Friday, July 14, 2017

Congressional committee votes against suspending Temer (July 14, 2017)

A congressional committee in Brazil voted against recommending President Michel Temer face a Supreme Court trial on corruption charges, reports the BBC. The panel voted 40 to 25 yesterday to reject a colleague's report that recommended the president be suspended and tried on a corruption charge, reports the Associated Press.

The decision is non-binding -- the full lower chamber of deputies must vote on the issue, which would suspend Temer for six months of trial. That vote is expected August 2, according to the Wall Street Journal. Nonetheless, yesterday's recommendation is a reprieve for the government which is confident it has the votes to avoid trial. (See yesterday's post.) 

Corruption cases against Temer and former Brazilian president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva this week highlight the extent of the political turmoil in Brazil, notes the Associated Press in a separate piece.

Lula said yesterday he was the victim of politically motivated judicial attacks and promised to run for president next year despite a 10-year jail sentence for corruption, reports the Guardian. (See yesterday's post.) He characterized the verdict against him as part of Brazilian elites’ backlash against his legacy. "If they think that with this sentence they will take me out of the game, let them know that I’m in the game," he told supporters.

Lula's fiery rhetoric aside, "the muted response to Lula's arrest from his supporters shows just how far the once-beloved politician has fallen," according to the Washington Post.

Both supporters and critics of the charismatic former president gathered on Brazilian streets in reaction to the ruling, reports the Wall Street Journal. And leftist politicians in Brazil and the region jumped to Lula's defense as well.
Suddenly, political adversaries, all accused of corruption, find themselves relying on the same strategy: discrediting the judiciary, reports the New York Times. The allegations against leading politicians from several parties has given rivals common ground, though prosecutors and judges reject claims that they are acting as kingmakers.

Brazilian journalist Lucia Guimarães analyzes how "for vast swaths of Brazilians, the choice seems to be between corrupt right-wing demagoguery and corrupt but generous leftist patronage. Faced with those options, millions of Brazilians still see Lula and his Workers' Party as their only choice; they are so ready to vote him back into office that he continues to lead polls of voter intentions for the 2018 presidential election," she writes in Americas Quarterly. "Lula’s ruin is not, as some couch revelers suggest, an invitation to an out-of-season carnival. He represented – and still represents, as the polls show us – the first opportunity of political representation and economic inclusion for millions of underprivileged Brazilians. His downfall is a sad tale of his party’s failure to live up to once-promising ideals, made more dispiriting by the fact that despite his flaws, Brazil is so devoid of other inspiring political voices that Lula remains the least-worst option for so many."

And also in Americas Quarterly, Brian Winter analyzes Judge Sergio Moro's deference in permitting Lula to remain free during the appeals process. And if its hard to see from the outside how a politician convicted of corruption could still be a frontrunner for president, "consider that this is Brazil in 2017 – a legal free-for-all in which the current president has been charged with corruption, most of Congress faces the prospect of criminal charges, the economy is trapped in its worst recession in a century, and the three branches of government are engaged in an open “war” for primacy and survival. Some of Brazil’s strictest constitutionalists are urging for the Constitution to be shoved aside so that early elections can be called to end the chaos. In this context, a little jeitinho – the classic Brazilian term for finding a way around the rules – to keep Lula free seems completely plausible." And for the moralists out there, Winter also notes that the scope of the accusations against Lula -- a beachfront apartment the former leader allegedly received in exchange for a Petrobras contract -- "is child’s play compared to the charges against numerous other Brazilian politicians, including the former right-hand man of President Michel Temer, who was caught on video carrying a suitcase of cash."

Having trouble understanding the sheer scope of Operation Car Wash, the multiple other corruption investigations and who is accused of what? The Council on Foreign Relations reports on how the probes "have led to prison sentences for top executives and politicians, mass layoffs, and billions of dollars paid in fines."

News Briefs
  • Former Peruvian president, Ollanta Humala, and his wife, Nadine Heredia, have turned themselves in, after a judge ordered pre-trial detention while money laundering charges are prepared, reports the BBC. The allegations stem from Brazil's Operation Car Wash investigation -- the couple is accused of accepting $3 million in funds from Odebrecht to fund Humala's 2011 election campaign, reports the Associated Press. Humala rejects the charges.
  • In Colombia prosecutors say President Juan Manuel Santos received Odebrecht campaign donations for his 2014 campaign, reports El Tiempo. The accusations may be explosive, but they are unlikely to be juridically relevant, explains Juanita León in la Silla Vacía.
  • A plebiscite this weekend will ask Venezuelans if they support the government’s plan to elect a Constituent Assembly to rewrite the constitution. But while the political opposition hopes it will be a watershed moment marking popular resistance to the plan, the government insists its a legally meaningless exercise, reports the Miami Herald. Organizers hope that if millions of people participate, and voice opposition, the government could be persuaded to change course, reports the Wall Street Journal. The government, on the other hand, says the National Constituent Assembly (ANC) is the only solution to months of unrest that have led to over 90 deaths. Critics say the government has structured the assembly to favor its supporters and fear the rewrite will be used to tighten its hold on power. The ANC itself is illegal, according to attorney general Luisa Ortega Díaz, a prominent government critic. The ANC would dissolve the country's existing (and opposition led) legislature, and remove legal immunity for lawmakers, notes the WSJ. (See yesterday's briefs.)
  • "... The Zika virus outbreak in Brazil disproportionately impacted women and girls and aggravated longstanding human rights problems, including inadequate access to water and sanitation, racial and socioeconomic health disparities, and restrictions on sexual and reproductive rights," according to a new Human Rights Watch report. "These problems existed long before the government confirmed local transmission of the Zika virus. However, the outbreak, and the national and international response to it, brought renewed attention to ongoing, unaddressed challenges to public health and human rights in Brazil. Human Rights Watch analyzed these human rights problems through the lens of the Zika outbreak. Our research found gaps in the Brazilian authorities’ response that have particularly harmful impacts on women and girls, and leave the general population vulnerable to continued outbreaks of serious mosquito-borne illnesses in the future." The Brazilian government's response focused on controlling the mosquito population -- vector control. "However, Brazilian authorities at all levels have not addressed systemic problems with public water and sanitation systems that exacerbated the Zika crisis by contributing to ideal conditions for mosquito breeding. Years of dengue outbreaks should have made it abundantly clear that water and sanitation conditions are dangerous and require attention and investment, even among competing priorities." The report also looks at how the Zika outbreak has increased demand for illegal abortions, and notes the government's obligation to "eliminate excessive restrictions on access to safe and legal abortion."
  • São Paulo Mayor João Doria's recent raid on an area that was home to a group of homeless people, some of whom used drugs -- cracolândia (crackland) -- is a return to a failed "war on drugs" model, writes Open Society Foundations' Sarah Evans in Americas Quarterly. "And worse: his raid also destroyed one of Latin America’s most promising health and social initiatives focused on drug users, São Paulo’s De Braços Abertos (With Open Arms) program, which was showing evidence of stabilizing participants’ lives and even reducing their use of crack." (See briefs for May 23May 30, and June 19.)
  • A new InSight Crime investigation reveals the inner-workings of the BACRIM -- the paramilitary-mafia networks that are the latest evolution in Colombian organized crime. "Today, the Colombian underworld -- flooded with cocaine from booming coca production and rife with criminal opportunities created by the withdrawal of thousands of demobilizing leftist insurgents -- stands on the cusp of seismic change. The Urabeños and other BACRIM will play a decisive role in shaping this new order. This special multimedia report takes you deep inside an Urabeños' cell in the prized criminal territory of Bajo Cauca, a region in the northern part of the department of Antioquia. It offers a unique insight into how a BACRIM network operates and what their role in the underworld is. Based on three years of investigation and interviews with current and former BACRIM members with different ranks and responsibilities, this report presents the BACRIM in the words of its members, as well as their victims and the Colombian authorities."
  • The first census of demobilized FARC fighters shows significant challenges in terms of housing and education in order to integrate them into Colombian society, reports InSight Crime. "Even though 90 percent can read and write, leaving just 10 percent who are illiterate, 57 percent of those surveyed have only a primary education. Just three percent have obtained a university degree. Likewise, 77 percent stated that they do not have access to housing after the reintegration process ends."
  • At least 30,000 Haitian children live in orphanages -- many funded from philanthropic donations from abroad. A new study by NGO Lumos sheds light on how the money actually puts children at risk and creates incentives for their families to put them in institutions, reports the Guardian.
  • An Argentine customs fraud scheme that allegedly allowed a criminal network to steal millions from the government shows how "organized crime can profit from government monetary policy, as well as a good dose of corruption," reports InSight Crime.
  • Peruvian protesters, demanding the government cancel a planned new airport, stranded thousands of tourists on their way to Machu Picchu this week, reports the Associated Press.
  • MS-13's money laundering side is getting increasingly sophisticated, though the Salvadoran gang continues to rely on violence to obtain funding, reports InSight Crime.
  • Wrong kind of feminist gains: Women are taking on an increasingly prominent role in Honduran gangs as current leaders are transferred to a maximum security prison. Though InSight Crime questions the veracity of the reports, if true it could be devastating for families that depend on those women.
  • 30 Syrian refugees have benefited from a scholarship program allowing them to continue their interrupted university studies in Mexico. The Guardian talks to them about adapting and how they compare violence at home to their new host country.
  • What about Oscar Pérez? The mysterious former police intelligence officer who led a helicopter attack on Venezuelan public buildings reappeared at an opposition vigil for those killed in the ongoing protests, reports the BBC. (See June 29's post.)
  • The wall U.S. President Donald Trump envisions dividing the U.S. and Mexico need not cover ALL of the 3,200 km border, as existing natural barriers effectively block transit in some areas, he told journalists. The wall should also be transparent, and have solar panels he said. This will help border guards protect themselves from drug shipments tossed over the wall. "As horrible as it sounds, when they throw the large sacks of drugs over, and if you have people on the other side of the wall, you don’t see them. They hit you on the head with 60 pounds of stuff? It’s over," said Trump. The BBC explains that while catapults have been used by drug smugglers in the past, there have been no reports of guards being hit on the head with shipments. Tunnels are also more frequent than over the wall methods. The comments, made to journalists aboard Air Force One are the most definitive description he has given yet on the oft-promised and diplomatically divisive structure, reports the Associated Press. It's worth noting that there are already 1,046 km of fencing -- all of it see through -- along the border.

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