Monday, March 7, 2016

Lula's detention intensifies pressure on Brazil's ruling party (March 7, 2016)

Police on Friday detained former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva for three hours, in relation to the ever widening investigation into a massive bid-rigging-and bribery ring corruption scheme at the state-owned oil company Petrobras. (See Friday's second post.)

Prosecutors believe that da Silva profited from the billions that were skimmed from Petrobras, and gave benefits to other politicians as well. They point to renovations made to a beachside penthouse and a sprawling country estate by two construction companies implicated in the investigation, reports the Wall Street Journal.

Prosecutors on Friday described the former president as spearheading a years long scheme to divert money from Petrobras to fund election campaigns for his leftist Workers’ Party and its allies, according to the WSJ.  The piece quotes Brian Winter, vice-president of Americas Society/Council of The Americas, who says the moment "signals a completely new moment for the Petrobras probe and for the Workers’ Party and for Brazil generally."

Friday's actions represent Phase 24 of the "Operation Car Wash" investigation, reports Folha de S. Paulo. The piece has more details on the accusations against the former president.

Following his release by police on Friday, Lula (as he is known in Brazil) went on a rant and questioned the political motivation of investigators. He said Brazil's elites feel threatened because he lifted millions out of poverty and that he's ready to travel the country to defend his government’s accomplishments, reports the Wall Street Journal separately.

"I'm indignant about this process. If the police find I've taken a (cent), I don't deserve to be in this party," he told supports at a press conference at the Workers' Party headquarters in São Paulo.

Supporters in Brazil point to an establishment and media bias against Lula, while Horacio Verbitsky in Argentina links the temporary detention of Lula with that of a former girlfriend of Bolivian President Evo Morales, the arrest of social movement leader Milagro Salas in Argentina and the investigation into Chilean President Michelle Bachelet's daughter-in-law. All are part of a a witch hunt against the populist leaders responsible for the social transformation of the region, he argues in Página 12.

Senior judges in Brazil, including one who believes the Workers' Party did use graft funds for electoral campaigns, criticized the detention of Lula, reports Reuters. Supreme court justice Marco Aurélio Mello said that "nothing justified the use of force" when police picked up Lula unannounced from his apartment. And justice Gilmar Mendes, called Lula’s interrogation in police custody a "delicate" situation.

But it seems likely that pressure on President Dilma Rousseff and Lula, as well as the governing Workers' Party, will continue to grow, notes Reuters.
The intensifying scandal will only further complicate the situation for Rousseff, Lula's successor, who is facing impeachment proceedings unrelated to the case.

Today she called Lula's detention unnecessary and blamed the country's political crisis on her opponents for not accepting their defeat in the 2014 elections and wanting to bring forward new elections scheduled for 2018, reports Reuters.

A friend of Lula arrested in November for allegedly taking out a fraudulent loan to the Workers' Party is negotiating a plea bargain deal with prosecutors, reports Reuters today. Jose Carlos Bumlai, a powerful rancher who also controlled a sugar mill, has discussed a potential collaboration with Brazilian investigators over the past two weeks, according to Brazilian media.

Opposition lawmakers said on Friday they will block congressional voting until the supreme court clears the way for the impeachment process against Rousseff.

The case has the country divided, and protesters battled outside of Lula's home this weekend, reports CBC. Hundreds of supporters held a daylight vigil outside in support of the former president, and Rousseff visited him on Saturday, reports Bloomberg.

Tempers are heating up in Brazil. This weekend PT headquarters were vandalized repeatedly, as were Lula's foundation offices, reports the Buenos Aires Herald. Small protests from both sides (in favor and against the government) occurred over the weekend.

Confused by the apparently eternal and impossible to contain "Operation Car Wash" investigation into corruption Petrobras? The New York Times has a helpful (though simplified) guide to the political and economic turmoil in Brazil. WSJ has a timeline looking at the main events in the two year investigation.

News Briefs
  • The killing of 16-year-old Mexican José Antonio Elena Rodríguez by a U.S. Border Patrol agent in 2012 shows the complexity of transnational accountability in border security and the difficulty of controlling that security force, reports the New York Times in a magazine feature.
  • Thousands of Cuban migrants attempting to reach the U.S. via Central America have been housed and fed with U.S. funds. Coming at as the Obama administration has taken measures to curtail immigration from Central American countries, the policy shows the lopsided treatment of Cuban migrants, reports the New York Times.
  • This week Mexico's Supreme Court granted a stay to two migrants who lost family members in Mexico. The court ordered the general prosecutors office to consider the women as victims and to open the case file. At El Universal the Fundación para la Justicia explains that the case is potentially groundbreaking not only for Central American migrants, but also thousands of relatives of disappeared Mexicans.
  • U.S. and Cuban officials are working hard to ensure that U.S. President Barack Obama's historic visit to Havana later this month "yields the powerful symbolism and concrete policy progress they are seeking," reports the New York Times. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and his Cuban counterpart Bruno Rodríguez are committed to making the trip a success, but the issue of human rights could be a minefield, reports the Miami Herald. Last week Kerry abruptly canceled an advance visit ahead of the presidential trip. (See last Friday's briefs.) The two countries are "haggling over everything from the details of the baseball game to which regulatory changes and business deals can be announced during the visit," according to the NYTimes. The piece quotes Christopher Sabatini, a professor of international affairs at Columbia University and the director of the Brooklyn-based research organization Global Americans who says "This trip can either be the vindication or the refutation of Obama's approach in Cuba ... If the Cubans lecture him on human rights or crack down on dissidents while he is there, it’s going to be quite ugly ... It would make the president look like a dupe, and it would be a huge indictment of his foreign policy." 
  • Indigenous leader and environmental activist Berta Cáceres was buried this weekend, reports the Associated Press. (See Friday's post.)
  • Honduras' conservative National Party proposed sitting President Juan Orlando Hernández as their candidate for elections next year. Though he has not yet confirmed whether he will run, the choice is likely to revive a national debate on reelection, reports Reuters. A Supreme Court decision last year would allow for reelection, a contentious issue that was at the heart of a 2009 coup. Opposition leaders have promised to challenge the ruling.
  • Carlos Hernández of Association for a More Just Society, the Honduran chapter of the nonprofit organization Transparency International responds to a recent New York Times op-ed that criticized the OAS sponsored anti-corruption MACCIH in that country. (See Feb. 16's briefs.) While the OAS mission is not a silver bullet, he says Main's opinion fails to take into account "important advancements in the fight against corruption by Honduran nongovernmental organizations — advancements that make the success of the initiative by the Organization of American States much more likely."
  • Ten people were massacred in Honduras by AK-47 wielding men dressed in police uniforms, reports Reuters. The Associated Press reports at least 12 deaths and says suspects have already been identified and are believed to be gang members.
  • In El Salvador, massacres are a short-term price paid for security measures enacted by the government, according to the country's vice president, Óscar Ortiz. Last Thursday there were 31 murders nationwide, reports La Prensa Gráfica. (See last Tuesday's post on a series by the Latin America Working Group focused on violence in El Salvador.)
  • The Venezuelan government says it's investigating the alleged killings of a group of miners in the jungle state of Bolivar, following reports they were gruesomely murdered in a fight for control of a gold deposit, reports Reuters.
  • Haiti is grappling with a rising death toll from moonshine alcohol, reports the Miami Herald.
  • Heroin use is a new public health emergency for Colombia, according to a forthcoming study by the country's Health Ministry. There are at least 32,000 users in the country, nearly half of them inject the substance, reports El Tiempo. Needle sharing and reuse is common, as is prostitution on order to obtain the drug. In light of collateral effects, the government proposes creating supervised injection and consumption spaces, following the example of Barcelona and Vancouver.
  • A male prostitution ring uncovered within Colombia's national police force has claimed the head of the police chief, a deputy minister and a prominent journalist. The sordid scandal has the country fascinated, reports the Guardian. A homosexual male prostitution network run by senior police officials, known as the "Fellowship of the Ring," allegedly operated within the police academy between 2004 and 2008. Officers and congressmen allegedly paid for sexual services from cadets with cars, gifts and large sums of money.

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