Friday, December 15, 2017

Peruvian lawmakers call for PPK to resign (Dec. 15, 2017)

Peruvian President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski (PPK) said he will not resign, in response to growing pressure regarding allegations of corruption. Scandal-plagued Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht SA paid Kuczynski $5 million dollars in advisory fees while he was Economy Minister a decade ago. Kuczynski initially denied links to Odebrecht, but later admitted to carrying out an advisory role. (See Tuesday's briefs.)

On Wednesday a Peruvian congressional committee investigating allegations stemming from Brazil's massive "Car Wash" graft investigation said it had information showing a consultancy set up by Kuczynski received payments from Odebrecht when he was a minister. The committee said documents received from Odebrecht showed the company paid $780,000 from 2004 to 2007 the financial-consulting business set up by Kuczynski and of which he was sole director, reports the Wall Street Journal. In a defiant address yesterday, Kuczynski said payments were made by Odebrecht to Westfield Capital Ltd a company he said he owned but did not manage while he held senior government roles. 

Last weekend Kuczynski also said he had also worked for a different consultancy after he left the Toledo administration. That firm, First Capital Inversiones Y Asesoriase, received some $4 million from Odebrecht for work that included an irrigation project in northern Peru, according to the WSJ.

Peru's right wing Popular Force, which has a legislative majority, has threatened to begin impeachment proceedings if PPK does not resign, reports the BBC. Four other opposition parties joined calls for his exit, reports Bloomberg. They joined the promise to impeach if PPK does not resign, reports La Republica. And several senior officials in the government privately favored Kuczynski's ouster rather than a protracted battle for survival, reports Reuters.

The struggle could be on the level of the worst crisis Peru has faced since dictator Alberto Fujimori fled in 2000 over a corruption scandal, according to Reuters. La Republica analyzes potential paths of succession.

The president was adamant yesterday. On Twitter he wrote: "It cost us a lot to get our democracy back. We're not going to lose it again. I'm not going to give up my honor, nor my values, nor my responsibilities as president of all Peruvians." He promised to give authorities access to his banking records and submit to questioning in Congress next week, as well as by the attorney general’s office.

And in a speech to the Peruvian Army's officer school Kuczynski urged Peruvians to focus on the country's urgent problems, such as "corruption resulting from the administrative disorder, the lack of culture and honesty, drugs damaging society, as well as poverty in Andean and Amazon regions," reports Andina.

In a landmark plea deal last year with U.S., Swiss and Brazilian authorities, Odebrecht admitted last year to paying $800 million in bribes, including $29 million in in Peru over three administrations from 2005 to 2014. 

In an unrelated scandal, PPK is considering releasing authoritarian former president Alberto Fujimori, who is serving a 25 year jail sentence for crimes against humanity, reports U.S. News and World Report. While PPK says there is a humanitarian argument for a "reprieve" for the 79-year old former dictator, who oversaw rampant graft, death squads and vote-rigging, reports U.S. News.

News Briefs
  • Chilean voters will choose their next president in a run-off election on Sunday. The results are likely to be close, between right-wing former President Sebastián Piñera and leftist Alejandro Guillier. Though Piñera was originally considered a shoo-in, Novembers first round of voting saw more support than expected for a more radical leftist candidate, as well as candidates with more extreme views to the right. The result has been an attempt to woo over voters more on the extremes of the centrist views of both candidates, according to Reuters. (See yesterday's briefs.)
  • Colombia's largest criminal gang, known as the Gulf Clan or the Usuga Clan and the Autodefensas Gaitanistas, declared a unilateral cease-fire on Wednesday, reports the BBC. Colombia's government is working on implementing a legal framework that would permit members' surrender, reports Reuters.
  • Venezuelan opposition leader Henrique Capriles said the fragmented opposition coalition is trying to organize primaries to select a presidential candidate for elections expected to occur at some point next year, perhaps as early as February, reports Bloomberg. The initiative would be complicated by several limitations imposed by the Venezuelan government, including a ban on many lead opposition figures' participation in politics, and even of many parties that boycotted recent municipal elections. Potential challengers from dissident chavismo are also being sidelined by government moves, notes the Economist.  
  • Two nephews of Venezuela's first lady, Cilia Flores, were sentenced to 18 years imprisonment in a U.S. court on drug conspiracy charges, reports the Associated Press. They are accused of conspiring to smuggle cocaine into the U.S. in order to help fund the Maduro administration in Venezuela.
  • High-level Venezuelan officials in the Chávez administration, along with businessmen and alleged front-men, are accused of commissions of up to 15% for awarding state petroleum firm contracts, reports El País. Ten people are suspected of earning more than €2 billion in illegal commissions for facilitating contracts with PdVSA, according to Andorran police reports.
  • And after a Venezuelan crackdown on corruption in PdVSA -- which critics say is a power consolidation move for President Nicolás Maduro -- the oil and energy industries have become essentially paralyzed, reports Reuters.
  • An opinion piece by Steven Levitsky  in the Los Angeles Times warns that Honduran "democracy is under assault," and calls on the international community to support protesters.
  • Upside Down World interviews Gabriela Blen, a founding leader of Honduras' indignados movement, which led calls for an independent U.N.-backed anti-impunity commission. In reference to the current political crisis she says: "I think that this whole conflict between certain economic and criminal elites has managed to turn many inhabitants back into citizens. It has managed to wake up the consciousness of people who thought politics was an issue for others."
  • Widespread disgust at rampant political corruption in Brazil has inspired a young generation of citizens to get involved, reports the Economist. But would-be independents face significant hurdles to challenging the political status quo. One innovative program that aims to remedy this is "RenovaBR, a programme to support young Brazilians who want to run for congress. Financed by entrepreneurs, it offers 150 “scholars” courses on Brazil’s institutions plus advice on campaigning and policy. It has thousands of bidders for a half-year programme starting in January. Scholars will get a monthly stipend of 12,000 reais ($3,645). They will be selected by written tests and interviews. They can belong to any party, but cannot hold extremist views. In return the scholars vow to complete their mandate, justify their voting decisions to their constituents and avoid hiring family as staff members. Eduardo Mufarej, who started the project, hopes to see at least 45 scholars elected."
  • Senior U.S. and Mexican government officials promised to continue cooperation in combating drug cartels and other international criminal groups. But they avoided discussing Trump's proposed border wall and NAFTA renegotiation discussions, reports the Los Angeles Times
  • USA TODAY Network investigation finds the number of migrants who died crossing the U.S. border with Mexico since 2010 is higher than what federal officials have reported.
  • Brazil's pension reform debate has officially been postponed to next year. The delay will only lessen the unpopular bill's chances of passing, as next year's presidential race heats up, reports the Associated Press. President Michel Temer maintains that the austerity bill is vital to the country's economy, but it has been met with resistance from citizens.
  • Argentina's House of Deputies suspended a vote on a pension reform bill yesterday, amid violent clashes between protesters and security forces outside the congress building, reports Reuters. Several opposition lawmakers were caught up in the scuffle and reported blows and tear gas exposure, reports La Nación.  (La Nación has photos, including a photo journalist covered in bloody rubber bullet wounds.) The bill aims to reduce the country's fiscal deficit, but also shows resistance to President Mauricio Macri's pro-business agenda. Macri reportedly considered passing the reform by decree yesterday, a move opposed by members of his own coalition, but will instead angle for another Congressional session next week, reports La Nación. Argentina’s largest union threatened to call a general strike if the measure was approved, reports the Associated Press.
  • Argentine social activist Milagro Sala is nearing on two years of pre-trial prison. After numerous international calls for her release or at least transfer to house arrest, including an order from the Intern-American Court of Human Rights, she has been transferred to a house, though it is not her actual place of resident, reports Horacio Verbitsky in his newly launched news site, El Cohete a la Luna.
  • A lawyer for a Salvadoran woman sentenced to 30 years in prison for what she says was an obstetric complication has promised to continue fighting to free his client, reports Reuters. (See yesterday's briefs.)
  • LGBT advocates in Paraguay fear discrimination could become worst in the wake of a government decision to ban classes on sexual diversity in schools, reports the Associated Press. The ban was implemented in October after schools began using a United Nations Children’s Fund guidebook for teachers on avoiding discrimination between girls and boys and achieving gender equality.
  • Mexican front-runner presidential candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador has promised more support for the country's poorest, without increasing taxes or debt. Yesterday he said he'd name Carlos Manuel Urzua to head the finance portfolio. Urzua is an academic who served as finance minister of the Mexico City government when AMLO was mayor there, reports Reuters. The promised nomination is aimed at promoting AMLO as a pragmatic moderate, rather than the leftist firebrand critics warn about.
  • Volkswagen said that a historian commissioned by the company found that some of the security staff at Volkswagen do Brasil had cooperated with the country’s former military regime, reports Reuters.
  • The first wave of Zika epidemic babies born with brain damage are turning two. A new study points to  a lifetime of care for the most severely affected, reports the New York Times.
  • Carlos Manuel Álvarez strongly recommends a new Netflix documentary, "Cuba and the Cameraman," in a New York Times Español op-ed. The film follows the lives of three families, along with interviews with Fidel Castro, and the long-standing relationship of filmaker Jon Alpert with the island, he writes.

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