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Brazil Supreme Court Launches Investigation into President Jair Bolsonaro

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  • Brazil’s Supreme Court has launched an investigation into allegations that President Bolsonaro tried to interfere with the federal police by firing the head of the organization, which is the equivalent of Brazil’s FBI.
  • The allegations were brought forward by Brazil’s former Justice Minister who resigned on Friday because of Bolsonaro’s actions.
  • Brazilian newspapers allege that Bolsonaro fired the chief because the federal police were investigating two of Bolsonaro’s sons: one for embezzlement and mafia ties, and one for running a criminal fake news ring.
  • If wrongdoing is found, the investigation will likely form the basis of an impeachment trial. 

Investigation Launched

The Brazilian Supreme Court officially launched an investigation Monday evening into allegations that President Jair Bolsonaro attempted to interfere with the federal police for his own political gain.

The allegations were brought forward by Brazil’s former Justice Minister, Sérgio Moro. Moro made the accusation on Friday while announcing his resignation after Bolsonaro fired  Maurício Valeixo, the chief of the federal police force, which is the Brazilian equivalent of the FBI.

In his resignation speech, Moro said Bolsonaro fired Valeixo so that he could interfere with investigations and get access to classified information. Moro also claimed that Bolsonaro had told him multiple times he wanted to replace Valeixo with someone who would let him do so.

“The president emphasized to me, explicitly, more than once, that he wanted someone who was a personal contact, whom he could call, from whom he could get information, intelligence reports,” Moro said.

The former Justice Minister also reportedly sent photos of messages between him and the president to a popular nightly news show that seemed to back up his allegations.

Bolsonaro denied the accusations during a national address on Friday and said it was well within his power to fire the police chief.

“The appointment is mine, the prerogative is mine and the day I have to submit to any of my subordinates I cease to be president of the republic,” he said.

Questionable Timing

However, some believe that the timing of Bolsonaro’s decision is highly suspicious.

Over the weekend, at least two prominent Brazilian newspapers claimed that Bolsonaro decided to fire Valeixo now because the federal police investigating a criminal fake news operation were closing in on his son, Carlos Bolsonaro, who is a state lawmaker.

According to those reports, the federal police are investigating Carlos Bolsonaro because they suspect him of being a key leader of a criminal scheme that spreads false information to threaten and intimidate Brazilian authorities.

On top of that, another one of the president’s sons, Flávio Bolsonaro, who is a Senator, is also under federal police investigation for his alleged involvement in a money-laundering scheme and ties to the mafia.

All three Bolsonaro men have all denied the accusations.

Path to Impeachment

The decision to launch the investigation is quite significant because it is the first step on the path to impeachment.

Right now, the Supreme Court has given the federal police 60 days to carry out an investigation. If they find that Bolsonaro engaged in illegal wrongdoing, those allegations could form the basis for an impeachment trial, but it is unclear how far that will go. 

On Tuesday, Bolsonaro appointed the director of Brazil’s intelligence agency, Alexandre Ramagem, to be the chief of the federal police.

Ramagem oversaw security for Bolsonaro’s presidential campaign and is reportedly a close family friend. Now, the new head of the body investigating Bolsonaro is not only an ally of his but a personal contact— exactly what Moro said the president wanted all along.

Ramagem is also a friend of Carlos Bolsonaro, according to some Brazilian news outlets, which circulated a picture of the two at a New Year’s Eve party last year that was posted on Carlos’s Instagram.

Even if an impeachment trial were to go forward, before moving to the Supreme Court, any indictment would have to be approved by the lower house of Congress, which is currently full of Bolsononaro’s supporters.

Approval Ratings

At the same time, these allegations, which have been described by some as the worst political crisis since he took office, also come as Bolsonaro has been significantly weakened politically.

Bolsonaro is a mountain of criticism for his continued efforts to downplay the coronavirus, which has killed over 4,600 people in Brazil— the most deaths in all of South America.

As a result, Bolsonaro’s approval ratings have fallen, and many of his key allies to jumped ship. Now, Moro’s departure could hurt him even more.

According to reports, Moro was one of the most popular ministers in Bolsonaro’s administration. He was well known for being the judge that oversaw the high-profile anti-corruption investigation known as Operation Car Wash.

For Bolsonaro, who was elected after running on a strict anti-corruption platform, Moro brought in an important base of supporters, as well as the appearance that the administration had a strong respect for the rule of law. 

But now, Bolsonaro is likely to lose at least part of that base and that key support, and the fallout from the political turmoil is already being reflected in polls.

According to the Washington Post, one poll from Monday showed that 57% of Brazilians supported Bolsonaro’s impeachment.

However, another poll from Monday found that 48% oppose impeaching Bolsonaro while 45% of those want to see him impeached— though that difference is within the margin of error for the poll.

Notably, that same poll also found that 52% of those polled thought Moro was telling the truth and only 20% said they believed Bolsonaro’s version.

Another thing to note is the fact that there is a solid precedent for impeachment in Brazil. Just since the military dictatorship ended in the 1980s, three presidents have been impeached, the most recent of whom was former President Dilma Rousseff, who removed in 2016 for breaking budgetary laws.

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (Reuters) (The Guardian)

International

Israel Relaxes Abortion Restrictions in Response to U.S. Supreme Court Ruling

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The reforms follow similar moves by France and Germany as leaders across the political spectrum denounce the court’s decision.


Health Minister Makes Announcement

Israel is easing access to abortion in response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s repeal of Roe v. Wade, Nitzan Horowitz, the country’s health minister and head of the small left-wing Meretz party, announced Monday.

“The U.S. Supreme Court’s move to deny a woman the right to abortion is a dark move,” he said in the announcement, “oppressing women and returning the leader of the free and liberal world a hundred years backward.”

The new rules, approved by a majority in the parliamentary committee, grant women access to abortion pills through the universal health system. Women will be able to obtain the pills at local health centers rather than only hospitals and surgical clinics.

The new policy also removes the decades-old requirement for women to physically appear before a special committee that must grant approval to terminate a pregnancy.

While women will still need to get approval, the process will become digitized, the application form will be simplified, and the requirement to meet a social worker will become optional.

The committee will only conduct hearings in the rare case it initially denies the abortion procedure.

Israel’s 1977 abortion law stipulates four criteria for termination of pregnancy: If the woman is under 18 or over 40, if the fetus is in danger, if the pregnancy is the result of rape, incest, or an “illicit union,” including extramarital affairs, and if the woman’s mental or physical health is at risk.

All of the changes will take effect over the next three months.

The World Reacts

Politicians across the political spectrum from Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson have denounced the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision since it was announced Friday.

On Saturday, French Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne expressed support for a bill proposed by parliament that would enshrine the right to an abortion in the country’s constitution.

“For all women, for human rights, we must set this gain in stone,” she wrote on Twitter. “Parliament must be able to unite overwhelmingly over this text.”

Germany scrapped a Nazi-era law prohibiting the promotion of abortion Friday, just hours before the U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

In Israel, abortion is a far less controversial issue than it is for Americans. Around 98% of people who apply for an abortion get one, according to the country’s Central Bureau of Statistics.

Part of the reason for Israel’s relatively easy access to abortion is that many residents interpret Jewish law to condone, or at least not prohibit, the procedure.

In the United States, several Jewish organizations including the American Jewish Committee, Hillel International, and the Women’s Rabbinic Network have expressed opposition to the court ruling, and some Jews have protested it as a violation of their religious freedom.

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (ABC News) (The Guardian)

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Flight Deporting Refugees From U.K. to Rwanda Canceled at Last Hour

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The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights said the U.K.’s asylum policy sets a “catastrophic” precedent.


Saved By The Bell

The inaugural flight in the U.K. government’s plan to deport some asylum seekers to Rwanda was canceled about an hour and a half before it was supposed to take off Tuesday evening.

A last-minute legal intervention by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) halted the flight. Tuesday’s flight originally included 37 people, but after a string of legal challenges that number dwindled to just seven.

In its ruling for one of the seven passengers, a 54-year-old Iraqi man, the court said he cannot be deported until three weeks after the delivery of the final domestic decision in his ongoing judicial review proceedings.

Another asylum seeker, a 26-year-old Albanian man, told The Guardian he was in a “very bad mental state” and did not want to go to Rwanda, a country he knows nothing about.

“I was exploited by traffickers in Albania for six months,” he said. “They trafficked me to France. I did not know which country I was being taken to.”

A final domestic effort to block the flight in the Court of Appeals failed on Monday. The High Court will make a ruling on the asylum policy next month.

Britains Divided by Controversial Policy

U.K. Home Secretary Priti Patel spoke to lawmakers after the flight was canceled, defending the asylum policy and saying preparations for the next flight will begin immediately.

“We cannot keep on spending nearly £5 million a day on accommodation including that of hotels,” she said. “We cannot accept this intolerable pressure on public services and local communities.”

“It makes us less safe as a nation because those who come here illegally do not have the regularized checks or even the regularized status, and because evil people-smuggling gangs use the proceeds of their ill-gotten gains to fund other appalling crimes that undermine the security of our country,” she continued.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Filippo Grandi, told CBC the policy sets a “catastrophic” precedent.

“We believe that this is all wrong,” he said. “This is all wrong. I mean, saving people from dangerous journeys is great, is absolutely great. But is that the right way to do it? Is that the right, is that the real motivation for this deal to happen? I don’t think so. I think it’s… I don’t know what it is.”

An Iranian asylum seeker in a British detention center who was told to prepare for deportation before being granted a late reprieve was asked by ABC whether he ever thought the U.K. would send him to Africa.

“I thought in the U.K. there were human rights,” he said. “But so far I haven’t seen any evidence.”

The Conservative government’s plan was announced in April, when it said it would resettle some asylum seekers 4,000 miles away in Rwanda, where they can seek permanent refugee status, apply to settle there on other grounds, or seek asylum in a safe third country.

The scheme was meant to deter migrants from illegally smuggling themselves into the country by boat or truck.

Migrants have long made the dangerous journey from Northern France across the English Channel, with over 28,000 entering the U.K. in boats last year, up from around 8,500 the year prior. Dozens of people have died making the trek, including 27 who drowned last November when a single boat capsized.

See what others are saying: (BBC) (The Guardian) (CNN)

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Ryanair Draws Outrage, Accusations of Racism After Making South Africans Take Test in Afrikaans

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Afrikaans, which is only spoken as a first language by around 13% of South Africa, has not been the country’s national language since apartheid came to an end in 1994.


Airline Won’t Explain Discrimination

Ryanair, Europe’s largest airline, has received widespread criticism and accusations of racism after it began requiring South African nationals to complete a test in Afrikaans to prove their passport isn’t fraudulent.

The airline told BBC the new policy was implemented because of “substantially increased cases of fraudulent South African passports being used to enter the U.K.”

Among other questions, the test asks passengers to name South Africa’s president, its capital city, and one national public holiday.

Ryanair has not said why it chose Afrikaans, the Dutch colonial language that many associate with white minority rule, for the test.

There are 11 official languages in South Africa, and Afrikaans ranks third for usage below Zulu and IsiXhosa. Only around 13% of South Africans speak Afrikaans as their first language.

“They’re using this in a manner that is utterly absurd,” Conrad Steenkamp, CEO of the Afrikaans Language Council, told reporters. “Afrikaans, you have roughly 20% of the population of South Africa understand Afrikaans. But the rest don’t, so you’re sitting with roughly 50 million people who do not understand Afrikaans.”

“Ryanair should be careful,” he continued. “Language is a sensitive issue. They may well end up in front of the Human Rights Commission with this.”

Ryanair’s policy only applies to South African passengers flying to the United Kingdom from within Europe, since it does not fly out of South Africa.

The British government has said in a statement that it does not require the test.

Anyone who cannot complete the test will be blocked from traveling and given a refund.

Memories of Apartheid Resurface

“The question requiring a person to name a public holiday is particularly on the nose given that SA has a whole public holiday NEXT WEEK commemorating an historic protest that started in response to language-based discrimination,” one person tweeted.

South African citizen Dinesh Joseph told the BBC that he was “seething” with anger when asked to take the test.

“It was the language of apartheid,” he said, adding that it was a trigger for him.

Officials in the country were also surprised by Ryanair’s decision.

We are taken aback by the decision of this airline because the Department regularly communicates with all airlines to update them on how to validate South African passports, including the look and feel,” South Africa’s Department of Home Affairs said in a statement.

Any airline found to have flown a passenger with a fake passport to the U.K. faces a fine of £2,000 from authorities there. Ryanair has also not said whether it requires similar tests for any other nationalities.

Many people expressed outrage at Ryanair’s policy and some told stories of being declined service because they did not pass the test.

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (BBC) (Al Jazeera)

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