Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Brazilian lawmakers decide on Temer tomorrow (Aug. 1, 2017)

Tomorrow Brazil's Chamber of Deputies votes on whether President Michel Temer should face trial on charges of corruption committed while in office. (See yesterday's briefs.) Temer is widely expected to muster up the support of one third of the deputies, enabling him to duck the allegations and stay in office through the end of his mandate. But it means "the persistent pall of corruption that hangs over Brazil’s political leaders will linger on," notes the Guardian.

Temer is accused of corruption after a close aide was given $150,000 in cash – part of $12m in bribes prosecutors allege he and the aide would have received in exchange for political favors. But he has worked around the clock to secure lawmakers' support ahead of this vote. He's made deals for $1.3 billion in financing for projects in their home states, reports the Wall Street Journal based on Open Accounts, a public-accounts watchdog, data.

If he survives this weeks' vote, he will likely have enough political capital to survive further corruption charges, which are expected to be filed, according to the WSJ.

This is the second time in little over a year that Brazil's lawmakers consider ousting a president. Dilma Rousseff was suspended and later impeached last year on charges of budget manipulation. Rousseff's impeachment drew out supporters and opposers to the streets in high profile protests. Though Temer's popularity is only at 5 percent, there is a certain level of apathy among citizens that will favor him, according to the Guardian. 

As the onslaught of corruption allegations against Brazil's highest profile politicians continues, the biggest enemy of Operation Car Wash is the political system itself, reports the Wall Street Journal. (See yesterday's briefs on how the Temer administration is seeking to undermine the landmark corruption probe.) Citizens are weary, and that makes the investigation vulnerable to political tampering, Transparency International told the WSJ.

And Temer is already preparing economic measures to push through Congress if he survives, reports Bloomberg.


Venezuelan opposition leaders arrested

Prominent Venezuelan opposition leaders Leopoldo López and Antonio Ledezma were taken from their homes yesterday by intelligence agents and taken to the Ramo Verde military prison, according to their families. They had both spent stints in prison for inciting violence in protests in 2014, and were released to house arrest due to health concerns.  The arrests by masked security forces in the middle of the night could intensify international condemnation of the government, reports the Washington Post.

The move comes after a polemic election for an assembly with the power to rewrite the country's government, which was boycotted by the political opposition, reports the BBC

Both leaders had joined calls for protests against the government, notes Reuters. This violated the terms of their house arrest, and opposition leaders have braced themselves for potential retaliation by the government, reports the Wall Street Journal.

At a government rally yesterday President Nicolás Maduro threatened opponents with jail time, reports the Wall Street Journal separately.

The U.S. imposed financial sanctions on Maduro yesterday -- the latest in a spate of actions against high-ranking Venezuelan officials that freeze their U.S. assets and prohibit business with U.S. companies, reports the Guardian. (See yesterday's post.) Broader sanctions against the oil industry are still on the table, according to Reuters, and could have a devastating effect on Venezuela's crumbling economy. (See last Thursday's post.) But focusing on Maduro for now means "the US is not comfortable with broader sanctions," Michael Shifter, president of the Inter-American Dialogue told the Guardian.

National Security Adviser Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster signaled at a White House press conference that the U.S. administration showed restraint out of concern some U.S. penalties could hurt ordinary Venezuelans, reports the WSJ.

It's not clear whether Maduro actually has any U.S. assets, but under the sanctions, he is cut off from accessing the U.S. financial system, as well as most transactions in dollars, reports the Washington Post.

The new assembly is due to be sworn in Thursday, though it could also happen sooner, according to the Guardian. The constituent assembly effectively cripples the opposition's options. "Not since the politicians joined the military to back a failed coup in 2002 — which spurred Mr. Chávez to purge his opponents — have members of Venezuela’s opposition been laid so low," according to the New York Times.

Indeed the options for both domestic and international critics are limited, especially if oil sanctions are left off the table, reports the Guardian separately. And a democratic institutional solution appears increasingly difficult, with the government controlling all branches of government, reports the Washington Post. "... the opposition here is running out of time to turn the tide, and is now facing new and significant threats."

Aside: A growing number of Chavistas say Maduro has betrayed the former leader's legacy. On the contrary argues Javier Corrales in a New York Times Español op-ed -- the plan to rewrite the constitution follows the Chavista legacy to the letter. 

News Briefs
  • Earlier this year U.S. President Donald Trump reinstated a ban on funding to any non-US aid groups that offer abortion services or advice funded from other partners. The so-called "Global Gag Rule" will affect health centers and "safe spaces" around the world -- including a Colombian group that provides therapy for victims of sexual violence during the country's armed conflict, reports the Guardian.
  • Colombian journalist Catalina Lobo-Guerrero has a stirring New York Times Español op-ed denunciation of apparently endemic femicide and gender violence in El Salvador -- the country with worst statistics in the region. "Dead Salvadoran women aren't a problem. They are, perhaps, the last priority. The governments of recent years have attempted security plans or truces with the maras, the criminal gangs that are present in nearly all Salvadoran cities and even rural areas, to reduce the atrocious number of dead men resulting from the war between gangs or between gangs and the state. That indicator has oscillated, down with the truce, up with repression. On the other hand, the number of women assassinated has remained practically the same," she writes in a stinging rebuke. 
  • The death of 10 migrants in an unrefrigerated truck shows "the callousness of smuggling along the US-Mexico border," reports the Guardian. Already survivors who are well enough to leave the hospital are being detained by federal authorities, and activists are gearing up to fight deportation.
  • Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto denied calling his U.S. counterpart to congratulate him on his border policy, as Trump recently claimed. "As you know, the border was a tremendous problem and they’re close to 80 percent stoppage. And even the president of Mexico called me — they said their southern border, very few people are coming because they know they’re not going to get through our border, which is the ultimate compliment," said Trump, an account rejected by Peña Nieto's office, reports AFP.
  • Mexico appointed a career bureaucrat to lead NAFTA renegotiation talks, reports the Wall Street Journal. Kenneth Smith, a 47-year-old trade expert with a master’s degree in international economics at Johns Hopkins University, will lead the day-to-day negotiations, announced the Economy Minister yesterday.
  • Mexican journalist Luciano Rivera Salgado was gunned down yesterday in Rosarito, at least the eighth journalist killed so far this year, reports the Los Angeles Times.
  • The United Nations on Monday began removing containers holding more than 7,000 weapons from demobilization zones where the arms were handed over by former FARC fighters, reports the Associated Press.
  • Former Peruvian President Ollanta Humala and his wife have appealed their pre-trial detention on corruption allegations, reports Reuters.
  • A government crackdown on some Havana paladares is a message that Cuban rules on private enterprise will be strictly enforced, reports the Miami Herald.
  • Brazilian authorities are investigating a plane crash in which three environmental enforcement agents were killed, reports Reuters.
  • Port-au-Prince, Haiti, is one of the largest cities in the world without a central sewage system, reports NPR. "Most of the more than 3 million people in the metro area use outhouses, and much of that waste ends up in canals, ditches and other unsanitary dumping grounds where it can contaminate drinking water and spread disease."

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