Monday, June 30, 2014

Argentine VP Charged With Bribery in Corruption Case

With time running out for Argentina to reach a settlement with holdout creditors, the past week has been a rough one for President Cristina Fernandez. 

On Friday, things got a good deal worse after a federal judge officially charged Vice President Amado Boudou with bribery and influence peddling. Though prosecutors initially investigated Boudou for allegedly helping the Ciccone Calcografica printing company avoid tax obligations during his time as economy minister in 2010, the case escalated from there. The Associated Press reports: 
According to the judge's investigation, Boudou — as economy minister and then vice president — acted to smooth the Ciccone Calcografica printing company's exit from bankruptcy and engineer its purchase by a shell company so he and other secret partners could benefit from unusual tax exemptions and lucrative government contracts. 
The shell company, The Old Fund, was led by businessman Alejandro Vandenbroele, who is accused of secretly representing Boudou in business deals. The scandal broke open after Vandenbroele's former wife exposed the alleged arrangement, saying she had to give media interviews because her life was being threatened for what she knew.
Perhaps even more surprising than the corruption allegations against Boudou is the fact that even with lawmakers pressing for his impeachment, he has not stepped down or taken a leave of absence while his attorneys fight the charges.  Boudou, who was on an official visit to Cuba when the ruling was announced, travels today to Panama to attend the inauguration of newly-elected President Juan Carlos Varela, the AFP reports. If convicted, he could face up to six years in prison.

President Fernandez, for her part, has remained silent on the case. According to La Nacion, the president was visiting the southern province of Santa Cruz over the weekend, and her office declined to issue a statement in the wake of the ruling.

News Briefs
  • Syndicated columnist Andres Oppenheimer has an interesting take on Costa Rican President Luis Guillermo Solis’ well-publicized swipe at what he called “the cult of the presidential image.” Oppenheimer praises Solis’ ban on his name and image from being associated with public works, and contrasts it with recent self-aggrandizing actions by the presidents of Venezuela, Ecuador and Bolivia.
  • According to a report in Cuban news site 14ymedio, a group of top Google executives visited the island over the weekend, meeting with officials, technology experts and 14ymedio journalists in a trip aimed at promoting " the virtues of a free and open Internet." Reuters notes that Google’s Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt appeared to confirm the visit by retweeting a message about it by dissident blogger Yoani Sanchez, though the company has made no official statement.
  • After 32 years in print, Ecuadorean newspaper Hoy has announced it will become an online-only publication, a decision its editors say was partially due to less demand for print media, and partially because of restrictions imposed by a controversial communications law passed in 2013. For a good overview of the law’s impact on Ecuador’s media landscape, see John Otis’ recent account for the Committee to Protect Journalist’s blog. He points to complaints by press freedom advocacy group Fundamedios and other organizations that the newly-created government media watchdog appears to ignore complaints about inaccurate coverage in state media, while disproportionately targeting private media outlets that publish content that is critical of the government. A good example of the pressures on private media, which was noted in the Oppenheimer column mentioned above, is a recent speech by President Rafael Correa in which he accused the press of violating peoples’ "right to know" after coverage of an official visit to Chile was not as extensive as he would have liked.
  • President Barack Obama is expected to ask Congress today for over $2 billion to deal with the surge of undocumented immigration along the U.S.-Mexico border, as well as authorization to speed up deportation proceedings against unaccompanied minors currently being detained. Also on the immigration wave, WOLA’s Adam Isaacson has posted an interesting map released by U.S. Customs and Border Protection showing the breakdown of where more than 35,000 unaccompanied Central American children detained between October to May are from. Interestingly, CBP asserts that child migrants from Guatemala are motivated to make the trek north due to poverty, whereas those from El Salvador and Honduras are driven more by violence and crime.
  • FiveThirtyEight has an analysis of Brazil’s spending on stadiums ahead of the World Cup, noting that Brazil holds the record of the highest nominal stadium construction costs of any Cup-hosting country, while much of the promised spending on long-term infrastructure failed to materialize. The New York Times profiles skepticism about the benefits of the stadiums from residents in cities like Natal, Manaus, and Cuiaba, which lack soccer teams to properly fill them after the tournament.  
  • Following Colombia’s victory over Uruguay in Saturday’s World Cup match, Bogota mayor Gustavo Petro told reporters that at least eight people were killed over the weekend in the city amidst the subsequent celebrations, though police have said the deaths were unrelated to the game. Still, in a column for El Espectador, Mauricio Garcia Villegas of human rights group Dejusticia argues that so-called “dry laws” during mass sporting events are an important factor in preventing what he calls “the difficulty we Colombians have with celebrating without violence.”
  • A massive blackout affected much of Venezuela on Friday, fueling traffic jams in Caracas and cutting off a presidential broadcast twice. It was the second major nationwide electricity outage in the past year, according to Reuters.
  • On Friday, Paraguayan authorities announced that rains and flooding had forced the evacuation of 200,000 people living near the Paraguay and Parana Rivers. In the days since, that number has been raised to 300,000, and local officials say they are seeking humanitarian assistance from the UN and Red Cross.
  • In a column for Al-Jazeera America, Dan Beeton of the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) ties in the surge in unaccompanied minors with the five-year anniversary of the 2009 coup in Honduras. Noting that much of the violence that makes Honduras the “murder capital of the world” -- including persecution and intimidation of campesino, human rights and indigenous activists -- is actually politically motivated, Beeton questions the Obama administration’s strategy of providing additional aid to the country’s notoriously corrupt security forces.
  • One of the most high-profile leaders of the militia movement in the Mexican state of Michoacan, Jose Manuel Mireles, was arrested by federal security forces on Friday for allegedly carrying an unauthorized firearm. El Universal reports that he was arrested along with 82 others, and according to EFE Mireles was subsequently taken to a maximum security facility in the north of the country. The BBC notes that the arrest comes after the militia leader’s refusal to join a new rural police force.