Monday, June 12, 2017

Temer saved by narrow electoral court vote (June 12, 2017)

Brazilian President Michel Temer was saved by a close vote in the country's top electoral court, which decided four to three on Friday to dismiss a case for alleged illegal campaign funding in the 2014 election. The case could have annulled winning ticket, which made Dilma Rousseff president and Temer her vice president, report Reuters and the Associated Press. (See last Wednesday's post.)

The judges' decision clears both Rousseff and Temer from charges of using graft scheme funds to finance their 2014 campaign. But the evidence presented by the judge leading the investigation showed a sort of "negative radiography" of the Brazilian political system, and judge Herman Benjamin emphasized that the same crimes were committed by parties across the political spectrum, reports El País.

The decision is a lifeline for Temer's unpopular government, according to the Wall Street Journal. The acquittal will likely help Temer retain key allies and possibly push his stalled austerity agenda through Congress. It also significantly increases his chances of finishing his mandate, until elections are held next year.

But Temer is still fighting for his political life, according to El País, which says chief prosecutor Rodrigo Janot could present charges of crimes of corruption and obstruction of justice in relation to meat-packing giant JBS's own bribery scandal. But under Brazil’s constitution, a sitting president can only be tried by the supreme court if two-thirds of congress approves, notes the Financial Times.

The court’s chief judge, Gilmar Mendes said the judiciary can't be expected to solve the current political crisis, an apparent response to versions that judges would be swayed by recent allegations of Temer's corruption. For the WSJ, it was a nod at the country's stability. "Combating corruption is something I also want…but you can’t just go substituting the president of the Republic all the time," said Mendes. The news agencies noted he had backed Rousseff's impeachment last year. He is also criticized for a personal friendship with Temer, notes El País.

Much of the heated debate last week centered over what evidence should be considered -- the case was first filed two years ago, but evidence has accumulated since then thanks to plea-bargain deals with business executives who have given testimony over alleged bribes to politicians. Most judges determined that only evidence available when the case was originally filed could be considered. This left out testimony detailing how construction giant Odebrecht illegally financing the questioned campaign, reports the New York Times.

The ruling is also casting doubt on the country's electoral courts, reports the NYT. 

And the storm has hardly passed. Just hours after the decision on Friday, Veja magazine reported that Temer used the national intelligence agency to investigate Edson Fachin, the Supreme Court magistrate in charge of the Operation Car Wash investigation, reports El País. Temer denies the allegation.

Odebrecht repercussions in the region: Latin American countries are grappling over how to deal with revelations -- which implicate governments from Argentina to Mexico. In Argentina authorities say they could demand a minimum of $ 278 million from the construction giant in payback for graft benefits, reports La Nación.

Last week a Dominican Republic judge ordered pretrial detention for 14 high profile suspects under investigation for alleged Odebrecht corruption. The suspects have been charged with with money laundering, submitting false statements and bribery in connection with the $92 million in illicit payments that representatives of the Brazilian company shelled out to Dominican officials in exchange for securing 17 public work contracts worth a total value of $163 million between 2001 and 2014, reports InSight Crime. And opposition politicians and anti-corruption groups, which have held massive street demonstrations in recent months, have seized on the arrests to call for an investigation into how Odebrecht dirty money may have contributed to President Danilo Medina's efforts to stay in office, reports Bloomberg.

Bloomberg feature takes a deep look at how Odebrecht's vast corruption machine worked: "There’s graft, and then there’s Odebrecht graft."

News Briefs
  • U.S. President Donald Trump will travel to Miami on Friday to announce changes to the country's policy towards Cuba, according to the Miami Herald. The location of the announcement could be an indication that it will please hardline Cuban exiles -- whose support was critical for Trump's victory last year. Though rolling back the rapprochement was a signature campaign policy, the administration is torn between conservative Cuban-Americans and businesses interested in the economic opportunities afforded by détente. Earlier this month the New York Times reported that human rights concerns would be cited as reason for the policy change. (See June 1's post, and last Tuesday's briefs.)
  • Central America's Northern Triangle is on the brink of a humanitarian disaster, writes Jan Egeland in a Humanitarian Exchange Magazine issue dedicated to the humanitarian consequences of violence in Central America. "We are faced with the real possibility that 2017 will see the Northern Triangle become one of the ten most serious humanitarian crises in the world. Extortion, threats, kidnapping, rape, homicide and forced recruitment of minors are part of everyday life. Widespread violence has led to a crisis of protection on a scale unprecedented for areas not at war." The issue includes a wide range of articles, including one on authorities reluctance to recognize the scope of the problem, and how to assist people displaced by violence without further endangering them.
  • The death of an 18-year-old violist in Venezuela last month drew the country's classical musicians -- the result of a highly successful state-run program -- into the polarized protests rocking the nation, reports the New York Times.
  • Chavismo is still in time to reinvent itself and take advantage of an enviable voter base, argues PROVEA's Rafael Uzcátegui. But it will require "the capacity for self-criticism, and a willingness to comply with the minimum rules of the democratic game. At this writing neither of these are present. Some voices from inside Chavismo are starting to work in this direction. but still do not have the strength needed to face Chavismo’s more authoritarian sectors," he writes in a piece featured at Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights. "If Chavismo were to allow a political transition, in which their more democratic sectors would participate, the institutional framework for reconciliation would be precisely the democratic rules delineated in 1999, that include participatory and pro-active mechanisms that favor the majority. Today these rules defended by Chavistas and anti-Chavistas alike. ... Behind closed doors, members of “critical Chavismo” comment that Nicolas Maduro, and the core elite surrounding him, are digging the grave of Bolivarianism. The opinion of revolutionary and leftist intellectuals, as well as progressive social movements in the region, are key for getting out the message that there will be a lot of Chavismo after Nicolas Maduro if they decide: 1) to not self-immolate by trying to keep power, and 2) try create democratic strategies to recover their capacity to speak to the masses."
  • His plea comes as progressive and left-leaning intellectuals and academics across Latin America are becoming more critical of the country's “increasingly de-legitimized government, with marked authoritarian features,” writes Geoff Ramsey at Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights.
  • The roots of Venezuela's current crisis lie in the 1950's dictatorship of Marcos Pérez Jiménez an a subsequent backlash against the repression and lack of freedom he represented, combined with a belief in the vision of "order and progress" he instilled in Venezuela, argues Montague Kobbé in a New York Times Español op-ed. "The ascent of Hugo Chávez to power could be considered the last step of the decoupling of Venezuelan society with Pérez Jiménez's values. That is to say, the final triumph of disorder. In its search for freedom, the right, maybe even of justice, Venezuelans supported a candidacy that offered more freshness than method, rejuvenation without much planning, and that, above all, promised to be the other, something completely transgressive. Venezuela, affected already by a ferocious lack of order, fell into a generalized confusion with Hugo Chávez." Kobbé argues that this generation, like the ones after Pérez Jiménez, must face a trauma, and hopes it will be constructively channeled. 
  • Over 100 national and international civil society allies from the United States, Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador (as well as other countries in Latin America and Europe) -- including the Latin America Working Group Education Fund (LAWGEF) -- urged U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to demonstrate leadership to ensure that human rights do not take a backseat in any agreements reached during an upcoming Conference on Prosperity and Security in Central America that the United States is co-hosting with the Government of Mexico.
  • Last week the U.S. requested the extradition of former Guatemalan vice president Roxana Baldetti. (See last Thursday's briefs.) The request offers new details on her drug trafficking connections, linking her to the Mexican cartel the Zetas and highlight the nature of the mafia state she participated in, reports InSight Crime.
  • U.S. withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement could be devastating for Latin America, writes InterAmerican Dialogue's Lisa Viscidi in a New York Times Español op-ed. Trump's decision to leave the pact could make the region's relations with the U.S. more tense, she writes, noting that the countries in the region are vulnerable to climate change and overwhelmingly agree it is a serious problem.
  • Temer must decide whether or not to sign a bill passed by the Brazilian Senate last month, which would free a large chunk of the Amazon to agriculture, reports the Financial Times. Though he backs the Paris climate agreement, he also sorely needs support of lawmakers from the powerful large farmers bloc in Congress -- the ruralistas.
  • Properly implemented crime mapping in Rio de Janeiro could allow policy makers to move beyond the classic "mano dura" tropes, reports Bloomberg. Th piece focuses on a major data-based crime monitoring tool, ISPGeo, and how it can help overcome bureaucratic obstacles as well as preconceived notions about crime. 
  • Puerto Ricans overwhelmingly voted in favor of becoming a U.S. state, in a non-binding referendum this Sunday, reports the Financial Times.
  • Mexico’s National Indigenous Congress and the Zapatista National Liberation Army have nominated María de Jesús Patricio Martínez to run for president next year. If the nomination is ratified, she will become the first indigenous woman ever to run for president in Mexico, reports the Guardian. Though the run is symbolic, she aims to draw attention to the problems faced by the country's indigenous community, including structural discrimination, disproportionate poverty and substandard access to health, education and employment.
  • The Palo Alto housing cooperative wedged between Mexico City real estate developments is emblematic of the city's struggle to guarantee access for everybody, reports the New York Times. The piece looks at the history of the co-op, which houses a small working class village within the city, and places it within a right to the city context.
  • Trump elephant in the room: Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto didn't name his U.S. counterpart, but he pointedly called for the defense of free trade, democracy, and the environment in a press conference Friday with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, reports the Los Angeles Times. Merkel, in turn, emphasized the importance of countries having a wide range of alliances. She said that putting up walls would not solve problems due to immigration and that migration pressures are resolved when empires get along well with their neighbors, reports Reuters.
  • And antagonism between the U.S. and Mexico was on display as the two countries' fútbol teams faced off on Sunday -- but talks with fans also show the intertwined nature of both countries, reports the Los Angeles Times.

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