Thursday, October 25, 2012

Brazilian Military Official To be Tried for Abuses Despite Amnesty Law

As Globo reports, a federal judge in Sao Paulo has agreed to open a criminal case against a soldier and two officers accused of kidnapping a dissident during Brazil’s 1964-1985 dictatorship. One of them, ex-colonel Carlos Alberto Brilhante Ustra, was the head of the infamous DOI-CODI state intelligence agency (which has been accused of torturing and disappearing several individuals during this period) from 1970 to 1974.

According to Folha de Sao Paulo, Ustra and the two other suspects are accused of orchestrating the June 1971 kidnapping Edgar de Aquino, a former soldier who was expelled from the army for opposing the 1964 coup which brought the military to power.

This is only the second time that a high-ranking military figure in Brazil has been successfully charged for human rights abuses committed during the dictatorship, as the country’s 1979 amnesty law shields them from prosecution. The first instance occurred in April, when a court in Para state agreed to hear a case against retired Colonel Sebastiao Curio, accused of kidnapping and “disappearing” five suspected guerrillas in the mid-1970s. In 2010 Brazil’s Supreme Court upheld the amnesty, blocking a reinterpretation of the law that would limit its applicability to human rights abuses.

If convicted, Ustra and the other accused could be sentenced to between two and eight years in prison, and it could also clear the way for prosecutors around the country to get around the amnesty in bringing human rights abusers to justice. The prosecutors in Para and São Paulo argue that kidnapping is not protected under the amnesty, and base their reasoning on a September Supreme Court ruling which upheld the extradition of Claudio Vallejos, an ex-Argentine military official accused of kidnapping, torture and murder. In the case, the court ruled that Vallejos could only be extradited on the kidnapping charges, and stipulated that if convicted he must face a maximum sentence of 30 years in keeping with Brazilian law.

News Briefs
  • Brazil has arrested Octavio Indio da Costa, the former chief executive of a Cruzeiro do Sul bank, which has been accused of engaging in money laundering and fraud. The New York Times reports that the banker’s arrest signals a shift in Brazil’s attitude towards financial crimes in much the same way that the mensalão scandal demonstrated a change in the way the country sees political corruption.
  • The government of Ecuador has announced that it is “very concerned” about the health of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who has been staying at the Ecuadoran embassy in London for more than four months now.  Ecuadoran Foreign Minister Ricardo Patiño told Voice of Russia that Assange has grown “noticeably thinner,” and has requested a meeting with British officials to ensure that he will not be arrested should he require hospitalization.
  • The Associated Press looks at the increasing pattern of incumbent presidents staying in power for multiple terms in Latin America, questioning whether it could have negative impacts on democracy in the region. As the news agency points out, 15 out of 17 incumbent presidents in Latin America seeking re-election since 1985 have won.
  • A joint report by Mexico's Colegio de la Frontera Norte and the University of Southern California's Tomas Rivera Policy Institute found that undocumented immigration to the U.S. rose slightly in the first half of 2012, and that the number of migrants returning to Mexico has fallen. The report’s authors believe this is a sign that a drop in undocumented immigration linked to the 2008 financial crisis is coming to an end.
  •  The L.A. Times´ World News Now blog profiles plans for new talk show in Mexico which will feature several members of the student movement known #YoSoy132. The show, which is called "Without Filters," is set to air every Sunday night and will feature roundtable discussions among university students. May #YoSoy132 activists have expressed outrage over the show, which they believe could distract from their political aims.
  • EFE reports that the FARC are urging the Colombian government to remove its outstanding arrest warrants against Dutch rebel Tanja Nijmeijer, a last-minute addition to their negotiating team, in order for her to travel from Oslo to Havana for the next round of peace talks.
  • As massive demonstrations continue in Colon, Panama over a government initiative which would sell state-owned land to private companies in the city’s free trade zone, the UN Commission on Human Rights has called on the Panamanian government to limit its use of force against protesters and begin dialogue with demonstrators, reports Telesur.
  • The BBC reports that the crew of the Argentine naval ship Libertad, which was seized in Ghana at the behest of U.S. creditors, has returned to the country. President Cristina Fernandez has condemned the ship’s seizure as "blackmail by vulture funds," and on Tuesday rejected any negotiation with NML Capital, which requested the ship’s seizure.
  • In contrast to the dismay voiced by some Latin America analysts upon hearing little mention of the region in Monday’s U.S. presidential candidate debate, WOLA’s Geoff Thale suggests that the fact that Cuba was barely discussed is a positive sign. In an opinion piece for the Christian Science Monitor, Thale writes that this “suggests that, over time, we might be able to have a more rational discussion about US interests, the changes that are occurring in Cuba itself, and how the United States might play a constructive role in improving the climate for human rights and democracy in Cuba.”
  • After leaving at least one person dead and flooding parts of Jamaica, Hurricane Sandy has strengthened into a strong category two hurricane and is approaching Cuba, where the government has evacuated thousands of residents and tourists from vulnerable areas in what the BBC notes are “well-rehearsed hurricane evacuation procedures.”