Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Scandals in new Brazil government offer Rousseff hope of survival (June 8, 2016)

A series of blunders in Brazilian interim president Michel Temer's three-week-old administration could be Dilma Rousseff's saving grace, Reuters reports. According to surveys by Brazilian media, up to a dozen of the 55 senators who voted last month to put Rousseff on trial are now undecided. Just a couple flip-flops could cause Temer's camp to lose the 54 votes it needs to convict Rousseff. In theory, she'd then be able to serve out her term until 2018; however, a poll this week showed that a majority of Brazilians want new elections this year. 

The poll showed that more than a quarter of Brazilians view Temer's government negatively. Three of his cabinet ministers have been caught in audio recordings apparently scheming to oust Rousseff in order to thwart the investigation into the Petrobras graft scandal, according to Reuters.

On Monday, Brazilian news organizations reported that the country's top prosecutor is seeking to arrest several leading figures in Mr. Temer's party, including the head of the Senate, a former president, and the former speaker of the lower house. Leaked recordings suggest they, too, sought to interfere with the Petrobras investigation, reports the Associated Press.

The New York Times has a thoughtful profile of Rousseff, Brazil's first female president, as she faces her impeachment trial. Rousseff has repeatedly argued that she is innocent and that the push to remove her is a coup intended to back down on the Petrobras investigation, which she refused to do while in office, according to AP. 

The Times criticizes Temer's worrisome gaffes in a editorial that suggests the new president "would be wise to call for a law ending immunity for lawmakers and ministers in corruption cases." This seems unlikely, considering the number of Temer's allies and friends who might fall on their swords with such a measure. 

News Briefs
  • Eight former members of Guatemala's military will go on trial on charges of forced disappearances and crimes against humanity, the Associated Press reports. The ex-soldiers are being prosecuted in connection with massacres committed in western Guatemala during the 1960-1996 conflict. The International Justice Monitor has a helpful piece explaining the background of the case. 
  • A spokesman for Salvadoran president Salvador Sánchez Cerén criticized the Supreme Court's ruling that prison conditions are unconstitutional, La Página reports (see yesterday's brief). "Next the Constitutional Chamber will probably rule on overcrowding in the bus system, or it will want to eliminate sadness, or declare poverty unconstitutional," spokesman Eugenio Chicas said. He added that the government was taking all necessary steps to mitigate the prison problem.
  • Meanwhile, the Mexican government released a statement in response to Open Society's report alleging crimes against humanity in the war against drug cartels. The statement lists various efforts Mexico has made to combat human rights abuses, and claims that "the vast majority of violent crimes have been committed by criminal organizations." 
  • Guatemalan drug lords are razing massive tracts of forests to create clandestine runways for planes carrying US-bound cocaine shipments, AFP reports. The government has declared a state of emergency over the fires in the Peten region, where an area twice the size of Manhattan has been illegally cleared this year, according to officials.
  • International leaders have reluctantly given the green light to Haiti's plans for an election overhaul in October, reports the Miami Herald. However, the U.S. Special Coordinator for Haiti expressed concern about instability and potential negative "financial consequences" as Haiti waits another six months for a presidential election. 
  • The Intercept has an interesting multimedia story about a U.S. State Department official's different treatment of Brazil and Venezuela when asked to comment on their respective crises. While the official gave "long and loquacious" criticism of Venezuela's administration, he repeatedly declined to comment on the political dimensions of what's happening currently in Brazil. 
  • A $940 million project at a gold mine in Ecuador is ready to go ahead, Bloomberg reports. The launch of the project reflects rising gold prices, up 19% in New York markets from a five-year low, and Ecuadorean President Rafael Corea's efforts to diversify Ecuador's economy away from oil. The mine, Fruta del Norte, will be the first big gold mine in Ecuador. 

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