Friday, January 26, 2018

Lula vows to run anyway (Jan. 26, 2018)

Brazil's Workers' Party defiantly declared former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva to be its candidate for October's presidential elections. Party leaders called for demonstrations and civil disobedience, a day after an appeals court upheld a criminal conviction against Lula, that technically makes him ineligible for political office, reports the Wall Street Journal. Electoral authorities are expected to block his candidacy if he registers to run, reports Reuters.

"The presidential campaign has, in effect, started in a courtroom," reports the Economist. "This means that the election, thought by some to be the most important since the end of dictatorship in 1985, will be a mess. "

Though it's unlikely Lula will be jailed while he continues appealing the case, a judge yesterday confiscated his passport and forbade him from leaving the country, reports EFE. The decision came on the eve of a planned trip by Lula to Africa, notes Reuters.

The case itself involves a beachfront apartment, allegedly serving as a bribe to the former president by a construction company, though it's not clear what the company received in exchange. An article in El País explores the somewhat inconclusive evidence.

Though he claims political persecution in the case against him, "Lula is just one of a large number of powerful Brazilian elites in recent years targeted by wide-ranging anti-graft efforts. And ... their cases have proceeded through the justice system with relative impartiality," argue C.H. Gardiner and Angelika Albaladejo in InSight Crime

The authors note that massive corruption scandals have worsened Brazil's economy, "reducing the resources available for security spending, and has distracted the Brazilian government’s attention away from pressing security issues, including a war between the country’s two biggest gangs that is helping drive up violence around the country. ... With the security crises in Brazil becoming ever more pronounced and the expansion of domestic criminal organizations abroad, the polarization of the political scene brought on by the continued anti-corruption drive could continue to hinder efforts to address other important crime-related issues."

News Briefs
  • Newly appointed Honduras police chief Jose David Aguilar Moran allegedly helped drug traffickers avoid a bust of nearly one ton of cocaine in 2013, according to a confidential internal security report seen by the Associated Press. The drugs, moved by cartel boss Walter Blanco, could have had a street value of up to $20 million. Honduran government officials said the report was a fake, but high ranking security officials corroborated it to the AP. Moran allegedly called off cops who had busted a truckload of cocaine, and then conspired with other officials to cover up the incident. "There is so much illegal drug money to be made and it is so easy to get away with it, especially if you are in the police force," said U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy.
  • Guatemalan authorities arrested eight people – including the former head of the Tax Administration Supervisory Authority (SAT), Rudy Villeda – on corruption charges yesterday. Additionally, the Public Ministry and CICIG also presented requests to strip a judge and the vice president of Congress, Felipe Alejos, of their parliamentary immunity on corruption charges, reports EFE. The case is not easy to understand, according to Nómada, which attempts to explain the scheme under which big businesses and well-connected characters bribed the SAT in order to evade taxes. The case affects Guatemalan heavyweights, reports Nómada separately: the owner and CEO of the country's largest sugarmill, a major junk dealer accused of illicit maneuvering and intimidation of competitors, and Alejos, who is accused of offering portfolios of favors to businesses.
  • Earlier this week in Guatemala, a Nominating Commission met for the first time to select the shortlist of candidates from which President Jimmy Morales will choose the country’s next attorney general. The International Justice Monitor "reports on a complex process that in the past has been prone to political manipulation," and notes that "reports on a complex process that in the past has been prone to political manipulation."
  • Odebrecht revelations threw Brazilian politics for a loop, but they are also wreaking havoc in Peru, reports the Washington Post. "For Latin America, the scandal has laid bare the sins of the political and business elite, and challenged the independence of judiciaries charged with prosecuting crimes. But it has also slammed economies still struggling to emerge from the effects of the 2008 global financial crisis. Peru, experts say, is now a case study in the ability of corruption to damage a developing nation. Billions of dollars’ worth of major construction projects have been stopped as the nation grapples with how to respond to a scandal engulfing the highest ranks of its political class."
  • Oil theft in Mexico now rivals drug trafficking as a principal source of income for the country's splintered cartels, reports Reuters. The double effect is to weaken the national oil industry, while at the same time strengthening criminal organizations. A study obtained by Reuters found that between 2009 and 2016 thieves had tapped pipelines roughly every 1.4 kms along Pemex’s approximately 14,000 km pipeline network. "Interviews with Pemex and Mexican security officials, authorities in Guanajuato and locals affected by fuel theft describe an increasingly desperate situation for the industry and the regional economy." And sources describe an increasingly heavy human toll. "Using the habitual narco offer of “plata or plomo,” or “silver or lead,” gangs extort refinery workers into providing crucial information. Their tactics, coupled with fighting between groups jockeying for access to the racket, have led to a surge of violence in cities like Salamanca, home to a third of the fuel taps discovered in Mexico in 2016. Mutilated corpses of refinery workers, police and suspected fuel thieves increasingly appear around the city, terrifying its 260,000 residents. Cartels routinely festoon Salamanca with “narcomantas,” banners that mark territory or spell out grisly threats to rivals."
  • Conservative evangelical Christian candidate Fabricio Alvarado is leading polls for Feb. 4's presidential election in Costa Rica, reports Reuters. His standing was boosted by opposition to a January ruling by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, which called for the legalization of same-sex marriage. Alvarado was effectively tied with Antonio Alvarez, from the conservative National Liberation Party (PLN), according to a poll from this week. Corruption will also be a central issue for voters, according to TeleSUR. But about 25 percent of voters were undecided and all 13 candidates were far from the 40 percent minimum needed to win outright in the first round. "Uncertainty," "volatility," and "surprise," are key terms in the lead up to Costa Rica's election next month, writes Carlos Malamud at the AULA blog. "It’s unclear whether any of the candidates’ issues have lasting support or only an ephemeral presence on the electoral agenda." The election marks the end of two-party hegemony in the country, and demonstrates the need to shore up the country's institutions, argues Malamud.
  • Venezuela's top court has eliminated the opposition MUD coalition from running in "snap" presidential elections to be held before April 30. MUD parties had to reregister with the electoral council, after boycotting municipal elections held last year. But yesterday the government-loyal Supreme Court told the national election council to delay this registration by six months, reports the AFP. (Efecto Cocuyo goes into detail.)
  • Hyperinflation might seem like a reasonable catalyst for regime change at the ballot box, but history shows that this might not be the case, write Douglas Barrios and Miguel Ángel Santos in a New York Times Español op-ed. The most intense and prolonged cases of hyperinflation occur in authoritarian contexts. Nonetheless, "despite their devastating social and economic consequences, there is no evidence that hyperinflation episodes are in and of themselves capable of liberating a democratizing force." Interestingly, such bouts can move a country away from democracy, they note.
  • Colombian journalist Claudia Morales wrote a column in El Espectador depicting how a former boss raped her in the past. She kept the perpetrator anonymous, calling for support for sexual abuse victims, within the context of the #MeToo campaigns, but also support for those who choose to remain silent. Media versions rapidly ascribed her accusation to former President Álvaro Uribe, for whom she served as international press chief. Uribe denies the allegations, reports El Tiempo.
  • A senior U.S. State Department official said the country would reject the legitimacy of presidential elections to be held in Venezuela, reports Reuters.
  • Venezuela has expelled the Spanish ambassador to Caracas, Jesús Silva Fernández. Spain has promised to reciprocate, reports the BBC. The move comes a few days after the European Union slapped sanctions on high-level government officials.
  • Two U.S. senators urged the Trump administration to increase pressure on Venezuela, including a potential U.N. Security Council emergency session, reports the Miami Herald.
  • Venezuelan authorities said they were seeking an Interpol red alert for ex-oil czar Rafael Ramirez on corruption charges, reports Reuters. (See briefs for Dec. 6, 2017.)
  • Colombian authorities evicted 200 homeless Venezuelan migrants, sleeping in a border town sports field, part of a growing crisis with refugees fleeing Venezuela's crisis, reports Reuters.
  • Between 2003 and 2018 Venezuelan security forces committed at least 10 massacres, killing 177 people, according to Provea. Of these, five have occurred under President Nicolás Maduro, reports Efecto Cocuyo.
  • Paul Romer stepped down as the World Bank’s chief economist in the wake of accusing an organization report of political bias against Chile's government, reports Reuters. (See Jan. 16's briefs.)
  • Argentine President Mauricio Macri's gradualist economic reforms are paying off so far, according to the Economist. But he "has put off some of the hardest decisions for his second term, which he hopes to secure in elections to be held in 2019. ...  The labour reform that he plans to enact this year, which will make it easier to sack workers and hire part-timers, is a timid version of the overhaul Argentina needs. Improvements to education, more ambitious tax and pension reforms and a shake-up of the judiciary will also have to wait." In the meantime, Macri "is pursuing policies that seek to balance economic stability with the need to placate groups that could disrupt his presidency and thwart his re-election."

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