Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Impunity for Human Rights Abuses in Brazil Starts to Crack

Brazil’s armed forces have announced they will cooperate with a Truth Commission investigation into dictatorship-era abuses, which along with changing public opinion suggests the country is making slow but steady progress in the fight against impunity.

Yesterday, Brazil’s National Truth Commission (CNV) released a statement announcing that Defense Minister Celso Amorim had agreed to create “inquiry commissions” to look into the involvement of the military in serious human rights violations during the 1964-1985 dictatorship. The move comes after the CNV released a report on its preliminary findings in February, in which the commission recommended that the armed forces look into abuses in committed in seven military installations in the states of Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, Pernambuco and Minas Gerais.

At first glance, the announcement may not seem like much. Like all of the CNV’s investigations, the probes are exempt from prosecution due to Brazil’s 1979 amnesty law. O Estado points out that the CNV has not requested an inquiry into the massacre and disappearance of at least 70 dissidents and alleged guerrillas in the northern Araguaia region, despite a 2010 Inter-American Court ruling calling for a criminal investigation into the matter. To date only two officers have been charged in the Araguaia case, but both have successfully hidden behind the amnesty law to fight the charges.

Still, the announcement is an indication that the CNV, established in 2011, is at least making headway in compelling the security forces to admit to abuses under the military regime.  

The amnesty law remains a huge barrier, but there have been a number of positive signs on this front recently as well. In a Monday press conference, President Dilma Rousseff issued an apology to victims of the country’s military regime and said the country had a responsibility to “remember and speak about what happened” during the period. As O Globo reports, yesterday the administration further clarified Rousseff’s position on the amnesty law: she will not take the initiative to alter it, but neither will she oppose a congressional attempt to do so.

Such an attempt may find greater traction in the near future, as lawmakers who defend the amnesty law are increasingly finding themselves on the wrong side of public opinion.  A new Datafolha poll found that support for the punishment of dictatorship-era abuses has increased to 46 percent, up from 40 percent in 2010. On the 1979 amnesty itself, some 46 percent of the population is in favor of its annulment, while just 37 percent are against it and 17 percent are undecided.

News Briefs
  • Even with public opinion moving against the amnesty law, many conservative politicians in Brazil remain resolutely in favor of the amnesty. A special session in the lower house of congress yesterday meant to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the coup that led to the 1964-85 dictatorship was briefly suspended due to a scuffle between legislators for and against the legacy of the military regime. As Estado reports, the turmoil appeared to be triggered by an inflammatory banner unveiled by conservative lawmaker, which read: “Congratulations military personnel - March 31, 1964. Thanks to you Brazil is not Cuba.”
  • In a positive development for opponents of aerial fumigation in Colombia, the country’s top administrative court has ruled that carrying out fumigation in national parks is unlawful. While the decision does not impact fumigation in non-protected rural areas, it comes at a time of growing concern over the practice, especially due to the health effects of glyphosate, the main chemical used in aerial coca eradication operations. According to El Tiempo, in a visit to Washington last week, Colombia’s Minister of Justice requested that U.S. aid going to coca eradication be reallocated to land restitution funds.
  • Yesterday, Haitian lawmakers in the lower house unanimously passed a long-awaited electoral law which lays out plans to hold elections on October 24. As the Miami Herald reports, the bill will face a steeper test in the Senate, where President Michel Martelly’s party lacks a majority.
  • The L.A. Times takes a look at opposition to Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto’s recently-proposed telecommunications bill. While it has been framed as a bid to break up powerful media monopolies in the country, critics studying the details of the law say it opens the door to censorship and disproportionately targets he holdings of billionaire Carlos Slim, who did not back Peña Nieto’s candidacy.
  • Cuban dissident blogger Yoani Sanchez is reportedly putting the final touches on a new media project in the country. While she has declined to release many details, including the name of her planned digital newspaper, Sanchez has said she hopes for it to be up and running late ths month or early next. In remarks at a conference in Miami yesterday, Sanchez said that the goal of her new venture would be to reach “ordinary Cubans who at the moment cannot go to the corner stand and buy any other newspaper than 'Granma.'"
  • In the latest Venezuela news, UNASUR’s foreign minister delegation is set to make another visit to Caracas next week. According to El Universal and Telesur, the ministers will return to Venezuela on April 7-8 to evaluate the status of dialogue in the country, in particular via the National Peace Conference launched by President Nicolas Maduro.
  • A week after publishing an op-ed by opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, today’s New York Times features a column by Maduro, in which the president criticizes U.S. media coverage of the protests in his country and the U.S. government’s support for opposition political movements. He also notes his acceptance of UNASUR’s recommendations to engage in mediated talks with his critics, recognizing the need for “peace and dialogue” to move forward.
  • The AP reports on an apparent wave of lynchings in northern Argentina, which spread following the fatal beating of an alleged robber in the city of Rosario last week. President Cristina Fernandez made an implicit reference to the trend yesterday, and Clarin reports that at least twelve similar episodes have taken place in the past ten days.
  • The Miami Herald profiles growing political momentum behind marijuana policy reform initiatives in the Caribbean, particularly in Jamaica and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. The issue has gained particular ground in the latter country, where Foreign Minister Camillo Gonsalves recently characterized cannabis as a potential cash crop, calling it the “new 21st century banana.”