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December 7, 2020

Latam

LATAM PULSE

BY Nicholas Watson, Mario Marconini

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( 5 mins)

This week, Venezuela’s opposition leader Juan Guaido needs to re-legitimize his position even if it is clear that yesterday’s legislative elections were a sham. In Peru, interim President Francisco Sagasti’s in-tray already looks full. Argentina’s talks with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) continue amid signs of political headwinds coming from a familiar direction. In Brazil, discussions will continue this week on a possible congressional agenda for December. The first round of Ecuador’s presidential is only two months away but the candidacy of former president Rafael Correa’s proxy is still not officially confirmed. Finally, opposition parties in Mexico are joining forces ahead of next year’s mid-terms.

Venezuela

Full results from the 6 December National Assembly elections should be confirmed early this week. According to preliminary results released by the regime-controlled National Electoral Council (CNE), the pro-regime coalition has won 67.6% of the vote. Turnout figures are confused, with the CNE putting participation at 31%, though the official figure of 5.2mn votes cast would mean turnout was closer to 25%. The opposition put turnout at a little over 16%, while also recording the use of regime checkpoints, get-out-the-vote operations, and food handouts being distributed at polling centers. Opposition leader Juan Guaido yesterday urged Venezuelans to participate in his parallel public consultation to repudiate the regime, to be held on 12 December but also operating as an online vote.

Peru

Interim President Francisco Sagasti’s cabinet won congressional endorsement late last week and now has its work cut out for it. To win Congress’s support, Sagasti had to jettison his pick for interior minister, Ruben Vargas, and replace him with a candidate, Cluber Aliaga, who was more acceptable to the police, which is riling at the removal of its most senior commanders and Sagasti’s talk of a reform drive. In parallel, the derogation of a controversial agricultural law on 4 December should help curtail recent protests by agricultural workers. However, that could encourage others to radicalize protests over other issues. Protests against Las Bambas, the copper mine in Apurimac operated by a Chinese-led consortium, have been taking place since late-November, while separate environmental protests are brewing in the Puno region.

Argentina

A finance ministry team remains in the US in the early part of this week as part of ongoing talks with the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The visit is focused on ways to deepen domestic capital markets, though the Argentine team will want to emphasize how they have tamed October’s currency market volatility. However, the Argentines will also be anxious to make amends for Foreign Minister Felipe Sola’s recent veiled criticism of the US executive director to the IMF Mark Rosen. Additionally, VP Cristina Fernandez (CFK) last week summarily vetoed a measure to reduce pension outlays that Finance Minister Martin Guzman had spent months crafting as a gesture of greater fiscal discipline to the IMF. CFK’s intervention suggests that electoral considerations will limit the scope for fiscal adjustment next year, which is likely to complicate the IMF talks.

Brazil

Discussions will continue this week on a possible congressional agenda for December but progress will be difficult due to the continuing lack of definition about the election of house speaker and senate chairman scheduled for the first week of February. The Supreme Court (STF) ended its virtual plenary vote on Sunday night, 6 December, and formed a majority to bar re-elections of presiding officers in Congress, thus blocking the candidacies of current House Speaker Rodrigo Maia and Senate Chairman Davi Alcolumbre. This may aggravate divergences in both chambers of Congress but Alcolumbre has at least scheduled for 16 December the vote on the Budged Directives Law (LDO) that sets the parameters for the 2021 Budget Law (LOA 2021). In the House, the STF decision will not help matters and the existing impasse should continue.

On another front, there is still no concrete basis for an agreement on either the extension of emergency assistance into 2021 or on an “Emergency” constitutional amendment (PEC Emergencial) that could make possible the creation of a new permanent cash transfer program, as favored by President Jair Bolonsaro.

Ecuador

Andres Arauz, former president Rafael Correa (2007-2017)’s pick to run for the presidency, is likely to up his rhetoric against the National Electoral Council (CNE) as his candidacy continues to lack official CNE approval. The CNE and TCE electoral court continue to weigh up a challenge against Arauz’s Union for Hope (UNES) coalition, one of whose party members, Fuerza Compromiso Social (FCS) was not officially recognized when the coalition formed. Appeals and general toing-and-froing between the CNE and TCE could mean the issue is not settled until later this month, potentially giving greater visibility to Arauz and his claims that he is a victim of a plot to exclude Correismo from the February 2021 ballot. The latest Cedatos poll has Guillermo Lasso on 18% and Arauz on 11%, albeit with an undecided vote above 23%.

Mexico

The opposition National Action Party (PAN) voted over the weekend to enter into electoral agreements with the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) and the small, left-wing Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) in next year’s mid-term elections; the agreement covers 158 lower house districts. Alliances could help the opposition to erase the governing National Regeneration Movement (Morena)’s lower house majority. However, the agreement will also help sustain President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO)’s rhetoric against the so-called “mafia of power.” Meanwhile, the PAN decision was far from unanimous, and there will be some discomfort within the party about an alliance with the PRI.

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