Brazil's lower chamber of congress approved a presidential decree authorizing federal military intervention in Rio de Janeiro state's security. The senate is expected to pass the measure later today, reports Reuters. (See Friday's briefs.)
It is the first military intervention since the country's return to democracy three decades ago, and critics say it is a play to improve President Michel Temer's rock-bottom popularity ratings more than a policy solution, reports the New York Times. Opponents to the measure sought a Supreme Court stay before the vote, arguing the decree was politically motivated and that it was procedurally improper.
Temer signed the decree on Friday, after Carnival celebrations were marred by mass robberies and shootouts between gangs and security forces. It grants the military broad powers to restore order, and police forces, which have had shortages of personnel and equipment, under the command of a general. The measure could stay in place through the end of the year, when Temer's mandate ends.
Yesterday Defense Minister Raul Jungmann said the government is preparing a series of collective search and seizure warrants for entire Rio neighborhoods, reports El País. The collective warrants, would, for example, allow security forces to search any house in specific communities, even if residents themselves are not suspected of a crime. The measure has been used in the past, but was banned by Rio de Janeiro justices. Experts say it is likely there will be legal challenges.
While officials are touting intervention as a solution to rampant violence, rights groups, including Amnesty International, say it doubles down on violations committed by security forces. Rio is already the state with the most deaths during police operations, notes the Associated Press. Favela residents criticized the decree, saying previous interventions did not represent solutions, reports the Guardian.
And many military leaders themselves are opposed to being considered a public safety solution, notes the NYT. "Combating organized crime requires effective action by the government in economic and social spheres, in order to make drug trafficking less appealing in areas where a large segment of the population is grappling with unemployment," wrote the top military commander, General Eduardo Villas Bôas. "Even as the military has been called to act in different areas, sometimes for lengthy periods,” he added, “we don’t observe considerable changes due to lack of engagement by government agencies responsible for other areas."
Experts say there is no quick fix, and question the approach. Sociologist Julita Lemgruber is cited in AFP arguing that it may give short-term results, but won't allow for necessary police reorganization.
Rights and constitutional concerns notwithstanding, some Brazilian leaders argue the military intervention model could serve as a policy solution in other violent parts of the country, reports the Associated Press. While Rio is not Brazil's most violent state, according to data from the Brazilian Forum of Public Security, the piece notes the symbolic weight of its deteriorated security situation.
In an electoral year, many experts question the true motivation of the measure. A poll last month found 38 percent of Brazilians feel public security is a major concern in determining their vote.
And the intervention decree blocks any constitutional changes during its duration, effectively tabling an unpopular and oft-postponed pension reform bill vote in Congress. It is also probable, however, that the government would not be able to muster up votes for the measure, reports Reuters separately. The reform was a centerpiece of Temer's political agenda and is considered a key move by investors and economists, according to the Financial Times. Lawmakers are anxious to avoid the unpopular reform in an electoral year.
- Riot police freed 18 hostages held in a Rio prison riot this weekend, reports the BBC. Officials at the Milton Dias Moreira prison said the riot could have been in response to the new security measures.
- Brazilian officials are seeking to crack down on fake news, and argue that freedom of expression cannot come at the expense of illegitimate elections, reports the New York Times. Judicial and police authorities recently created a task force of law enforcement and intelligence personnel, which is developing strategies to prevent fake news from being produced and to limit its reach once misleading content starts spreading online. (See Jan. 11's post.) However, their efforts are bumping up against a 2014 law that gives internet users in Brazil strong privacy and freedom of expression protections, notes the NYT. A bill in Congress would penalize intentionally spreading false information with two years of jail, though it is unlikely to pass before this year's election. (See Feb. 12's briefs.)
- False internet rumors about the dangers of yellow fever vaccines are circulating in Brazil, undermining a public health push to inoculate residents in the midst of an outbreak of the of the potentially deadly mosquito borne disease, reports the Washington Post. (See Feb. 12's briefs on the issue of fake news in this year's election campaign.)
- A Peruvian court ordered former autocratic leader Alberto Fujimori to stand trial in the case of six victims of an alleged death squad killing in 1992. Fujimori received a controversial Christmas Eve, presidential pardon for crimes against humanity at the end of last year, but the court said that does not apply in this case, reports the BBC. Prosecutors charged 23 other people along with Fujimori in the case, including former paramilitary and military officers, reports El País.
- The U.S. government has rebuffed Mexican authorities' request to help investigate the use of government surveillance technology against critics. The U.S. is concerned about being used as a cover in a sham inquiry, reports the New York Times. A serious inquiry would likely implicate top government officials. And more than six months after the case came to light, the Mexican investigation has yet to make any headway. The group of forensic analysts that discovered the improper use of the Israeli developed technology countered government assertions that authorities were in contact with them regarding the case.
- Venezuela's MUD opposition coalition is still debating whether to participate in upcoming snap elections called by the government, in a context of unresolved electoral irregularities and lack of guarantees. A majority of the coalition's parties are inclined against participating, but the slow decision making process is indicative of the opposition's broader problems, reports El País.
- The international community has an important role to play in restoring democratic rights in Venezuela, argues David Smilde, who outlines positive and counterproductive measures in a Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights post. "As I have said before, at WOLA we do not have a principled opposition to sanctions, but we do have a principled suspicion of them. That is because most research is clear that sanctions do not “work,” in other words, do not achieve their stated objective, most of the time." He notes that effective sanctions tend to be multilateral, and the importance of an effective communication campaign to accompany them. "Let there be no doubt that the Maduro government is currently winning the communications battle around sanctions. It mentions the debt sanctions at every opportunity and blames them for all of Venezuela’s scarcities and shortages. In December, polls showed that 55,6% of Venezuelans rejected economic sanctions. Even people identifying themselves as opposition supporters are more likely to reject these debt sanctions than support them. This rejection has likely increased since December since the economic situation has dramatically deteriorated since then." He also urges for more international mediation, and potentially a system of transitional justice.
- Venezuela is launching a petroleum backed crypto-currency today, a move aimed at sidestepping international sanctions, reports CNBC. It's estimated the government could raise about $6 billion with the move, reports Al Jazeera. Though it has been compared to the bitcoin, critics say it lacks the transparency and trust a stable digital currency needs, and that it will likely become a "shitcoin," reports the Guardian.
- The New York Times reports on refugees fleeing Venezuela's crisis into neighboring countries.
- Oxfam released a 2011 investigation into misconduct of its employees in Haiti, documenting accusations that three employees investigated for sexual misconduct also physically threatened a witness, reports the New York Times. The names of staff members were redacted.
- Oxfam has lost 7,000 regular donors since it was revealed staff sexually exploited victims of the Haiti earthquake in 2010, reports the Guardian. The British charity offered its “humblest apologies” to the Haitian government, reports the Guardian separately.
- Colombian authorities confiscated goods from businesses covering for the old FARC guerrilla, worth about $230 million, reports El País. A chain of supermarkets was key in supplying the guerrillas and whitewashing illicit funds. Marketed as a low-cost alternative, the stores offered some basic goods at below wholesale price. And testimony against the supposed owners indicates they may have also collaborated in identifying potential kidnapping victims.
- The Los Angeles Times reports on the difficulties former FARC guerrillas are facing in reintegrating into society. Of the 7,400 fighters who reported to the camps starting in January 2017, about half remain. Given trouble many former fighters face, it is better if they stick together, Maria Victoria Llorente, director of the Ideas for Peace Foundation think tank in Bogota, said in the piece.
- A 7.2-magnitude earthquake struck Mexico’s Oaxaca state Friday morning, but did not cause any deaths, reports the New York Times.
- A government helicopter carrying officials surveying earthquake damage killed at least 13 people and wounded dozens sleeping outside after the tremors, reports the Washington Post.
- "The Trade,” a Showtime series about heroin shows how opium poppy is cultivated in Mexico's Guerrero state and how heroin is manufactured, packaged and shipped north to the United States. The Washington Post interviewed producer Myles Estey.
- In the wake of a Chilean sexual abuse scandal, and accusations of lack of compassion by alleged victims, Pope Francis reactivated an abuse commission that had lapsed into dormancy, reports the New York Times. A Vatican statement said the panel would include some victims of clerical sexual abuse.
- A perennial campaign to legalize abortion within the first trimester in Argentina, has gained traction and visibility recently, and activists are pushing lawmakers to approve a reintroduced bill, reports InfoBAE. Argentina passed socially progressive laws under the previous Kirchner administrations, but activists were hindered by the personal religious beliefs against abortion of former President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, according to El País. Though current President Mauricio Macri is also opposed, a few prominent members of his government have indicated support, as have opposition lawmakers.