Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Brazil's deepening political crisis (March 15, 2016)

Brazilian lawmakers are seeking an exit to the country's political crisis, two days after the country's largest political protest ever calling for President Dilma Rousseff's impeachment. Her leftist Workers' Party is planning counter-demonstrations this week, reports the Wall Street Journal.

One move she might make, is to name her predecesor and mentor, former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, in her cabinet, likely as chief of staff. His political strength could help against opposition moves against her though he himself is under investigation in the wide ranging Petrobras corruption scandal. He will likely accept the post, according to Reuters, but will travel today to Brasilia to discuss options with her in person. (See yesterday's briefs.)

Transcripts of Lula's police interrogation earlier this month, made public yesterday, show he denied allegations of corruption with a mix of humor and irritation, according to the Wall Street Journal. The three hour questioning of a former president was unprecedented in Brazilian history, according to the piece, and Lula repeatedly denied allegations that he was the owner of a luxury triplex apartment that investigators suspect was supplied by a construction firm with close ties to the government. Instead he said the investigation was a witch-hunt intended to damage his reputation.

News Briefs
  • Venezuela's chief prosecutor announced that the remains of four people, presumed to be of the 21 gold miners who disappeared in the country's southeastern jungle, have been found. Four bodies have been exhumed from a communal grave deep in the sparsely populated area. She is the first official to have used the term "massacre," reports Reuters. Some witnesses say the miners were killed by a gang on March 4, the case has been causing upheaval in a country already shaken by constant violence. Yesterday, Attorney General Luisa Ortega said the police had arrested the lieutenant of the gang leader Jamilton Ulloa, known as "El Topo," who is presumed to have ordered the killings, reports the Wall Street Journal. (See last Wednesday's briefs.)
  • InSight Crime has a two part series on the origin of organized crime in Venezuela by journalist Javier Mayorca, who traces the first manifestations oficial corruption and contraband during colonial times through when criminal organizations reached their peak under the late President Hugo Chávez. Venezuela is currently undergoing an age of mega-gangs, he writes. "This term was not part of the lexicon of organized crime scholars just two years ago. It's a sign of how quickly the criminal landscape has changed in this South American nation."
  • Last week Venezuela's U.N. Ambassador read a statement from the Non-Aligned Movement of 120 countries backing backing his country's stance that the Obama administration of trying to "destabilize our country and our government" by renewing sanctions on several of his country's top officials over human rights violations, reports the Associated Press. (See last Thursday's briefs.)
  • Time for a pendulum shift in Mexico's drug policy? The governor of Guerrero state suggested legalizing cultivation of opium poppies for medicinal purposes as a way to reduce violence in a region ravaged by organized crime, reports Reuters. Héctor Astudillo, who was elected last year, said the state can't control the violence on its own, and recommended the move as a way to weaken the control of gangs on local producers.
  • The mosquito is democratic, according to a Brazilian saying, its bites both the rich and the poor. But the Zika outbreak in that country has shown a deep inequality among citizens, with the poor far more exposed to mosquitoes and the diseases they carry, reports Reuters. The piece has in-depth reporting on conditions across the country and how the outbreak is affected by lack of access to water networks.
  • U.S. President Barack Obama is unilaterally moving forward with opening up to Cuba as much as possible, in an attempt to make the policy irreversible for his successor, according to Reuters. Ahead of his trip next week, trade restrictions will be further eased and a string of business announcements is likely. The question remains whether the Cuban government will reciprocate. (See yesterday's briefs and Friday's post.) 
  • This morning the U.S. eased travel restrictions to Cuba and made changes to regulations to allow Cubans to open U.S. bank accounts and authorize those living in the Unites States to earn a salary or compensation, reports Reuters.
  • Reuters reports on the arguments U.S. airlines are putting forth in order to win the 20 daily round-trip flights to Cuba that will be permitted under a new agreement restoring commercial flights between the two countries.
  • El Salvadoran President Sánchez Cerén reaffirmed yesterday that he is analyzing measures to combat street violence in the country. They could include a form of limited state emergency and the release of some non-gang prison inmates to free up police guards, reports the Associated Press. (See last Thursday's briefs.)
  • InSight Crime has republished a series of fotos from Revista Factum focusing on the social upheaval caused by gang warfare in El Salvador. "Violence comes in many shapes and under many names. There are massacres. Clashes between police and gangs. Police killings. Executions. Dismemberments. Machine-gunnings. Death threats. Evictions. We become indifferent to so much bloodshed in the country. See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil," writes the photographer Salvador Meléndez.
  • The Argentine Congress will likely approve a new law designed to boost use of renewable energy in Argentina, reports Bloomberg. The law will impose fines on large users of electricity that don't get at least 8 percent of their power from renewable sources, starting in 2018.
  • And the Uruguayan government sent a bill to Congress that would enact a package of tax incentives to encourage production of solar panels in the country, reports the Latin American Herald Tribune. (Last year Uruguay announced that 95 percent of its electricity already comes from renewable energy sources, see briefs for Dec. 10, 2015.)

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