Monday, January 30, 2017

Brazilian Supreme Court accepts Odebrecht execs' plea testimony (Jan. 30, 2017)

Brazilian Supreme Court president, Judge Cármen Lúcia, approved 77 plea bargain testimonies -- "lighting the wick of a bomb should reach more than a hundred politicians from various parties and governments," including representatives of the the current and previous administrations, reports El País.

The testimony will remain sealed, but is expected to implicate dozens of politicians. Justice Teori Zavaski had been in charge of reviewing and then approving or rejecting the testimony. After he died in a plane crash two weeks ago, prosecutors urged Lúcia to prevent delays, reports Reuters. (See Jan. 20's post.)

The dossiers will be sent to prosecutors today, reports the Associated Press.

The court remains in recess, which is why Lúcia made the decision. The new rapporteur for the Car Wash investigation is expected to be selected later this week by draw among the remaining justices, reports El País. President Michel Temer has said he'd avoid nominating a replacement for Zavaski, given the political sensibility of the case. (See last Monday's briefs.)

News Briefs
  • WOLA has a fact sheet helpful in understanding U.S. President Donald Trump's promise (threat?) of the Mexico border wall. For example, building just 413 more miles of fencing (about 1,317 miles of the U.S.-Mexico border lacks fencing) would cost $11.37 billion. In the meantime, the rate of undocumented migrants trying to cross the border is actually at a historic low. And the much vaunted Central American unaccompanied migrant surge involves people fleeing "unparalleled levels of violent crime in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. (See Friday's post.)
  • After an intense diplomatic face-off between Trump and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto last week, the two spoke by phone on Friday, a friendly conversation meant to shore up the countries' relationship. But the issue of payment for the border wall remains a major point of contention, reports the Wall Street Journal. The White House said that they "agreed not to discuss how it (the wall) will be paid for publicly, that they will continue to have those discussions privately," reports EFE.
  • A potential trade war between the two countries would hurt Mexico more, but the country is not without leverage to use in negotiations, reports the Washington Post. These include mirror tariffs and potentially taxing corporate profits from the many American companies with operations in Mexico. But potential negotiating points also include the country's cooperation in immigration and drug war issues, such as deporting Central American migrants before they reach the U.S. and targeting local heroin producers to help fight the heroin epidemic in the U.S. 
  • Peru and Colombia promised to stand by Mexico in the midst of potential difficulties caused by Trump's trade policies. Peruvian President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski said members of the Latin American trade bloc the Pacific Alliance must double down on efforts to open markets and strengthen ties as they navigate the "turbulent waters" of protectionist rhetoric, reports Reuters.
  • On the other hand, Peña Nieto, whose popularity level was dismal, has obtained a bump in approval ratings since standing up to Trump last week, reports the Associated Press.
  • Ecuador's foreign minister announced measures to help defend the country's migrants in the U.S., including new call centers and further legal assistance, reports TeleSUR.
  • New Yorker piece by Jonathan Blitzer examines how U.S. deportations have fueled a major call-center industry in El Salvador. About 152,000 Salvadorans were deported under the Obama administration alone, creating an English-speaking population eager for jobs. Former U.S. gang members in particular have found opportunity in the call-centers, with few other employers willing to take them on. Many of the deportees spent significant portions of their lives in the U.S., and are lost in El Salvador. The piece goes into the intricacies of how U.S. deportees created Central America's violent gangs, yet the recent arrivals from the U.S. are viewed as targets and live in fear. 
  • The violence battering Salvadorans is well documented, "but the largest effects of the violence are often invisible. Fear of gangs prevents students from going to school and young people from holding jobs. According to one report, nearly 40,000 children dropped out of school in 2015, primarily out of concern for their own safety. Such is the fear inspired by gangs that even rumors can provoke panic. Last year, word spread that only girlfriends of gang members could have blonde hair; the next day, women around the country began dyeing their hair black to avoid any trouble," explains a New York Review of Books piece by Madeleine Schwartz. She visits San José Guayabal, a town north of San Salvador, celebrated for being "violence free." A policy by the mayor to turn citizens into "antennas" of information has apparently succeeded in a drastic reduction of civilian deaths, though inter-gang violence remains unabated. But there's little data backing the nationally reported claims, and despite lip service to social services, the national government's approach has focused on "mano dura."
  • A new investigation by the Mexican Centro de Investigación y Docencia Económicas (CIDE) has found that human rights violations committed by armed forces under former President Felipe Calderón's war on drugs increased by 1000 percent. The militarization of the fight against drug trafficking not only failed, said Alejandro Madrazo in a presentation in the national senate, but rather it's proved that violence has increased in municipalities where federal forces operated, reports Reforma. Crime increased by 9 percent under Calderón's administration according to the CIDE's investigation, reports Excelsior.
  • The presentation took place as part of a forum as the Senate debates an internal security law, that would permit armed forces to carry out internal security operations, reports Milenio. The Mexico representative of the U.N. High Commission of Human Rights objected to lawmakers' intent to legalize military participation in internal security, reports Milenio. And he emphasized the need for a better diagnostic before giving "blank checks," reports El Economista. Other members of civil society joined the call for accountability and drew attention to the negative experiences of the past decade, reports la Jornada. (See post for Dec. 9, 2016, for example.)
  • A new program to eradicate coca plantations in Colombia, will offer farmers monthly payments if they voluntarily destroy their crops. They will also be offered loans and guidance to plant alternatives such as fruit trees and cacao, reports the BBC.
  • Colombia's Constitutional Court rejected a request from former attorney general Alejandro Ordoñez Maldonado to nullify a 2016 ruling legalizing same-sex marriage, reports TeleSUR.
  • Latin American fuel subsidies -- notably in Mexico and Brazil -- are ending as governments move towards market-driven policies, causing widespread anger among consumers facing increases, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • Brazil's prison crisis has brought home the manifold problems of an overflowing penitentiary system. El País profiles pastoral run alternative APACs (Associações de Proteção e Assistência ao Condenado), where -- for a fraction of the costs at a traditional penitentiary -- inmates benefit from extensive support services, reports El País.
  • Brazilian former billionaire Eike Batista arrived in Rio de Janeiro from New York earlier today and was detained by federal police on charges of bribery, including an alleged $16 million bribe to a former governor, reports Reuters. (See Friday's briefs.) 
  • Guatemalan prosecutors believe a current congressman ordered the killing of a local journalist in 2015, reports InSight Crime.
  • Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights post gathers local perceptions of the Operación Liberación del Pueblo, a program of massive armed operations aimed at taming Venezuela's dramatic rate of violent crime, which has been criticized for widespread rights abuses of its own.
  • Nueva Sociedad piece analyzes possible reasons behind Bolivian President Evo Morales' cabinet switch up earlier this month. "The underlying change seems to be wooing the middle classes the government has lost recently due to the focus it put on identifying the cabinet with indigenous and poor sectors, and distributing power among the diverse components of the MAS ruling coalition ... It's not an impossible objective: Morales' administration has a popular approval of 58 percent ..." (See Jan. 17's briefs.)
  • A Carnival turf war in Haiti is blatantly political, with president-elect Jovenel Moïse -- backed by former president Michel "Sweet Mickey" Martelly -- insisting the national Kanaval festivities will move to Les Cayes, while Port-au-Prince's mayor insists it will stay in the national capital, reports the Miami Herald. When Martelly first took office, he too used the Carnival festivity location as an opportunity to flex political muscle.
  • Haitian voters came out on Sunday for the final round of voting in the extended political cycle that started in 2015. There was low turn out in the election to decide on eight legislative runoffs and to choose 5,500 district authorities in local elections, reports Deutsche Welle.
  • World governments seeking to buck Chinese influence -- especially in Latin America -- would do well to look at the example of Argentine President Mauricio Macri, according to a piece in Foreign Policy. While Macri had hoped to turn away from Chinese funded mega-projects in his county, over the course of his first year in office his administration largely ratified railway and hydroelectric plans created by his Kirchner predecessors. "The outcome in Argentina was not unlike others in the world where domestic political change has threatened major Chinese investments. From Zambia to the United Kingdom, China has been a political punching bag for opposition figures and incoming leaders to scrutinize the initiatives of their predecessors. Once settled in power, however, new leaders tend to roll back the tough talk, realizing the nearly irreplaceable importance of China as a trading partner and investor."
  • Mexico City is about to get a brand new constitution, full of innovative articles promising medical marijuana, promotion of mulculturalism and the right to a dignified death, reports Animal Político. Other important points include the right to the city, and the right to live free from violence.
  • The forest fires which have ravaged 233,000 sq miles of Chile in recent weeks are due to poor planning for climate change and monoculture plantations, reports the Guardian.
  • In the midst of the diplomatic showdown between Peña Nieto and Trump, Vanity Fair Mexico came under fire for a cover portraying Melania Trump "posing with a fork and a string of jewels as if she were about to eat them like spaghetti," reports the Guardian.

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