Thursday, June 13, 2019

Brazil's Lava Jato in jeopardy (June 13, 2019)

Brazilian judge Sergio Moro -- currently Justice Minister -- is emblematic of the Lava Jato investigation that shed light on rampant political corruption in the country. But the investigation's achievements are in jeopardy after a series of exposes that appear to show Moro improperly colluding with prosecutors in the case against former president Luis Inácio Lula da Silva. (See Monday's post.) 

It could be a fatal blow for Lava Jato's credibility, argues the Economist.  Moro denies improprieties, and has so far refused to resign, reports AFP. But other ministers have been sacked for less, noted the conservative Estado de São Paulo newspaper in a scathing editorial arguing for Moro's resignation. (Guardian)

Ironically, Moro is himself about to become a test of how Brazil deals with impunity in the post-Lava Jato paradigm, argues Carol Pires in a New York Times Español op-ed. Unfortunately, so far Brazil is failing to demonstrate evolution, she says, noting that it would be proper for Moro to step down from the cabinet while the charges are investigated.
A lot is at stake: proof "that the investigations and prosecutions were politically motivated (as many da Silva supporters charge), ... would be a mortal blow to institutional independence and credibility — a dangerous development in a country already in the grips of right-wing populism and facing deep economic and social crisis," writes Raphael Tsavkko Garcia in a Washington Post opinion piece.

News Briefs

More Brazil
  • The head of Brazil's indigenous affairs agency was fired. He accused the government of caving to pressure from the powerful agribusiness lobby that seeks to commercially develop indigenous territories. He told collagues that President Jair Bolsonaro is being advized by aides who “froth hate for indigenous people." (GuardianAl Jazeera)
  • Hundreds of pesticide products have been approved since President Jair Bolsonaro took office this year -- many of which are banned in Europe and raise public health and environmental concerns, reports the Guardian.
  • Illegal gun production is booming in Brazil. Though gun ownership regulations were loosened this year, homemade weapons are increasingly a significant portion of the country’s total seizures, reports InSight Crime.
  • This weekend's general elections in Guatemala showcase the setbacks the country's anti-corruption fight in recent years, reports the Guardian. Judicial maneuvering kept anti-corruption crusader Thelma Aldana out of the running, but charges of criminal association and illegal campaign financing against poll-leader Sandra Torres were presented late enough to allow her to keep running. Illegal campaign financing is a major issue in Guatemala, where  political parties received 50 percent of their funds from organized crime and corruption in the last two general elections. But plans for the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala to investigate this year's election fell prey to attacks against its mandate and funding. 
  • Guatemala is the largest source of migrants trying to enter the U.S. now. The drastic drop in coffee prices, that has left many farmers operating at a loss, is among the many push factors for rural Guatemalans to try their luck at the U.S. border, reports the Washington Post.
  • The vast majority of refugees, 85 percent, live in the developing world. Host countries often shoulder impossible costs, despite limited resources of their own. Instead, these countries and international institutions should be allowed to fund relieve efforts by drawing on the assets of refugee source countries, argue Amalia Perez and Selim Can Sazak in Foreign Affairs. They look specifically at the case of frozen Venezuelan state assets, which could be used to provide countries such as Colombia with a sustainable revenue stream to care for the millions of refugees that have recently settled within their borders.
  • Both the U.S. and Mexico celebrated a new migration agreement that averted a tariff war -- but how long the truce will continue remains unclear, according to the Economist.
  • The deal between Mexico and the U.S. expands a policy in which people seeking asylum in the U.S. can be sent to await their cases in Mexico. The Associated Press reports on what "Remain in Mexico" looks like in reality. 
  • The agreement also involves sending National Guard troops to Mexico's southern border, which is not a solution that addresses the true causes of the migration phenomenon," the Catholic bishops' conference of Mexico wrote in a statement on Monday. "If we as Mexicans have rejected the construction of a wall, we cannot ourselves become that wall," they wrote. (Al Jazeera)
  • Mexico is in the midst of a migrant crisis of its own. A drastic uptick in asylum requests from Central Americans at the country's southern border is overwhelming Mexico's refugee agency, reports the Wall Street Journal. The numbers would go up even more if the U.S. convinces Mexico to sign a "safe third country" agreement.
  • Mexico will finance it's own migrant crackdown with the sale of a presidential plane, said President Andrés Manuel López Obrador. (Guardian)
  • Mexican criminals have started renting weapons, a method that affects authorities, who use gun tracing as a key crime-fighting tactic, reports InSight Crime.
  • Colombian security forces are accused of carrying out 12 extrajudicial executions last year in seven provinces, according to a new report by the U.N. human rights office. (Blu Radio)
  • The case of former FARC guerrilla commander Seuxis Hernández, now a member of Colombia's congress and wanted in the U.S. on cocaine-trafficking charges, has fueled debate over the 2016 peace pact, reports the Wall Street Journal. The case of Hernández, better known by his nom de guerre Jesús Santrich, emphasizes divisions among former guerrilla leaders and lends credence to peace pact opponents' arguments that the agreement was a veiled impunity pact, reports la Silla Vacía. (See yesterday's briefs.)
  • Colombian journalist Libardo Montenegro was murdered in the Nariño province where he worked as a reporter with a community radio station. (EFE)
  • Colombian President Iván Duque has called for a "National Pact" in politics, with hopes of attracting support for bogged down judicial reform and peace agreement amendments. A cabinet reshuffle aims to improve the Executive's relationship with lawmakers, reports la Silla Vacía. But Duque's inability or unwillingness to push his own party to compromise could doom the effort, reports Americas Quarterly.
  • Journalist Daniel Coronell recovered his Revista Semana column, two weeks after getting fired for criticizing the magazine's failure to follow up on information regarding controversial army orders to boost kill rates. (See June 5's briefs.)
  • Some of Colombia's most notorious criminal organizations teamed up in a plan to traffic three tons of cocaine. (InSight Crime)
  • Honduran educators and health sector workers maintained ongoing protests yesterday. The government called for a dialogue process to start today reports La Prensa. Protestors say the government has detained four demonstrators, and called for their immediate release. (See Tuesday's post.)
  • Venezuela is releasing new banknotes for the second time in less than a year, another symptom of hyperinflation. (Reuters) The new bills - 10,000; 20,000; and 50,000 denominations -- will work as a palliative for only a few months before price increases eat away at their usefulness, warn economists. (Efecto CocuyoEfecto Cocuyo)
  • Venezuelan authorities continue to crackdown on the opposition-led National Assembly. Efecto Cocuyo reports that the congress has been partially militarized and that security forces are keeping reporters out of the building.
  • Lawmakers found seven guns on the ceiling of a commission office, an apparent intimidation attempt. (Efecto Cocuyo)
  • Peru's crackdown on illegal mining in La Pampa has left the region in recession, demonstrating its dependance on the illicit economy, reports the Miami Herald.
  • Construction has begun on a multi-billion dollar airport project near Machu Picchu that has conservationists up in arms. (NPR)
  • Ecuador's top court approved same sex marriage. (BBC)
  • Drug tourism threatens indigenous Colombian ayahuasca traditions, reports the Economist.
  • Five Jamaican fishermen were detained and abused by the U.S. Coast Guard in 2017, part of what the ACLU characterized as the force's “unlawful detention and mistreatment policy” related to the U.S. war on drugs. (Guardian)
  • There is a growing market in Latin America for synthetic drugs reports InSight Crime, focusing on the recent seizure of a rocking horse stuffed with a large quantity of methamphetamine traveling from Belgium to Argentina.
  • Sergio Massa, considered a key figure for centrist voters in Argentina's upcoming general elections, entered a political alliance with lead opposition presidential candidate Alberto Fernández, strengthening the latter's bid against incumbent Mauricio Macri, reports Reuters.
  • A former Argentine public official was sentenced to six years in jail for illicit enrichment. The case of former public works secretary José López became infamous when he was caught trying to stash $9 million in cash in a Buenos Aires convent. (Associated Press)
Dominican Republic
  • A spate of tourist deaths -- no foul play, according to authorities -- is hitting the Dominican Republic's hospitality industry hard, reports the Washington Post.
  • A shooting attack against former Red Sox star David Ortiz over the weekend only raised fears. Authorities said five suspects, including the alleged gunman, have been detained, reports the Associated Press. Security footage indicates sophisticated attack, reports the Guardian.
  • Don't cancel your trip yet! Experts are advising travelers to consider the larger picture before abandoning their beach plans, reports the Washington Post separately.
Viewing party
  • Elective c-sections have long been a status symbol in Brazil -- and now, family and guests are increasingly invited to watch, reports the Washington Post.

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

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