Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Odebrecht testimony spurs high profile investigations in LatAm (Feb. 8, 2017)

Testimony from Odebrecht execs is causing an ever widening corruption scandal, that has spread from Brazil to ensnare high level politicians around the region. Investigations and legal cases have been building across the region since U.S., Swiss and Brazilian authorities released a $3.5 billion anticorruption settlement with Odebrecht in December, in which the company admitted to paying nearly $800 million in bribes to win public-works contracts in 12 countries, mostly in Latin America.

Yesterday Peruvian prosecutors requested the preventive detention of former President Alejandro Toledo while investigating accusations he accepted millions of dollars in bribes from Odebrecht. Current President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, who served as Toledo's prime minister and finance minister, has vowed to fully investigate all allegations stemming from the Odebrecht testimony, reports the Wall Street Journal. (See yesterday's briefs.)

According to the U.S. Justice Department, Odebrecht actually had a department solely dedicated to bribing government officials from different countries, reports the New York Times.

Last month authorities said that inflated contracts from the company cost the country at least $283 million. Odebrecht was involved in in 23 public works projects since 1998 worth at least $16.9 billion. Of the 16 audited so far, potential irregularities, including unjustified cost overruns and forgiveness of penalties for contractual breaches account for the $283 million. (See Jan. 12's briefs.)

Yesterday Colombian authorities said said President Juan Manuel Santos' 2014 re-election campaign might have received an almost $1 million contribution from Odebrecht, reports the Associated Press. His campaign manager has rejected claims of ties as unfounded, and it's not clear if there's a crime. 

And an Argentine federal judge is looking into allegations that the national intelligence head received a $600,000 bribe from Odebrecht in 2013, reports Reuters.

Los Olmos, a massive $1.6 billion irrigation project in Peru's northwest built by Odebrecht, has failed to keep promises to small-farmers in the region to provide water for their crops, reports the Wall Street Journal

Not Odebrecht, but Chilean police raided three local offices of Brazilian firm OAS -- also implicated in Operation Car Wash -- as part of an investigation into potential illegal political campaign contributions, reports Reuters. Reports this week allege President Michelle Bachelet accepted illegal campaign donations from the company, though she denies the accusations.

News Briefs
  • A bipartisan group of U.S. lawmakers has sent a letter to President Donald Trump asking him to sanction Venezuelan officials responsible for corruption and human rights abuses, reports the Associated Press. The move to ramp up pressure on Venezuelan authorities cites an AP investigation that found widespread military corruption in food distribution in crisis wracked Venezuela. Lawmakers also singled out newly appointed vice president Tareck El Aissami, who has been accused of taking bribes to permit large shipments of cocaine and of potential links to Middle Eastern terrorism, according to the AP. Trump and his Secretary of State nominee Rex Tillerson have given little indication of their stance towards Venezuela, and Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro has avoided strong statements against Trump since he took office.
  • Venezuela's MUD opposition alliance will restructure and announce a new strategy against President Nicolás Maduro "very soon," reports EFE.
  • A bill in Mexico's Congress would create a framework for armed forces' participation in internal security. But the proposed law does not address the consequences of increasing militarization of public security in the country, nor does it take into account the failure of will and capacity to investigate and bring to justice soldiers already implicated in crimes and human rights violations, according to a new WOLA report.
  • Peace talks between the Colombian government and the ELN, started yesterday in Ecuador. Analysts believe the country's second-largest guerrilla group will seek similar terms to those granted to the FARC in last year's peace accord, reports the Associated Press. Though the ELN is far smaller than the FARC, negotiations have been a priority for Santos, who won a Nobel peace prize last year for his efforts to end Colombia's five decades of conflict, reports the New York Times.
  • Even as Trump scraps trade deals and threatens even more, Latin American leaders are seeking ways to strengthen free trade. Peru is the region's biggest proponent. But Brazil and Argentina are pushing an agreement between Mercosur and the European Union, while Chilean officials have said they'd be open to a 16 nation bloc lead by China. And even as Mexico aims to salvage NAFTA, it is also seeking to ally with other Pacific Alliance countries from the region to deepen ties with Asia, reports the Wall Street Journal. In fact, Argentine President Mauricio Macri and Brazilian President Michel Temer specifically invoked the "Trump effect" yesterday, and proposed a closer relationship with Mexico, reports EFE.
  • Mexicans approve of President Enrique Peña Nieto's decision to pull out of a meeting with Trump, though his approval rating continued to sink to a four year low, reports Reuters. His disapproval rating soared to 74 percent, up from 66 in November, despite widespread appreciation for his cancellation of the meeting.
  • Walls not bridges, said Pope Francis, though he did not specifically reference Trump, reports Reuters.
  • There are rumors that Trump will appoint Elliott Abrams deputy secretary of state. The neoconservative served under Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush and was convicted of withholding information from Congress during the Iran-contra affair, reports the New York TimesThe Nation takes it further, saying Abrams spent the Reagan years abetting genocide. "As assistant secretary of state for human rights, Abrams sought to ensure that General Efraín Ríos Montt, Guatemala’s then-dictator, could carry out “acts of genocide”—those are the legally binding words of Guatemala’s United Nations–backed Commission for Historical Clarification—against the indigenous people in the Ixil region of the department of Quiché, without any pesky interference from human-rights organizations, much less the US government. As the mass killings were taking place, Abrams fought in Congress for military aid to Ríos Montt’s bloody regime. ..." And that's just the beginning of a long-litany of accusations. A 1993 New Yorker piece on the El Mozote massacre notes Abrams' criticisms of human rights groups at the time. TeleSUR reports on his testimony in a 2012 case brought forward by Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo, in which he said the Reagan administration believed the Argentine military junta's human rights record was improving in the early 1980s, despite evidence that babies were being stolen.
  • El Salvador's Supreme Court ordered a civil trial of the body's former president on charges of illicit enrichment, reports the Associated Press. Agustin Garcia Calderon, who led the court between 2000 and 2009 is accused of being unable to justify about $165,000 in his personal accounts.
  • The election of a multimillionaire reality TV star to lead São Paulo and an evangelical bishop in Rio de Janeiro are different examples of where voter rejection of traditional politicians is taking Brazil, reports the Guardian. Though very different, both are outsider populists, analysts say. (See Monday's briefs for the Washington Post's take on the same issue.)
  • Recession and high cost of urban living are pushing increasing numbers of families onto the streets in Brazil, reports Reuters.
  • Federal troops sent to quell violence in Espirito Santo, where at least 75 murders have taken place in a few days of a police strike, have not had a measurable impact on crime, reports EFE. Nonetheless, authorities asked for more federal help, reports Reuters. 200 federal police officers arrived yesterday, and 1,000 soldiers are going to be mobilized already. Nonetheless more are needed to make up for the 1,800 police officers on strike since Saturday over a pay dispute. Five straight days of looting have raised concerns the violence could spread to other parts of the country, reports the Wall Street Journal. (See yesterday's briefs.)
  • Ecuador will hold a presidential election later this month, but businessman Álvaro Noboa, who is not in the running, promised citizens a parliamentary coup if his legislative slate wins, reports TeleSUR. His movement has determined that it doesn't matter who wins the elections, as no candidate has true popular backing, he said in a Facebook video. Instead, he would propose his legislators declare a one time constitutional emergency and name him president, a move constitutionalists say would be illegitimate, explains El Comercio.
  • Zika panic has faded in Brazil as rates of microcephaly drop, but for families with affected children, the struggle remains crushingly intense, reports the Washington Post.
  • Hundreds (Reuters says dozens) of women protested topless in Buenos Aires and several other Argentine cities, in reaction to police threats to arrest three women sunbathing without bathing suit tops on a beach in January, reports Página 12. In a country where femicide is of increasing concern -- leading to large demonstrations around the region under the #NiUnaMenos -- many demonstrators made the connection between repressive social standards for women and gender violence.  "The only breasts that bother are the ones that aren’t for sale," said the call to bare breasts. 

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