Monday, April 22, 2019

Brazil's Supreme Court's fake news investigation questioned (April 22, 2019)

Brazilian police raided homes and seized documents and computers of several social media users who accused the Supreme Court of corruption and other crimes, last week. The Supreme Court ordered the raids, part of a campaign against "fake news" and offensive social media posts that has raised free speech advocates' hackles.

Last week, Supreme Court justice Alexandre de Moraes, ordered independent online magazine Crusoé and website O Antagonista to remove an article that he said wrongly linked the court’s current president, José Antonio Dias Toffoli, to Operation Car Wash plea deal testimony, reports the Wall Street Journal. De Moraes said the article was based on a non-existent court document, but later reversed the decision and allowed the piece to run. (See last Wednesday's briefs.) Crusoé and O Antagonista removed the report from their sites, but it was reproduced in its entirety on site of The Intercept Brazil, reports the Knight Center. Crusoé later republished the piece on its own site.

The decision caused considerable backlash against the Supreme Court, notes El País. Critics included other Supreme Court justices and President Jair Bolsonaro, reports El País separately. Perhaps the most unexpected side effect was that it unified a large swathe of opponents that included Bolsonaro, lawmakers, the attorney general, the Brazilian bar association, and the military, according tot he BBC.

De Moraes originally asked the federal police to question the report's authors within 72 hours, a request that was rejected by the attorney general Raquel Dodge. The attorney general's office attempted unsuccessfully to suspend the investigation, arguing that the Supreme Court could not be the victim, investigator and judge of the same case. The Committee to Protect Journalists criticized the Supreme Court move, as did Reporters without Borders and Transparency International. (EFE)

In a separate case, a Brazilian comedian known for aggressive attacks on leftist politicians, was sentenced to six months in jail for a 2017 clip targeting Rio Grande do Sul congresswoman Maria do Rosário. Critics say Brazil's judiciary is overstepping constitutional boundaries -- and lower court judges have increasingly sided with people who accuse their critics of libel, reports the WSJ.

In the midst of the backlash over the Toffeli case, the Supreme Court also granted former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva permission to give interviews from jail, reversing an earlier prohibition, reports El País.

News Briefs

More Brazil
  • The negative narrative about Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro as a tropical Trump -- propelled by his outrageous discourse -- is too bad, according to the Financial Times, "because the Bolsonaro administration also has a more positive story to tell the outside world."
  • Brazilian Justice and Public Security minister, Sérgio Moro, presented a wide-ranging crime bill in Congress. It would lengthen prison sentences for particular crimes, allow plea bargains as a prosecutorial tool, and tighten laws against money laundering, reports Americas Quarterly. But it might not be enough to combat the country's dominant criminal group, the Primeiro Comando da Capital, argue Ryan Berg and Andrés Martínez-Fernandez.
  • Bolsonaro promised new legislation to make it easier to carry guns in public and expand protections for people who kill in defense of themselves or their property. (Associated Press)
  • The Amazon Kayapó tribe is standing up for their land rights access, against the Bolsonaro government's attempts to weaken protections for indigenous communities, reports Ozy.
Regional Relations
  • U.S. President Donald Trump is working hard to alienate countries in Latin America -- and Russia and China are eager to step into the gap and consolidate influence, military potential, and economic alliances in the region. The Pentagon in particular is scrambling to react, reports the Washington Post.
  • Chilean President Sebastian Piñera will visit China later this month and will attend the second Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation, reports EFE.
  • China's ambitious plan to build a high-speed rail line in Chile is stalled in a regulatory web, reports Bloomberg.
  • Peruvian prosecutors allege that former president Alan García -- who killed himself last week to avoid arrest -- led a criminal group that received millions of dollars in bribes from Odebrecht SA. García had denied wrongdoing. The attorney general's office said a ring of corrupt officials led by García, received payments ranging from $10,000 to $860,000 and expensive TV sets in exchange for lucrative public-works contracts, reports the Wall Street Journal. (See Wednesday's briefs and Friday's.)
  • A Haitian investigating judge cleared President Jovenel Moïse of money laundering allegations, reports the Caribbean Media Corporation.
  • Nicaraguans turned Good Friday marches into an opportunity for anti-government protests. Alongside the traditional Stations of the Cross procession, demonstrators shouted for “justice” and carried wooden crosses bearing the names of those who died during the past year of protests. They waved the blue-and-white Nicaraguan flag, which has become a symbol of the opposition, reports the Associated Press. Riot police broke up protests outside the Managua cathedral, and some demonstrators took shelter inside.
  • Despite a commitment to strengthen rights and citizen guarantees, anti-government activists report ongoing harassment from authorities, reports Confidencial. At least one recently released political prisoner was temporarily redetained this weekend. 
  • Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido called for a massive march against President Nicolás Maduro for May 1. (Reuters)
  • Indian oil refinery company Reliance Industries denied involvement in any arrangements that lead to cash payments for oil supplies to Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA via third parties, reports Reuters.
  • U.S. sanctions on Venezuela have led the New York Federal Reserve to crack down on Puerto Rico’s $50 billion offshore banking industry, reports Reuters.
  • Human rights activists and digital security advocates are increasingly critical of Ecuador's arrest of a Swedish cybersecurity expert. Ola Bini was detained two weeks ago, accused of attacking computer systems in the country. But advocates there is no evidence and he's "guilty by association," due to contact with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, reports the New York Times. Both Amnesty International and Article 19 have raised concerns over the detention. (See last Monday's briefs.)
  • Migration is taking a toll on Guatemala's rural communities -- villages in the country's western mountains are increasingly depleted, worsening chronic poverty. (Wall Street Journal)
  • Sally O’Neill, a prominent human rights worker from Ireland died in a car crash in Guatemala. (New York Times)
  • Poverty has jumped up alarmingly in Argentina, raising questions about an IMF austerity program that specifically sought to protect "society's most vulnerable," reports the Financial Times.
  • Gunmen killed 13 people in a bar in Mexico's Veracruz state, one of the worst slayings since President Andrés Manuel López Obrador assumed office last Dec. (Reuters)
  • Violence in Mexico is topping previous highs -- homicides increased 10 percent in the first quarter of this year, over the same period in 2018. (Al Jazeera)
  • Migration is turning many residents of Mexico's southern Chiapas state against AMLO, reports the New York Times.
  • At least 17 people have been killed by a landslide in Colombia's Cauca region yesterday. (BBC)

Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take? Let me know ...

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