrate, President David Matamoros, from the National Party, a representative from the Liberal Party, Erick Rodríguez, a member of the tiny Democratic Christian Party, Saúl Bonilla, and Lobo, a member of the small Party of Democratic Unification (UD). The Honduran congress refused to name a representative from the Free Party or the Party for Innovation and Unity (PINU), which make up the Opposition Alliance headed by Salvador Nasralla and Mel Zelaya, who are currently denouncing the reported results as fraudulent.

It has been eight years since the Honduran military removed democratically elected president Manuel Zelaya from office. The post-coup period was characterized by social turmoil, violent repression by state forces, and a breakdown in the rule of law.

In November 2013, shortly before Honduras’ last presidential elections, CEPR published a report on the country’s economic situation since the 2009 coup showing that economic growth had slowed, social spending had decreased, and unemployment had worsened.

On Sunday, November 26, Honduras will again be holding presidential elections. In this post, we provide a brief, fresh overview of the macroeconomic and social indicators in Honduras since the coup, in order to help understand the economic context in which these elections will unfold.