Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Corruption Trial Takes a Toll on Brazil's Workers' Party

As mentioned in yesterday’s post, the political fallout from the mensalão corruption trial in Brazil has the potential to damage the ruling Workers’ Party (PT) prospects in the upcoming October 7th municipal elections. Because of this, the seemingly rushed appointment of Supreme Court nominee Teori Zavascki is raising eyebrows in the country, as some members of the opposition believe it is an attempt by the PT and President Dilma Rousseff to postpone the trial until after elections.

Rousseff nominated Zavascki just 11 days after the retirement of Justice Cesar Peluzo, an unusually fast nomination which came as somewhat of a surprise, as previous reports had held that former President Lula da Silva was pressuring the administration to nominate Attorney General Luiz Adams for the position. Zavascki testified before the Senate yesterday, and the body is expected to vote on his approval this week. If approved, he could delay the mensalão trial until after the October 7th elections by requesting time to study the details of the case.

Although members of the opposition Social Democracy Party (PSDB) are crying foul, it is not clear whether Zavascki will seek to delay the trial if appointed. As O Globo pointed out recently, he has a reputation for being an impartial “hardliner,” which is hardly the profile of someone who would tinker with court proceedings for political gain. Terra Brasil notes that when asked whether he would participate in the mensalão case in Senate testimony yesterday, Zavascki avoided the question, saying only that a judge should not make a ruling on a case if not properly briefed on the merits of the main arguments involved.

Even if Zavascki were to go against his reputation as an impartial jurist, it would be too late for him to do much damage control for the PT anyway. As the Wall Street Journal reported yesterday, the scandal has already hurt the moral standing of the PT, and a temporary delay in the trial is unlikely to erase these concerns from voters’ minds. According to Folha de Sao Paulo, the PT candidates of mayoral races in major cities like Brasilia, Sao Paulo, Porto Alegre and Belo Horizonte are behind in polls, and political scientist Ricardo Caldas told the paper that much of this is due to the party’s fallout among middle class voters because of the trial. Another potential explanatory factors for this is the stalled pace of economic growth, which President Rousseff has battled since taking office.

News Briefs

  • In other Brazil news, an elections court in the southwestern state of Sul has ordered the arrest of Fabio Jose Silva Coelho, Google’s top executive in the country, because the company did not remove an attack ad against a local politician from YouTube. Although Google maintains that it is not responsible for content uploaded by third parties to the site, the judge ruled that featuring the ad on the site violated Brazil’s electoral laws, which forbid character attacks against candidates. Google is appealing the decision.
  • This was not the only court ruling against Google yesterday. A Sao Paulo court also ordered the company to remove the trailer of “The Innocence of Muslims,” the film which has sparked protests across the Middle East, from YouTube in 10 days. The AP reports that Sao Paulo is a state with a large Muslim community, and the case was filed by a Brazilian Muslim group which complained that hosting the trailer amounted to religious discrimination.
  • A research group affiliated with the Brazilian government, the Institute of Applied Economic Research, has found that income inequality in the country is at its lowest point in history, the AP reports. In a recently-released study, the Institute found that the poorest 10 percent of Brazilians saw a per capita income increase of 91 percent from 2001 to 2011, while the wealthiest 10 percent saw their per capita income jump by less than 17 percent. Still, the income gap in Brazil is the 12th widest in the world.
  • A new poll in Venezuela, which will also be holding elections on October 7th, has found that President Hugo Chavez is enjoying a 10 point lead over rival opposition candidate Henrique Capriles. The Datanalisis survey puts support for Chavez at 49 percent, with Capriles trailing at 39 percent. However, as David Smilde notes over at Venezuela Politics and Human Rights, the poll has a silver lining for Capriles. Of the 3.4 percent of respondents who made up their minds after previously identifying as “undecided,” 80 percent now support Capriles. If the rest of undecided voters followed a similar trend, it would put Chavez and Capriles at 50.4 and 47.2 percent, respectively. Because the difference between the two numbers is within the poll’s margin of error, this would amount to a statistical tie.
  • The International Crisis Group (ICG) has released a new report (.pdf) on the prospects of peace in Colombia on the eve of proposed talks between the government and FARC guerrillas. According to the ICG, the top priority of negotiators should be the establishment of a bilateral ceasefire as early as possible.
  • Caracol radio reports that Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos has said that if talks with the rebels succeed, then the FARC could be a useful ally in the fight against drug trafficking organizations in the country.
  • In the wake of the September 14th murder of Mexican legislator Eduardo Castro Luque, prosecutors are alleging that the crime was orchestrated by his designated substitute, Manuel Fernandez Felix, El Universal reports. However, officials in Castro’s Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) are skeptical of these charges, and are joining water rights activists in claiming that the lawmaker was targeted by political rivals for his opposition to a controversial water project in the area.
  • As Mexico’s oil fields dry up, CNN profiles PEMEX’s slow and contentious shift towards deep water drilling.
  • The head of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Christine Lagarde, warned the government of Argentina earlier this week that the country could face sanctions unless it produced more reliable statistics on growth and inflation in the country. Lagarde gave Argentina until December 17th to do this, threatening to give the government a “red card” if it failed to do so, using a soccer metaphor to refer to expulsion. In response President Cristina Fernandez announced yesterday that her country would not be threatened, saying “I want to tell the head of the IMF that this is not a soccer game.”
  • The Associated Press takes a look at Guatemala President Otto Perez’s continued support for drug legalization, while also heading a military-heavy crackdown on drug trafficking throughout the country.
  • The L.A. Times profiles the mysterious disappearance of an activist from Mexico’s Yo Soy 132 youth movement. In response to the disappearance of Aleph Jimenez Dominguez, the movement has accused the government of Ensenada municipality of orchestrating his forced disappearance. According to the paper, if his kidnapping is in fact political, it could raise the profile of the movement, but if not it could harm its legitimacy.
  • The Uruguayan Chamber of Deputies has passed a bill which would make the country one of the very few in Latin America to legalize abortions . El Pais reports that the bill narrowly passed by a 50-49 vote, and will now move on to the Senate. 

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