Latin America's Losing Leaders
Voters everywhere sour on elected leaders over time. Even in countries where opposition parties are weak and divided, unpopular leaders can lose their political mojo surprisingly quickly--and nowhere is that clearer today than in four key Latin American countries.
In a nation that must import almost everything but crude oil, crashing oil prices make President Nicolás Maduro's life even tougher. Maduro has been in office less than two years, but his party has held power since 1999. The hand-picked successor of the charismatic Hugo Chávez, he has an approval rating of 22%. The economy will shrink this year by 7%. Inflation has climbed to 68%, and unequal access to hard currency ensures that the poor are hit harder than the rich. In Caracas, rates of violent crime per capita remain among the highest in the world. Add it up and Maduro is the Latin American leader least likely to finish his term.
Enrique Peña Nieto has been in power just 27 months, and his presidential honeymoon is long over. Sluggish growth, a large tax hike, the presumed murder of 43 missing students and conflict-of-interest allegations against Peña Nieto, his wife and some of his closest advisers have helped make him the least popular Mexican President in a generation.
Yet GDP growth is expected to reach 3.4% this year, more than double the rate expected for the region. Peña Nieto's PRI party controls Congress, and the opposition also faces corruption allegations. He should hang on.
President Dilma Rousseff begins her second term with much bigger problems than she has ever faced. Stagnant growth, high inflation, the prospect of rationing water and electricity, and a scandal at state-owned oil firm Petrobras--a company Rousseff once led--all weigh on her. The percentage of poll respondents who rate Rousseff's performance as "excellent" or "good" has fallen from 42% to 23% in just the past two months. It's going to be a rough ride--for Rousseff and her country.
President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner's approval ratings are below 30%. Growth is slow. Worst of all, Kirchner has been formally accused of trying to cover up the deadliest terrorist attack in the country's history. Accusations against Kirchner began immediately after the mysterious death on Jan. 18 of prosecutor Alberto Nisman, who was set to testify the next day on allegations that in exchange for economic favors from Tehran, Kirchner hid evidence of Iran's responsibility for a terrorist attack on a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires that killed 85 people in 1994. Kirchner is lucky her term will end later this year before mounting political and legal problems can finish her off.
Foreign-affairs columnist Bremmer is the president of Eurasia Group, a political-risk consultancy
'I pray that we can find and build the government that we deserve.'
ALEJANDRO GONZÁLEZ IÑÁRRITU, the Mexican director of Birdman, speaking at the Academy Awards ceremony after the movie won Best Picture on Feb. 22. The thinly veiled jab at Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, who is embattled by personal scandal and gang violence, drew national attention in Mexico. The President's party, the PRI, tweeted, "We are building a better government."
DO YOU LIKE YOUR POLITICAL SYSTEM?
The Pew Research Center asked people in 31 emerging and developing countries if they were satisfied by the political system where they lived. Here's a sampling of how many said yes:
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Breaking and Entering
Police push past furniture as they force their entry into the Madrid apartment of Emilia Montoya Vazquez on Feb. 25 to evict her and her family. Montoya could not afford to pay rent to the apartment's owner, a state-run company that has sold hundreds of units to private investors to accommodate budget cuts linked to Spain's austerity measures. The eviction was carried out despite activists who attempted to block the door.
How Greece's Rebellion Unraveled
Euro-zone finance ministers agreed to a four-month bailout extension on Feb. 24 for Greece after weeks of bitter negotiations. But to win their support, newly elected Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras of the far-left Syriza Party had to agree to scale back earlier antiausterity pledges. Here's a look at the status of some of those promises:
Tsipras initially refused to seek an extension to Greece's $273 billion bailout. But as funds dried up and a run on banks appeared imminent, his government had little choice but to enter talks.
The Prime Minister will likely have to reverse course on halting the sale of publicly owned ports and rail-freight companies now that Greece has promised creditors it won't touch ongoing privatizations.
No Wage Cuts
Tsipras says he still won't cut public-sector wages. But he has had to delay his campaign promise to raise the minimum wage nationwide; it was lowered to $660 a month under the 2012 bailout agreement.
No Pension Cuts
Tsipras averted further cuts to pensions by agreeing to modernize the pension system. He'll be looking for similar concessions on social programs as his country negotiates a new longer-term bailout.
Average daily high (23ºC) in Qatar in December; the international soccer body FIFA is expected to vote in March to shift the 2022 World Cup to November--December from the summer, when temperatures routinely exceed 104°F (40ºC)
A court in Thailand sentenced two activists to 30 months in prison on Feb. 23 for "damaging the monarchy" in a student play they staged in 2013 about a fictional King. The ruling military junta says enforcing Thailand's strict law against insulting the monarch is a national priority.
Turkish men donned miniskirts for a demonstration on Feb. 21 to protest violence against women after the murder of 20-year-old student Ozgecan Aslan, allegedly for resisting a rape. A human-rights group says the number of women murdered in Turkey rose by 31%, to 281 in 2014.
South Korea and the U.S. begin two months of joint military drills on March 2. The annual exercises reliably stoke tensions with North Korea, which often issues threats and stages weapons tests in protest. North Korea's state media called the drills an exercise for war.