Can the OAS Respond to Constitutional Coups and Democratic Erosion?

Luis Almagro, Secretary General of the Organization of American States, has faced mounting criticism for his handling of recent democratic crises in Latin America. In particular, people have called Almagro’s approach to Venezuela hypocritical, given his lack of condemnation for the “soft-coup” in Brazil. However, Almagro’s handling of these democratic crises highlights the predicament facing the OAS when addressing threats to democracy in the 21st century. Although the challenges are evolving, the institutional tools for addressing them have not.

Networked Notes - 30 Aug 2016


The FARC leadership expressed sincere gratitude to Venezuela’s government for the success of recent peace negotiations. In reality, it is Venezuela’s government which should be thanking the FARC. The extended peace negotiations are a critical reason why Colombia specifically, and Latin America in general, has been reluctant to more forcefully denounce abuses of human rights and democratic values in Venezuela.

Rio de Janeiro Overview - July 2016

Rio's security situation took a turn for the worse this year as the state government’s funding ran out. However, the situation improved visibly in July, as federal forces began to enter the city and state coffers got an infusion of federal funds. The money temporarily saved the state government, which used it to pay police salaries. From Marines to Federal Highway Police, patrols and reconnaissance began around 15 July 2016. Additionally, the Military Police and organized criminal groups arrived at an unspoken agreement to stop violence in return for allowing drugs sales to go unmolested by law enforcement. As it is, the city will never be as safe as it will be in the next month and a half during the Olympic Games. The city and country will likely surprise observers with how well they pull off the high profile event.

Networked Notes - 12 July 2016

Costa Rica’s late nomination of Christiana Figueres to be UN Secretary General reshuffled the deck both in Latin America and globally. Many UN insiders were watching the candidacy of Argentine Foreign Minister Susana Malcorra, a favorite due to her closeness to current UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon. Her candidacy was considered the strongest from outside of Eastern Europe, which is the most likely region to receive the position. Malcorra even moderated her country’s position on Venezuela at the OAS to prevent a veto at the UN Security Council from Russia or China, two allies of President Maduro.

Networked Notes - 7 June 2016

After leaked tapes and now a potential arrest order, Brazil Senate leader Renan Calheiros might be forced out of his job before the impeachment vote on President Rousseff can occur. Calheiros was instrumental in directing the Senate’s impeachment proceedings in an apparently impartial way, without the theatrics of the Lower House. As such, Calheiros has pushed back against speeding up Senate proceedings and limited Senators arguments on impeachment to pertinent matters. It is questionable whether this is good for Dilma Rousseff. 

Networked Notes - 20 April 2016

With 367 votes in favor, the margin of the vote in Brazil’s lower house was well above the 342 votes needed to impeach President Dilma Rousseff and move the issue to the Senate. That total was padded by a number of defections by former allies of President Rousseff and former President Lula including four former cabinet ministers from Rousseff’s government. The PT has a long memory and the party is likely to throw resources at defeating at the people they view as traitors in the future.

Networked Notes - 29 March 2016

The PMDB is expected to break from the Rousseff government today in Brazil. Whether or not President Rousseff is impeached, one key issue to watch moving forward will be PMDB unity, which would be a historical first. Vice President Michel Temer appears to be making a play for the presidency, but in spite of his high rank, he's a weak person to hold the coalition together. Speaker of the House Eduardo Cunha broke away from the government several months ago, creating a rift in the party. Several PMDB politicians in Congress will feel pressure to protect Rousseff on impeachment. Some members of Congress will likely sit on the sidelines and wait to join the winning side when it becomes apparent. And, of course, the party has a large number of its own corruption scandals that could further test its cohesiveness as Lava Jato investigations progress.

Networked Notes - 15 March 2016

By Southern Pulse Staff and Network

Over the past week Southern Pulse’s correspondents have talked to the team of Brazil’s former President Lula da Silva concerning the possibility of him taking over a ministry in President Rousseff’s government. On Monday, 14 March 2016, the Brazilian media piled on, stating Lula would accept and take over the Institutional Relations Secretariat (which has no budget) or the Chief of Staff (Casa Civil--the most important position). No matter what, as soon as Lula takes his office, it will diminish the standing of President Rousseff as she competes for attention with the well-known former president. It also signals Lula will control the administration’s coalition building in Congress, to shore up Rousseff’s presidency. The news changed Brazil’s news cycle away from a historic protest on the previous day calling for Rousseff’s impeachment.

At the moment, other news drowned out the Wagner’s statement, leading to no reaction from markets. Brazil’s domestic debt--debt issued inside Brazil in Brazilian currency--represents approximately 95 percent of the total national debt, and the local tradition is to deal with this debt via inflation, avoiding internal defaults. However, that is no longer a political option, and the effects of a possible decision to use international reserves remain to be seen. 


Two months into his term, Guatemalan President Morales remains such an unknown that there was uncertainty as to whether his new government would continue to support Taiwan or flip its support to Beijing. In the 2000s, the checkbook diplomacy between mainland China and Taiwan led to scandals in several countries. Costa Rica President Arias was questioned about projects that led to his decision to switch recognition to Beijing. El Salvador’s former President Flores faced investigations over money stolen from a Taiwan development agreement. The maneuvering between the two Chinas has toned down in recent years in Central America and the Caribbean. China has instead taken a different approach, showing a willingness to invest in countries that recognize Taiwan, most notably Nicaragua. 

Still, given the minimal information about which way Morales would lean, the new Guatemalan administration must have been a tempting target for Beijing’s consideration. There are often rumors in Central America that a government may flip sides when a new president comes to power, but the rumors have been growing stronger regarding Morales in recent weeks. With the visit of Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou this week, President Morales’s government finally made a formal announcement that it is sticking with Taiwan for the coming four years, maintaining the current balance (or imbalance) of power in the region between the two sides.


As the security situation in El Salvador worsens, ARENA and the FMLN are launching accusations against each other regarding negotiations with gangs. El Faro’s publication of video showing three ARENA politicians negotiating with gang members to organize votes prior to the 2014 election has blown open a key criticism the opposition party was making of the government. ARENA has spent the past few years criticizing the FMLN for the failed gang truce and has been calling for government officials involved in gang negotiations to resign. Meanwhile, President Sanchez Ceren and his administration are planning new mano dura measures to crack down further on the gangs. 


The coming days will be a key test for Argentina’s politics. President Macri will put his financial proposals up for a vote to determine whether he can reach a formal agreement with the holdout bond holders (who the Peronists refer to as the vulture funds). Several weeks ago, a group of 17 Peronist members of Congress linked to Sergio Massa split from the Kirchner-dominated party. Nobody is certain which way that group of lawmakers will vote. Their votes will signal whether Macri has a working governing coalition in the legislature or if his policies will be blocked by the other branches of government.

Networked Notes - 24 February 2016

The arrest of João Santana in Brazil has brought the Lava Jato scandal much closer to President Dilma Rousseff and her campaign team. While investigators have yet to pin corruption specifically to Rousseff, the news that third party payments passed to Santana during recent campaigns could be reason to invalidate her election. This specific scandal also hits former President Lula da Silva, highlight corruption of a key ally and knocking down an important element of his potential 2018 campaign machine. More important this year, Santana’s arrest could hurt the PT’s chances in key mayoral races, particularly São Paulo.