Thursday, January 25, 2018

Appeals court upholds Lula's conviction (Jan. 25, 2018)

A Brazilian appeals court upheld a criminal conviction against former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, casting Brazil's already turbulent political scene into further uncertainty. Justices stopped short of the "politically charged" step of jailing the popular Workers Party leader, reports the Washington Post.

The ruling, which confirms a conviction from last year on corruption charges, technically makes Lula ineligible to run in October's presidential election.  Under Brazil’s Clean Record law, anyone convicted of a crime who loses his first appeal stands to be banned from political office for eight years. (See Tuesday's post.)

However, Lula is widely expected to challenge the prohibition to appear on the ballot, reports the New York Times. The issue will likely be ultimately determined by the Supreme Court. The timing could be extremely difficult, and a decision on the validity of his candidacy could feasibly occur between the election and a potential run-off. The former president is expected to argue that disqualifying him would subvert democracy. 

Lula had a considerable lead in opinion polls, and the prosecution and decision to uphold the conviction cast doubt on the legitimacy of the election, according t the NYT. In fact, President Michel Temer, said it would be preferable for Lula to appear on the ballot (and be defeated) than to be taken out of the running by courts, which would appear to make him a victim.

Lula has said the proceedings against him are politically motivated, and the Workers' Party called on supporters to mobilize against the decision yesterday. Addressing supporters last night night, Lula compared himself to South African leader Nelson Mandela, who was sent to prison and then became president.

The stock market rallied at Lula's apparent elimination from the running, reports the Wall Street Journal.

Should Lula be out of the running, the presidential race will open up to far-right candidate Jair Bolsonaro, but also potential outsiders like São Paulo Mayor João Doria, notes the Washington Post.

"Immunity pact" causes polemic in Honduras

The OAS anti-impunity commission in Honduras -- MACCIH -- has threatened to leave the country in the wake of a new law that would impede investigations into misuse of public funds. A bill passed last week would give the country's court of auditors, the Tribunal Superior de Cuentas, exclusive competence to evaluate to public spending for a period of three years, reports the Associated Press. Prosecutors would only be permitted to press charges in cases where the TSC finds irregularities, reports El Faro. The law is retroactive, potentially allowing lawmakers to challenge investigations already underway. (See yesterday's post.)

Yesterday a judge applied the legislation to release five lawmakers accused of corruption from detention, reports Reuters. They were accused by MACCIH of diverting public funds aimed at organizations of civil society. Yesterday MACCIH spokesman Juan Jiménez Mayor said the new law would affect investigations into 60 more lawmakers and officials from the past four presidential administrations. He gave details into a scheme in which lawmakers skimmed from funding aimed at social projects, reports La Prensa.

Honduran organizations of civil society and the Consejo Hondureño de la Empresa Privada (Cohep) rejected the bill and voiced support for MACCIH, reports El Confidencial. Cohep condemned state acts promoting corruption and impunity.

Heide Fulton, the U.S. chargé d‘affaires in Honduras, also criticized the measure on Twitter, calling it a "step backward in the fight against corruption."

The move comes as media outlets reported a MACCIH investigation into potential Odebrecht bribes to officials from three separate administrations, reports Honduras' El País. A Public Ministry spokesman confirmed that one of the cases prosecutors are investigating is the adjudication of the Jicatuyo-Los Llanitos hydroelectric project to the Brazilian construction giant. The contract was given in 2009, under the administration of former President Manuel Zelaya.

El Faro reports that the bill passed in Congress last week with 60 votes in favor, 11 abstentions, and two against. But the digital registry was turned off, so it's not yet known which lawmakers voted in favor. At least one member of Zelaya's Partido Libertad y Refundación left, and said others joined him. But he said the former president remained in the session. 

News Briefs
  • Environmental activists in Honduras say they have been the target of surveillance, intimidation and violence over the past month, in the wake of unrest over Honduras' questioned presidential election in late November. Members of Movimiento Amplio say they have been threatened, and that security forces have been intimidating protesters demonstrating against the election results, reports the Guardian
  • Guatemalan head prosecutor Thelma Aldana said investigators have data to trace $17.9 million in bribes allegedly paid by the Brazilian company Odebrecht to local officials, politicians and private citizens, reports the Associated Press. Former Communications Minister Alejandro Sinibaldi allegedly coordinated and distributed the funds, and is accused of taking $9 million himself.
  • Colombia’s FARC political party will field 74 candidates in legislative elections in March. The former guerrilla group is guaranteed 10 seats in Congress as part of the peace deal signed with the government in 2016, but aims to win more through popular support, reports Reuters. Party representatives said the FARC will present a 10-point platform at a campaign launch event this weekend, including policies focused on fighting poverty and unemployment and improving health and education.
  • Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro confirmed he will run for a second term in the "snap" presidential election called this week, to be held before April 30, reports the Associated Press. (See yesterday's post.) It was called by the supra-legislative National Constituent Assembly, considered illegitimate internationally. The election puts the divided opposition in a bind, WOLA expert told Voice of America, as parties must decide whether to participate or boycott a questioned process. Despite the lack of electoral guarantees, WOLA expert Geoff Ramsey told the Associated Press that it might be advantageous for the opposition to participate and field a unity candidate. That will be hard with heavyweights eliminated from the running by government bans, and the short time frame, reports the New York Times.
  • Venezuela's upcoming presidential election was denounced by regional leaders, who say it will cut short negotiations between the government and the opposition. (See yesterday's post.) Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said he would not recognize the results, reports Reuters. The Lima group said the process would lack legitimacy. U.S. State Department spokeswoman said Maduro's candidacy didn't seem like a good idea, reports Reuters. Colombia’s finance minister called for an emergency plan to help Venezuela after what he said will be its imminent collapse, reports AFP.
  • Two U.S. senators called on the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate senior Venezuelan officials on allegations of drug trafficking, reports Reuters.
  • The countries in Central America's northern triangle top world rankings for femicides, and women between 25 and 39 years of age are most at risk, writes Igarapé Institute's Renata Avilar Giannini in Revista Factum. Organized crime, institutional debility, and a society that favors violent machismo partially explain the high numbers of women killed. She calls for specific policies aimed at reducing femicides, noting that "violence reduction policies tend to leave aside or devalue the specific dynamics that affect women and have had mixed or limited results in terms of prevention and violence reduction against this specific public."
  • Igarapé and Foropaz organized a two day international forum this week in El Salvador, focused on data, innovation and design for urban security, reports La Prensa Gráfica.
  • About 20,000 people were left homeless in Asunción due to flooding along the river Paraguay, reports AFP.
  • The lower house of the Chilean Congress on Tuesday approved a bill that would allow transgender adults to legally change their name and gender without surgery or a court order, reports the Washington Blade.
  • Chilean poet Nicanor Parra died in Santiago this week at the age of 103. His "use of direct, colloquial and playful language, often for ironic and comic effect, pioneered the literary movement that became known as anti-poetry," according to the New York Times' obituary.

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