This week’s likely top stories: Former Brazilian president investigated; Opposition gains influence in Bolivia; ICJ hearing on Bolivia-Chile border dispute begins; Puerto Rico legalizes medical marijuana; Costa Rican coast suffers chemical spill.
Report of an Inquiry into Lula Shocks Brazil: On Friday, Brazilians were shaken by news of a probe regarding possible influence-peddling by former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (2003-2010). The anti-corruption division of the Public Ministry is examining da Silva’s relationship with Odebrecht, one of the largest companies in Brazil, and whether he used his position as president to get loans for Odebrecht from the Banco Nacional de Desenvolvimento Econômico e Social (Brazilian National Development Bank—BNDES). An Odebrecht spokesperson denied any misconduct, and da Silva did not address the investigation on Friday when speaking on International Worker’s Day. The inquiry will determine whether or not there is reason to open a wider investigation. The governing Partido dos Trabalhadores (Workers’ Party—PT) has suffered recently, with current President Dilma Rousseff, da Silva’s successor, also tainted by a corruption scandal involving the PT and the state-owned oil firm, Petrobras. However, investigations have not uncovered any wrongdoing by Rousseff.
Opposition Wins Runoff in Bolivia: On Sunday, Bolivian citizens from Beni and Tarija voted in runoff municipal elections after the initial elections failed to produce clear winners. The ruling Movimiento al Socialismo party (Movement Towards Socialism—MAS) prevailed in five of nine states in March 2015. The opposition won in both Beni and Tarija yesterday, giving the opposition a stronghold in the four richest states in Bolivia, which includes La Paz. Carlos Dellien from Nacer beat Alex Ferrier of MAS in Beni. In Tarija, Adrián Oliva of the Unidad Demócrata coalition (Democratic Unity) beat Pablo Canedo by a wide margin (61 percent to 38 percent).
ICJ Hearing on Bolivia-Chile Maritime Dispute Begins: On Monday, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague will hear preliminary arguments on the maritime case that Bolivia brought against Chile in April of 2013. Felipe Bulnes, the former Chilean ambassador to the U.S., will speak today, arguing Chile’s position that their border dispute was already settled in 1904 by a previous agreement, and that the ICJ does not have jurisdiction over the matter. On Wednesday, the Bolivian delegation is expected to speak, reiterating the Bolivian right to sovereign access to the sea. The ICJ will have until the end of 2015 to determine whether or not the case is under its jurisdiction. The maritime dispute has been a source of tension between the two countries for decades.
Puerto Rico Legalizes Medical Marijuana: On Sunday, Puerto Rican governor Alejandro García Padilla signed an executive order legalizing the sale of medical marijuana. Puerto Rico’s Health Secretary will have three months to publish a report outlining how the island will implement the order. Governor García Padilla also noted that the government will be defining which conditions will be authorized for medical use of marijuana. Prior to the announcement, all marijuana use in Puerto Rico was illegal and could incur a fine of $5,000 and up to 5 years in prison. Puerto Rico currently holds over $70 billion in public debt, and taxes charged from medical marijuana could be a way to fill government coffers.
Costa Rican Boat Sinks, Spilling Toxic Chemicals: On Saturday, a boat carrying 180 tons of ammonium nitrate sank off of Costa Rica’s Pacific Coast close to the tourist town of Punta Arenas. Costa Rican authorities issued an emergency alert along approximately 100 kilometers of coastline, due to the toxicity of the chemicals. The Comisión Nacional de Emergencias (National Emergency Commission—CNE) recommended citizens to stay out of the water until the damage had been assessed. A government spokesperson noted that the alert was simply preventive and officials claimed that the government would begin an investigation into who was responsible for the accident as soon as possible.