Thursday, August 4, 2016

Rousseff inching towards political trial in Senate (Aug. 4, 2016)

The Brazilian senate commission charged with evaluating a report recommending impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff voted 14 to 5 in favor of accepting it, reports Folha de S. Paulo. The Senate will vote next week whether to accept the charges and put Rousseff on political trial.

The impeachment process itself could take up the rest of the month and ultimately would require 54 senators, two-thirds, to oust the Workers' Party president. Between 56 and 60 Senators today favor removing her according to Reuters.

The report approved today found that Rousseff violated the constitution by manipulating government accounts, explains Reuters.

Der Spiegel has a long analysis piece on the Brazilian political crisis, which includes an interview with Rousseff in her home in the presidential palace, where she now cuts her own flowers and talks literature with senators. The piece focuses on how corruption scandals have affected the Workers' Party and its legacy. 

"There is a sense of perplexity in the country on the eve of the Olympics. After 13 years, Brazil seems to be back where it was when Lula came into office. The only difference is that today there is no longer a party capable of raising any hope that a different Brazil is possible."

News Briefs
  • Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have both denounced increasing rates of police lethality in Brazil, noting in particular the risk for young, black men. In a Guardian op-ed Igarapé's Robert Muggah gives some background to the issue, noting that between 2003 and 2015, killings of civilians at hands of the police in Rio de Janeiro state actually dropped dramatically, by 46 percent. The most significant improvements, in Rio's capital, occurred after the 2009 implementation of pacification police units. But executions crept back up after 2014, an upward trend that continues. Muggah looks at factors exacerbating police violence including: officers' personal exposure to violence, cuts in public security spending, economic decline, and a citizen backlash against police following highly publicized videos of examples of police abuses. "It is easy to forget that before democracy in 1985 the military police served as the clenched fist of the Brazilian state. During the dictatorship, military police were regularly deployed to crush opposition and undertake clandestine operations, including targeted killings, disappearances and torture. Notwithstanding some reform, the legacy endures. The risk now is that with the crisis of policing in Rio de Janeiro, even the incremental gains could be lost," writes Muggah.
  • Lots of articles on Olympic displacement and violence. A sampling: The Washington Post reports Olympic construction related evictions from Rio favelas. Two experts calculate that more than 60,000 people in the city lost their homes between 2009 and 2013. The approximately 550 families living in Vila Autódromo, on next to the Olympic Park site became a symbol in particular of the evictions, notes the Wall Street Journal. Over two years they violently clashed with authorities seeking to move them out of their homes with bulldozers. And the Guardian has more in its ongoing series featuring perspectives of favela community journalists.
  • And the Guardian reports on the failed promises to fix waste treatment in Rio.
  • Brazilians are greeting the Olympics with anger, anxiety and indifference, reports the New York Times. Nearly 63 percent of the population believes hosting the games will hurt the country, and only 16 percent are enthusiastic about the events that begin tomorrow. Protesters gathered along the route of the Olympic torch yesterday were dispersed by police using tear gas and pepper spray, reports the Guardian. Protests planned for all this week will culminate tomorrow in a large demonstration during the opening ceremony under the banner "the Exclusion Games," reports RioOnWatch.
  • An interesting Los Angeles Times feature on  São Paulo's growing homeless population and some modestly successful programs to get them off the street.
  • More than 1,000 troops were dispatched in response to gang violence in Brazil's northern Rio Grande do Norte state, reports the Guardian.
  • The OAS will again serve as an international observer in Haiti's upcoming presidential election redo. But the mission is urging reforms to avoid the kind of pitfalls that led to procedural breakdowns and allegations of fraud last year, reports the Miami Herald. Recommendations include better definition over what constitutes fraud, better control over political representatives (who are believed to have voted multiple times), better training for poll workers and changing the ink used to identify those who already voted.
  • A top electoral official in Venezuela said the investigation into irregularities in the referendum signature gathering would not delay the opposition led drive, reports the Latin American Herald Tribune. (See Tuesday's post.)
  • The Guardian has a moderate editorial analyzing the Venezuelan crisis -- unlike its counterparts across the Atlantic. The piece recognizes a growing crisis in the country, and says that even in the midst of political polarization many citizens agree that change is desperately needed. "It is too early to say whether Chavismo has entirely run its course in Venezuela, but it is obvious that President Maduro has sacrificed public confidence. His predecessor, beneficiary of a decade-long boom in oil prices, was once admired as a progressive visionary. President Maduro has neither that nor Chávez’s charisma, and his rule has, if anything, emphasised the darker autocratic sides of Chavismo. Venezuelans who once felt the state was on their side, and saw the poverty rate drop by 20%, now feel that government incompetence and cronyism is carrying them towards the abyss. Their voice urgently needs to be heard."
  • There's a good interview in El Diario de Hoy with El Confidencial director Carlos Fernando Chamorro, which has a helpful review of the past two months in Nicaragua and the series of political decisions taken by President Daniel Ortega which has him facing accusations of shutting down political competition and angling for a "dynastic succession."  (See yesterday's post.) Chamorro points to Ortega's June 4 decision to forbid international observation for the November elections, calling observers "shameless." This was followed by a Supreme Court decision on June 8, which splintered the main opposition party, removing legal representation of the opposition from the faction that had received the most votes in the last election and instead awarding it to a smaller faction, accused of being instrumental to Ortega. The result, notes Chamorro, was that the PLI was not able to field a candidate in the upcoming elections. And last week the Supreme Electoral Council ousted 16 opposition PLI legislators and their alternates, for failing to follow the leadership of the new faction installed in the June Supreme Court decision. "These are all legal subterfuges," says Chamorro. "Neither the Supreme Court nor the Supreme Electoral Council are autonomous or plural powers, they are partisan extensions of the Frente Sandinista and Ortega's control in the Executive. Two institutions that should be of the State and apply the law are just executing political and partisan orders that left the opposition without a candidate and without a chance at elections and oust elected legislators." (Hat tip to Gene Palumbo for sending the story.)
  • The New Republic has a piece by Charles Davis weighing in on the ongoing argument by certain liberals that Donald Trump would be better for foreign policy (read, less likely to intervene in other countries) than Hillary Clinton. He argues that Trump actually supports airstrikes, and would likely support intervention in Syria against ISIS, for example. And he's also endorsed staying in Afghanistan and promised to increase military spending. "Only in America could a call for bombing the hell out of at least three nations and indefinitely occupying another be labeled 'isolationism.'  ... The next U.S. president will kill a lot of foreigners and the myth that maybe they won’t—that Donald J. Trump, in particular, will not drone-strike a Waziri wedding the first chance he gets—needs to die." (See yesterday's briefs on other related arguments, specifically regarding whether Trump is better for Lat Am, Mark Weisbrot argues that he's not, and analysis of the Democrat's somewhat vague platform promises for the region.)
  • Stricter controls for migrants in Mexico and the U.S. force Central Americans fleeing violence at home to find new routes of escape. Some are finding new destinations: Costa Rica expects asylum claims to quadruple this year. And the country will now offer temporary protection to prescreened refugees while their U.S. asylum claims are analyzed, reports the Guardian
  • The U.S.-Colombia Trade Promotion Agreement, lowered trade barriers between the two countries and fueled a $17 billion export market, but "has left a labor movement in tatters, replicating a pattern of neoliberal trade ravaging the hemisphere," argues The Nation. "While trade has liberalized, intense violence has besieged Colombia’s incipient union movement, facing brutality from paramilitary, criminal, and state forces. Unionization efforts have stalled as dozens of union activists have been murdered, often without legal recourse."
  • A Colombian woman requesting asylum in the U.S. after fleeing home fearing for her life is denouncing the inhumane treatment she received from immigration authorities at the El Paso Processing Center, reports the Latin American Herald Tribune.
  • Up to 14,000 children of the indigenous Wayuu tribe in Colombia have died of thirst, malnutrition and preventable disease over the past eight years. Earlier this week the country's Supreme Court ordered the government to ensure the children and teens in the community receive access to clean drinking water, food, health care, housing and other basic amenities necessary for their survival, reports the Huffington Post.
  • Peruvian public prosecutor Marcelita Gutiérrez ruled that former president Alberto Fujimori and his health ministers should not be prosecuted for a state-run program that resulted in thousands of forced sterilizations in the late 1990s. The investigation found that individual doctors, rather than state policy, were responsible for the non-consensual sterilizations. Rights groups promised to appeal the decision, reports the Guardian.
  • Peruvian prosecutors are investigating whether police extrajudicially executed 27 people between 2012 and 2015, seeking to appear to stop dangerous criminals. The case puts pressure on new president Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, according to Reuters. Interior minister, Carlos Basombrio, said a report on the case would be forthcoming.
  • Guatemala's LGBT community is making quiet advances in a country that has traditionally had little tolerance for sexual diversity, reports the Associated Press. Advances in bureaucratic acceptance of diversity has been so under the radar that most people don't know about measures that allow the National Population Registry to recognize transgender identities or the Human Rights prosecutor's sexual diversity defense branch. And there's been little pushback from the Roman Catholic Church or conservative groups.
  • On Tuesday, gunmen killed the daughter of a Guatemalan journalist, Alvaro Aceituno Lopez, who was murdered in June, in her hometown of Coatepeque, reports AFP.
  • A Chilean photojournalist who has been in jail for ten months on charges of possession of explosives said he's on a hunger strike demanding better prison conditions, reports the Latin American Herald Tribune.
  • The Mercosur is increasingly divided over Venezuela, which took over the trade blocs rotating presidency this week. Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay have opposed the handover, saying that Venezuela must lower trade barriers and implement basic democratic principles and respect for civil rights in order to comply with Mercosur bylaws. Uruguay, which tried to find a solution failed, and Venezuela announced it was assuming the presidency this weekend, reports Mercopress. Now the Brazilian foreign minister says Brazil considers the presidency vacant. The argument demonstrates a growing rift between the region's remaining leftist leaders -- with close ties to Venezuela -- and their business-friendly right wing successors, according to the Wall Street Journal.

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