Thursday, May 12, 2016

Rousseff suspended in Brazil; Colombia to hold peace referendum in Sept. (May 12, 2016)

Brazil's Senate voted 55 to 22 to suspend President Dilma Rousseff in order to put her on trial for impeachment on charges of budgetary manipulation aimed at strengthening her reelection candidacy. The trial can take up to six months, during which time Vice President Michel Temer will assume the helm, reports the New York Times. (See yesterday's post.)

The Senate held a marathon, 20-hour session, in which the level of opposition to Rousseff seems to indicate her eventual impeachment, notes the Wall Street Journal.

Rousseff's supporters say the move is a glorified coup d'etat and threatened protests and strikes, while her opponents say Rousseff's removal is the first step to recovery for a country beset by political and economic crisis, reports the Associated Press.

Speaking to journalists after the vote, Rousseff said she had made mistakes, but had not committed crimes, reports Folha de S. Paulo.

"The president – a former Marxist guerrilla who was imprisoned and tortured in the 1970s – has railed against treachery and misogyny, and vowed to fight to the bitter end. But her battle increasingly resembles that of an injured animal surrounded by predators moving in for the kill," reports the Guardian.

There is a sense that the Senate vote could end months of political gridlock, notes the Guardian. 

But the Temer era begins under a cloud of suspicion from Brazilians, most of whom said they would not vote for him as president, reports El País.

Hours after the vote her entire cabinet was officially dismissed, and Temer could name a new cabinet later today, reports the Associated Press separately. 

Folha has the list of the 21 selected ministers. It is reportedly 100 percent male (for the first time since 1979) and 100 percent white, according to the Guardian 

Temer will announce measures to rebalance depleted fiscal accounts and generate new jobs, reports Reuters.

Business leaders and investors are cheered by the change in leadership. Temer has announced a reduction in government ministries and will seek to reduce budget deficits, reports the Wall Street Journal separately.

The political crisis, while nominally about budget maneuvers, was years in the making, according to another Wall Street Journal piece. Declining commodity prices made maintaining popular government programs unsustainable, while the Petrobras corruption scandal made legislators unwilling to pass unpopular austerity measures for fear of losing elections.

Temer must overcome three deeply interconnected crises, according to the WSJ, corruption, political dysfunction and Brazil's worst recession in generations. Yet many of the legislators pushing for Rousseff's ouster are themselves implicated in the Petrobras graft scandal at the heart of the corruption crisis in Brazilian politics.

He must prove his ability to create alliances, argues Folha de S. Paulo.
Though Rousseff has not technically been impeached, the process seems nearly irreversible now, reports El País

The challenges facing Temer's new government could play in favor of the now-disgraced Workers' Party, according to the Wall Street Journal. Without Rousseff at the helm, if the new government stumbles, the PT could be strengthened ahead of the 2018 elections. (See May 4's post.)

The PT is planning a dual strategy in the upcoming months: steadfast Congressional opposition to Temer's government and rallies around the country and internationally featuring Rousseff and former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, reports El País.

Only a disaster could somehow save Rousseff from her impeachment fate, along the lines of Temer failing at garnering parliamentary support for an economic agenda in his first few months, argues Igor Gielow in Folha de S. Paulo.

News Briefs
  • Recipients of Brazil's Bolsa Familia, the world's largest cash-transfer program, are concerned that they will lose their benefits which save them from extreme poverty, reports the BBC. But it's a good time to be rich in Brazil: equity market gains have propelled a wealth increase among billionaires, reports Bloomberg
  • Colombia will hold a referendum on a peace deal with FARC rebel group by late September, said Interior Minister Juan Fernando Cristo yesterday. In addition to the signing of an eventual deal with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), still to be set, the government needs the Constitutional Court to give the referendum a green light, reports AFP. Cristo said he was confident the justices will soon have a decision on the case, reports El Espectador. He also said negotiators in Havana are nearing a conclusion, according to La Vanguardia. Negotiators failed to reach an agreement by a March deadline, and last week President Juan Manuel Santos said he would rather not impose a new target date. (See March 24's post.)
  • FARC negotiators accepted the plebiscite proposal for the first time last week, explains La Vanguardia, after years of rejecting the measure and calling for a Constituent Assembly to approve the deal instead. But a referendum could actually give the FARC the assurances they seek to guarantee the deal, argues Laura Gil in El Tiempo.
  • Earlier this week opposition leader and former President Álvaro Uribe called for "civil resistance" to the peace talks. (See Tuesday's briefs.) Basically that means voting against the agreement in an eventual plebiscite, according to Publimetro. But Uribe said yesterday he will begin to collect signatures against the peace accords and the referendum itself as well, reports El Universal. The document he is gathering support for calls for sentencing for war crimes, in rejection of the transitional justice clause of the proposed agreement, reports El Colombiano. Prosecutor General Alejandro Ordóñez backed Uribe's call, saying it's legitimate, reports La Vanguardia
  • Cristo twisted the call, and asked mayors of his party to lead "civil resistance" to war, reports El Espectador. Cristo also criticized Uribe's call to action: "There are democratic guarantees for all and the appropriate time for this [civil resistance] is the plebiscite," in which Colombians will be able to either reject or accept the peace deal, according to Colombia Reports
  • "However, an agreement between the guerrillas and the Colombian state does not mean the end of militarization in Colombia. ... Even as the amount of violent combat has dropped precipitously in the last four years, the number of non-violent Colombian activists who have been targeted, primarily by paramilitary groups, has increased markedly," report John Lindsay-Poland and Arlene B. Tickner for Nacla.
  • In the Catacumbo region in particular ongoing violence makes talk of peace seem more like propaganda than anything else, reports Silla Vacía.
  • In the meantime, peace talks will not delay fiscal reforms needed to help the country cope with plunging oil revenues, Santos promised investors this week. Without reform the country's credit rating could be downgraded, reports Reuters.
  • And Colombia’s interim prosecutor general announced Wednesday he would file 16,000 war crime charges against the leaders of the ELN while negotiators are trying to agree to formal peace talks, according to Colombia Reports.
  • Thousands of Venezuelans marched yesterday to demand government authorities move forward with the verification of signatures in support of a recall referendum on President Nicolás Maduro's mandate, reports the Wall Street Journal. (See yesterday's briefs.) Soldiers fired tear gas at stone-throwing protesters, reports Reuters. Government supporters held a counter march.
  • U.S. Republican Senator Marco Rubio made a deal with the White House that would extend sanctions on Venezuela and confirm the U.S. ambassador to Mexico, reports The Hill.
  • The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights recommends against the deportation of a Salvadoran woman and her 12-year-old daughter from the U.S., saying their lives are at risk. The woman claims she fled to the U.S. after she endured multiple gang rapes by gang members, who also killed her brother-in-law and threatened to attack her daughter. She said she was unable to explain her situation to U.S. authorities who rejected her asylum application, reports the Guardian.
  • A campesino mobilization in Guatemala paralyzed half the country yesterday, with demonstrators demanding the government nationalize electricity, stop subsidizing big agribusinesses, and set aside 15 percent of cultivable land lots for basic food production, reports TeleSur.
  • The Chile Students Confederation said it gathered 80,000 students, in a march yesterday to demand a thorough overhaul of a Chilean educational system still marked by the legacy of the 1973-1990 Augusto Pinochet dictatorship, reports the Latin American Herald Tribune.
  • Thousands of Mexicans have been forced to abandon their homes and join the ranks of the country's internally displaced due to organized crime violence, according to the National Human Rights Commission. At least 35,433 people who have fled, reports the Associated Press.
  • Nicaragua's political opposition organized a protest yesterday, after the country's electoral council called for elections in November. The opposition, led by the Independent Liberal Party, or PLI, claims that the council has favored the ruling Sandinista National Liberation Front, or FSLN, in every election since 2008, reports the Latin American Herald Tribune.
  • Rising poverty in Argentina is leading to a rise in "social fridges," where people leave food for those who need it, following a model that popped up in several European countries, reports AFP.

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