Friday, June 19, 2015

Soccer corruption fallout continues in Latin America (June 19, 2015)

Argentine businessmen Hugo and Mario Jinkis turned themselves in to Argentine authorities, three weeks after arrest warrants were issued to extradite them to the U.S., where they are wanted in relation to the FIFA corruption investigation. They are among 14 soccer and business officials indicted by the U.S. Justice Department in a sweeping investigation into alleged bribery, racketeering and money laundering, reports the Wall Street Journal.

Nicolás Leoz, then-president of the South American Soccer Confederation, became a Paraguayan national hero when he brought the confederation's headquarters to the small country in exchange for immunity from prosecution for the organization. That immunity, akin to that of diplomatic missions, now means that Conmebol can't be investigated, even as soccer's global organization, FIFA, is rocked by a wide-ranging U.S. probe into alleged corruption. Paraguay's legislature passed a bill to eliminate that immunity last week, potentially opening the door to a probe into Conmebol, reports the Wall Street Journal.

InSight Crime has an in-depth on the "Three Caudillos" the FIFA heads that are wanted in the corruption investigation: Trinidadian Jack Warner, former president of the Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF); Paraguayan Nicolas Leoz, former president of the Confederation of South American Football (CONMEBOL); and Brazilian Ricardo Teixeira, former president of the Brazilian Soccer Confederation (CBF). But the investigations and the fall of FIFA's old guard don't really guarantee a change, according to InSight.

On a separate soccer note, the New York Times has a piece looking at the dark history of Chile's Estadio Nacional. The stadium that is now filled with thousands of screaming fans for the Copa America games is also the site where thousands of people were beaten and tortured, when it served as a makeshift prison camp for up to 20,000 people during the first months of General Augusto Pinochet's military dictatorship in 1973.

News Briefs
  • Brazilian police arrested Marcelo Odebrecht, the head of Latin America's largest engineering and construction company Odebrecht SA, the most high profile detention in the Petrobras graft investigation. Morning raids today led to 12 arrests in four states, including  Otavio Marques Azevedo, head of Andrade Gutierrez, the second-largest Brazilian construction firm Andrade Gutierrez, reports Reuters. Neither Azevedo nor Odebrecht have been formally charged and it was not clear how long they would be detained. Arrests of other top Brazilian executives resulted in months-long pre-trial incarceration, according to Reuters.
  • Opposition Brazilian lawmakers attempting to visit political prisoners in Venezuela were stymied by traffic and protests on the way to Caracas from the airport, forcing them to turn back. Dozens of government supporting protesters surrounded the lawmakers' minivan shouting insults and beating at the vehicle, according to a Venezuelan opposition leader. Brazil's Foreign Ministry said hostile acts against its lawmakers are unacceptable and will seek an explanation from the Venezuelan government, according to the Wall Street Journal.
  • The Venezuelan case consumed the session of Brazil's lower chamber of Congress yesterday, postponing a vote on increasing taxes on corporate sales, reports Bloomberg. The decision has been postponed several times since May, but form an important part of the government's push for austerity measures in order to protect the country's investment grade credit rating.
  • Fifty-eight percent of Venezuelan's think the quality of information provided by their media has gotten worst over the past couple of years, according to a Datánalisis poll question added byVenezuelan Politics and Human Rights. This points to a general dissatisfaction with the media which has undergone broad changes in the past couple of years, says David Smilde, including changes of ownership in major outlets, growth of web-based portals and the expansion of government run media.
  • The China Development Bank is on the hook as Venezuela's economy totters, reports the Wall Street Journal (which has a fairly obsessive and consistently negative coverage of the country). The has lent nearly $37 billion to Venezuela since 2008, theoretically in exchange for millions of barrels of crude oil a year. However, in recent months, CDB has extended loan maturities and eased repayment terms, allowing the country to send it less oil than agreed and to pay bolivars instead of hard currency into a mutual-development fund intended to finance projects there, explains the piece. Nonetheless, the CDB is pushing forward in Venezuela.
  • Venezuela's state-run oil firm PDVSA says it will sell off its 50 percent stake in a U.S. refinery in Louisiana in exchange for much needed cash, reports the Miami Herald. International reserves have fallen 26 percent this year, to a 12-year low of $16.4 billion.
  • Haitians in the Dominican Republic are fearful of how threatened deportations of undocumented migrants will be carried out, after a deadline for registration passed this week. The Wall Street Journal reports that Santo Domingo's Little Haiti neighborhood was quiet yesterday, and people are reportedly staying home for fear of being rounded up. Due to difficulties in the process, the vast majority of Haitians (about half a million) and Dominican-born people of Haitian descent (about 210,000) are not registered and could be sent back to Haiti (see Wednesday's post and yesterday's briefs).
  • Ecuadorian newspaper El Universal has been fined $350,000 for failing to publish a government reply to a negative report it published in March in the format requested by the government. The reply was published over a month later, and in redacted form, say government officials. Ecuador's communication law punishes "the deliberate and recurrent failure to disseminate issues of public interest" and considers it an act of censorship, reports UPI.
  • A collision between a boat carrying Mexican migrants and a U.S. Customs vessel reportedly killed one Mexican and injured several, according to the AP. The boat was off the coast of Southern California, smugglers have been known to use open boats to sneak people from Mexico to California.
  • Mexico's central bank will leave interest rates unchanged, but remain watchful of U.S. interest rate action that might weaken the peso and put upwards pressure on consumer prices, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • Immense security advances notwithstanding, Colombia has the world's second highest rate of internal refugees -- after Syria -- according to a new U.N. report. About 6.4 million people have fled their homes due to violence, 137,000 of them last year. The numbers have accumulated over the fifty year conflict with the FARC guerrilla group. But as that conflict has wound down, new gangs and smaller guerrilla groups continue to drive people from their homes, explains an expert in the Miami Herald. About 40 percent of human rights violations can be traced to these new gangs, many of which trace their origins to paramilitary groups that began demobilizing about a decade ago, according to UNHCR Colombia Representative Martin Gottwald.
  • Dozens of children are dying of malnutrition every year in Colombia's  La Guajira province. Drought and overuse of water supplies has left the region dry, making life impossible for the region's inhabitants, who are mostly of the Wayuu indigenous tribe. “A significant number of boys and girls, mostly Wayuu, have died in La Guajira from perfectly preventable causes,” the country’s human rights ombudsman’s office said in a 2014 report. The Guardian has a feature piece on the issue with gripping photography.
  • Guatemala's constitutional court temporarily blocked an effort to strip President Otto Pérez Molina of immunity amid corruption investigations that have implicated high government officials, although he is not accused of wrong-doing. The court acted on a petition from the president, agreeing to consider arguments over the legitimacy of a congressional panel investigating the leader, reports the AP.  
  • Legalization of cannabis in 2013 did not increase use of the drug, according to the Presidential Junta Nacional de Drogas. About 9 percent of the population consumed marijuana in the past year, up one percentage point from the 2011 results, the smallest increase in the past 14 years, reports El Espectador.
  • The Brazilian executive branch is proposing a pension reform that would raise the age of retirement and save the country about $16.33 billion in the next decade, reports the Wall Street Journal
  • Brazil's economic activity plunged in April, pointing to a recession according to Reuters
  • Panama is booming and migrants from neighboring countries are flocking to job opportunities, often leaving less skilled Panamanians out of the running. The Los Angeles Times reports that Panamanian authorities are looking to train residents to fill jobs requiring technical training in tourism, the restaurant business and, especially, canal related jobs. The multibillion-dollar global maritime transport industry accounts for 90% of Panama's gross domestic product.
  • Brazil is building influence across the Atlantic in Africa, combining soft initiatives such as technical assistance in science and technology with military cooperation such as joint naval exercises, providing military training and arms transfers, and establishing outposts in ports across the continent’s western coast, explain Nathan Thompson and Robert Muggah in Foreign Affairs. Brazil, along with the region's other powers, have sought to minimize foreign intervention in the area (especially NATO), a quest that is economically motivated in Brazil's case, according to the authors. "Brazil, in particular, wants to safeguard its on- and offshore natural resources, which the navy calls the Amazônia Azul, or Blue Amazon. These include extensive petroleum and gas reserves, as well as fishing and mining concessions within and beyond its current maritime frontiers."

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