Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Rousseff Calls for Vote on Constitutional Reforms

As protests in Brazil began to wind down, on Monday President Dilma Rousseff met with some of the main organizers of the demonstrations and made a surprising call for a vote on whether to alter the country's constitution.

According to Folha de São Paulo, Rousseff met with leaders of the Free Fare Movement (MPL) yesterday afternoon in the presidential palace, where she attempted to flesh out some of the promises made last week in an attempt to quel demonstrations. She later held an emergency meeting with Brazil’s governors and mayors of 26 capital cities to repeat these proposals, which the AP reports fall into five categories: public transportation, fiscal responsibility, political reform, health care and education.

While MPL leaders later told reporters that the president “made no concrete offer,” Al Jazeera English reports that Rousseff proposed to set aside roughly $25 billion for public transportation.  She also announced a bill to make political corruption a felony instead of a minor offense, as well as new funding for teachers and medical professionals. Folha reports that this included a promise to create 4000 positions for doctors and construct new hospitals around the country.

But the most surprising element of Rousseff’s remarks yesterday was her proposal to hold a plebiscite on whether to convene an assembly to amend 1988 constitution. According to the New York Times, the referendum would be aimed at tackling campaign finance law and corruption in Congress, a nod to a central demand of the protests. The paper also notes that the announcement appears to be a smart tactical move by Rousseff, as the reforms are all part of a proposal that her Workers’ Party has made before. By floating the idea of a referendum, she is giving the appearance of conceding to protesters’ demands while simultaneously pushing her party’s agenda, which BBC Executive Editor in São Paulo Gary Duffy calls “either a bold move or a very clever one.”

Paul Sotero, director of Wilson Center’s Brazil Institute, characterizes it as the latter. “This could release enormous political energy and, if done right, could be a way for her to come out on top,” Sotero told the Wall Street Journal “Every Brazilian knows the political structure is completely messed up, and though the initiative to change it is coming from the street, she is showing she is listening and understands it.”

There are still questions about the constitutionality of a plebiscite, however. O Globo reports that many jurists and legal specialists argue that calling a vote would be illegal and unnecessary. This includes newly-appointed Supreme Court Justice Luis Roberto Barros, who in 2011 gave an interview in which he implied that a referendum would threaten the integrity of the constitution.


News Briefs
  • Former CIA contractor Edward Snowden did not board a plane to Cuba yesterday as rumors suggested he would, raising questions about whether his application for asylum in Ecuador was a ruse to mask other travel plans. Ecuadorean Foreign Ricardo Patiño said yesterday that he couldn’t provide any information on Snowden’s whereabouts, although his country is still considering his request. “We will act on the basis of principles of human rights written in our constitution, not on whatever interests of others,” Patiño announced at a press conference in Hanoi, where he is making an official visit.  The Washington Post reports on the story under the headline “Through Snowden, Ecuador seeks fight with U.S.,” characterizing Ecuador’s President Correa as actively trying to put himself in a more antagonistic relationship with the United States.  
  • Bolivian Interior Minister Carlos Romero has announced that a meeting is in the works with his Ecuadorean counterpart to discuss “addressing indigenous tensions,” El Comercio reports. The idea, according to Romero, is for him to share the Bolivian government’s recent experiences with protests by indigenous groups to help authorities in Ecuador shape their approach to similar demonstrations. There is no mention of representatives from indigenous groups being invited to this meeting.
  • Federal prosecutors in Mexico have charged former Tabasco Governor Andres Granier with money laundering and embezzling millions of dollars, according to El Universal. Granier, who is currently seeking treatment for chest pain, recently made headlines after a recording of him bragging about owning hundreds of expensive suits and pairs of shoes and shopping at luxury stores was released.
  • An anti-crime group in Mexico known as the Citizen Council for Public Safety yesterday announced a $750,000 reward for information leading to the recovery of 12 young people who were kidnapped from a Mexico City bar last month, the AP and Milenio report. The case has fueled concern that the capital city is no longer the oasis from violent crime that it once was.
  • A new poll by Mexican research institute CIDE found some surprising attitudes towards Mexican nationalism. According to the survey, some 60 percent of Mexicans would prefer it if the U.S. and Mexico were one country.
  • Panama’s foreign minister, Fernando Nuñez Fabrega, yesterday delivered a speech in which he claimed “it is time to open up to Cuba, to mend fences and animosity” against the country. Nuñez then echoed his country’s position that Cuba should be invited to the 7th Summit of the Americas in 2015, to be hosted in Panama City.
  • Colombia has signed a controversial security cooperation agreement with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, an agreement which Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, and other leaders of the ALBA bloc, vehemently oppose.
  • Rafael Uzcátegui of PROVEA, a Caracas-based human rights group, offers some alarming statistics on impunity in the country. Out of every 100 murders in Venezuela, 91 go unsolved, a factor which Uzcátegui claims fuels insecurity and violent crime.
  • Maduro is set to arrive in Haiti today for a meeting with Haitian President Michel Martelly. The two are set to hold a joint press conference this afternoon, according to Ultimas Noticias.
  • El Tiempo reports that alias “Timochenko,” head of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), and Ivan Marquez, the guerrilla group’s top negotiator in Havana, have been sentenced to 40 years in jail by a Colombian court. They were found guilty, along with 22 others, of rebellion, homicide and terrorism, all as a result of the 2003 bombing of a boat traveling on the Ariari river in Meta province. Prosecuting alleged FARC crimes is a major point of contention in the country, as the current peace talks are likely to include a kind of amnesty for some rebel leaders.
  • Spanish news agency EFE reports on a conference in Bogota being sponsored by the World Bank and the Colombian government, which will bring together some 40 international experts on crime and violence prevention as well as mayors from around Latin America and the Caribbean. According to the organizers, “Chicago, Colombia and Rio de Janeiro” have become the new models for violence prevention policy in the region.
  • The Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) have launched a useful new database of citizen security assistance to Central America which tracks and documents international aid from actors around the world. While it is still being updated, the database documents over 600 projects, totaling around $2 billion, financed by more than 30 multilateral and bilateral donors and agencies, as well as private foundations.