Thursday, May 5, 2016

Brazil's House speaker suspended by Supreme Court on corruption allegations (May 5, 2016)

Brazilian Supreme Court Justice  Teori Zavascki suspended Congress' House Speaker, Eduardo Cunha, early this morning.

The judge accepted an injunction requested by the prosecutor general seeking Cunha's removal for allegedly intimidating congressmen and obstructing investigations into charges that he held secret bank accounts in Switzerland, reports Reuters. (See yesterday's post.)

Prosecutor General Rodrigo Janot, argued that Cunha has used his post blackmail and pressure his way into kickbacks from private companies in a December presentation to the court, reports the Wall Street JournalEl País has the full list of 11 specific accusations.

President Dilma Rousseff's political nemisis, Cunha has spearheaded efforts to impeach her, but is himself dogged by serious corruption allegations, reports the Associated Press.

He remains a deputy for the duration of his suspension, but cannot exercise parliamentary activities, and will have to leave the House leadership, reports Folha de S. Paulo.

His suspension will not directly affect the impeachment process, as the lower chamber already voted to impeach Rousseff last month (see April 18's post). But it does remove Cunha from the line of succession just as it seems likely the Senate will suspend the president in order for her to face trial in the upper chamber, reports Reuters. Cunha is currently third in line, and would become second if Vice President Michel Temer assumes the presidency next week. (See Monday's post.)

Reuters argues that the suspension could have helped Rousseff's case if it had come earlier, but could now harm it, by weakening her argument that the impeachment process is spearheaded by corrupt politicians.
Nonetheless, the government will now mount a request to have the impeachment annulled, based on the argument that it was a maneuver by Cunha to distract from investigation into his own wrongdoing, reports Folha de S. Paulo.

It's worth noting that Cunha will be temporarily replaced by Waldir Maranhão, who himself has accusations of corruption and money laundering, reports El País.

A request yesterday by the country's Prosecutor General for the Supreme Court to investigate former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva could mean at least a short term knockout for the Worker's Party, reports Reuters in a separate piece. Though leaders are resigned to the probable removal of Rousseff, da Silva's legal problems diminish his ability to rally the party's political base and to mount a credible campaign for the 2018 elections. He left office in 2010 with high approval ratings and has expressed willingness to run again, but the legal offensive against him could make such a move impossible.

The question that remains now is not whether the Workers' Party will fall, but rather how far to the right the pendulum will swing, reports the Guardian.

News Briefs
  • A year after Colombia's great glyphosate debate, which ended with a long-standing aerial coca eradication program (see, for example, posts for Oct. 1 and May 15, 2015), the country will again adopt the potentially carcinogenic herbicide in the fight against coca, this time applied by land. It will be used by the Anti-narcotics police, which will have to guarantee the safety of people working the land and surrounding communities, reports El País
  • Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos announced the country would receive intelligence assistance from the U.S. in the fight against criminal gangs, considered the country's greatest threat, reports Reuters.
  • Peruvian journalist Fernando Valencia, who was sentenced to prison for defamation, will present his case before the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). He will be represented by the Legal Defense Institute (IDL), reports the University of Texas' Knight Center.
  • Cuba's U.N. office awarded Mariela Castro, daughter of President Raúl Castro, a prize in recognition of her defense of LGBT rights on the island, reports El País.
  • A new Datanálisis poll shows a drop in Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro's approval rating in March, down to 26.8 percent, reports Reuters. Nonetheless, that remains high for the region, notes the piece. Worth revisiting a Miami Herald piece in Monday's briefing that emphasizes the die-hard loyalty of the Chavista base.
  • #PanamaIsMoreThanPapers: The release of millions of documents detailing how a law firm helped the rich and famous hide money in shell corporations, dubbed the "Panama Papers," has struck a patriotic call to arms in the country. People have rallied on social media, making the point that the country is far more than a money laundering haven, reports the New York Times.
  • Ongoing high levels of air contamination in Mexico City are calling into question a long-standing program that aims to reduce pollution by keeping cars off the road on certain days of the week, reports El País.

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