Browsing articles from "October, 2011"
Oct 29, 2011
Center for Democracy and Civil Society

Another Latin American Truth Commission

As a former victim of torture herself, it must be pleasing to Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff that she gets to sign into law the bill setting up a Truth Commission to investigate crimes and human rights violations occurred (not only, but also) during Brazil’s military dictatorship (1984-1925). But it does not come without some very dark clouds.

The Commission passed the Senate just last week. Brazil is an anomaly of sorts amongst its neighbors, most of which have started investigating their own dictatorships years earlier. And the country still keeps intact its amnesty law, meaning the Commission’s findings cannot lead to prosecutions.

That creates loads of noise internationally. The Inter-American Court of Human Rights ruled in December that the Brazilian amnesty law is invalid, but nothing came out of that. And even though it is very difficult to transition to democracy without some sort of amnesty (at least if bloodshed is to be avoided), plenty of countries have scrapped theirs after a while. Uruguay, for one, has just voted to revoke its amnesty law last week. Argentina and Chile have had prosecutions too, and are still working on uncovering the crimes of their dictatorships.

I recently asked Peter Kornbluh, one of the directors of the National Security Archives at George Washington University, what he thought of the debate. “Truth commissions are not always about prosecuting people–it is nice when they are, but in other cases they weren’t and still represented a major step toward justice”, he said.

But it was not all good news. To Peter, “the law as passed is a major political compromise”. “It is weak and explicitly resistant to cause of justice for human rights crimes committed during the military dictatorship. It will be up to the President to now empower the commission with a staff and leadership committed to ascertaining the truth of these crimes. And truth is a powerful social force that can eventually lead to justice, as we have seen in countries like Chile where the process also began with a politically hobbled, and Pinochet threatened, truth commission. This is the moment for the Brazilian state to find the morality and courage to confront its dark past.”

All in all, truth commissions have been set in over 20 countries. The Brazilian one should work for two years and have seven members appointed by Rousseff. It can investigate violations occurred from 1946 until 1988.

Once its final report is out and names have been named, I expect a lot more pressure against the amnesty law. This is just the beginning.

Oct 26, 2011
Center for Democracy and Civil Society

Another One Bites the Dust

Quick update on Monday’s post: Orlando Silva, the Brazilian minister of Sports, left the position after a meeting with president Dilma Rousseff tonight. Accused of corruption, Silva said he leaves to “save his honor”. He is the 6th minister to leave Rousseff’s cabinet since her inauguration in january _five of which were accused of numerous irregularities. In many democracies, that would be considered a crisis.

Oct 24, 2011
Center for Democracy and Civil Society

Brazil Braces for More Corruption

When Brazil won the right to host the 2014 World Cup, half of the country celebrated. The other half had something else in mind _ the corruption that was expected to come from it. That fear has just increased exponentially by the latest scandal in Brazilian politics, involving the misuse of at least 17 million reais (US$ 9,7 million) by the Sports Ministry (some say it is more than 2 times that).

The main suspect is the Sports minister himself, Orlando Silva, who has been accused of using contractors to illegally channel money to his party, PC do B. Silva is the coordinator for the infrastructure projects related to the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics. Although FIFA, the international soccer association, has just said it does not want to deal with him anymore, he is still the person in charge on the government side. The minister denies any wrongdoing.

Also a suspect of corruption is the head of the Brazilian soccer association.

The amount of money circulating in Brazil because of the World Cup (and the 2016 Olympics as well) is way too large to be properly controlled. There is a need for quick decisions on contracting and also serious doubts about the country’s ability to be ready on time. All of that fosters an environment where embezzlement thrives.

“All World Cups are full of corruption”, told me a veteran brazilian sports reporter. “And this method of channeling money to parties is old news around here.” Granted, he is probably right, but this one is particularly sensitive for two reasons.

One is that even before these new temptations appeared, the record of public misuse of funds was familiar to Brazilians. It can hardly be called a “scandal” when it happens, since no one is shocked anymore. (Transparency International corruption index in 2010 ranked Brazil as n. 69, worse than Namibia, Georgia and Tunisia)..

Another reason is that Brazil has been trying really hard for the past 15 years to improve its stand in the world, and everybody is watching what happens with the World Cup. A series of corruption and governance problems now could be harmful.

This is spelling bad news for the Brazilian president, Dilma Rousseff. She has come out in support for Orlando Silva, and it has reflected negatively on her. Rousseff had pledged before a tough stance against corruption and already got rid of a number of officials in order to “clean the house”.

Maybe the risk of tarnishing the reputation of her cabinet while the world is watching is too high for Rousseff. But so are the dangers of trying to make the scandal go away.

Oct 22, 2011
Center for Democracy and Civil Society

Echoes of Qaddafi

It is not only amongst Qaddafi loyalists that the former Libyan dictator, killed yesterday, will be missed. The sentiment will be shared across the Atlantic in distant Venezuela, where Hugo Chávez said that his former ally will be remembered as a “martyr” and “a great fighter”.

Even for someone with a record of less-than-full-democratic tendencies, the comments are quite out of place. But the celebratory tone noted in the Western press was not shared in many other parts of Latin America either.

Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff, who is visiting Angola, said in a somber voice that “the death of any leader is not a cause for celebration”. “We believe that it is fundamental to resolve conflicts through negotiation. It is not just the war that causes damages, but also the post-war period and the effects of destruction on the population.” 

It is funny though that her reasonable comments came in the context of a meeting with Eduardo dos Santos, Angola’s leader, who after Qaddafi’s death climbs higher on the list of African presidents who have maintained power for longer periods of time. In Dos Santos’ case, it has been 32 years, the same as Teodoro Nguema, president of Equatorial Guinea.

I wonder how a bullet in the head of the Libyan leader echoes between the ears of other dictators throughout the continent.

Oct 21, 2011
Center for Democracy and Civil Society

Event: Turkey’s New Foreign Policy

Please join us for a talk on Turkey’s New Foreign Policy on Wednesday, October 26, 2011 from 3:00 – 5:00pm

Speakers include:

Daniel Brumberg (Co-Director of MA Democracy and Governance at Georgetown University)

Omer Taspinar (Director of Turkey Project, Center on the United States and Europe at the Brookings Institution

Yossi Shain (Professor of Department of Government at Georgetown University)

Fevzi Bilgin (Editor of The Washington Review of Turkish and Eurasian Affairs)

Sinan Ciddi (Director of Turkish Studies at Georgetown University)

Location: Intercultural Center (ICC) 241, Georgetown University, 37th O Street, NW, Washington, DC

Founded in 2004, Democracy and Society is a biannual print journal published by the Center for Democracy and Civil Society at Georgetown University. The D&S Blog provides web-only content, including special reports and investigative series, on issues relating to democracy and development.

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