Monday, May 22, 2017

Temer asked Supreme Court to shelve investigation (May 22, 2017)

Brazilian president Michel Temer says evidence allegedly linking him to obstruction of justice in a broad corruption scandal has been falsified. He called on the Supreme Court to stop an investigation opened last week, until the question of manipulation of evidence could be resolved, reports the Financial Times. (See last Thursday's and Friday's posts.) 

Temer spoke out aggressively about billionaire, Joesley Batista this Saturday. In a televised address he accused the beef empire heir of insider trading and the manipulation of audiotapes, reports the New York Times. Secret recordings submitted by Batista to prosecutors as part of a plea-bargain appear to implicate Temer in a broad corruption scandal and have fueled calls for the president's resignation. 

Temer called Batista a criminal and accused him of carrying out lucrative trades in futures markets after negotiating a plea deal with investigators. Brazil’s securities regulator said Friday night that it was investigating alleged irregularities by JBS, including the possible crime of insider trading. Temer said JBS made money from the latest scandal by buying $1 billion in dollar contracts and selling the company’s shares before leaking the allegations to the press. If they are found guilty prosecutors may ask for even more than the $3.4 billion they currently demand as part of a promised leniency deal, according to the Wall Street Journal.

An article in Valor argues that the Batista brothers' plea-bargain is part of a scheme to get in the U.S. Department of Justice's good graces and move the company to New York. JBS is planning a U.S. initial public offering of its international unit, reports the Wall Street Journal.

Temer has sought to paint himself as indispensable for unpopular economic reforms considered vital to pull the country out of a long recession, reports the Financial Times. Temer told the media that he would not resign, even if he is indicted. Analysts are speculating that if he is pushed out however, Congress would pick a reform-minded replacement to finish out the term and that this successor might keep the economic team valued by international investors, according to FT. There are even some rumors that finance minister Henrique Meirelles could be appointed caretaker president.

Yesterday Brazil's bar association voted to back impeachment, citing what it said was the president’s failure to denounce criminal activities and improper promises of favors, reports the Financial Times separately.

But also yesterday Temer gained a brief respite, when a major coalition partner, the PSDB social democrats delayed a decision on whether to pull out of the government, reports Bloomberg.

Protesters defied heavy rain yesterday to call for Temer's ouster, reports the Los Angeles Times. Organizers say they gathered 20,000 in São Paulo. The protests gathered people from across the political spectrum, according to the piece. In Rio de Janeiro protesters gathered in front of House speaker Rodrigo Maia's house, also accused of corruption.

"To say that this situation — Temer’s ongoing presidency — is unsustainable is an understatement. How can a major country possibly be governed by someone who everyone knows just months ago encouraged the payment of bribes to keep key witnesses silenced in a corruption investigation? The sole rationale for Temer’s presidency — that he would bring stability and signal to markets that Brazil was again open for business — has just collapsed in a heap of humiliation and destruction," writes Glenn Greenwald in The Intercept.

The Batista brothers' testimony includes the confession of buying 30 deputies' votes for Dilma Rousseff's impeachment, notes Página 12.

Página 12 notes the divide in Brazil's mainstream media: Folha and Estado are playing down the charges, while Globo is pushing hard for his resignation.

News Briefs
  • A broad leftist coalition in Honduras chose a television star as presidential candidate. Salvador Nasralla will represent the Opposition Alliance Against the Dictatorship in November's election, and will face off against incumbent Juan Orlando Hernandez. The coalition includes the leftist Liberty and Refoundation Party, LIBRE, of ousted ex-president Manuel Zelaya, Nasralla's centrist Anti Corruption Party, PAC, and other groups, including a dissident from Hernandez's center-right National Party, reports TeleSUR.  Xiomara Castro, Zelaya's wife and former presidential candidate, will be Nasralla's running mate. The coalition platform promises a constituent assembly, cheap petrol and free public services for the country's poorest, reports el Heraldo. Several promises pick up on Zelaya's "citizen power" policies, according to the piece. Hernandez is favorite to win re-election, though he was well short of an outright majority in an opinion poll published last week that gave him 36 percent support among voters, reports Reuters. The same poll saw Castro with 12 percent support and Nasralla 11 percent, and it is believed together they could pose a challenge to Hernadez's bid to become the first president to hold a second term.
  • Opposition protesters in Venezuela set fire to a man during a demonstration this weekend. The government says the victim -- who survived -- was a Chavista, but witnesses said the crowd accused him of being a thief, reports Reuters. The daily demonstrations demonstrate creativity -- some featuring candles in honor of the 40 plus victims of violence in recent weeks, other musicians, and still others the elderly, reports the Financial Times. The themed protests are a way of keeping momentum going, putting the onus on different groups to get crowds out. But most demonstrations are also turning violent towards the end, when security forces block their path and masked youths retaliate with rocks and Molotov cocktails. 
  • Ongoing protests in Venezuela -- well into their seventh week -- are playing a critical role in battling an increasingly undemocratic government, writes David Smilde in a Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights post. But he also questions why the political opposition is not taking a stronger stance against violence. While he lauds the commitment of the thousands of people who are marching -- most are doing so peacefully -- he questions the encouragement of the young men (mostly) who are facing off against security forces in makeshift armor. "... The violence protestors are subject to works in the opposition’s favor as it creates spectacular national and international coverage, shows this government to be undemocratic and repressive, and galvanizes national and international opinion against it. Put differently, the only way these “muchachos de la resistencia” contribute to the opposition’s cause is by becoming victims of government violence. There is no other manifest function of their violent clashes with security forces. Of course human beings often make such sacrifices for the greater good. However, it is not clear to me that these young people understand the logic of what they are doing, while I suspect that many professional politicians do." He makes it clear that there is no moral equivalence -- the government is responsible for the conflict. But he also calls on opposition politicians and the international community to do more to protect average citizens. And an interesting more broad observation on the protests as a pressure mechanism: "When you take a democratic population, immiserate them and take away their right to hold their leaders accountable and choose who they want to govern them, violence should be expected. In most times and most places in human history, the question of “whose in charge” has been decided through violence. Only relatively recently, and never universally, has this question been decided through electoral mechanisms. When you withdraw these mechanisms, you should expect violence to reemerge as the preeminent mechanism of social control, sorting and hierarchization. The violence that has occurred so far is relatively small scale. It is what has been called by some scholars “uncivil society,” i.e. uncivilized actions by a population subject to oppressive rule. ... And we should not be surprise that if this situation continues on, things could get much worse."
  • President Nicolás Maduro told the U.S. to stop meddling in Venezuelan affairs and get out of the country, reports Reuters. The statements, which included the phrase "get your dirty hands out of here," come after the U.S. announced sanctions against members of the Venezuelan supreme court last week. (See Friday's briefs.)
  • The leaders of Mexico's two main opposition parties -- the center-right PAN and the center-left PRD -- are floating the idea of allying in next year's presidential elections with the aim of defeating the incumbent PRI party. The proposal could also pressure outsider candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) of the Morena party, reports Reuters. The PRD lost much of its support last year to Morena, when AMLO broke with the party. The two parties have divergent ideologies, and if they succeed it would be the country's first coalition government, notes the Financial Times.
  • Mexican migrants returning home -- by choice or deportation -- often find the difficult return journey complicated by their U.S.-born children. Families face separation or relocation to a country some of them have never been in, reports the New York Times. Back in the U.S., crackdowns have Latino families scared to spend in case they face deportation, reports the Financial Times.
  • U.S. Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly is expected to announce whether temporary protected status for Haitians in the U.S. will be extended or terminated in July. The program recognizes the difficulties facing Haiti after a 2010 earthquake and permits registered Haitians to live and work in the United States until conditions back home improve, reports the New York Times. Last month the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services recommended the designation be extended only until next January. If the program is ended, about 58,000 Haitians could be forced to return en-masse. Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle and rights groups have protested, arguing that dire conditions in Haiti justify the program's extension.
  • At least 10 people were injured and 40 arrested in clashes in Colombia's Buenaventura port city. The looting and violence followed four days of peaceful protests in which residents demanded better infrastructure, a decent hospital service, more safeguards against rampant crime, and drinking water, reports the Financial Times
  • "Human rights groups in Colombia are calling on the International Criminal Court to investigate executives from Chiquita Brands for alleged complicity in crimes against humanity as a result of payments made to paramilitary groups more than a decade ago," reports the Associated Press.
  • El Salvador has given the country's artisanal miners two years to transition to other jobs, after becoming a mining-free territory. But the miners don't believe the government will follow through on creating alternative livelihoods for them, and activists worry that the small-scale operations will be allowed to continue indefinitely, removing the teeth from a measure aimed at protecting the country's limited water supply, reports the Guardian. (See March 30's post.)
  • Opposition to teaching sexual equality runs deep in some parts of Peru. Deutsche Welle reports on resistance to the new school curriculum that states that men and women should have the same rights and should be treated equally and their sexual choices respected.
  • Outgoing Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa said today that his country had “done its duty” by granting asylum in 2012 to Julian Assange, and said he was glad Sweden had closed its rape case against the WikiLeaks founder, reports AFP.

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