A majority of Brazilian Supreme Court justices found the former chief of staff of former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva guilty of “active corruption” on Tuesday and Wednesday, casting a shadow on the legacy of the popular former president.
Speaking on Tuesday, six of eight justices found José Dirceu guilty of involvement in a 2005 vote-buying scheme that has since been known in Brazil as the mensalão (“big monthly payout”) scandal. The scandal involved various members of Lula’s Partido dos Trabalhadores (Workers' Party—PT), who were accused of bribing lawmakers to back PT initiatives in Congress.
Of the 37 defendants to come before the Supreme Court in connection with the scandal, several are prominent Brazilian politicians and businesspeople—including the former president of the PT, José Genoino, the former president of the Brazilian Chamber of Deputies, João Paulo Cunha, and the former director of the Banco do Brasil, Henrique Pizzolato. Members of other political parties were also found to be involved in the mensalão. Altogether, the defendants face a collective 1,089 counts of criminal wrongdoing, including corruption, money-laundering, misuse of public funds, embezzlement, and conspiracy.
On Wednesday, Justice Celso de Mello added his voice to the majority vote against Dirceu, leaving only Carlos Ayres Britto left to vote. For his part, Dirceu condemned the “strong pressure of the media” in influencing the decision, saying he was “pre-judged and lynched.” Dirceu made a name for himself fighting Brazil’s 1964-1985 military dictatorship both in Brazil and in exile and later served as the PT’s president from 1995-2002. He was forced to step down as the Presidential Chief of Staff in 2005 after the scandal broke.
“I’ll accept the decision, but I won’t keep silent,” Dirceu said after the Supreme Court’s ruling against him. “I’ll continue fighting until I prove my innocence,” he said.
Former President da Silva faces no charges related to the mensalão himself. According to Datafolha, 57 percent of Brazilian voters polled earlier this year said they would like to see da Silva run for president in 2014.
Top stories this week are likely to include: the Venezuelan presidential campaigns head into their final stretch; Colombia-FARC talks to begin; South America holds a summit with Arab nations; protests against Michel Martelly in Haiti; and Brazil votes on Sunday in municipal elections.
Venezuela Votes for President: A tight presidential contest comes to a close on Sunday, October 7, as Venezuelans head to the polls to either re-elect President Hugo Chávez or replace him with former Miranda Governor Henrique Capriles Radonski. Over the weekend, hundreds of thousands of supporters took to the streets in competing rallies through downtown Caracas. However, some electoral activities turned violent: three activists supporting Carpiles Radonski were killed by gunmen in Barinas state over the weekend, drawing a sharp rebuke from the opposition candidate. Several polls indicate that Sunday’s vote will be the closest margin since the Chávez era began.
FARC Peace Talks in Norway: Representatives from the Colombian government and the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—FARC) will hold an inaugural ceremony this Friday in the Norwegian capital of Oslo to kick off peace negotiations between the two sides. Peace talks were announced in late August by Santos, with an agreement signed in early September that Oslo would be the inaugural site. Norway and Cuba will mediate the negotiations, while Chile and Venezuela will act as observers. “Both President Santos and the much weakened FARC have a lot riding on the success of these negotiations, but Santos in particular has ramped up global expectations after pledging substantial progress at the UN last week. There is reason to be hopeful: the internal dynamics are very different from the failed peace talks a decade ago—and the government has learned from its mistakes at that time,” notes AQ Senior Editor Jason Marczak.
Summit of South American - Arab countries: This conference, the Cumbre América del Sur – Países Árabes (ASPA), will take place in Lima, Peru, today and tomorrow. This is the third iteration of the summit, which was started by former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva; the first meeting took place in Brasília, Brazil, in 2005 and the second occurred in Doha, Qatar, in 2009. This week’s meeting was supposed to happen in February 2011, but was postponed after a wave of protests in Egypt during the Arab Spring.
After accepting the government’s offer of a 15.8-percent pay raise over three years, some 400,000 public-sector employees ended their month-long strike and returned to work on Monday. While the workers may have gotten what they wanted, popular patience with public sector workers and unions may be wearing thin.
The strikes started in May with university professors and in June spread to other sectors, causing widespread disruption. University students sat idle, wondering if they would have to repeat the academic year. Lines in airports were measured in hours, or kilometers, rather than minutes. Imports of food and medicines were stalled and visas delayed.
The public here has been historically sympathetic to organized labor; union resistance helped bring down the military dictatorship, and former President Lula da Silva, still wildly popular, started out as a union leader. But there are signs that, with these strikes, patience may have dwindled for a public sector that many consider too large and too coddled.
Folha has called repeatedly for a review of the right-to-strike laws, calling the strikes “excessive” and a “hazard to the population.” This aspect was not lost on the public: in an overpass above the main highway between Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo someone reportedly hung a sign that read, “Police station closed—free passage for drug trafficking and arms.” The dry humor belied a serious threat: a separate 10-day police strike in the northeastern state of Bahia in February was said to have caused a spike in murders on the streets of the capital, Salvador.
Época referred to the Brazilian public sector as “giant and inefficient,” in the first in a series of color spreads that indignantly detailed some of the “supersalaries” of some of the most generously paid public servants. (“It’s you who pays,” ran the headline.) Estadão published a feature on the human consequences of the strikes, citing allergic children who are not receiving the special foods they need, dengue prevention efforts for Indigenous populations that had been stalled, and patients who were forced to wait for urgent bone marrow treatment.
The Brazilian government announced yesterday the first phase of a 25-year stimulus package designed to reignite the Brazilian economy. The plan includes more than $60 billion of investment in 10,000 kilometers (6,200 miles) of railways and building or widening 7,500 kilometers (4,660 miles) of federal highways, with that to be followed by investments in ports and airports.
Under the new strategy, the Brazilian government aims to double the capacity of the country’s transportation system to reduce significant infrastructure bottlenecks - a critical step to fostering long-term growth. This would help bring the export environment in Brazil closer in line with those of other BRIC countries. In general, exporting from Brazil is twice as expensive as exporting from China, and 1.5 times more expensive than from India.
The administration also hopes to boost labor know-how – one of the country’s main limitations – by handing over to the private sector the responsibility for developing and managing the new infrastructure. The government will grant concessions for construction, maintenance and operation of the projects through a competitive bidding process. This new emphasis on investment is a different strategy from previous growth strategies focused on increasing local consumption
This year Brazil’s economic growth is expected to be less than 2 percent—the country’s worst performance since 2009 and a sharp slowdown since the 7.5 percent seen in 2010.
There is one story dominating the Brazilian headlines: The mensalão, a huge corruption case that could taint the legacy of former President Lula and the reputation of his Partido dos Trabalhadores (Workers’ Party—PT) to which his successor Dilma Rousseff belongs.
Certainly the scope is wide. With 38 high-profile defendants including former ministers, bankers and wealthy businessmen, 600 witnesses and, according to calculations by Globo, a slush-fund of more than R$100 million ($49.7 million) in public funds, the mensalão has been dubbed the “trial of the century” by commentators here.
Prosecutors charge that, from 2003 to 2005, public money was handed to some members of the ruling coalition as a “mensalão”—roughly translated to “big monthly payment”—to ensure their support on key votes. The money was allegedly moved through government contracts granted to private companies, which then redistributed the funds amongst legislators.
The defendants deny the accusations, originally made by whistle-blower Roberto Jefferson, president of the Partido Trabalhista Brasileiro (Brazilian Worker Party—PTB) who belonged to Lula’s coalition but did not support Dilma’s bid for the presidency. If found guilty of the charges, which include corruption and racketeering, the defendants could face prison terms of up to 45 years.
This week, the Brazilian Senate approved a bill that regulates the system of social and racial quotas in public universities. It is expected that President Dilma Rousseff will sign the bill into law.
Designed with the objective of ensuring equal opportunities, the bill reserves half the spots in the country’s public federal universities for graduates of public high schools. These spaces will be distributed among Afro-Brazilian students, mestizos and Indigenous proportionally according to the racial and ethnic composition of each state.
Although Brazil has the biggest Afro-descendant population outside of Nigeria, students in private schools are still predominantly Caucasian. Private-school students are usually better prepared than their public-school peers for the difficult university entrance exams, and as a result, they are better represented at the prestigious, heavily subsidized, federal universities.
Afro-Brazilian Senator Paulo Paim said that the bill will benefit the majority of Brazilian students because only 1 in 10 students graduate from private schools. Further, according to Senator Ana Rita, "the bill brings social justice to most of the Brazilian population." She and other supporters of the bill argue that racial quotas will help reverse the country’s historic inequality.
Others have criticized the measure. Aloysio Nunes Ferreira, a senator who voted against the proposal, argued that the bill "puts a straightjacket on universities because it violates their autonomy." He further stressed that federal universities should select students with the best grades, regardless of race or social class.
Top stories this week are likely to include: India-CELAC dialogue; Jamaica marks its independence; impact of the Antamina spill; Repsol to meet with Venezuela on YPF; and responses to Petrobras’ poor quarterly release.
India-CELAC Dialogue: Tomorrow, Indian Foreign Minister S. M. Krishna will host a troika of high-level diplomats from the Comunidad de Estados Latinoamericanos y Caribeños (Community of Latin American and Caribbean States—CELAC) in New Delhi with the objective being to deepen relations with Latin America. As Chile currently holds the CELAC presidency, Chilean Foreign Minister Alfredo Moreno will lead the delegation that will also include Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro and Cuban Vice-Foreign Minister Rogelio Sierra. According to India’s foreign ministry, India’s trade in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) was over “$25 billion in 2011 and cumulative investments are estimated to be $16 billion mostly in hydrocarbons, minerals, agriculture, pharma and IT;” still, there is “vast untapped potential” for further collaboration. This presents an enormous opportunity for Latin America, notes AQ Senior Editor Jason Marczak: “Greater trade and investment linkages with India will be critical for protecting the region against any decrease in demand caused by a slowing Chinese economy. India represents a growing, untapped middle class.” For more on LAC-India relations, read “The Other BRIC in Latin America: India” from the Spring 2011 AQ. As well, AS/COA notes that diplomatic ties between LAC and India have expanded; between 2002 and 2009 the number of LAC embassies in New Delhi grew from 12 to 18.
Jamaica Rings in Independence: Today Jamaica celebrates 50 years of independence from the United Kingdom. Queen Elizabeth II remains the island’s monarch, but Jamaican Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller pledges to loosen ties with Great Britain and make her country a republic. Doing so would maintain Jamaica’s status as a British commonwealth, but would remove the Queen as Jamaica’s head of state and have the prime minister become president. Reflecting on 50 years of independence, Simpson-Miller told TIME Magazine that “despite our challenges, I think we’ve done very well on balance our first 50 years […] Jamaica is more than just the ‘brand’ the world recognizes so well; it’s a place of pride for the people who live here, its educational institutions, its sports achievements, and its science and technology growth.”
Impact of Peruvian Mine Spill: A toxic copper concentrate spilled at the Antamina mine in the Peruvian region of Ancash on July 25 has made over 100 people ill. Antamina’s environmental director has disputed that the material was toxic, instead referring to it as a “dangerous substance that requires a particular handling but not necessarily toxic.” Still, on Sunday, the company was fined for not activating its response plan to the accident. Copper has been instrumental to Peru’s economic ascent, accounting for 60 percent of export income, but “environmental protection has been relatively lax” in the Andean country according to the Associated Press. As more details emerge this week, will the government take additional action?
Repsol Representatives to Meet with Venezuelan Officials on Thursday: Officials from Spanish firm Repsol S.A. will meet with Venezuelan leaders on Thursday to discuss Repsol’s dispute with Argentine firm YPF after Argentina’s government seized a majority share of YPF, formerly held in a joint venture with Repsol. Venezuela has pledged to invest in Argentina to boost its oil production and desires an amicable resolution to the conflict with Repsol and the Spanish government. Repsol has investments in Venezuelan oil and gas fields, according to Bloomberg.
Fallout from Disappointing Petrobras Report: Petrobras posted its worst quarterly report since 1999, registering a R$1.35 billion ($663 million) loss in the second quarter, versus a R$10.94 billion—then equivalent to $6.86 billion—gain one year earlier. Petrobras President Maria Graça Foster blamed the loss in part to an “excessive depreciation” of the real against the dollar. What steps will be taken in response to this report?
The presidents of Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay will meet Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez in Brasilia today to formalize Venezuela’s full admission into Mercosur, the largest trade bloc in South America.
Venezuela’s entry was approved in 2006 and recognized in subsequent years by the parliaments of Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil, but failed to materialize due to opposition by the Paraguayan Congress. Paraguay’s suspension from Mercosur after Fernando Lugo’s impeachment on June 22, 2012 opened the door for Venezuela to formally join.
Paraguayan President Federico Franco—who was not permitted to attend the meeting—asserted that Chávez’s goal in joining was to give him an electoral push in the upcoming October elections. The visit to Brazil will be the Venezuelan president’s first official trip abroad since he was diagnosed with cancer in June 2011. Chávez, who turned 58 last Saturday, has lately appeared in more rallies and public events after declaring himself free of cancer earlier this month.
Chávez claims that Venezuela finally joining Mercosur is a sign of the United States’ failure in South America, as he claims that Paraguayan resistance is a product of American diplomacy. However, due to its tight exchange controls and high dependency on imports, Venezuela will benefit the least from participation in the regional bloc. The country will also have to meet a series of conditions, which might include resuming diplomatic relations with Israel that have been broken since 2009.
Please find the original text below, submitted in Portuguese.
The 19th African Union Summit took place in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, earlier this month, on July 15 and 16. The meeting discussed the need for economic development of the continent by means of intra-African trade and partnership with new global emerging players. I was invited by the NGO Fahamu Kenya to participate as a correspondent for the Correio Nagô news site. The purpose of my involvement was to analyze the participation of Brazil in cooperation with the African continent.
It is no secret that Brazil has been significantly increasing its influence in Africa. Under the presidency of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (2003-2010) 17 new diplomatic posts were opened, making Brazil the Latin American country with the largest number of embassies on African soil—at 37 posts. Brazil’s budding relationship with Africa demonstrates how Brazil is growing and diversifying its commercial partnerships, which helped Brazil largely weather the economic crisis of 2008. Moreover, the collaboration is part of a Brazilian strategy of consolidating itself as a leader in the South Atlantic and seeking its coveted permanent seat on the UN Security Council.
However, despite the remarkable efforts of the Brazilian government to consolidate its leadership and influence in Africa, we can see is that there are still many challenges. Other emerging countries like China and India have invested far more in Africa. For example, the new $200 million African Union headquarters in Addis Ababa was donated and built by the Chinese and is a symbol of this new era of African politics, where Western influence has been increasingly reduced and China increasingly magnified. Plus, one-fifth of all petroleum used in India comes from Africa. India's trade with Africa doubled in the last four years, from $24.98 billion in 2006-07, to $52.81 billion in 2010-11, per Indian government figures.
However, Chinese and Indian investments are also criticized because they do not necessarily promote local workforce training nor respect human rights. Some believe that China and India only seek exploitation of natural resources. On the other hand, some analysts see the investments as positive for African countries to have more partners with whom to negotiate investments—a privilege once confined to Western countries.
Late last month, the Mercosur alliance met, suspended Paraguay and ushered in Venezuela as a full member in almost as little time as it took the Paraguayan congress to impeach their former president, Fernando Lugo, the preceding week.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez’ bid to join the South American trade bloc had spent the past three years languishing in the Paraguayan congress, where lawmakers cited fears that Venezuela would violate Mercosur’s democracy clause.
With Paraguay’s new government suspended from the summit as a punishment for its own democratic misbehavior, the other full members—Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay—were quick to invite Venezuela in.
Since then, reports have been circulating that Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff was the driving force behind this decision. Soon after the summit, Uruguayan Foreign Minister Luis Almagro caused considerable diplomatic unease in saying that Uruguay had opposed Venezuela’s immediate entry, and only relented under pressure from Brazil.
Almagro maintained that although Paraguay was suspended, it was not expelled, and therefore retained its right to accept or veto a new member. Uruguayan Vice President Danilo Astori agreed, calling Venezuela’s entry during Paraguay’s suspension “the worst institutional wound” to Mercosur since its inception in 1991. Uruguayan President José Mujica publicly criticized his deputy for this outburst, and insisted that although Dilma had requested a meeting of the heads of state (without their deputies or foreign ministers) the decision to let Venezuela in had been unanimous.