Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Brazil's corruption charges roller-coaster free fall (Sept. 6, 2017)

Brazilian attorney general Rodrigo Janot is ending his tenure in office with a series of high profile accusations against the current and former presidents, along with a significant sampling of the country's politically powerful. He has likened recent events to a "roller coaster that only has free fall," reports El País.

Yesterday, Janot accused former presidents Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and Dilma Rousseff, along with political allies, of running a criminal scheme that embezzled around $500 million between 2002 and 2016, reports the Wall Street Journal.

He said that during the Workers' Party (PT) presidencies used state-run companies to steal public funds, a scheme he said cost public coffers at least $9 billion. Janot said the wrong doing covered a span of time from mid-2002 and May 12, 2016 -- from just before Lula's election through to Rousseff's last day in office before she was impeached last year. He essentially accused the governments of acting as fronts for the criminal enterprise, reports the New York Times.

It is the first time Rousseff has been formally accused of participating in the kickback scheme which has impacted all of the country's major parties, notes the NYT. And up until now Lula had been charged with accepting relatively modest bribes. Janot's accusations put them at the center of a wide-ranging scheme.

The charges were rejected by Rousseff, Lula, and the PT, who said they were politically motivated. The charges will be reviewed by the Supreme Court. Lula is wrapping up a 22 day bus tour of the country's northwest, part of an early presidential campaign for next year, reports El País. The tour also shows the country's disparities -- fans of the former president aren't talking about corruption, but rather remembering the basic services they lacked before his tenure. Lula's stump speeches are focusing on social policies during the PT tenure.

Janot said other political parties, including current President Michel Temer's PMDB party, participated in the scheme, which involved putting allies in key positions at state-run companies and charging bribes that were then channeled to the parties. Temer and the PMDB also reject the charges.

Also charged in the case were: Guido Mantega, a former finance minister; Paulo Bernardo, a former communications minister; Antonio Palocci Filho, a former chief of staff for Ms. Rousseff; João Vaccari Neto, a former treasurer for the Workers’ Party; and Edinho Silva, the mayor of Araraquara.

Janot's term in office ends this month, and he is expected to file further charges against Temer, though lawmakers rejected sending him to trial in relation to bribery allegations earlier this year. However, his support in the lower chamber of Congress, which decides whether to suspend him in order to face charges, has eroded, and the president could find it harder to fend off subsequent attempts at prosecution, said Speaker Rodrigo Maia on Monday. Some Temer allies feel they were not rewarded for voting to save him from a Supreme Court trial, while parties whose members voted against him kept their cabinet posts, reports Reuters.

A leniency deal struck with billionaire businessman Joesley Batista earlier this year could be partially revoked, after new evidence shows he failed to reveal information about crimes not covered in the plea bargain, reports Reuters. Batista's testimony was at the core of accusations against Temer earlier this year, but the recorded conversations with the president would remain valid evidence, said Janot. There is also evidence that Batista was illegally helped by a prosecutor in Janot's office. 

Janot said the contents of the new recordings could not be made public until the Supreme Court had been consulted because "they contain conversations that directly implicate some people, including the authorities," reports AFP.

The questions raised regarding the Batista brothers' testimony will likely help Temer fend off further  accusations, notes El País.

More allegations: 
  • Brazilian prosecutors accused Carlos Arthur Nuzman president of Brazil’s Olympic committee of orchestrating bribes to win the 2016 games for Rio de Janeiro, reports the New York Times. Former Rio de Janeiro Gov. Sergio Cabral was accused by Brazilian and French prosecutors of paid $2 million in exchange for an International Olympic Committee member’s support of Rio's Olympic bid, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • Brazilian police found $16 million stashed in cash in the apartment of a former Temer cabinet minister, reports Bloomberg. Police said the apartment was used by Geddel Vieira Lima, formerly Temer's top congressional liaison until he resigned amid allegations of corruption last year. It took the police all night to count the cash stowed in suitcases and boxes, reports El País.


Trump kills DACA

U.S. President Donald Trump announced the phasing out of a program protecting undocumented immigrants brought to the country as children. The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA was introduced by former President Barack Obama five years ago, and gave young immigrants two year reprieves (renewable) from deportation and the possibility to work and study legally. Since the program’s inception, nearly 800,000 have signed up, reports the New York Times.

Though Trump had previously expressed sympathy for the plight of the so-called Dreamers, he said yesterday that the program amounted to executive overreach. He called the Obama executive order an "amnesty-first approach" and called on lawmakers "do something and do it right" for the approximately 800,000 people who will become eligible for deportation starting March 5 next year when the program starts getting phased out, reports the New York Times separately.

Current holders of DACA status can keep it until it expires, but no new applications will be accepted. According to the Migration Policy Institute, 1.3 million people in the US qualify or would qualify when old enough for DACA relief, reports the Guardian.

The Mexican government said yesterday that it "profoundly laments" the decision, reports the Washington Post. Nearly 80 percent of the program's recipients are Mexican. Mexican officials have been pushing the Trump administration and U.S. lawmakers to maintain the protection of the youths, but also promises to welcome them back to Mexico with open arms if they are deported. Nonetheless, such a high number of deportees would pose a significant challenge for the Mexican government. Most left Mexico as children, have poor Spanish skills and few relationships in the country. 

The decision puts new pressure on U.S. lawmakers to pass long delayed legislation granting young immigrants a path to residency and citizenship. Advocates have been pushing for such legislation for 16 years, but the Dream act has failed time and time again both in Republican and Democratic Congresses, notes the New York Times in a separate piece. Though Republicans are fiercely anti immigrant right now, this particular group arouses broad sympathy.

News Briefs
  • The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights is holding hearings this week in Mexico City -- including cases on the situation of human rights defenders in Haiti; reports of extrajudicial killings in El Salvador; reports on Violence and Insecurity of Migrants, Refugees or AsylumSeekers returned to Countries of the Northern Triangle; and reports of attacks on Human Rights Defenders by Extractive Companies in Guatemala. During the special session IACHR President Francisco Jose Eguiguren called on the Mexican government to advance in finding the bodies of the 43 disappeared Ayotzinapa students and to effectively bring to justice the perpetrators, reports El Universal. On the eve of the third anniversary of their disappearance, he said they expect concrete news of their whereabouts, reports Telam.
  • Salvadoran human rights groups are challenging official versions chalking alleged gang member deaths to shootouts with security forces, arguing that they are in-fact summary executions. In the IACHR hearing this week, at least one commissioner agreed that the statistics indicate summary executions rather than confrontations, reports Roberto Valencia at El Faro. However, he notes that a significant portion of Salvadorans wholeheartedly believe the official version of events, despite a growing body of evidence regarding fake crime scenes and executions. (See Aug. 23's post.)
  • Yesterday the IACHR announced "that following a comprehensive evaluation of the general human rights situation in Venezuela and the grave political and social crisis there, and based on a request from civil society, it has decided to prepare a third report on the human rights situation in Venezuela, with an emphasis on the following areas: a) democratic institutions; b) violence and citizen security; c) freedom of expression; and d) impact on economic, social, and cultural rights (ESCR)."
  • French President Emmanuel Macron met with Venezuelan opposition leaders on Monday, part of a European tour in which they will meet with leaders of Spain and the UK as well, reports the Associated Press. (See Monday's briefs.)
  • Pope Francis is headed to Colombia today, where he will beatify priests killed in political violence, reports the Miami Herald.
  • Haiti's underfunded school system is like that of a country at war, reports AFP. This fall some 400,000 students will be unable to return to school because of economic problems or the lack of space and 80 percent of teachers lack proper training.
  • Chilean conservative presidential candidate Sebastian Piñera is still leading polls, though the competition in a potential run-off will be fierce, reports Reuters.
  • Netflix's "Narcos" series is just part of a growing pop-culture fascination with drug trafficking cartels -- and the stories about the 1980's groups have relevance on the issues faced by their inheritors today. But "the narratives developed in those shows mean that audiences in the US and Europe understand it as a cops-and-robbers thriller, obscuring what narcos actually are: astute, ever-adapting businessmen in the legal and illicit economy, supplying products on which our society is more dependent than ever," writes author Ed Vulliamy in the Guardian. The series fails to note the significant role played by the legal banking system, which shields criminal earnings, he writes. "The world of narcos is not some exotic underworld horror-show, because there is nothing underworld about the money. Ask yourself: what happens to the money? If Escobar’s and Guzmán’s is a multi-billion dollar business, where is it?" 

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