Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Brazil breaks new Covid record (March 24, 2021)

Brazil reported 3,251 Covid-19 deaths yesterday, a new grim pandemic record for a single day in the country. Brazil's health systems are nearly collapsing. Many state governments have implemented restrictions on activities, even as President Jair Bolsonaro resists quarantine measures.

In a 4-minute presidential address on TV and radio yesterday, Bolsonaro did not comment on the new record and said Brazilians will "very soon return to normal life." Pot-banging protests erupted across the country as he spoke.

Brazil’s Supreme Court refused to hear Bolsonaro's appeal against several states’ measures restricting economic activity to slow contagion, yesterday.

Experts say Bolsonaro's dichotomy between health and economic survival is false, and there are mounting calls for government coordination to lessen the impact of the coronavirus crisis. Hundreds of Brazilian economists, including former finance ministers and central bank presidents, urged the Brazilian government in an open letter to speed up vaccination and adopt tougher restrictions to stop the spread of the coronavirus, including possible lockdowns.

The World Health Organization’s (WHO) regional director for the Americas, Carissa Etienne, said the virus is surging “dangerously” across Brazil, and urged all Brazilians to adopt preventive measures to stop the spread.


Moro was biased

Brazil’s Supreme Court ruled that former judge Sergio Moro was biased in the way he oversaw former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s corruption trial. Yesterday's decision backs Lula's long standing claim that corruption cases against him were politically motivated. It also further tarnishes the emblematic Operation Car Wash corruption investigation that Moro presided over for years, reports the Associated Press.

Leaked messages published by The Intercept Brasil in 2019 showed apparent collusion between Moro and Car Wash prosecutors in the case against Lula, which put him in jail and removed him from the 2018 presidential race that put Bolsonaro in office. 

“In this case what is discussed is something that for me is key: everyone has the right to a fair trial, due legal process, and the impartiality of the judge,” said Justice Carmen Lucia, who cast the tie-breaking vote.

Yesterday's ruling is separate from the decision earlier this month that anuled two convictions against Lula and permit him to run for political office again. But while that decision established that Lula could be retried in federal court, yesterday's 3-2 decision prohibited evidence gathered in the Car Wash probe about da Silva’s alleged ownership of a triplex in the beach town of Guaruja from being used in any eventual trial. The justices didn’t rule whether evidence gathered previously could be used when retrying da Silva’s other conviction, or in his other two unresolved criminal cases. 

More Brazil
  • Bolsonaro's controversial plan to protect the rainforest with Brazil's military has failed, predictably according to experts. Government data show that deforestation last year surged to a 12-year high, reports Reuters. Late last year, Vice President Hamilton Mourao, a retired Army general and Bolsonaro's deforestation czar, announced that efforts to protect the rainforest in April will revert to the country's civilian environmental-protection agency, Ibama.
News Briefs

  • Formal charges by U.S. federal prosecutors against Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández may be on the horizon, after testimony in a New York trial against an Honduran drug lord has added to the growing mound of evidence linking Hernández to Honduras’ drug-trafficking industry. (New York Times)
  • U.S. prosecutors identified Hernández more than 50 times in the March 16 sentencing submission of the Fuentes Ramírez trial, accusing JOH of prolonged involvement with prominent drug traffickers who contributed to his campaigns in exchange for protection and immunity. It is a distinct break with tradition, reports InSight Crime, as U.S. prosecutors usually avoid naming sitting presidents in criminal cases. (See yesterday's briefs.)
  • Allegations linking JOH to criminal organizations have been made for years, nonetheless, the U.S. has continued to treat Honduras' government as a close ally in the region. That could change in light of mounting evidence, growing calls from Democratic lawmakers to sanction Honduras' government for human rights violations, and the U.S. Biden administration's goal of targeting corruption in Central America, reports the Guardian.
  • Mexico is taking high-profile actions to stop the growing surge of migrants trying to reach the U.S. border -- but it's not clear they are having much effect, reports the Washington Post. The Mexican government's plan to send additional National Guard troops to the country's borders to stop irregular migration doesn't amount to a significant increase. Mexico also announced it was shutting down its southern border with Guatemala and Belize to non-essential travel, but migrants continue to stream through informal crossings.
  • A U.S. delegation led by Roberta Jacobson, a former U.S. ambassador to Mexico and the White House’s top adviser on border issues, and Juan González, the National Security Council’s senior director for the Western Hemisphere traveled to Mexico and Guatemala this week to discuss migration policies and root causes of migration. (Wall Street Journal, see yesterday's briefs.)
  • Yesterday Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said during a news conference that the best way to reduce migratory pressures was to improve living standards in countries where people are leaving for the U.S. “People don’t go to the United States for fun, they go out of necessity,” López Obrador said. “There needs to be support for the development of Central America and the south of Mexico. Particularly Central America.” (Al Jazeera)
  • In Guatemala, decades of migration to the U.S. left generations of children behind for whom gangs are substitute families, reports the Guardian.
  • Haitian President Jovenel Moïse is cementing his grip on the country, despite widespread unrest. Haitian democratic instability is closely linked to the international community, writes Pooja Bhatia in the London Review of Books. "The US exercises influence without acknowledging it; subverts genuine democrats and then claims they lacked popular support; props up autocrats and ignores both the letter and the spirit of the law in the name of stability and ‘what’s best for Haitians’; preaches self-reliance while flooding Haitian markets with rice grown in Arkansas; evangelises human rights while denying asylum-seekers a chance to show credible fear; propounds elections instead of democracy."
  • Moïse has called for a constitutional referendum in June, and a general election later this year, but opposition leaders and legal experts say the whole process is a farce, reports CNN.
Regional Relations
  • U.S. Senator Chris Murphy urged the Biden administration to lift a ban on diesel fuel swaps with Venezuela, the latest in a chorus of Democrats and aid workers who say sanctions are worsening Venezuela's dire humanitarian crisis, reports the Associated Press.
  • Taiwan will help its handful of remaining diplomatic allies buy Covid-19 vaccines but on the condition that Taiwanese money is not used to obtain Chinese vaccines, reports Reuters.
  • The Paraguayan government has been approached with offers of Chinese-made vaccines in exchange for breaking ties with Taiwan, the country’s foreign ministry said in statement earlier this week. (Bloomberg)
  • Colombia will impose new restrictions on movement and enact nightly curfews in municipalities with high occupancy levels in intensive care units as it tries to avoid a severe third wave of COVID-19, President Ivan Duque said yesterday. (Reuters)
  • Colombian authorities should respect the right of peaceful assembly and ensure independent and impartial investigations of police use of force, including killings against protesters, Human Rights Watch and Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights said as they submitted an amicus brief to the country’s constitutional court. The amicus brief supports a petition to transfer the criminal investigation into the 2019 death of an 18-year-old protester, Dilan Cruz, at the hands of police to the ordinary justice system from the military courts, where it currently stands.
  • International Monetary Fund chief Kristalina Georgieva said she held a "very good meeting" with Argentine Economy Minister Martín Guzmán but gave no details about concrete progress as talks over a new loan program continue. (Reuters)
  • Today marks 45 years since Argentina's 1976 civilian-military coup, an estimated 30,000 people were forcibly "disappeared" during the ensuing dictatorship. The National Security Archive is today posting declassified documents revealing what the U.S. government knew, and when it knew it, in the weeks preceding the overthrow of Isabel Peron’s government. The documents provide evidence of multiple contacts between the coup plotters and U.S. officials.
  • Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo called for people to plant trees (#PlantamosMemoria), in lieu of the traditional demonstration carried out by human rights organizations on this date, which won't be held due to coronavirus concerns.
Nunca Más.

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