10 Reasons Latin American Politics Are The Craziest In The World
It’s said that politics is show business for ugly people, and nowhere is that truer than in Latin America. From grandstanding presidents-cum-entertainers like Hugo Chavez to Brazilian congressional candidates who dress up as Wolverine, it often feels like politicians down south are less standing for office than auditioning for a reality TV show. Only this time the storylines are crazier than anything network TV could possibly dream up.
10 The Mexican Cat Election
It’s no secret that Mexican politics is pretty corrupt. So when the mayoral race for Xalapa, the State capital of Veracruz, fielded yet another bunch of weak-willed and uninspiring candidates, two activists decided to elect someone people could actually give a damn about: their awesomely-named pet cat Morris.
Now, most elections have the odd “joke” candidate, but this was different. For starters, Morris became an internet phenomenon, collecting more Facebook “Likes” than all the other candidates combined. Then his fame inspired others to stand a donkey and a dog for election, perhaps in the hopes of forming a barnyard coalition. But the most impressive moment came on ballot day, when 12,000 people chose to vote for an unregistered cat over his human rivals.
This means Morris the cat polled higher than some of the official candidates. In particular, he beat the candidate for Mexico’s largest left-wing party, pushing the poor guy into a humiliating fifth place. Political pundits were so outraged that they accused Morris of splitting the vote and handing a victory to the ruling PRI party—suggesting cats wield even more influence in Mexico than they do on the internet.
9 Bolivia’s Attempt To Ban Child Labor Is Opposed (By Children)
Most of us can probably agree child labor is a bad thing. After all, forcing a child to go out and work at the age of five is something only the cruellest of Victorian villains would consider. So when Bolivian president Evo Morales drafted a bill banning the use of child labor, he probably thought he was on to a winner. Only he hadn’t counted on one unexpected opposition group: the children themselves.
That’s right: The entrepreneurial spirit in Bolivia’s children is apparently so strong they actually demonstrated against a bill designed to protect them. The Code of Children and Adolescents was intended to ban kids aged 5–14 from working, ensure they stayed in education and grant them access to healthcare. Instead, it triggered violent demonstrations from children we’d consider exploited, demanding the right to work. At the time of writing, the bill has been postponed for a short period. Whether or not it ultimately passes, it’ll likely be remembered as one of the weirdest protests in Bolivian history.
8 Ecuador Grants Mother Nature “Human Rights”
For most of us, Mother Nature is simply a metaphor: a hackneyed way of describing the infinite complexities of our global eco-system. However, there’s at least one country on Earth where she apparently exists. In Ecuador, a constitutional amendment in 2008 led to Mother Nature being recognized as a legal entity.
Not only that, but she was given rights. Specifically, the right to exist, the right to “restoration” and the right to protection. The move was roundly mocked by just about everyone inside of Ecuador and out, but it actually has some cultural justification. One of the gods of the Andean peoples indigenous to Ecuador is Pachamama, the goddess of nature. By enshrining her rights in law, the government was simply building on centuries of cultural tradition—cultural tradition previous governments had ignored in their manic quest for oil.
Not to be outdone, Bolivia followed suit in 2011, meaning an anthropomorphic deity has more legal recognition than, say, the Western Saharan government.
7 Brazil Elects A Literal Clown
Even more so than Mexico, Brazil has a strong tradition of fielding hugely popular joke candidates for elections. We told you in the opening about the guy who dressed as Wolverine, but even he’s got nothing on Francisco Oliveira Silva. Dressed as a clown called “Tiririca” and running under the slogan “it can’t get any worse,” he won more votes in the 2010 congressional elections than any other candidate.
Since he’d actually bothered to register, this meant a near-illiterate circus performer became a Federal Deputy for Sao Paulo. But this isn’t even the weirdest part. According to the LA Times, this “joke” candidate was so good at his new job the government officially named him Best Congressman.
Chew on that for a second: A guy who ran in an orange wig, promising to increase corruption, turned out to be so good at his job he put actual, real politicians to shame. In a final twist, Silva stood down in 2013, claiming congress was too incompetent for him to stay on. Coming from a guy in comedy-sized shoes, that’s gotta hurt.
6 Google Maps Triggers A Nicaraguan Invasion
Remember when Apple Maps got all that abuse for putting towns in the wrong places and deleting entire cities? Well, at least Apple’s program never came close to triggering a war. In 2010, a minor border error in Google Maps caused Nicaragua to invade Costa Rica.
The trouble is that the border between the two countries is disputed. So when a Nicaraguan army commander saw a Costa Rican flag flying nearby, he decided he better check they weren’t encroaching on his territory. Unfortunately, he used Google Maps, which promptly told him the flag was flying on Nicaraguan soil.
What followed was possibly the first “accidental” invasion in history. Nicaraguan troops marched into Costa Rica and tore the flag down, hoisting their own up in its place. This in turn sparked a major diplomatic row between the two countries, which was only defused when Google finally bit the (thankfully metaphorical) bullet and apologized.
5 The Bus Driver Crucifixion Protest
Imagine you were suddenly laid off for no reason, with no other job to go to. What would you do? Sit outside and protest? Sock your boss in the face? Well, in Paraguay they like to take things a little further. When last year eight bus drivers were fired from the company they worked at, they nailed themselves to giant wooden crosses and were publically crucified.
Unsurprisingly, this got them the publicity they desired. After the eight (plus one of their wives) had spent 20 days with their hands nailed to the wooden beams, both the bus company and the government began to take notice. Paraguayan congresswoman Olga Ferreira de Lopez became involved in the situation and the story reached the international press. Eventually all this pressure caused the bus company to crack. The drivers were all either rehired or given hefty severance packages and jobs with new companies. Sure, they’ve now got the permanent scars of stigmata, but at least they made their point.
4 Chile’s Soap Opera Election
If you thought the 2012 election campaign between Obama and Romney was bitter, just wait until you get a load of Chile’s 2013 effort. Last November, conservative Evelyn Matthei went head-to-head against socialist Michelle Bachelet in a campaign that recalled the darkest days of the country’s former dictatorship. Not because either candidate was a power-hungry lunatic, but because the two had been childhood friends when Pinochet seized control in 1973—at which point Matthei’s dad was made chair of the organization that tortured and murdered Bachelet’s father.
As plot twists go, it’s the sort of story that would be rejected by most soap writers as “too much.” But we’re not even done yet. As the campaigns dragged on, a third candidate emerged from the woodwork: Marco Enríquez-Ominami, whose leftwing revolutionary father had been executed by the same regime Matthei senior worked for.
It was like the writers of Dallas had suddenly started scripting elections. For several months the media was filled with family resentments, deadly rivalries and high melodrama. Eventually Bachelet won, closing the door on both Chile’s brutal past and one of the strangest elections in history.
3 Mexico Elects A “Dead” Man
What could possibly be more embarrassing than losing an election to a cat or a clown? How about losing it to a man who is legally dead? Last year, a small town in Mexico’s Oaxaca state voted Lenin Carballido in as its new mayor. The problem? Carballido had been dead since 2010.
At least, that’s what records said. But when authorities decided to look into how a long-buried corpse could win an election, they uncovered some surprising anomalies. Not least of which was the suspiciously fresh ink on the death certificate and the fact that plenty of people could recall seeing Carballido campaigning around town.
In a suitably ridiculous twist, it turned out that Carballido had faked his death in 2010 to avoid prosecution on a rape charge, then emerged from hiding three years later to run for mayor under his own, dead, name. Perhaps just to make sure they caught him at it, he’d also plastered pictures of his face across town, asking people to vote for him. Although he won the election, Carballido was prevented from taking office, presumably on the grounds that such a move would be too insane even for Mexico.
2 Hugo Chavez’s Chat Show Nearly Sparks A War
If you’ve never heard of the late Hugo Chavez’s show “Alo Presidente!” prepare to have your mind blown. Shown every Saturday morning at 11am, the show featured the Venezuelan president talking for anywhere between four and eight hours while wandering around at random and giving increasingly bizarre orders. Since these improvised utterings automatically became law, officials at the tapings would instantly act on whatever insanity Chavez spouted that day. Insanity like the time he impulsively ordered the army to start a war with Colombia.
In 2008, Colombia was locked in a deadly battle with the far-left terrorist organization known as the FARC. Since far-left was what Chavez was all about, he had plenty of friends among the rebels. So when news came in that a FARC commander he knew had been killed, Chavez flew off the handle. Turning to an army officer live on air he demanded the man take ten battalions to the border and prepare for invasion.
And the guy did it.
Unsurprisingly, Colombia didn’t take kindly to this and quickly mobilized troops. This, in turn, caused Ecuador to send their forces to the border, and the north of the continent came within a single shot of collapsing into all-out war. But, as the New York Times noted, at least it made great TV.
1 The McAfee Belize Affair
Last year, the next door neighbour of tech millionaire John McAfee was found dead in Belize. What followed was an international police chase so lurid, so bizarre and so insane that even now we can’t make full sense of it.
According to McAfee, the Belize government had tried to extort him so, in defense, he set up a gigantic NSA-style network to get some dirt on them. Instead, he accidentally stumbled across evidence of terrorist sympathies and the Prime Minister ordering a murder. When the authorities found out, they framed him for murder and hounded him across the continent in a pursuit that saw McAfee crossing borders in disguise, hiding in the jungle and doing time in a Guatemalan prison.
It sounds too extreme to be true, and some of it probably is. For their part, the Belize authorities say McAfee is still a “person of interest” in the murder and point to his dalliances with prostitutes and romance with a 16-year-old local girl who tried to kill him. They’ve also dismissed his claims and described him as suffering from “extreme paranoia.”
Whatever the truth, there’s just about enough verifiable fact in this tale to make it juicier than any other story we’ve yet heard from Latin America. And that includes the time that Hugo Chavez supposedly came back from the dead to haunt a random construction site.