an intense week

Image: Cyrus Saurius


Commentary on recent events in Latin America

“All of Moro's work will end. It will be a national shame,” said a judge of the Federal Supreme Court (STF) of Brazil, referring to the former judge and former minister of justice in the Bolsonaro government, Sergio Moro.

The week has been intense in Latin America. Not only in Brazil. Little has been said about the visit of the Argentine president, Alberto Fernández, to Mexico. In Iguala, where he celebrated with his colleague Andrés Manuel López Obrador the bicentenary of the country's independence, he recalled that the American continent is the most unequal in the world and appealed for unity to combat this situation. In a territory where very few concentrate wealth, “who can live in peace with their conscience?” asked Fernández.

“Alberto Fernández and his Mexican partner are in excellent harmony,” wrote Melisa Molina from Mexico, correspondent for the Argentine newspaper page 12. Something that is observed not only in public statements, but also in the analyzes and plans that have begun to be discussed, she said.

In the conversations, an important question arose, which concerns both: the OAS. Interference in Latin America through the policies of former US President Donald Trump in the OAS persists. “Not only did they remember with bitterness the coup d'état in Bolivia that nearly cost Evo Morales his life,” said Molina, “but they also shared the concern caused by the participation of this organization in the second round of the presidential elections in Ecuador”.

Ecuador's Struggle

With the controversy over the election results in that country considered resolved, the banker Guillermo Lasso, with 19,74% of the votes, won the Pachakutik candidate, Yaku Pérez, who obtained 19,39%, by just over 32 thousand votes. And now it goes to the second round with the candidate of the Union for Hope, Andrés Arauz, who obtained almost 33% of the votes. There will be a second round on April 11 between the first two. Pérez, defeated, called his supporters to the streets, but a march from the central zone of the Sierra to Quito, on the 23rd of February, did not have the intended impact. The Democratic Left, of social-democratic origin, had a surprisingly good result. Its candidate, Xavier Hervas, came in fourth. He won nearly 16% of the vote, more than was indicated by any poll, and last week they decided not to support either of the two candidates who made it to the second round.

The Democratic Left recommended that its bases and leaders make the best decisions for the country, “leaving aside the radical postures, which limited freedoms and plunged Ecuador into a spiral of corruption and authoritarianism, far from any pretense of privatizing health public health, social security or dismantling the state”. Asked, in an interview published on the 24th of February by the newspaper The Trade, as he would do to add the votes of the indigenous movement and the Democratic Left in the second round, Lasso said that his focus was on addressing the voters: “Our objective will be to talk to the citizens”.

In his third presidential candidacy, it seems difficult for him to overcome the difference that separated him from Arauz in the first round. “You only won in two provinces, unlike 2017 when you won broadly in Sierra and Amazon. What happened and how do you intend to reverse this situation?”, asked the newspaper. “In 2017 there were eight candidates, this time 16, a huge dispersion. Therefore, I think it was a totally different election. Now we are in the second round. The timer is reset and we have to carry out a new democratic battle, ”he replied.

The Ecuadorian scene extends its influence beyond its borders. In March 2008, the Colombian government attacked a guerrilla border camp in the Ecuadorian province of Sucumbíos, killing leader Raúl Reyes. Now it was Colombian prosecutor Francisco Barbosa who traveled to Ecuador to accuse Arauz's candidacy of having received $80 from the National Liberation Army (ELN) for his election campaign.

To do so, they used a common procedure in Colombia, with recordings supposedly found on the computers of downed guerrillas. In this case, on the computer of the commander “Uriel”, who died months before Arauz's candidacy was announced. In the recording, a voice – which the Colombian Public Ministry attributes to Uriel – offers him the 80 thousand dollars for the campaign.

The “fact” was then publicized by “Semana” magazine, formerly a prestigious channel for the Colombian press, before being sold to the Gilinski business group and its director and several of its most influential journalists resigning last November. The operation set up by the Duque government was described by former Colombian president Ernesto Samper as an infamy, “a dirty campaign to affect the elections of a neighboring and friendly country”.

Venezuela – European Union

In Venezuela, the thin rope of relations with the European Union finally broke, after the latter announced sanctions against 19 political, government and opposition leaders, in addition to the eleven previously sanctioned. President Nicolás Maduro responded by giving the EU representative in Caracas 72 hours to leave the country. Another twist in tense relations with a European Union in the wake of Washington's policy.

Manu Pineda, Spanish MEP from the United Left, recalled the sanctions imposed on that country by the European Union: Euroclear withheld 1,65 billion dollars that the Venezuelan government had paid for the purchase of food and medicine; Novo Banco, headquartered in Portugal, withheld 1,543 billion euros from the Venezuelan state to pay for treatments for people with chronic illnesses; and, in 2018, the Bank of England refused to repatriate 1,2 billion dollars in Venezuelan gold, out of the 8 billion that Venezuela has deposited in that entity.

Pineda referred to the document by the UN rapporteur, Alena Douhan, released last February 12, on the devastating effects of the economic sanctions applied by the United States and the EU to Venezuela. “Unilateral sanctions imposed, to an ever-increasing extent, by the United States, the European Union (EU) and other countries have exacerbated the calamities (in Venezuela),” she said.

The country now receives less than 1% of the income it had before the beginning of the coercive measures. “Four years of hyperinflation resulted in the total devaluation of the national currency”, said Douhan, recalling that almost 90% of the population receives less than 10 dollars a month, which amounts to less than 1% of the food basket, condemning them to extreme poverty. Sanctioning economic sectors such as oil, gold, mining and others, the state-owned airline and the state-owned television industry, he added, "constitutes a violation of international law."

The scandalous hand of the press

In Brazil, for years, Moro and prosecutor Deltan Dallagnol presented themselves as champions of the fight against corruption. They were the face of Operation Lava Jato. These judges and prosecutors based in the city of Curitiba, in the state of Paraná, gradually became the axis around which national political life revolved. Until they condemned former President Lula for the fraudulent acquisition of an apartment on a beach in the city of Guarujá, in São Paulo, and removed him from the 2018 elections, which led Jair Bolsonaro to the government.

A fraudulent conviction, as is evident today, in which the absence of evidence was replaced by machinations between the judge and the prosecutor to give the decision a touch of legality. The confrontation between Moro and Lula is one of the most notable pieces of the Brazilian judicial process in recent years.

All this was only possible thanks to the creation of a favorable environment in public opinion by the great Brazilian press, especially Rede Globo, but also by newspapers The state of Sao Paulo e Folha de São Paulo. The revelations of Lava Jato communications by hackers laid bare the agreement with Globe with this team.

Today, these three media are starting to distance themselves from a scandal that involves the Brazilian judicial system but which, above all, is once again shaking the political system. “Since the first leaks of conversations between Lava Jato investigators and then-judge Sergio Moro were made public in June 2019, it has become evident that former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (PT) did not have an impartial trial. in the case of the apartment in Guarujá – said, in an editorial, the Folha de São Paulo on Saturday February 27th. The recordings showed an unacceptable approximation between the magistrate and the accusers”, which, in the opinion of the newspaper, is reason enough to doubt the impartiality of the process.

This situation was possible only because the great Brazilian press fed it, when it was always clear that the rights of the defense were being violated and that Lula was being condemned without evidence. Now that, in addition to the evidence, the conversations between the prosecutors and the judge have come to light, that press is beginning to retract. What triggered the lawfare was, among other things, the international protagonism of Brazil and the BRICS group – said the former chancellor and former minister of defense, Celso Amorim – but, above all, oil, the discovery of the enormous pre-salt reserves in the Brazilian coast. “The truth starts to come out. Moro organized a gang called Lava Jato,” Lula said in an interview published last week.

The recording in which Dallagnol referred to illegal cooperation with the US authorities (to whom Lava Jato regularly provided information on the case and on Brazilian companies, including the oil company Petrobras), Swiss and Monegasque authorities was already known, with the knowledge of Judge Moro. Then they surfed their best waves. Warned by colleagues that such practices could jeopardize cases against Lula, Dallagnol said: "It's been a while since I've been ashamed of myself." They never imagined that the conversations would become public.

Now, hired by an American company that provides assistance to the construction company Odebrecht – one of the main accused in Operation Lava Jato, for distributing bribes in several Latin American countries –, Moro regrets that the entire operation could be annulled. Lava Jato, said Gilmar Mendes, a member of the Federal Supreme Court, "corrupted democracy in Brazil". “All of Moro's work will end. It will be a national shame,” said one of the court members. Now, the STF must vote to annul the convictions imposed by Moro, which opens the door to the restoration of Lula's political rights.

a terrible moment

Lava Jato opened its doors to the Bolsonaro government, with military support. “Brazil is going through a terrible moment in its history”, said Ambassador Samuel Pinheiro Guimarães, secretary general of the Itamaraty between 2003 and 2009 and minister of strategic affairs in the second Lula administration, between 2009 and 2010. “A terrible moment in which Brazil is the victim of a policy of destruction of its state, its economy, its society, carried out by the government itself”, says Guimarães, who criticizes the approval of a constitutional amendment that imposes a 20-year spending ceiling on the federal government, which it gives priority to the payment of interest on the debt and prevents a necessary public spending policy that meets the needs of the population and the country's development.

This policy is accompanied by an aggressive privatization program that the government is trying to promote, particularly with the most recent measure to open the national electricity company, Eletrobras, to private capital. The idea is that, with the sale of shares, the government becomes a minority partner, while it waits for Congress to approve the necessary legislation to privatize the company. The Brazilian scenario is probably the most dramatic in Latin America, where the incompetence of an “ordinary” government, “indifferent to the suffering of others”, as Guimarães pointed out, is added to a radical proposal of privatizations and reduction of public spending.

the difficult unit

In three weeks' time, on March 26, President Jair Bolsonaro will travel to Argentina to participate in the Mercosur summit organized by President Alberto Fernández to celebrate the organization's 30th anniversary. It will be Bolsonaro's first trip to Argentina, as well as the first time he will meet in person with Alberto Fernández, recalled the newspaper. page 12.

A totally unusual relationship between two neighboring countries and the most important in South America. At the summit, the Mercosur citizenship statute will be presented, which extends to all inhabitants of the four countries of the bloc – Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay – civil rights in the most diverse areas, and integration will advance in themes such as common customs tariffs , origin regime, e-commerce and services, Fund for Structural Convergence (Focem), automotive sector and institutional issues.

But the most important decision, and the most threatening for the bloc, could be another. On February 3, Uruguayan President Luis Lacalle Pou visited Bolsonaro in Brasília to promote his idea of ​​“making Mercosur more flexible”. An idea that Paraguay also shares. “We belong to Mercosur and we are about to complete 30 years in this association”. The next step should be flexibility, said Lacalle, so that each member can move forward in carrying out its own trade agreements. Something that Bolsonaro agreed with and that is currently not allowed within the group.

Long and ugly night for the opposition

The week ended with Sunday's parliamentary elections in El Salvador. Election night looks long and ugly for the opposition. Two-thirds of the seats in the 84-member Assembly and the vast majority of local governments are within reach of what is beginning to be called the cyan steamroller, due to the color that identifies President Nicolás Bukele's party, New Ideas, said Salvadoran writer Horacio Castellanos Moya, in an interview for the newspaper El País, at the University of Iowa, where he is Professor of Literature. “The civil war began in 1932 with the communist insurrection and ended in 1991 with the Peace Accords. There are 60 years of conflict and the 30 years after the civil war consisted of unblocking the political polarization of the country”.

The Bukele phenomenon “is possible thanks to that and if it hadn't been like that, he would never have come to power. During these years we have moved from a policy defined by crime to a policy defined by politics and democratic coexistence. It happened that these democratic protagonists were self-destructing in the exercise of power. Now let's see if this self-destructive dynamic doesn't also destroy Bukele himself faster than the others."

Asked about Bukele's disparaging way of referring to the Peace Accords that ended decades of armed conflict (which the 39-year-old president did not live through), Horacio Castellanos replied: "It saddens me and I feel that we are living in what Sergio Ramírez it's called the bicycle wheel because, in fact, the essential problems are the same: violence, poverty, emigration… The source of financing for El Salvador remains the same: expelling people to send remittances from the United States. In essence, the problems are the same, but someone young, well-established and well-educated comes along and mesmerizes people with the skill of his speech.”

*Gilberto Lopes is a journalist, PhD in Society and Cultural Studies from the Universidad de Costa Rica (UCR).

Translation: Fernando Lima das Neves.


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