Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Dilma’s Chief of Staff Resigns Amidst Corruption Charges

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff’s chief of staff, Antionio Palocci, resigned on Tuesday after it was revealed that he may have abused his position while serving as a congressman from 2006 to 2010. According to the BBC, Palocci offered consulting services to various companies while in office, causing his net worth to expand twenty-fold during this period.

This is not the first time that Palocci has faced charges of improper conduct. As the Wall Street Journal notes, in 2006 he resigned from his post as finance minister under the Lula administration after illegally leaking the private banking records of a witness in a bribery case that targeted senior Workers’ Party (PT) officials.

Over the past several weeks, President Rousseff has faced increasing pressure from fellow PT members and her political opponents alike to dismiss Palocci, but has avoided the move because of his talent for political maneuvering and popularity amongst Brazil’s business community. He is credited by many for establishing the framework for Brazil’s current investment climate.

As the New York Times reports, Palocci’s resignation comes after opposition leaders in the Senate announced their intentions to look into the corruption allegations, and said they were only four votes away from establishing a Senate hearing on the matter.

With Palocci gone, Rousseff has lost a token market-friendly figure in an administration full of left-wingers. As Reuters notes, the president is now left with “a senior staff that is long on economics degrees like her own but perilously short on the political skills that are critical to maintaining power and getting legislation through Brazil's rowdy Congress.”

Palocci’s departure opens up space for the opposing parties to paint Rousseff’s government as either hopelessly corrupt or ineffective, and it is likely that she will face renewed attacks from the opposition in the near future.

News Briefs
  • The 41st annual General Assembly of the Organization of American States (OAS) in El Salvador ended on Tuesday, with member states pledging their support for continued anti-crime coordination in the hemisphere. Despite much debate over El Salvador’s draft plan for a more integrated, regional approach  to combating organized crime, EFE reports that the OAS endorsed a much more general statement, but will continue to work on a security action plan (using the Salvadoran draft as a base). This plan will likely be presented at another upcoming conference on security strategy in neighboring Guatemala, which will take place on June 22-23.
  • Coinciding with the OAS general assembly, WOLA has released a new report on citizen security, entitled “Tackling Urban Violence in Latin America: Reversing Exclusion through Smart Policing and Social Investment.” The report discusses alternative methods of improving citizen security such as targeted policing and community development, and profiles the use of these measures in the Latin American cities of Rio de JaneiroMedellín , Ciudad Juárez , and Santa Tecla.
  • In Honduras, imprisoned leaders Central America’s notorious Barrio 18 have apparently called for dialogue with the government, AFP reports. Although it is unlikely that the group has the means to do so, they claim they want to end street violence in Central America, saying "We want to fix things, through dialogue, as a civilized people."
  • The Mexican government updated the body count of the recently-discovered “narco-graves” yesterday, announcing that it has discovered a total of 429 bodies since April in a series of graves in Durango and Tamaulipas. According to Mexican attorney general Marisela Morales, officials have found 236 bodies and one head in near Durango city, while in Tamaulipas authorities have exhumed 193 bodies in 47 separate mass graves outside of San Fernando. Officials have maintained that the bodies buried in the former grave were victims of an internal power struggle within the Sinaloa cartel, and victims in the latter were kidnapped and killed by a local Zetas cell.
  • Two gunmen opened fire on a drug rehabilitation center in northern Durango yesterday, killing eleven patients and wounding two. Cartels often use rehab centers for recruitment purposes and to send addicted members for treatment. This in turn makes them valuable targets for rival gangs. As the AP points out, dozens of people have died in shootings at centers across Mexico in recent years, the worst of which left 19 people dead in the city of Chihuahua city last June.
  • The L.A. Times with a profile of Families in Action’s highly successful conditional cash transfer program.
  • Americas Quarterly summarizes recent developments on immigration policy in the U.S., with an interesting focus on its inconsistencies.
  • A Cuban court has convicted 14 Cuban officials and a Chilean entrepreneur for corruption and bribery involving the state-owned airline and a tourism agency that was held jointly by the Cuban government and a Chilean company. According to IPS, Marcel Marambio, a Chilean businessman with close ties to the Communist government, was sentenced in absentia to 15 years in prison for bribery, fraud and falsification of documents. As CNN notes, Cuban courts have taken on a number of relatively public corruption cases since President Raul Castro assumed the presidency of Cuba in 2008, which may signal a more firm commitment to transparency in the regime.
  • Amnesty International issued a statement on Tuesday urging Austria and Switzerland to proceed with the extradition hearings of three former high-ranking Guatemalan officials, all of whom are accused of involvement in extrajudicial executions while they served in the Guatemalan police force and government. 
  • Heavy rains continue to mark the start of hurricane season in Haiti, causing floods that killed at least 23 people in Port-au-Prince. The feeble government response to the floods, as well as to  a cholera outbreak that has killed more than 5,000 in the past few weeks, illustrate the weakness of Haitian infrastructure.