Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Legislative commission approves Rousseff impeachment by large margin (April 12, 2016)

Efforts to impeach Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff cleared an important hurdle yesterday when legislators on a special commission of the Chamber of Deputies recommended the lower house approve the measure. The vote on the Congressional panel yesterday was heated, legislators screamed at each other on national television during the debate that preceded the 38-27 vote in favor of Rousseff's ouster, reports the New York Times.

The decision was expected, and no matter what the result was yesterday, the issue would have still gone to a full vote in the lower house, reports the Associated Press. But the margin in favor of impeachment was big, constituting a blow against Rousseff, notes El País. The vote bodes ill for Rousseff, according to the Wall Street Journal

Rousseff supporters are scrambling to avoid the two-thirds vote that would be needed in the Chamber of Deputies to send the president to trial in the Senate. Her opponents would need to muster 342 votes in order to pass the motion, and voting is expected on Sunday, reports Reuters. If the impeachment proceedings pass to the Senate, that body would then have to vote whether to put the president on trial, a vote that would be expected in early May.

The lower chamber's vote is expected for Sunday, reports Folha de S. Paulo.
About 50 undecided legislators are the focus of political machinations on both sides, reports El País. As of yesterday 298 legislators came out publicly in favor of impeachment, while the anti-impeachment camp has 121 declared votes, reports the Wall Street Journal.

Rousseff is rare among Brazilian politicians, she is not accused of illicit personal enrichment, notes the New York Times. Instead, the impeachment move is based on accusations of budgetary manipulation  involving the use of funds from state banks to cover budget gaps. Her supporters argue that this is not a serious crime, and that impeachment for it amounts to a coup. (See yesterday's briefs and March 25's post.)

Rousseff's opponents say that impeachment proceedings are in line with the wishes of the majority of Brazilian's, explains the Associated Press. Though a Datafolha poll this month showed the percentage of Brazilians who support impeachment is slipping (down seven points from last month to 61 percent), reports Reuters.

Her opponents say the impeachment for budgetary manipulation is further backed by the president's unpopularity, the widespread corruption scheme uncovered at Petrobras and the economic crisis besieging the country, explains El País.

The plot never stops thickening: a recording by Vice President Temer (whose loyalty has been repeatedly called into question this year) released to members of his PMDB party, triumphantly calls for a government of "national salvation." The 15-minute speech was apparently intended as an address to Brazilians if impeachment proceedings are approved this weekend, and Rousseff supporters describe it as an attempt to destabilize the government.

In the address, Temer speaks as if he had already assumed the top job, saying, "Many people sought me out so that I would give at least preliminary remarks to the Brazilian nation, which I am doing with modesty, caution and moderation," reports the Associated Press. (El País has the full text and audio.) According to the Wall Street Journal it reinforces "the sense that time is running out for" Rousseff.

The "accidental" release of the draft definitively blew up any possibility of reconciliation between Rousseff and Temer, reports El País, which reviews Temer's moves against the government he forms a part of. It could also backfire against Temer, mobilizing opposition to the impeachment.

At one of many rallies in support of Rousseff yesterday, former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva said the recording showed the VP's desire to oust the president. He spoke of an opposition to Rousseff that hasn't permitted her to govern in the year and four months of her second term, and rejected protests by people who don't like to see "poor people in shopping malls or airplanes," reports El País.

Last week a Supreme Court justice ruled that an impeachment motion against Temer himself, for the same crimes Rousseff is accused of, should proceed. More than half of the population also supports his impeachment, according to the same Datafolha poll.

Should the VP be suspended, House Speaker Eduardo Cunha would be next in line to succeed, though he is facing money laundering and other charges stemming from allegations that he received kickbacks in the sprawling corruption scandal at the state-run Petrobras oil company, reports the Associated Press.

In a sign of how the issue is polarizing Brazilians, a wall is being erected across the Esplanada dos Ministérios to keep for and against protesters from meeting, reports Folha de S. Paulo. Authorities say it's important to guarantee the safety of demonstrators, but legislators have called it a "wall of shame."

"The Republic of Curitiba:" El País has a feature on the city of Curitiba, where citizens wholeheartedly back impeachment and idolize Judge Sérgio Moro, who is leading the investigation into the Petrobras corruption scheme.

In the latest phase of the investigation, former senator Gim Argello was arrested yesterday for allegedly taking bribes, reports the Wall Street Journal.

In the meantime, there are rumors that legislators in Brazil might try to limit the powers of the ever broadening Operação Lava Jato, reports El País.

News Briefs
  • Among the many political initiatives in Brazil held hostage to Brasilia's ongoing political stalemate is the country's commitment to reduce carbon emissions. Brazil played a key role in shaping the Paris climate agreement last year, and set a target to cut its carbon emissions 37 percent from 2005 levels by 2025, and has indicated an "intended reduction" of 43 percent by 2030, reports Reuters. But economic and political woes threaten to undermine the commitment, warn advocates.
  • Venezuela's highest court scrapped a recently passed amnesty law for so-called political prisoners, reports El País. The court justified rejecting the law, saying it would foment impunity and amnestied crimes that were not eligible. It would violate the rights of the victims of the 2014 antigovernment street protests, according to the court. The law would potentially free about 80 prisoners, reports the Wall Street Journal. The court's impartiality has been questioned by the political opposition and international observers after party loyalists were placed as judges last year. (See post for Dec. 23, 2015.) Yesterday a U.N. human rights spokeswoman said the international organ lamented the move yesterday, saying the amnesty law could have been a step towards reconciliation between Venezuela's polarized political factions, reports Reuters.(See Feb. 17's and Feb. 29's posts.)
  • Second-place winner in Peru's presidential elections, Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, has a secret weapon heading into June's run-off: high disapproval of first-place winner Keiko Fujimori, reports the Wall Street Journal. Though he has just over half the votes she does, he could leverage fear of her father's authoritarian tactics into a win of the presidency. "He clearly represents the kind of more pragmatic, technocratic politics that we are seeing" in Latin America, Michael Shifter, president of the Washington-based Inter-American Dialogue think tank told the WSJ. "Latin America has entered a more difficult, complicated period of governance, and voters are just hoping that they can have more pragmatic, effective leaders who can deliver results."
  • Either way investors are celebrating a run-off between two right wing candidates, reports the Associated Press.
  • A piece in the New Yorker reviews the highly questionable investigation into the murder of Honduran environmental activist Berta Cáceres. Government investigators are repeatedly thwarting her family's requests and skirting demands for an international, independent investigation.
  • Costa Rica is warning would be Cuban migrants that its doors are closed to them, as a new wave of undocumented migrants hoping to reach the U.S. gears up, reports the Miami Herald. (See yesterday's briefs.)
  • Panamanian prosecutors visited the offices of Mossack Fonseca yesterday, to investigate the law firm's allegations that a computer hacker obtained the 11.5 million documents at the heart of the international leaks scandal known as the Panama Papers, reports the Associated Press.
  • Chilean legislators approved two bills to regulate party financing and restore some voter confidence as election season approaches, reports Bloomberg.

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