Press play to listen
This week, in Chile there is nervousness over protests to mark the outbreak one year ago of serious social unrest as the body politic gears up for a constitutional referendum. In Argentina, judicial issues continue to make waves even as the Covid-19 crisis continues to deepen. Meanwhile, with its International Monetary Fund (IMF) loan package secured, Ecuador has a new finance minister, though his room for maneuver will be limited in what remains of the current presidential term. In Colombia, a leading minister faces a motion of censure vote that he will likely survive. And finally, in Peru, an early presidential frontrunner’s intentions should become clearer.
18 October marks the one-year anniversary of the outbreak of Chile’s most serious outbreak of social unrest since the return to democracy. A resumption of protests in recent days has security forces on alert amid continuing controversy over heavy-handed policing. An agreement to stage a referendum on whether to re-write the constitution came out of the 2019 protests. That referendum will take place on 25 October after it was postponed because of the Covid-19 pandemic. Any serious incidents of violence between now and the referendum could have the effect of lowering turnout (for a process which requires high participation if it is to have legitimacy) and/or increasing the “no” vote in opposition to a new constitution, even if this is likely to remain a minority.
The Supreme Court could issue a definitive ruling this week on the government’s controversial initiative to transfer three judges from a federal court hearing corruption cases involving VP Cristina Fernandez (CFK). The court’s decision to consider the case provoked strong criticism from CFK allies and hard-hitting broadsides against Supreme Court president Carlos Rosenkrantz. A ruling against the government would raise political tensions and probably lead CFK to redouble her efforts to push through a judicial reform that is currently stalled in the lower house, even if the governing coalition lacks the numbers to pass it. The issue comes amid increasing noise about possible cabinet changes and constant infighting within the administration.
In parallel, the Covid-19 situation remains problematic over 200 days since a lockdown was imposed. Argentina currently has the sixth highest caseload in the world, with just under 900,000 confirmed cases. The situation in the Buenos Aires Metropolitan Area (AMBA) – for much of the last six months the epicenter of the Covid-19 pandemic – has improved in recent weeks, which has prompted authorities to loosen some restrictions even as the central government late last week extended its overall quarantine to 25 October. The provinces of Santa Fe, Cordoba, and Mendoza are currently seeing rising case numbers, though hospitalization rates remain broadly manageable for now.
Mauricio Pozo begins his first full week as finance minister after Richard Martinez stepped down on 7 October. Pozo has said that he will work on draft fiscal and labor reform proposals over the seven months that remain of President Lenin Moreno’s presidency. However, uncertainty over who will succeed Moreno makes it unclear what sort of reforms will be possible under the next administration. The Finance Ministry last week denied reports that there is a plan to raise VAT by three points to 15% as part of the recent USD 6.5bn IMF agreement that Martinez secured – at least not under Moreno. Realistically, anti-corruption reforms that the IMF backs are the only major initiative that Moreno has a chance of passing before he leaves office in May 2021.
Defense Minister Carlos Holmes Trujillo faces a motion of censure vote on 13 October following his appearance before Congress last week to answer questions about his failure to apologize for the excessive use of force by police during last year’s protests. However, one of the opposition senators who wants to question Holmes Trujillo over security forces’ failure to prevent a series of mass killings in recent months with a view to a separate motion of censure vote, has accused the minister of planning to exploit the situation to resign and launch his pre-candidacy to succeed President Ivan Duque. Given that presidential elections are not until 2022, resigning would be premature. However, it is true that Holmes Trujillo wants to win over Uribistas ahead of the 2022 race. The release from house arrest of Alvaro Uribe on 10 October – part of a separate legal process that the former president faces – will likely energize Uribistas, even if their leader still faces a complicated legal battle ahead.
George Forsyth, mayor of the Lima district of La Victoria, is expected to submit his resignation today, 12 October, so that he can run for president in the April/June 2021 elections. Forsyth leads the polls ahead of the 2021 race, though at this stage of proceedings, with few candidacies confirmed, the number of undecided voters is high. Assuming he decides to run, the 38-year-old ex-footballer will be hoping that his youth, can-do attitude, and name-recognition among the apolitical will compensate for his lack of experience and fragile party backing. Forsyth recently joined the National Restoration (RN) party, which is changing its name to Victoria Nacional(National Victory) in allusion to La Victoria.