Brazilian politics remain in a legal limbo. Yesterday the Supreme Federal Tribunal ruled that an investigation into the finances of former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva should be removed from the crusading anti-corruption judge, Sérgio Moro, who has overseen the two year investigation into widespread corruption at Petrobras, reports the New York Times.
Yesterday's ruling establishes that recently released intercepted phone conversations between Lula and senior officials who enjoy special judicial standing should be reviewed by the court.
Moro has apologized for releasing intercepts of phone conversations between Lula and President Dilma Rousseff, reports the Latin American Herald Tribune.
The 8-2 ruling is effectively a win for Lula against a judge he accuses of unfairly targeting him, reports the Associated Press.
This decision, however, is not the final ruling and can still be amended by the justices.
Lula is under investigation for allegedly benefiting, in the form of payments and a luxury apartment, from the massive corruption scheme detected at state-run oil company Petrobras, reports Reuters.
The court has not yet taken up appeals of a separate injunction that prevented Lula from taking office as Rousseff's chief of state, a post that would give him greater legal protections. Under Brazilian law, only the Supreme Court can authorize the investigation, detention and indictment of Cabinet ministers and legislators, notes the AP. (See March 21's post.)
The move comes as a relief for Rousseff's government after coalition partner, the PMDB, declared the parties partnership at an end earlier this week. (See Wednesday's briefs.) While that move was interpreted as a knock-out blow to the Rousseff government, and seemed likely to move forward impeachment proceedings against her, there are signs of a party schism that could favor the embattled president.
Several PMDB ministers were expected to resign their posts after Tuesday's decision, but have hinted that they will not pull out of the government. Agriculture Minister Katia Abreu, a close confidant of Rousseff, said on Twitter that she didn't plan on leaving either the government or the party. Her tweet suggested the other five PMDB Cabinet ministers held the same stand, reports the Associated Press.
And Senate leader Renan Calheiros said his party's decision to leave the government was "foolish" and "premature," reports Reuters.
In the meantime, Rousseff is seeking to bolster her government's support among smaller parties by redistributing plum cabinet posts held by the PMDB, reports the Wall Street Journal.
Among the PMDB-held positions that could come into play are the powerful Ministry of Health, with an annual budget of more than $27.5 billion, and the Ministry of Mines and Energy, which oversees Brazil's petroleum and iron-ore industries.
Pro-government rallies were held around the country yesterday. An estimated 800,000 protesters took to the streets in 94 cities across the country, according to VICE. About 40,000 protesters gathered against Roussef's potential impeachment in São Paulo, which they portray as an institutional coup, reports El País. (See last Friday's post.) The date was chosen symbolically, it's the anniversary of a military coup in 1964. Demonstrators emphasized rejection of a move they see as an cynical attempt to unseat a democratically elected president.
A piece in El País looks at the increasing polarization between the pro and anti-government camps. The makeup of the demonstrators shows the impeachment battle is being fought along class and racial lines, reports Bloomberg, in a piece on how Lula is revered by Brazil's poor.
While popular anger against Dilma is tied to the Petrobras bribery scandal, as well as a deep economic recession, the impeachment bills that could suspend her next month are not tied to either. The Associated Press looks at the accusations and how the procedure could play out.
The lower house of Congress is due to vote in mid-April on whether Rousseff should stand trial in the Senate for manipulating government accounts, explains Reuters.
Rousseff and her allies are seeking to kill the process in the lower chamber, which will vote this month. She must persuade at least 172 members of the chamber’s 513 deputies to stand by her in order to avoid standing trial in the Senate, according to the WSJ.
The latest to fall: Corruption cases never stop piling up anymore in Brazil. Prosecutors accused the world's richest banker, Joseph Safra, of agreeing to pay more than $4 million in bribes to tax auditors to reduce or annul fines on unpaid taxes, reports the Associated Press.
And in the Miami Herald Andrés Oppenheimer argues that Rousseff's failing government, and the non-intervention of the region's various diplomatic groups, demonstrates a new reality among Latin America's leftist bloc.
- Mind boggling Bloomberg piece with the confessions of Colombian political hacker Andrés Sepúlveda, in which he claims to have done dirty campaign work for right-wing politicians across the region, including Mexico's Enrique Peña Nieto, Guatemala's PAN, and the Venezuelan opposition. "As for Sepúlveda, his insight was to understand that voters trusted what they thought were spontaneous expressions of real people on social media more than they did experts on television and in newspapers. He knew that accounts could be faked and social media trends fabricated, all relatively cheaply. He wrote a software program, now called Social Media Predator, to manage and direct a virtual army of fake Twitter accounts. The software let him quickly change names, profile pictures, and biographies to fit any need. Eventually, he discovered, he could manipulate the public debate as easily as moving pieces on a chessboard—or, as he puts it, 'When I realized that people believe what the Internet says more than reality, I discovered that I had the power to make people believe almost anything.'" (See Geoff Ramsay's Post on Sepúlveda's arrest in 2014 for illegally gathering information on the peace talks in Havana.)
- The Mexican government says the Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts (Grupo Interdisciplinario de Expertos y Expertas Independientes, GIEI) will stop working in the country later this month. The international panel of experts picked apart the Mexican government's account of what happened to 43 students who disappeared in 2014, reports Reuters. Deputy Interior Minister Roberto Campa said the experts' time in Mexico would come to a close by the end of April. "It should be Mexican institutions ... that conclude the investigation, the search, and we should be capable of advancing in the attention we pay to the victims," Campa said.
- A military court acquitted six of seven soldiers charged with breach of discipline in the so-called Tlatlaya Massacre, the 2014 killing of 22 suspects, including between 12 and 15 who allegedly were executed after they surrendered. The Miguel Agustin Pro Juarez Human Rights Center and other rights groups announced yesterday that the sentences were handed down in October but were not made public until now, after the rights groups obtained the documents, reports theAssociated Press.
- Argentina's long-resisted settlement with hold-out creditors (approved by the Senate on Tuesday, see yesterday's briefs), means a spectacular profit of nearly $2 billion for notorious hedge fund Elliot Capital. The case could serve as a template for similar investors chasing down payments from poor countries, reports the Washington Post.
- "This resolution will carry a high price for the international financial system, encouraging other funds to hold out and making debt restructuring virtually impossible. Why would bondholders accept a haircut if they could wait and get exorbitant returns for a small investment?" write Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz, with Martín Guzmán, in a New York Times op-ed, exploring the ramifications of the Argentina debt deal. They urge the international community, via the U.N., to create a framework for sovereign bankruptcy.
- Argentina's new fiscal austerity push will hit Buenos Aires area commuters hard next month, when they see a 100 percent fare hike for buses and trains, reports Reuters. And cost-cut induced layoffs across the public sector (see Jan 11's post) are also reaching the National Library, where mass layoffs have been slammed by intellectuals and free speech organizations, reports the Guardian.
- Peruvian presidential candidate Pedro Pablo Kuczynski is the latest to be investigated by the country's electoral board for potentially violating a law against vote buying, reports Reuters. PPK, as he is known, is front-runner Keiko Fujimori's main rival. But analysts predicted he would remain in the race, especially after Fujimori was recently cleared of similar accusations. Two other presidential hopefuls were barred last month, leading to accusations of favoritism towards Fujimori.
- In the midst of the campaign free for all, Peruvian President Ollanta Humala authorized a 13 percent increase in the minimum wage, stealing support from candidates who included a raise in their campaigns, reports Bloomberg.