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NIAS Global Politics News Database
Latin America This Week (3-10 Feb 2024)

  NIAS Latin America Team

Dhriti Mukherjee

In Brazil, the former President, Jair Bolsonaro, surrendered his passport amidst investigations into his alleged involvement in the storming of Brazil’s Congress by his supporters in 2023. Bolsonaro, accused of leading a failed plot to retain power after losing the election, denounced the investigation as politically motivated. His allies were arrested on suspicion of conspiring to keep him in office following his electoral defeat, highlighting ongoing political turmoil in Brazil. Haiti also underwent political turmoil of its own, with protestors taking to the street and calling for the ouster of Prime Minister Ariel Henry.

In El Salvador, President Nayib Bukele secured a landslide re-election victory, winning 83 per cent of the votes in the presidential election. Bukele’s administration has been credited with significantly reducing gang violence, transforming El Salvador from one of the world’s most violent countries to one of the safest in Latin America. The voters, however, remain torn between their support for him given that he transformed their country, and criticising him because of the human rights abuses and civil liberty violations that unfolded during his term.

From the US, Donald Trump dominated the Nevada Republican caucus, securing a landslide victory amidst limited competition. With over 99 per cent of the vote, Trump is set to claim all 26 delegates from the state, bolstering his lead in the race for the Republican nomination. At the same time, the Supreme Court began hearings to consider Trump’s eligibility in the elections, based on his potential violation of the 14th Amendment through the 2021 attacks on Congress. 

Argentina
President announces plans to move embassy to Jerusalem

On 6 February, Argentina’s President Javier Milei confirmed his intention to relocate the country’s embassy to West Jerusalem during his inaugural official visit to Israel. Milei said that his plan is “to move the embassy to west Jerusalem.” This decision aligns with the promise he made to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu post-election. Netanyahu’s office stated that Netanyahu “welcomes the fact that the president has kept his promise.” Hamas said it “strongly condemns” this announcement, as it considered the move as a “violation of the rules of international law, considering Jerusalem as occupied Palestinian land.”

Brazil
Former President Jair Bolsonaro surrenders passport amidst investigation

On 8 February, the former Brazilian President, Jair Bolsonaro, surrendered his passport as authorities investigated his alleged involvement in the storming of Brazil’s Congress by his supporters in 2023. Bolsonaro, accused by police of leading a failed plot to retain power after losing the election to his left-wing rival, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, denounced the investigation as politically motivated. He stated: “I left the government more than a year ago and I continue to suffer relentless persecution.” Three of Bolsonaro’s allies, including the head of his political party, were arrested on suspicion of conspiring to keep him in office following his electoral defeat. On 8 January 8 2023, frustrated supporters stormed key government buildings. With more than 1,400 people charged over their alleged role in these riots, Brazil’s federal police has said that the 8 February operation sought to target a “criminal organisation involved in the attempted coup.”

Colombia
Truce with ELN rebel group extended by six months

On 6 February, the Colombian government said that the truce with the National Liberation Army (ELN), the country’s largest remaining active rebel group, and been extended by six months. The deal had been signed by Colombian President Gustavo Petro in August 2023, and expired last week. The ELN movement began in 1964, and is known for running illegal gold mines and drug trafficking routes, kidnappings, and attacks on oil infrastructure. As part of the truce, the group has agreed to “unilaterally and temporarily suspend economic detentions, a commitment that will be followed up by the Monitoring and Verification Mechanism.” 

Ecuador
Constitutional Cout approves euthanasia

On 7 February, Ecuador’s Constitutional Court granted a terminally ill patient’s request to decriminalize euthanasia, directing the National Assembly to enact legislation regulating the procedure within a year. The court’s decision acknowledged individuals’ autonomy to end the “the option of ending the intense suffering caused by a serious and irreversible bodily injury or a serious and incurable illness.” Ecuador joins other Latin American countries like Cuba and Colombia in permitting euthanasia in specific circumstances. The Ministry of Health was tasked with drafting regulations for euthanasia procedures subsequently. Paola Roldan, who had submitted the request to the court, said that the ruling made “Ecuador is a little more welcoming, freer, and more dignified.”

Russia threatens to ban banana imports amid diplomatic tensions over military equipment
On 3 February, Russia’s federal agency for veterinary and phytosanitary controls said imports from five Ecuadorian banana companies would be banned as a disease had been discovered in previous shipments. This development came after Ecuador exchanged its old Russian military equipment to the US for USD 200 million worth new military gear. Ecuador, which is the world’s largest banana exporter, exports a fifth of its annual sales to Russia. The diplomatic tensions arose after Ecuador’s President, Daniel Noboa, said that the Russian “scrap metal” was no longer usable, and the new equipment that would be received from the US would be used to fight gangs. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation claimed that Ecuador could not sell equipment to any third party without Russian consent, as it violated a contract. The director of ACORBANEC, one of Ecuador’s main associations of banana exporters, Richard Salazar, was “surprised” by the “drastic” decision and expressed hope that it would be sorted out as the Russian market “would be difficult to replace.” 

Investigation conducted with Spain into Albanian organized crime group
On 6 February, the Ecuadorean attorney general’s office claimed that in simultaneous operations in Ecuador and Spain as part of an investigation into Albanian organized crime, at least 30 people were arrested by police from both countries. 57 raids were caried out in six provinces in Ecuador and four cities in Spain on allegations of money laundering and drug trafficking. A statement released by the attorney general’s office read: “The operation was carried out in collaboration with the attorney general’s office in Spain (where 12 of the arrests were made and 450,000 euros were seized) with 45 prosecutors participating with their support staff.” This was part of Ecuadorean President Daniel Noboa’s crackdown on gangs, and resulted in USD 483,000 being seized, along with firearms, property, and vehicles. The head of Ecuador’s anti-narcotics police, William Villarroeal, said that the group, led by an Albanian-citizen, would transport drugs in banana containers using information it had on foreign trade documents. He added that they had six companies in Ecuador and four in Spain, “with large commercial activity which facilitated money laundering.” 

El Salvador
President Nayib Bukele secures landslide re-election

On 5 February, El Salvador’s President, Nayib Bukele, clinched a resounding victory in the country’s presidential election, with preliminary results indicating he secured a second term by winning 83 per cent of the votes. Bukele has been credited with significantly reducing gang violence in the nation. He declared victory before the official announcement, boasting to have achieved “the biggest difference between first place and second place in history.” Bukele, who has described himself as the “world’s coolest dictator,” went on to claim that the “opposition has been pulverised.” His administration’s crackdown on crime has transformed El Salvador from one of the world’s most violent countries to one of the safest in Latin America. Despite criticism and controversy surrounding his re-election bid and human rights concerns, Bukele’s popularity remains high among supporters who credit him for improving security and combating extortion by gangs.

Guatemala
Ties maintained with Taiwan amid pursuit of closer economic relations with China

On 8 February, Guatemalan President Bernardo Arevalo reassured that the country had no plans to sever diplomatic relations with Taiwan despite pursuing stronger economic ties with China. Guatemala, one of the few nations still allied with Taiwan, remained committed to maintaining formal relations with both Taiwan and China simultaneously. He asserted: “We’re not choosing.” Despite recent speculation regarding a potential shift in foreign policy, Arevalo affirmed Guatemala’s steadfast allegiance to Taiwan while simultaneously seeking to establish trade relations with China. 

Haiti
Arrival of rebel leader amid widespread protests

On 6 February, former rebel leader Guy Philippe, who was instrumental in the 2004 rebellion against the former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, arrived in Haiti’s capital Port-au-Prince amid protests. The protests began on 5 February, with people calling for the ouster of Prime Minister Ariel Henry, who has been accused of not organising general elections to hold on to power and the country’s worsening security and economic situation. Philippe’s appearance caused commotion as he had released a video calling for a rebellion to oust Henry on 7 February, a date when Haitian leaders are sworn into office. He stated on a radio show: “The fight is just the beginning.”

Canada
Drought leads to nearly 90 active wildfires in British Columbia 

On 4 February, Vancouver Sun reported that according to the British Columbia (BC) Wildfire Service, there were dozens of ongoing wildfires in northeast BC, stemming from last year’s fire season. The city of Prince George alone accounted for 80 per cent of BC’s burnt land, with 87 wildfires still active. According to a spokeswoman for the Prince George Fire Centre, Sharon Nickel, these fires are “holdover” ones that remain “dormant and/or undetected for a considerable time after it starts.” The 2023 wildfire season in BC was the worst on record, leading to the death of six forest firefighters and 2.48 million hectares of land in BC being burnt. According to the BC Drought Information Portal, Prince George is experiencing Drought Level 5, the most severe. Nickel stated that once the season returns, firefighters would analyse the active fire spots. 

The US
Supreme Court weighs Donald Trump’s eligibility in landmark case

On 8 February, the US Supreme Court commenced hearings regarding former President Donald Trump’s eligibility for the presidency, in a pivotal case with far-reaching implications for the upcoming November elections. The case, initiated by a group of Colorado voters in August 2023, centres on whether Trump violated Section 3 of the 14th Amendment by allegedly inciting the 6 January 2021 attack on Congress, which bars those who “engaged in insurrection or rebellion” against the state from holding office. Trump’s defence contends that the clause requires specific legislation for enforcement, citing historical precedent. The justices, led by Chief Justice John Roberts, probed the broader implications of disqualifying candidates and questioned the authority of states in making such determinations. The outcome of the Supreme Court’s decision could influence Trump’s candidacy nationwide, impacting voter rights and US democracy. 

Donald Trump dominates Nevada Republican caucus amid limited competition
On 8 February, Donald Trump secured a landslide victory in the Nevada Republican caucus, facing minimal competition as his only serious challenger, Nikki Haley, opted out due to an electoral process dispute and contested in the primaries instead. With over 99 per cent of the vote, Trump is set to claim all 26 delegates from the state, significantly bolstering his lead in the race for the Republican nomination. Addressing supporters in Las Vegas, Trump expressed confidence, stating: “If we win this state, we easily win the election in November.” Haley claimed that the caucus had been “rigged for Trump,” but she suffered a loss in the primaries, with more voters choosing “none of these candidates.” Regardless, she vowed to continue her campaign, emphasizing the need for an alternative to Trump, and advocating for a competitive electoral process.

President Biden defends memory amid scrutiny over handling of classified documents
On 8 February, US President Joe Biden staunchly defended his memory in the face of renewed scrutiny over his handling of classified documents, ahead of the upcoming presidential election in November. In a press conference at the White House, Biden criticized Special Counsel Robert Hur for suggesting that his memory was severely limited, particularly regarding significant events such as the year his son Beau passed away. He stated: “There’s even reference that I don’t remember when my son died. How in the hell dare he raise that?” Biden, the oldest US president in history, affirmed that his memory remains intact and disputed assertions of mishandling sensitive documents, denying allegations of sharing classified information with his ghostwriter. The Special Counsel’s report concluded that Biden would not face criminal charges due to his cooperation with investigators, and Hur wrote: “Mr Biden would likely present himself to a jury, as he did during our interview of him, as a sympathetic, well-meaning, elderly man with a poor memory.” 

FCC bans AI-generated voices in robocalls 
On 8 February, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) took decisive action to combat the proliferation of robocalls utilizing AI-generated voices, announcing the immediate prohibition of such practices. This move empowers state authorities to prosecute perpetrators behind these deceptive calls, aiming to curtail instances of extortion, celebrity impersonation, and voter misinformation. FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel stated: “Bad actors are using AI-generated voices in unsolicited robocalls to extort vulnerable family members, imitate celebrities, and misinform voters.” The decision followed a recent incident in New Hampshire, where robocalls impersonating US President Joe Biden surfaced ahead of the state’s primary, prompting concerns about electoral integrity. By outlawing the use of AI-generated voices in robocalls, the FCC aimed to expand the “legal avenues through which state law enforcement agencies can hold these perpetrators accountable under the law.” 

State Department confirms Iraq was not notified before US strikes, contradicting earlier claims
On 5 February, the US State Department deputy spokesman, Vedant Patel, said that the US had not told the Iraqi government before launching air strikes in the country, contradicting a statement made by White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby, who had said on 2 February that the Iraqi government had been notified in advance. Patel stated that though they “informed the Iraqis immediately after the strikes occurred,” the country would have understood that “there would be a response after the deaths” of the US soldiers. Kirby said that he was “not as specific” and while he regretted the “confusion caused,” he claimed that the US had “had made no secret – both to Iraqi officials and in public channels – that we would respond to the attacks on our troop.”

“Atmospheric effect” brings record rain and mudslides to California
On 5 February, the Los Angeles (LA) Mayor, Karen Bass, instructed residents to “stay safe and off the roads” after an “atmospheric effect” led to flooding, mudslides, and power outages throughout California. California’s governor declared a state of emergency in eight counties as over 130 flooding incidents were reported and three men were killed. Many residents have been forced out of their homes and have been left stranded. Winds up to 112 km/h were recorded, and the National Weather Service (NWS) said on 4 February that the rainfall in LA was the highest recorded.


About the Author

Dhriti Mukherjee is a Research Assistant at NIAS.

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