Tuesday, March 9, 2021

Lula's convictions annulled (March 9, 2021)

 A Brazilian Supreme Court judge annulled a series of criminal convictions against former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva -- a surprise move that clears the way for the leftist icon to run for office again. He is almost certain to challenge the incumbent, President Jair Bolsonaro, in next year's presidential elections, say analysts.

The move is a political game-changer for Brazil, and means the 2022 campaign will likely be polarized between Lula and Bolsonaro -- bad news for candidates who hoped to posit themselves as third-option centrists, reports the Guardian. The judge's decision, yesterday, stunned Brazil’s political establishment, rattled the stock market and set off a flurry of predictions about next year’s presidential race, reports the New York Times.

An IPEC survey published this week found that 50 per cent of those interviewed said they would vote for Lula da Silva if possible in the next presidential race, compared with 38 per cent for Bolsonaro, reports the Financial Times. Lula is less polarizing than he was in the past, cautions Brian Winter in Americas Quarterly.

Lula was the front-runner in the 2018 presidential elections, but was prevented from running due to a 2017 corruption conviction, paving the way for Bolsonaro's win. Lula has always claimed the corruption cases against him were politically motivated. The judge in the Lava Jato investigation which brought the charges against Lula, Sergio Moro, became Bolsonaro's justice minister after the election. Later-leaked messages between Moro and the Lava Jato prosecutorial team showed apparent coordination to jail Lula, in violation of rules of conduct for judges in Brazil. (See post for June 10, 2019.)

Yesterday's ruling is based on procedural grounds, Justice Luiz Edson Fachin that the federal court in Curitiba, which convicted da Silva twice of corruption and money laundering, didn’t have jurisdiction to put the former president on trial. Some analysts see the move as an attempt to preserve the vast but embattled Lava Jato corruption investigation, reports the Associated Press.

Da Silva’s legal team had wanted the top court to deem Moro biased, in relation to The Intercept reported leaks, but experts say that by sidestepping those motions, Fachin’s decision effectively preserves other Car Wash prosecutions. 

Fachin's decision can be overturned on appeal by the full supreme court, an option that is already being sought by Brazil’s attorney-general, notes the Financial Times.

Another relevant issue is how the military will react, notes Brian Winter. "Its leaders famously pressured the Supreme Court on the eve of a major ruling involving Lula in 2018. Now of course they are fully involved in Bolsonaro’s government, holding several key positions."

News Briefs

  • Women's rights activists marching in Mexico yesterday clashed with police in Mexico City, the latest in a series of episodes that feminists say demonstrates the government's deaf ear to their demands to stanch gender violence in the country. Women have increasingly become the most visible opposition to President Andrés Manuel López Obrador. Yesterday, on International Women's Day, he falsely claimed that women’s protests didn’t occur until he took office. (Guardian)
  • Mexico is reeling from a surge in political violence ahead of upcoming elections, reports AFP. At least 66 Mexican politicians have been murdered since September, including two mayoral candidates killed on the same day last week. Kidnapping, threats against relatives, arson attacks on homes and extortion are also among the tactics used by criminal groups.
  • A political power struggle between Paraguayan President Mario Abdo Benítez and former president Horacio Cartes underlies the country's political crisis in the wake of violently repressed anti-government protests, according to the Latin America Risk Report. (See yesterday's post.) As opposition politicians angle for a potential impeachment vote on Abdo and Vice President Hugo Velazquez, Carte's bloc in Congress is angling for more power and influence including cabinet seats within the Abdo government in exchange for support against impeachment.
  • Bolivia held gubernatorial and local elections on Sunday. Preliminary results suggest the ruling MAS party did well in several gubernatorial races, as well as rural municipalities, but that most major cities will be run by opposition mayors, reports El País.
  • Voters in Bolivia's biggest cities -- Santa Cruz, La Paz and Cochabamba -- apparently rejected the ruling MAS party in the vote. The results are in keeping with long-term trends in the cities against Evo Morales' MAS party, reports Deutsche Welle
  • In El Alto, former senate president Eva Copa, seems likely to win by a landslide: preliminary estimates give her 67 percent of the vote. She broke with the MAS party, which did not nominate her as a candidate. (El País)
  • As many as 320,000 Venezuelans living in the United States were given an 18-month reprieve from deportation yesterday. They will be allowed to work legally in the United States as part of the temporary protective status (TPS) issued by the U.S. Biden administration, reports the New York Times. “The living conditions in Venezuela reveal a country in turmoil, unable to protect its own citizens,” Alejandro Mayorkas, the homeland security secretary, said in a statement.
  • TPS is a category of legal residence that would open a path to U.S. citizenship for them under the immigration bill Biden sent to Congress last week, notes the Washington Post.
  • When it comes to Covid-19 and Brazil, the question is not how the country got into the mess, but whether "the failure to control the virus poses an international threat that will undermine the hard-won gains other countries have made against the virus," according to the Washington Post.
  • Vaccine success has brought Chilean President Sebastián Piñera back from the brink, reports Bloomberg. Last year his approval rating was at 6 percent, the lowest in the region, while now it is between 14 and 20 percent.
  • Yaku Pérez seems unlikely to win his challenge to Ecuador's electoral count and make the presidential runoff vote in April. But the third place result represents a breakthrough for Pérez's Pachakutik party, which struck a chord with young and disenchanted voters who responded to its call for greater protection of the environment and focus on gender issues, reports the Financial Times.
El Salvador
  • A group of journalists and communicators joined a march for International Women’s Day in El Salvador on Sunday to demand media and journalistic coverage free of gender-based violence. (EFE)
  • Women's jobs have been particularly hard-hit by the coronavirus pandemic in Latin America, transportation is a key sector for promoting a strong recovery: both in ensuring women have access to mobility solutions they need, and by incorporating women to the transportation workforce, which is overwhelmingly male, according to the Transport Gender Lab.
  • A wide range of issues affecting women, from abortion rights to femicide, were highlighted at rallies and events for International Women’s Day on 8 March (See yesterday's post.) The Guardian has pictures from around the world.

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