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Brazil’s top court rules against da Silva on prison

April 05, 2018

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Brazil’s top court voted narrowly in the early hours Thursday to turn down an attempt by former President Luiz Inacio da Silva to stay out of jail while he appeals a corruption conviction, a decision that will have widespread implications in this polarized nation.

After nearly 11 hours of often heated debate, the justices of the Supreme Federal Tribunal voted 6-5 to deny da Silva’s preventative habeas corpus request to stave off a 12-year jail sentence while he fights a conviction in a case that he argues was nothing more than a ploy to keep him off of October’s presidential ballot.

Despite the conviction and several other corruption charges pending against him, da Silva leads all preference polls for the election. The decision means he will likely be jailed soon, though probably not until at least next week thanks to various technicalities.

Within minutes of the decision, da Silva’s Workers’ Party, which held Brazil’s presidency from 2003 to 2016, put out a tweet that foreshadowed the struggles to come. “The Brazilian people have the right to vote for Lula, the candidate of hope,” it read. “The Workers’ Party will defend this candidacy on the streets and in every court until the last consequences.”

The court’s debate underscored how fraught the matter is at a time of high tension and angst in Brazil, which is struggling to emerge from a crippling recession and is four years into a major corruption scandal that has ensnared much of the country’s elite, including da Silva.

“The constitution secures individual rights, which are fundamental to democracy, but it also assures the exercise of criminal law,” said Chief Justice Carmen Lucia, who cast the deciding vote after spending much of the session being criticized by colleagues.

Justice Gilmar Mendes, traditionally a critic of da Silva, voted in favor of the former leader’s petition to stay out of jail, challenging his colleagues to buck pressure from society. “If a court bows (to pressure), it might as well not exist,” said Mendes.

Justice Luis Roberto Barroso argued that the integrity of the justice system was at stake. “A penal system that doesn’t work with minimal effectiveness leads to an instinct for taking justice into one’s own hands,” said Barroso, who voted against the petition.

Justice Rosa Weber, who legal analysts predicted would be key because there was much doubt about her position on the matter, voted against da Silva. In one of several brisk exchanges, after Weber’s vote, justice Marco Aurelio Mello accused Lucia of plotting against da Silva’s case. Mello said limiting the vote just to the habeas corpus petition and not the larger question of when a convict should be forced to begin serving a sentence helped sway Weber’s vote.

“I want this to be registered in the court’s records,” Mello told Lucia, who responded by saying “yes” to the request. The session reflected the debate happening across Brazil as millions tuned into the televised session. When the decision was leveled, fireworks and yells could be heard and seen in Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo, two of the nation’s most important cities.

Da Silva was once wildly popular after his two terms as president from 2003 to 2010, but he has become a polarizing figure amid the “Car Wash” corruption scandal that has roiled Brazil the last several years and made average citizens furious with the political class.

Da Silva was convicted in July of helping a construction company get sweetheart contracts in exchange for the promise of a beachfront apartment. He denies any wrongdoing in that case or in several other corruption cases that have yet to be tried. An appeals court upheld the conviction in January, and the three reviewing magistrates even lengthened the sentence to 12 years and one month.

Technically, the Supreme Federal Tribunal’s decision doesn’t keep da Silva off the ballot. The country’s top electoral court makes final decisions about candidacies beginning in August, but it has been expected to deny da Silva’s candidacy under Brazil’s “clean slate” law, which disqualifies people who have had criminal convictions upheld.

Thursday’s decision was about much more than the future of a once towering politician trying to make a comeback. Many legal observers had said that allowing da Silva to stay out of jail could have a big impact on all the other cases related to “Car Wash” and other white-collar criminals with the means to continue appealing.

Congressman Jair Bolsonaro, a right-leaning legislator who is running second in the polls behind da Silva, summed up what many da Silva detractors were likely thinking. “Brazil hopes that after today’s vote Sergio Moro is able to order his arrest to show corruption doesn’t work,” Bolsonaro said while demonstrating outside Congress in Brasilia during the session. “We should never do politics like this again. Crooks should not have votes. They should have a cell.”


The Tuxá Indigenous Paradise, Submerged under Water

The Tuxá Indigenous Paradise, Submerged under Water

By Fabiana Frayssinet

RODELAS, Brazil, Sep 30 2017 (IPS) – The Tuxá indigenous people had lived for centuries in the north of the Brazilian state of Bahia, on the banks of the São Francisco River. But in 1988 their territory was flooded by the Itaparica hydropower plant, and since then they have become landless. Their roots are now buried under the waters of the reservoir.

Dorinha Tuxá, one of the leaders of this native community, which currently has between 1,500 and 2,000 inhabitants, sings on the shore of what they still call “river”, although now it is an 828-sq-km reservoir, in the northeastern state of Pernambuco, along the border with the state of Bahia, to the south.

While singing the song dedicated to their “sacred” river and smoking her “maraku”, a pipe with tobacco and ritual herbs, she looks dreamily at the waters where the “Widow’s Island” was submerged, one of several that sprinkled the lower course of the São Francisco River, and on which the members of her community used to live.

“This song is to ask our community for unity, because in this struggle we are asking for the strength of our ancestors to help us recover our territory. A landless indigenous person is a naked indigenous person. We are asking our ancestors to bless us in this battle and protect our warriors,” she told IPS.

The hydroelectric plant, with a capacity of 1,480 megawatts, is one of eight installed by the São Francisco Hydroelectric Company (CHESF), whose operations are centered on that river which runs across much of the Brazilian Northeast region: 2,914 km from its source in the center of the country to the point where it flows into the Atlantic Ocean in the northeast.

After the flood, the Tuxá people were relocated to three municipalities. Some were settled in Nova Rodelas, a hamlet in the rural municipality of Rodelas, in the state of Bahia, where Dorinha Tuxá lives.

After a 19-year legal battle, the 442 relocated Tuxá families finally received compensation from the CHESF. But they are still waiting for the 4,000 hectares that were agreed upon when they were displaced, and which must be handed over to them by state agencies.

“What nostalgia for that blessed land where we were born and which did not let us lack for anything. The river where we used to fish. I have such nostalgia for that time, from my childhood to my marriage. We were indeed a suffering and stoic but optimistic people. We grew rice, onions, we harvested mangoes. All that is gone,” Tuxá chief Manoel Jurum Afé told IPS.

The new village is very different from the community where they used to live on their island.

Only the soccer field, where children play, retains the shape of traditional indigenous Tuxá constructions.

But the elders strive to transmit their collective memory to the young, such as Luiza de Oliveira, who was baptized with the indigenous name of Aluna Flexia Tuxá.

She is studying law to continue her people’s struggle for land and rights. Her mother, like many other Tuxá women, also played an important role as chief, or community leader.

“It was as if they lived in a paradise. They had no need to beg the government like they have to do now. They used to plant everything, beans, cassava. They lived together in complete harmony. They talk about it with nostalgia. It was a paradise that came to an end when it was flooded,” she said.

After three decades of living with other local people, the Tuxás stopped wearing their native clothes, although for special occasions and rituals they put on their “cocares” (traditional feather headdresses).

They welcomed IPS with a “toré” – a collective dance open to outsiders. Another religious ceremony, “the particular”, is reserved for members of the community. That is how they honour the “enchanted”, their spirits or reincarnated ancestors.

But they are also Catholics and very devoted to Saint John the Baptist, patron saint of Rodelas, which was named after Captain Francisco Rodelas, considered the first chief who fought alongside the Portuguese against the Dutch occupation of northeast Brazil in the 17th century.

Armando Apaká Caramuru Tuxá is a “pajé” – guardian of the Tuxá traditions.

“The waters covered the land where our ancestors lived. Many times I saw my grandfather sitting at the foot of a jua (Ziziphus joazeiro, a tree typical of the eco-region of the semi-arid Northeast), there on the island talking to them up there (in the sky),” he said.

“We lost all that. That place which was sacred to us was submerged under water,” he said, sadly.

The Tuxá people, who for centuries were fishermen, hunters, gatherers and farmers, practically gave up their subsistence crops in their new location.

Some bought small parcels of land and grow cash crops, such as coconuts.

“We need to improve our quality of life. Before we used to live on what we produced from agriculture and fishing. Today that is not possible, so we want to return to agriculture, and to do that we need our land,” Chief Uilton Tuxá told IPS.

In 2014, a decree declared some 4,392 hectares of land an “area of social interest” in order to expropriate it and transfer it to the Tuxá people.

In June of this year, they won a lawsuit in a federal court, which ruled that the National Indigenous Foundation (Funai) had three months to create a working group to begin the demarcation process. It also set a new compensation to be paid to the Tuxá people.

But distrustful of the state bureaucracy and the courts, the Tuxá people decided to occupy Surubabel, the area near their village, on the banks of the reservoir, which was expropriated in order for it to be demarcated in their favor, but this never happened.

They began to build a new village there, in what they call “the recovery” of their lands.

“The occupation of this land by us, the Tuxá people, represents the rekindling of the flame of our identity as an indigenous people native to this riverbank. We were already here, since the beginning of the colonization process, even in the 16th century when the first catechists arrived,” argued Uilton Tuxá.

“We want to build this small village for the government to fulfill its obligations and the order to delimit our territory,” he said.

During the week they have other activities. They are public employees or work on their plots of land. But on Saturdays they load their tools in their vehicles and build their houses in the traditional way.

“Nowadays a lot of land in this sacred territory of the Tuxás is being invaded by non-indigenous people and also by indigenous people from other ethnic groups,” chief Xirlene Liliana Xurichana Tuxá told IPS.

“We were the first indigenous people from the Northeast to be recognized and we are the last to have the right to our land. This is just the beginning. If the justice system does not grant us our right to continue the dialogue, we will adopt forceful measures, we will mobilize. We are tired of being the good guys,” she warned, speaking as a community leader.

Meanwhile, the small portion of their ancestral land that was not submerged, and the land they occupy now, are threatened by new megaprojects.

These lands were left in the middle of two canals, on the north axis of the diversion of the São Francisco River, a project that is still under construction, which is to supply 12 million people with water.

“The Tuxá people have suffered impacts, above and beyond the dam. There is also the diversion of the river and the possibility that they might build a nuclear plant will also affect us,” said Uilton Tuxá, smoking his marakú during a break.

They say the marakú attracts protective forces. And this time they hope these forces will help them to get the land promised to them when their ancestral land was taken away, and that they will not lose it again to new megaprojects.

Source: Inter-Press Service (IPS).


Brazil’s top court favors indigenous groups in land dispute

August 17, 2017

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Brazil’s top court ruled Wednesday against a state that sought federal compensation for lands used to create three indigenous reserves, delivering a landmark decision seen as a defeat for groups trying to limit native land claims.

Mato Grosso, a large Brazilian state on the border with Bolivia, had argued the reserves were created in the 1960s on state lands. In an 8-0 decision, the Supreme Federal Tribunal disagreed, saying the land was owned by the federal government and it had the right to hand over the territory to the indigenous communities.

Sonia Guajajara, an indigenous leader from the northern state of Maranhao, called the ruling a “great conquest in a time when rights are being rolled back.” Her comment alluded to claims by indigenous communities that their way of life has increasingly come under fire during the administration of President Michel Temer.

Last month, Temer signed a recommendation to block the demarcation of any land on which indigenous people were not living by 1988, the year of Brazil’s latest constitution. Indigenous advocates rejected the proposal, arguing that many native communities had been violently forced from their lands before that date. They accuse Temer of signing the recommendation to cater to the interests of the powerful agribusiness bloc in Congress who he depends on to stay in power.

“It is conceivable that he will try to promote another similar measure” for the same reason, said Cleber Buzatto, spokesman for the Indigenous Missionary Council. There are more than 700 requests for the demarcation of indigenous land pending and Temer has not signed one of them during his 16 months in power.

Troops deploy in Rio de Janeiro amid increasing violence

July 29, 2017

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Thousands of soldiers began patrolling Rio de Janeiro on Friday amid a spike in violence in Brazil’s second-largest city. The deployment of 8,500 soldiers, plus hundreds of police and highway patrol officers, is aimed at fighting organized crime gangs, which control many of the city’s hundreds of slums.

Defense Minister Raul Jungmann said patrols would soon start participating in operations against drug traffickers. That is a break from previous duties that were limited to patrolling, manning checkpoints and recovering caches of weapons seized during police raids. The operation is scheduled to run until the end of 2018.

Some troops began deploying in the afternoon, with trucks full of soldiers seen rolling over bridges and expressways. While the main efforts were concentrated in the city’s north, where violence is most pervasive, armored vehicles were also patrolling the quiet surroundings of the Santos Dumont airport. As the sun set, a dozen soldiers with rifles in hand stood silhouetted against Guanabara Bay.

“I’m not really sure what they are doing here, since the crime they have to fight is in the other side of the city,” said Almir Soares, a passer-by. He called the deployment a stunt, but then conceded that the military operation could deter violence where it is actually needed.

Three people on average were killed each day by stray bullets in the first six months of the year in Rio de Janeiro. That mounting number, plus criminal assaults and increasing shootouts between drug traffickers and police, have led authorities in recent weeks to acknowledge that much of the city is out of their control.

Last year, 85,000 troops were used to bolster security around the venues of the 2016 Summer Olympics held in Rio. Public security experts say Brazil’s worst recession in decades is exacerbating the situation.

Norway to Brazil: Curb deforestation or we stop the money

June 23, 2017

COPENHAGEN, Denmark (AP) — Norway’s prime minister warned Brazil’s president on Friday to curb deforestation in the Amazon or Norway will reduce its financial contribution to the project this year. The announcement comes as the Amazon and Atlantic rainforests are being cut down at the fastest rate in nearly a decade, according to official Brazilian figures.

Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg said Norway’s more than $1 billion contribution to the so-called Amazon fund is “based on results,” Norway’s NTB news agency said. Since 2001, Norway has donated billions to encourage the conservation of forests.

“If preliminary figures about deforestation in 2016 are confirmed, it will lead to a reduced payout in 2017,” Solberg said after meeting with Brazilian President Michel Temer in Oslo. Temer praised Norway’s contribution to the fund but declined to take questions from media after he and Solberg had made their statements.

“This contribution has enabled us to make a more effective impact to avoiding deforestation,” Temer said, according to NTB. Temer said Monday he had vetoed legislation to reduce the size of protected environmental reserves. However, the apparent victory for environmental groups most likely will be short-lived, as Brazilian Environment Minister Jose Sarney Filho is working on similar legislation.

The legislation passed by Brazil’s Congress last month would have converted around 1.4 million acres (566,000 hectares) of protected land into areas open to logging, mining and agricultural use. However, last week, Filho announced plans to create a new expedited bill that would convert 1.1 million acres of protected land to other uses.

Last year, deforestation in the Amazon jumped 29 percent over the previous year, according to the Brazilian government’s satellite monitoring. That was the highest rate since 2008. Before his meeting with Solberg, Temer was met by protesters holding posters reading “Stop rainforest destruction” and “Respect indigenous peoples’ rights” as he arrived at the prime minister’s office in Oslo.

Brazil’s Temer gets big victory in electoral court ruling

June 10, 2017

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Brazil’s top electoral court gave embattled President Michel Temer a big victory late Friday, voting to reject allegations of campaign finance violations that could have removed him from office.

After four days of deliberations, judges voted 4-3 in a case that many viewed as a measure of whether Temer could remain in office amid a ballooning corruption scandal and single-digit popularity. Last month, a recording emerged that apparently captured Temer endorsing hush money to ex-House Speaker Eduardo Cunha, a former Temer ally serving 15 years in prison for corruption and money laundering. Soon after that, details of another bombshell came out: that Temer was being investigated for allegedly receiving bribes.

Temer has denied wrongdoing and vowed to stay in office. “The facts are very serious, unbearable,” said Judge Luiz Fux, who voted to remove Temer, adding the campaign finance case was about “very serious crimes.”

Judge Gilmar Mendes, who has called Temer “a friend of many years,” cast the decisive vote to keep Temer in office. Mendes, also a justice on the Supreme Federal Tribunal, the country’s highest court, argued that electoral laws needed reform, suggesting that politicians should not pay the price for a broken system.

“The system needs stability. It is very easy to talk about morality, fighting against corruption. I want that too,” said Mendes, who in the past has come to the aid of other politicians facing legal trouble. “A president can’t just be replaced at any time, even if the desire is there.”

The campaign finance case was filed shortly after the 2014 presidential election by one of the losing parties. It alleged that the ticket of President Dilma Rousseff and running mate Temer, then the vice presidential candidate, gained an unfair advantage through illegal campaign contributions. Temer took over the presidency last year after Rousseff was impeached and removed for illegally managing the federal budget.

The campaign finance allegations were bolstered in recent months by stunning testimony from plea bargains signed by current and former executives at the construction giant Odebrecht, a company at the center of a colossal investigation into billions of dollars in inflated contracts and kickbacks to politicians. The executives provided shocking details of tens of millions of dollars in bribes and illegal campaign contributions, including to the Rousseff-Temer ticket.

In their deliberations, the judges argued about whether those plea bargains should be considered in their decision. They also clashed over the strength of the original evidence and whether punishments should be doled out when illegal campaign finance was widespread.

A guilty verdict would have annulled the 2014 victory, thus stripping Temer of the rest of his mandate. It could also have stripped both Rousseff and Temer of political rights for eight years. While Temer had vowed to appeal a conviction, it would have weakened his hand in a climate of several corruption scandals and a public furious about it.

“Temer will stay in office and probably face many demonstrations in the streets,” said Alexandre Barros, a political risk consultant with the Brasilia-based firm Early Warning. “I don’t think anybody is in the mood to decide something unexpected at this point.”

The political turmoil in Brazil — that began with the push last year to remove Rousseff from power for violating budget laws — has reached a fever pitch. There are near weekly protests calling for Temer’s ouster, frequent shouting matches in Congress, and a simmering debate in the media over whether Temer will manage to finish out his term.

That atmosphere was reflected in the courtroom, where there were several tense moments. Among the most dramatic came during the opening of the afternoon session Friday, when a prosecutor requested the disqualification of one of the judges who had once been a lawyer for Rousseff and one justice decried articles in the press that linked him to a corruption investigation. As the tension in the chamber rose, the court’s president called a brief break.

While Temer has survived another day, the future will be difficult. His already very low popularity has plunged further amid the corruption allegations. A Temer ally and former congressman, captured on video by federal police carrying a suitcase full of bribe money, was recently jailed — and any testimony he provides could further implicate Temer.

The main parties in Temer’s coalition have stuck with him so far, but several reports have reflected worry that being associated with his could be detrimental to re-election campaigns next year. Ironically, Temer’s strongest argument to stay in power is that he can deliver major reforms to labor laws and the country’s pension system. While deeply unpopular among Brazilians, many economists have argued they are necessary to help pull Latin America’s largest nation from recession and many members of Congress want them passed, if anything to be able to point at something besides widespread corruption.

“Temer will argue, ‘I’m the guy who is going to give the country the bitter remedy that will cure it,” said Carlos Manhanelli, political marketing specialist and chairman of the Brazilian Association of Political Consultants.

Associated Press reporter Sarah DiLorenzo contributed to this report from Sao Paulo.

Striking military police in Brazil agree to return to work

February 11, 2017

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — The government of Brazil’s southeastern state of Espirito Santo and military police have reached an agreement to end a strike that had paralyzed several cities and led to an uptick in violence.

The agreement reached late Friday came after a week of strikes led by family members of the officers. Wives and other relatives blocked their barracks to demand higher pay for the officers. The government had indicted more than 700 officers for allegedly refusing to work.

The Espirito Santo government released a letter outlining the agreement, which was published by news portal G1. As part of the agreement, the government would not pursue criminal action against officers who returned to work Saturday.

State authorities did not agree to the demand for pay raises, but said they would analyze the system of promotions. Some family members interviewed by local media said they had not been consulted and did not agree, raising the possibility that some barracks might continue to be blocked on Saturday.

Because of the absence of police patrols, schools have been closed and medical services at public hospitals interrupted. Public transportation has been suspended and some shops have been looted. Espirito Santo neighbors the state of Rio de Janeiro to the north. The strike there inspired a handful of much smaller family protests in Rio on Friday. However, in Rio family members did not block barracks, instead demonstrating peacefully outside them.

In Espirito Santo, the union representing civil police officers said 121 people have been killed since police stopped patrolling the streets. The state government has not released a death toll. Earlier this week, Espirito Santo turned over security duties to the army, which has sent 1,200 troops to help quell the violence.

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