President of the Brazilian Olympic Committee Arrested for Corruption

By: Fernando Oliveira
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil – On October 5th, 2017, Carlos Arthur Nuzman, the Brazilian Olympic Committee president, and his right-hand man, Leonardo Gryner, the general director of the Rio 2016 Organizing Committee, were arrested by Brazil’s federal police. Both were allegedly involved in a voting-buying scandal that supposedly allowed Rio de Janeiro to host the 2016 Olympic Summer Games.

Brazilian Olympic Committee president Carlos Nuzman is escorted from the federal police headquarters in Rio de Janeiro. Photograph courtesy of Bruno Kelly/Reuters.

According to Brazilian federal prosecutors, Nuzman and Gryner controlled a complex criminal organization which, in 2009, “bought” Lamine Diack’s vote to bring the Olympics to Rio de Janeiro. Indeed, the investigation has found several emails showing that Lamine Diack, a former IOC member from Senegal, received at least $2 million for promising to vote for Rio de Janeiro’s candidacy during the poll held in Copenhagen in October 2009.

Nuzman, who is now 75 years old, was a Brazilian volleyball player who represented the national team from 1962 to 1968. Later on, he became head of the Brazilian Volleyball Confederation, from 1975 until 1995.  Since 1995, he has been BOC’s president. According to investigators, in the last 10 years, his assets have grown more than 450%.

Additionally, investigators discovered that Nuzman concealed sixteen 1kg gold bars in a Swiss bank, which led federal prosecutor Fabiana Schneider to declare:

“While Olympic medalists chased their dreams of gold medals, leaders of the Brazilian Olympic Committee stashed their gold in Switzerland.”

The ongoing investigation, called “Unfair Play,” brought evidence that Nuzman and Gryner are involved in corruption, money laundering, and conspiracy.

Nuzman’s lawyer, Nelio Machado claimed that Nuzman’s arrest is wholly unnecessary, and constitutes a vehement flaw, mostly because it is clear that the election of Rio de Janeiro for the 2016 Olympic Games strictly followed the rules.

For more information, please see:

Reuters – Brazil police arrest Olympic committee chief in vote-buying scandal – 05 October 2017

New York Times – Brazil’s Olympic Committee President Arrested for Corruption – 05 October 2017

ABC News – President of Brazilian Olympic Committee arrested – 05 October 2017

Folha de São Paulo – Brazilian Police Arrest Olympics Chief Carlos Nuzman in Alleged Vote-Buying Scheme – 05 October 2017

New Report Details Torture by Police in Egypt

By: Adam King
Impunity Watch News Reporter, Africa 

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. Photo Courtesy of CNN.

CAIRO, Egypt – A new report by Human Rights Watch released  September 6, 2017 claims to shed light on a culture of torture by Egyptian police and national security forces. The report is based on interviews from multiple detainees who were interned by Egyptian police and security forces between 2014 and 2016. According to the report:

“Of the 20 cases documented by Human Rights Watch, 13 detainees were tortured in National Security offices, five in police stations, and two in both places. Six men were tortured at the National Security Agency headquarters inside the Interior Ministry near Cairo’s Lazoghly Square, a place where detainees have alleged torture for decades. In five cases, security officers used torture to force suspects to read prewritten confessions on video, which the Interior Ministry then sometimes published on social media channels.”

The report claims that detainees were subjected to harsh torture tactics such as electric shock, awkward hanging positions and threats of physical violence.  The torture could last hours on some occasions with numerous techniques being utilized interchangeably. One detainee even claims to have been raped on multiple occasions by police officers with foreign objects.

President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi obtained the presidency of Egypt in 2013 following a military coup of then President Mohammed Morsi. President el-Sisi continues to face accusations of rampant torture at the hands of police and security forces since taking the presidency. The report also claims that some of the deplorable techniques that characterize the reign of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak have be reinstituted and even expanded in some instances.

Human Rights Watch is not the only organization to focus on allegations of torture in Egypt at the hands of police and security forces. The United Nations reached similar conclusions in its own report in May of 2017, “Torture appears to occur particularly frequently following arbitrary arrests and is often carried out to obtain a confession or to punish and threaten political dissenters.” 

The UN also opined that attempts at detainees to make their cases known and to seek redress against the harms have not been met with adequate procedural recourse:

“[P]rosecutors, judges and prison officials also facilitate torture by failing to curb practices of torture, arbitrary detention and ill-treatment or to act on complaints…In the view of the Committee, all the above lead to the inescapable conclusion that torture is a systematic practice in Egypt.”

Egyptian officials rebuke the claims of Human Rights Watch and, according to Egyptian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ahmed Abu Zeid, are indicative of “a new episode in a series of deliberate defamation by such organization, whose politicized agenda and biases are well known and reflect the interests of the entities and countries sponsoring it.”

The Egyptian Government has since blocked the Human Rights Watch website as of September 7, 2017, bringing the grand total of blogs and news websites blocked to 424.  

For more information, please see:

Aljazeera – Egypt blocks Human Rights Watch website – 8 September 2017

CNN – Report: Egypt police security forces ‘routinely torture political detainees – 7 September 2017

Human Rights Watch – “We Do Unreasonable Things Here” Torture and National Security al-Sisi’s Egypt – 5 September 2017

United Nations – Summary from Committee Against Torture – 12 May 2017 

The New York Times – Army Ousts Egypt’s President; Morsi Is Taken Into Military Custody – 3 July 2013 

Ukraine Marks ‘Dignity and Freedom Day’ as National Holiday

By Sarah Lafen

Impunity Watch Desk Reporter, Europe

KIEV, Ukraine — Three years ago, on November 21, 2013, the people of Kiev, Ukraine took part in an anti-government protest in the streets of the city.  The events were called “Revolution of Dignity” by the victors of the protest, who successfully took power of the right-winged radicals and promises of integrating Ukraine into the European Union.

Protesters hold Ukrainian and EU flags during a demonstration to support integrating Ukraine into Europe on November 21, 2013 (Photo Courtesy of Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty)
Protesters hold Ukrainian and EU flags during a demonstration to support integrating Ukraine into Europe on November 21, 2013 (Photo Courtesy of Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty)

The 2013 protests, which resulted in over 100 deaths and an ousted government and president, are also known as “Euromaiden.”  The Euromaiden movement started when protestors gathered in Kiev after then-president Viktor Yanukovych announced he declined to sign a trade deal with the EU and instead sought a closer economic relationship with Russia.  Protestors saw the trade deal as a path towards adopting a European standard of living, as well as possibly visa-free travel in the EU.  After the protests, Yanukovych fled to Russia and was subsequently removed from office.

This year, November 21 was declared a national holiday in Ukraine, and was given the name “Dignity and Freedom Day.”  As a part of the commemorations, government officials, protest participants, clergy, youth organizations, and Ukrainian citizens held ceremonies across the country.  Flowers were placed on a monument honoring those who were killed in the protests, and a “revolution march” was organized to take place in Kiev on the holiday.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko spoke at one of the ceremonies, calling on the nation to unite and stand together against the Russian “threat.”  Poroshenko insisted that “[t]he Revolution of Dignity put an end to our Russian-Soviet past and the post-Soviet period.  It has separated our Ukrainian and European world from the Russian world.”  Poroshenko went on to congratulate the Ukrainian citizens, and thanked them for building “our European state together!”  He stressed that since the 2013 protests, the “basis for a new Ukraine was laid.”

The November 21 holiday also recognizes and honors the 2004 Orange Revolution.  The revolution also began in November, and marked the first majority vote for a pro-European Union candidate.

Approximately 21,000 law enforcement officials will be present at the ceremonies and demonstrations across Ukraine to ensure public order.

 

For more information, please see:

Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty — Ukraine Marks Third Anniversary Euromaiden — 21 November 2016

RT — Ukraine Marks ‘Dignity & Freedom Day’ as Euromaiden Dream Falters — 21 November 2016

Ukraine Today — Ukraine Marks Day of Dignity and Freedom — 21 November 2016

Ukrinform — President Poroshenko Congratulates Ukrainians on the Day of Dignity and Freedom — 21 November 2016

 

Zuma Under Fire Amid Reports of Corruption

By Samantha Netzband 

Impunity Watch, Africa Desk Reporter 

CAPE TOWN, South Africa– President Jacob Zuma is under intense scrutiny after being accused of corruption.  Zuma has been under fire before for misuse of government funds.  A new 355 page report called the ‘State of Capture’ claims that Zuma had an improper relationship with the Gupta Brothers.  The report claims that the Gupta brothers helped Zuma pick key cabinet members.

South African President Jacob Zuma speaks to delegates at the Harare International Conference Centre in Harare

Zuma giving a speech. (Photo Courtesy of BBC)

Zuma is a member of the African National Congress, the party of Nelson Mandela that has been ruling South Africa since the end of apartheid.  The party has enjoyed uninterrupted rule despite Zuma’s past issues with corruption.  However, the release of the ‘State of Capture’ is worrying other party members who are calling for a full investigation of Zuma.

Opposition party members are calling for Zuma’s resignation.  Zuma is defiant and says that he has done nothing wrong.

For further information, please see: 

BBC – South Africa’s Zuma ‘Not Afraid of Jail’ Amid Corruption Allegations – 5 November 2016

CNN – South Africa corruption report released amid anti-Zuma protests – 2 November 2016

Gulf News – Zuma’s Truly Overwhelming Problems – 5 November 2016

Press TV – South Africa’s Zuma Censures Judiciary Amid Corruption Probe – 5 November 2016

South Sudan to take Legal Action after Corruption Report

By Samantha Netzband

Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa

JUBA, South Sudan–The South Sudanese government is planning on taking legal action against the Sultry group after the publication of what they believe is an incorrect corruption report.  The Sultry group was founded by American actor George Clooney and activist John Prendergast.  The group was also a key player in gaining South Sudan’s independence.

President Kiir seen giving a speech. (Photo Courtesy of Aljazeera)

The report, which was published by the Nation Mirror, alleges that President Kiir and opposition leader Riek Machar amassed wealth throughout the time of the Sudanese conflict.  This wealth includes luxury cars, foreign properties, and stakes in oil and business ventures.  Both President Kiir and Riek Machar’s spokespeople have said that these allegations are “rubbish”.  This then lead to the closing of the Nation Mirror and the pursuance of a lawsuit.

There are already calls to reopen the Nation Mirror, the newspaper that published the report.  Given the lack of independent and critical newspapers in the region those in the media in South Sudan would like to see the newspaper reopened.

Those who belief the report are suggesting that the United States threaten sanctions until reform is made.  This stems from the fact that George Clooney, the partner in the Sentry group, is an American actor.  Countries on the outside looking in are taking these allegations seriously considering war profiteering is a serious crime, and the conflict in South Sudan has displaced a million people.

For more information, please see:

Africa News – South Sudan urged to reopen newspaper that published corruption report – 16 September 2016

Al Jazeera – South Sudan to take legal action after corruption report – 13 September 2016

CNBC Africa – South Sudan: Actor George Clooney against the Kleptocrats – 17 September 2016

Fox News – South Sudan challenges US watchdog’s report on corruption – 17 September 2016

Lula Questioned, Detained in Petrobras Investigation

By Kaitlyn Degnan
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

SAO PAULO, Brazil — Former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva was questioned on Friday as part of “Operation Car Wash,” the official investigation into the Petrobras scandal. Known around the world as “Lula,” he served as Brazil’s president from 2003 to 2010 and is widely credited with Brazil’s emergence as an international power. He is considered by many to be Brazil’s most popular president.

Lula and President Rousseff the day after Lula’s detention by police. (Photo courtesy of Bloomberg Business).

The Petrobras scandal was born of an inquiry into bribes at the state-run oil firm. However, the investigation was widened to include high ranking members of Brazil’s ruling Workers’ Party. There is evidence that “scores of politicians and business executives” stole money from Petrobras. Those under investigation are suspected of overcharging Petrobras contracts. The money is thought to have been put towards Workers’ Party electoral campaigns.

Lula was detained and his home raided on Friday morning. His institute in Sao Paulo, and his wife and sons were also targeted in the investigation. Lula was released a few hours later. When speaking with supporters after his release, Lula said that he “deserved respect” and that the investigators were “disrespectful of democracy.”

Police allege that Lula took money from the Petrobras kickback scheme and laundered it through real-estate assets and his institute.

The detention sparked widespread criticism – even from those who supported his questioning, and sparked several clashes outside of Lula’s home in Sao Bernardo do Campo on Friday.

On Saturday, Lula supporters gathered outside of his home, chanting, “if you mess with him, you mess with me.” Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff also travelled to Saw Bernardo do Campo to meet with Lula in his home on Saturday, in show of solidarity after his “unnecessary” detention.  Both Lula and President Rousseff have denied involvement in the Petrobras scandal. President Rousseff’s popularity has severely declined since the investigations began, and she may be facing impeachment.

Despite criticism, prosecutors stand by the questioning, saying that that Lula “holds no power that puts him beyond the reach of the Car Wash investigation.” The investigation has called both Lula’s political future and his legacy into question.

 

For more information, please see:

BBC – Brazil Petrobras scandal: Former president Lula questioned – 4 March 2016

Latin America News Dispatch – Brazil Ex-President Lula Questioned in Corruption Case – 4 March 2016

New York Times – Brazil’s Ex-Leader, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, Is Held and His Home Raided – 4 March 2016 

New York Times – Snapshot of Brazil’s Web of Scandal – 4 March 2016

Agence France-Presse – Brazil’s corruption scandal anger spills onto street – 5 March 2016

Associated Press – Crowds cheer Brazilian ex-president after being grilled by police – 5 March 2016

Bloomberg Business – Rousseff Visits Lula as Brazil Supporters Stage Solidarity Vigil – 5 March 2016

Reuters – Brazil top judges back graft probe despite concern over Lula’s detention – 6 March 2016

Opposition Leader Killed in Election Lead Up

By Kaitlyn Degnan
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

CARACAS, Venezuela — Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s government is facing intense scrutiny in the days leading up to the national election following the murder of an opposition leader last Wednesday. Luis Diaz, the Guarico States leader of the Democratic Action party of Guarico State was shot and killed during a public meeting.

Mr. Diaz was on stage with Lilian Tintori, a campaigner and activist. Ms. Tintori is married to opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez whose trial garnered worldwide criticism. It is unknown whether Ms. Tintori was also an intended target of the attack.

Other opposition figures have faced violence in the lead up to the election. Ms. Tintori alleged that she was the victim of at least two attacks, including the dismantling of brakes on a plane used by her team. Henrique Capriles, who lost the 2013 presidential election to Maduro has also been the victim of aggression.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. (Photo courtesy of BBC).

President Maduro’s government has faced international criticisms in the aftermath of the killing, with statements of concern coming from a number of NGO and the United States. In a statement released the day after Diaz’s death, the Director of Amnesty International Venezuela, Marcos Gomez, said that the killing gave a “terrifying view of the state of human rights in Venezuela.”

The Democratic Action party is part of the Democratic Unity coalition, a bloc of opposition parties looking to unseat the Maduro’s Socialist Party. Democratic Action national leader Henry Ramos blames the Socialist party for Diaz’s death.

The Venezuelan government has denounced any connection between the ruling party and the killing, and has said that it would sue opposition leaders blaming the Socialist Party. Foreign Minister Delcy Rodriguez said in a tweet that trying to establish such links was in “bad faith.”

Venezuela has opened an investigation into the killing through the Public Prosecutor’s office. Government officials claim that Mr. Diaz was involve with a violent gang in Guarico, and that the killing was carried out on behest of a rival gang member.

The upcoming elections may be historical – there is a significant chance for the first time in 16 years that the Socialist Party may lose the legislature. In the past year alone, 43 people have died and hundreds have been injured during violence sparked by opposition protests..

 

For more information, please see:

Amnesty International – Venezuela: Killing of opposition politician sparks fears of spiraling violence – 26 November 2015

The Guardian – US condemns murder of opposition politician before Venezuela election – 26 November 2015

Reuters – Opposition activist’s murder shakes Venezuela before election – 26 November 2015

Business Insider – Venezuela lashes U.S., opposition amid blame over activist’s slaying – 27 November 2015

Global News – Calls for Venezuela to protect politicians after opposition leader killed – 27 November 2015

UN News Centre – Top UN human rights official calls for more safety after political opponent killing in Venezuela – 27 November 2015

Fox News – Slaying of Venezuelan opposition leader has become flashpoint ahead of elections – 28 November 2015

 

NGO: Brazil’s Prisons a ‘Human Rights Disaster’

By Kaitlyn Degnan
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America 

BRASILIA, Brazil — Brazil’s correctional system has often been criticized for its overcrowding, but a new report released last week by Human Rights Watch sheds light on the wide scope of the problem. The report illustrates an environment of overcrowding and corruption.

Makeshift “barracos,” or cubicles, inside Pavilion 7 at Presídio Juiz Antônio Luiz L. de Barros (PJALLB), in Recife. (Photo courtesy of Human Rights Watch)

The problem is most pronounced in Pernambuco, a small northeastern state. Prisons there are meant to hold a maximum of 10,500 inmates at a time. They currently hold about 32,000 inmates, which is about three times its intended capacity. Currently, there is a thirty prisoner to one guard ratio.

Due to severe understaffing, many of Brazil’s prisons, including Pernambuco, are not controlled by guards, but by inmates. In their report, Human Rights Watch described the use of “keyholders” to maintain order in Brazil’s severely overcrowded prisons.

These keyholders, designated by penitentiary staff, maintain control over almost all aspects of life in the prisons, including the sale of drugs. Keyholders are usually backed by “militias” – strongmen who beat, threaten, and extort other prisoners.

Keyholders themselves usually have private cells, with amenities such as televisions and bathrooms. They often charge inmates about 2,000 reais (the equivalent of USD 530) for a portion of a cell and often require payment of weekly “taxes” to avoid beatings.

Prison staff maintain control over outside pavilions, the areas surrounding multiple cell blocks. Officials have been accused of turning a blind eye to the corruption, or receiving kickbacks.

Sixty percent of inmates have not been convicted and are still awaiting trial. A large number of prisoners in Pernambuco are awaiting custody hearings, wherein a judge makes a determination whether to hold or release the arrestee pending trial. Pernambuco only began providing these hearings in August 2015.  Arrestees are entitled to these hearings under international law.

Additionally, there is no separation of those awaiting trial and those convicted of lesser crimes and convicted violent criminals. Packed, unsanitary conditions have led to outbreaks of tuberculosis, HIV and sexual violence amongst prisoners.

For more information, please see:

Human Rights Watch – Brazil: Where Inmates Run the Show – 19 October 2015

Human Rights Watch – The State Let Evil Take Over – 19 October 2015

Human Rights Watch – Pernambuco’s Privatized Prisons – 20 October 2015

Vice News – This Report on Brazil’s Prisons Exposes a ‘Human Rights Disaster’ – 20 October 2015

Newsweek – Brazil’s Prisons are a ‘Human-Rights Disaster’” HRW – 21 October 2015

New Zealand Herald – Watchdog group blasts Brazil’s violent, crowded prisons – 21 October 2015

 

 

Peru Looks into Military Corruption

By Kaitlyn Degnan
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

LIMA, Peru — Last week the Associated Press reported that the Peruvian military was turning a blind eye to regular and frequent flights transporting cocaine out of the Apurimac, Ene and Mantaro river valley region (known as VRAEM). Responding to the allegations, Peruvian authorities announced that they would launch an investigation into corruption in the military.

Peru’s military inspector general will head the probe.

Police in the region say that roughly half of Peru’s cocaine exports have left the country this way: four times a day, a small plane lands in the valley. Cash is exchanged for 300 kilos of cocaine, then the plane takes off and flies out to Bolivia. Each exchange is worth about $7.2 million.

An airstrip used for cocaine trafficking in the VRAEM region. (Photo courtesy of the Associated Press).

The remote jungle region where the flights land are under the control of the military. The landing sites are in close proximity to military bases.

An alleged pilot of a narcotics transport plane interviewed by the Associated Press claimed that local military commanders charged $10,000 per flight to look the other way.

The military claims that their forces in the region are outmatched by “heavily armed traffickers” and the participating community. Officials claim a connection between the traffickers and the Shining Path guerrilla group in the region.

A retired army general, Wilson Barrantes, has complained about drug related corruption in the military for years, calling military control of the cocaine-producing region “like putting four street dogs to guard a plate of beefsteak.”

Drug related corruption is an open secret in Peru, according to anti-corruption nonprofit Transparency International.

President Ollanta Humala named combatting illegal drug trafficking as a priority of his administration when he took office in 2011. Over the summer, Humala’s administration authorized an “eradication” campaign, in which government workers destroyed coca plots across the country. It was a controversial move which devastated the livelihood of thousands of Peruvians. Other efforts have included blasting holes in known airstrips.

In August, the Congress unanimously authorized the military to shoot down these narcotics transport planes.

Humala’s critics say that he has allowed cocaine production to go on in the VRAEM region, where the eradication campaigns didn’t reach. A narcotics public prosecutor says that trafficking has gone “from bad to worse” during Humala’s tenure. Humala has eight month’s left in office, with an approval rating of about 15 percent.

 

For more information, please see:

The Seattle Times – Eradication spells misery for Peru’s coca farmers – 17 August, 2015

Associated Press – Peru Military fails to act as narco planes fly freely – 14 October 2015

The Guardian – Peru to investigate cocaine ‘air bridge’ where smuggler planes are ignored – 14 October 2015

Latin Dispatch – Peru Will Probe Military Collusion With Traffickers After Damning Report – 15 October 2015

 

 

Brazil: Former President Questioned in Scandal

By Kaitlyn Degnan
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

BRASILIA, Brazil — The Federal Supreme Court has ruled that former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva (Lula) may be questioned in the Petrobras scandal. He may only be questioned as a witness and not as a target of investigation. Prosecutors say there is no evidence of tying Lula, who served as president of Brazil from 2003 until 2011, to any crimes. Should evidence of wrongdoing come to light, the Supreme Court would have to specifically authorize an investigation into Lula’s conduct.

Former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. (Photo courtesy of the New York Times).

The Federal Police motioned to question Lula, saying that he may have “obtained benefits for himself, his party, the still-governing PT (Workers Party); or his administration by maintaining a base of political support sustained at the cost of illicit business.” Investigators said that evidence that had already been obtained in plea bargain testimony from those already convicted implies that the scandal “reaches the political and partisan nucleus of his government.”

The scheme at the center of the Petrobras scandal is alleged to have run from 2004 until 2014. The scheme provided kickbacks for contracts and created the illusion of a competitive bidding process.

During at least part of the time when the scheme was in place, current President Dilma Rousseff was serving as Chairwoman of Petrobras. She has not been charged with any wrongdoing.

A number of high level officials who served under Lula have already been implicated in the scandal, including his former Chief of Staff, Jose Dirceu. Dirceu has been charged by federal prosecutors with corruption, money laundering and racketeering. He is believed to have started the scheme.

The former treasurer of the Worker’s Party Joao Vaccari was convicted of corruption, money laundering and conspiracy, and sentenced to over 15 years in prison. He accepted at least $1 million in bribes.

Additionally, charges have been brought against the current speaker of the lower house of congress, Eduardo Cunha, and senator Fernando Collor de Mello, who was president from 1990-1992.

As a result of the scandal, the Court has issued a prohibition on corporate entities providing funding to political candidates.

For more information, please see:

Reuters – Brazil court allows allows Lula questioning in Petrobras corruption case – 2 October 2015

Wall Street Journal – Brazil Supreme Court Allows Police Questioning of Ex President – 2 October 2015

Agence France-Presse – Brazil high court: Lula can be questioned in Petrobras probe – 3 October 2015

Fox News Latino – Brazil high court OKs questioning of Lula in Petrobras corruption case – 3 October 2015

International Business Times – Petrobras Scandal: Brazil’s Highest Court Rules Authorities Can Question Former President Lula da Silva In Growing Political Kickback Investigation – 3 October 2015

Jurist – Brazil ex-president to be questioned in Petrobras case – 3 October 2015

 

 

 

Corruption and Economy Woes Threaten Rousseff’s Presidency

By Kaitlyn Degnan
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

BRASALIA, Brazil – Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff is struggling to maintain support amidst calls for her resignation following the conviction of Petrobras officials for organizing bribes to members of the Brazilian government in exchange for Korean contracts, paid out in funds stolen from the indebted oil company. Both the senate and the lower house are being investigated in the wake of the kickback scandal.

Protesters march on Copacabana Beach. (Photo courtesy of the BBC)

Rousseff served as chairwoman of Petrobras’ board in 2010, before her election to president and at the height of the kickbacks. Although she has officially been exonerated, many insist that she had to have had knowledge of the scheme. She has also been accused of receiving illegal contributions for her campaign, and that her government has misused state money to cover budget gaps.

President Rousseff has insisted that she will not resign.

Brazilians in past days have taken to the streets in protests, with many calling for the impeachment of President Rousseff. Protests drew thousands in Sao Paulo, Brasilia and Copacabana beach in Rio. The latest numbers list nation-wide support for the President to be as low as single digits (about 8 percent). Two out of three Brazilians surveyed think that Rousseff should be impeached, and her approval rating is currently the lowest of any Brazilian president since the end of military rule.

Protesters calling for impeachment do so despite the almost guaranteed instability that would follow. Pedro Lopes Siqueira, a public servant from Rio participating in the protests told the New York Times: “Impeachment would be momentarily destabilizing, but it’s allowed in the Constitution, and it needs to happen.

Some have even declared that they would welcome a military intervention as opposed to what is perceived by some as a highly corrupt government. Brazil recently celebrated 30 years since the end of the military dictatorship in March of this year.

This comes at a time where the Brazilian economy is struggling due to uncertainty and political corruption. Moody’s Investors Service reported that the Brazilian economy will contract about 2 percent this year. Businesses from motor vehicle manufacturers to small businesses and family owned restaurants have felt the effects of the economic downturn.

Business owners around the country have expressed concern regarding the potential repercussions if Rousseff is impeached – which will likely include a period of economic instability. Although business leaders and Rousseff historically have a rocky relationship, many have come out as unlikely allies of the president. “An impeachment is a traumatic affair that affects the political and business arena at a time when Brazil is struggling to regain its credibility abroad,” according to Alencar Burti, president of the Sao Paulo state Federation of Chambers of Commerce. The group represents 200,000 business owners in the area. They would be more in favor of some sort of economic deal.

Industrial groups and the media have also called for a deal to ensure stability.

 

For more information, please see:

The New York Times – Protests Across Brazil raise Pressure on President Dilma Rousseff – 16 August 2015

BBC – Brazilian protesters call for President Dilma Rousseff’s impeachment – 17 August 2015

Bloomberg Business – Brazil’s Political Crisis Puts the Entire Economy on Hold – 17 August 2015

The Guardian UK – Former Petrobras executive sentenced over alleged congressional bribe – 17 August 2015

Reuters – RPT – Big business could help Brazilian president survive political storms – 18 August 2015