Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Brazilian appeals court to determine Lula's political future (Jan. 23, 2018)

A Brazilian appeals court is set to decide tomorrow on whether to uphold the conviction of former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva on corruption and money laundering charges. Lula was sentenced to a nine-and-a-half year sentence last July, part of the sprawling Operation Car Wash investigation into graft at state-owned oil company Petrobras. 

If the conviction is upheld he will be in-eligible to run for president in October's election, reports Reuters. The historic decision could remove voters' favorite from the running and highlights the country's political fragility, according to the BBC. Early polling shows that 36 percent of voters favor Lula. Nonetheless, the legal battle could well continue until September, notes the Washington Post

In fact, if the conviction is upheld, Lula can take the case to the Supreme Court, and the battle could feasibly extend beyond the election itself, potentially rendering him ineligible after a win, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Authorities in Puerto Alegre are bracing for upheaval tomorrow: they have have closed airspace over the court, sealed off the surrounding streets, and plan to deploy helicopters, elevated observation platforms and even rooftop sharpshooters, reports the Guardian. The appeals court has confirmed 95 percent of the convictions and sentences handed down by crusading anti-corruption judge Sergio Moro, who sentenced Lula.

A decision that prevents Lula from running, while permitting other candidates who are also suspected of wrongdoing, would be detrimental and could provoke backlash, Peter Hakim, the president-emeritus of the Inter-American Dialogue told Bloomberg. Former President Dilma Rousseff, ousted in 2016, went further, saying a decision against Lula would make Brazil ungovernable. "Any government that assumes power by winning the 2018 elections, without a transparent and correct electoral process, without maneuvers to invalidate candidates -- as in Lula's case -- will not be able to govern this country," Rousseff told AFP.

"If Mr. da Silva is barred from the presidential election, the result could have very little legitimacy, as in the Honduran election in November that was widely seen as stolen," writes Mark Weisbrot in a New York Times op-ed. "A poll last year found that 42.7 percent of Brazilians believed that Mr. da Silva was being persecuted by the news media and the judiciary. A noncredible election could be politically destabilizing."

Weisbrot reviews what he calls "scanty" evidence against Lula. The charismatic former leader says the charges against him are politically motivated, a trial against his government and the socially favorable policies he championed. The case itself demonstrates the polarization of Brazilian society, according to Reuters: Lula supporters say the charges are trumped up, while opponents demand for him to be put in jail.

Though the decision to uphold the sentence could mean jail-time for the former president, analysts say its likely the 72-year-old will be permitted to continue the appeals process in freedom, reports the Washington Post.

Markets have been rallying as investors hope that Lula will be taken out of the running, clearing the way for a more moderate candidate, reports Reuters.

The case will be the biggest test yet for the watershed Clean Record law, passed under Lula's administration in 2010, which blocks convicted criminals from running for office, reports the WSJ.

Americas Quarterly's latest edition has a timely piece by former prosecutor Rodrigo Janot focusing on the lessons of Operation Car Wash.

News Briefs
  • The Human Rights Watch 2018 report released earlier this week highlights "repeated, serious human rights violations during efforts to combat organized crime—including extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, and torture," during the administration of Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto. The report denounces that "the government has made little progress in prosecuting those responsible for recent abuses, let alone the large number of abuses committed by soldiers and police since former President Felipe Calderón initiated Mexico’s “war on drugs” in 2006."
  • LAWG warns against the risks for migrants turned back at the U.S.-Mexico border in a new report, noting they face "Mexico’s highest rates of violence in the last two decades." (See yesterday's post.) "Moving ahead with expanded efforts to restrict access to asylum at the border, tightened credible fear standards, and separation of families at the border could mean that more migrants will be increasingly turned back to or stuck in Mexico’s northern border region. And with that, face increased violence and human rights violations, such as homicides, disappearances, kidnapping, and extortion in Mexico’s northern border states of Baja California, Sonora, Chihuahua, Coahuila, Nuevo León, and Tamaulipas."
  • Peru passed a new law that will permit the construction of roads through Amazon rainforest, just days after Pope Francis warned of existential environmental threats in his visit to the country. The law promotes the construction of roads in Purus, an Amazon region near the border with Brazil, reports the Guardian.
  • About two thousand people took to the streets of Port-au-Prince yesterday to protest comments attributed to U.S. President Donald Trump about Haiti being a “shithole” country, reports the Reuters. The protests temporarily shut-down the U.S. Embassy there, and police clashed with protesters, reports the Associated Press.
  • Tensions in Honduras promise to increase in the lead up to President Juan Orlando Hernández's swearing in on Jan. 27, reports the Financial Times. (See yesterday's briefs.)
  • Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales is facing a backlash over $40,000 in expenses claimed last year, including payment for $3,000 designer sunglasses. At $20,000 per month, Morales receives one of the highest salaries of any president in the region, reports the BBC.
  • Bolivian President Evo Morales said that the country's economic progress in his 12 years in power has made it Latin America’s fastest-growing nation, with estimated 4.2 percent growth last year, reports EFE.
  • The shutting down of a giant landfill near Brasilia will leave thousands of people without livelihoods, reports the Wall Street Journal. "The World Bank estimates that as many as 15 million people are employed in “informal recovery of materials from waste”—scavenging—in developing countries where garbage disposal systems are rudimentary. It generates billions of dollars in income for those willing to perform the dirty work, and in Brazil contributes an estimated 90% of the materials used by the recycling industry."
  • Former Mexican national soccer team star Cuauhtemoc Blanco appears to have joined the ranks of presidential hopeful Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s leftist Morena party, reports the Associated Press.
  • On the flight back to Rome from Peru, Pope Francis apologized for saying victims of sexual abuse should show "proof." The Associated Press reports that he said he realized it was a “slap in the face” to victims. A critical New York Times Español op-ed by Rafael Gumucio says the Pope's Chile visit and the sexual abuse scandal show the pontiff's failure to hold a middle ground between progressives and conservatives within the Church. "The tragedy that has marked Francis' papacy -- his incapacity to reconcile what is left of the Church of John XXIII with the still almighty Church of John Paul II -- was displayed with particular rawness in Chile. In the seventies and eighties liberation theology sowed and harvested bishops, priests, thinkers and martyrs for all Chile. John Paul II punished this Church of the poor organized with very active grassroots communities with special zeal. Since then, the Chilean Church has spent all of the prestige won during the dictatorships trying to impede the law of divorce, marriage equality, or any kind of abortion. During his visit, Francis passed over any of these topics. The conservative hierarchy that the Polish pope left installed did not fail to note that signal."

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