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Weekly Roundup: Brazil's Truth Report, Venezuela Sanctions, LatAm Climate Action

December 12, 2014

U.S. Congress Approves Venezuela Sanctions

This week, the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives both passed a bill that would impose sanctions on Venezuelan officials accused of human rights abuses. The sanctions would deny visas to those connected to the deaths and arrests of protesters earlier this year, and would also freeze their assets. President Barack Obama is expected to sign it into law, reports The Washington Post.

Learn about Venezuela’s 2014 protests.

Report: Petrobras Leadership Knew about Corruption Scheme

Brazil’s “Operation Car Wash” investigation zeroing in on the country’s state-run oil company took a new turn this week. On December 11, Brazilian prosecutors charged 35 people, including six executives from some of the country’s biggest construction companies, in connection with a massive Petrobras kick-back scheme. On December 12, Valor Econômico reported that a whistleblower reported the corruption allegations numerous times to Petrobras President Maria da Graça Foster and company leadership, who failed to take action

Also this week, O Estado de São Paulo reported that in an attempt to win government contracts, a U.S. aircraft repair company paid millions in bribes to the Brazilian and Peruvian air forces, as well as local Argentine and Brazilian officials. The company agreed to pay $14 million for violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

Brazil’s Truth Commission Releases Final Report

On December 10, Brazil’s National Truth Commission released its final report on the human rights violations committed during the 1946 to 1988 military dictatorship period. Completed after nearly three years of investigation, the report details the “systematic” repression of political opposition, which included forced disappearances, executions, and sexual violence. The report names 377 people responsible for the abuses and recommends that perpetrators who committed crimes against humanity—191 of whom are still alive—not be protected by the country’s 1979 amnesty law. In an emotional address, President Dilma Rousseff—who was imprisoned and tortured during the dictatorship—said she hopes the report will prevent “the ghosts of the dark and sad past from being sheltered by the shadows of silence and omission.”

Read about the legislation that made Brazil’s National Truth Commission a reality.

Mexico’s Finance Minister Tied to Conflict-of-Interest Scandal

The Wall Street Journal broke the news Thursday night that Mexican Finance Minister Luis Videgaray purchased a home from Juan Armando Hinojosa, a government contractor involved in an influence-peddling scandal in President Enrique Peña Nieto’s government. “The transaction adds to the appearance of conflicts of interest that have damaged Mr. Peña Nieto’s credibility and popularity after he came to office promising a break from the clubby practices of his ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party’s past,” writes the Journal. Videgaray denied the conflict of interest, saying he purchased the house before he entered public office and that he was open to an independent investigation. In November, Aristegui Noticias revealed that the president purchased a mansion from a Hinojosa-run company, though the deal hadn’t been disclosed publicly.

Learn more about the origin of the scandal.

Report Exposes Exploitation at Mexican Farms

An 18-month Los Angeles Times investigation of Mexican farm labor camps revealed a high number of workers’ rights abuses, including the withholding of payment, unsafe living conditions, and food deprivation. The four-part report, which covers 30 camps in nine Mexican states, also found cases of child labor. The Times notes that several major U.S. companies source from the farms in question.

Learn about Mexico’s informal economy and what the government is doing to address it.

Poll: Drop in Support for Colombia Peace Process

A new Polimétrica poll indicates that support among Colombians for the country’s peace talks with the Armed Revolutionary Forces of Colombia (FARC) has fallen to 38 percent, marking a 10-point drop since July. It showed support for military action against the FARC—while still low—increased to 31 percent, up from 19 percent in July. The survey also found that those concerned about street crime represent around double the number of those worried about guerrillas. 

Hear what Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos had to say about the peace talks when he visited AS/COA in September.

U.S. Secretary of State Travels to Colombia and Peru

This week, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry made his first official visit to Peru and his second to Colombia, meeting with respective Presidents Ollanta Humala and Juan Manuel Santos. While in Lima, Kerry spoke at the UN climate summit, calling for collective leadership to respond to climate change. In Washington before the trip, Kerry gave an address about U.S. policy in Latin America. The Miami Herald notes that the secretary hinted the United States won’t oppose Cuba’s participation in the next Summit of the Americas.

Watch Kerry’s remarks on U.S. policy in Latin America at COA’s 2014 Washington Conference.

LatAm Countries Launch Reforestation Initiative at Climate Summit

In the final week of the UN climate summit in Lima, eight Latin American countries announced a plan to restore 20 million hectares of soil by 2020 through reforestation and agro-forestry projects. Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Guatemala, Mexico, and Peru will partner with donors and the private sector to improve a combined area of land equal to the size of Uruguay. Known as Initiative 20x20, the plan is one of several multilateral commitments to come out of the summit, including new contributions to the Green Climate Fund, which aims to help developing countries tackle climate change. The fund reached its $10 billion goal during the two-week conference, with donations promised by Pacific Alliance members Mexico ($10 million), Colombia ($6 million), and Peru ($6 million). Meanwhile, negotiators are down to the wire to approve an accord as the summit concludes on December 12.

Learn about the environmental challenges Peru faces.

Deadline for Haiti’s Elections Looms as Political Stalemate Continues

The clock is ticking: if Haiti does not hold parliamentary elections by January 12, when the terms of many legislators expire, the country’s legislature will effectively dissolve and the president would rule by decree. This week, a commission appointed by President Michel Martelly called for the resignation of Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe and the Supreme Court president, among other figures, in order to create a consensus government. Martelly has yet to announce his decision on the recommendations, and Lamothe told Bloomberg he would resign if the president asked. Meanwhile, U.S. and UN officials are in talks with the government to resolve the crisis. High-level State Department officials travel to Port-au-Prince today, and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry may also visit this week, reports Reuters.

Watch an interview with President Michel Martelly, who spoke with AS/COA CEO and President Susan Segal about Haiti’s political and economic future.