This week, Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro is trying to get his new party formalized. In Peru, televised debates could help firm up the undecided vote ahead of the 26 January congressional elections. In Argentina, inflation data for December will be published, while in Mexico, a bitter battle for control of the oil workers’ union is underway. Finally, Cuba faces new tourism restrictions that will squeeze the struggling economy.
President Jair Bolsonaro goes on a “marathon” trip this week in the northeast of the country in search of supporting signatures in time for the creation of his new party, the Alliance for Brazil (APB). The APB needs close to half a million signatures by the beginning of April in order to be able to participate in next year’s municipal elections. So far, a quarter of the necessary signatures has been obtained. The president himself has expressed doubts about the success of his mission. The northeast is the only region where the president lost to the Workers Party (PT) candidate Fernando Haddad in the 2018 presidential elections.
Two televised debates will take place this week involving some of the 21 parties competing in the 26 January extraordinary congressional elections. There will be one debate on 16 January including the Fuerza Popular (FP) and the leftist Broad Front (FA) among other parties; the final debate will be on 19 January and will involve the Alliance for Progress (APP) and the Union for Peru (UPP), which has joined forces with imprisoned insurrectionist and ultra-nationalist Antauro Humala. Polls suggest the Popular Action (AP) party, the FP, the Purple Party (Partido Morado), and the APP – all centrist or center-right – will emerge as the four main blocs in the new Congress, though there are still a significant number of undecided voters.
Inflation statistics for December will be released on 15 January. The monthly rate is expected to be between 4% and 5%, which would result in a total inflation for 2019 of around 54%, which would be the highest rate since 1991. The new government last week re-launched price controls on a range of staple goods. President Alberto Fernandez has also temporarily frozen utility and transport tariffs and suspended pension benefit indexation. However, inflationary inertia will be difficult to tame, and the expectation is for annual inflation over 40% for 2020.
The future of the STPRM oil workers’ union is likely to come under increasing scrutiny. Improved productivity at Pemex will be necessary if President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO) is to meet his own highly ambitious goal of turning around the struggling state oil company. AMLO therefore needs to close off the STPRM from remaining under the indirect control of the veteran STPRM leader Carlos Romero Deschamps, who was forced to resign from his post last October amid corruption investigations; last week, amid intensifying factional in-fighting within the union, Labor Minister Luisa Maria Alcalde said that the government did not recognize the interim leadership of a Romero Deschamps ally.
The US government on 10 January announced new restrictions on public charter flights between the US and Cuban destinations other than Havana that will take effect in March. The move comes on top of similar restrictions on commercial air travel announced last October, as well as a ban on visits to the island by cruise ships, as well as the end of the waiver of Title III of the Helms-Burton Act (1996), which had protected the regime from litigation relating to assets and property confiscated after the 1959 revolution. Minister of Economic Planning Alejandro Gil said in December that he was expecting growth of around 1% in 2020, though this looks unrealistic given economic pressures. Tourism targets were not met last year; fuel supply issues arose as a result of US sanctions on shipping companies and vessels used to deliver products from Venezuela to Cuba; and there are signs that the sugar sector is struggling.