Monday, March 19, 2018

PPK on trial (March 19, 2018)

Peruvian President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski defended himself from charges of of corruption before a Congressional committee on Friday. It's the start of a week-long attempt to save his presidency before an impeachment vote on Thursday, reports the Washington Post.

PPK spoke before a special legislative committee local ramifications of the sprawling Brazilian Lava Jato corruption investigation. His closed-door testimony to six lawmakers was scheduled before Peruvian lawmakers voted to open an impeachment hearing for next week. But it will be critical in determining whether he is ousted, according to the WP.

The president told lawmakers that he used an offshore firm to legally avoid paying U.S. taxes, reports Reuters based on a leaked audio from the hearing. "Why would we pay Uncle Sam and Mr. Trump a bunch of money that’s here in Peru?" Kuczynski is heard telling the committee in a four-minute segment of the audio recording from the closed session. Though Kuczynski's lawyers said the move was legal, opposition lawmakers said it only raised more questions about his moral fitness to lead the country.

This afternoon the commission will decide whether to lift the reserve off of PPK's testimony, reports La República.

PPK narrowly survived an impeachment proceeding in December based on the same allegations of improper payments from Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht. Supporters are now arguing that this is a case of double-jeopardy, and he is being tried again on the same accusations.

How lawmakers will swing on Thursday isn't clear, and several parties may be split on the issue, reports La República. (La República has a graphic showing how each party's lawmakers are leaning, as of today, about 85 lawmakers would support impeachment.)

Internationally the timing is difficult. Peru is set to host the Summit of the Americas next month, that will focus on governance against corruption.

News Briefs
  • Hunger is growing in Latin America and the Caribbean, as is obesity, leaving the region vulnerable to a food security "perfect storm," according to a recent FAO conference. Reductions in malnutrition of recent years have started to revert, as Latin America is hit with slower economic growth and attendant increased unemployment and reduction in social programs, reports the Economist Intelligence Unit. "As a proportion of the population, hunger in South America rose to 5.6% in 2016, up from 5% a year earlier. By contrast, hunger has not increased in either Central America or the Caribbean. Nevertheless, the absolute level of hunger remains highest in the Caribbean, where it affects 17.7% of the population (the figure is skewed by Haiti, where nearly half the population." The report also draws attention to the issue of family farmers, who are particularly vulnerable to climate change.
  • Venezuelan opposition candidate Henri Falcón touts himself as a potential transitional president for a post-Chavista age. But the presidential candidate has aroused the anger both of his former chavista allies, and the majority of opposition parties that favor boycotting the upcoming elections, reports Reuters. Though opinion polls show that Falcón has a shot of winning, severe electoral irregularities mean that is unlikely, note experts.
  • OAS head Luis Almagro said Falcón is being used as a tool to divide the Venezuelan opposition ahead of a highly questioned May presidential election, reports Reuters. His candidacy ultimately favors the government, said Almagro.
  • Almagro proposed sanctions against Venezuelan government officials on holdings in the region, reports EFE
  • The recently reinstated Haitian army is rapidly resembling its predecessor, "disbanded in 1995 after a long history of involvement in coups, violent repression, and drug trafficking," writes Jake Johnston for CEPR. Six individuals appointed to lead the new armed forces are carryovers from the old force. "At least three of the officers appear to have held senior positions within the early-‘90s military coup regime. One of them is a convicted intellectual author of a civilian massacre, and another was a member of a committee that sought to cover it up."
  • At least 1,000 people marched yesterday in Rio de Janeiro, in protest of the killing of councilwoman Marielle Franco and her driver Anderson Pedro Gomes, reports the New York Times. The focal point of the march was the Maré favela where Franco grew up. (See last Thursday's post and Friday's briefs.) The Guardian reports on the Maré and Franco's history there.
  • Franco's killing has aroused anger around the country, mostly through citizen-driven online activism. "For once, Brazil’s major media has been a bystander in this story, not its driver," writes Glenn Greenwald in The Intercept. He criticizes the "whitewashing" of the story by downplaying Franco's radical politics. "The crime that ended her life was also purely political. There is no way to meaningfully understand Marielle’s life and assassination without a candid, clear, and honest discussion of her politics. What makes her story such big news is her politics, which in turn produced the political motives that caused powerful people to want her dead."
  • "In this context, international condemnation of this murder matters," argues a Guardian editorial. "It offers moral support to protesters and reminds mainstream politicians that Brazil will be judged on whether it brings Franco’s killers to justice and listens to her warnings. Authoritarianism will further brutalise poor communities, which have already suffered such violence."
  • Local media reported that the bullets used to kill Franco, a vocal critic of police brutality in the city's favelas, and Gomes came from lots sold Brazil's federal police, according to EFE. The crime was carried out with knowledge of how the investigation would be carried out and thus avoid detection, notes Greenwald in The Intercept.
  • Former football star Romario de Souza announced a run for Rio de Janeiro governor in October. He promised to tackle violence and the state's bankruptcy problem, reports the BBC.
  • Andrés Manuel López Obrador officially filed candidacy papers to run for president in Mexico's July election. The leftist front-runner said he hopes to go down in history as one of the country's greatest presidents, along with Benito Juarez, Francisco I. Madero and Lazaro Cardenas, reports EFE.
  • Former Mexican first lady Margarita Zavala obtained the necessary signatures to run as an independent, a candidacy that will likely divide the vote and ultimately benefit López Obrador, according to the Wall Street Journal.
  • In the next couple of months Guatemala's president must select a new attorney general. And in Honduras and El Salvador, lawmakers must also pick new top prosecutors. These processes take place as all three governments are being strongly criticized for a lack of commitment to anti corruption efforts spearheaded by those attorney generals, writes Héctor Silva Ávalos at InSight Crime. "The selection of the new Northern Triangle prosecutors marks a new chapter in the attempts to improve the fight against corruption and impunity through the strengthening of state offices in charge of pursuing crime." In the case of Guatemala, analysts are concerned the selection of a new top prosecutor could interrupt a string of successful investigations carried out in conjunction with a U.N. backed anti-corruption commission (the CICIG). In El Salvador, a newly elected right-leaning National Assembly might reelect Douglas Meléndez, who has been praised for investigations against former leaders, but criticized for going soft on alleged extrajudicial executions carried out by security forces. (El Faro reports on how the ruling FMLN party considers Meléndez partial against them.) In Honduras, it appears that most candidates for the post are close to President Juan Orlando Hernández.
  • In June, Salvadoran lawmakers will also choose four new members of the Constitutional Court, which has positioned itself as a counterweight to the government and national assembly, reports El Faro.
  • The owner and two executives of the largest Guatemalan palm oil producer, Repsa, were arrested on Friday on charges of bribery and tax fraud, reports Reuters.
  • Eighty-four human rights activists were killed in Colombia last year, according to the U.N.'s High Commissioner for Human Rights. On Friday he said activists and social leaders are still being targeted by drug traffickers, right wing death squads and smaller rebel groups, reports the Associated Press. According to the High Commissioner's report, human rights activists have become caught up in a fierce competition among criminal groups to control former FARC areas in the wake of the guerrilla groups demobilization.
  • InSight Crime reports on the fourth generation of Colombian drug lords, who have found that anonymity is their best protection. "The Invisibles," as the investigation carried out for the Colombian Observatory of Organized Crime calls them, "have learned that violence is bad for business. The new generation of traffickers have learned that anonymity is the ultimate protection, that “plata” (“silver”) is infinitely more effective than “plomo” (“lead,” as in bullets). The Colombians have ceded the world’s biggest market, the United States, to the Mexicans. This is not a sign of weakness but rather a savvy business move." This new generation wears the face of a respectable businessman, and involves intimate knowledge of the financial world, according to the report. It is booming in post-conflict Colombia, and is taking advantage of the weakening of formerly dominant cartels such as the Urabeños. Weak implementation of the FARC peace deal is pushing dissidents into a new criminal network dubbed the FARCRIM. "The drug trade is the most agile business on the planet. Managing billions of dollars and able to defy national and international law enforcement, it adapts to changing conditions far more quickly than governments and security forces. It learns from its mistakes in what is the world’s most unforgiving and brutal markets. And the conditions today and until 2019 are in their favor thanks to a variety of national and international factors ..."
  • U.S. President Donald Trump will likely target Venezuela's cryptocurrency with sanctions today, reports the Miami Herald.
  • Venezuela's highly questioned cryptocurrency, the Petro, is the brainchild of a former U.S. congressional intern who had campaigned for stronger sanctions against the Maduro government, reports the Associated Press.
  • The chief executive of Canadian Phantom Secure has been indicted in the U.S. on charges of selling modified devices to drug cartels, reports the BBC.
  • Bolivia appealed to the International Court of Justice to force Chile into talks granting the country access to the Pacific Ocean, reports the Associated Press.
  • Former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva said he is “ready” to go to jail and serve a 12-year and one-month sentence on a corruption charge conviction, reports the Associated Press.
  • U.S. President Donald Trump's protectionist stance is pushing closer ties among Latin American countries that are also seeking to expand trade with Asia and free trade agreements with the EU, reports the New York Times. And in regional diplomatic circles, White House chaos is causing headaches, according to Andrés Oppenheimer in the Miami Herald.
  • Mario Vargas Llosa is the most overtly political of the Latin American Boom writers -- and his prolific writing is obsessed with "what he regards as Latin Americans’ chronic weakness for demagogues and phantom utopias," according to a New York Times review of his two most recent works. "The contradiction between Latin America’s extravagant creativity and its agonies of injustice and poverty can be overcome with sound laws and reasonable democracy, he believes, if only “poetic metaphors” are kept out of politics and stay where they belong."
  • Guardian series looks at how cities in the world are growing exponentially in some areas. El Alto in Bolivia and Mexico City are highlighted as success stories -- the former because it demonstrates how to build a city from scratch in a difficult environment, and the later as a mega city that has brought growth under control. 

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