Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Brazil's political upheaval just starting (April 11, 2018)

Brazil's former president Dilma Rousseff on Tuesday called for "international solidarity" with her predecessor Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva who was jailed over the weekend on a corruption conviction, reports the AFP. Lula has so far received the support of the leftist governments of Cuba and Venezuela.

The political upheaval is just beginning, according to Bloomberg which is tallying sharp rise in legislators joining conservative parties "... as legislators take advantage of Brazil’s pre-election transfer window to find a party likely to boost their prospects. Around 60 federal deputies, or almost 12 percent of the lower house, have swapped political parties over the past month with right-wing parties proving the big winners. What’s not clear is whether this surge merely represents a backlash to 13 years of PT rule or a deeper shift in Brazilian attitudes toward the role of the state."

More broadly, in the New Yorker Jon Lee Anderson questions the apparent political motivations behind Lula's imprisonment, noting in particular that it has the sense of a political vendetta and that sitting President Michel Temer has managed to duck several impeachment attempts in relation to corruption charges. And with Lula's fall, Anderson notes that his social achievements are at risk, the rise of extreme right wing politicians, and a worrisome emboldenment of the military. "In such ways—and with Lula in jail and Temer in the Presidency—it doesn’t feel as if anything close to justice has been done in Brazil, and that the battle lines are being drawn for confrontations to come."

News Briefs
  • Mexico's electoral tribunal found in favor of including independent candidate Jaime Rodríguez (alias "El Bronco") on the presidential ballot for the upcoming elections. The decision, despite the fact that 58 percent of the signatures he collected supporting his nomination were invalidated, could potentially draw votes away from the front-runner Andrés Manuel López Obrador, reports the Guardian. The decision to include Rodríguez also draws attention to criticisms of the new system for independent candidates to run. "Three candidates achieved the 866,593 signatures – or 1% of the voters’ list – necessary to register. Two of them were disqualified for turning in signatures deemed fake or otherwise inadmissible. Former first lady Margarita Zavala – the wife of president Felipe Calderón – made the ballot, though only 55% of her signatures were validated.Left off the ballot was María de Jesús Patricio, an indigenous Nahua and spokesperson for the National Indigenous Congress, who failed to reach the threshold, even though 95% of the signatures she collected were deemed valid – an irony not lost on supporters." In the case of Rodríguez's bid for nomination, over 7,000 signatures submitted were of dead people, while about 266,000 were duplicated signatures, reports Animal Político.
  • Mexico’s data protection body said on Monday it had opened an investigation into whether companies possibly linked to political consultancy Cambridge Analytica broke the country’s data protection laws, reports Reuters.
  • Mexico will be sending federal police gendarmerie troops to reinforce security along its southern border, reports El Economista. The move, aimed at targeting undocumented immigrants, comes as the U.S. deploys National Guard troops to Mexico's northern border. At least 1,600 Guard members from Arizona, New Mexico and Texas will participate in the mission, which has no firm end and has been criticized by immigration rights groups, reports the Associated Press.
  • Regional leaders probably weren't looking forward to meeting up with U.S. President Donald Trump at this week's Summit of the Americas in Lima, but his abrupt cancellation (see yesterday's briefs) will likely foster resentment in a region that already doesn't like him much, reports the Los Angeles Times. Trump's approval rating sat at 16% in a Gallup poll conducted in 20 Latin American countries last year and released in January. And that was before the National Guards were sent to protect against migrants coming from Central America.
  • The arrest earlier this week of a FARC leader could prove dire for Colombia's peace process, according to InSight Crime. (See yesterday's post.) The news of a pending extradition to the U.S. on drug trafficking charges could push more former FARC fighters to join dissident ranks and criminal groups. 
  • The arrest comes amid a spate of bad news for the peace process, including an alleged network of intermediaries seeking kickbacks from investment projects related to the implementation of the peace accords, reports RCN Radio.
  • Later this month a Guatemalan commission will send President Jimmy Morales a short-list of candidates for the next attorney general. The nomination process comes as the U.N. backed international anti-graft commission -- the CICIG -- is under pressure from different sectors of the country's political elite. InSight Crime details how Morales, under investigation by the CICIG and the Public Ministry for alleged illicit electoral financing, and current Guatemala City Mayor Alvaro Arzú, are fighting to undercut the fight against corruption. The nominating commission gives a prominent role to law schools, opening up avenues for interference in the process. In February the International Justice Monitor detailed exactly how the commission works.
  • Human Rights Watch criticized a "cybersecurity" bill in Honduras' congress that would "severely harm free speech by compelling companies providing internet services to censor content. ... Under the proposed law, such companies would be required to block or remove “illegal content” that might be posted to platforms by users  within 24 hours of receiving a complaint, a period which could be extended to seven days if “duly justified.”  If the company does not act, its website could be blocked or suspended, depriving all Hondurans of access to the platform because of the alleged illegal conduct of a few.  The tight deadlines and serious sanctions give companies an incentive to err on the side of censorship, as do new, sweeping categories of  “illegal content.” They include “incitement to discriminate” aimed at “harming dignity” and “incitement or expression of hate”  to promote or feed discourse with “discriminatory connotations.” The law makes no provision for either judicial consideration and orders before content is deleted, or judicial review of corporate censorship decisions."
  • Honduran authorities say drug gangs are seeking to cut costs and turn the country into a cocaine producer rather than transit hub, reports Reuters.
  • The U.N. Security Council voted to extent Mission for Justice and Support in Haiti (MINUJUSTH) for another year. China and Russia abstained from voting, and the debate was dominated by disagreement over whether Haiti remains a threat to the region’s peace and security, according to the Miami Herald.
  • Cuban President Raúl Castro is ending his mandate this month, he will presumably be succeeded by Miguel Díaz Canel, who will inherit a complicated agenda of unfinished reforms on the island, writes William Leogrande at Americas Quarterly. "The far-reaching economic reforms he launched in 2011 are at best half-finished and the pace of change has slowed. His efforts to strengthen Cuba’s political institutions are about to face the stress test of a generational leadership transition."
  • Bolivian President Evo Morales' loyalty to the Venezuelan government, as well as his quest to remain in power, lead critics to compare Bolivia's government to the Chavista trajectory. But Robert Albro and Michael McCarthy warn against taking this comparison too far in the Conversation. Bolivia's wealth is considerably more limited, though Morales has worked to increase quality of life for the population and has reaped popularity as a result. The authors argue that Morales is kept in check by the same social movements that catapulted him to power. "Morales’s desire to stay in office indefinitely may recall Venezuela’s Chávez. But ultimately we see him as a distinctly Bolivian kind of left-wing leader, constrained by economic and political forces that do not exist in Venezuela. To win Bolivia’s October 2019 presidential election, Morales must uphold the social contract he made with the country’s popular and indigenous majority. If Morales takes a Chávez-like turn, we believe Bolivians will ensure that his fourth term is a short one. After all, authoritarianism is the antithesis of 'leading by obeying.'"
  • "The Odebrecht scandal has ricocheted around Latin America like a corruption cluster bomb," but appears to have largely passed over Argentina, write Benjamin Gedan and Christopher Phalen in Americas Quarterly. This is curious because its one of 10 governments in the region the Brazilian construction giant admitted to paying bribes to. The U.S. Department of Justice says Odebrecht paid out at least $35 million in bribes in Argentina from 2007 to 2014, aimed at obtaining public works contracts. The lack of news on the front has led some observers to believe that the Macri administration is actually shielding political allies. Indeed there have been revelations of an Odebrecht subsidiary contributing to the Macri campaign, and allegations in relation to a cousin of Macri who has a construction firm. The authors however point to complications with the attorney general's office, international cooperation, and lack of good legislation permitting plea deals.
  • Peru's constitutional court said it will defer until April 26 its ruling on the motions filed by former President Ollanta Humala and his wife Nadine Heredia to obtain their release from prison, while authorities investigate claims they accepted illegal campaign contributions, reports EFE.
  • Twenty people were killed in a gunfight in northern Brazil, as gunmen tried to enable a mass escape from a Para state prison, reports the Associated Press.

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