Thursday, November 14, 2013

Brazil Supreme Court Upholds Mensalão Sentences

The Brazilian Supreme Court has upheld jail terms against over half of those convicted of taking part in the “mensalão” vote-buying scandal, ordering party officials, businessmen and bankers to start serving their sentences immediately.

Yesterday’s ruling did not specify how many of the 25 accused will end up behind bars, but Folha de São Paulo reports that it will apply to 16 of the main figures in the case. These include former chief of staff Jose Dirceu, former Worker´s Party (PT) president Jose Genoino, and businessman Marcos Valerio de Souza. The exact terms of their sentences will be decided in the coming days, beginning with a court session today.

According to O Globo, at least 11 of the 16 will likely face prison time, albeit with the possibility of semi-open detention allowing day release. Two others will probably be sent to an open jail facility, and three more are eligible for alternative sentences, the paper claims.

The ruling is likely to boost public confidence in Brazil’s court system, which has been shaken by the fact that none of those convicted in the landmark case have so far served time. In September, the Supreme Court agreed to appeal the sentences of 12 of the 25 defendants, including Direceu, who played a crucial role in the corruption scheme during his tenure as former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva’s first chief of staff.

Yesterday’s ruling confirms Dirceu’s seven years and 11 months sentence. The AFP notes that the former Lula advisor is due to face further charges in a new trial next year, and will automatically be forced to serve time under a closed regime if his combined sentence tops eight years.

News Briefs
  • The Bolivian government has released a long-awaited report on the country’s internal coca market, which found that the legal demand for the leaf can be satisfied by nearly 15,000 hectares. This is roughly 58 percent of the current coca crop, which according to the AP means that the rest is used to process cocaine. InSight Crime’s Marguerite Cawley has an analysis of the report, noting that the estimate is lower than the government’s previous assessments of the legal market size, but significantly higher than opposition estimates. 
  • The Economist has an interview with Eduardo Campos, the leader of the Brazilian Socialist Party (PSB) and President Dilma Rousseff’s main challenger in next year’s election. In the interview, Campos framed his recently-announced alliance with environmentalist Marina Silva as a “natural” association, downplaying any conflict between their political ambitions.
  • In addition to an alleged plot to assassinate former President Alvaro Uribe, Colombian military sources have told Caracol Radio that FARC guerrillas had a plan to hold certain congressmen hostage.  In response, El Espectador reports that the government’s negotiating team has cited the revelations as a potential threat to the peace talks moving forward.
  • The New York Times’ Simon Romero writes an interesting profile of Paraguay’s shadowy guerrilla group, the Paraguayan People’s Army (EPP), which has stepped up its activity in recent years. Romero notes that the EPP is something of an anachronism in a region where “military dictatorships gave way to democracies and dissent began emerging in different forms,” but suggests that this is explained by Paraguay’s status as one of the region’s poorest and unequal nations.
  • A former Argentine army officer jailed for crimes against humanity under the country’s military regime escaped from a police van on Tuesday, La Nacion reports. Colonel Alejandro Lawless allegedly took advantage of his guards’ momentary distraction as he was being transported to a court in Buenos Aires. The BBC points out that Lawless is the third former Argentine military officer to escape this year, after two others broke free of an army hospital in July.
  • The Wall Street Journal has a profile of the leading candidates in next Sunday’s presidential race in Chile, stressing the deep political divide that has been exposed in the country as a result of the campaign. Still the paper notes that voters, especially Chile’s youth, will choose the next president largely out of concern for the future, not the past.
  • El Faro takes a critical look at the human rights position of Norman Quijano, the main conservative candidate in El Salvador’s February 2 presidential elections. While Quijano’s campaign platform includes a vow to adhere to all of the Central American country’s international human rights obligations, the candidate has said he would not support a repeal of the 1993 Amnesty Law. This despite the fact that the Inter-American Court of Human Rights has called for its destitution, and El Salvador is technically bound to this decision as a signatory of the American Convention.
  • Despite left-wing Honduran presidential candidate Xiomara Castro’s reputation as the “anti-golpista” candidate, she has the backing of some of the same business elites who backed the coup which deposed her husband, former president Manuel Zelaya. In an interview with the AFP, Adolfo Facusse -- president of the influential National Association of Industrialists (ANDI) -- told the news agency he supported Castro despite his past approval of the 2009 coup. What’s more, Facusse accused Castro’s rival, Juan Orlando Hernandez, of having “autocratic tendencies.”
  • In other Honduras election news, a video advertisement for the Castro campaign which features former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has caused a stir in the country. The chief justice of the Honduran Supreme Court David Matamoros told La Tribuna that he voiced concern about the video to the Brazilian embassy, claiming it amounted to “foreign interference” in the elections. According to Matamoros, Brazilian officials responded that Lula did not represent the South American country in any official capacity, and only appeared in the ad as a private citizen.  
  • Brazilian authorities have exhumed the remains of former Joao Goulart to test claims that he was poisoned. While the cause of his 1976 death was initially ruled to be a heart attack, a former Uruguayan intelligence officer has said Goulart was poisoned by agents of Brazil’s military regime as part of Operation Condor. 

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