Thursday, December 1, 2016

Brazil's Congress takes aim at anti-corruption judiciary (Dec. 1, 2016)

Brazilian legislators quietly approved a bill yesterday that threatens the ability of prosecutors and judges to pursue corrupt politicians. Last minute provisions added to the legislation in the Chamber of Deputies yesterday would allow defendants to sue judicial authorities who abuse their powers. Prosecutors and judges could face fines and prison sentences for offenses such as damaging the "honor, dignity and decorum" of their offices, reports the Wall Street Journal.

The bill in question was supposed to be a landmark anti-corruption law, reports the New York Times. Legislators made radical changes to the bill -- including establishing jail time for aggressive prosecutors and judges and stripping out a whistleblower clause -- until the wee hours of the morning, well after midnight. The modifications have created a "Frankenstein" bill that has little remaining of it's original anti-corruption focus, reports El País.

Critics see it as retaliation for the broad Operation Car Wash investigation that has implicated politicians of all major parties in widespread corruption related to state-owned oil company Petrobras. Legislators attempted to amnesty themselves modifying the same bill last week.

Car Wash prosecutors are threatening to resign if the "law of intimidation" is approved, reports El País.

The bill must be approved by the Senate and signed by President Michel Temer in order to be enacted. Though he has promised to veto attempts to shield corrupt politicians, experts are split over whether he'll oppose this legislation, according to the WSJ.

The move comes as Temer himself is facing calls for impeachment over alleged impropriety. (See Tuesday's briefs.)

News Briefs
  • Colombia's lower chamber of congress unanimously ratified a second peace deal with the FARC late yesterday, reports the Associated Press. The vote in both chambers was boycotted by opponents let by former President Álvaro Uribe, who said the accord is too lenient on former fighters. Voters narrowly rejected an earlier version of the deal in October, leading to a renegotiation that included the commitment to use FARC resources to help compensate victims of the 50 year conflict. FARC leadership however rejected stricter limits on their future political participation. Under the now ratified agreement, guerrillas will have six months to turn in their weapons and start a political party, reports the Wall Street Journal. The government will also be able to implement programs to further peace, such as improving conditions in the countryside. The Congressional ratification bypasses voters who were not asked to weigh in this time, reports the New York Times. Critics also said there was little time for legislators to consider the 300 plus page agreement.  
  • Human Rights Watch, which had opposed the earlier peace accord, last week congratulated the government on the new agreement which "while not fully resolving the flaws in the original, contains language that could make it much easier to fix at least two of the most important ones—ideally through implementing legislation, or, failing that, by the Constitutional Court." However, afterwards Americas Director José Miguel Vivanco criticized a last minute change to the text that he said would absolve higher ups in the military chain of command for human rights violations committed by the Army.
  • The moment is somewhat anti-climactic, but nonetheless, it's time for Colombian's to adapt to peace, which will require new perspectives, according Juanita León in la Silla Vacía. One of the hardest changes will be for former enemies to see themselves as political adversaries (at worst), she writes. It will also require facing difficult truths regarding atrocities committed by the FARC and the state in the long conflict, she notes.
  • The approval comes amid concerns that new illegal groups will fill the vacuum left by the FARC in rural areas and take over illicit economies, and as human rights defenders and land activists denounce increasing lethal attacks against leaders, reports the Associated Press. (See last Wednesday's post.) In the past week since the new accord was signed, five activists were killed in separate incidents, reported the Christian Science Monitor earlier this week. Though no group has taken responsibility, authorities believe the attacks are being carried out by criminal groups that formed in the wake of the demobilization of right-wing militias nearly a decade ago. Senator Piedad Córdoba denounced a series of death threats directed at Marcha Patriotica members since Friday, reports TeleSur. The threatswere issued with the promise of economic reward against former Senator Cordoba and six other leaders of Marcha Patriotica. It was signed by a paramilitary group calling itself "Autodefensas Gaitanistas de Colombia," or ACG.
  • Al Jazeera has a report on a vigilante group in El Salvador that is retaliating against street gang violence with murders of its own. "Los Exterminio" has 40 murders accredited already, rumor says they are funded by local businessmen and have a secret collaboration with the police.
  • Castro's four day funereal procession from Havana to Santiago de Cuba traces the revolutionary leader's victory tour in 1959 in reverse, reports the Associated Press. "Outside Havana, the caravan will pass through rural communities significantly changed by social and economic reforms he adopted. Many residents now have access to healthcare and education. But many of those towns are also in a prolonged economic collapse, the country’s once-dominant sugar industry decimated, the sugar mills and plantations gone."
  • Yesterday his remains were temporarily reunited with those of fellow revolutionary Ernesto "Che" Guevara in Santa Clara, reports Reuters.
  • U.S. president-elect Trump is taking the wrong approach to negotiating with Cuba, argues William Leogrande in a New York Times op-ed. Engagement has worked to soften Cuba, and it is not one improved deal that is needed, but many specific deals. Demanding political concessions is unlikely to work with a country that has survived fifty years of enmity with the U.S., he writes. "A return to hostility, name-calling and bluster as a policy would serve the interests of neither and would be a huge, conspicuous failure of the art of the deal."
  • Haitian president-elect Jovenel Moïse told the New York Times that among his first priorities, in addition to addressing corruption and climate change, would be to modernize and revive agriculture, with the aim of establishing a viable organic food industry. (See yesterday's briefs.)
  • Mexican authorities say they have found about $20.5 million linked to former Veracruz state governor Javier Duarte, who is missing and wanted in corruption cases, reports the Associated Press. New details over the extent of his alleged embezzlement highlight a lack of institutional capacity to prevent and punish corrupt politicians in Mexico, according to InSight Crime.
  • Amid the ruckus over Duarte's corruption allegations, the story of Veracruz's lethality for journalists reporting on human rights violations and corruption has been largely ignored. The Associated Press has a feature on the 18 journalists who were killed in the six years of Duarte government -- and another three who disappeared. Three journalists were killed this year alone. According to government statistics, over 80 percent of attacks on journalists in Veracruz were committed by public officials, a statistic that is far worst than that in the rest of the country.
  • Mexican prosecutors have accused a Roman Catholic priest of meddling in politics, the first time a priest has been charged with "vote pressuring," an offense punishable by a fine, reports the Associated Press.
  • Nicaraguan opponents of a planned interoceanic canal say police have set up roadblocks and are harassing demonstrators, reports the Associated Press.
  • Venezuelan lawmakers voted unanimously on Tuesday to condemn the massacre of 12 civilians by the military. It's a rare show of unity among opposition and pro-government forces -- in fact, only the second time they've voted together this year, reports AFP. The so-called "Massacre of Barlovento" occurred in mid-October as part of an OPL security raid, reports InSight Crime. Twenty youths were abducted, and eight were released bearing signs of torture. The cadavers of the remaining 12 youths were later found in two clandestine graves.
  • At Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights Timothy M. Gill attempts to analyze what a Trump policy towards Venezuela might look like. As with everything else related to the president-elect, it's somewhat hard to predict based on what he's said, and Venezuela was somewhat absent from the campaign discourse. Gill expects Trump to be somewhat harsher than the Obama administration has been, and notes that his three options for Secretary of State have spoken critically of the Venezuelan government. "However, as he has changed his tone on several issues throughout the course of the campaign and has encouraged working relations between the U.S. and Russia, Trump’s approach is difficult to predict."
  • OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro called for the release of jailed Argentine activist Milagro Sala. She has been detained since January on charges of "instigation to commit crimes and disturbances," a situation condemned by human rights groups, reports Reuters. Last month the U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention said she has been improperly jailed and called for her release, but the Argentine government has said the ruling is not binding. (See Nov. 1 briefs.)
  • The charter plane that crashed outside of Medellín, killing 71 passengers including most of the Brazilian Chapecoense soccer team, undertook the flight from Bolivia with insufficient fuel, according to authorities. Investigators are also looking into the use of the relatively short-range aircraft to make the transcontinental trip, reports the Wall Street Journal
  • The third installment of InSight Crime's examination of cocaine statistics from the region looks at Peru's numbers. Discrepancies between estimates of coca cultivation and eradication have led to accusations of statistical manipulation, but could also be attributed to "recultivation" of eradicated coca fields, and limitations with the UNODC's method of estimating cultivation. But there are also serious doubts when it comes to government eradication statistics.

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