Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Brazil's senate president suspended by Supreme Court justice, refuses to step down (Dec. 6, 2016)

Brazilian Senate President Renan Calheiros was suspended by a Supreme Court justice yesterday in order to stand trial on charges he received bribes from a construction company, reports the Associated Press. The order aims at preventing Calheiros, who was indicted last week on charges of stealing from public coffers by falsifying expense charges a decade ago, from being in line for the presidency, explains the Wall Street Journal.

But, today Calheiros refused to step down, saying the injunction violated the separation of powers between the judiciary and the legislature, reports Reuters.

Calheiros retains his senate seat and can appeal the ruling, but it's a blow to an important Temer ally in the midst of growing discontent with his administration. (See yesterday's briefst, and last Thursday's post.) It could affect the president's ability to push unpopular austerity measures through Congress, according to the Wall Street Journal. (See briefs below.)

Coming just months after President Michel Temer assumed office in the wake of his predecessors impeachment, hope is dying that he will be able to overcome the political gridlock afflicting the country, reports Reuters

Americas Quarterly's latest issue is dedicated to "fixing Brazil." Looking ahead, a piece analyzes ten candidates who could become the country's next leader in the 2018 elections. And Brian Winter has a piece on poll frontrunner Marina Silva, who came in third in the last elections, but whose platform accurately predicted the crisis afflicting the country's economy.

Failure to understand the reasons for the current recession -- the worst on record -- makes recovery difficult, argues Gray Newman in one of the articles. The current mess was not caused by former President Dilma Rousseff's industrial policy or mismanagement of fiscal accounts, he writes. Rather, the root of the problem lies in the country's productivity, which faces a "three-pronged challenge involving human capital, physical capital, and the regulatory environment."

News Briefs
  • Venezuela's opposition withdrew from the latest dialogue process with the government earlier today. They demand the release of political prisoners and a recall referendum in order to continue talks, reports AFP. A group of 14 jailed opposition leaders launched a hunger strike yesterday.
  • The Inter-American Commision on Human Rights joined a growing list of international bodies calling on the Argentine government to free activist Milagro Sala, who has been jailed since January, reports Reuters. (See last Thursday's briefs.)
  • At least five bids related to 2014 World Cup stadiums were rigged by construction companies, driving up costs, according to Brazil's anti-trust body. The projects include the Maracana stadium, reports the Associated Press. Total expenditures on stadiums are estimated at 3 billion, and, together with spending for the Rio Olympics this year, have been criticized as the country remains mired in recession.
  • The Brazilian government suggested setting the national retirement age at 65, part of a broader set of reforms aimed at making the pension system more sustainable, reports the Associated Press. The proposal was going to be sent to congress today, said Temer in a news conference yesterday. He promised that changes would be made in consultation with unions and implemented gradually, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • The Brazilian club Chapecoense was awarded the Copa Sudamericana championship as a posthumous tribute to the team, which lost most of its members in an airplane crash last week en route to a match, reports the Associated Press.
  • A Bolivian airport authority official has requested asylum in Brazil, saying she is being persecuted by authorities who accuse her of not preventing the fatal flight carrying the Chapecoense team from leaving Santa Cruz. The airline’s final flight plan was in violation of international aviation safety standards, but she says she flagged the problems before the flight, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • The Associated Press has a piece on tensions in Rio de Janeiro's Cidade de Deus favela between residents and police. A police helicopter crashed into the neighborhood, and families accuse the police of 7 extra-judicial killings in an anti-drug raid last week. (See Nov. 21's briefs).
  • On the issue of favela stereotypes, the Guardian has a piece on activist Theresa Williamson, whose Catalytic Communities non-profit attempts to change a narrative of negativity about poor neighborhoods in Rio de Janeiro. The group has focused on making information and resources available to foreign journalists, and worked on documenting the impact of the Olympics on favela communities. 
  • So far this year, at least 173 people have been killed by mobs in Brazil – an average of one every two days, according to the Guardian. The lynch mob epidemic has hit hardest in the northern city of Fortaleza, and about half of the time the victims are suspected thieves.  
  • Guy Philippe, a Haitian politician wanted by the U.S. DEA, has won a senate seat in the latest elections, reports Reuters. The former police officer was a prominent figure in a coup d’état against President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Human Rights Watch has said he oversaw unlawful killings. (See Sept. 7's briefs.)
  • Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto created four new biological reserves and five protected areas yesterday, encompassing about 160 million acres, including biologically important areas of ocean, reports the Associated Press.
  • Mexican police seized art belonging to former Veracruz governor Javier Duarte, who is missing and wanted on charges of money laundering and organized crime, reports the BBC. The works of art, including 17 believed to be by famous artists such as Joan Miro and Fernando Botero, will be auctioned and used to finance a children's hospital.
  • Banana giant Chiquita will have to face charges of human rights violations committed in Colombia in a U.S. court. In a Huffington Post op-ed Earth Rights International director Katie Redford explains the relevance of the case, which aims to obtain reparations for victims of AUC death squads sponsored by the U.S. company in Colombia banana growing regions.
  • Uruguay topped Americas Quarterly's social inclusion index (again), thanks to strong performances in factors ranging from economic growth and job generation to the protection of political and civil rights. "Simply put, the country does a better job than its peers of protecting people regardless of their gender, sexual orientation or race. Uruguay’s progressive laws, such as marriage equality passed in 2013, help — but they’re not the only factor. Uruguayans themselves place huge importance on inclusion, and their country’s position in the ranking is also boosted by robust access to housing, job generation and economic growth," according to Americas Quarterly.
  • Resistance to international capitalism can be based on solidarity, rather than fear and nativism, according to Carolina Cepeda of Colombia’s Universidad Javeriana who analyzes Latin America’s grassroots movements in the Conversation.
  • Chile's Supreme Court ruled that the government can request the extradition from the U.S. of two former secret police agents wanted in the for a 1976 car bombing in Washington that killed a former Chilean ambassador Orlando Letelier, reports the Associated Press.
  • Venezuelan women are crossing the border to Colombia to sell their hair in order to raise money for basic necessities, reports Reuters.

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