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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

Wealthy Canadian Couple Posed as Motel Workers To Jump Vaccine Queue

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  • Rodney Baker, the CEO of a Canadian casino company, resigned this week after he and his wife were caught traveling to a remote area in Yukon that is home to many indigenous people to jump the coronavirus vaccine queue.
  • The two allegedly posed as motel workers and were given the first dose of the vaccine but raised suspicions when they asked to be taken straight to the airport immediately afterward. 
  • Both individuals received two fines, one for failing to self-isolate and a second for failing to follow their signed declarations, adding up to $1,150 each.
  • The White River First Nation is calling for stiffer penalties, saying the small fine would be meaningless to the wealthy duo. For reference, the former CEO was paid a salary of more than $10.6 million in 2019.  

Couple Dupes Local Healthcare Workers

Like many other countries, officials in Canada have been working hard to ramp up COVID-19 vaccinations. In the Yukon territory specifically, health workers have been giving priority to remote communities with elderly and high-risk populations, as well as limited access to healthcare.

One of those areas is Beaver Creek, which is home to many members of the White River First Nation. However, Beaver Creek is now making headlines after two wealthy Vancouver residents traveled there to jump ahead in the vaccine queue.

The two culprits were identified as 55-year-old Rodney Baker, president and CEO of Great Canadian Gaming Corp, and his wife, 32-year-old actress Ekaterina Baker.

They reportedly flew from Vancouver to Whitehouse, then chartered a private plane to the remote community. Afterward, they went to a mobile clinic where they were able to receive the Moderna vaccine after saying they were new hires at a nearby motel.

Their presence raised suspicions given how small the population is in Beaver Creek, but the two raised even more eyebrows when they asked to be taken straight to the airport after receiving their doses.

Workers from the vaccination clinic checked with the motel and alerted law enforcement when they learned that the Bakers had lied about working there.

The couple was stopped just as they were preparing to fly back to their luxury condo in downtown Vancouver. According to CBC, both individuals received two fines, one for failing to self-isolate and a second for failing to follow their signed declaration, adding up to $1,150 each.

Indigenous Community Responds

“We are deeply concerned by the actions of individuals who put our Elders and vulnerable people at risk to jump the line for selfish purposes,” the White River First Nation’s Chief Angela Demit said in a Facebook statement addressing the situation.

She also told The Washington Post that she wants to see stiffer penalties for the couple because the relatively small fines would be “essentially meaningless” for such wealthy individuals. For reference, Mr. Baker’s annual compensation in 2019 was reported to be more than $10.6 million.

Janet Vander Meer, the head of the White River First Nation’s coronavirus response team, also called the incident, “another example of ongoing acts of oppression against Indigenous communities by wealthy individuals that thought they would get away with it.”

“Our oldest resident of Beaver Creek, who is 88 years old, was in the same room as this couple. My mom, who’s palliative, was in the same room as this couple,” she told Globalnews.ca. “That’s got to be jail time. I can’t see anything less. For what our community has been through the last few days. The exhaustion. It’s just mind-boggling.”

To prevent situations like this in the future, a spokesman for the Yukon government said it would implement new requirements for proving residency in the territory.

As far as the Bakers, Rodney resigned from his role at Great Canadian this week. A spokesperson for the company, which is currently the subject of a separate money-laundering probe, says it “has no tolerance for actions that run counter to the company’s objectives and values.”

See what others are saying: (CBC) (The Washington Post) (Yukon News)

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International

Protests Erupt Across the Netherlands Over COVID-19 Curfew

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  • For the third night in a row, Dutch police clashed with protesters and rioters in ten cities across the Netherlands.
  • The protests are a result of frustrations over the 9:00 p.m. – 4:30 a.m. curfew the country imposed to help stop the spread of coronavirus.
  • Rioters looted across major cities and even burned down a coronavirus testing site. So far, 184 people have been arrested and thousands have received fines for their participation.
  • The Prime Minister has said that when possible, the curfew would be the first safety measure to go, but he also made it clear that those rioting over it were criminals and will be treated as such.

Violence Over Coronavirus Curfew

The Netherlands faced riots and protests over coronavirus curfews and lockdown measures for the third night in a row.

The protests raged across ten cities, including major ones such as Amsterdam, Rotterdam, and The Hague. Authorities say that 184 people have been arrested so far, and thousands have received fines for their participation.

Protesters are particularly upset with an ongoing curfew in the country that puts restrictions on travel between 9:00 p.m.- 4:30 a.m.. It’s meant to slow the spread of the virus by preventing nightlife activities; however, critics have questioned just how effective those measures actually are.

Beyond the skepticism, the Netherlands is also facing a spread of misinformation about COVID-19, leading many to downplay how dangerous it is.

Last night’s protests led to violence with police, as well as a COVID-19 testing site being burnt to the ground. Wider Dutch society has been shocked by the violence since protests of this nature are relatively rare in the nation.

Mayors across the country vowed to introduce emergency measures that are intended to help deal with the protests.

Coping With the Virus

Regarding the curfew itself, the government has refused to budge on the issue. When responding to last night’s violence, Prime Minister Mark Rutte said that when possible, the curfew would be the first safety measure to go. Still, he also made it clear that those rioting over it were criminals and will be treated as such.

The Netherlands had managed to maintain the virus relatively successfully, six months ago, it had among the lowest new daily cases in Europe, with around 42 daily new cases in July. That all changed in September when cases began to rise dramatically, peaking of 11,499 daily new cases on Dec. 24.

Source: Google Coronavirus Statistics

Due to the imposed restrictions, cases began to fall again, although they are still far higher than they were in the summer of 2020.

See What Others Are Saying: (The Guardian) (BBC) (NPR)

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Thousands Protest in Russia Demanding Release of Putin Foe Alexei Navalny

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  • Russia faced some of the largest protests it has seen in recent years after thousands took to the streets Saturday demanding the government release opposition figure Alexei Navalny.
  • Russian authorities declared the protests illegal and detained more than 3,500 people from more than 100 cities, including Navalny’s wife.
  • The government also released a statement addressing Navalny by name for the first time, attempting to discredit claims he has made, including the idea that President Vladimir Putin has a billion-dollar villa on the Black Sea coast.

Largest Russian Protests in Recent History

Russia experienced some of its largest protests in years Saturday after opposition figure Alexei Navalny called for demonstrations to be held following his arrest.

Supporters demanded Navalny’s release but also called for an end to perceived rampant corruption in the Russian state.

Tens of thousands took to the streets and clashed with police in more than 100 cities, with independent monitors claiming that 3,500 people were detained by police. Among those detained was Yulia Navalnaya, Navalny’s wife, who was targeted by authorities during the protests. She is reported to have been released by Russian media agencies such as TASS.

Despite Russian authorities declaring the protests illegal and warning of repercussions for those who attend, the protests managed to reach a wide range of people. According to the New York Times, over ⅓ of protesters in Moscow said they had never protested before.

Despite the movements current popularity, it may be difficult to turn the popular, anti-Putin movement into something more.The protesters span a broad range of the political spectrum, from far-left communist and anarchist groups to nationalists and libertarians, meaning that while they dislike Putin and the corruption in the Russian government, they agree on little else.

Changing the Message

The protests unveiled a new shift in how Russian authorities deal with Navalny. In the past, authorities and state-backed media never mentioned him by name in order to downplay him; however, that changed this weekend.

Newscasters aired multiple programs to discredit him and paint him as a tool of the West, while Putin denied Navalny’s claims that he has a secret, billion-dollar villa on the coast of the Black Sea. Based on his salary of $133,000 a year, Putin would only be able to afford a single home in Russia. However, there is speculation that due to corruption and embezzling, Putin is likely the actual richest person alive.

Regarding Navalny himself, he’s still in jail pending court proceedings on Feb. 2. If those go poorly for Navalny, he could be in prison until the mid-2020s, but he is more concerned about his immediate future.

In a video to supporters prior to the protests, he made it clear that he has no intention of committing suicide. That statement was likely made due to the fact that many Russian dissidents seem to die via suicide, with much speculation about whether or not that was actually the case.

See what others are saying: (New York Times) (Business Insider) (Associated Press)

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