We spoke to soon. Two months after our previous edition alluded to the blessing of there being no significant ‘far right’ party in Spain, Vox won its first elected representation in the regional election which ended decades of PSOE dominance in Andalusia (see separate Vox coverage in this edition).
The new PP/Ciudadanos coalition in Andalusia will need Vox’s votes to pass legislation, but with regional and European elections in May, the PP in particular is wary of being tainted by association with Vox. The PP’s main fear, however, is that its vote will be squeezed between Ciudadanos and Vox, both of which prospered at the PP’s expense in Andalusia.
Just as significant as the rise of Vox may be the sudden split in Podemos. Its leader, Pablo Iglesias, interrupted his paternity leave in January to write a mournful letter to party members to mark its ‘unhappy’ fifth birthday. Podemos had looked like becoming a reliable coalition partner for the PSOE, but a split Podemos will be unable to fulfil that role, making PP/Ciudadanos/Vox alliances potential majority winners in both national and regional parliaments. The coming days will tell whether the Íñigo Errejón faction can be reconciled with the rest of the party.
Prime Minister Sánchez has been tiptoeing through some delicate dealings with Catalonia’s regional government (the Generalitat). His goal is to prevent further crisis while avoiding giving ground to unconstitutional soberanistas. Torra, president of the Generalitat, calls this ‘negotiation’ (as though between separate and equal states); Sánchez calls it ‘dialogue’ (between central and regional government); his PP critics call it ‘surrender’. Legal proceedings against the imprisoned soberanista politicians overshadow the delicate process.
The Basque lehendakari (head of government) Urkullu has meanwhile suggested that a new constitutional dispensation may be needed, redefining Spain as a ‘plurinational’ state. See our article in this edition on the proposed Reino Unido de España y Catalunya.
Prospects for the new administrations in Mexico and Brazil – Latin America’s two heavy-hitters – have absorbed the attentions of commentators. Brazil’s Bolsonaro worries progressives already bruised by Trump and Brexit.
A new caravan of mainly young Hondurans has set out towards the US border, seeking an escape from violent gang culture and dreaming of completing an education and finding work. The first caravan created controversy and a humanitarian crisis on the border. However, a number of participants received a hearing in the US or integrated into Mexican society. Mexico’s new administration is sympathetic to their plight, while Mr Trump is struggling to build his wall.
The most ominous development of recent weeks is perhaps the fraying of Colombia’s hard-won peace accord. Since it was signed in 2016, Nobel Peace Prize winner Juan Manuel Santos has been replaced as president by Iván Duque, representing those who are sceptical of the peace process; the FARC’s lead peace negotiator Iván Márquez has denounced the accord’s ‘betrayal’ by the Colombian government and is in hiding; and the ELN has reversed its slow drift towards a similar peace deal. The ELN was allegedly responsible for the 17 January car bomb attack in Bogotá, the first such atrocity for 9 years – a demonstration of what might await the country if it returns to the dark days.
In Caracas Maduro was sworn in again as president, despite no self-respecting state recognising his legitimacy. Brave opposition leaders do what they can to mobilise against him, but the security forces remain a tool of the dictatorship, systematically torturing opponents of the regime. As we close this edition, foreign governments have endorsed opposition leader Juan Guaidó as the country’s legitimate president and are increasing pressure on Maduro.
By BAS editor Robin Wallis