Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Lula to face corruption trial as lawmakers attempt amnesty for their own corruption (Sept. 21, 2016)

Brazil's crusading Judge Sergio Moro ruled that former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva must stand trial on corruption charges. Da Silva rejects the accusations that he masterminded a wide web of corruption that inflated state-run oil company Petrobras contracts in order to keep his political coalition afloat, reports the Guardian. (See last Thursday's post.)

The former president says the trial, which would take place in Curitiba, is an attempt to thwart his candidacy for the 2018 presidential election. If da Silva is found guilty, he may be ineligible to run.

The decision comes amid a national debate over whether prosecutors are overreaching in efforts to ensnare the popular Workers' Party leader, reports the New York Times.

The move comes in a period of intense pressure for Brazilian politicians of all major parties, who are under scrutiny for participating in the Petrobras corruption scheme. The Chamber of Deputies stripped its former speaker, Eduardo Cunha, of his seat earlier this month (see Sept. 13's post). Prosecution against him could potentially unleash a torrent of revelations of corruption if Cunha seeks a plea bargain in exchange for a reduced sentence, reported the Associated Press earlier this month.

That's an eventuality lawmakers attempted to bypass this week. On Monday Chamber of Deputies leaders attempted to quietly approve a bill that would amnesty them from breaking campaign finance laws. (See yesterday's briefs.) The move -- timed to coincide with Temer's absence -- "shocked even the most longtime, jaded observers of corrupt Brasília plotting," according to Glen Greenwald.

The amendment tacked onto a 2007 campaign finance bill would have amnestied use of "so-called “caixa dois”: the covert funds candidates receive and then spend on their campaigns without officially declaring them as expenditures or donations," explains The Intercept. "Long used by politicians to get massive largesse from large corporations and oligarchs without any detection or legal accountability, this dark practice has been brought to light as part of the country’s sweeping “Lava Jato” corruption investigation."

And the "caixa dois" practise could implicate the new Brazilian government's most powerful actors, from Temer, to his foreign minister José Serra, and, most importantly, House president Rodrigo Maia -- who is accused of having received 32 million reais this way, according to Greenwald.

Interestingly, nobody has assumed responsibility for the sneaky amendment, report UOL and O Globo. But it involved the leaders of the country's main political parties, reports O Globo separately. Maia chalked it up to a "collective mistake," and refused to give details of how the amendment came to be included in the bill. 

News Briefs
  • A third of Brazilians believe victims are to blame for sexual violence, citing provocative clothing as an incentive for rape, for example, according to a new Datafolha poll commissioned by the Fórum Brasileiro de Segurança Pública (FBSP). The belief crosses gender lines, 30 percent of women agree. The fact is significant in a country where experts estimate nearly half a million rapes per year, reports Folha de S. Paulo.
  • Brazil's government announced it will cut back on Cuban doctors employed in a health care program targeting underserved rural communities, but hopes to replace them with Brazilian doctors, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • Ecuador will use it's turn at the U.N. General Assembly podium to call for global tax regulator to clamp down on tax-evading multinationals, shut down tax havens and expose the world's wealthy who hide money to avoid paying taxes, reports the Guardian. The IMF estimates that tax dodging costs developing countries more than $200 billion a year – much more than the total global aid budget.
  • Guatemala's attorney general filed a Supreme Court appeal, an attempt to reverse a lower court ruling that would exclude two senior former military officials from facing trial related to alleged crimes against humanity committed during Guatemala’s 36-year civil conflict, reports Jo-Marie Burt in the International Justice Monitor. The appeal challenges the exclusion from the proceedings of several of the crimes charged by the Attorney General’s Office in the CREOMPAZ case as well as court’s ruling for not taking into account accusations of sexual violence. (See Jan. 7's post and Aug. 17's.)
  • Financial Times special report heralds "The New Argentina." What makes President Mauricio Macri's right-wing government likely to succeed when so many have failed? John Paul Rathbone emphasizes his business sector stuffed cabinet, the relative lack of economic crisis (despite 40 percent inflation per year), and a business friendly reform program that maintains sensitivity to social issues and domestic politics. (See yesterday's briefs for other piece from the report.)
  • Forty years ago Chilean economist Orlando Letelier published an essay on the "Chicago Boy's" economic reforms under dictator Augusto Pinochet. The essay should still be required reading, argues Naomi Klein. Letelier, who was later assassinated in Washington DC criticized international embrace of the regime's economic reforms coupled with condemnation for its rights abuses. He argued that "Repression for the majorities and 'economic freedom' for small privileged groups are in Chile two sides of the same coin." The two aspects of the project were linked, "terror was the central tool of the free-market transformation," writes Klein in The Nation.
  • Honduran authorities are implementing a new plan to regain control of the country's prisons, many of which are dominated by violent gangs, reports the BBC. A few dozen dangerous convicts were transferred to a maximum security prison, and two more such facilities are under construction. High risk prisoners will be kept in isolation cells with no right to visits, phone calls and only one hour a day outside.
  • Peruvian President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski lobbed a diplomatic blow at Venezuela yesterday at the U.N., voicing concern over the country's critical economic situation and food and medicine shortages, reports Reuters. Venezuela called the comments "a gratuitous attack."
  • PPK has been using his New York visit to sell Wall Street on Peru as a good investment. "He is pitching Peru as a land of opportunity, contrasting it with neighboring Brazil, which is suffering its worst recession in a century, Argentina, regaining slowly from years of economic malaise, and Chile, facing a faltering recovery," reports Bloomberg.
  • IPS has an in-depth report on the social conflict surrounding Peru's Las Bambas mine. The enormous open-pit mine started operating in January, is projected to have an initial annual production of 400,000 tons of copper concentrate. Last year three people were killed and 29 wounded in protests by local communities against the mine.  
  • About 5,000 small-scale miners in Colombia's Antioquia province are on strike, demanding protection for informal activity and the possibility to legalize, reports El Tiempo.
  • Transitional justice is key for the FARC to be able to demobilize, said the guerrilla group's chief negotiator Ivan Márquez in an interview with CNN. "Without this law, well, it is very difficult for the guerrillas to begin their movement into the peace zones or to the transitional points for normalization," he said.
  • The massive FARC conference being held this week, in which delegates are expected to ratify the peace accord on Friday, is a flexing of the group's political muscle, reports the Miami Herald. But even as fighters plan to demobilize, they question how the FARC will reintegrate them into society, according to the piece.
  • Aurelio Cabrera Campos, the founder and editorial director of a weekly news magazine in Mexico's Puebla state was killed last week. He is the eight journalist killed in Mexico this year, and recent reports had focused on murders in the region related to a violent turf war between rival organized crime groups, reports the Guardian.
  • Mexican environmental authorities say they closed down seven illegal sawmills operating in a forest reserve that serves as monarch butterfly wintering grounds, reports the Associated Press.
  • Mexican investigators say two slain priests in Veracruz were killed in friendly get-together that turned violent, a vision rejected by many parishioners who say that organized crime has plagued the area with killings and disappearances, reports the Associated Press. Rev. Alejo Nabor Jimenez and Rev. Alfredo Suarez de la Cruz are the "victims of inexcusable violence," said the Vatican in a letter posted today, reports the Associated Press separately. The Catholic Media Center says 28 priests have been killed in Mexico since 2006, Veracruz, along with Guerrero and Mexico states are the most dangerous. Priests are regularly victims of extorsion, death threats and intimidation by organized crime in Mexico, according to the U.S. State Department's 2015 International Religious Freedom report. 

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