Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Supreme Court authorizes Bolsonaro probe (April 28, 2020)

Brazil's Supreme Court authorized an investigation of allegations that President Jair Bolsonaro tried to illegally interfere with the country’s federal police force for political motives. The possible crimes for which Bolsonaro will be investigated reportedly include fraudulent misrepresentation, obstruction of justice and passive corruption, reports the Guardian.

Yesterday's decision comes after justice minister Sergio Moro resigned last Friday and accused Bolsonaro of seeking to interfere in investigations that involved family members, to the point of requesting intelligence files, reports Reuters. (See yesterday's briefs and Friday's post.)

“The president emphasized to me, explicitly, more than once, that he wanted someone who was a personal contact, whom he could call, from whom he could get information, intelligence reports,” Moro said. (Washington Post)

Based on the results of the police investigation, which has a 60-day time frame, the public prosecutor will have to decide whether to press charges against the president or his former minister. However, lawmakers would have to approve an indictment of Bolsonaro before it could move to the Supreme Court, and his supporters in the lower chamber would likely block the move, according to Reuters.

Public support for Bolsonaro to resign is growing, but his base of support also remains strong, meaning impeachment is unlikely at the current moment. Datafolha poll conducted yesterday found that 48% oppose impeaching Bolsonaro while 45% of those surveyed want to see him impeached. However, for 52% of those polled, Moro was telling the truth and only 20% said they believed Bolsonaro’s account. (Reuters)

Bolsonaro has not been deterred by the Supreme Court investigation threat. Today he allies to fill the justice ministry and police chief vacancies, reports the Associated Press. Bolsonaro appointed André Mendonça, an evangelical pastor who has served as attorney general since 2019, to head the justice ministry, and Alexandre Ramagem to serve as director general of the Federal Police. Critics have noted close ties between Ramagem and Carlos Bolsonaro, one of the president's sons, who is reportedly under investigation by the federal police. (See yesterday's briefs.) Leftist lawmaker Marcelo Freixo said on Twitter he has filed suit to annul the nomination.

Separately, a judge yesterday gave the federal government 48 hours to hand over the results of two Covid-19 tests Bolsonaro took last month but has refused to publish.

More Brazil
  • Covid-19 has jumped from Rio de Janeiro's poshest neighborhoods to its favelas, at a deathly cost, reports the Guardian.
  • Brazil's economic authorities seek to gradually reopen economic activity -- and professional soccer matches could soon start behind closed doors, reports Reuters. Bars and restaurants might also reopen soon, according to the productivity and competition secretary Carlos da Costa.
News Briefs

  • The coronavirus epidemic has sparked concern about conditions in Latin America's overcrowded prisons. Concerns over contagion have prompted mass inmate releases in several countries -- including Peru, Colombia and Brazil. At the same time, fear of the virus has also pushed detainees to protest and riot, pointing to chronic issues that include lack of food, hygiene supplies and lack of access to health care, reports the New York Times. Advocates hope it is a moment of reckoning: "Vincent Ballon, the top expert on detention issues at the International Committee of the Red Cross, said the coronavirus crisis should prompt governments across the world to reconsider the laws and policies that have led to overcrowded and poorly run prisons in the first place.
  • Inmate advocates in several countries have voiced concern that Covid-19 releases are occurring at a slow pace, however. (See Animal Político about Mexico.)
  • The pandemic's economic effects mean global remittances will drop 20 percent this year -- with significant impact on receiving countries' poverty rates, social and political stability, reports the New York Times. Mexico was the third-largest recipient of remittances among all countries in 2018, but the largest recipient of money sent from the United States.
  • Mexico has almost entirely cleared out its migration centers in response to the coronavirus, sending most inmates back to their home countries, reports Reuters. Since March 21, Mexico has returned 3,653 migrants to Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador by road and air, with the result that only 106 people remain in the centers, according to authorities.
  • Deportations have, in turn, become a major source of contagion for some countries, particularly Guatemala, where 20 percent of cases are migrants deported from the U.S., reports CBS News.
  • And now many of those deported migrants are facing stigma and threat in their home communities, due to fear of coronavirus infection, reports Al Jazeera. Many have been physically threatened.
El Salvador 
  • Punitive government measures against gang members (see yesterday's post) include sealing off the doors and windows of prison cells in which gang members are held, aimed at preventing communication with the outside, reports the BBC.
  • Advocates, including Human Rights Watch, have voiced concern over the government's treatment of inmates, which includes grouping them closely together at a time when social distancing is key to maintain health. (El Faro)
  • Authorities are responding to a sudden rise in homicides that started last Friday and continued through yesterday evening, reports El Faro. The question of why gang violence increased so drastically in such a short time -- initially El Salvador's gangs were emphatic about accompanying quarantine measures -- has not been addressed by the government. El Faro reports that possible causes include economic necessity, lack of extortion income and family loss of income from markets, as well as increased police violence in gang neighborhoods, targeted at members. El Faro also notes that Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) appears to be responsible for the homicides, not the two factions of Barrio 18.
  • The homicides are also a sign of gang strength and territorial control -- even in the midst of the government's crackdown, said experts interviewed by Revista Factum.
  • Mexican workers in several maquiladoras near the U.S. border are on strike, after they say co-workers died of Covid-19. Social distancing has not been implemented on the production line, they told the BBC.
  • On the flip side, U.S. companies making goods like ventilators, face masks and military equipment are unable to get parts and materials they need because the Mexican government has shuttered hundreds of factories in the midst of the pandemic, reports Politico.
  • Mexico's government is trying to apease both sides, reports the Associated Press. Yesterday it promised to reopen factories needed by the U.S. economy, while simultaneously shaming others that don't follow lockdown measures.
  • Colombia's ELN guerrilla group said it will resume military operations as of May 1, after a one month unilateral cease-fire in response to the coronavirus pandemic, reports AFP. It noted the lack of government response to the cease-fire as one of the reasons.
  • Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro appointed his economy vice president, Tareck El Aissami, who has been indicted in the United States on drug trafficking charges, as oil minister, amid acute fuel shortages across the country, reports Reuters.
  • Anti-money laundering efforts in Latin America are far more capable than they were ten years ago, but now face the threat of political cooptation, write Roberto Simon and Emilie Sweigart in Americas Quarterly.
  • The Ortega administration's refusal to recognize Covid-19 as a real threat is related to economic concerns, Gioconda Belli told NPR.
  • Ousted Bolivian president Evo Morales criticized the interim government's coronavirus approach, saying lack of scientific rigor has pushed six medical societies to withdraw from the gubernamental advisory board. (Telesur)
  • Argentina extended it's national lockdown until May 11, at least, though measures have been relaxed in areas of the country without coronavirus cases. Yesterday, the government banned all commercial flight ticket sales until September, one of the toughest coronavirus travel bans in the world, reports Reuters.
Costa Rica
  • Coronavirus rates have dropped in Costa Rica for 11 straight days, prompting authorities to plan a slow reopening starting May 1, reports Reuters.
I hope you're all staying safe and as sane as possible, given the circumstances ... And in these times of coronavirus, when we're all feeling a little isolated, feel especially free to reach out and share.

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