Update from Mexico

By Paloma Corcuera

AMLO supporters fill the Toluca Plaza in Mexico. (Photo by Eneas de Troya).

On July 1st we elected our future president, 9 state governors, 128 senators, and 500 lower house representatives. This election was historic not only because of the number of local and federal positions that were at stake, but also because of the result. For most of the positions, Mexicans overwhelmingly elected representatives of a new political party: MORENA.

Even though MORENA was registered as a political party only 3 years ago, today it is the most powerful political party in Mexico. This is due to the general disappointment Mexicans feel about the more established political parties due to their numerous corruption scandals, a lack of efficient institutions, blatant inequality, increasing human rights abuses, and a sense of distrust towards the State in general.

MORENA, led by Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO), who founded the political party and won the presidential elections by a whopping margin, got the diagnosis right. He tapped into the anger and annoyance of the Mexican population, which feels that the government governs only for few and mostly to enrich themselves. MORENA gave hope by promising a common good approach that would prioritize the more than 50 million poor people who live in Mexico. During his campaign (which is his third, as he lost the past two elections), AMLO claims to have visited every municipality in Mexico; he listened to concerns and promised change.

AMLO’s opposition is concerned that he is over-promising and that his proposals lack implementation plans and details. Some critics fear that even though he got the diagnosis right, his policies won’t bring about solutions and that he won’t be able to materialize the promises he has made. But also, let’s face it, a lot of them worry they will lose their privileged citizen status. AMLO is viewed by most of his opposition as a populist authoritarian threat.

Now let´s take a step back for a second. Let me describe the current situation of my country. Mexico is suffering from an insecurity crisis: high levels of violence combined with high levels of impunity and a generalized lack of trust in institutions. Additionally, the levels of inequality in Mexico are terribly high and corruption scandals occur on a regular basis.

The current homicide rate in Mexico is 22.5 for every 100,000 people. This compares to 89 in Venezuela, 60 in El Salvador, 24 in Colombia, or 3.3 in Chile. This number started steadily increasing in Mexico since the government of Felipe Calderón declared a war on drugs in 2006. Since then, Mexico has been combating drug organizations with the army. This strategy has changed the dynamics of the drug industry but has not been able to reduce the supply of drugs. Big cartels have broken down into smaller and more violent ones – due to the approach of capturing the heads of the organizations – but as the demand in the United States continues to grow, the cartels always find a way to profit. Additionally, this intensified prohibition creates a riskier environment that demands higher prices, which result in an even more profitable market.

Felipe Calderón speaks in London in 2012. (Photo courtesy of CONADE).

While this strategy has failed massively, Mexico is immersed in a human rights crisis. According to Human Rights Watch, there are alarmingly high rates of enforced disappearances, extrajudicial killings, and torture. Moreover, crimes are under-prosecuted in Mexico, both because of a lack of trust in institutions that result in few crimes being reported but also because this lack of trust is based on the reality that institutions are often incapable of penalizing criminals.

Inequality is another big concern in Mexico, and feeds the sense of discomfort of the majority of the population. Around 43% of Mexicans live in poverty, and this number is on the rise. At the same time, the fortune of the richest 16 Mexicans grows in size five times a year. On the corruption front, it is hard to say if corruption has actually been increasing or if it is just more visible, but there is no denying that it remains one of Mexico’s largest problems.

While AMLO did not talk much about his approach to the insecurity crisis during his campaign, he did refer to his proposals to reduce inequality, poverty, and eliminate corruption.

Now, let’s talk about what has been happening since the election. AMLO received 53.3% of the vote, even more than the polls originally reported (Oraculus: 48% and Bloomberg: 51%). From the nine states that elected governors, five elected MORENA representatives. The coalition led by MORENA (which includes a conservative political party fighting against rights like access to abortion or same sex marriage) attained the majority in both houses and in 17 of the 32 local congresses.

MORENA and AMLO have a historical opportunity to guide the country towards social progress, but there is also a real risk that this amount of power will be used in an authoritarian manner. AMLO has been criticized multiple times during his campaign and after being elected for contradicting himself. For example, he says he will eradicate corruption but has allied with some very corrupt actors including Elba Esther Gordillo, one of the few Mexicans arrested on corruption charges (whose arrest coincided with the beginning of President Peña’s regime and was recently freed due to lack of evidence after five years in prison, coinciding with an alliance with AMLO), and Manuel Barlett, responsible for the electoral fraud of 1988 that favored Salinas, arguably one of the most hated Mexican presidents.

When asked how he will eradicate corruption in Mexico, AMLO responds he will do so by setting an example. Critics argue that this is naïve and that in order to actually end corruption, institutions must be strengthened to reduce the levels of impunity (which is among the highest in the world). Recently these questions on corruption have intensified, as the electoral institution fined MORENA for failing to explain the origin and destination of resources that were deposited into a trust fund. Instead of recognizing his party’s mistake, AMLO called the fine “vile and vindictive”. This attitude calls into question the seriousness of his commitment to end corruption.

Along the same lines, an independent district attorney would be instrumental in reducing impunity, corruption, and human rights abuses. Civil society has been demanding one without success. It is very worrisome that AMLO has not pronounced his support for this. Instead, he has said he will propose three alternatives and that Congress will be able to choose one of them. This obviously would not result in an independent district attorney but in a position appointed by the president, who, even if his three alternatives are excellent choices, would not be able to prosecute autonomously or free from political pressure.

AMLO casts his vote in the 2012 election. (Photo by Eneas de Troya).

There are also concerns about where AMLO will get the funds to implement all of his proposed policies, as he has promised not to raise taxes and only implement fiscally neutral policies. He states that he will fund all of his policies with money saved from ending corruption and the austerity program (the reduction of bureaucrats’ salaries, including his by more than half).

On the other hand, there is finally hope to reach an end to the devastating war on drugs in Mexico. Even though this was not one of the main topics during his campaign (probably because of the controversial nature of the subject), the only proposal provided regarding national security was one that would have intensified the militarization strategy. AMLO’s proposal was to create a joint force between the military and the police and use only this force to combat crime. Human rights activists, many academics, and members of civil organizations pronounced themselves against this, arguing that it would not solve the problem and would only make matters worse.  Alfonso Durazo, the future government’s secretary of security, has recently stated that this plan will not be implemented (at least not in the short term), and that the creation of a Public Security Department (SSP) will be the priority instead. This department would be formed by a civil police force in charge of combating crime. Durazo has also stated that the military forces would return to their barracks in the next three years, restoring the responsibility of public security to civil police forces.

Additionally, Olga Sanchez Cordero, the proposed Secretary of the interior, has been very vocal about the strategy that AMLO’s government will pursue to start a peace process with the objective of reducing violence and impunity. Sanchez Cordero understands both the causes and the vicious cycle that the militarization strategy has created, and is putting forward a drastic change in direction.  This includes legalization of marijuana, decriminalization of opium poppy production, amnesty for lower tier crimes, and new trainings for police forces aimed at demilitarizing the country and enforcing human rights.

Even though there is wide agreement that this strategy would stop the trend of increasing violence, there is still a lot of pushback by proponents of militarization and prohibitionist strategies historically led by the United States government. White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said “[…] I can say that we would not support the legalization of all drugs anywhere and certainly wouldn’t want to do anything that would allow more drugs to come into this country.” The United States government has historically had great influence in Mexican policy, so we have to wait and see how this plays out.

Inequality was one of the central topics in AMLO´s campaign. For years, AMLO has been blaming what he calls the “power mafia” (la mafia del poder) for the lack of democratic institutions and the high levels of poverty. As I mentioned above, inequality is a very big problem in Mexico with some municipalities enjoying one of the highest Human Development Index similar to Norway’s and others comparing to Liberia or Congo. In order to reduce inequality, AMLO is aiming to eradicate corruption and privileges while reducing public employees’ salaries, increasing minimum wage and pensions, providing scholarships, and increasing the number of universities by 100. The achievability of this last idea is also doubtful because of the huge cost, but a smaller number might be realistic and hopefully a more young people would be able to attend university (today, only 3 out of 10 do so).

A young pro MORENA skater in Mexico City. (Photo by Eneas de Troya).

Another contradiction that has been criticized is that political parties were not included in AMLO’s austerity program. In Mexico, political parties receive exorbitant amounts of public money. This administration will receive 4,700 million pesos (more or less 250 million U.S. dollars) even though there will be no elections. MORENA would receive more money than any other political party due to the substantial majority achieved in the past elections. It is incongruent that this budget is excluded from the austerity program. Recently, taking a step in the right direction, some congress representatives of the political party proposed to halve the budget allotted to political parties.

In terms of the relationship with the United States government, in a recent exchange with Donald Trump, AMLO agreed that the priorities of the relationship of their governments will be trade, economic development, migration, and security. AMLO has promised to develop a more prosperous Mexico in order to deter the need for migration to the United States. He has talked about increasing the minimum wage. This would also increase the probability of reaching a trade agreement with Canada and the United States as these countries have been arguing that the salary differential is too high and harms their economies. Trump stated in a letter that he would like to see a NAFTA agreement as soon as possible, but also threatened that if this doesn’t happen soon he will have to find a different path. This threat implies that Mexico and Canada would have to accept an agreement that they don’t feel comfortable with. Again, we can just wait and see how the negotiations evolve with this change of priorities of the Mexican government.

The United States government has been pressuring the Mexican government for decades to stop Central American migrants at the Mexican border before they travel to the U.S. border. Mexico has engaged in horrible practices like increasing the speed of the train that migrants use to travel north, effectively making the trip more deadly. Mexico should start by treating migrants in transit the same way Mexico demands migrants be treated in the United States.

In terms of security, as I have stated above, I believe that there will be huge disagreements between both countries due to the conflicting drug policy approaches.

On energy policy, AMLO has proposed to build two new oil refineries, arguing that Mexico should be able to produce its own gasoline and end the dynamic of exporting oil and importing gasoline. Environmentalists are naturally against this because they believe we should be moving away from the dependence on fossil fuels. Additionally, there are concerns about the economic feasibility of these investments. Critics believe that the refineries will cost a lot more than what AMLO is budgeting. On the other hand, he has said he will also invest in renewable energies and that he will prioritize community need above the investor’s, which would be a shift from the current administration’s approach.

It is undeniable that there are plenty of proposed policies that mark a positive change for Mexico towards a more peaceful and equal country. Nonetheless, there are also many contradictions and a real risk of authoritarian tendencies due to the mass representation of MORENA. As for the civil society, let’s hope for the best, stay informed, and continue to provide constructive criticism.


PALOMA CORCUERA studied economics at Universidad Iberoamericana, Mexico City, and earned a Master of Public Policy at UC Berkeley. Today she conducts macroeconomic analysis and teaches at the Economics Department of the Universidad Iberoamericana, Mexico City. Follow her on Twitter @palcorcuera.




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Desafíos del nuevo gobierno en Colombia

Por Daniel Payares Montoya

Read this entry in English here.

La inauguración del President Iván Duque en Colombia. (Foto cortesía del gobierno Colombiano).

El ocho de agosto inició el período de gobierno del presidente Iván Duque, quien tendrá que liderar a Colombia en los próximos cuatro años en medio de un ambiente político marcado por la polarización y una incipiente recuperación económica tras el fin del súper ciclo de commodities en 2014.

Dentro de los incontables desafíos a los que tendrá que hacer frente como cabeza del Gobierno, hay al menos tres que determinarán la forma en la que será evaluada su gestión en el futuro.

El primero de ellos está relacionado con el fin del conflicto con las FARC. Si bien este acuerdo, sumado a una eventual negociación exitosa con la guerrilla del ELN, significarían el fin del último vestigio de la Guerra Fría en América Latina, aún es temprano para cantar victoria.

El Estado enfrenta numerosas dificultades para consolidar su autoridad y legitimidad en las zonas de posconflicto, las cuales han empezado a ser copadas por disidencias de las FARC, grupos rebeldes y otros actores criminales asociados al narcotráfico. Así mismo, la institucionalidad en esos sitios es mínima y la provisión de bienes públicos básicos, como educación, justicia y salud, entre otros, es precaria. Tampoco es claro cómo se va a crear el suficiente dinamismo económico para proveer oportunidades para la creación de riqueza legal y reducir la pobreza y la desigualdad que han agobiado durante décadas a las poblaciones que se encuentran allí asentadas. Si bien es cierto que se han diseñado planes para hacer frente a estas dificultades, su implementación no ha sido fácil y han tomado más tiempo del presupuestado.

Periodistas asesinados a manos de disidentes de las FARC. (Foto por Agencia de Noticias ANDES).

Por otro lado, en el frente económico, el país parece haber superado exitosamente la caída de los precios internacionales de las materias primas que se inicio hace cerca de cuatro años, y se encamina a tener tasas de crecimiento cercanas o superiores al 3% en 2018 y 2019.

No obstante, el principal desafío en el mediano y largo plazo para poder tener un mejor desempeño económico sigue estando asociado a la productividad. Durante tres décadas, ésta ha estado estancada y es necesario que tanto el sector privado como el Gobierno nacional actúen conjuntamente para revertir esta situación. Mejorar las capacidades empresariales, aumentar la eficiencia de los mercados, reducir la informalidad y cerrar las brechas de capital humano, son algunas de las acciones que deben considerarse para lograr esto.

Aunque ya se han realizado propuestas concretas desde el sector productivo para avanzar en este sentido, al nuevo gobierno le corresponde responder rápidamente con medidas encaminadas en esta dirección. Sin productividad será complejo pensar en generar bienestar de manera sostenible para todos los colombianos.

Participantes en el programa “Jóvenes con Futuro” en Antioquia, Colombia. (Foto cortesía de la Secretaría de Educación Antioquia).

Finalmente, y quizás el reto más importante, consiste en superar la división política que se ha exacerbado en los últimos años y consolidar un ambiente en el que, desde la diferencia, distintos grupos de interés puedan aportar para el desarrollo del país. Como lo manifestó recientemente el mismo presidente Duque, es fundamental que los colombianos puedan construir sobre las cosas que los unen y no quedarse en el lo que los divide; de lo contrario, será sumamente complejo pensar en que Colombia pueda dejar atrás definitivamente una historia que ha estado marcada por la violencia.

En resumen, el nuevo gobierno tiene retos enormes. Aunque su resolución estará plagada de desafíos, en sus manos está la posibilidad de que Colombia continúe avanzando hacia el desarrollo y entregar un mejor país del que recibe dentro de cuatro años.


DANIEL PAYARES  MONTOYA es un estudiante de primer año del Master of Development Practice de la Universidad de California, Berkeley. Antes de ir a Berkeley, él trabajo en el Consejo Privado de Competitividad, en Bogotá, como Investigador Asociado y en la Fundación Proantioquia, en Medellín, como Coordinador de Proyectos. También ha sido profesor de cátedra en las universidades EAFIT y CESA en Colombia.




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Challenges for Colombia’s New Government

By Daniel Payares Montoya

The inauguration of President Iván Duque on August 8, 2018 in Colombia. (Photo courtesy of the Colombian government).

August 8th marked the beginning of the term of President Iván Duque, who will lead Colombia for the next four years. This comes amid a political environment characterized by increasing polarization and a slow economic recovery after the commodities super cycle ended in 2014.

Among the countless trials that President Duque will face as the head of the new government, three specific challenges will determine the way his presidency will be assessed in the future:

The first is related to the end of the conflict with the FARC Marxist guerrillas. While this agreement, along with an eventual successful negotiation with the ELN Maoist guerillas, would mean the end of the last vestige of the Cold War in Latin America, it is still too early to claim victory.

The Colombian state still faces numerous difficulties in consolidating its authority and legitimacy in post-conflict zones. These areas have begun to be taken over by FARC dissidents, rebel groups, and other criminal actors associated with drug trafficking. Likewise, the presence of government institutions in post-conflict zones is minimal and the provision of public goods, such as education, justice and health, among others, is precarious. It is not clear how economic growth will provide opportunities for the creation of legal wealth and reduction of poverty and inequality that have affected people for decades. While plans have been designed to deal with these difficulties, their implementation has not been easy, and they have taken more time than predicted.

Journalists murdered by FARC dissidents. (Photo by Agencia de Noticias ANDES).

On the economic front, the country seems to have successfully overcome the fall in international prices of commodities that began about four years ago. It is estimated that GDP will grow at rates close to or above 3% in 2018 and 2019.

However, the main challenge for economic performance in the medium and long term is still associated with productivity. For the last three decades, productivity has been stagnant. Both the private sector and national government must act together to reverse this situation. Efforts are required to improve business productivity, increase market efficiency, reduce informality, and close human capital gaps, to name a few.

Although concrete proposals have already been made by the private sector to address this, the new government has to respond quickly with measures aimed in this direction. Without increased productivity, it will be hard to improve the standard of living for all Colombians in the long run.

Participants in a youth development program in Antioquia, Colombia. (Photo courtesy of Secretaría Educación Antioquia).

The final, and perhaps the most important, challenge is to overcome the political division that has been exacerbated in recent years. Instead, Colombia must create an environment in which different interest groups can contribute to the development of the country.  As President Duque said recently, it is fundamental that Colombians build on the issues that unite them and not remain divided; otherwise, it will be extremely difficult for Colombia to leave behind a history marked by violence.

To sum up, the new government has enormous challenges. Although the solutions are not easy, Colombia can continue moving towards development. President Duque has the opportunity to deliver a better country in four years than the one that he has inherited today.


DANIEL PAYARES MONTOYA is a first year Master of Development Practice student at UC Berkeley. Before coming to Berkeley, he worked at the Private Council on Competitiveness in Bogota as Associate Researcher and in Proantioquia Foundation in Medellin as Project Manager. He also has been a visiting lecturer at EAFIT and CESA universities in Colombia.




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La transformación de México

Por Sergio Aguayo

Read this entry in English here.

Andrés Manuel López Obrador como candidato presidencial en 2012. (Foto por Arturo Alfaro Galán).

México vive una etapa muy especial. Con la victoria de Andrés Manuel López Obrador se abre la posibilidad de que se modifiquen las reglas de su sistema político y se ataque de frente la corrupción y la violencia que corroen las entrañas del país.

Tras el éxito de López Obrador está la opción pacífica tomada por una parte las izquierdas políticas, sociales y culturales. Gesta notable porque padecieron masacres y asesinatos, fraudes electorales y desprestigio y porque resistieron la tentación de la violencia o la corrupción.

En 1968 los partidos y asociaciones de izquierda eran ilegales, irrelevantes o cómplices del gobierno. El Movimiento Estudiantil exigió pacíficamente algunos cambios concesiones; el presidente se rehusó y ordenó la matanza de Tlatelolco. Ahí empezó la larga marcha de la generación del 68.

Algunos tomaron las armas, otros empujamos el cambio desde las aulas, el periodismo, el activismo, el sindicalismo o la política profesional. Pese a las diferencias coincidimos en dos principios irrenunciables: reconstruir lo sucedido en el 68 y perseverar en la no violencia. Creamos tejido social como el movimiento moderno de derechos humanos que nació en los años setenta para atender a las víctimas de la Guerra Sucia, pero se extendió como la humedad por muchos otros temas.

Los simpatizantes de López Obrador en 2012. (Foto por Arturo Alfaro Galán).

Al mismo tiempo se legalizaron los partidos de izquierda que, en las elecciones presidenciales de 1988, tuvieron un éxito inesperado, frustrado por un fraude electoral tan obvio que un sector de izquierda propuso el enfrentamiento. Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas, entre otros, entendió la asimetría de fuerzas y apostó por el gradualismo, inevitable cuando la urna se convierte en el método del cambio. El resultado fue la alternancia que fue resquebrajando al PRI y a su régimen.

En 1993-94 el Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional (EZLN) elaboró dos Declaraciones de la Selva Lacandona. En la primera de diciembre del 93 proclamó la guerra y anunció el avance hacia la “capital del país venciendo al ejército”. Cuando empezaron los combates las izquierdas sociales e intelectuales –y amplios sectores internacionales– salieron a las calles para exigir al gobierno cesar las hostilidades y a los insurgentes adoptar medios pacíficos. Respondieron con un cese al fuego y con el Zapatismo sumándose, en la Segunda Declaración, a “elecciones libres y democráticas”.

Supcomandante Marcos con otros miembros del EZLN en Chiapas en los 90. (Foto por C. Cardoso).

De ese momento crucial se origina la reforma electoral de 1996, aquella que  hizo posible la derrota del partido gobernante (PRI) en 2000. Vicente Fox y su partido, el PAN, traicionaron su esencia y sucumbieron, junto con el PRD, a la cultura priista del saqueo presupuestal y la entrega de cargos a familiares y amigos. Las cúpulas de los tres grandes partidos se ahogaron en corrupción y/o  ineficiencia; el Estado se debilitó y se fortalecieron los poderes fácticos entre los que destaca el crimen organizado.

Andrés Manuel López Obrador empezó a preparar su primer asalto a la presidencia en 2000, cuando llegó a jefe de Gobierno de la capital. Esos seis años dejaron como sello su honestidad personal y una gestión razonablemente eficaz alejada de radicalismos. En 2006 encabezaba las encuestas pero perdió por errores estratégicos, defectos de personalidad y un fraude electoral tan evidente y grosero que hubo sectores que abogaron por el enfrentamiento. El ahora electo presidente perseveró en el sendero de Cárdenas y optó por la protesta pacífica. El desenlace lo vimos este año.

López Obrador nos promete una transformación “pacífica pero radical”. En su último acto de campaña preciso: “no hemos hecho todo este esfuerzo para meros cambios cosméticos, por encimita”. La tarea es monumental por la fortaleza de los cuatro jinetes de nuestro apocalipsis. La violencia, la corrupción, la desigualdad y los Estados Unidos de Donald Trump tienen sólidas redes de poder. Las resistencias serán enormes, los resultados inciertos.

Serán batallas de las cuales, siendo optimistas –y el momento se presta para ello– saldremos victoriosos y seremos capaces de forjar un mejor futuro. Que esto sea posible se debe en buena medida a las izquierdas mexicanas que resistieron las agresiones, las marginaciones, las burlas y los menosprecios. Igualmente meritorio fue su rechazo a la tentación de entrar al manejo de los presupuestos como patrimonio propio. En el trasfondo, insisto, ha estado la fidelidad con los métodos pacíficos. Estamos, pues, ante una oportunidad inédita. Por primera vez en nuestra milenaria historia tendremos la oportunidad de cambiar al régimen sin violencia. Costó pero lo logramos.

Una versión de este artículo salió inicialmente en la edición del periódico Reforma el 4 de julio 2018, y está reproducido aquí con el permiso del autor.  


SERGIO AGUAYO es profesor del Colegio de México y científico visitante de la Escuela de Salud Pública de Harvard. Contribuye a varios periódicos y programas de televisión y escribe una columna semanal en Reforma. Hace poco publicó el libro electrónico, 68: The Students, the President and the CIA.”



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The Transformation of Mexico

By Sergio Aguayo

Andrés Manuel López Obrador as a presidential candidate in 2012. (Photo by Arturo Alfaro Galán).

Mexico is living through a unique reality. Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s victory has created opportunities to modify the rules of the political system and attack the corruption and violence that are corroding the core of the country.

Behind López Obrador’s success is the peaceful strategy taken by part of the political, social, and cultural left. This is particularly notable because although the left suffered massacres, assassinations, electoral fraud, and slander, they resisted the temptation of violence and corruption.

In 1968, leftist parties and associations were illegal, irrelevant, or complicit with the government. The Student Movement peacefully demanded changes; the president refused and ordered the slaughter of Tlatelolco. So began the long march of the generation of ’68.

Some took up arms; others of us pushed for change from classrooms or through journalism, activism, trade unionism or professional politics. Despite our differences, we agreed on two inalienable principles: to reconstruct what happened in 1968, and to persevere in nonviolence. We created the foundations of the modern human rights movement that emerged in the seventies to care for the victims of the Dirty War, and then spread to many other issues.

López Obrador supporters in 2012. (Photo by Arturo Alfaro Galán).

Left-wing parties were legalized in time for the 1988 presidential elections, but were frustrated by obvious electoral fraud to the point that a sector of the left proposed direct action. However, Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas, among others, understood the imbalance between the two sides and opted for gradual change, which is inevitable when the ballot box is the primary strategy. The result was “alternancia,” the political transition that split the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) and undermined its regime.

In 1993 and 1994, the Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional (Zapatista National Liberation Army, EZLN) prepared two declarations from the Lacandon Jungle. In the first, from December of 1993, they proclaimed war and announced their advance towards the “capital of the country to defeat the army”. When combat began, the intellectual and social left – and large international sectors – took to the streets to demand that the government cease hostilities and that the insurgents adopt peaceful means. They responded with a ceasefire and supported the addition of “free and democratic elections” to the EZLN’s Segunda Declaración.

Supcomandante Marcos with other EZLN members in Chiapas in the 1990s. (Photo by C. Cardoso).

The 1996 electoral reform emerged from that crucial moment, which later made the defeat of the governing party (the PRI) possible in 2000. Vicente Fox and the PAN (the National Action Party), betrayed their principles and succumbed, along with the PRD (the Party of the Democratic Revolution), to the PRI-like culture of budget looting and giving government jobs to family and friends. The leaders of the three major parties were drowning in corruption and/or inefficiency; the State got weaker and the de facto powers, including organized crime, became stronger.

Andrés Manuel López Obrador began preparing his first assault on the presidency in 2000, when he became the Mayor of the capital. In those six years, he left a mark through his honesty and his reasonably effective, non-radical management. In 2006 he led in polls proceeding the presidential election, but lost due to strategic errors, personality flaws, and electoral fraud so evident and crude that there were entire sectors that advocated for direct action. The current president-elect persevered on Cárdenas’ path and opted for peaceful protest. We witnessed the outcome this year.

López Obrador promises us a “peaceful but radical” transformation. In his last campaign act he specified, “We have not put in all this effort for mere superficial, cosmetic changes.” This task is monumental because of the strength of the four horsemen of our apocalypse: violence, corruption, inequality, and the United States of Donald Trump have strong networks of power. The resistances will be enormous, and the results uncertain.

There will be battles in which, being optimistic – and the time is ready for that – we will be victorious and we will be able to forge a better future. That this is even possible is largely due to the Mexican left that resisted aggression, marginalization, ridicule, and contempt. Equally commendable was López Obrador’s refusal to treat the budget as his own personal assets. In the background, I insist, has been allegiance to peaceful practices. We are, therefore, before an unprecedented opportunity. For the first time in our thousand-year history, we will have the opportunity to change the system without violence. It was difficult, but we made it.

This article originally appeared in Spanish in the July 4, 2018 edition of Reforma and was translated to English by CLAS staff with the author’s permission. 

SERGIO AGUAYO is a Professor at the Colegio de México and a Visiting Scientist at the Harvard School of Public Health. He contributes weekly to Reforma, as well as to other newspapers and television shows. He recently published the eBook, “’68: The Students, the President and the CIA.”




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The Price of Entry: How AMLO Exchanged Ideology for Power

By Steve Fisher

AMLO during his unsuccessful 2012 presidential run in Orizaba, Veracruz. (Photo by Niña Astronauta).

The president-elect of Mexico, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, is probably best known for his tireless pursuit of the presidency and the fact that he has visited every municipality of the country at least once. His past two bids for the office failed and in both he decried electoral fraud. In his third, successful bid, it was clear that Andrés Manuel López Obrador would pull out all the stops to achieve his goal.

AMLO, as Lopez Obrador is commonly known, contradicted his past, anti-establishment rhetoric and created ties with the political gatekeepers of Mexico. In turn, he was given the keys, and the floodgates opened: he won the presidency by the largest landslide of any presidential candidate in recent democratic history. The combination of an electorate disillusioned with the failed promises of recent ruling parties and the “visto bueno,” or approval of those who hold the keys, won AMLO the seat he has sought for more than twelve years–and a majority in both congress and the lower house.

The president-elect is now faced with the unenviable task of meeting the expectation of his strong leftist base while at the same time navigating the demands of the old guard in his coalition.

One political gatekeeper includes the most powerful teachers union in the country, previously led by Elba Esther Gordillo, who maintains a strong influence on the syndicate. Forbes magazine named Gordillo one of the top ten most corrupt individuals in the country in 2013.

Union teachers across the country rallied as voting booth observers for MORENA. Various high profile leaders of the union are now part of AMLO’s cabinet, and in turn, he promised to revoke a controversial education law that Gordillo and the teachers strongly oppose.

Then there’s the far-right evangelical group, the Social Encounter Party, whose flag AMLO flew in his coalition party. The group is widely believed to be founded by a Secretary of the current administration, Osorio Chong, and holds some of the most hard right positions in the country, including anti-abortion stances. All this is in direct contradiction to the leader’s core, leftist base.

Miguel Ángel Osorio Chong, Secretary of the Interior in the cabinet of Enrique Peña Nieto. (Photo courtesy of Comisión Interamericana de Derechos Humanos).

And in a hail to the old Revolutionary Party guard of the 1970’s, AMLO brought under his wing the embattled former mining union leader, Napoleon Gómez Urrutia, who was accused of siphoning off $2.7 million dollars from the union coffers.

Urrutia, a powerful fixture of establishment politics, is now a prominent senator in the MORENA party. After winning the seat, Urrutia congratulated his party, MORENA. “A new chapter is coming,” he said in a video recorded from Canada where he fled after the corruption charges. “We will rebuild principles and values of the workers and national unionism.”

But perhaps the most high profile concession to the establishment was AMLO’s olive branch to the broadly unpopular, current president Enrique Peña Nieto. In his campaign, AMLO promised he would not seek to prosecute the president who has been plagued with corruption and human rights scandals.

A news investigation revealed that a multi-million dollar mansion provided to Peña Nieto’s wife by a powerful international company resulted in favorable government contracts. Forty-three student-teachers were disappeared in the state of Guerrero by federal authorities according to reports and an independent investigation, and yet nearly four years later they have not been found. And last year, homicides across the country were the highest in the past twenty years.

These and a host of other overtures to the Mexican political establishment suggest AMLO finally conceded core ideals in exchange for being given the most powerful position in the country. Still, the electorate has high hopes for a better life under AMLO.

The outsized expectations for change have not been lost on the man who promised to bring a “fourth transformation” to Mexico, which he compared with Mexican Independence and later the Revolution in the early 1900s.

Students for AMLO during his 2012 presidential run. (Photo by Eneas de Troya).

The president-elect has been moving quickly, ever since Election Day, to show he will make good on his rhetoric.

In a recent press conference, AMLO outlined the first steps in his ambitious agenda, including reducing salaries of politicians, restructuring civil law enforcement to address record high violence, and revising a law protecting presidents from prosecution.

“We’re always going to follow the law and we will protect no one,” AMLO told the press after a recent meeting with state governors.

The question is whether the foxes, which he brought into his henhouse, will allow the anti-corruption measures to mature.

Steve Fisher is a freelance investigative journalist based in Mexico. His primary focus includes the Mexican criminal justice system and human rights. Steve has published in the Los Angeles Times, Mother Jones magazine and Fusion Investigates. He has a master’s in journalism from UC Berkeley, and was a Univision News Fellow at the Center for Latin American Studies.



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Invisible Imprints of Glacial Melt

By Emma Steigerwald

The Marbled water frog is believed to be important for its medicinal properties, as well as for its role in the ecosystem. (Photo by Emma Steigerwald).

“When I was a child and the rain did not come,” adults sometimes told us, “my mother had me carry a frog far from the water, so that its distressed song would call the rain”.

“Make sure you don’t annoy the frogs,” people would warn my team. “When they are upset, the lightning falls”.

“Make sure you return those frogs when you’ve finished. If you don’t, the springs will dry”.

This photo of one of our camps highlights the extreme weather conditions in the Cordillera. (Photo by Emma Steigerwald).

The cultural importance of amphibians in the most remote reaches of the Cordillera Vilcanota in the Peruvian Andes became more obvious each day that I spent there. People’s relationship with these animals is not an affectionate one: for the most part, they find the concept of contact with frogs disgusting or frightening. Still, a culture that depends on the success of their potatoes, tarwi, and alpaca will pay close attention to the creatures to whom they attribute sway over precipitation patterns. Communities that genuinely lose alpaca, homes, and people to lightning strikes will have respect for the creatures to whom they attribute sway over electrical storms. Therefore, when frog populations began disappearing in the early 2000s, Quechua herders broadcast their concerns (Seimon et al 2017). These reports motivated scientists to begin long-term amphibian monitoring in the Cordillera Vilcanota (Seimon et al 2017). Conversations with this monitoring team drew me to begin the first landscape genetic project ever based in the region, which I hoped to pursue without “annoying the frogs”!

I had my first field season this spring 2018, supported by the Tinker Summer Research Grant from Berkeley’s Center for Latin American studies. I was accompanied by local guide and horsedriver Gumercindo Crispin, as well as two students from the Universidad Nacional San Antonio Abad de Cusco: Yonatan Jared Guevara Casafranca and Peter Frank Condori Ccarhuarupay.

The Marbled four-eyed frog, pictured here among some of the beautiful alpine plants found in its high-elevation wetland habitat. (Photo by Emma Steigerwald).

In their dedicated work with the Marbled water frog, Marbled four-eyed frog, and Warty toad, the long-term monitoring team has found the pandemic fungal disease chytridiomycosis implicated in the reported die-offs (Seimon et al 2017). The team was also amazed to find all three species at elevations hundreds of meters higher than had ever been previously registered (Seimon et al 2007). Accelerated glacial melt, which had entirely transformed the Cordillera in the last century, had also unlocked new habitat for these frogs to colonize (Seimon et al 2007).

Children of Huayna Ausangate helping us to search for Marbled water frogs after school. (Photo by Emma Steigerwald).

The situation of these Cordilleran frogs captivates me because I am interested in problems relating to conserving wild populations. Here, I saw the convergence of several pressures: glacial melt, climate-driven range shifts, a novel pathogen, and the potential for restored animal movement across a mountain chain that has served as a barrier for perhaps thousands of years. I wondered if my particular toolkit, landscape genetics, could lend insight into how these pressures are interacting. Rapid range expansion and new or restored animal movement across deglaciated mountain passes will impact the genetic characteristics of wild populations (e.g. Ibrahim et al 1996, Excoffier 2004, Kolbe et al 2008, Pfaff et al 2001). These characteristics are, in turn, integral to whether populations will adapt, cope with new threats like diseases, and finally persist in the long term (Bonin et al 2007). Since climate change is causing species across taxa and across the world to alter their ranges (Parmesan 2006), rapid deglaciation is proceeding in tropical and temperate zones alike (Berger et al 2017), and novel disease threats are emerging at an accelerated rate (Daszak et al 2000), it is critical that we examine the impacts of these pressures and how they interact.

Gumercindo and I hold buckets of tadpoles we netted for sampling. (Photo by Peter Frank Condori Ccarhuarupay).

Ecologists are driven by the understanding that no element of an ecosystem stands independently– not even humans. For this reason, I find wisdom in the ancient beliefs that were shared with us about the Cordilleran frogs. I suspect that, in the grand scheme of things, the presence of frogs is indeed important for streams to flow. I suspect that, ultimately, the health of frogs is indeed important for the rains to fall. As scientists, we currently understand only small parts of that larger puzzle. While we catch up, I am going to trust that deeper wisdom, letting it inspire my effort to understand the forces we unknowingly exert on the wildlife that surrounds us.

Berger, A., Yin, Q.Z., Nifenecker, H. and Poitou, J., 2017. Slowdown of global surface air temperature increase and acceleration of ice melting. Earth’s Future, 5(7), pp.811-822.
Bonin, A., Nicole, F., Pompanon, F., Miaud, C. and Taberlet, P., 2007. Population adaptive index: a new method to help measure intraspecific genetic diversity and prioritize populations for conservation. Conservation Biology, 21(3), pp.697-708.
Daszak, P., Cunningham, A.A. and Hyatt, A.D., 2000. Emerging infectious diseases of wildlife–threats to biodiversity and human health. Science, 287(5452), pp.443-449.
Excoffier, L., 2004. Patterns of DNA sequence diversity and genetic structure after a range expansion: lessons from the infinite‐island model. Molecular Ecology, 13(4), pp.853-864.
Ibrahim, K.M., Nichols, R.A. and Hewitt, G.M., 1996. Spatial patterns of genetic variation generated by different forms of dispersal during range expansion. Heredity, 77(3), p.282.
Kolbe, J.J., Larson, A., Losos, J.B. and de Queiroz, K., 2008. Admixture determines genetic diversity and population differentiation in the biological invasion of a lizard species. Biology Letters, 4(4), pp.434-437.
Parmesan, C., 2006. Ecological and evolutionary responses to recent climate change. Annu. Rev. Ecol. Evol. Syst., 37, pp.637-669.
Pfaff, C.L., Parra, E.J., Bonilla, C., Hiester, K., McKeigue, P.M., Kamboh, M.I., Hutchinson, R.G., Ferrell, R.E., Boerwinkle, E. and Shriver, M.D., 2001. Population structure in admixed populations: effect of admixture dynamics on the pattern of linkage disequilibrium. The American Journal of Human Genetics, 68(1), pp.198-207.
Seimon, T.A., Seimon, A., Daszak, P., Halloy, S.R., Schloegel, L.M., Aguilar, C.A., Sowell, P., Hyatt, A.D., Konecky, B. and Simmon, J.E., 2007. Upward range extension of Andean anurans and chytridiomycosis to extreme elevations in response to tropical deglaciation. Global Change Biology, 13(1), pp.288-299.
Seimon, T.A., Seimon, A., Yager, K., Reider, K., Delgado, A., Sowell, P., Tupayachi, A., Konecky, B., McAloose, D. and Halloy, S., 2017. Long‐term monitoring of tropical alpine habitat change, Andean anurans, and chytrid fungus in the Cordillera Vilcanota, Peru: Results from a decade of study. Ecology and Evolution, 7(5), pp.1527-1540.

EMMA STEIGERWALD is a National Science Foundation graduate research fellow and PhD student in the Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management. Her research is motivated by the belief that, to manage wild populations with defined outcomes in mind, we should integrate our understanding of the complex ecological and evolutionary processes they are subjected to on diverse and ever-changing landscapes. She comes to Berkeley from a project working on an ecological corridor for endangered, range-restricted parakeets of the Ecuadorian Andes, and is glad to now be working on a project that also considers the implications of ecological corridors for infectious disease. Emma received a 2018 Tinker Summer Research Grant awarded by the Center for Latin American Studies. 


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La encrucijada de los grandes empresarios de Nicaragua por Carlos F. Chamorro

Por Carlos F. Chamorro

Read this entry in English here.

Manifestación ciudadana en pro de un diálogo nacional. (Foto por Jorge Mejía Peralta).

Hace exactamente un año, publiqué el ensayo ¿”Modelo Cosep”, o el régimen de Ortega?, analizando las particularidades de la alianza corporativista entre el régimen autoritario de Daniel Ortega y los grandes empresarios. Una alianza que nació en 2009 en medio de la crisis económica internacional cuando el Gobierno de Ortega atravesaba por su peor crisis política, después de haber sellado con violencia el fraude electoral municipal de 2008, que provocó sanciones económicas internacionales de parte de Estados Unidos y la Unión Europea. Eliminado el contrapeso de los partidos políticos democráticos, y con el soporte de la multimillonaria cooperación económica de Venezuela, el régimen designó al Cosep y a los grandes empresarios como su único interlocutor en la sociedad nicaragüense —desoyendo incluso a los obispos de la Iglesia católica, con los que únicamente se reunió una vez en una década– e instaló un sistema de cogobierno económico. Así nació un esquema de diálogo excluyente en el que los grandes empresarios nacionales y extranjeros se convirtieron en un actor político que le brindó legitimidad al régimen autoritario, a cambio de ventajas económicas y oportunidades de inversión, en un sistema de control social sin democracia ni transparencia. 

Mi intención entonces era promover el debate público sobre este “modelo” de estabilidad autoritaria, advirtiendo no solo sobre la falta de viabilidad y sostenibilidad a largo plazo de un régimen personalista –el Estado-Partido-Familia, sostenido en los pies de barro de la centralización, el nepotismo, la represión y la corrupción– sino también sobre el oneroso costo de oportunidad que representaba para la economía nacional la carga de la corrupción. Vale la pena releer hoy esas líneas y las de mis colegas, unos pocos, pero respetados periodistas, economistas, politólogos, e investigadores nacionales y extranjeros,  que cuestionaron el “modelo”, no tanto porque el análisis tenga algún mérito predictivo particular –que nunca fue esa su pretensión– sino porque ahonda en lo mucho que queda por hacer para desmantelar el corporativismo que se tambalea con el sistema político que lo engendró, y que debe ser sustituido por un sistema de gestión económica bajo normas democráticas y transparentes.

Las críticas al mal llamado “modelo Cosep” fueron acogidas en los pocos medios de comunicación independientes que sobreviven en el país, y en la agenda de discusión de Funides, el influyente centro de pensamiento del sector privado que de manera sistemática ha puesto en primer plano el nexo inseparable que debe existir entre la institucionalidad democrática y el desarrollo económico. Sin embargo, la intolerancia de algunos liderazgos empresariales intentó abortar el debate, al extremo que las cámaras del Cosep fueron invitadas a suscribir un comunicado de solidaridad con su presidente, alegando que era objeto de una campaña de “descalificación para dividir al sector privado”.

Manifestación ciudadana en pro de un diálogo nacional. (Foto por Jorge Mejía Peralta).

La vocería oficiosa del sector privado adujo absurdamente que se pretendía empujarlos a una confrontación con el Gobierno, mientras un empresario con mayor visión estratégica resumió su disyuntiva así: “estamos de acuerdo con el diagnóstico, pero ¿qué podemos hacer ante el Gobierno, si nosotros no tenemos la capacidad de presión que se nos atribuye?”. En realidad, al cuestionar el “corporativismo autoritario”, como lo bautizó el economista José Luis Medal, nunca se sugirió que el sector privado debía abandonar el diálogo con el Gobierno o convertirse en un partido político para tomar el poder, únicamente se le exhortaba a establecer límites claros ante el abuso del poder autoritario, y a denunciar la corrupción y la falta de transparencia pública, como una forma de defender no solo sus propios intereses a mediano plazo, sino los de toda la sociedad.  Después vinieron las amenazas de sanciones externas en el Congreso norteamericano con la Nica Act, quizás la última oportunidad para corregir el rumbo, pero en vez de convocar al sector empresarial para “ponerle el cascabel al gato” en las oficinas de El Carmen, un prominente líder del gran capital contrató al Carmen Group para cabildear, no en Managua, dónde está radicado el tumor de la enfermedad, sino en Washington D.C.

Hayan sido cómplices o rehenes del autoritarismo, o una combinación de ambas cosas, los grandes empresarios sucumbieron a la promesa de certidumbre en la estabilidad autoritaria, hasta que se acabaron los tiempos de “vacas gordas” del negociado de la cooperación venezolana, y la incapacidad del régimen para negociar la crisis fiscal y tolerar las expresiones de protesta social, provocó la matanza y la rebelión de abril. Entonces explotó la olla de presión y los agravios acumulados durante más de una década por la población, liderada por la juventud y los estudiantes universitarios, incluidos los simpatizantes sandinistas, en un reclamo nacional contra la represión y la conculcación de democracia y libertades públicas. La rebelión generalizada, ahora con la participación de amplios sectores económicos, movimientos sociales, y los sectores medios, simboliza el enorme costo humano, social, económico y político, que está pagando el país para librarse de una dictadura que cerró todos los espacios de participación democrática. 

La primera reacción del Cosep ante la masacre de abril, condenando la represión y respaldando el derecho a la protesta pacífica, y sobre todo reconociendo que ya no era posible negociar a puertas cerradas la crisis de la Seguridad Social y cualquier otro asunto de trascendencia nacional bajo el esquema excluyente, representó un paso importante de desmarcamiento del régimen, pero su déficit de credibilidad demanda un compromiso inequívoco con la democratización que, más de allá de proclamar un decálogo democrático, sea refrendado con acciones irreversibles.

La masacre perpetrada por el régimen que ya suma más de 50 muertos, la legitimidad de la protesta popular, y el surgimiento del movimiento estudiantil universitario como nuevo actor social y político, han establecido un parteaguas por la vía de los hechos y así se da por descontado que “el país cambió, y nada volverá a ser como antes”. No obstante, los liderazgos empresariales, hasta hace poco aliados del régimen autoritario de Ortega, le deben al país una revisión autocrítica de sus responsabilidades y del llamado “modelo de diálogo y consenso”, para definir las nuevas reglas del juego que deberán regir en la negociación sobre el fin de la dictadura, la transición, y la reconstrucción del país. 

Manifestación ciudadana en pro de un diálogo nacional. (Foto por Jorge Mejía Peralta).

El pronunciamiento del tres de mayo suscrito por los catorce grandes empresarios, consejeros del Cosep, las 27 cámaras empresariales, Amcham y Funides, ya no alude más al “modelo Cosep” y proclama que ¨es fundamental reconstruir el Estado de Derecho, dentro del marco institucional establecido por la Constitución y las leyes para responder pacífica y democráticamente a las demandas sociales, políticas, jurídicas y económicas de todos los sectores de la sociedad¨. En consecuencia, los grandes empresarios deberían reconocer que si antes fueron un soporte de la estabilidad autoritaria, la reconstrucción del Estado de Derecho que ahora promueven presupone que se conviertan en un factor de cambio, en un actor democrático, que es diferente a un partido político, o de lo contrario, si se aferran a maquillar el status quo para que Ortega y Murillo continúen en el poder hasta 2021, corren el riesgo de hundirse con un régimen que ya no es capaz de restablecer la estabilidad del país sin más represión.

En la víspera del diálogo nacional, el Gobierno ha nombrado como principales delegados a cuatro figuras clave del “modelo Cosep”, Bayardo Arce y Álvaro Baltodano, sus principales operadores de negocios con el sector privado, y los ministros de Hacienda y Banco Central, a cargo de las exoneraciones fiscales y la regulación bancaria y financiera. Es evidente que la prioridad de Ortega, al margen del clamor nacional sobre la matanza y la demanda de democratización, consiste en restablecer el viejo orden con los grandes empresarios. 

Según la ultima encuesta de Cid Gallup, el 69% de la población, incluido un porcentaje importante de simpatizantes sandinistas, está de acuerdo en que Daniel Ortega y Rosario Murillo deben renunciar al poder, para facilitar un proceso de negociación que conduzca a reformas institucionales y elecciones anticipadas, en el marco de una continuidad constitucional.  Pero ante una dictadura familiar que se aferra al poder para intentar replicar el esquema de Maduro en Venezuela, el cambio pacífico y constitucional solo será posible a través de una combinación de presión cívica beligerante y solidaridad internacional. La fuerza decisiva de esta presión descansa en la movilización que lideran los estudiantes, a la que se han sumado trabajadores, campesinos, empleados públicos, productores y comerciantes, sectores medios, y el sector privado. Y por el peso y la influencia que ejercen en sectores clave de la economía y del Estado, los grandes empresarios tienen una cuota mayor de responsabilidad, para contribuir a esta salida. Nicaragua no cuenta con instituciones autónomas para resolver la crisis provocada por Ortega y Murillo –que para la gran mayoría de la gente están política y moralmente inhabilitados para gobernar– porque simplemente fueron liquidadas por la dictadura. Es imperativo, por lo tanto, una negociación para reducir los plazos y los tiempos de salida de los gobernantes de forma pacífica, y esto solo será posible a través de una alianza nacional decidida a ejercer el máximo nivel de presión cívica para lograr el restablecimiento de la democracia. Si se considera que esta salida, como cualquier otra opción democrática es incierta, la alternativa a que conduciría la inacción es más desgaste y descalabro económico, y los imponderables que se derivan de más represión, muerte y rebelión.

Manifestación ciudadana en pro de un diálogo nacional. (Foto por Jorge Mejía Peralta).

En contrario a este argumento se alega que la aversión al riesgo político de parte de los grandes empresarios está justificada no solo por su propia lógica económica, sino también por el trauma de su experiencia histórica en 1979, cuando apoyaron la revolución contra la dictadura de Somoza, y luego se rompió la alianza nacional y fueron confiscados por una revolución de orientación socialista. Sin embargo, hay un falso déjà vu con 1979. Entonces, hubo una revolución liderada por un movimiento político-militar, la guerrilla del FSLN, que encabezó la insurrección popular para derrocar al régimen de Somoza. Lo que está planteado hoy no es una revolución armada, ni socialista, sino una rebelión cívica, pacífica, que demanda la salida de los dictadores por la vía constitucional, para promover reformas profundas. La bandera política de esta insurrección cívica proclama, como soñaba mi padre hace 40 años, que “Nicaragua vuelva a ser república”, para poder llevar adelante las reformas pendientes de la democratización, que no pudo garantizar la transición después de 1990. Se trata de una rebelión popular que carece de líderes visibles y organizaciones que la convoquen, y si algún paralelismo existe entre 2018 y 1979, este se reduce a las alarmantes coincidencias que hay entre la dictadura de Somoza y la de Ortega, hermanadas en la corrupción, la confusión de lo público y lo privado, el nepotismo, la vocación dinástica, y ahora también el genocidio y la matanza. 

Ante el colapso del régimen autoritario, del que fueron cómplices y también rehenes, la encrucijada de los grandes empresarios consiste en apostar otra vez por la inercia y dejar su suerte en manos del régimen, o convertirse, finalmente, en actores de un cambio democrático. 

Este artículo salió inicialmente en la edición del periódico Confidencial el 16 de mayo 2018 y está reproducido con el permiso del autor.  

CARLOS F. CHAMORRO es un periodista nicaragüense de renombre internacional. Es el director del programa de televisión Esta Semana y el editor del periódico semanal Confidencial, el cual fundó.  Es presidente del Centro de Investigaciones de la Comunicación (CINCO), una institución de la sociedad civil nicaragüense especializada en estudios de comunicación, cultura, democracia, y opinión pública. Anteriormente, fue editor del diario sandinista La Barricada. Chamorro presentó su trabajo en CLAS en el 2006.



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Carlos F. Chamorro on the Crossroads of Big Business in Nicaragua

By Carlos F. Chamorro

A citizens’ demonstration in favor of national dialogue in Nicaragua, May 2018. (Photo by Jorge Mejía Peralta).

Exactly one year ago, I published an essay titled, “‘¿Modelo Cosep’, o el régimen de Ortega?” (“The ‘COSEP Model,’ or the Ortega Regime?”), which analyzed the corporatist alliance between the authoritarian regime of Daniel Ortega and big business owners. This alliance was formed in 2009, in the midst of the international economic crisis, when the Ortega government faced its worst political crisis after having secured the fraudulent 2008 municipal elections with violence. This led to international economic sanctions by the United States and the European Union. After the elimination of the counter balance of democratic political parties, and with economic support from Venezuela, the Ortega regime designated COSEP and big businesses as their only representative with Nicaraguan society. The regime ignored even the bishops and the Catholic Church, with whom they met just once a decade, and installed an economic “co-government.” Thus, an exclusive dialogue was created, in which big national and foreign businesses became political actors, providing legitimacy to the authoritarian regime in exchange for economic benefits and investment opportunities – a system of social control that is neither democratic nor transparent.

A year ago, I published my essay with the intention to promote public debate about this “model” of authoritarian stability. I intended to provide a warning about the lack of viability and sustainability of a personalist regime – the State-Party-Family built upon a shaky foundation of centralization, nepotism, repression, and corruption – and corruption’s heavy opportunity cost for the national economy. It is worthwhile to return to these lines and those of my colleagues (a few respected journalists, economists, political scientists, and Nicaraguan and foreign researchers) who questioned the “Model”. We questioned it not because the analysis had its own predictive value – this was not our intention – but rather because it reveals how much remains to be done to dismantle the corporatism that teeters along with the political system which created it, and which should be replaced by an economic management system with democratic and transparent standards.

Critics of the poorly-named “COSEP model” were embraced by the few independent media channels that have survived in this country. They were also embraced by the agenda of FUNIDES (Fundación Nicaragüense para el Desarrollo Económico y Social, or the Nicaraguan Foundation for Economic and Social Development), the influential thought leader for the private sector that has systematically shed light upon the inseparable link between democratic institutionality and economic development. However, some business leaders tried to stop the debate, so much so that COSEP associations were invited to endorse a statement in solidarity with the president, affirming that they were victims of a “disqualification” campaign that intended to divide the private sector.

A citizens’ demonstration in favor of national dialogue in Nicaragua, May 2018. (Photo by Jorge Mejía Peralta).

The unofficial spokesperson of the private sector absurdly claimed that they tried to move towards a confrontation with the Government. At the same time, a business owner with a larger strategic vision summarized the dilemma in this way: “We agree with the analysis, but what can we do in the face of the Government, if we do not have the power that it claims we have?” In reality, challenging “authoritarian corporatism,” (as economist José Luis Medal calls it) was never a suggestion that the private sector should abandon the dialogue with the Government, or that it become a political party to gain power. Instead, the challenge intended to reveal corruption and lack of transparency in the face of an authoritarian power and defend the private sector’s medium-term interests and those of society as a whole. Then the U.S. Congress threatened sanctions on Nicaragua with the Nica Act. This was possibly the last opportunity to correct course, but the business sector did not respond by risking to “bell the cat” and put pressure on the Ortega regime. Instead, a prominent business leader contracted the Carmen Group to lobby – not in Managua, where the tumor is located, but rather in Washington D.C.

Whether they were accomplices or hostages of authoritarianism, or a combination of the two, big business owners succumbed to the promise of authoritarian stability, at least until the end of the “fat cow” days of Venezuelan support. Since then, the regime has not been able to navigate through the financial crisis nor tolerate expressions of social protest, which led to the recent April slaughter and rebellion. Grievances that have accumulated after more than a decade finally exploded. Young people and university students, including Sandinista sympathizers, led a national protest against repression and infringement of democracy and public liberties. The rebellion was made up of diverse economic sectors, social movements, and media channels, all of which represent enormous human, social, economic, and political costs. The country is paying that cost to liberate itself from a dictatorship that has closed all space for democratic participation.

COSEP’s initial reaction to the April massacre was to condemn repression, voice support for the right to peaceful protest, and acknowledge that it is not possible to negotiate Social Security and other issues of national importance behind closed doors. This reaction represented an important step in distancing COSEP from the regime. However, COSEP’s lack of credibility demands an unambiguous compromise with democratization – more than just stating the value of democracy, it must endorse it with irreversible changes.

The massacre perpetuated by the Ortega regime has already resulted in more than 50 deaths. It has also created an increased legitimacy of popular protest and the growth of the university student movement as a socio-political actor. It has produced a watershed moment in which it is taken for granted that “the country changed, and nothing would be as it was before.” However, big business owners, who had until recently been allied with the authoritarian Ortega regime, owe the nation a self-critical analysis of their responsibilities and the so-called “dialogue and consensus model.” They must define new rules that will govern negotiations for the end of the dictatorship, the transition, and the reconstruction of our country.

A citizens’ demonstration in favor of national dialogue in Nicaragua, May 2018. Sign reads: Justice so there may be peace. (Photo by Jorge Mejía Peralta).

The May Third declaration was signed by fourteen big business owners, COSEP advisors, 27 business chambers, AMCHAM (Cámara Americana de Comercio de Nicaragua, or the American Chamber of Commerce of Nicaragua) and FUNIDES. It no longer refers to the “COSEP model” and proclaims that “it is fundamental to rebuild the rule of law within the institutional framework established by the Constitution and laws to respond peacefully and democratically to the social, political, legal, and economic demands of all sectors of society.” Consequently, big business owners must recognize that if before they were in support of authoritarian stability, the reconstruction of the rule of law that they now promote assumes that they become an agent of change and a democratic actor, which is different from a political party. Otherwise, if they cling to the status quo so that Ortega and Murillo stay in power until 2021, they run the risk of sinking with a regime that is no longer capable of restoring the country’s stability without more repression.

On the eve of the national debate, the government has appointed four key figures as delegates to the “COSEP model:” Bayardo Arce and Álvaro Baltodano, its main business  dealers with the private sector; and the Ministers of Finance and the Central Bank, who are in charge of tax exemptions and financial and banking regulation. It is clear that Ortega’s priority, apart from demands for democratization and the national clamor over the killings, is to restore the old order: big business.

According to the latest CID/Gallup poll, 69% of the population, including a significant percentage of Sandinista sympathizers, agree that Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo should resign from power to facilitate a negotiation process leading to institutional reforms and early elections, within a framework of constitutional continuity. However, faced with a familiar dictatorship that clings to power in an attempt to replicate Maduro’s plan in Venezuela, peaceful and constitutional change will only be possible through a combination of passionate civic pressure and international solidarity. The force of this pressure comes from protests led by students and supported by workers, farmers, public employees, agricultural producers, merchants, the middle class, and the private sector. And because of the weight and the influence they exert in key sectors of the economy and the State, big business owners have a greater share of the responsibility to contribute to this exit. Nicaragua does not have autonomous institutions that can solve the crisis caused by Ortega and Murillo – who are, according to the majority of people, politically and morally incapable to govern – because they were simply liquidated by the dictatorship. A negotiation is imperative, therefore, to reduce the terms and exit times of the rulers peacefully. This will only be possible through a national alliance that is determined to apply the highest level of civic pressure to achieve a restoration of democracy. If this exit is considered uncertain, the alternative is inaction, which would create more economic wear and tear and the incalculable costs of more repression, death, and rebellion.

A citizens’ demonstration in favor of national dialogue in Nicaragua, May 2018. (Photo by Jorge Mejía Peralta).

In opposition to this argument, it is alleged that big business’s aversion to political risk is justified not only by economic logic, but also because of the traumatic experience in 1979, when they supported the revolution against the Somoza dictatorship and the national alliance was broken and exchanged a socialist-oriented revolution. However, there is a false déjà vu with 1979. Then, there was a revolution led by a political-military movement, the FSLN, which headed the popular insurrection to overthrow the Somoza regime. What is being proposed today is not an armed revolution, nor a socialist revolution, but a civic and peaceful rebellion that demands the end of a dictatorship by constitutional means, in order to promote profound reform. The political banner of this civic insurrection proclaims, as my father dreamed 40 years ago, that “Nicaragua will be a republic again;” a republic that would enact the pending reforms of democratization. This is a popular rebellion that lacks visible leaders and organizations. If any parallels do exist between 2018 and 1979, they are reduced to the alarming coincidences between the dictatorships of Somoza and Ortega, matched in corruption, confusion of the public and private, nepotism, dynastic vocation, and now also genocide and killings.

Big business owners are now facing the collapse of the authoritarian regime, of which they were both accomplices and hostages. They are at a crossroads, where they can either once again bet on inertia and leave their luck in the regime’s hands, or finally become agents of democratic change.

This article originally appeared in Spanish in the May 16, 2018 edition of Confidencial and was translated to English by CLAS staff, with the author’s permission.

CARLOS F. CHAMORRO is a renowned Nicaraguan journalist and was formerly the editor of the Sandinista newspaper La Barricada. Chamorro currently serves as director of the television program Esta Semana and as editor of the weekly paper Confidencial, which he founded. He is president of the Centro de Investigaciones de la Comunicación (CINCO, the Center of Investigations of Communication), a nonprofit research and polling firm in Nicaragua. He spoke at CLAS in 2006.


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Reflections on the Collectivity of Violence in Honduras

By Franklin Moreno

Military police trucks returning from patrols in Chamelecón. (Photo by Franklin Moreno.)

I returned not too long ago from Honduras after the catrachos went to the polling stations for the national elections on November 26 and the firestorm of allegations of fraud and voting irregularities made by the political opposition and by the Organization of American States. While I was away in Nicaragua, my family, friends, and colleagues in Tegucigalpa –the political capital– and in San Pedro Sula – the industrial capital – were keeping me informed of the protests and violence. I heard of the unrest resulting in street and highway roadblocks, the inability to go to work, missed salary, bank closures and an overarching sense of frustration and political uncertainty. After consulting them, I decided to return to San Pedro Sula from Managua by plane and to stay in the sector of Chamelecón with friends and their family to continue my research given the political instability unfolding in the country. My plane landed as nation-wide curfews were being announced.

The current social and political conflict and uncertainty put in sharp relief the collective nature of mara-related violence that I have focused on in my developmental psychology research in Honduras these past two years. By collectivity I do not refer to groups of people cooperating in unified efforts towards a singular goal or outcome. Rather, I am evoking what Geoffrey Saxe refers to as collective practices that are the joint activities among multiple participants with shared and divergent goals, interpretations and evaluations, which influence the sustainment and changes of representations and practices across time (Saxe, 2012; Saxe & Esmonde, 2005). Although Saxe’s research has focused on the development of mathematical concepts in Papua New Guinea and elsewhere, his framework offers ways of conceptualizing the social complexity and contradictory nature of maras and their perceived and actual violence in which children and adolescents live.

A home in the affluent neighborhood of Juan Lindo. (Photo by Franklin Moreno.)

On the one hand, in times of major social-political unrest, concerns for homicides, gang borders, and extortions remained consistent, as did certain aspects of violence prevention efforts. On the other, certain violent and non-violent features became more pronounced while others were co-opted, leading to shifting perceptions and sense of security. Notably, the flux of the psychological and actual parameters of the mara-violence is due to its relation to actions by the federal government, community members, police agencies, news media, political protestors, violent looters, and foreign governments.

I went to stay in the sector of Chamelecón so as to complete the research with children and adolescents given the stronghold of the mara borders. Although residents live with a sense of insecurity in their neighborhood due to the maras, under the conditions of political unrest, I learned of the limited sense of security they did feel from outside protestors entering their sector because of the gang-enforced borders. Friends living in various parts of the sector mentioned relative tranquility during the major protests and looting, even as a tollbooth at the entrance of the sector was burned and looted. However, as I continued my interviews in the days that followed, I spoke with children and adolescents whose families pay monthly extortions and whose personal movements remain constrained by the same gang-borders.

A house and baleada (typical food) home-business with Christmas decorations in Chamelecón. (Photo by Franklin Moreno.)

As social and political pressure against the incumbent president and electoral body increased regarding allegations of election fraud and irregularities, news media outlets began to publish claims that the oppositional candidate was hiring maras to incite violence and rioting—despite no evidence being provided. Friends and their families living in Chamelecón made sense of these news reports in a variety of ways. A few family members with whom I was staying believed the reports, causing more outrage towards the looting shown on the news feeds and the videos circulating on WhatsApp; while other members of the same family dismissed the claims as attempts to slander the oppositional candidate so as to discredit the concerns over electoral irregularities and fraud.

The collective practice regarding maras also includes the non-violent efforts in a sector considered to be one of the most dangerous. To contextualize the psychological and actual nuances of the violence, consider that taxi drivers refused to take me to the sector due to extortions. The taxi driver from the airport dropped me off at a gas station at the entrance of the sector from which I had to take a communal taxi that was allowed to operate in the neighborhood. Yet a number of residents felt that it was rare for them to hear the notion of ‘non-violence’ in the public discourse in relation to where they live. For example, the national headlines often leave out the efforts by a pastor and her husband who have led a community outreach center named after their neighborhood, 10 de Septiembre, in partnership with Project Genesis of FUNADEH, U.S.A.I.D, and some in the private sector to address gang violence and community needs. With staff and volunteers, they provide educational and computer courses, job training, youth development workshops, recreational games, monthly cinema shows for children with free popcorn and drinks, have a gym, host weddings, as well as organize festivals. Also absent in the news are the youth and families who socialize and create support networks to help one another in addressing individual and community concerns, and the children who play outside on the streets. This is a glaring contrast I experienced in the more affluent neighborhood of Juan Lindo where I was previously staying. Families there live in fortified homes with armed guards out on the streets; I rarely saw people walk outside the walls and socialize in the open. The only person I conversed with was a hired security guard on the street.

Pastor Francis de Cortes (far right) with staff and youth volunteers preparing for an event at the 10 de Septiembre Outreach Center in Chamelecón. (Photo by Franklin Moreno.)

Recognizing the non-violent forms of social interactions and organization amid ongoing, collective violence gets to a central frustration and concern repeatedly stated: who dominates the narrative and representation of the violence and its public perception, and who can challenge such narratives? Friends and residents expressed their dismay over the single-sided classification they are branded with: living in one of the most dangerous sectors. The tension lies with recognizing that integral to the life of the neighborhood is how the non-violent and caring forms of community functioning and organization shift and change in reciprocal processes with existing forms of violence; as well as being attuned to how their boundaries and participants shift as well. For instance, what happens when efforts by community members to improve the quality of life for children, adolescents, and adults, especially around maras, are dismissed by peacekeeping authorities themselves? A friend recounted an incident he had a few weeks prior to me returning to San Pedro Sula. He, a well-known community volunteer in his early twenties, who has also been a liaison to the community police for years, attempted to de-escalate a situation involving a friend of his who was about to get his motorcycle impounded for not carrying his vehicle registration.  The volunteer’s attempts to explain his community involvement and to mediate a solution were met with accusations of being a ‘delinquent’ (i.e., a slander of being associated with maras); he was peppered sprayed and arrested by the National Police. After showing me vivid photos of his eyes and face, he lamented that for him, the most harmful part of the experience by far was that his trust in the police had been shattered.

Group projects during a youth development program on stress at the 10 de Septiembre Outreach Center in Chamelecón. (Photo by Franklin Moreno.)

Examining the violence associated with maras has great implications for understanding how processes of violence and non-violence are integral to social functioning at many levels of social organization: national politics, local interactions with police or at community centers. I have not included in these reflections additional national and foreign participants in this collective practice due to space constraints; nor the dynamics of the three agencies that simultaneously patrol the sector of Chamelecón: the military, national and community police. In previous postings I have discussed the discriminations youth face by employers due to marginalization processes related to maras. Overall, children, adolescents, and adults experience the violence associated with maras in a multitude of ways. Certain forms remain consistent yet may shift in particular functions, such as with gang borders in times of political unrest. But understanding the dimensions of collectivity must also include the dedicated efforts by so many community members, staff of organizations and governmental agencies who address the actual and representational forms of the violence in peaceful ways, efforts that remain just as steadfast and defiant.

An occupied guard’s tower at a home in the affluent neighborhood of Juan Lindo. (Photo by Franklin Moreno.)

Franklin Moreno is a Ph.D. candidate in Human Development and Education at UC Berkeley. His current research in Honduras and Nicaragua focuses on children and adolescent moral evaluations and psychological explanations about violence in the contexts of gang conflict.

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