Mastermind or scapegoat? Besieged South American leaders blame Venezuela’s Maduro for historic wave of unrest.

As the streets of South America convulse in the region’s worst bout of social unrest in years, a chorus of critics on the political right are decrying what they see as one inescapable link — the nefarious hand of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro. This much is true: Regional leaders who once banded together to try to bring Maduro down are now suffering a pox on their own houses, even as socialist Venezuela’s regional allies are suddenly ascendant. But is Maduro really a Joker-like figure orchestrating increasingly violent protests from his lair in Caracas? Or is he just the perfect scapegoat to explain away the genuine anger now raging in multiple South American nations? The answer, according to more than a dozen interviews with officials, politicians, analysts and protesters in multiple nations, might be a little of both. “I think that what’s happening is mainly the product of national circumstances,” said Michael Shifter, president of the Washington-based Inter-American Dialogue. “That doesn’t mean there is no outside agitation. But to put the blame outside is to miss the point that there are fundamental domestic problems that can account for all this unrest.” Senior officials from Ecuador, Chile, Argentina and elsewhere are nevertheless pointing the finger at Maduro for the outbreak of severe street protests — including the ongoing mayhem in ordinarily stable Chile, where at least 20 people have died in two weeks of clashes with security forces. Chile took the serious step this week of canceling major global summits on trade and climate change scheduled […]

Ecuador: Lenín Moreno, sus razones para el fin del subsidio al combustible y la oportunidad que vio Rafael Correa

Cerca de 300 detenidos, saqueos a comercios privados, destrozos a bienes públicos y privados, enfrentamientos entre Policías y manifestantes, violencia, vandalismo, manifestantes enmascarados, agresiones a periodistas de parte de Policías, ataques a una ambulancia, agresiones de taxistas a policías, el 3 de octubre hicieron temer a muchos en Ecuador que el país iba a volver a escenarios de inestabilidad, mientras que otros se frotaban las manos intentando pescar a río revuelto. El gobierno de Lenín Moreno, acusado por sus detractores durante dos años de timorato y de incapaz de tomar decisiones como estadista, sorprendió el 1 de octubre poniendo fin al subsidio a la gasolina de 87 octanos y al diésel, mantenido por casi cinco décadas en el país andino y que le ha costado a las arcas fiscales más de US$60.000 millones. Casi la mitad de esos recursos, según el analista Alberto Acosta, correspondió a la última década, en la que gobernó Rafael Correa. Si bien el paquete de medidas económicas incluyó otras (algunas de ellas para compensar con ayudas a los más pobres). fue el retiro del subsidio a los combustibles el que encendió la pólvora. Diversos estudios realizados por sucesivos gobiernos y por organismos y consultoras internacionales han hablado durante años de la necesidad de eliminar los subsidios a los combustibles, que han distorsionado la economía del país y han beneficiado a los grupos sociales más pudientes. Sin embargo, ningún Presidente ha tomado la decisión de retirarlos por considerar esa medida como “un suicidio político”, en un país que previo a […]

General Strike Paralyzes Ecuador as President Stands by Austerity Measures

GUAYAQUIL, Ecuador—A general strike paralyzed much of Ecuador on Wednesday as week- old protests against President Lenin Moreno’s decision to eliminate fuel subsidies continued and the government scrambled to restore order. Shops, factories and schools closed as thousands of indigenous demonstrators, many with their faces masked and wearing traditional bowler hats, converged on the capital of Quito to demonstrate against austerity measures that Mr. Moreno says are necessary to fix the country’s economy. But the social turmoil has failed so far to cripple the government. Looting and riots have roiled Ecuador in recent days as Mr. Moreno abruptly decided this week to temporarily move the seat of his government 170 miles south to Guayaquil to avoid further confrontation. But in another surprise move, Mr. Moreno returned to Quito on Wednesday in a show of strength despite pockets of violent clashes between demonstrators and state security forces. The president was expected to return later in the day to Guayaquil, where a separate rally had been organized by Ecuadoreans rejecting violent protest tactics that damaged historical sites, police stations and oil-production facilities. Mr. Moreno has remained defiant, saying he would neither step down nor revert the decision on the fuel subsidy. He also has maintained the backing of the military and key business sectors, while his aides said they were engaging in early-stage negotiations with the indigenous groups leading the demonstrations. The United Nations and the Catholic Church are serving as mediators. “Today, it seems the government has the resources to resolve the conflict and […]

WikiLeaks’ Assange arrested in London, accused by U.S. of conspiring in 2010 computer hacking attempt

LONDON — WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange was expelled from the Ecuadoran Embassy here Thursday and arrested on a U.S. hacking charge — maneuvers that initiated a potentially years-long legal battle over his extradition and reignited debates about press freedom. With Assange’s arrest, U.S. and British authorities ended a seven-year saga in which the anti-secrecy crusader stayed just beyond their reach while his group dumped classified and politically volatile materials onto the Internet. U.S. prosecutors confirmed for the first time that they had secretly charged Assange last year with conspiring with an Army intelligence analyst to illegally obtain secret U.S. military and diplomatic documents, which Assange’s group published online. He is accused of helping Chelsea Manning, the former soldier then known as Bradley Manning, perhaps unsuccessfully, try to crack a government password. It could be some time, though, before he answers to that charge in an American court. Analysts say Assange’s extradition could take years, and only after he is in the United States can he begin what is expected to be a vigorous defense, arguing that he is like any newspaper publisher and that the charge against him is unjust. It is possible, too, that U.S. prosecutors could seek to bring more charges. The indictment, unsealed in federal court in the Eastern District of Virginia, mentioned only the 2010 publishing of military and diplomatic documents. It alleged that Assange conspired with Manning to obtain those materials. The indictment made no reference to WikiLeaks’ more recent publishing of secret CIA hacking tools or its release […]

Ecuador’s Correa blocked from return to presidency

05/02/2018 Rafael Correa, one of the longest serving presidents in Ecuadorean history, was barred from returning to the job on Sunday when his compatriots voted emphatically to restrict their leaders to a maximum of two terms in office. Mr Correa had been expected to seek re-election in 2021 after ruling the Andean nation for more than a decade until last year. But in a referendum called by his successor, one-time ally and now arch-rival Lenín Moreno, Ecuadorians voted to change the constitution so that no elected official can stand for more than two terms. …….“Ecuador is an interesting case,” said Sebastián Hurtado, president of Quito-based political risk consultancy Profitas. “It seems the leaders [of the left] have understood that their project doesn’t necessarily depend on just one person.” Of roughly 10.6m Ecuadorians who voted on Sunday, 64 per cent approved the two-term limit.   FINANCIAL TIMES […]

“Encuestas apuntan a un triunfo del sí en todas las preguntas de la consulta popular en Ecuador”: Sebastián Hurtado, presidente de Prófitas

03/02/2018 El presidente de la firma ecuatoriana especializada en riesgo político Prófitas, Sebastián Hurtado, aseguró en el programa La Tarde de NTN24 que “las encuestas apuntan a un triunfo del sí en todas las preguntas” del referendo y consulta popular de este domingo. “De las siete preguntas (…) hay dos que tienen relevancia política significativa: la dos y la tres, de la reelección indefinida y el Consejo de Participación Ciudadana, que básicamente logran el objetivo de reducir el poder (…) de Rafael Correa en favor del presidente (Lenín) Moreno y su facción”, afirmó Hurtado. El analista en riesgo político agregó que el eventual triunfo del sí “en el corto plazo lo debilita (a Correa) significativamente en la medida en que no puede postularse nuevamente a una elección como presidente, eso le quita influencia”. Más de trece millones de ecuatorianos están convocados para votar este domingo en el referendo y consulta popular propuesta por el presidente Lenín Moreno, en la que responderán a siete preguntas con sí o no como únicas opciones. NTN24   […]

Máxima tensión en Ecuador rumbo a la consulta popular que puede marcar el ocaso de Rafael Correa

28/01/2018 El pasado 5 de enero, cuando el ex presidente Rafael Correa llegó a Ecuador a encabezar una cruzada a favor del No en la consulta Popular del 4 de febrero, no se imaginó que le iba a salir el tiro por la culata y que su carácter explosivo e intolerante así como los 10 años de acallar a todo crítico le pasarían una factura cara para sus objetivos políticos y más cara aún en su afán de medir el pulso con su otrora amigo y coideario, el actual presidente Lenín Moreno. La consulta impulsada por Moreno preguntará a los ecuatorianos si están de acuerdo con enmendar la constitución para sancionar a los condenados por actos de corrupción con su inhabilitación para participar en la vida política y pérdida de sus bienes; si están de acuerdo en que todas las autoridades de elección popular puedan ser reelectas una sola vez, dejando así sin efecto la reelección indefinida; en reestructurar el Consejo de Participación Ciudadana y Control Social, así como dar por terminado el periodo constitucional de sus actuales miembros y nombrar uno transitorio; en no permitir la prescripción de los delitos sexuales contra niños y adolescentes. ………………….Según Sebastián Hurtado, presidente de la Consultora Profitas, las preguntas de impacto político dentro de la consulta son la 2 y la 3, pues buscan debilitar el poder de Rafael Correa y su facción e incrementar el poder de Lenín Moreno y su facción. “Con un triunfo en la consulta popular, Lenin Moreno busca control sobre la institucionalidad […]

Ecuador Swears in Moreno as President to Succeed Correa

24/05/2017 Lenin Moreno was sworn in as Ecuador’s president on Wednesday and promised to maintain Rafael Correa’s leftist policies while ending his predecessor’s sharp attacks on critics, including the press. In a ceremony that paid homage to the charismatic but divisive Mr. Correa, Mr. Moreno said his government would maintain expansive social programs. But he also said he would seek political consensus and defended freedom of expression while calling on lawmakers to be less ideologically rigid. “I don’t see a major reversal of policy with Moreno,” said Sebastian Hurtado, president of Profitas, a Quito-based political-risk consulting firm. The Wall Street Journal  […]

South America’s indigenous groups used to line up with the left. Not anymore.

12/05/2017 Venezuela’s political crisis spilled over into the spirit realm this week, when the governor of the state of Amazonas threatened to put a shamanic curse on President Nicolás Maduro and his administration. Broadcast live on the Periscope app, the threat was mostly political theater. But it pointed to a broader problem for South America’s long-ruling leftist governments. The indigenous minority groups fighting mining, deforestation and oil drilling in the region used to see left-wing leaders as their natural allies in a mortal struggle against global capitalism. Now, many see those leaders and their parties as just as rapacious as any foreign corporation, if not more so. […]

Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa Sees Latin America’s Left on the Mend

06/04/2017 QUITO, Ecuador—President Rafael Correa has watched one after another of his leftist Latin American allies get impeached, beaten at the polls or excoriated as antidemocratic, as his own government faced growing disenchantment amid an economic downturn. This week, he hailed a reversal in that trend as Ecuadoreans elected his preferred successor, former Vice President Lenin Moreno, in a tight race against a conservative rival. The outcome, he said, highlighted the left’s resilience at a moment when analysts see the region’s politics moving to the right. “I think it marks an end to that change,” Mr. Correa said in an interview Wednesday at the presidential palace. “We’ve won in very adverse conditions.” The Wall Street Journal   […]

A kinder, gentler leftist aims to bridge angry divisions after Ecuador win

03/04/2017 QUITO, Ecuador — As a candidate, Lenín Moreno ran as a sunny, conciliatory figure, a leader who would preserve President Rafael Correa’s left-wing policies without his pugilistic, domineering style. Moreno’s nice-guy skills will now be put to the test. Moreno squeaked to a win in the presidential election Sunday, an outcome that triggered street protests amid cries of fraud from his opponent, Guillermo Lasso. Although election authorities have not officially declared Moreno the winner, his 51 percent to 49 percent advantage — with more than 99 percent of the ballots counted — looked insuperable. “Moreno is less rigid and ideological than Correa, but whether or not he can be conciliatory will also depend on the stance of the opposition,” said Sebastian Hurtado, a Quito-based political analyst. Wahington Post    […]

Ecuador Heads to Polls in Tightly Contested Presidential Race

02/04/2017 QUITO, Ecuador—Ecuadoreans headed to the polls Sunday to vote for a new president in a tightly contested election that could determine the future of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. Almost 13 million Ecuadoreans are expected to vote for a successor to President Rafael Correa, choosing between the leftist leader’s former vice president, Lenin Moreno, and conservative ex-banker Guillermo Lasso. The vote is the latest test for Latin America’s left, which has seen its power wane following a decline in economic growth. If elected, Mr. Lasso says he will evict Mr. Assange from Ecuador’s embassy in London, where he has lived since Mr. Correa, a vocal critic of U.S. foreign policy, granted him political asylum in 2012. The Wall Street Journal  […]

Ecuador’s ruling party candidate takes lead ahead of presidential vote

24/03/2017 BOGOTA, COLOMBIA The presidential candidate from Ecuador’s ruling party has pulled ahead in key polls ahead of the April 2 runoff that will determine the fate of the country’s decade-long “Citizens’ Revolution” and President Rafael Correa’s socialist legacy. A series of polls released this week give Lenín Moreno, Correa’s one-time vice president, a lead over former banker Guillermo Lasso. In particular, polling firm Cedatos, whose closely-watched polls accurately predicted the Feb. 19 first-round vote, puts Moreno ahead for the first time since its runoff polling began. In a survey released Wednesday, Cedatos said Moreno has 52.4 percent of the valid votes versus Lasso’s 47.6 percent. A month ago, Lasso had a four-point lead in the race. Miami Herald  […]

Ecuador Faces New Choices in Presidential Election

17/02/2017 Voters in Ecuador go to the polls Sunday for the first time in a decade to elect a president other than Rafael Correa, opening a new chapter for a tiny country that had grown accustomed to the leader’s free-spending, often combative ways. The front-runner is Mr. Correa’s former vice president and favored candidate, Lenin Moreno, 63, who represents a continuation of the left-leaning views that have been losing popularity in the region in recent years. Mr. Moreno is expected to get the most votes on Sunday, but fall short of securing enough support to avoid an April 2 runoff against one of his seven opponents. ‘There is an important desire for change. A second-round victory for the government is much more difficult.’ —Sebastian Hurtado, president of Profitas, a Quito political-risk consulting firm The Wall Street Journal  […]

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