Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Dilma's impeachment rumors continue (August 11, 2015)

Stories about Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff's potential impeachment been going pretty much since her reelection last year. The rumor is a constantly recurring factor in the international and local press.

The lower chamber of Congress, whose speaker recently defected to the opposition, decides whether to start an impeachment process, which then goes to the Senate for a final ruling. Rousseff would be suspended as soon as the lower chamber agrees to impeach her, which requires two-thirds of the votes, explains the Associated Press.

Yet there is no sign that Rousseff wants to quit, and no evidence that would justify impeachment and little unity in the opposition, said Christopher Garman, the head of country analysis at consulting firm Eurasia Group in a Bloomberg piece. That paves the way for further political turmoil, he said.
Opposition parties are seeking to show that the government broke fiscal law by doctoring budget results last year, a practice used by previous administrations according to the government. Rousseff’s administration must also face a nationwide protest planned for this weekend.

The reasons for the particularly persistent impeachment narrative – with constant headlines in international media – merits a deeper look. The editor of online magazine Carta Maior, Joaquim Palhares, told Sputnik last month that the ongoing "soft coup" in Brazil was launched through rumors spread in mass media, linking Rousseff with the Petrobras corruption scandal, even though the investigation has never presented proof of the connection.

And in the same piece a Workers' Party advisor notes that since Rousseff's reelection opposition parties have resorted to "putschism." It's hardly the first time this year government allies have noted the attempt at a "soft-coup."
The opposition disputes the term. Potential impeachment proceedings against Dilma Rousseff should not be equated with a coup and would be constitutional, opposition senator and former presidential candidate Aécio Neves declared this weekend as he sought to up the pressure on the under-fire Brazil president, reports the Buenos Aires Herald, quoting a Veja interview.

Rousseff has not been investigated over the corruption at Petrobras, but Neves’ PSDB is hoping any evidence that dodgy money helped fund her re-election campaign last year could lead to a new election which would favour Neves, who narrowly lost to the president in a tight run-off last year.

“An impeachment will not happen just by the wish of the opposition, but by the combination of a number of factors, certainly including deeming whether (Rousseff) is guilty of having committed a crime. I do not know if there are elements of guilt, but nothing prevents them from appearing later,” the leader of the Brazilian Social Democracy Party (PSDB) added.

Former president and current Senator Fernando Collor de Mello, who resigned in 1992 in order to avoid impeachment proceedings, challenged Rousseff yesterday, saying she was legally elected, just as he was, reports Folha de S. Paulo.

Last week Rousseff gained the dubious honor of becoming Brazil's least popular president since democracy returned 30 years ago. (See yesterday's briefs.) Lack of approval has been fueled by the worst economic downturn of the past 25 years, high inflation and ongoing political corruption scandals.

But she's digging in her heels, reports Bloomberg. Rousseff has stepped up public appearances to trumpet her achievements and dined with senators to defuse discontent. State television on yesterday broadcast scenes of Rousseff posing with a baby and handing out keys to subsidized houses amid chants of “there will be no coup” by her supporters in Maranhao state, one of the poorest in Brazil. She said the nation “needs stability” to survive the crisis.

Rousseff asked the Senate to act as a moderator to the “bombs” tossed by the lower chamber, bills passed merely in order to oppose her government, reports Folha de S. Paulo. She is asking for support for a difficult austerity package, that seeks to maintain the country’s investment-grade rating, but which is opposed by many of her own party.

After the meeting the Senate president, Renan Calheiros, said that attempting to impeach Rousseff was not a priority and warned that seeking her removal in Congress would "set the country on fire," reports the Associated Press.
And that is the flip side of the impeachment narrative. Bloomberg notes that a perception of political instability might push Brazil into a deeper recession and “make it increasingly vulnerable to a sovereign-credit downgrade.” The real has depreciated 8.1 percent in the last month.

O Globo newspaper in an editorial on Friday called on all political parties to ensure Rousseff can govern. Some of her supporters in Congress are repeating that message.

News Briefs

  • Honduras' besieged president Juan Orlando Hernández said in a news conference Friday that he is willing to consider an opposition demand for formation of an international commission to root out government corruption similar to one established in neighboring Guatemala, reports the Associated Press.
  • The Peruvian Defense Minister has admitted that the Shining Path Maoist rebel group is still in existence, though much weakened. The rebels still have some 350 members, and 80 fighters according to government authorities, reports the BBC.
  • In the past two years 81 police officers have been murdered in El Salvador – nearly the same amount reported between 2009 and 2013, reports El Faro. That includes five officers killed in the first week of August, driving the 2015 tally up to 42.
  • E-mails released by Colombian authorities last week reportedly revealed that neo-paramilitary group Los Urabeños and FARC rebels have been partnering to traffic drugs and stockpile weapons, according to Colombia Reports. And a separate Colombia Reports piece notes that about 600 Colombian public officials are in jail over ties to the powerful neo-paramilitary group. Authorities arrested 44 public officials last week, highlighting the corruption within forces that are supposed to be combating the country’s largest drug trafficking organization, explains the piece.
  • Recent moves signal that a settlement between the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC – ending a fifty year conflict -- could be within reach, reports theWashington Post. The piece reviews the status of the ongoing peace talks and notes that the most problematic issue remaining in the negotiations is that of punishment for guerrilla leaders and how to demobilize foot soldiers. A potential model “is a law that helped demobilize thousands of right-wing paramilitary fighters involved in Colombia’s violence. They confessed to their crimes and in return received maximum eight-year sentences, many of which are ending soon."
  • It’s in the U.S’s interest to help the Colombian peace process, and the country is an indispensable resource when it comes to Colombia’s future security and prosperity, argues James Stavridis at Foreign Policy. American efforts to support the peace process – on the brink of success or failure – should include interagency efforts including developmental advice and assistance, counternarcotics cooperation, humanitarian operations, security support and diplomatic backing – such as those carried out under the Plan Colombia, he says. In addition, Washington should economic growth through the 2012 Free Trade Agreement and also continued security assistance through the U.S. Southern Command in Colombia.
  • Mexico’s economy was supposed to be doing well, and recent constitutional overhauls aimed at making major industries such as oil and telecommunications more competitive. But all the news seems to be bad, reports the Washington Post. The peso’s value has plummeted, growth rates are half of what was expected and poverty is growing.
  • But the recent release of homicide data for last year reveals that Mexico is significantly safer than in previous years, and that violence in the northern part of the country – long the primary driver of bloodshed – is declining, reports InSight Crime. The nation as a whole registered nearly 20,000 murders last year, a rate of 16 homicides per 100,00 residents – these are the best figures since 2008. Murders have dropped by 28 percent since 2011.
  • Murders in Mexico City’s are through the roof, reports El Daily Post. In the first six months of the year there have been 418 homicides reported, the highest since 1999 and more than 15 percent higher than last year. Still although it’s growing, Mexico City’s homicide rate is still below the national median, with the city occupying 18th place among the 32 federal entities.
  • A new Mexico City law creates protocols and a decentralized public organisms for protecting journalists and human rights defenders, reports Animal Político. Measures include self-defense courses, relocations, bodyguards and security equipment such as bulletproof vests.
  • BBC reporter Juan Carlos Pérez Salazar remembers Miguel Ángel Jiménez Blanco, the leader of a civilian group that has spent the last 10 months searching for bodies of 43 missing students and others in Mexico's Guerrero state. (See yesterday's briefs.) The gunshots that killed him this weekend could have been a result of his search for the disappeared, or the drug traffickers he displaced in his hometown through a community police program, or from a rival self-defence force, says Salazar. He laments the loss of a leader who was making efforts to find not only the 43 missing students, but hundreds of others of disappeared whose families came forward in the wake of that case. In July, Mexico's attorney general's office confirmed that at least 60 clandestine graves with 129 bodies have been found so far on the outskirts of Iguala. Most of the bodies remain unidentified, reports the Associated Press. The Washington Post also has a piece covering the murder, saying how Jiménez Blanco created a safe space for families of disappeared to come forward and report missing relatives.
  • For those who still haven’t gotten enough of El Chapo, the Los Angeles Times has a piece on how he’s a folklore hero back at home in Sinaloa, including merchandizing opportunities.
  • Bolivian restrictions on NGOs violate human rights defenders’ right to freedom of association, according to Human Rights Watch. Last week, HRW submitted an amicus brief to the Bolivian Constitutional Court, in a case brought by the Bolivian Ombudsman challenging the constitutionality of a 2013 law and presidential decree that grant the government broad powers to dissolve nongovernmental organizations.
  • Argentina’s Attorney General’s Office, federal and regional prosecutors expressed their growing concern over the proliferation of drug trafficking activity throughout the country, reports InSight Crime. “The recognition by top judicial authorities of Argentina's growing drug problem highlights the extent and seriousness of the issue -- which some government officials have previously been reluctant to acknowledge or admit,” explains the piece.
  • An EFE profile on Central American immigrants shows how families are broken up as they seek to flee gang violence. 

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