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Latam Brief: Ecuadorean voters punish Lasso (February 08, 2023)

Latin America Daily Briefing
Latin America Daily Briefing

Ecuadorean voters rejected all eight of the constitutional amendments proposed by the government in referendum last Sunday. The results are a major political blow for President Guillermo Lasso, who sought to override the opposition-led National Assembly by appealing directly to voters.

Instead, voters massively rejected the proposals, including one that would have permitted extradition for organized crime, a critical tool for combatting increasingly intense violence in the country, according to the Lasso administration.

Other proposals that were rejected sought to give the attorney general more autonomy to choose prosecutors, and reduce the number of seats in the National Assembly.

Lasso accepted the results, on Monday, saying that “when the people speak, it’s our duty to analyze, understand, and accept it.”

Lasso’s failure to convince the public, despite record rates of violence in Ecuador, is a symptom of his own unpopularity: his approval ratings are at about 20 percent. It also raises questions about the president’s ability to finish the final two years of his term.

Candidates representing former President Rafael Correa’s Citizens’ Revolution party won important municipalities in Sunday’s mayoral elections — another blow for Lasso. Pabel Múñoz won in Quito, while Aquiles Álvarez won in Guayaquil.

Ecuador’s Indigenous Pachakutik party did not gain ground in Sunday’s mayoral elections. The Indigenous Conaie confederation has threatened to resume social protests, another blow to Lasso.

Highlighting Ecuador’s violent insecurity, mayoral candidate Omar Menéndez was assassinated on Saturday, hours before he won the post on Sunday. He is no the only victim of political violence this cycle; two weeks ago, Salinas mayoral candidate Julio César Farachio was also shot dead.

(ReutersFinancial TimesBBCInfobaeLatin America Risk Report)


  • A Nicaraguan court has sentenced four Roman Catholic priests to 10 years in prison on conspiracy charges related to anti-government protests that started in 2018. On Sunday, a fifth priest was sentenced to 10 years in prison on the same charges. The priests were convicted in closed-door trials in which government-appointed defenders acted as the priests’ attorneys, reports the Associated Press.


  • Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry formally installed a transition council whose job will be to prepare for long-delayed elections. There are currently no elected officials in the country, which last held a presidential vote in 2016. (Reuters)

  • A Canadian Armed Forces surveillance plane was heading home, yesterday, after two intelligence-collecting flights over Haiti. (Associated Press, see yesterday’s briefs.)

Regional Relations

  • Two Haitian millionaires accused by Canada of corruption and enabling murderous gangs to run rampant across the country were helped for years by U.S. lawyers and bankers to buy offshore companies and luxury properties, according to documents from the Pandora Papers — International Consortium of Investigative Journalists.

  • It’s time for the U.S. to take Cuba off its list of “state sponsors of terrorism,” argues William LeoGrande in Responsible Statecraft.


  • Chile’s main political blocs presented multiple candidate lists for the Constitutional Council, that will carry out a second attempt to rewrite the country’s magna carta, this year. The elections for the 50-seat council will be held in May. Both leftist and right-wing opposition parties late presented two lists of contenders — political divisions should help candidates with centrist views, according to Bloomberg. (See last week’s Chile Constitutional Updates.)


  • Mexico’s government said it’s opposed to a possible restart of the U.S. immigration policy known as “Remain in Mexico” which required asylum seekers to wait for U.S. hearings in Mexico. (Reuters)

  • There is no official figure for those missing after leaving Cuba, as increasing numbers of desperate people attempt to migrate. While many of the disappeared may have died, relatives believe many people have been detained in the Bahamas. (El ToqueAssociated Press, see today’s Just Caribbean Updates)


  • Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva has escalated a feud with the central bank over interest rates the president says make it “impossible“ to boost growth. Yesterday he said the head of the autonomous monetary authority still has a chance to “grow more mature and think about how to take care of the country.” (Bloomberg)

  • Lula is the first Brazilian president who’s unable to pick a central bank chief after congress approved in 2019 a law giving the institution autonomy. Lula’s allies in Congress say there is no plan to change the central bank’s independent status. (Reuters)

  • Brazil’s newly created Ministry for Racial Equality has Lula’s firm backing, but must find creative ways to implement its plans with little funding, reports the Financial Times.


  • At least 15 people were killed in a massive mudslide on Sunday in southern Peru. (Reuters)


  • Iranian and Venezuelan state companies will begin a 100-day revamp of Venezuela’s largest refining complex to restore its crude distillation capacity, reports Reuters.

  • Venezuela’s government says the country is advancing, together with opposition parties, towards the creation of a $3.2 billion U.N.-administrated fund that would aim to use the country’s frozen assets for humanitarian purposes. (Reuters)


  • Colombia’s Petro administration presented a $247.1 billion four-year development plan to the country’s lawmakers on Monday. The proposal aims to reduce extreme poverty to single digits, use financial surpluses from coal and oil to secure transition to clean energy, and hand over nearly 3 million hectares of land to poor farmers to increase agricultural production. (Reuters)


  • Lack of social mobility is stunting growth and fomenting instability in Latin America. The CAF development bank’s latest Report on Economic Development, shows how high inequality prevents social mobility, which is needed to reduce inequality, writes Adriana Arreaza Coll in Americas Quarterly.

  • In Escaping the Governance Trap: Economic Reform in the Northern Triangle, Neil Shenai, argues that the main problem in El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala is failure in governance that has pushed migration from the region to record rates. (Global Americans)

  • Dire warnings of nefarious Chinese investments in Latin America and the Caribbean are misguided — “a closer look shows they barely exist, much less pose a threat,” argues A.J. Manuzzi in Responsible Statecraft.

Jordana Timerman / Latin America Daily Briefing

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