Responding to weeks of protests in over 100 Brazilian cities against corruption and government spending, President Dilma Rousseff sent Congress a proposal package on Tuesday, which included a referendum to make the country’s political system more representative.
Even if it passes Congress, the non-binding plebiscite is not expected to take place before September. It would determine Brazilians’ opinions on the current structure of political party funding, the practice of using unelected Senate substitutes, the legislature’s current practice of anonymous voting, and the possibility of moving from a proportional to a representative system in the legislature.
Opposition leaders have cast the move as an attempt to regain popular support ahead of President Rousseff’s re-election campaign, given that her approval rating has dropped 27 percentage points since the protests began in June. Still, 68 percent of Brazilians support holding a plebiscite according to a Datafolha poll released on July 1 that was conducted from June 27 to June 28.
While the protests have ebbed following the end of the Confederations Cup on Sunday, dissatisfaction with health care, education and public transportation systems, as well as high inflation and a stagnated economy, could bring Brazilians back out into the streets.
General debate of the 67th Session of the UN General Assembly began today with presidents from across the region scheduled to address world leaders. A number of high-level meetings will also take place throughout the week, covering topics like the rule of law, sustainable energy, nutrition, countering nuclear terrorism, and the chemical weapons convention.
Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff delivered the first address this morning for the second year in a row. In her speech, she addressed poverty and gender equality as well as security in Syria and the rest of the Middle East. She also defended policies to protect domestic industries, emphasizing that it unfair for “legitimate trade defense initiatives by developing countries to be unfairly classified as protectionism.”
On Thursday, Paraguayan President Federico Franco will speak out against Paraguay’s suspension from Mercosur and condemn Venezuela’s incorporation into the trade bloc—decisions which he called “illegitimate and illegal.” Franco also plans to defend the nearly unanimous congressional impeachment process that ousted former President Fernando Lugo in January.
In addition to President Rousseff, other Latin American heads of state that are addressing the General Assembly today include President Danilo Medina of the Dominican Republic, President Porfirio Lobo of Honduras, President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner of Argentina, and President Mauricio Funes of El Salvador. On Wednesday President Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia, President Otto Pérez Molina of Guatemala, President Michel Martelly of Haiti, and President Evo Morales of Bolivia will address the body. Mexican President Felipe Calderón will give his final address. President Ollanta Humala will join President Franco in speaking on Thursday, while Chilean President Sebastian Piñera and Uruguyan President José Mujica will speak Friday and Saturday respectively. On the final day of general debate Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla, Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega and Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa will end the session.
Brazil’s Supreme Federal Court announced yesterday that it will investigate claims that Orlando Silva, Brazil’s sports minister, embezzled millions of dollars in public funds. The court has demanded that Silva and his ministry hand over relevant documents within 10 days.
The allegations took form when the influential Brazilian magazine Veja published a report earlier this month in which a former military office accused Silva of embezzlement from a government program that promotes sports for low-income youth. The kickbacks, in turn, were purportedly dumped into the coffers of Silva’s party, Partido Comunista Brasileiro (Brazilian Communist Party), which belongs to President Dilma Rousseff’s coalition.
This charge of corruption comes at a particularly sensitive time as Brazil steps up preparations for the 2014 FIFA World Cup. The event kicks off in less than 1,000 days and the responsibilities for its smooth operation fall under Silva’s portfolio. This is not the first setback as Brazil plans for the mega-event; last month, a federal judge ordered a halt to construction of a new terminal at São Paulo-Guaralhos International Airport because Infraero, Brazil’s airport authority, did not institute a formal bidding process for the contract. Also, in July, Alfredo Nascimento, then-minister of transportation, resigned from office due to alleged corruption although he denied culpability.
Since Rousseff took office in January 2011, Nascimento and other cabinet officials—the chief of staff, minister of agriculture and minister of tourism—have been forced to resign. Nevertheless, Rouseff enjoys a 71 percent popularity rating.
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Former President of Argentina Dies Suddenly
Néstor Kirchner, who served as the president of Argentina from 2003 to 2007, died after suffering a heart attack on October 27. A former governor from the Patagonian State of Santa Cruz, Kirchner won high approval ratings for steering his country through troubled waters to economic growth in the wake of a 2001 financial crisis. In 2005 his government negotiated the restructuring of the country’s $81 billion in bond debts and on December 15 of that year, he announced that Argentina would pay off its remaining $9.8 billion debt to the IMF. Despite his popularity, he chose not to seek reelection, yet played an active role as an advisor to his wife and successor, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. There was broad speculation that he would run for president again in 2011. The Christian Science Monitor describes Kirchner as a “Latin American statesman” and quotes ruling party congressman Juan Carlos Dante Gullo as saying, “This will leave a huge hole in Argentine politics.” Clárin.com explores Kirchner’s life as a powerbroker and carries ongoing coverage.
Read an AS/COA Online article about Kirchner’s political career.
Dilma Rousseff, the former cabinet chief for President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, accepted the formal nomination on Sunday of Lula’s Partido dos Trabalhadores (PT) for the October presidential election. Among her opponents will be José Serra of the Partido da Social Democracia Brasileira (PSDB) who also received his party’s nomination this past weekend.
In accepting her nomination, Rouseff pledged to continue Lula’s policy of reducing poverty and improve the tax system, but sought to distinguish herself from Lula as well, announcing that she would govern with the “heart and soul of a woman.”
Serra, an economist who has long served in state and federal government, criticized the current administration for turning a blind eye toward corruption and announced his concern for human rights issues. Lula has engaged closely with Cuba and Iran, despite their poor track record on human rights.
An Ibope poll released on June 5 reveals a close race, with each of the leading candidates registering 37 percent approval. It also showed that Rousseff is more popular among female supporters than her counterpart, Serra.
Lula is barred from a third consecutive term by the Brazilian constitution.