Thursday, October 21, 2021

Bolsonaro committed crimes against humanity, Senate Inquiry Commission (Oct. 21, 2021)

Brazilian senators decided not to recommend President Jair Bolsonaro should face homicide and genocide charges in order to strengthen the potential impact of a an inquiry commission into the Brazilian government's handling of the coronavirus pandemic. The commission's report, presented yesterday, recommends Bolsonaro be charged with crimes against humanity, and blames the president’s policies for more than half of the 600,000 deaths from Covid-19 in Brazil.

But while the report originally recommended charging Bolsonaro with homicide and genocide, some members of the commission were concerned the arguments might not hold up with prosecutors and judges, and would ultimately weaken the impact of their investigation, reports the New York Times

Nonetheless, experts emphasized the report is a major blow against Bolsonaro. Pedro Abramovay, a former national secretary of justice and the Latin America director for Open Society Foundations, told the New York Times that despite the late changes, the report was still bad news for Bolsonaro. “Again, we are talking about crimes against humanity.”

The crimes the report attributes to the president could result in more than 100 years of jail. (Washington Post)

"The last-minute shift, after some of the report’s details had already leaked, reflects the polarized and complicated political landscape under Mr. Bolsonaro, whose popularity has plummeted since he took office in 2019 but who still retains enormous power, making his adversaries tread warily," reports the New York Times.

The report looks at two kinds of misdeed: “ordinary crimes”, which can be prosecuted in the courts, and “crimes of responsibility”, for which the president might be impeached. Bolsonaro retains the loyalty of Brazil's attorney general and the Congressional lower chamber's leader, effectively shielding him from legal repercussions while in office. (Economist)

Nonetheless, the report has significant political impact on Bolsonaro, particularly as he heads into a reelection campaign next year. And members of the Senate inquiry commission have promised to seek other avenues for justice. (See yesterday's post.)

News Briefs

  • The OAS called for the immediate release of detained presidential candidates and political prisoners in Nicaragua, a month ahead of elections in which President Daniel Ortega seeks another reelection virtually unopposed after jailing prominent opposition politicians. The OAS resolution yesterday was backed by 26 votes, reports EFE. Mexico and Argentina were among seven countries that abstained, though their governments have recalled ambassadors from Nicaragua in response to political repression, reports Axios. (See Infobae also.)

  • With most of the other presidential candidates in jail, Ortega and Vice President Rosario Murillo, who is also his wife, will try to beat the 72 percent of the vote they were said to have received in the prior presidential election in 2016—despite Ortega’s 30 percent approval rating, reports Americas Society/Council of the Americas.

  • The president of the Consejo Superior de la Empresa Privada (Cosep), Michael Healy, was arrested this morning, the government's latest arbitrary detention, reports Nicaragua Investiga.
Regional Relations
  • U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned of an eroding trust in democracy in the Western Hemisphere and described challenges posed to open government by authoritarian leaders. "The question is: What can we do to make democracies deliver on the issues that matter most to our people?” he said, speaking on a visit to Ecuador. But he offered no specifics on how governments could embrace longer-term principles like ensuring fair labor standards and giving more people access to education and health care, reports the New York Times.

  • Blinken also went to Colombia yesterday, where he met with President Iván Duque, a meeting that evinced the struggles the Biden administration faces with allies in the region, reports the New York Times. The Duque administration has been criticized for brutally repressing protests earlier this year and for failing to protect social leaders from criminal groups' violence.

  • Latin American leaders had high hopes for the Biden administration, but "are frustrated by a U.S. foreign policy widely seen as crisis-driven and China-obsessed," argues Benjamin Gedan in a New York Times guest essay. Instead the U.S. should make bold announcements on trade and investment; policies to help countries struggling with migration -- from Colombia dealing with Venezuelan migrants, to Panama facing a flow of Haitians headed towards the U.S. and Costa Rica with Nicaraguans -- and support countries' efforts to cut emissions with big-ticket investments in renewable energy and energy storage and transmission projects, writes Gedan.

  • Former U.S. President Donald Trump's administration contemplated deploying 250,000 troops (more than half the active U.S. army) to secure the border with Mexico last year, and had to be talked out of it by top national security aides, who also convinced Trump not to launch military raids against drug cartels inside Mexico, reports the New York Times.
  • U.S. authorities detained more than 1.7 million migrants along the Mexico border during the 2021 fiscal year that ended in September, and arrests by the Border Patrol soared to the highest levels ever recorded, reports the Washington Post. Border enforcement has become a major political liability for U.S. President Joe Biden, and the president’s handling of immigration remains his worst-polling issue.
El Salvador
  • El Salvador's lawmakers approved legislation that would prohibit gatherings, days after anti-government protests, a move critics say aims to criminalize social protests. (El Diario de Hoy
  • Barbados elected its first president, Dame Sandra Mason, just weeks before the island becomes a republic and ceases to recognise Queen Elizabeth as its head of state. Mason, a judge and former ambassador, was elected almost unanimously by the parliament yesterday, reports the Guardian.
  • Alejandro Andrade, a former bodyguard to Hugo Chávez and later Venezuela's treasurer, who became one of the earliest and most-effective witnesses for U.S. investigations into corruption in Venezuela, is scheduled to be released from prison in the coming months, reports the Associated Press. Andrade's assistance allowed prosecutors to build cases against a number of insiders from the Chávez administration.

  • Spain’s highest criminal court agreed to extradite Venezuela’s former intelligence chief, Hugo Carvajal, to the United States, where he faces drug trafficking charges, reports the New York Times. Yesterday's ruling came after Carvajal was denied asylum in Spain.
  • Ecuadorean President Guillermo Lasso's decision to call a state of emergency this week responds to political concerns as well as security issues, according to the Latin America Risk Report. (See Tuesday's post.)
  • Chilean right-wing candidate José Kast's sudden rise in opinion polls ahead of next month's presidential election challenges Chile's shift to the left after broad social protests in 2019. Fears over migration, public security and shifting social values have boosted the far right, reports the Guardian. (See yesterday's post.)
  • Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador offered amnesty to the owners of millions of illicit American cars, known colloquially as "autos chocolates," a move criticized by auto dealers who say it undermines their legal business, and security experts who say it could give organized crime a pass, reports the Washington Post.

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

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