Thursday, March 16, 2017

Janot's list rocks Brazilian political establishment (March 16, 2017)

Pretty much all major politicians in Brazil seem to be on a leaked version of the list the country's attorney general seeks to investigate, based on "end-of-the-world plea bargain" testimony from Odebrecht executives. Chief prosecutor Rodrigo Janot requested permission from the Supreme Court this week to investigate 83 politicians as part of the blockbuster Operation Car Wash investigation into corruption. (See yesterday's and Tuesday's briefs.)

Though the list was sealed, it apparently includes "almost everyone who has had any power over the past 10 to 20 years – with the mysterious exception of President Michel Temer," reports the Guardian. That includes former presidents Dilma Rousseff and Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. Five members of the current cabinet, as well as the current and former heads of both chambers of Congress are also targets for the probe.

The Supreme Court is weighing Janot's request to make the entire list public, reports the Wall Street Journal. But if reports that Rodrigo Maia and Eunicio Oliveira, heads of Brazil’s lower house of Congress and Senate respectively, are true, it could paralyze Temer's legislative agenda. (See briefs below.)

However El País emphasizes the extremely slow nature of Supreme Court cases  -- of the 28 requests for investigations presented by Janot in 2015, only six politicians have been charged. The Supreme Court must handle cases against lawmakers and senior administration officials. A study by Faculdade Getúlio Vargas - Rio de Janeiro (FGV-RJ) shows that in the last five years only 1% of the privileged cases tried in the STF ended in convictions. And in two-thirds of the cases, the court never even considers the merits.

But the sweeping nature of Janot's latest list might undermine its power, and provide incentives across the political class to push back, reports the Guardian.

In fact, lawmakers are scrambling to grant themselves amnesty this week, in the form of legislation that could shield them from jailtime, reports the New York Times. The sheer quantity of people implicated in corruption investigations merits amnesty in order to prevent further upheaval argue some politicians. It's a move greeted with significant anger by Brazilians though.

The focus is on the so-called "caixa dois", an undeclared "second" cash register that serves to receive illicit campaign donations. Receiving these funds is what would be up for amnesty -- politicians say under-the-table campaign financing is not the same as bribery, embezzlement or money laundering.

It's not the first time lawmakers have attempted to shield themselves. In November lawmakers aimed to include pardons for illegal campaign financing in a package of anticorruption measures, reported EFE at the time.

Brazilian society is on the verge of a nervous breakdown, and it's time for urgent political reform, argues Juan Arias in El País ... 

News Briefs
  • Thousands of Brazilian protesters demonstrated against Temer's pension reform bill yesterday, reports Reuters. The administration says capping social benefits is a key part of its plan to revitalize the economy. Janot's list and the protests are threatening to block the advance of his austerity agenda however, reports El País.
  • Personal corruption allegations and massive protests notwithstanding, Brazilian Foreign Minister Aloysio Nunes is optimistic that Mercosur and the European Union will advance towards a trade deal this year, reports Reuters
  • The war-level violence that has pushed hundreds of thousands of Central Americans to flee towards the U.S. hasn't gotten better, but increased crackdowns on undocumented migrants in Mexico have forced them to take ever-more-dangerous paths, reports the Intercept in a photoessay by Alice Proujansky. Between 2014 and the summer of 2016, Mexico detained 425,000 migrants according to WOLA analysis. Crackdowns on established routes have "pushed a lot of migrants into more remote parts of southern Mexico, walking into more dangerous areas, and paying smugglers to get farther north," said WOLA's Maureen Meyer.
  • Amendments to the Mexican criminal code proposed by the Peña Nieto administration could significantly weaken human rights -- potentially enabling authorities to detain suspects for years without trial, permit hearsay in court and testimony obtained through torture, reports the New York Times. "Rather than innocent before proved guilty, it would require concrete evidence of reasonable doubt, essentially shifting the burden of proof to the accused." The piece contrasts the Mexican government's critiques of Trump's aggressions with its actual trampling of human rights. "... The government has fashioned the image of an ascending nation, a regional leader ready to take its place on the global stage, competitive on issues of trade, economics and culture. And yet, presented with mounting violence, vast inequality and a human rights crisis in which torture at the hands of security forces is “generalized,” in the words of the United Nations, the same government frequently runs roughshod over the rights it claims to defend."
  • The mass grave uncovered in Veracruz by a collective of mothers and wives of disappeared people -- so far 249 skulls have been recovered from the area they were directed to by cartel members -- appears to be the country's largest ever, according to the Wall Street Journal. (See yesterday's briefs.)
  • Sinaloa drug cartel leader Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán -- currently extradited to the U.S. -- has already been replaced by Dámaso López Núñez, better known as "El Licenciado," reports InSight Crime.
  • Tlaxcala has been pinpointed by Mexico's human rights commission as part of a corridor of human trafficking. Rights groups have identified seven girls and two women who have disappeared over the past 14 months, but the local prosecutor's office recognizes far fewer, and a series of irregularities and omissions plagues the investigations, reports Animal Político.
  • Guatemala's Supreme Court lifted the immunity of national deputy Édgar Justino Ovalle who is accused of human rights violations during the country's civil war. The former colonel is considered the power behind the throne of President Jimmy Morales, reports El País. The accusations are in relation to the clandestine detention center, Zona 21 in Cobán, where more than 500 people suffered illegal detentions, torture and extrajudicial executions between 1981 and 1988. (See post for Jan. 7, 2016.)
  • A co-founder of a new Jamaican group combatting gender violence was arrested after posting the names of alleged sexual predators on social media, reports the Guardian. Latoya Nugent, a prominent LGBT activist and co-founder of the Tambourine Army was charged with using a computer for malicious intent. (See Monday's briefs.)
  • Bolivia has long dreamed of exporting legal coca products, such as tea and flour, but local enthusiasm underestimated international resistance and association with cocaine, reports the Guardian. A new law increasing the permitted coca cultivation area was met with skepticism internationally, but Kathyrn Ledebur of the drug policy watchdog the Andean Information Network emphasized that it also "significantly extends government control over production and marketing of coca." (See Feb. 28's briefs.)
  • Venezuela's government says it could expropriate bakeries that fail to dedicate 90 percent of their flour to savory bread (which falls under price controls), part of new regulations aimed at curbing shortages, reports the BBC.
  • Venezuela's state-run companies produce everything from bikes to milk and aerospace components. But most of the 511 government owned companies identified by Transparency International lose money, adding a unique component to the country's economic meltdown, reports the Miami Herald.
  • Two Mexican reggae bands have become the latest victims of Trump's migration policies -- Panteón Rococó and Antidoping were not able to obtain visas in order to play at the upcoming Skanking Reggae Fest 2017 in California, reports Animal Político.
  • Pixar's newest feature film is a "love letter to Mexico" that follows a young boy who travels to the mythical land of the dead, reports the Guardian.
  • Much has been made of the boom in dystopian novel sales since Trump's election. But the trend is hardly limited to the U.S. The first Cuban edition of 1984 was one of the most sold in last week's Havana book fair, writes Ricardo Rojas in El País.

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