Monday, August 29, 2016

Rousseff defends herself in Senate (Aug. 29, 2016)

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff testified before the Senate this morning. She took a defiant stance, facing accusations of budgetary manipulation that could lead to her impeachment. "Today I only fear the death of democracy," she said, in what El País characterized as her possible last speech as president.

Rousseff said her conscience was "absolutely clean" and that she had not committed any crime, reports the BBC. She said her administration had made mistakes, but that cowardice and disloyalty were not among them, reports O Globo.

She is specifically accused of delaying government payments to a state-controlled bank, which effectively forced it to provide her administration with allegedly illegal short-term loans which masked the country's budget deficit, explains the Wall Street Journal.

After her 45 minute speech the floor opened up to senators' questions, in a session expected to last all day, reports Reuters.

El País has live coverage of her answers to senators regarding allegations that she illegally altered the budget without Congressional approval. 

She maintains that the actions do not constitute an impeachable crime and described the charges against her as "pretexts in order to perform a coup against the constitution," reports NPR.

There is a huge focus of debate centered around the legality or not of her probable ousting. While Rousseff said that now it will be possible to force governors from their positions without legal basis, senators in favor of her ousting emphasized that her very presence in the Senate trial, chaired by a Supreme Court judge, showed the legality of the proceedings, reports Folha de S. Paulo.

It's the last chance she has to convince Senators to return her to office -- which she has been suspended from since May (see May 12's post). A two thirds majority of the 81 Senators must vote for impeachment in order to oust her. Earlier this month, senators voted 59 to 21 in favor of putting her on trial.

On Friday the Wall Street Journal noted the high tensions in the first days of the trial, but said the delays weren't "likely to reduce the likelihood that Ms. Rousseff will get the boot. But it is a sign that the president’s supporters aren’t going to go meekly."

An editorial by El País' adjunct director questions the stance of Rousseff's detractors, who blame her for the stalled economy and corruption ills plaguing the political class. Temer's government will not have long term success he hypothesizes. "No, the new definitive Temer presidency will not make corruption disappear magically, nor the lagging international demand for primary materials, nor the enormous public and private debts of businesses and families." Nor will the political change vanquish the millions of voters who were lifted from extreme poverty by the 13 years of Workers' Party government, he writes. "It is likely that those voters, in a country with obligatory participation, will have something to say in two years, when Temer must submit, not to the judgement of street protests, but to true legitimacy, which is conferred only by voting."

The moment harkens back to the 1992 impeachment proceedings against former President Fernando Collor de Melo, who quit rather than face the final Congressional vote. El País compares the similarities and differences between the two cases.

News Briefs
  • Brazilian federal police recommended prosecutors file charges against former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and his wife, for money laundering and corruption in relation to a beachfront luxury property they allegedly own -- both deny the charges. The allegations form part of the Operation Car Wash investigation into corruption at Petrobras, reports the Wall Street Journal. The move by the investigative police comes at a critical moment of Rousseff's Senate trial, notes the New York Times.
  • Venezuela is gearing up for an opposition demonstration on Thursday, demanding the national electoral council (CNE) rush the referendum against President Nicolás Maduro so it can occur this year. In turn government supporters are expected to turn out in counter marches. El País reports that the government has also scheduled sales of scarce food supplies for that day and reiterated threats to fire government employees supporting the opposition demands.
  • Prominent opposition leader Daniel Ceballos was jailed again by intelligence agents on Saturday, a move the government characterized as necessary to prevent acts of violence, reports the Associated Press. Ceballos was jailed for a year, before being released to house arrest due to health concerns. His wife said intelligence agents put him in an ambulance on Saturday, claiming to take him to a medical exam, but instead transferred him to jail. The government said it has evidence that the former mayor of San Cristóbal was planning to flee and instigate acts of violence ahead of Thursday's protests. Rights groups, including Amnesty International, criticized the detention.
  • A permanent bi-lateral cease-fire began today in Colombia between the government and the FARC guerrilla group, after a peace deal was reached last week. Both sides said they were halting attacks, reports the Associated Press. (See last Thurday's post.)
  • New York Times op-ed by Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and Harvard psych professor Steven Pinker lauds the FARC peace deal as a regional milestone and an example of how violent conflicts can draw to a close. "From Alaska to Tierra del Fuego, war — in the classic sense of a violent conflict over governance or territory fought by at least one national army — has disappeared. Although drug-related gang violence in Latin America continues, the extinguishing of political armed conflicts from an entire hemisphere deserves note," they write. But "waging peace can be almost as difficult as waging war, and for Colombia, the remaining challenges are considerable."
  • Chief-government negotiator Humberto de la Calle urged Colombians to remember that while many would have liked more punishment for the FARC (see Friday's post), responsibility for atrocities extends to other actors, including "state agents who deviated from their missions and third parties who financed grave crimes and massacres," reports El País.
  • A major challenge proponents of the peace face in the upcoming plebiscite on the accords is the growing identification between the agreements and Santos, argues María Victoria Llorente in a New York Times op-ed. "The belligerent tone of the debate has impeded a serene and constructive reflexion on the challenges and opportunities peace represents for the future of Colombia," she writes.
  • A piece by Annie Corral in the New York Times tells the story of her father's 1999 kidnapping by the FARC. Though the eight month episode cost her family their livelihood, "he let go of the rancor, the outrage at what had happened, quite senselessly, to him and to our family. Like so many victims of Colombia’s conflict now, in his time, he chose peace."
  • The deal offers a rare victory for American diplomacy, according to the Washington Post, and a validation of the approximately $10 billion spent as part of the Plan Colombia.
  • Mexico's dissident teachers union and the government are in a firm standoff over education reform and deaths at a protest earlier this year. The danger for bloody confrontation is greater than ever, according to The Nation, which covers the latest on the issue.
  • Thousands of union members and teachers marched last week in Ecuador, protesting the government's dissolution of a public teachers' guild, reports AFP.
  • El Salvador's Supreme Court denied a Spanish extradition request for three former military officers in connection with the 1989 murder of six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper and her daughter, reports the Latin American Herald Tribune.
  • Argentine President Mauricio Macri campaigned on the vision that human rights violations committed by the country's last military dictatorship are a thing of the past, and that the country must move forward. But since taking office he has "shattered" the country's "consensus on the gravity of dictatorship-era crimes," writes Uki Goñi in the Guardian. "Earlier this month, Macri rattled nerves in the human rights community when he appeared to doubt the long-accepted historical understanding that 30,000 people died under the dictatorship. ... Some sympathizers with the former regime have long raised doubts over the number of desaparecidos, but Macri’s words marked the first time that such denialist rhetoric gained admittance to mainstream political discourse."
  • The case of $67,000 in cash stolen from the home of Argentine Vice President Gabriela Michetti -- apparently by her bodyguard -- is a high profile example of a cash-based economy that often masks task evasion, reports Bloomberg. The case comes as Argentines debate a tax amnesty push by Macri aimed at pulling citizens into the banking system.
  • Bolivia is used to radical social protests, but striking miners who beat to death the deputy interior minister last week took it to a whole new level that escalates the level of violence in the country and challenges President Evo Morales' goal of creating a strong state, argues Pablo Stefanoni in Nueva Sociedad. (See Friday's briefs.)
  • Morales characterized the protests as a coup attempt and announced on Saturday that it had been squashed, reports the Latin American Herald Tribune.
  • A multi-lingual book publishes the myths of the Kukama amazon indigenous tribe -- as told by grandparents and illustrated by children -- reports El País. The stories tell about the aquatic species and mythological beings that live in the Marañón river in Peru, threatened by crude oil spills, hydroelectric dams and waterway traffic.

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