Thursday, April 5, 2018

Brazilian Supreme Court votes to jail Lula (April 5, 2018)

Brazil's Supreme Court narrowly voted against allowing former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva to remain free while appealing a corruption conviction. The 6-5 vote after a marathon session not to grant Lula habeas corpus means the popular leader -- and favorite for October's presidential election -- could go to jail within a week, reports Reuters. Judge Sergio Moro is expected to issue an arrest warrant imminently, reports the New York Times.

Supreme Court President Cármen Lucía cast the tie breaking vote and made the announcement after midnight yesterday. El País notes that Brazil is one of few countries where Supreme Court deliberations are broadcast, and an anxious public followed the proceedings through the night. Thousands of Brazilians rallied for and against the former president last night, reports Reuters.

Lula will still have the right to continue appealing and can remain a pre-candidate in the elections until at least August, when the official candidates will be decided, reports the Financial Times. At that point his candidacy will likely be barred by the Supreme Electoral Tribunal, based on a Brazilian law disqualifying people whose criminal convictions have been upheld by an appeals court, explains the NYT.

The decision could spell the end of Lula's political career, and increases political tension in the midst of an already polarized scene. Earlier this week the head of Brazil's army called on the court to stand against impunity, an intervention that rattled many in a country governed by the military between 1964 and 1985, reports the Guardian. Amnesty International’s Brazil director, Jurema Werneck said the apparent pressure on the court was "greatly disturbing."

A Supreme Court justice who voted against jailing Lula while he appeals the conviction, Celso de Mello spoke out against the declarations in yesterday's deliberations, calling them unacceptable.

Lula might get out of jail pending another Supreme Court decision regarding the constitutionality of incarcerating people without firm convictions, explains El País. His lawyers have challenged a 2016 ruling that found that defendants can be jailed if their conviction is upheld on a first appeal. The decision was aimed at reducing a backlog in the legal system that could effectively keep the rich and powerful out of jail for years while they exhausted legal appeals. But critics say it affects the presumption of innocence.

Lula supporters say Lucía has postponed debating the constitutionality issues (ADCs). Supreme Court Judge Gilmar Mendes, who voted against the majority, criticized the handling of the case, saying the judges should have also voted on that question simultaneously, reports O Globo. Pressure will likely be on the Supreme Court to move on the constitutionality challenges.

Lula was found guilty in August and sentenced to 10 years in prison for accepting bribes worth $1 million from engineering firm OAS, in the form of a refurbished beach apartment in return for assistance obtaining contracts with state oil company Petrobras, explains Reuters. In January, an appeals court unanimously upheld his conviction and increased the prison sentence to 12 years.

Lula's supporters say the judicial proceedings and timings have been politically motivated.

News Briefs
  • U.S. President Donald Trump boasted that his intervention led Mexican authorities to break up a caravan of Central American migrants heading north through Mexico. But the migrants are merely camping out in Oaxaca, where Mexican authorities are registering them, and distributing transit permits or permission to apply for asylum in Mexico, reports the New York Times. Many members of the caravan are women and children fleeing gang violence in Honduras. Yesterday the the Mexican Senate unanimously passed a nonbinding statement urging President Enrique Peña Nieto to suspend cooperation with the United States on immigration and security matters — "as long as President Donald Trump does not conduct himself with the civility and respect that the Mexican people deserve." The Senators noted their opposition to the militarization of the border, in response to White House statements that U.S. National Guard troops would be mobilized to assist Border Patrol, reports Animal Político. (See yesterday's post.)
  • Crowdsourcing apps showing live crime data are increasingly used by Rio de Janeiro residents seeking to avoid gunfire, reports the Guardian. The best apps, such as Onde Tem Tiroteio (OTT) and Fogo Cruzado (started by Amnesty International) check user generated reports against other sources, filtering out dubious information.
  • Substantial debate over Rio de Janeiro's security problem in the wake of Rio de Janeiro councilwoman Marielle Franco's assassination last month has been stifled by fake-news and political maneuvering, writes Marcus Rocha at Aula Blog. "Investigations into Marielle’s murder haven’t identified any suspects yet, and there’s no discussion about changes to security laws or any other measure other than putting more army troops in the streets.  Despite the general outrage, the window for change opened after Marielle’s murder is closing fast.  The Brazilian political system is looking straight to general elections in October, and the speed and depth of the politicization of the assassination, aggravated by fake news, suggest prospects for serious discussion are nil."
  • Facebook revealed that up to 87 million people's data may have been improperly shared with Cambridge Analytica. The vast majority of these users were in the U.S., but nearly 790,000 were from Mexico and about 443,000 from Brazil.
  • It seems unlikely that the upcoming Summit of the Americas will be an optimistic meeting -- and the corruption theme doesn't mesh well with the fact that several leaders attending are under investigation for graft, writes Patricio Navia in Americas Quarterly. To make things worst, several strong leaders in the region are lame-ducks and facing low approval ratings at home. "... Just like a high school reunion that nobody was looking forward to, the Lima Summit of the Americas is likely one that most leaders in the region just want to get over with."
  • The White House is offering legal and policy experts to Latin American governments to help them rewrite laws to make it easier to sanction Venezuelan officials, reports McClatchy DC. "The senior administration official wouldn’t say which countries the United States is pressing, but said the effort is modeled on past work by previous administrations to help allies draft laws that would help them prosecute foreign fighters returning from Syria and Iraq."
  • U.S. Senator Dick Durbin travelled to Venezuela, where he was scheduled to meet with members of the government and the opposition today, reports the Associated Press. He is also expected to meet with President Nicolás Maduro to discuss the imprisonment of U.S. citizen Joshua Holt, who is being held in a Caracas prison awaiting a trial on what the U.S. has called trumped-up weapons charges.
  • Growing economic rivalry between China and the U.S. has put Latin American countries in an uncomfortable position, reports Reuters.
  • Mexican presidential front-runner Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador sent an open letter to investors yesterday, promising an austere, zero-deficit government, reports Reuters.
  • Peru's political crisis is punctuated by the telenovela-like saga of the feuding Fujimori family. The offspring of former dictator Alberto Fujimori have been sparring politically, but have recently upped the stakes. Last month Keiko Fujimori, lawmaker and leader of the Popular Force party, released videos implicating her brother, Kenji, in alleged congressional vote buying. The younger Fujimori could be criminally charged in the case. Kenji could retaliate tomorrow, when he is scheduled to testify to prosecutors investigating whether Keiko received $1.2m in campaign donations from the scandal-plagued Brazilian firm Odebrecht in 2011, reports the Guardian. Did I mention that the two siblings were also split about getting their father out of jail, where he was serving a sentence for human rights violations?

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