Friday, May 30, 2014

Brazil's Pioneering Chief Justice to Retire

Joaquim Barbosa, the first and only black justice to serve on Brazil's Supreme Court, has announced he will retire after 11 years on the bench. Despite rumors that he has political aspirations, the judge best known for his role in investigating the mensalão scandal insists that his only plans for the future are to "watch the World Cup in Brasilia, and then to rest."

Barbosa first made the surprise announcement yesterday during a meeting with lawmakers. In later remarks to the press, he touched on his role in dealing harsh sentences to offenders in the landmark mensalão trial. "This matter has been completely overcome," he told journalists. "[The ruling] is out of my life and hopefully will be out of yours. Enough of this issue." 

In its coverage of the announcement today, the Wall Street Journal  reports that Barbosa's departure "is raising fears that his fight against graft will wane."

As legal expert Ivar A. Hartmann writes in a column for O Globo, Barbosa made a name for himself as a crusading figure in the court for more than just the mensalão trial. He has been a vocal champion of affirmative action programs, and played a key role in establishing de facto recognition of same-sex marriages in the country last year. However, he has also seen his share of personal scandals. Hartmann points out that he created a limited liability company in Miami to get around paying taxes, and is accused of using his authority to target the wife of a journalist who revealed excesses and irregularities in judicial salaries. Still, he argues that none of this should detract from Barbosa's achievements.

Barbosa's popularity and his early retirement -- the AP notes his term as chief justice would end in November, and the 59-year-old is far from the mandatory retirement age of 70 -- has led analysts to speculate that he intends to run for office eventually. But the judge has denied this, saying there is "no way" he could launch a political career. Still, O Globo reports that the two main opposition presidential candidates ahead of the October elections have publicly lamented his retirement, with Eduardo Campos admitting that every political party in the country would like to have him in their corner.

News Briefs
  • BBC Mundo profiles optimism among thousands of individuals of Haitian descent in the Dominican Republic, who hope to benefit from legal recognition as citizens as a result of the recently-passed nationality law there. But the report notes that the reform will only help some of those affected by last year’s controversial court ruling which stripped citizenship from those born in the country to migrant families. According to human rights activists, as few as 10 percent of the impacted population are estimated to benefit from the law.
  • Peru’s new drug czar, Alberto Otarola, has confirmed reports -- see IDL-Reporteros -- that his predecessor’s abrupt dismissal and his subsequent appointment amounts to a shift in President Ollanta Humala’s anti-drug strategy. But in an interview with El Comercio, Otarola denied that the administration was backing away from its goals to continue record levels of coca eradication, though he also laid out blueprints for a new subsidized crop substitution program in the coca-growing VRAE region.
  • Costa Rica’s La Nacion reports that the board of the country’s social security system has announced it will extend medical benefits to same-sex couples, a measure which will be implemented in three months’ time. Reuters notes that while newly-elected President Luis Guillermo Solis recently hoisted the rainbow flag outside his official residence in celebration of May 17th's International Day Against Homophobia, he does not support gay marriage.
  • The AFP looks at child labor in Bolivia, where the practice is “considered a cultural norm” in the country, according to the news agency. President Evo Morales himself has shied away from raising a minimum work age, and the agency points out that a constitutional ban on child exploitation is impaired by a lack of specification regarding who exactly qualifies as a “child” under the law.
  • The New York Times reports on an increase in U.S.-bound drug seizures in the Caribbean, which many analysts believe points to a jump in popularity of smuggling routes passing through Puerto Rico to the East Coast.
  • U.S. Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Thomas J. Donohue, currently in Havana to assess the progress of economic changes on the island, has signaled tentative praise for the reforms instituted under Raul Castro. In remarks at the University of Havana yesterday, Donohue said citizens’ efforts to create fledgling private businesses exhibit “the spirit of entrepreneurship,” but stressed that the government should institute further changes. He also called on U.S. President Barack Obama to alter relations with Cuba, saying: “Changes take time, but if he wants to get it done before the end of his term, he's got two years.”
  • Colombia’s National Center for Historical Memory has released a new report cataloging forced disappearances from 1970 to 2012, finding that some 26,000 people were disappeared as a result of the conflict between the army, paramilitary groups and guerrillas. Of these, the whereabouts of 19,688 -- roughly 94 percent -- remain unknown. As Semana magazine reports in its coverage of the publication, the organization found that forced disappearances are a crime mostly committed by the state, occasionally acting with paramilitary forces. Reuters notes that victims’ relatives are pessimistic about seeing justice for disappearances.
  • Panama's Supreme Court has ruled that a decision to grant asylum to former Colombian intelligence chief Maria del Pilar Hurtado is unconstitutional. Hurtado was head of the now-defunct DAS intelligence agency, which was dissolved after a series of scandals suggested DAS agents illegally spied on journalists, human rights activists and judges.
  • The Washington Post profiles the ongoing peace talks between Colombian officials and FARC rebels in Havana, noting remarks from former Police General Oscar Naranjo, who described sitting across from longtime mortal enemies by saying that exchanges have been “cordial and respectful, but austere.” But while the paper suggests the future of talks hinge on President Juan Manuel Santos’ victory in the upcoming June 15 runoff, right-wing candidate Oscar Ivan Zuluaga’s recent reversal on dialogue means this may not be the case.  Meanwhile, a new Cifras y Conceptos poll suggests that Santos and Zuluaga are virtually tied, receiving support from 38 and 37 percent of respondents, respectively.
  • Roughly 14 years after the embezzlement trial against former Ecuadorean President Jamil Mahuad began, the country’s Supreme Court has found him guilty in absentia. As El Comercio reports, Mahuad -- who is living in Boston -- was sentenced to twelve years in prison, though the ruling can still be appealed.