Thursday, September 1, 2016

Rousseff impeached (Sept. 1, 2016)

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff was impeached yesterday by a crushing majority of 61 to 20 in a political trial that deemed her guilty of illicit budget maneuvers. The vote -- with the expected result -- ousted the country's first female president and ended 13 years of Workers' Party rule. It came on the heels of Rousseff's impassioned defense earlier this week of her government's record, the party's, and her ongoing characterization of the process against her as a parliamentary coup. (See Monday's post.)

In a separate vote senators rejected a measure that would have barred Rousseff from holding public office for eight years.

Interim president Michel Temer was re-sworn in yesterday, and promised a "new era" for Brazil before flying off to a G-20 meeting in China. He is eager to present himself as the fresh face of a country battered by polarization and political fighting, and seeks to allay investor fears regarding the country's stability, reports the Wall Street Journal.

Rousseff's lawyer, José Eduardo Cardozo, said the charges against her were brought forth as punishment for the president’s support for the huge Petrobras corruption investigation that has besmirched powerful members of the national elite and politicians from across the spectrum, reports the Guardian.

Supporters also argued that the ouster was intended as a rebuke for the poverty reduction initiatives of the Workers' Party governments, reports the Wall Street Journal.

But the impeachment was rooted in problems affecting the entire political spectrum, argues a New York Times "explainer" piece. "... It is not the case, as some have argued, that Ms. Rousseff’s impeachment was a coup in the sense that a handful of elites subverted the popular will. Nor have they, in these proceedings, gone outside the law. Rather, Ms. Rousseff’s political opponents have done something subtler: They exploited the popular will and the letter of the law to serve their own interests, rather than the interests of democracy."

As was the case in the impeachment vote held by the lower chamber of Congress earlier this year, invocations of God were commonplace in yesterday's voting, reflecting the growing power of evangelism in Brazilian politics, notes the Guardian. (See April 18's post.)

An exultant Estado editorial celebrates Rousseff's ouster as the end of a period beginning with Lula's presidency in 2003, in which "the nation's critical conscience was anesthetized."

Miami Herald columnist Andrés Oppenheimer makes the case that what happened in Brazil is not a coup -- the process followed all of the constitutionally mandated judicial and legislative steps, he said. Instead, he points to Venezuela as an example of a current coup against democracy. 

New York Times editorial also takes a harsh perspective -- though less so -- "Rousseff’s legacy, and the events that led to her downfall, are more complex than she acknowledges." The paper argued that she failed to create an effective governing coalition when a recession impacted her government's popularity, and that she misstepped in attempting to shield her mentor and predecessor Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva from a wide ranging corruption investigation.

Guardian editorial argues that the episode shows the flip side of a narrative of emerging countries slated to change the world -- "themselves confronted by difficulties rooted in economic downturns and flawed governance." But to believe that the vote alone will change the country is disingenuous, according to the piece. The country now needs Temer to restore public confidence and lead the country in facing deep challenges, though it's not clear he's up to the challenge. 

The ouster leaves Brazilians facing the same dismal economic situation coupled with the polarization and political crisis that led to the impeachment, reports the Wall Street Journal.

And investors excited over the new administration's promises to roll-back social spending and implement neo-liberal reform are putting too much faith in the political and not enough attention to the country's underlying economic problems, reports the Wall Street Journal in another piece.

The next challenge is reviving the economy, agrees the New York Times in a separate piece -- post impeachment, the hard part is just beginning for Temer.

The Workers' Party is now left to rally what's left of its base and find new leadership, reports the Wall Street Journal separately. Though the party delivered on promises to alleviate poverty during its years in power, largely through cash-transfer programs, support has splinted in the wake of widespread corruption allegations against members, according to the WSJ.

At least the Workers' Party has seen the need to reinvent itself, however, argues Carol Pires in a New York Times op-ed. Brazil's other political parties continue to ignore evidence of widespread corruption in their leadership and "there is not a hint of a political reform on the horizon."

Whether or not the argument that this is a sign of Brazil's democratic maturity holds any water, the episode is unlikely to strengthen democracy in a country where voters are alienated and and disillusioned with the political system, reports the Washington Post.

The episode is a threat to Brazilian democracy, argues CEPR's Mark Weisbrot, in a Hill op-ed, in a piece that reviews the grim impeachment proceedings over the course of the year.

The Guardian reviews the main issues underlying Rousseff's impeachment, including the Lava Jato investigation, why Brazilian parties need slush funds and the specific accusations against Rousseff.

Bloomberg has an interesting piece looking at the powerful Marinho clan, with a combined family fortune of $18 billion and owners of the Globo Group media empire. The family's history includes support for the 1964 military coup that initiated 20 years of dictatorship. Though the family has apologized, Rousseff supporters "say Globo’s news coverage in the run-up to her ongoing impeachment trial helped tip the scales against her. The media juggernaut denies any bias."


Trump vs Peña Nieto

Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto created an international stir by inviting Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump for a visit, which was carried out yesterday. The Mexican government issued the invitation to both parties' candidates, but Trump's hardline stance on immigration from Mexico in particular has been extremely polemic.

Yesterday's visit was characterized by the New York Times as a humbling of Trump who sounded a "conciliatory theme" as Peña Nieto watched "impassively." "Peña Nieto came across as civil and stolid," concludes the piece. But other papers harshly criticized the initiative and said Peña Nieto was less favored in the encounter.

Trump spoke favorably of Mexican-Americans and said he considered Peña Nieto a friend. But he also said that Mexico has benefitted disproportionately from trade agreements between the two countries and emphasized illegal immigration as a shared issue of concern, notes the NYTimes.

Peña Nieto said he personally informed Trump that Mexico would not pay for a wall dividing the two countries -- a promise he has reiterated publicly on several occasions. But Trump said they didn't discuss who would finance the construction. A Peña Nieto spokesperson attempted to save the situation explaining later that there was no discussion because Trump didn't answer the Mexcian president's assertion that Mexico would not be responsible, reports the Guardian.

The Washington Post makes much of the two presidents' differing characterizations of their discussion over paying for the border wall. It's likely that Peña Nieto did raise the subject, and that Trump mischaracterized the dialogue, according the WP's analysis.

Mexicans have been offended by Trump's characterization of their countrymen as rapists, a point Peña NIeto took the opportunity to make to the candidate, reports the Wall Street Journal. He also noted illegal immigration was at a 10-year low, and said economic activity in the two nations benefit each other. Trump has maligned the NAFTA agreement, and while Peña Nieto said it has been beneficial, he also said he's be willing to discuss modifications.

The timing of Peña Nieto's invitation might seem odd, but is actually part of an attempt to boost poll numbers that have dipped down to 23 percent, by appearing to stand up to a massively unpopular foreign figure, argues Daniel Peña in the Guardian. "The embarrassing thing is that we can actually see Peña Nieto’s logic at work in real time as this disaster unfolds. ... And if this meeting teaches us anything it’s that Peña Nieto is willing to risk Mexican ire and possible geopolitical consequences if only to save his own political career."

While the meeting had clear benefits for Trump, who got to look like a world leader, it was unlikely to give Peña Nieto any sort of a boost, according to the Wall Street Journal. It allowed Trump to demonstrate that he can keep his cool on an international stage, though he also risked appearing overly friendly with a country he has blamed for being a pipeline of illegal immigration to the U.S., notes the NYTimes.

Citizens felt betrayed by the meeting, reports the New York Times in a separate piece. “It’s a historic error,” said Enrique Krauze, a well-known historian. “You confront tyrants. You don’t appease them.” In a popular television show, Krauze compared the meeting to British prime minister Neville Chamberlin's meeting with Adolf Hitler in Munich in 1938. The comparison takes strength from Peña Nieto's comparison earlier this year of Trump's rhetoric to Hitler's.

Animal Político presents the videos of the two presidents' post meeting speeches, noting that Trump did not apologize for offensive remarks regarding Mexicans. And the meeting failed to impact his general immigration stance, notes the paper in a separate piece.

Mexican political humor was on display yesterday, as angry citizens mocked both the presidential nominee and their own leader, reports the Guardian. Author Antonio Ortuño mocked the meeting, comparing it to the encounter between Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés – who led the fall of the Aztec empire – and the Aztec emperor Montezuma. “Montezuma invited Hernán Cortés to lunch and it went really well. That’s what Peña Nieto’s advisors told him. And here we go," he tweeted yesterday.

Others said they'd be happy to pay for the infamous border wall that Trump has proposed between the two countries -- albeit based on Mexico’s former border from the mid 1800s, which cuts through about half of the US, including the west coast and most of the south.

News Briefs
  • The Committee to protect Journalists has reported that entry was denied to at least six international reporters seeking to cover today's opposition protests. The Miami Herald says its Andean bureau chief, Jim Wyss, was detained by immigration police and deported to Panama. Authorities said he wasn't registered as a journalist in the country. Earlier this week two Al Jazeera reporters were also denied entry to the country. (See Tuesday's post.)
  • The impact of U.S. support for the 2009 Honduran coup -- particularly its subsequent legitimization through elections -- continues to be felt in the country today. Activists point to a post-coup sell off of mining and hydroelectric concessions which led to the high rates of violence targeting environmental activists such as Berta Cáceres who was killed earlier this year, reports the Guardian. Of particular relevance is the role played by then-state secretary Hillary Clinton's role in pushing for recognition of elections held in an atmosphere of intimidation and violations, argues the piece.
  • WOLA looks at U.S. Special Operations in Latin America as a form of parallel diplomacy. Special Ops Training in the Region Tripled From 2007 to 2014, even as already low levels of transparency regarding their actions shrunk, write  Sarah Kinosian and Adam Isacson.

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