October 6, 2005
While visiting Nicaragua, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick told the leaders of the opposition coalition in Nicaragua -- consisting of the left-wing Sandinistas and the right-wing "Arnulfistas," who support disgraced ex-president Arnulfo Aleman -- to stop their campaign to oust President Enrique Bolaños, or else "There will be consequences in terms of their relations with the United States." This odd alliance of ideological opposites has been waging a "creeping coup" for the past few months, blatantly subverting democratic institutions. See CNN.com and Washington Post Zoellick also met with former Managua mayor Herty Lewites, who lost in a bloody power struggle with Daniel Ortega for control of the Sandinista party when I was visiting Managua in February. (See my Feb. 27 post from Granada.) Zoellick's uncharacteristically blunt language risks offending nationalistic sentiment, and raises the stakes in this showdown as Bolivia and other parts of Latin America have come under the shadow of insurrectionist-style politics, usually inspired by leftists. If Zoellick's trip is part of a serious effort by the U.S. government to engage in policy dialogue with Latin America, finding ways to collaborate on problems of mutual concern, it is a very good sign. If it is mostly for show, however, the initiative may backfire badly.
In Brazil, President da Silva barely prevailed in a showdown with opponents as the Chamber of Delegates voted to choose one of his key allies as its new speaker. Aldo Rebelo, a former minister in Lula's cabinet and member of the Communist Party, narrowly defeated Jose Thomaz Nono, who had been the interim speaker. Lula thus managed to hold together a parliamentary coalition, as the fallout from the recent bribery scandals continues. See Washington Post. This represents a dramatic confrontation that may end up redefining the respective prerogatives of the executive branch and traditionally subordinate legislative branch in Brazil. If Congress gains the upper hand, however, the result may be policy incoherence unless the fractious political parties pull themselves together and enforce discipline on their members in the legislature.
A volcano erupted near the city of Santa Ana in northwestern El Salvador last week, and floods spawned by Hurricane Stan (originating in the Pacific) compounded the misery. Guatemala and the Chiapas region of southern Mexico also suffered terrible flooding as the storm headed north.