Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Cunha ousted from Brazil's lower house (Sept. 13, 2016)

Brazilian lawmakers voted 450-10 yesterday to expel Eduardo Cunha, leaving him to face corruption charges without the broad protections afforded to federal legislators, reports the New York Times

He was technically ousted for failing to disclose offshore financial assets -- Swiss bank accounts where he allegedly hid graft money, explains the Wall Street Journal. Investigators say he took up to $40 million in bribes. And criminal charges for his participation in the broad kickback corruption scheme at state-owned oil company Petrobras could follow, reports the Guardian.

Though Cunha denied hidden Swiss accounts, information from Swiss authorities proved their existence, reports the BBC.

Cunha, the former speaker of the Chamber of Deputies, led the impeachment effort against former President Dilma Rousseff. But he has also become a symbol of the widespread graft afflicting the political system in Brazil. El País notes the magnitude of his fall: Cunha used to boast of having his own party, with hundreds of allies in addition to the PMDB to which he formally belongs. Yesterday he was abandoned by virtually all of his companions. He became the seventh legislator to lose his post since the ethics committee was created in 2001, and will be ineligible to hold political office until 2027.

Cunha was a key ally of Rousseff's successor, Michel Temer, but has criticized the government for failing to stand by him, according to the Associated Press. Had he remained in the speakers post, he'd be next in line for the presidency, after Temer. But the unpopular Cunha had become a political liability, notes the WSJ. Still, Cunha promises this won't be the end of his political career: “Politics is the only activity where you can die and be resuscitated numerous times,” he told reporters. 

He's gone from being all-powerful to a "man bomb," quips El País, and other politicians are worried about Cunha trading information on their own misdeeds in an attempt to avoid jail time. A plea bargain could threaten 50 politicians already under investigation in relation to Petrobras corruption, notes Deutsche Welle. His revelations could also threaten Temer's fragile government and complicate his fiscal austerity policies, reports Reuters. About 60 percent of the lower house's lawmakers are under investigation for corruption. 

For Rousseff supporters, the Cunha case is fraught. They see the impeachment proceeding against Rousseff as payback for the Workers' Party refusal to support Cunha in a December ethics committee proceeding that ended in yesterday's vote. (See post for Dec. 3, 2015.) 

Instead, Cunha insists that he has been sacrificed as payback for Rousseff's ouster.

In a separate, but related, note, the national attorney general dismissed by Temer last week said he believe the move is an attempt to derail the Petrobras investigation, reports the Associated Press

News Briefs
  • Brazil ratified the Paris agreement on climate change. The move by Latin America's largest greenhouse gas emitter could push other countries to follow its example, reports the Guardian. Panama also ratified the agreement yesterday, reports EFE. The Paris agreement will enter into force once 55 countries representing at least 55 percent of global emissions have formally joined it. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is seeking to rush the legal commitment ahead of the U.S. election, as Trump threatens to pull out if he wins, reports the New York Times.
  • A Salvadoran judge ordered the former attorney general freed from provisional detention for charges of divulging intercepted phone conversations, reports the Associated Press. He was arrested last month in a separate case related to charges of procedural fraud and "omission" in various cases. (See Aug. 25's post by David Holiday.)
  • El Salvador's gang members are increasingly using assault rifles, an indicator of the ratcheting up of violence between the government and the maras, reports El Faro (InSight Crime has the English translation). Government officials say these "weapons of war," along with much of the other firearms they confiscate from the gangs, are from the civil war. Ironically, the weapons used by the FLMN guerrillas thirty years ago may now be employed by the gangs against the FMLN government.
  • The exception to El Salvador's rampant impunity for homicides may be young women who have the misfortune to have a stillbirth or miscarry -- many are suspected of seeking abortions and can be sentenced to up to 40 years for aggravated homicide under the country's draconian abortion laws, reports the New York Times. The story isn't new, but the piece has a nice profile of Dennis Muñoz, a lawyer who dedicates himself to representing these women and fighting to reduce their sentences.
  • Nicaraguan president Daniel Ortega maintains his overwhelming lead for reelection in November, according to a new poll by M&R Consultants. Nearly 66 percent of those surveyed planned to vote for Ortega's FSLN party, compared to about 5 percent for the lead right-wing opposition candidate, reports Reuters. Ortega's economic and social parties have maintained his popularity, though the opposition accuses him of using judicial and electoral bodies to slowly chip away at major opposition parties. (See Aug. 3's post.)
  • Cuban opposition leader Guillermo Fariñas ended his 54-day hunger strike yesterday, following unconfirmed reports that the European Parliament has linked aid to the island to the Cuban government's fulfillment of his demands, reports the Miami Herald. He demands the end of government repression and dialogue with the political opposition, reports El País, which notes the historical use of hunger strikes by Cuban political dissidents.
  • More than $400 million in U.S. aid will be key for the implementation of the Colombia-FARC peace accords, reports France 24. WOLA says U.S. funding would be aimed primarily at generating economic alternatives for coca growers, including the build-up of road and market infrastructure in very rural areas.
  • Colombia's FARC has apologized for the "great pain" caused by the guerrilla's thousands of abductions over the years, reports Reuters.
  • The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights has complained about Venezuela's refusal to allow expert visits, despite grave allegations of abuses in recent years, reports El País. (See yesterday's briefs on the detention of political opposition leaders and press.)
  • Empresas Polar, one of Venezuela's biggest businesses, said its production of food has fallen 30 percent this year due to shortages in raw materials, reports UPI.
  • Chilean Senator Isabel Allende said she'll seek the presidency next year. The announcement came this weekend, on the anniversary of the coup against her father, socialist president Salvador Allende, in 1973, reports TeleSur. She will first seek her socialist party's approval, after which she would compete in a Nueva Mayoría primary.
  • It is time for Mexico and the U.S. to create a mutually beneficial and well-regulated labor market for workers crossing their shared border, according to the Center for Global Development. In a New York Times op-ed, former Mexican president Ernesto Zedillo and former U.S. Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutierrez decry the decades of rampant illegality that have afflicted millions of Mexicans working in the U.S. "It is possible to regulate these activities in ways that create new, better jobs for United States workers at all levels of education, foster investment and growth in both countries, and strengthen the enforcement of American and Mexican law. A well-regulated labor market can shape the flow of migrant labor to ensure that it complements rather than competes with United States workers. A black market cannot do that."
  • The Mexican peso suffered a momentary "swoon" yesterday, after reports that Hillary Clinton was suffering pneumonia fanned fears of a Trump presidency in the U.S., reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • Organ grinders in Mexico City say they are the victims of changing tastes -- a new generation disdains their music, though lack of economic opportunity has more people flocking to the street peddling tradition, reports the New York Times.
  • Two indigenous women who had remained "non-contacted" until 2014 fled back into the Amazon, taking just an ax, a machete and their pet birds, reports the Washington Post. They are members of the endangered Awá tribe, many of whom live in villages in the southeastern Amazon. An unknown number continuing the community's ancient hunter-gatherer existence, but are threatened by the encroachment of loggers and fires that are decimating their grounds. The case shows the importance of preserving lands for indigenous communities, say activists.
  • Bonaire will be the test-site for a 3-D printing experiment to encourage coral reef growth, reports the Associated Press
  • CEPR investigation challenges a study that a U.S. program reduced perceptions of insecurity in Central America. Vanderbuilt University's Latin American Public Opinion Project (LAPOP) found the State Department’s Central American Regional Security Initiative (CARSI) had a significant measure of success in reducing violence. But CEPR challenges the results.

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