This week, Argentina‘s governing coalition is reeling from a heavy setback in yesterday’s obligatory primary voting which will be difficult to reverse in November’s mid-terms. Ecuador will see union-led protests against government reform proposals. This week also offers an opportunity to see Peru‘s President Pedro Castillo in action on the international stage for the first time; back at home, his controversial cabinet will face pressure from Congress. Finally, Chile‘s constituent assembly is struggling to meet public expectations.
The obligatory party primaries held yesterday, 12 September, delivered a severe setback to the governing Front for All (FdT) coalition and President Alberto Fernandez. The FdT lost by nine points nationally to the opposition Together for Change (JxC). The FdT was outvoted in its electoral stronghold of Buenos Aires province and other bastions and key districts. If these results are replicated in the November mid-terms, the FdT would lose the majority it currently enjoys in the Senate, while its lower house bloc would also be reduced. In immediate terms, the key question is whether Vice-President Cristina Fernandez (CFK) will force a cabinet reshuffle or focus on maintaining an outward display of unity in the bruised governing coalition.
Unions and social movements are organizing a day of rallies in opposition to the government on 15 September. The Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (Conaie) has announced that it will be joining the protests, which are against President Guillermo Lasso’s labor reform proposals, government austerity, and the new agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF). A staff-level agreement with the Fund was announced last week. Lasso says he has secured improved terms, including a new, lower tax collection target amounting to an additional 0.7% of GDP in 2022, down from 2.5% originally. The government appears to be leaning towards submitting a so-called “mega-law” to the National Assembly that would include various measures on tax, labor, hydrocarbons, and telecoms. Without the numbers in the National Assembly, Lasso has already signaled the possibility of holding a public referendum to get his reforms passed.
Tensions between the government and the legislature could ratchet up if Congress votes to summon Labor Minister Iber Maravi for questioning this week. A questioning session is the prelude to an eventual motion of censure against the minister. Maravi is accused of links to the Movement for Amnesty and Fundamental Rights (Movadef), which is the political wing of the Maoist terrorist group Shining Path (SL). The death at the weekend of SL’s historic leader Abimael Guzman aggravates the Movadef issue. Maravi has also been linked to violent protests in 2004. Prime Minister Guido Bellido is also facing accusations over his links to Movadef, though Maravi is Congress’s first target. The governing Peru Libre (PL) party will in turn try to keep up pressure against congressional president Maria del Carmen Alva but does not have the numbers to remove her.
Separately, Pedro Castillo will embark on the first foreign trip of his presidency on 17 September. He will be in Mexico for a summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), and then in the US at the Organization of American States (OAS), before participating in the UN General Assembly meetings. Foreign policy has not been an easy area for Castillo, who lost his first-choice foreign minister, Hector Bejar, after only 19 days. Bejar’s replacement, Oscar Maurtua, is viewed with hostility by radical factions within the governing PL party, who are opposed to Peru’s membership of the Pacific Alliance trade bloc and want to withdraw from free trade agreements. Maurtua has promised to strengthen the Pacific Alliance. Castillo is also likely to sympathize with Mexican-led efforts to strengthen the CELAC, which excludes the US, at the expense of the OAS.
The constituent assembly will be looking to move on from a problematic few days. The assembly’s credibility has been hit by a scandal centered on one of its highest-profile members, Rodrigo Rojas Vade, who was elected as part of the Lista del Pueblo (People’s List), an anti-status quo bloc that arose out of the 2019 protests; Rojas Vade became a figurehead of the protests as he detailed the difficulties he faced receiving treatment for leukaemia in Chile’s health system. However, on 4 September, Rojas Vade admitted that the illness and his travails were a fabrication. Additionally, the assembly has been hit by in-fighting among indigenous representatives over the two-thirds voting rule, which led to sessions being suspended last week. As a result, public confidence in the assembly has dropped to 43%, its lowest level in the ten weeks the body has been sitting.