Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Temer indicted (June 27, 2017)

Brazilian President Michel Temer was accused by the country's prosecutor general of taking a $152,000 bribe via an intermediary, reports the New York Times. Rodrigo Janot said Temer had accepted a payment from the owner of a meatpacking giant, Joesley Batista in exchange for helping resolve a problem that a Batista company was having with a power plant it owned. He said the act "helped to compromise the image of the Federal Republic of Brazil," and said the president should pay $3 million in moral damages. According to the charges a further $11 million were promised. 

Janot's 64-page decision said that in general Temer showed a total disregard for the office, reports the Associated Press.

It's the first time since the return of democracy that a Brazilian president has faced criminal charges, reports the Financial Times. Temer denied the charges and said he would not resign.

Batista alleges that Temer led a group of politicians that acted as a criminal syndicate, charging bribes in exchange for financing from state banks and favorable regulatory actions, reports the Wall Street Journal.

Congress must now decide whether to accept these charges of corruption and any that might follow -- a two-thirds vote in the lower chamber and Supreme Court agreement would lead to Temer's suspension for 180 days while he is put on trial. (See last Wednesday's post.) Should Temer be suspended, House leader Rodrigo Maia would temporarily replace him, reports the Associated Press. Maia himself is facing 

Nonetheless, analysts say Temer continues to have enough votes in Congress to duck the charges, though he is increasingly unpopular and support for the administration is wavering. A recent poll found that 7 percent of Brazilians approved of Temer's government, 76 percent thought he should resign, and 47 percent felt ashamed to be Brazilian.

His increasing unpopularity could affect the government's ability to pass economic reform legislation through Congress, notes FT.

Former finance minister Antonio Palocci was sentenced to 12 years in prison yesterday, a major success for the sprawling anti-corruption Operation Car Wash probe. Palocci served as finance minister to Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and chief of staff to his impeached successor, Dilma Rousseff. The sentence means Palocci could agree to a plea bargain that could lessen his sentence in exchange for providing information on other officials' crimes, reports the Financial Times. A deal is expected to be announced by September, reports Reuters.

Palocci's testimony could serve to widen the scope of Operation Car Wash even more.

The WSJ has an interesting summary of the unsettling impact of Operation Car Wash, which "has expanded from a narrow money-laundering probe into Brazil’s most significant anticorruption push ever. In a country where the rich and powerful historically faced few consequences for wrongdoing, the investigation has led to the jailing of scores of high-profile businessmen and politicians, yielded more than $7 billion in settlements and stirred broad hopes for a fairer society. But it hasn’t magically given Brazilians a new roster of honest politicians, something even the most optimistic political scientists say would take years. Instead, the investigations have fueled a state of nearly constant political turmoil, contributing to Brazil’s deepest economic downturn in more than a century and leading to the impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff in 2016." The question being, whether the costs of cleaning up corruption are worth it, asks the piece.

Investors are carrying on as usual, despite the presidential indictment, reported the Financial Times this morning. It's a marked contrast from the violent reaction in May, when news of evidence of Temer's collusion with hush-money payments first surfaced. (See May 18's post.) "The lack of a so-called “Temer tantrum” could in part be explained by the fact that the market has already priced in most of the shock from the corruption scandal in May."


U.N. lacks funds to fight cholera in Haiti

Already scarce funding for the U.N.'s cholera fighting efforts in Haiti are drying up, and current intensified efforts will not be able to continue through this year and the next if money is not procured, reports the New York Times.

The current outbreak of the disease was introduced in Haiti by U.N. peacekeepers in the wake of a 2010 earthquake, a fact only recently acknowledged (somewhat) by the organization's authorities. It has claimed over 10,000 lives since then. (See post for Dec. 2, 2016.) Last year, outgoing Secretary General Ban Ki-moon outlined a comprehensive approach to battling cholera in the country and compensating victims, but fundraising efforts have fallen far short the $400 million the project would require. 

And while U.S. courts have so far shielded the organization from lawsuits by asserting it has diplomatic immunity, on Friday the lead lawyer for Haitian victims challenged a request for dismissal of their case by the Justice Department.

On Saturday the United Nations Security Council wrapped up a visit to Haiti, in which the issue of cholera victim compensation came up, reports the Miami Herald. The 15-member council heard other concerns in two days of discussion ahead of the withdrawal of the 13-year U.N. Stabilization Mission in Haiti or MINUSTAH. Haitian officials discussed with them the lack of independence of the judiciary; the abandoned children of peacekeepers; and the desire for a new, smaller mission to be Haiti’s last.

Haitian authorities said citizens would be better served if aid funding -- much of which is channeled through NGO's -- goes through the government, reports Reuters.

MINUSTAH is scheduled to end in October, and leaves a complicated legacy of cholera and sexual abuse, notes the Herald. A proposal dedicate about $40.5 million left over from the peacekeeping efforts towards cholera has been opposed by several countries. (See June 15's briefs.)

Hundreds of protesters gathered outside the mission's base ahead of the Security Council visit, calling for reparations and an end to U.N. missions.

The outgoing MINUSTAH will transition to the UN Mission for Justice Support in Haiti (MINUJUSTH), aimed at supporting institutional development, according to the organizationMINUJUSTH will work with the Haitian Government strengthen rule-of-law institutions, further develop and support the Haitian National Police and engage in human rights monitoring, reporting and analysis.

Last week U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres announced the appointment of a high-level envoy to focus on fundraising for the cholera plan. (See last Wednesday's briefs.) She will be the third special envoy so far in relation to the cholera crisis, notes the NYT.

Guterres is backpedaling on his predecessor's promise of retribution for victims, argues Stephen Lewis in a CNN piece. About half of the $400 million program was to be directed towards communities and victims' families -- but last week Guterres said the aim was never individuals, but rather communities.

Haiti aside: Haitian textile workers protested demanding higher wages yesterday, as factory managers threatened to leave the country if the government doesn't clamp down on demonstrations, reports Reuters.

News Briefs
  • Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo López's family says he's denouncing torture -- in a shouted message from the Ramos Verde prison where he has been held in isolation from his lawyers since April and where his family has not been permitted entrance for the past 20 days. Authorities say he is alright, but in an interview with Deutsche Welle, Amnesty International's Carolina Jiménez points out that his fundamental rights are being violated. "Isolation is a cruel, inhumane, and degrading form of treatment. That is torture." She emphasizes that cases of torture in Venezuelan jails are piling up, and that authorities are not following up on AI's denunciations. 
  • Colombia's FARC guerrillas handed over the last of their weapons yesterday, reports the AFP. But Colombia is not celebrating the end of fifty years of armed conflict, writes La Silla Vacía's Juanita León in a New York Times Español op-ed. In fact, pessimism and disapproval of President Juan Manuel Santos have reached record levels according to a recent poll. She reviews possible reasons for the indifference to peace, including Santos' lack of a charismatic narrative, and the country's largely urban population which escaped the worst impacts of conflict. "Now that the FARC have kept their word about disarming, it is possible that with time the Colombian government will keep its part of the accord and make a mega investment to develop rural areas and democratize politics. This would help eliminate many motives for the current lack of confidence [in the peace process]. The problem for President Santos is that he has very little time to recover the faith of his country. In 2018 Colombia has presidential elections, and former president Uribe's pre-candidates have already started to campaign on the promise to modify the accords if they win," she warns. She calls on civil society to help lead the country to a lasting peace, noting the difficult political situation the president finds himself in. (See yesterday's briefs.)
  • "The opponents’ ability to tip the political balance against the accord is likely to grow as Colombia prepares for its presidential election in May 2018.  The Santos government, the left, and center-left have already looked weak while trying to make even modest reforms necessary to create conditions for a lasting peace and facilitating a transition from a war system political economy to a different one," writes The opponents’ ability to tip the political balance against the accord is likely to grow as Colombia prepares for its presidential election in May 2018.  The Santos government, the left, and center-left have already looked weak while trying to make even modest reforms necessary to create conditions for a lasting peace and facilitating a transition from a war system political economy to a different one," writes Nazih Richani at the AULA blog.
  • When it comes to Latin America, Republican Senator Marco Rubio has U.S. President Donald Trump's ear, reports the Miami Herald. He is well positioned to take advantage of the vacuum in the State Department, as the administration has yet to appoint dozens of high-level State Department employees, including the Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs. And Trump has shown distaste of following the advice of career diplomats, according to the piece. Rubio was key in drafting last week's Cuba policy change. (See June 19's post.)
  • The remains of a missing Mexican journalist were discovered earlier this month, making Salvador Adame the seventh journalist murdered in the country so far this year, reports the Guardian.
  • Mexico's chief prosecutor's office said it will ask the FBI for help in investigating allegations that government-owned software was used to spy on activists and critical journalists, reports AFP. Mexico's special prosecutor for crimes against journalists, Ricardo Sanchez, announced a new "technical support" group to aid in the investigation. Alleged victims, such as the Miguel Agustin Pro Juarez Human Rights Center's executive director, rejected the proposal, noting it falls short of the independent international group they demand. (See last Wednesday's briefs.)
  • At least two U.S. citizens were among those wiretapped on former Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli's orders, reports Univision, based on a witness affidavit in the Miami extradition case against Martinelli.
  • Guatemalan migrants deported back to their country from the U.S. find themselves ostracized and unable to integrate upon their return, writes Anita Isaacs in a New York Times op-ed. "In fact, many Guatemalans want the migrants to go back. Their return spells an end to remittances that constitute about 10 percent of the country’s gross domestic product. And returning migrants are flooding an already depressed job sector, where three-quarters of the labor force works off the books." Such treatment ignores the valuable skills many have picked up in their time abroad -- important resources the government should try to tap into, she argues.
  • Peru's government made access to water a constitutional right this month, and is taking steps to vastly increase water and wastewater coverage, reports Bloomberg.
  • Ecuadorean President Lenín Moreno pardoned five people imprisoned after participating in violent protests in 2015, reports TeleSUR. He is reportedly considering the release of others on the 20-name list delivered by Ecuador's main Indigenous organization CONAIE.
  • Brazil's recession has hit the Paulista helicopter industry, but some enterprising city residents are finding alternate uses for idle helipads, reports the Financial Times.
  • Why did the Galapagos tortoise cross the road? Or rather plod alongside it? A New York Times photographer writes about capturing the shy creature on film.

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