Friday, July 5, 2013

Rousseff's Referendum Sees Roadblock in Congress

It appears Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff’s proposal to hold a referendum on political reforms, which at first seemed like a well-calculated method of incorporating the recent demonstrations into her administration’s agenda, has run into trouble.

A meeting of lawmakers belonging to the ruling Workers’ Party (PT) on Thursday apparently failed to solidify firm support for holding a plebiscite before the upcoming October 2014 general election.  Because by law any changes to the electoral process have to occur at least a year in advance of election to be valid, that leaves until October 5 to hold the referendum.  

According to The New York Times, after a meeting with PT leaders in the lower house of Congress, Vice President Michel Temer told reporters that the “majority” agreed that the plebiscite should be held next year, and go into effect in 2016 at the earliest.

However, O Globo reports that Temer later issued a statement clarifying that the government maintains the “ideal” situation is for the referendum to apply to the 2014 elections, “while recognizing the difficulties imposed by the [electoral] calendar.” Meanwhile PT President Rui Falcão has endorsed the government’s proposal of holding a referendum “as soon as possible,” and revived the idea of holding a constituent assembly, an idea which the administration previously set aside after criticism from legal experts.

The leader of the PT in the lower house, Congressman Jose Guimaraes, has said that the heads of all 25 parties in Congress are set to meet next Tuesday to discuss the referendum, but there appears to be little interest in it outside the ruling coalition. The Wall Street Journal notes that opposition lawmakers are more concerned with passing existing political reform bills, like stricter penalties for corruption and greater funding for education and health care.

This hesitancy is bound to be more political than pragmatic, a product of the opposition seeing an opportunity to capitalize on a weak point for the administration. Considering how closely the plebiscite proposal was tied to Rousseff, the opposition has little to gain from supporting it, especially when doing so could serve to boost her flagging poll numbers.

News Briefs
  • Yesterday’s emergency meeting of six regional heads of state in Cochabamba ended with a joint statement from  the presidents of Argentina, Uruguay, Bolivia, Suriname, Venezuela and Ecuador demanding “answers and public apologies” from the European countries that refused to allow Bolivian President Evo Morales to fly over their airspace earlier this week. The leaders claimed that the incident set a “dangerous precedent in international law,” and motioned to bring the case to the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights.
  • Also at the Cochabamba meeting, Evo Morales delivered some especially fiery anti-U.S. rhetoric. According to La Razon, the president threatened that he was willing to close the U.S. embassy in La Paz if it were necessary. “We don’t need embassies to come and conspire under the guise of cooperation,  of diplomatic relations; if there is a USAID, if there is an ambassador, surely there are infiltrators to conspire,” he said, a reference to his recent ouster of USAID from the country over its controversial democracy promotion programs.
  • The Guardian’s Data Blog offers in-depth analysis of the use of Twitter by protesters in Brazil, concluding that related “tweeting” exhibited cyclical patterns, and reached its peak around the same time as the demonstrations saw their largest turnout on June 17.
  • It seem that Costa Rica may have become the latest Latin American nation to legalize gay marriage, by accident. On Monday, Costa Rican lawmakers voted to support a bill authorizing social services for young people. The following day, it was revealed that the version that passed included language inserted by progressive lawmaker Jose María Villalta which guaranteed the right to marriage “without discrimination against human dignity.” Legal specialists believe this could end the legal definition of marriage as between a man and a woman, effectively paving the way for same-sex unions in the country. La Nacion reports that President Laura Chinchilla signed the bill into law last night, meaning that the battle will now head to courts to decide.
  • In another legislative act with historic implications, the government-supported bill to regulate the marijuana market in Uruguay has passed in the Addictions Committee of Uruguay’s Chamber of Representatives. El Pais reports that a vote in the full lower house will take place next Wednesday, and the Senate is expected to approve the measure in late August or early September. Once passed, the bill will make Uruguay the first country in the world to legalize both the sale and cultivation of marijuana.
  • As Peruvian President Ollanta Humala signed a law that sets higher standards on universities and government workers, Peru21 and Reuters reports that students and civil servants clashed with police in Lima yesterday in protest of the measure.
  • In a statement perhaps meant as proof of the guerrilla group’s intentions, lead FARC negotiator Ivan Marquez told Colombia’s FM Radio that he would be willing to sit down with former President Alvaro Uribe, a firm critic of peace talks. “To be an enemy of peace you have to be crazy,” he told the radio station. “As long as Uribe isn’t crazy, at least we don’t believe that is the case, we are willing to speak with him.”
  • El Universal reports that a Mexican judge yesterday ordered the immediate released of five high-ranking army officials, including three generals, who had been arrested last year and accused of aiding the Beltran Leyva cartel. The AP notes that one of the men, retired Gen. Tomas Angeles Dauahare, may have been arrested by Calderon administration officials as an election season jab at his rival PRI party, as current President Enrique Peña Nieto was allegedly considering him for a potential appointment to head the country’s defense ministry.

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