Friday, August 21, 2015

Brazil updates: Pro-Dilma marches, Cunha charged with corruption, STF suspends drug session (August 21, 2015)

Pro-government protests yesterday -- convoked by social movements -- gathered about 182,000 people in 32 cities across the country, reports Folha de S. Paulo, citing organizer's numbers. In São Paulo, police estimated about 40,000 marchers, and organizers nearly double that amount.

But while the marchers support President Dilma Rousseff, they also protested the administration's fiscal austerity measures, reports Folha. In several cities marchers demanded his resignation as well as that of the Speaker of the lower house of Congress Eduardo Cunha (see below).

While overthrowing Dilma is putschist, demonstrators reject policies that harm workers, said a Matto Grosso union president, demanding that the administration find a left-wing solution to the country's economic woes. 
In a separate piece Folha reports that a Datafolha poll found that just over half of the marchers opposed impeachment for Rousseff, while 20 percent classified the administration as "awful."

The socio-economic profile of demonstrators is markedly different from anti-government protests on Sunday, observes the piece, pointing to some of the divisions affecting Brazilian politics. Families earning two minimum salaries represented nearly a quarter of yesterday's marchers, but only 6 percent of Sunday's. While earners  of 20 times the minimum salary represented 5 percent of yesterday's demonstrators and nearly 17 percent on Sunday. Nearly half of yesterday's protesters were dark-skinned reports Folha, but only 20 percent on Sunday.

Brazil's attorney general filed corruption charges against Cunha, one of Brazil's most powerful political figures, reports the New York Times. Investigators said that Cunha was involved in a money-laundering operation that was part of a graft scheme at Petrobras. In July a consultant for a Petrobras contractor testified that Cunha had solicited and accepted a $5 million bribe. (See Wednesday's briefs.) Cunha says that he is innocent and that he will remain in his post. The Supreme Court will decide whether he will stand trial. 
He is the first sitting politician to be charged in the burgeoning kickback and bribery scandal, reports Reuters.

In a press release yesterday Cunha accused the government of inciting the prosecutors' accusations as political retaliation, reports O Globo. Cunha broke with Rousseff's governing coalition last month, and has since joined lawmakers calling for her impeachment and has obstructed Rousseff's austerity efforts by passing more spending bills, according to Reuters.

Former president and current senator, Fernando Collor de Mello was also accused yesterday of involvement in the corruption scheme, though details regarding his case were not made public. The prosecutor's office said that was because it is based on accusations from an active informant and revealing details would jeopardize the continuing investigation, reports the Associated Press.

Brazil's prosecutor has alleged Collor de Mello has received $7.5 million in bribes as part of the scheme between 2010 and 2014, reports the Wall Street Journal.
Collor resigned in 1992 after being impeached by the Senate over corruption allegations. He rejects the current accusations.

Under Brazilian law, charges against federal congressmen and other top government officials can only be filed and judged by the Supreme Court, which is expected to take years to rule on the cases, reports the AP. But many Brazilians hope the Supreme Court will send a message that corruption by the nation's elected officials won’t be tolerated, says the WSJ.

Rousseff, who denies any wrongdoing, has repeatedly said that the investigation will not stop and "will hurt whomever it must hurt," even as several members of her own party and those in her ruling coalition become ensnared.

The accusations could further heighten the political tensions affecting her administration. Cunha, who has been opposing her legislative agenda, does not plan to resign and could continue to obstruct Rousseff's policy proposals in the lower chamber, according to AP. But if Cunha is convicted, Congress must decide whether to strip him of his political rights and oust him as speaker, relieving pressure on Rousseff, according to Reuters' analysis.

In other Brazil news: One of the magistrates of Brazil's Supreme Court (STF), Gilmar Mendes, declared yesterday that he considers the criminalization of possession of drugs for personal use to be unconstitutional. But the potentially landmark session of the STF was suspended before the other magistrates could give their opinions when judge Luiz Edson Fachin requested more time to study the matter.

It is not clear when the suspended session might be resumed. Folha de S. Paulo reports -- based on a Fundação Getulio Vargas study -- that only one in five of such requests is returned according to regulation in ordinary sessions and that some cases have been in waiting for over a decade.

Folha reports that Fachin then left the floor without commenting to the press, but that in his Senate confirmation hearings he had indicated resistance to easing drug laws.

Mendes, the court's rapporteur in the trial that will decide on the constitutionality of Article 28 of the Drugs Act, said that the classification of drug possession for personal use as a crime led to stigmatization of individuals. "The criminalization of drug possession for personal consumption affects the right to free development of personality," he said, according to O Globo. "The criminalization of drug possession for personal use is unconstitutional. (...) Unnecessarily restricts the guarantee of intimacy, privacy and self-determination."

Many experts have noted the detrimental effects of Brazil's current drug law, which theoretically establishes harsher penalties for drug trafficking than for users. In practise most people detained for possession are classified as traffickers: up to 27 percent of Brazil's 608,000 inmates. Since the 2006 Drugs Act, trafficking convictions have skyrocketed by 339 percent. (See August 13th's post.)

Though experts have called on the court to determine objective parameters to differentiate users and traffickers, but Folha notes that many legal experts view this as outside the court's mandate. 

Mendes called for the establishment of objective parameters yesterday.
The Supreme Court's 11 justices began discussing the case Wednesday, reports the Associated Press. The case comes amid calls for the decriminalization of marijuana possession in Brazil, one of the few countries in Latin America where possession for personal use is still a crime.

The use of small quantities of drugs like marijuana and cocaine for personal use is a crime in Brazil. Those caught are often considered traffickers and locked up with hardened criminals or are sentenced to community service.

Justice Minister Jose Eduardo Cardozo told the state-run news agency Agencia Brasil earlier this month that those arrested for possession often "enter prison as drug users and come out as traffickers."

The case is being avidly followed in Brazil, where a recent poll found that 79 percent of respondents are against the decriminalization of drugs, reports El País. On Wednesday the  hashtag #DescriminalizaSTF was first in Brazil's trending topics and appeared on the world list. Over 15,000 viewers followed the live YouTube transmission of the session --the usual average number of viewers is 300.

News Briefs
  • Brazil's unemployment rate hit a five-year high last month and came in far above forecasts, reports the Wall Street Journal. The jobless rate in six major metropolitan areas jumped to 7.5 percent in July from 6.9 percent in June, the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics, or IBGE, said yesterday.

  • Workers, trade unionists and politicians from five continents testified before the Brazilian Senate's human rights committee yesterday over low pay and poor working conditions at McDonald's. The senate hearing marked the culmination of a week of action that began last Friday, when Brazil’s General Workers' Union filed a complaint with the public prosecutor’s office calling for a civil inquiry into allegations of tax evasion, unfair competition and the violation of franchise laws by McDonald’s and its Latin American franchisee, Arcos Dourados, reports The Guardian. If found guilty, fines and penalties could amount to more than $342 million.
  • Germany and Brazil committed themselves yesterday to a joint stance on climate ahead of global climate talks in Paris in December, reports Reuters. The German government announced 550 million euros in financing for environmental and clean energy programs in Brazil.
  • In Latin America Donald Trump's comments on immigration have caused anger and led some media giants and other companies have cut ties to the candidate for the Republican presidential nomination. But in Brazil there is indifference to his remarks, reports the New York Times
  • The lead candidate in Guatemala's upcoming presidential elections, conservative opposition leader Manuel Baldizón is coming under increasing pressure from an independent candidate, reports Reuters. Jimmy Morales, a television presenter, has benefited from public anger over corruption allegations that have shaken the government and smeared Baldizón's running mate. Morales has 20.6 percent intent to vote, against Baldizón's 30.9 percent, according to a recent poll. If no candidate obtains 50 percent of the vote a run-off election will be held in October. (See Monday's post.)
  • Balloting will be redone in 25 constituencies in Haiti, after violence marred polls earlier this month, reports the Miami Herald. The electoral council also announced corrective measures to prevent problems in October 25th's run-off election, including extending the campaign period and making credentials for party monitors available 15 days before. Apparently a vast majority of the 139 legislative seats up for grabs must go to the second round of voting.
  • The U.N. should take responsibility for Haiti's deadly cholera epidemic argues Martin O'Malley, candidate for the Democratic nomination for president of the United States, on CNN
  • Tens of thousands of Cubans are expected to attend three masses that Pope Francis will hold during his September visit to the island, reports the Miami Herald.
  • As the Mexican government doubles down in it's battle against a militant wing of the national teacher's union in Oaxaca (see yesterday's briefsNACLA has a piece examining the reasons for the ongoing teacher protests (useful as most mainstream pieces haven't gone into the background). These teachers, mainly from the southern and western states of Chiapas, Oaxaca, Guerrero, and Michoacán oppose the 2013 education reform, which grants the government power to evaluate the country's 1.4 million teachers and remove them if they don’t pass a standardized test, explains NACLA. The teachers, many of whom are indigenous and bilingual, argue that they have developed an educational model appropriate for the communities, parents, and students they serve. The national test, they argue, will not benefit them or their students.
  • Sixty-nine human rights activists, community leaders and politicians have been killed in Colombia this year, despite efforts to stop decades of violence wracking the country, reportsAFP.
  • El Salvador reached an all-time high of 43 homicides on Tuesday, for the second consecutive day, which police attributed partly to gang wars and their attempt to grab the government's attention, reports the Latin American Herald Tribune.
  • In a piece on InSight Crime, Damien Wolff looks at the issue of critically needed police reform in El Salvador. Among other things, potential reform "should aim to give the force full ownership over public security," he says, noting the negative effects of militarization of domestic security in that country.
  • Despite progress with Cuba, the Obama administration has done little to dispel doubts about Washington's intentions towards its neighbors to the south argues Rohan Chatterjee at Upside Down World. "In much of the U.S. media, the event was portrayed as an easing of Cuba’s decades-long isolation. But in the region, at least, it's Washington that's been isolated — including for the last seven years of the Obama administration. And it's not just because of Washington's lonely alienation from Cuba."

No comments:

Post a Comment