americas program's blog

Mexico's Second Presidential Debate: The Battle for Second Place Heats Up

Jun 11, 2012
By Duncan Wood
 
Last night’s second presidential debate in Mexico changed very little in terms of the final outcome, but it did give us another chance to determine what have become the main themes of the debate. The economy, corruption, and the need for a functioning education system all featured heavily, but the main issue continues to be poverty and the lack of economic opportunities for the majority of Mexicans. All the candidates focused on the theme of improving the lives of the average voter, be it through higher wages or better public services. This reflects the importance of economic issues in the election.
 
The tone of this debate was decidedly different from the first, in which Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) of the PRD and Josefina Vázquez Mota (JVM) of the PAN repeatedly attacked the PRI candidate and campaign front-runner, Enrique Peña Nieto. This time around, in addition to accusing the PRI candidate of representing an authoritarian party, JVM launched attack after attack at AMLO reflecting the fact that, since the first debate, he has overtaken her in the polls. For his part, AMLO was once again rather subdued, speaking slowly and emphasizing that he seeks conciliation over conflict. Once again the PRD candidate failed to keep his comments within the set time limits, and once again he appeared ponderous and slow. The PANAL candidate, Gabriel Quadri de la Torre, who was the star turn of the first debate and saw his poll numbers jump dramatically afterwards, was less impressive this time around, though he continued to stress his status as the “non-politician”. He put forward a series of policy proposals and called on the other candidates to support them, but was badly hurt by an attack from Vázquez Mota in which she accused him of being a puppet in the hands of the teachers’ union leader, Elba Esther Gordillo.
 
But what of Peña Nieto? Although he said little of substance and seemed to lose his message at various points during the debate, he is unlikely to have been seriously damaged by his opponents’ attacks. Once again he kept his cool in the face of accusations, and was generally smooth and polished in his responses. The only significant change that might occur after last night’s event is in the race for second place. As noted above, AMLO’s performance was far from stellar and his rather lack-luster style raises questions about his ability to hold onto second place in the polls. Vázquez Mota, on the other hand, appeared revitalized in the debate, attacking all around her and sticking to her message. She appealed to the student movement (at one point raising the specter of the 1968 student massacre in Tlatelolco), women, and the poor and disadvantaged. Her rather wooden style of the first debate (in which she was criticized as appearing to be rather Stepford wife-like) had not completely disappeared but she was certainly the driving force in the debate. Although it is almost certainly too late for her to catch up to Peña Nieto before July 1, she now stands a realistic chance of challenging AMLO for second place.
 
Duncan Wood is a senior associate with the CSIS Americas Program.
 

Time to rethink the OAS?

Jun 8, 2012
By Stephen Johnson
 
The Organization of American States (OAS) ended up looking more battered than usual at its General Assembly meeting this past week.  Part of the blame owed to an attempt by a handful of countries to hijack the consensus agenda on food security to serve parochial and ideological interests.  But part also owed to the fact that, ever since the approval of the Inter-American Democratic Charter in 2001, the OAS has lacked big ideas and a sense of direction.  The charter validated promoting democracy and respect for human rights as the Organization’s core competencies.  Now, thanks to weak leadership, those functions are at risk.  
 
Every year the OAS holds a general assembly meeting and the latest—June 3-5 in Cochabamba, Bolivia—was bruising.  There, four Bolivarian alliance members, Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua, and Venezuela succeeded in overshadowing the meeting’s regular agenda by calling for the end of the OAS as an institution that serves the interests of “the empire” (meaning the United States).  
 
More specifically, Bolivian president and host Evo Morales asked members to limit the activities of the Inter-American Human Rights Commission (IACHR), defund the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression, abolish the Inter-American Defense Board, and eliminate the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (apparently unaware that it is a U.S. institution, not part of the OAS).  The four also announced their withdrawal from the Rio Treaty of 1947 which calls for mutual assistance in case of an external attack on a member country.   
 
The IACHR and its sibling Inter-American Human Rights Court serve a valuable role in a hemisphere once dominated by military dictatorships.  However, for the authoritarian governments that have popped up in the region, notably those now belonging to Venezuela’s Bolivarian alliance, such human rights defenders have become an irritant and an obstacle to controlling domestic dissent.  
 
It is worth noting that in January, an OAS working group promulgated a report purporting to “strengthen” the human rights commission.  Group members from Ecuador and Venezuela insisted on recommendations opening the door to reducing the transparency and independence of the Commission, as well as burdening it with mandates to monitor new “social” and “economic” rights unrelated to basic freedoms.  Secretary General José Miguel Insulza supposedly sat in on some of these deliberations.  
 
In May, he visited Quito to confer with President Rafael Correa who denounced the “Anglo-Saxon vision of human rights” that he said pervaded the Commission’s thinking, a vision that demonized the state and glorified irresponsible journalists.  Insulza reportedly left with specific proposals to stop the Commission from publishing its own report on freedom of expression in the hemisphere, curtail outside financial contributions to the Commission, allow member states to determine how they are monitored, and permit them to delay publication of negative reports up to a year.  
 
At the General Assembly, Insulza appeared to back away from Morales’s radical reform rhetoric and instead talked of “strengthening” the IACHR.  In defense of the Commission, Canada and the United States led an effort to have the recommendations tabled for six months, or until a special session of the General Assembly could take them up.  But that won’t be long in coming.  
 
In other business, the Assembly adopted the Social Charter of the Americas to guarantee certain entitlements alongside human rights.  Argentina and Great Britain presented their respective cases for claiming the Falklands/Malvinas Islands.  Bolivia and Chile debated access to the Pacific Ocean.  And an agreement was reached on what was to be the main agenda item, food security.  
 
While representatives from the region’s liberal democracies probably breathed a sigh of relief as the meeting ended, doubts were sown over the ongoing usefulness of the OAS.  Some of that stems from the Secretary General’s seeming willingness to let a minority of member states gut a core OAS institution.  But the Secretary General wasn’t the only figure blowing in the wind.  Representatives from democracies like Brazil, Chile, and Mexico did little to defend the Commission.  Only Colombia’s foreign minister, María Angela Holguín was outspoken in urging caution.  
 
Weakening human rights observance can debilitate other functions such as election monitoring, or reporting on adherence to inter-American conventions.  Once the OAS goes down the path of indulging the peculiar agendas of some member states, the Organization will be no different than some of the sub-regional forums that have proliferated during the past 5 years—platforms for dialogue with no particular vision.  Perhaps that should serve as a wake-up call to the present U.S. administration to take more of an interest in the region.  
 
Stephen Johnson is a senior fellow and director of the CSIS Americas Program.  
 
Photo via OAS Flickr account.

How Will Mexico's Student Movement Impact the Election?

Jun 8, 2012
By Duncan Wood
 
On May 11, the PRI’s presidential candidate, Enrique Peña Nieto (EPN), made what was expected to be an uneventful visit to the Iberoamericana University in Mexico City to give a speech to students. When he walked onto the stage, however, he was greeted with boos and heckling from the students, many of whom held up signs accusing the former governor of the State of Mexico of endorsing police brutality in the May 2006 San Salvador Atenco protests. Despite repeated attempts, the students refused to allow Peña Nieto to speak, and he eventually left the stage and withdrew from the university.
 
Immediately following these events, the PRI presidential campaign team issued a statement claiming that many of those responsible for heckling their candidate were not, in fact, students, but rather a kind of “rent-a-mob” paid for and bussed in by the campaign of Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO), the PRD presidential candidate. This accusation was later picked up by Televisa and TVAzteca, the nation’s two main television networks, both which have been accused of working to forward the political aspirations of EPN. 
 
This strategy by the PRI and the networks backfired spectacularly. Within a matter of days, the Iberoamericana students had made a video, in which 131 registered students showed their student cards and testified that they had been present at the event. This video circulated immediately and widely on YouTube, sparking an interuniversity movement of students supporting their colleagues at the Iberoamericana. The movement, named #YoSoy132 (I Am 132), to show solidarity with the 131 students in the video, has captured the attention of students and university authorities in both public and private institutes of higher education, and rapidly developed into street protests and marches against both the PRI and Televisa. Thanks to the use of Facebook and Twitter, the movement was able to mobilize thousands of students across Mexico City at the same time to protest.
 
As the movement took off across Mexico City (and to a lesser extent in cities such as Monterrey), politicians rapidly realized the importance of the issue, and each of the candidates made public statements embracing the students’ pro-democracy message. Of the three leading candidates, AMLO has thus far been more successful in connecting with the movement, and students from the national university, UNAM, in particular have rallied around him. This is one of the reasons why AMLO’s standing in the opinion polls has improved in recent days.  Although Josefina Vázquez Mota, the PAN candidate, has tried to ally herself with the movement, it has done little to help her polling numbers.
 
But the movement is experiencing some tensions as it matures. First, the above-mentioned partisanship has generated internal splits in the movement: students from the ITAM, for example, one of Mexico’s most elite private universities, have argued that the movement should not be against any one of the candidates, but should rather focus on the issue of media bias, whereas the Iberoamericana students have shown a clear anti-EPN bias, and the UNAM students have demonstrated their support for AMLO. The second main source of tensions centers on the fact that many students are now on summer break, with some having returned  home to their families in the Mexican interior, leaving many disconnected with the movement due to their lack of daily contact with their classmates. 
 
It is unclear what happens next with #YoSoy132, but it has been fascinating to see the impact that university students can have on the democratic process. At the very least it has put the issue of media bias and collaboration between the PRI and Televisa firmly on the national electoral agenda.
 
Duncan Wood is a senior associate of the CSIS Americas Program.
 

Cuba Visa Imbroglio: Gaffe or No Gaffe?

May 29, 2012
By Stephen Johnson
 
Two weeks ago, the Obama administration approved some 60 visas for Cuban academics to attend the 2012 the Latin American Studies Association (LASA) conference in San Francisco.  Included were two outspoken regime officials known for hardline views against the United States.  Denied were several academics known to be urging reforms.  At issue is whether they should have received visas instead of hardliners like Mariela Castro, daughter of President Raúl Castro, and Eusebio Leal, a member of the Communist Party Central Committee. While not talking directly to the press, Mariela Castro commented on political issues in the United States and referred to Cuban Americans as a “mafia” that has blocked U.S. tourist travel to the island, even though Cuban citizens cannot freely travel themselves.  
 
As most independent political expression is also banned on the island, the principle of reciprocity that now governs U.S.-Cuban relations would seem to recommend that the entry of such officials be denied.  On the other hand, allowing them to come showed the stark difference between Cuban and American approaches to freedom of speech.  In Cuba, if one speaks in favor of the regime, it’s okay; if against, it’s a crime.  In the United States, one is welcome to say pretty much whatever one likes. So, was any useful purpose served outside of drawing attention to the conference?  
 
The benefit for the United States of inviting citizens from closed societies to attend forums is to become familiar with who is who and expose guests to U.S. values and life.  The payoff is usually long-term as attitudes slowly change.  In planning conferences, rules of thumb are to avoid inviting figures likely to hijack an event to promote their own agenda, and also to avoid large contingents from such societies that may be difficult to handle.  LASA disregarded both guidelines.  Yet the outcome was not overly disruptive.  Among hundreds of panel discussions, participants heard Cuban expositors give papers on “Lessons for Cuba: the Vietnamese reform and its impact on the external sector and growth,” and Cubans probably heard such themes as “A democracy for all: the challenges of constructing democratic political cultures in Latin America through social capital.” All useful. 
 
Maybe Castro and Leal went home thinking they pulled one over on Uncle Sam.  Maybe some of the others witnessed opinions freely expressed and compared the absence of consequences with what would have happened had a foreigner made controversial statements at home.  Maybe not.  Nonetheless, it was a chance Secretary of State Hillary Clinton decided to take in approving Castro’s and Leal’s visas while denying those of safer, less contentious figures.  Only time will tell whether it was an election year gaffe, or a model of ‘smart power.’  Then again, we may never know.  
 
Stephen Johnson is a senior fellow and director of the CSIS Americas Program.    
 

Quebec Students are Revolting

May 25, 2012
By Christopher Sands
 
University students in Quebec have been engaged in increasingly violent protests in Montreal and Quebec City over the provincial government’s plan to increase tuition to try to close a significant budget gap. Similar protests have occurred over similar proposals in recent years, but this year the violence and disruption have reached new and alarming levels.
 
Quebec universities charge the lowest tuition rates in Canada. In-province tuition is just $1,968 per year in Canadian dollars, and the provincial government has proposed an increase to $3,793 by 2016.  All tertiary educational institutions in the province are government funded, and so the provincial government determines tuition for all of them.
 
Low tuition seems like a boon to youth when viewed from the United States, where students are graduating with record amounts of personal debt from high tuition rates and school fees – only to enter a weak job market. Yet Quebec’s low tuition also encourages the “perpetual student” whose desultory approach to classes (often part-time) and never-completed thesis prolongs their university experience, costing the province more per graduate. 
 
Yet low tuition and provincial budget deficits limit the funds available to Quebec universities to attract, retain, and support top faculty and world-class research facilities. At the same time, many of the students at Quebec’s universities are unilingual French-speakers without the ability to study at a predominantly English university. That, along with the higher cost, limits their ability to switch to university elsewhere in Canada. Top students who can compete for scholarships frequently opt to study abroad in the United States or Europe, further weakening the educational system in the province and fueling brain-drain from the future workforce.
 
Many Quebec residents are as frustrated with the provincial government’s handling of the protests as with the protesters. After weeks of confused responses to the growing student protest, Quebec education minister Line Beauchamp resigned. On May 10, students smoke-bombed a Montreal subway station, forcing an evacuation and shut-down of the entire system. 
 
The provincial government responded with draconian legislation that limited the right to protest and threatened severe fines for organizations associated with violence.  Predictably, clashes with police escalated, with more than 500 students arrested on May 24: to date, more than 2500 students have been arrested due to protest-related activity. 
 
Some commentators have begun to view the situation as a threat not to education or youth, but to the rule of law in Quebec itself. As protests have escalated, they have become the issue – rather than tuition rates. With the onset of warm summer weather, the forecast is for more marches and outdoor protest activities that could discourage tourism – costing the economy millions of dollars in lost revenue if visitors stay away from the Grand Prix de Montreal, Just For Laughs comedy festival, and the world-famous Montreal Jazz Festival.
 
Ultimately, the protests are a colorful distraction from the problem at hand: a provincial higher education system on a financially unsustainable course, and a generation of students with limited educational opportunities due to resource-starved universities in Quebec and personal and economic constraints for many who might choose to study elsewhere. After the protests subside, Quebec must address the tertiary education crisis to remain competitive in the knowledge economy.
 
Christopher Sands is a senior associate with the CSIS Americas Program and a senior fellow with the Washington-based Hudson Institute.
 

Can Honduras have an Anti-drug Shield?

May 21, 2012
By Stephen Johnson
 
Last week’s drug raid in remote Ahuas, Honduras that reportedly left four dead is emblematic of the problems small countries have with drug interdiction.  As often happens, innocent civilians seem to have gotten caught in the crossfire between the narcos and police.  A commission has been established to investigate, and the focus will be on potential human rights violations on the part of Honduran security forces and their U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) advisers. While that is appropriate, the more important question is how to protect vulnerable populations from dangerous brushes with drug traffickers and other contraband artists in the first place.  
 
The Honduran government thinks it has one answer.  According to Honduran foreign minister Arturo Corrales, who was in Washington last week, it means relying on the U.S. military to create a radar shield around the country’s borders as well as provide mobility so that Honduran security forces can round up traffickers with DEA help.  Already, Joint Task Force Bravo at Comayagua has established forward operating locations in the steamy eastern savanna of the Honduran Mosquitia, where a number of drug flights land to transfer cargo to small boats.  Maintaining bases there facilitates more rapid response when an illicit flight is detected.  
 
Will that be effective?  For the time being, it may dissuade traffickers from using the Mosquitia as a transit hub. But they may find one elsewhere.  In 2008, the Petén region of northern Guatemala was an aviation junkyard where one could spot clandestine strips and aircraft wrecks for miles, until Guatemalan security forces began to crack down. Traffickers then switched to other locations like Honduras, different transportation modes such as boats, semisubmersibles, and even shipping containers.  Seen in that light, perhaps a more durable answer has to do with some housekeeping Honduras can do for itself.  
 
As in Colombia and Peru, rural populations in Honduras have been left to fend for themselves.  This is especially true for the Miskito people in the eastern part of the country.  Descendants of indigenous groups, Caribbean blacks, and Moravian missionaries, they have a distinct language and culture.  Increasing their isolation, there are few roads that connect the Mosquitia with the rest of the country.  As learned in Colombia and Peru, developing durable liaisons with isolated communities can provide insights into trafficker activity and conversely help civilians stay out of the way when an interdiction takes place.  That will necessarily be a slow process as the traffickers now have more frequent citizen contact than Honduran authorities.  
 
The second challenge has to do with increasing the capacity of Honduran police.  Separated from the army more than a decade ago, they have been treated like a poor stepchild, poorly nourished and led. Allegedly, so many have been corrupted by drugs that less than half can pass a random urine test.  As a result, President Porfirio Lobo’s administration has decided to rebuild the police from the ground up. Because there are many countries and donors advising Honduras on how to do this, it will be critical that there be some form of coordination to prevent them all from trying to impose a crazy quilt of incompatible models.   
 
As for providing a detection shield, the U.S. and multinational Joint Interagency Task Force-South facility in Key West is supposed to provide real-time radar pictures of air and surface maritime activity that can be acted upon in a timely fashion.  Years ago, feeds from over-the-horizon radars in Virginia and Texas were obtained to produce integrated pictures of the Caribbean Basin.  But these lack the granularity and timeliness that new upgrades can give and must be supplemented with monitoring provided by aging propeller-driven pickets that are reaching the end of their useful life. These challenges are well known in the Department of Homeland Security and the Pentagon, but not sufficiently appreciated in the U.S. Congress. 
 
Protecting vulnerable populations from criminals has been and always will be a management matter.  If cocaine disappeared from the earth tomorrow, Honduras would still face a multiplicity of problems occasioned by institutional weakness and criminal predation.  Calling in outside help may work in the short term, but Honduran leaders will need to 1) figure out how to integrate vulnerable populations to enable better intelligence and cooperation, and 2) work harder to strengthen law enforcement institutions.  For its part, the United States can collaborate by continuing to back such efforts and by upgrading its technology to provide more timely and less intrusive support.  
 
Stephen Johnson is a senior fellow and director of the CSIS Americas Program.   
 
Flickr image courtesy Josiah Townsend.
 

Peru—Policy Success Depends on People

May 14, 2012
By Stephen Johnson
 
When one thinks about turn-around narratives in Latin America, Colombia’s story is pretty hard to beat.  However, Peru is close on its heels.  It somehow survived a decades-long tug-of-war between left-wing politicians and right-wing generals, treasury-draining years of Alan García’s populist first presidency, the brutal fight to reduce the Sendero Luminoso’s terrorist strangle-hold in the upper mountain valleys, as well as president Alberto Fujimori’s self-coup and crazy authoritarianism.  Since then, political discourse has flourished and involves increasing segments of society, the economy has boomed along with free trade, and Peru has become more of a serious player in regional geo-politics.  
 
Most of the credit goes to the majority of Peruvians who support democratic government and have come to reject rigid ideologies.  Part goes to quality leaders who have applied a steady hand on the tiller of the ship of state—like former shoeshine boy-turned accomplished economist Alejandro Toledo, Alan García in a successful second term, and now, it seems, former military firebrand Ollanta Humala who, so far, has turned out to be a chief executive who listens.  But part of their success owes to some of the people who have surrounded them.  
 
Last week, Interior Minister Daniel Lozada and Defense Minister Alberto Otárola resigned after bandits linked with the old Sendero movement ambushed and killed eight policemen seeking to free kidnapped oil workers in the highlands.  “Recent events have led me to take this decision so that our government and the people can unite behind our security forces, to give them the support they need to defeat narcoterrorism,” Otárola told reporters after stepping down in a refreshing display of candor.  Obviously, President Humala will need replacements with different talents to reform what some observers see as a lack of coordination between the armed forces and police as well as the army’s out-dated love affair with stovepipes and hierarchical command.  
 
Promising new leadership has apparently arrived in Peru’s National Commission for Development and a Drug-Free Life (DEVIDA), similar to the U.S. Office of National Drug Control Policy.  Named drug czar in February, Carmen Masías took over from Ricardo Soberón, who pushed a policy of halting coca eradication just as Peru’s cocaine output began to exceed that of Colombia.  The nation’s anti-drug strategy will now concentrate on prevention, eradication, alternative crops, and, more importantly, staying in touch with rural communities.  
 
Speaking at CSIS on May 11, Masías said the social dynamics of coca growing in the Andean highlands has been misunderstood.  For example, who knew that many of the region’s small farms are run by women and that coca production is a family affair.  Masías, a practicing psychologist and long-time development professional, believes values, culture, and education, in addition to incentives and disincentives, must be part of any solution to reduce drug production and, hence, trafficking (to see the new strategy online, click here).  
 
The success of any presidency, and to a larger extent, any country, depends on getting the right people in the right positions.  In Colombia, Álvaro Uribe’s presidency brought in a huge number of talented young technocrats.  While many cycled through, enough good people stayed long enough to help steer that country away from disaster.  Peru’s President Humala is on a similar hunt.  At the beginning of his administration, some early departures are to be expected.  And while no president makes inspired choices all the time, one could say that matching Carmen Masías with the drug czar’s job gave it the experience and level head it needed.  
 
Stephen Johnson is a senior fellow and director of the CSIS Americas Program.  
 

 

Mexico’s Presidential Debate Leaves the Race Largely Unchanged

May 9, 2012
By Duncan Wood
 
On the evening of Sunday May 6, Mexico’s four presidential candidates faced off in a debate that was widely hailed as an acid test for the PRI’s Enrique Peña Nieto (EPN). Leading by a formidable margin in the polls, EPN is generally seen as an intellectual lightweight compared to his opponents, so the debate was seen as an opportunity for Josefina Vázquez Mota (JVM), the candidate for the ruling PAN party, and Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) of the leftist PRD, to chip away at his lead. JVM and AMLO were each expected to launch a vehement attack on the PRIista, raising accusations of corruption and mismanagement during Peña Nieto’s tenure as governor of the State of Mexico. 
 
In the end, the expected fireworks proved to be more damp squibs than electrifying pyrotechnics. AMLO’s performance, in particular, was disappointing in the extreme, as he appeared slow, out of touch and repetitive. Despite his reputation as a firebrand representative of Mexico’s disadvantaged classes, AMLO seemed unable to muster his famous blood and thunder, instead speaking so slowly that he was cut off by the timekeeper over and over again. He made a number of rookie television errors, such as holding up supposedly damning photographs, but upside down or off- camera. His attacks on EPN focused on the elite groups backing him, the same groups that AMLO claims have held back Mexican development. He also made reference to the misappropriation of funds during Peña Nieto’s mandate as governor; the PRIista simply brushed away the accusation.
 
Ms. Vázquez Mota was not much better. Her performance was variously described as “robotic”, “mechanical” and most damningly, “dull”. She launched attack after attack on Peña Nieto, but he rebutted by claiming that she had been misinformed by her advisors. Faced with EPN’s stonewalling, the PANista had few other weapons in her arsenal. 
 
EPN countered with accusations concerning JVM’s attendance in the Congress (which she denied), and was able to make a number of statements regarding his own policy proposals. In response to AMLO’s accusation that he would privatize Pemex, the national oil company, Peña Nieto emphatically stated that his government would not pursue such a strategy. Neither of his main opponents could penetrate his famed “Teflon” coating, and he finished the debate undamaged. The PRI’s man even managed to appear presidential at certain moments of the debate.
 
The fourth candidate, Gabriel Quadri de la Torre (GQT), proved to be the surprise of the debate, as he escaped attacks by the others and managed to distinguish himself as the “non-politician”. His policy proposals made sense, and he came across as statesman-like. Of course, Quadri de la Torre had little or nothing to lose, commanding only 1 percent of popular support in recent polls. His performance, however, was widely recognized as the most competent of the four.
 
Press coverage of the debate has been fascinating, with different newspapers nominating different candidates as the victor. Reforma newspaper, of course, declared Ms. Vázquez Mota the winner, while La Jornada, a leftist paper, went with AMLO. Social media coverage of the debate was frantic and wildly popular, with Twitter feeds and Facebook posts on the event dominating web content in Mexico on Sunday night and Monday. On political website Animal Politico, analyst José Antonio Crespo argued that the big winner was Quadri de la Torre, and therefore Elba Esther Gordillo (known as La Maestra) who heads the teachers’ union and is behind GQT’s PANAL party. 
 
But the reality is that this was a missed opportunity for JVM and AMLO. Their failure to significantly damage EPN’s image, to land knock-out punches, or to expose his supposed intellectual fragility, means that Peña Nieto will continue his march towards July 1 with little change in his polling numbers. Indeed, Milenio newspaper has been publishing a daily poll and the latest results show that EPN was unaffected by the debate, whereas Quadri de la Torre is up to around 4.7 percent. This means that, if the party can hold this support, the PANAL will likely retain its status as an official party.
 
Duncan Wood is a senior associate of the CSIS Americas Program.

Canada Files: Harper's Age of Majority

May 3, 2012
By Christopher Sands
 
Following an election victory on May 2, 2011 that gave the Conservative Party 166 seats in the 308-seat House of Commons, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper has been heading his first majority government for one full year. Many Canadian observers thought that with a majority government, Harper would throw caution to the wind and show his true colors as a right-wing ideologue. But has he?
 
For the past several days, pundits and commentators have rendered a mixed – and contradictory – judgment of the Harper majority. John Ibbitson of the Globe and Mail gave a lengthy appraisal of the prime minister’s record, and found him to have pursued a kind of conservative nationalism that emphasized ties to the British (and Canadian) monarchy, sports success, and military heroism that made many Canadians proud and had attracted support from immigrant communities that formerly voted for the Liberal Party.
 
Writing in the National Post, Andrew Coyne criticized Harper as governing timidly—as though he was still leading a minority government—afraid to push for conservative principles now that he has the chance. Maclean’s Magazine’s Aaron Wherry was similarly underwhelmed, even though he noted that Stephen Harper marked the anniversary of his government in the House of Commons with a speech that bragged of transformational change to Canada as a result of his government’s efforts.
 
Last month, the New Democratic Party selected Quebec Member of Parliament Thomas Mulcair to replace the late Jack Layton as party leader and, due to the NDP’s 101 seats in the House of Commons, Mulcair is now the Leader of the Official Opposition. For the first time in nearly a year, Harper faces a sharp debater and articulate critic in the Commons who lost no time in debunking Harper’s claims of achievements during the past 12 months.
 
Canadians will continue to debate whether the past year under Harper’s majority government has been a shift to the right or just to a whiter shade of pale. The challenge from Mulcair and an NDP surging in the pollswill make the answer to this question central to Canadian politics in the near future.
 
Christopher Sands is a senior associate with the CSIS Americas Program and a senior fellow with the Washington-based Hudson Institute.  
 

Television Row Ignites Campaign Controversy

May 2, 2012
By Duncan Wood
 
On March 31, Ricardo Salinas Pliego, the head of Mexico’s second largest TV station, TV Azteca, announced that, instead of broadcasting the debate between presidential candidates on the evening of May 6, his station would instead broadcast a soccer game. Salinas Pliego tweeted that if viewers wanted to watch the debate, then they should switch to another channel. Since then, Televisa, the nation’s leading television station, has announced that it will not broadcast the debate on any of its main channels.
 
The decision not to broadcast the presidential debate on any of the nation’s leading channels has caused an uproar on social networking sites, and has generated an active and highly heated debate on the political website, AnimalPolitico.com. The reason is clear: given the public concern over Televisa and TVAzteca’s open support for PRI candidate, Enrique Peña Nieto (EPN), it appears that both networks are trying to minimize public exposure to a debate in which the former governor of the State of Mexico will come under direct attack from his opponents. 
 
The general consensus in Mexico is that, despite his overwhelming lead in the polls, the debate on May 6 is an opportunity for the PAN and PRD candidates to expose Peña Nieto’s weaknesses, in particular his poor debating skills and his perceived lack of “depth”. The debate itself has been difficult to arrange, and now that television exposure will be limited, critics of the PRI candidate are keen to suggest that a conspiracy is at work.  For his part, EPN has responded that he is not responsible for the television networks’ scheduling, whereas Josefina Vázquez Mota of the PAN and Andrés Manuel López Obrador of the PRD have both expressed their disappointment in the networks’ decision. The Federal Elections Institute, meanwhile, has published a list of radio and TV networks that will be carrying the debate. 
 
Duncan Wood is a senior associate of the CSIS Americas Program.
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