BRAZIL & VENEZUELA SPIRALING OUT OF CONTROL?
BRAZIL: The social and psychological impact of the Petrobras scandal which is "leaving Brazilians lamenting a lost dream," is reviewed in a lengthy piece set for this weekend's New York Times. The scandal "has all but devastated Brazil’s status as an up-and-comer on the world stage. ... What has stunned Brazilians isn’t the novelty of this fraud but its epic scale. ... At one time it was the sixth-largest company in the world by market capitalization and accounted for roughly 10% of Brazil’s gross domestic product. For perspective, Apple, which has twice Petrobras’s peak market cap, represents 0.5% of the United States’ gross domestic product. [Petrobras] has lost more than half its value in the last year, about $70 billion in market cap."
Transparency International is set to investigate Petrobras' web of corruption in eight countries, including Argentina, Chile, the Dominican Republic, Perú, Panamá, the United States and Venezuela, and involving an estimated US$4 billion, according to Peru's RPP and El Universal. TI's President, José Ugaz, announced this during his visit to Lima. [Separately: Richard Messick asks Why is Corruption so Hard to Define?, in the Global Anti-Corruption blog.]
Brazil's Pres. Rousseff's political coalition lost two strategic partners as the PDT and the PTB break away from the ruling coalition, according to Reuters (which reasserts that "Rousseff is not a target of the Petrobras corruption probe"). Xinhua reports that one of PTB's leaders, former Pres. Collor de Mello is accused of being linked to the Petrobras scandal. Meanwhile, reports Reuters, two other parties, the PMDB and the PSDB are reviewing "a pact to fill the leadership vacuum." Rouseff's Vice President Michel Temer (of the opposition PMDB party) gave a 'nervous' admonishment to congressional leaders as he called "for national unity and admitted the seriousness of the political and economic situation, according to an analysis in Folha do Sao Paulo.
VENEZUELA: Human Rights Watch strongly condemned the Maduro government for "misusing the criminal justice system to punish people for criticizing its policies" and includes a detailed list of 31 arrests and prosecutions of opposition politicians in Caracas and four other states. Says HRW's José Miguel Vivanco, “the government of Venezuela uses the justice system as a façade, but the reality is that Venezuelan judges and prosecutors have become obedient soldiers. ... This dramatic abuse of the justice system is possible because there are no truly independent institutions left in Venezuela." David Smilde and Hugo Pérez Hernáiz argue that Venezuela's 'Operation Liberation and Protection of the People,' ostensibly an anti-crime initiative that has arrested hundreds since July, "is more like the highly repressive Plan Unión from the 1980’s," according to their WOLA/Venezuela blog. Their essay cites/links to a wide range of sources including newspapers on both sides, government documents, civil society leaders, etc. (The situation in Venezuela is compared to fiction like 1984, Animal Farm, and Brave New World, in PanAm Post.)
Venezuela's electoral storm "grows[s] more alarming every day," according to a blog by the Inter-American Dialogue. The Dialogue's predictive powers can sometimes seem like an untrustworthy weatherman: all this "could set the stage for an eventual opening of the political and economic system, but could just as likely reinforce the status quo." One of the challenges for the political opposition, in addition to internal and external squabbling: their victory is "contingent on free and fair elections." (El Universal reported yesterday that the Tribunal Supremo de Justicia once again "intervened" in the inner machinations of a political party, this time with the Movimiento de Integridad Nacional.) Last night, Pres. Maduro went on television calling for free debate and clean elections, according to El Universal.
Yesterday, a dozen Chinese companies completed a week-long visit to Venezuela focused on exploring new areas of cooperation with the government, according to Xinhua. They signed new agricultural agreements (El Universal), left with promises to help sell Venezuelan bonds in Asia (Reuters), and overall strengthened Sino Venezuelan economic ties, according to the government's news agency.
Obama’s failed ‘charm offensive’ in Venezuela isn't working, writes Roger Noriega, Pres. Bush's Amb to the OAS in an op-ed in the Miami Herald. "Now that the regime is in a death spiral, Obama may actually make things worse by buying time for the corrupt leaders in Caracas." The continued reports of looting in grocery and other stores suggest where the country may be on that spiral.
UNASUR's history and purpose is assessed by The Economist, which suggests that this counterpart to the OAS "now faces the biggest test of its short life" as the arbiter to the Venezuelan elections.
- The National Democratic Institute launched their Open Election Data Initiative, which is supported by Google, and seeks to "ensure that citizen groups have access to election data that can give a true picture of an election process" and more. It is geared primarily toward civil society but can "also inform the efforts of political parties, election management bodies, and other actors concerned with electoral integrity." In the future it will include an inventory of election data openness in 18 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean.
- The Associated Press continues their investigation into the Ecuadorean government's snooping into the digital lives of opposition leaders with tales of email and Facebook hacking. A key protagonist is an Italy-based company called Hacking Team which the AP casts doubt that they work "against serious criminals, not dissidents." A small consolation: "Ecuador's human rights record is tamer than some other previous Hacking Team clients, such as Sudan, Ethiopia and Russia."
- The impact of El Salvador's recent gang-related bus strike was "colossal" according to an assessment in an Inter-American Dialogue's blog. "The nation was, in no uncertain terms, held hostage by the gangs" and there is no reason to believe this was a one-time case. "Each of El Salvador’s last four governments has faced a critical public safety decision: whether to confront the gangs or to negotiate with them. At the core, this question is a trade-off between short-term conflict and risk of long-term violence and instability."
- Jemera Rone, counsel for Human Rights Watch from 1985 to 2006, who "opened the organization’s first foreign field office, in El Salvador, and was among the first investigators to document violations of international humanitarian law, has died, according to the NY Times and the Washington Post. She lived in El Salvador full time during the country’s civil war, challenging Washington’s version of events in Latin America." HRW published several tributes to Rone.
- The death of Mexican journalist Ruben Espinosa and others is renewing unwanted attention to the governor in Veracruz, "leader of a state that is a killing ground for journalists," according to McClatchy. The article notes that it was Espinosa’s photo of "the burly governor" on the cover of Proceso magazine in February with a headline that read, 'Veracruz, A State Without Law.' Copies of the magazine were systematically bought up in the state, "a tactic common under governors who face criticism in national media." Colombia's Ministry of Foreign Relations confirmed that their citizen Mile Virginia Martín, 29 years old, was one of those killed in the assassination of Rubén Espinosa, according to Semana magazine.
- Chilean communications company WOM mock Venezuelan Pres. Maduro and Bolivian Pres. Morales in a new advertisement campaign, according to Colombia's Semana. Chile's foreign ministry said the ads were an embarrassment but that they could do nothing to prevent them.
- Drug wars in Costa Rica seem to be the cause of the significant rise in violent deaths, according to La Nacion.
- Argentina’s Pres. Menem's is on trial (though the BBC said he missed the first day) accused of trying to derail the case of the suicide bombing of a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires in 1994, according to the NY Times.
- Peru's defense minister acknowledged to the foreign press that the Maoist rebel group, the Shining Path, has not been "exterminated" though it has been significantly weakened, according to the AFP and the BBC. Shining Path's terrorist actions from the 1980s and 1990s continue to reverberate as 60 bodies killed in the 1980s and 1990s were returned to their families, according to yesterday's La Republica.
- There has only been more repression in Cuba since the the Obama administrations new tack in Washington/Havana relations, according to Elliot Abram's Council for Foreign Relations blog.