Monday, June 22, 2020

Weintraub's exit raises questions in Brazil (June 22, 2020)

Brazilian education minister Abraham Weintraub's exit from President Jair Bolsonaro's cabinet -- and then the country -- has thrown the Bolsonaro administration deeper into a political crisis involving numerous scandals implicating his family and closest allies, reports The Intercept.

Weintraub exited the government last Thursday, after he got caught on tape at a cabinet meeting screaming that Supreme Court justices should be arrested, and his mask-free attendance at an explicitly anti-democracy protest aimed at the Supreme Court, writes Glenn Greenwald. "His resignation comes as a result of prolonged political wear and tear with the Supreme Court Justices," reports Folha de S. Paulo.

Weintraub arrived in the U.S. on Friday, amid speculation that he would be the next target in an ongoing Supreme Court investigation into online defamation and disinformation campaigns. (See last Wednesday's briefs.) The arrival, despite the U.S.'s travel ban on arrivals from Brazil due to coronavirus concerns, raised questions over whether Weintraub had improperly used a diplomatic passport issued to cabinet members. (New York Times)

The government may have intentionally posponed publishing Weintrab's resignation until he safely reached U.S. soil, according to Greenwald. Bolsonaro announced he would appoint Weintraub to a senior World Bank position, a post that does not require Senate approval. Opposition lawmakers said they would demand information regarding Weintraub's exit and use of diplomatic passport, reports Globo. If he remained a government minister, then Bolsonaro would have had to approve his departure from Brazil, said lawmaker Marcelo Calero.

Critics of the Bolsonaro administration say the hasty departure amounts to obstruction of justice. 

More Brazil
  • "Bolsonaro’s playbook when it comes to uncomfortable evidence is to attack the facts and the people trying to unearth them," writes Brazilian journalist Bianca Santana in a Guardian opinion piece. She attracted Bolsonaro's ire after publishing a review of evidence linking the president and his family to suspects in the 2018 murder of Marielle Franco and Anderson Gomes. Bolsonaro never answered the questions she raised in articles, but he did falsely accuse her of fake news in a recent YouTube live address in which he brandished an article she never wrote. "Bolsonaro’s actions are part of a trend of frightening attacks against press freedom in Brazil, "often led by the so-called “Office of Hate”, an illicit network of bloggers, prominent businessmen and lawmakers close to Bolsonaro, who spread fake news and attack our democratic institutions." That is the group the Brazilian Supreme Court is currently investigating.
  • "That Marielle Franco was a black, bisexual woman with a history of speaking up for the poor and marginalized is central to her murder case," notes Santana. "Bolsonaro foments hatred against minorities. Racist comments against black and indigenous people, and the homophobic and misogynistic behavior he expresses, have become more explicit every day."
  • Covid-19 "is scything through the [Brazil's] indigenous communities, killing chiefs, elders and traditional healers – and raising fears that alongside the toll of human lives, the pandemic may inflict irreparable damage on tribal knowledge of history, culture and natural medicine," reports the Guardian.
  • A local move to lockdown several indigenous villages in Brazil's Pará state, also bans indigenous people from entering the town of Pau D’Arco. Critics note the decree makes no mention of non-indigenous people. Federal prosecutors on Friday called for the mayor to revoke the decree, reports the Guardian.
News Briefs

  • Latin America is home to eight percent of the global population, and is now suffering half the world's new coronavirus deaths. Three months of economically crippling lockdowns have been less effective than elsewhere in the world, and now countries in the region are struggling to respond to the twin human and economic catastrophes, reports the Financial Times.
  • Efforts to contain the coronavirus pandemic in Latin America have been stymied by a litany of corruption scandals, reports the New York Times. The epidemic context amplified the region's pre-existing issues with corruption, and gave public officials new opportunities for graft. "Dozens of public officials and local entrepreneurs stand accused of exploiting the crisis for personal enrichment by peddling influence to price-gouge hospitals and governments for medical supplies, including masks, sanitizer and ventilators. Some of the gear was so flawed that it was rendered useless — and may have contributed to even more sickness and death." 
  • U.S. President Donald Trump said he'd be open to meeting with Venezuelan leader Nicolás Maduro, who the U.S. does not recognize as Venezuela's president. "I'm never opposed to meetings — you know, rarely opposed to meetings," Trump told Axios on Friday. He also indicated flagging faith in National Assembly president Juan Guaidó, who the U.S. and dozens of other countries consider to be Venezuela's legal interim leader. A Trump-Maduro meeting would upend current U.S. policy towards Venezuela, notes Axios. Today Trump tweeted that he would meet with Maduro only to discuss "a peaceful exit from power." (CBS
  • Trumps comments came days after release of former security advisor John Bolton’s book describing Trump’s public toughness toward Maduro as an attempt to win Republican votes in South Florida, notes the Miami Herald. (See Friday's briefs.)
  • The U.S. Trump administration blacklisted more than a dozen individuals, their businesses and tankers alleged to have been involved in as much as 40 percent of Venezuela’s crude-oil exports in recent weeks, reported the Wall Street Journal last week.
  • The case of Mexico's Central de Abasto market, and how coronavirus spread among vendors made vulnerable by the problems of poverty, offers a glimpse into why the virus has hit the country so hard, reports the Washington Post.
  • Argentina needs to develop an effective form of contagion contact tracing that adequately adapts to Latin American realities and accounts for socio-economic differences as well, argues Daniel Feierstein in Cohete a la Luna. The article, which seems relevant to other countries in the region, asks a key question: why are contagions still increasing, 100 days since the country first implemented a strict lockdown that remains, in a more relaxed form, in the greater Buenos Aires area? The answer is related to lack of contact tracing, he writes.
  • An Argentine man sailed from Portugal to his hometown of Mar del Plata to visit his aging parents after flights were cancelled due to Covid-19. He arrived yesterday -- Fathers' Day -- after an 85-day journey, reports AFP.
The times of Covid-19 have made several new vocabulary words overly common -- "hydroxychloroquine" anybody? But today I was saddened by articles using an old verb that one rarely sees in news articles: scythe. 



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