Thursday, October 26, 2017

Temer dodges trial again (Oct. 26, 2017)

Brazilian lawmakers protected President Michel Temer from standing trial on corruption and obstruction of justice charges, the second time in a few months he has managed to dodge such a case. 

The final tally yesterday was 251 in support of Temer and 233 against -- the president easily passed the 171 vote threshold he needed to avoid trial, reports the Associated Press. Under Brazilian law, two-thirds of the Chamber of Deputies must refer charges against the president to the Supreme Court. 

But legislators' support came at a high financial and political cost, notes the New York Times. Millions of dollars of federal funding were promised to lawmakers, and the administration backed controversial projects favored by key groups. For example, last week the government weakened regulations aimed at preventing modern-day slavery, and announced steep discounts for companies fined for environmental damage. 

Rather than legal arguments, Temer is using government financing and political maneuvering to avoid charges, reports the BBC. The cost to state coffers has been estimated at $10 million. His quest for the support of legislators is likely helped by the fact that dozens -- more than half of those who sided with Temer in August -- are themselves charged with corruption. 

Opposition lawmakers sought to stall proceedings yesterday, accusing the government of Machiavellian machinations, reports the Washington Post.

However, analysts say Temer's bruised administration has been left to limp along for an extended lame duck period -- there is year and a half left of his term. In particular, many doubt that he will be able to pass unpopular economic reforms demanded by investors and the business sector. Major social security and tax reform, along with more labor overhauls are now unlikely, according to a separate Associated Press piece.

And the backroom scheming is further alienating a critical citizenry. Temer's approval rating was already rock bottom: a recent poll said he was supported by just 3 percent of the population. And he was never elected to the presidency, rather he's finishing out the term of his predecessor, Dilma Rousseff, who was impeached last year.

Prosecutors accused Temer and his predecessors of running a criminal organization that treated the government like a cartel, handing out favors and postings in exchange for financing. But the president appears to be a "mastermind of survival," according to the BBC, which notes the seriousness of the charges brought against Temer.

His political group allegedly funneled over $180 million from state-run institutions such as Petrobras and the Brazilian Lottery into the pockets of lawmakers. He is also accused of pressuring billionaire businessman Joesley Batista into buying the silence of two key witnesses that are cooperating with investigators from jail.

News Briefs
  • A fire destroyed almost a quarter of a Unesco World Heritage national park in central Brazil. Officials at Chapada dos Veadeiros national park believe the blaze was started deliberately, reports the BBC.
  • U.S. anti-choice groups are pouring millions of dollars into anti-abortion efforts in Latin America and the Caribbean, reports the Guardian. For example Human Life International (HLI), a Catholic not-for-profit group from Virginia, has channeled more than $1.3m to anti-abortion partners in the region. At least three groups are focusing efforts on training anti-abortion activists and opening "pregnancy crisis centers" in which women are convinced not to have terminations. Rights advocates say these centers' objectives are often hidden, and women believe they are regular clinics. Anti-abortion activists also deter women approaching legal abortion clinics in Bogotá, for example, pushing women who seek to avoid confrontation towards less safe options for termination.
  • The Trump administration must decide next month whether to renew Temporary Protected Status for 60,000 Hondurans living in the U.S. Ending the immigration program and sending them back could worsen economic problems in Honduras, and could potentially increase illegal immigration back to the U.S., reports the Miami Herald. As many as 300,000 people from the Western Hemisphere living in the U.S. could be affected by upcoming TPS decisions.
  • Ousted Mexican prosecutor Santiago Nieto said he was fired without justification, reports Reuters. The Senate is preparing to vote whether to reinstate the anti-corruption prosecutor. (See yesterday's briefs and Monday's post.)
  • Despite rising violence rates in Mexico, perceptions of insecurity and the number of victims have stayed relatively stable, reports InSight Crime.
  • Chilean conservative presidential candidate Sebastian Piñera maintained his lead in voter preference ahead of the Nov. 19 election, and was seen beating his two closest rivals in a likely runoff, reports Reuters.
  • Colombia's government and the ELN guerrilla force began a fourth round of peace talks yesterday, reports AFP.
  • Cuban officials say U.S. accusations of "sonic attacks" against diplomats posted to the island are slanderous "science fiction," reports Reuters
  • Hurricane Maria didn't differentiate among social classes when it destroyed much of Puerto Rico, but the recovery process is far more stratified, reports Reuters. The damage is only making life worst for the 40 plus percent of the island living below the poverty line.
  • Two Brazilian police officers were arrested in connection to the fatal shooting of a Spanish tourist in a Rio de Janeiro favela. The case will likely invite scrutiny of a security force accused by rights groups of shooting first and asking questions later, reports the Associated Press.
  • A Brazilian toilet paper campaign using the slogan "black is beautiful" has provoked anger among activists and commentators who say its a cynical use of a cultural movement and subliminally racist, reports the Guardian.

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