Likely top stories this week: Colombian government and striking farmers reach a deal; Henrique Capriles takes Venezuela’s election results to the IACHR; Enrique Peña Nieto outlines his plans for reform; Brazilians protest again; and the Colombian government and FARC resume peace talks.
Colombian Government Strikes Deal with Farmers: The Colombian government announced on Sunday that it had reached an agreement with protesting farmers that have been striking since August 19. The strike aimed to draw attention to the economic difficulties they face in competing with cheap imports from abroad. The farmers agreed to lift all road blockades by Tuesday and will join the government in negotiations to address their demands and reach a final agreement. The government has already agreed to cut fertilizer prices and provide cheap credit to farmers.
Venezuela's Capriles to Challenge Maduro's Win Before IACHR: Former Venezuelan presidential candidate and opposition leader Henrique Capriles will bring a case challenging Venezuela's April 14 election results before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) on Monday. Venezuela's Consejo Nacional Electoral (National Electoral Council—CNE) confirmed in early June that President Nicolás Maduro had won the election by a slim 1.49 percent margin over Capriles, and the Venezuelan Supreme Court upheld the decision. The IACHR must first decide whether the case is admissible. This comes as Venezuela's withdrawal from the Inter-American Court of Human Rights is to become effective on Tuesday, September 10, a year after the government announced its withdrawal from the human rights body.1
Peña Nieto Champions Tax Reform: Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto outlined his plans for tax reform on Sunday in a speech from the presidential residence. The tax plan is intended to generate billions of dollars for social programs by closing tax loopholes for the wealthy and create a new universal pension for Mexicans over age 65. Meanwhile, Mexican opposition politician Andrés Manuel López Obrador led a demonstration of about 30,000 Mexicans on Sunday to protest Peña Nieto's tax, energy and education reforms.
Brazilians Protest on Independence Day: Brazilians in 150 cities took part in protests on September 7 (Brazil's Independence Day), interrupting a military parade in Rio de Janeiro, chanting outside Congress in Brasília as President Dilma Rousseff gave a speech, and clashing outside a soccer match in Mane Garrincha stadium in Brasília. Police fired tear gas at demonstrators in both cities, and at least 50 people in Brasília and 50 people in Rio were arrested. The protesters are continuing to demonstrate against poor public services, political corruption and public spending on the 2014 World Cup.
Colombian Peace Talks Resume in Havana: The fourteenth round of peace talks between the Colombian government and the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC) begin in Havana on Monday. The last cycle concluded on August 28, after nearly coming to a halt when the government proposed holding a public referendum on any peace accord. The rebels have said that they would like to incorporate the agreements into Colombia’s constitution, a demand that the government has rejected. However, the FARC confirmed that they are willing to restart the talks this week.
1Editor'sNote: Venezuela withdrew from the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, not the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. See AQ's Daily Focus on Tuesdsay, September 10 for a complete explanation.
Brazilian authorities canceled a delegation trip to Washington that had been scheduled to lay the groundwork for President Dilma Rousseff‘s meeting with President Barack Obama in October. The decision was made on Thursday in response to allegations that the Brazilian president was a target of U.S. electronic espionage.
The allegations were made on September 1 by American journalist Glenn Greenwald, who obtained secret government documents on U.S. electronic surveillance programs from former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden. The documents revealed that the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) monitored the communications network of the Brazilian president and her staff, including telephone, Internet and social network exchanges. According to Greenwald, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto was similarly targeted. Both presidents have demanded an explanation from Washington by the end of this week.
For Brazilian Foreign Minister Luiz Alberto Figuereido, “this represents an inadmissible and unacceptable violation of Brazilian sovereignty.” Brazil’s Senate is creating a special committee to examine the spying allegations and to seek federal police protection for Greenwald, who lives in Rio de Janeiro. Figuereido said that Brazilian authorities also will file a complaint with the United Nations and reach out to other developing nations to protest against this breach of national sovereignty.
According to former Brazilian ambassador to the U.S., Rubens Barbosa, though Brazil-U.S. relations have waned in recent years, the scandal won’t affect commercial ties between the two countries. “Rousseff will probably end up going through with the trip and speak out against the espionage in Obama’s face,” Barbosa said.
The October 23 trip would be Rousseff’s first state visit to Washington DC.
The Brazilian government confirmed Monday night that Foreign Minister Antonio Patriota has resigned after the Brazilian embassy in La Paz facilitated the passage of a Bolivian opposition senator to Brazil. The diplomatic scandal has heightened tensions between Brazil and Bolivia, which accuses Brazil of violating international agreements.
Brazil granted Bolivian Senator Roger Pinto asylum last year, when he alleged that he was a victim of political persecution by the government of Bolivian President Evo Morales, which had accused Pinto of crimes including corruption. Pinto had been living in the Brazilian embassy in La Paz for 450 days when he was transported across the Bolivan-Brazilian border in a Brazilian diplomatic vehicle with Brazilian Chargé d’affairs Eduardo Saboia, who provided diplomatic immunity. He crossed the border on Saturday after a 22-hour car ride and arrived by plane in Brasília on Sunday.
Bolivian Foreign Minister David Choquehuanca has demanded an official explanation from Brazilian authorities. “This is a most negative incident: under protection of diplomatic immunity you can traffic drugs, arms and people. What happened is extremely serious,” Choquehuanca said, adding that Pinto faces four pending arrest warrants. Pinto, meanwhile, accuses the Bolivian government of involvement in drug trafficking.
The Brazilian government in Brasília reportedly did not know about the plan to facilitate Pinto’s entry into Brazil. Bolivian Communications Minister Amanda Davila said that the case “has not affected bilateral relations with Brazil.”
Patriota will be replaced as foreign minister by Luiz Alberto Figueiredo, the permanent representative of Brazil to the United Nations, while Patriota will take Figueiredo’s place at the UN.
For four months in 2012, like a national soap opera, Brazilians watched the biggest political corruption trial in the country’s history unfold inside Brasilia’s Supreme Federal Court. The complex plot, whose script was based on seven years of investigation, revealed a bribery scheme known as the mensalão—in which members of the Partido dos Trabalhadores (Workers’ Party—PT) bribed members of Congress in exchange for political support between 2003 and 2005.
According to the investigation initiated in 2005 and carried out by the Public Ministry, the Federal Police and the Brazilian Court of Audit, the scheme involved about 100 million reais (about $50 million) in irregular payments to congressmen.
In December 2012, 37 people, including politicians, businessmen, lawyers, and bankers were put on trial, with 25 found guilty.
“The results of this trial shake the feeling of impunity that exists in Brazil,” explained Federal Court Minister Marco Aurélio de Mello.
Last week, the Supremo Tribunal Federal (Supreme Federal Court—STF) began the final stage of the trial, considering the last possible appeals by the defendants. The judges may adjust the sentences or even render new verdicts.
Impunity is so entrenched in Brazil that not even the federal police officer in charge of the investigations believed that those charged would be convicted. “The result was better than I expected,” said Luís Flávio Zampronha. “In Brazil you don’t see effective punishment—for example, imprisonment of people who have greater economic power.”
José Dirceu, the all-powerful former chief of staff to former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, was sentenced to 10 years and 10 months in prison for masterminding the scheme. He was also fined $338,000. The former president of the PT, José Genoíno, and the former PT treasurer, Delúbio Soares, were found guilty of corruption alongside Dirceu.
The key player in the mensalão case, entrepreneur Marcos Valério, was sentenced to 40 years in jail and fined $1,319,800. The whistleblower, representative Roberto Jefferson, along with former federal representatives from four different political parties were charged with crimes and convicted.
The mensalão case has strong political implications. Those condemned have yet to be jailed because of appeals; during the recent protests, Brazilians demanded that the mensalão's defendants be sent to prison.
But this is not the first corruption scandal involving important Brazilian politicians in recent history. Until now, unethical or illegal behavior has yet to be an impediment to a long career in Brazilian politics.
In September 1992, Fernando Collor de Mello became the first president of Brazil to be removed from office for criminal liability after Congress voted to impeach him, with 441 votes in favor, 38 against and one abstention. Though found guilty by his peers, Collor was nonetheless acquitted by the Supreme Federal Court, which also judged the mensalão scandal. Today Collor is back in power as a senator for the Partido Trabalhista Brasileiro (Brazilian Labor Party—PTB)
The 2014 FIFA World Cup website went live at 10:00 am GMT (6:00 am EDT) on Tuesday, with over 1 million applications for tickets submitted in just seven hours. Around 3 million tickets will be available for the 64 matches in Brazil scheduled to begin on June 12, 2014, with Brazil playing the opener in São Paulo. In the first day, the majority of applications came from Brazil, Argentina, the U.S., Chile, and England.
According to Thierry Weil, FIFA’s marketing director, ticket demand is expected to be similar to that seen for the 2006 World Cup in Germany. Approximately 7 fans applied for each ticket that year and 3.3 million people attended the tournament. The 2010 tournament in South Africa had a significantly smaller turnout of almost 2 million people.
Each applicant can request up to four tickets for a maximum of seven matches. Tickets range in price from $90 for first-round matches to $990 for the final match at Maracanã Stadium in Rio de Janeiro. Brazilians over the age of 60, local students and recipients of the Bolsa Familia family grant will be allowed to purchase tickets for $23. About 500,000 tickets were set aside for Brazilian recipients.
If not enough tickets are available to fulfill all requests, all applications submitted by October 10, 2013, will be entered into a lottery with winners automatically receiving tickets. Additional tickets will become available on November 5 on a first-come, first-served basis. After the World Cup draw has determined where and when each nation will play, a second application phase will begin on December 8. That lottery will be held on January 30, 2014, with a second first-come, first-served phase to follow.
World Cup ticket sales are taking place only weeks after massive demonstrations shook the biggest cities in Brazil, with citizens protesting against corruption, income inequality and the rising costs of hosting the World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics. Another concern is Brazil’s timeline for completions of the necessary infrastructure to host the games. According to FIFA secretary general Jérôme Valcke, Brazil is almost ready. Still, the organization is expecting more protests during the 2014 World Cup similar to what took place in June during the Confederation Cup.
Defense Minister Celso Amorim of Brazil met with his counterparts, Juan Carlos Pinzón of Colombia and María Fernanda Espinosa of Ecuador, in the Brazilian city of Manaus Thursday morning. The meeting was focused on strengthening security cooperation between the three nations that border the Amazon.
Protecting the Amazon from illegal activities was the main topic of the meeting organized as part of a seminar organized by the Centro Gestor do Sistema de Proteção da Amazônia (Amazon Protection System Management and Operations Center—CENISPAM). “Illegal mining and narcotrafficking are the most serious threats to the Amazon’s biodiversity and natural resources. Such activities finance terrorist and criminal organizations, are violating [our] sovereignty and threaten the security of citizens,” Pinzón said.
The meeting comes just days after an Ecuadorean army lieutenant was killed in a firefight with FARC rebels on the Ecuador-Colombian border, highlighting the need for greater security among the porous borders of South America. “By acting together, we will be more protected from security threats in South America,” Amorim said.
The wave of protests that first spread across Brazil in June may have subsided for the time being, but President Dilma Rousseff is still dealing with the political fallout.
To recap, after at first not responding to the protests, President Rousseff finally released a statement on June 21 during a ceremony to launch the new mineral sector regulatory framework. Three days later, revealing a sense of urgency, she met with Brazil’s 27 state governors and 26 state capital mayors. Then, on national television, she laid out new reforms to respond to protestor demands: fiscal responsibility; inflation control; stricter penalties for corruption; and reforms in public health, education, transportation, and politics—culminating in a partial constituent assembly that would consider modifications to Brazil’s constitution.
Rousseff’s Proposed Reforms
The president’s proposals seemed to prioritize political reform and addressing corruption. According to Rousseff, the constituent assembly would establish specific rules for selecting leaders and lawmakers as well as new regulations for campaign finance, coalitions between parties, and advertising on TV and radio.
The idea of a partial constituent assembly is not new in Brazil’s recent political history. In 1999, then-President Fernando Henrique Cardoso supported the implementation of a partial constituent assembly to more efficiently address tax, political and judicial reforms.
Rousseff’s proposal received immediate backlash, however. The president of the Ordem dos Advogados do Brasil (Brazilian Lawyer’s Bar Association), Marcus Vinicius Furtado Coelho, reaffirmed the association’s opposition, stating that political reform did not warrant changes to the Brazilian Constitution. Recently-elected Supreme Court Minister Luis Roberto Barroso and Brazilian Vice President Michel Temer, both ardent constitutionalists, also disapproved. As of June 25, President Dilma Rousseff had opted to forego the constituent assembly.
Likely top stories this week: U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry visits Colombia and Brazil; Argentines vote in congressional primary elections; FARC and Colombian government hail progress in peace talks; Panama concludes its inspection of the North Korean ship Chong Chon Gang; and documents reveal details of Brazilian dictatorship-era spying.
John Kerry Travels to Brazil and Colombia: U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will make brief visits to both Colombia and Brazil early this week to meet with high-level government officials in both countries to discuss trade and energy, as well as address the recent revelations that the U.S. conducted electronic spying in foreign countries by monitoring phone calls and e-mails. U.S. Vice President Joe Biden spoke to Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos by phone to offer an explanation for the National Security Agency program, but Santos said Thursday that he wants further explanation from the U.S., and Brazilian Foreign Minister Antonio Patriota expressed indignation about the program at the UN. Kerry will arrive in Bogotá on Monday and Brasília on Tuesday.
Argentines Vote in Congressional Primaries: Argentine voters went to the polls on Sunday for mandatory congressional primary elections that could serve as a bellwether for Argentina's October 27 midterm elections. By early Monday, candidates from the government’s Frente para la Victoria (Front for Victory—FPV) led in Senate races in six of seven provinces, but FPV candidates for the Chamber of Deputies trailed in the country’s most populous provinces, including the province of Buenos Aires and the city of Buenos Aires. A third of the country's Senate seats and nearly half of the Chamber of Deputies seats will be up for grabs in October, with the results likely to affect Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner's chances of reforming the Constitution and winning a third term in office.
FARC and Colombian Government Hail Progress in Peace Talks: The Colombian government and the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC) released a joint statement on Saturday praising the results of the 12th round of peace talks. Government negotiator Humberto de la Calle said that "nobody has come this far," acknowledging progress in discussions over the FARC's future participation in Colombian politics—the second item on a five-point peace agenda. The Colombian government has refused to call a ceasefire while peace talks are underway. On Friday, the Colombian military killed FARC commander Jesus Antonio Plata Rios, known as "Zeplin," who led the rebels in western Colombia.
Panama Concludes Search of North Korean Ship: The Panamanian government said Sunday that it has concluded its search of the North Korean vessel Chong Chon Gang, stopped in Panama on its way from Cuba on July 15 under suspicions that the ship was transporting drugs. Authorities said that they had spent nearly a month unloading hundreds of thousands of bags of sugar from the ship, revealing 25 containers filled with undeclared weapons and six military vehicles. The Cuban government has acknowledged the military equipment onboard, but says that it is obsolete and was being sent to North Korea for repairs. On Monday, a team of six UN inspectors arrives in Panama to investigate whether the shipment violated international sanctions against North Korea.
Brazil's Dictatorship-Era Spying: As Brazilian Foreign Minister Antonio Patriota prepares to meet with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry this week to discuss U.S. electronic spying in Brazil, Brazil's O Estado de São Paulo revealed Sunday that the Brazilian military government spied on its neighbors—particularly Argentina—during the country's military dictatorship. Meanwhile, the digital archive Armazém Memoria (Memory Warehouse), Brazil's federal prosecutor's office, and other local and national entities jointly launched the "Brasil: Nunca Mais" (Brazil Never Again) digital initiative on Friday, which includes hundreds of thousands of pages of searchable documents and multimedia from 710 trials of dissidents during the 1964-1985 regime.
The boos that hailed down on Dilma Rousseff last month at the Confederations Cup are growing louder. Approval for the Brazilian president fell 26 percentage points in the last month, from 71 percent in June to 45 percent in July, according to a July 9–12 poll conducted by Instituto Brasileiro de Opinião Pública e Estatística (Public Opinion Research Institute—IBOPE).
But rather than taking a turn toward higher public spending, analysts and economists expect the Brazilian president to instead recalibrate toward more investor-friendly policies that will encourage private infrastructure spending, reverse a trend of rising unemployment, and spur GDP growth.
For observers of Brazil and other emerging economies, today’s social unrest may be the necessary step backward before the market can take two steps forward.
“If there’s one unifying theme that has held together the emerging market economies over the past 10 years, it is that incumbents have been strong and riding this economic cycle,” said Christopher Garman, the Latin America director of Eurasia Group, on July 17 during the Brazilian-American Chamber of Commerce’s mid-year political and economic outlook in New York City. That cycle contributed to today’s average length of incumbency being 7.4 years, he said—twice as long as in 2002.
“What we’re witnessing in Brazil is the end of a political supercycle and the return of economic constraints on politicians,” continued Garman. “As these constraints rise, we’re going to have a return of more constructive policies, both in terms of working more aggressively with the private sector in order to find more ways of boosting investment, and also on a macroeconomic framework.”
Pope Francis I marks the end of his seven-day visit to Brazil this weekend—the first to Latin America as Pontiff—with a Sunday Mass marking the 28th World Youth Day, a worldwide event for young people started by Pope John Paul II in 1985.
His visit has sought to re-energize Catholicism in Brazil, which is home to the world’s largest Catholic population. Still, while 90 percent of Brazilians identified as Catholic in 1970, Datafolha polling shows that has dropped to 57 percent of the population today.
On Thursday the Pope travelled to Manguinhos, a favela in the municipality of Serra in the state of Espírito Santo, where he denounced the widening gap between the rich and the poor. The favela —home to about 35,000 people—is known locally as the “Gaza Strip” for its frequent gunfire. Condemning growing inequality in Brazil and responding to the recent protests, the Pope urged youth to remain alert to injustices and be catalysts in the struggle against corruption.
Despite 30,000 soldiers and police on-hand, the Pope’s visit has been marred by logistical challenges. On Monday, his motorcade got stuck on a crowded street, exposing the Pope to a mob of onlookers. On Tuesday, Rio’s subway system broke down for two hours, leaving thousands of passengers scrambling to reach a seaside Mass in the city of Aparecida—known for its massive shrine to Brazil’s patron saint.
On Wednesday, the Pope visited a drug rehabilitation hospital in Rio, where he called traffickers “merchants of death.” Brazilians consume the largest amount of crack cocaine in Latin America and, according to a recent study by the Universidade Federal de São Paulo (Federal University of São Paulo), Brazil has 1 million addicted users. The Pope emphasized the need to “confront the problems underlying the use of drugs, by promoting greater justice, educating young people in the values that build up life in society, accompanying those in difficulty and giving them hope for the future.”
The Pope is next scheduled to visit Brazil in 2017.