Report of a Gang-Rape in Rio de Janeiro Shocks Brazil

BRASÍLIA — Shortly after midnight on Wednesday, 20-year-old Michel Brasil da Silva uploaded a 30-second clip to Twitter, accompanied by the words: “They smashed the chick. Do you get it or do you not get it? lol”

The clip showed an undressed, unconscious woman lying on a bare mattress. She was being filmed by two men, both fully dressed, who took turns manhandling and mocking her.

“This one just got knocked up by 30 guys,” one of them says.

“Check out the state she’s in. Bleeding,” says the other, directing the camera toward her visibly injured genitals. At one point, the man positioned his head next to the unresponsive woman’s buttocks, stuck out his tongue, and took a selfie.

The footage set off a firestorm on social media and brought national attention to the reported gang-rape of a 16-year-old by as many as 33 men in Rio de Janeiro over the weekend — a crime the police had no knowledge of until social media users contacted them en masse.

Rio de Janeiro’s Public Prosecutor’s Office had received some 800 tips within hours of the short clip and selfie going online, according to news site G1. By Wednesday evening, the Prosecutor’s Office had launched an investigation and said it had identified the victim. In herstatement to police, obtained by Brazilian magazine Veja, the minor said that she’d met up with Lucas Perdomo Duarte Santos, a 19-year-old classmate she’d been dating for three years, at his house around 1 a.m. on Saturday. They were alone, according to the victim.

The next thing she remembers, she said, is waking up on Sunday. She was naked, drugged, and surrounded by 33 armed men, in a house she did not recognize.

The acts recorded in the video occurred one day after the reported gang-rape of another teenager — a 17-year-old allegedly victimized by five teenagers she knew, in the northeastern state of Piauí.

The confidence with which the Rio suspects boasted about what had just taken place, coupled with their decision to not only record, but disseminate, incriminating evidence, has prompted a vigorous discussion here about sexism, violence against women and impunity.

“This case has rattled Brazilians,” said Vanessa Dios, a researcher at the Brasília-based feminist institute Anis. She added that the irrefutable visual proof has kept more familiar responses to rape cases in Brazil from taking hold, such as “I don’t think that’s what really happened,” and “the girl is probably exaggerating.”

“Even so,” Dios said, “many people responded to the footage with justifications” that the victim had brought this on herself. “The day-to-day culture of codifying women’s bodies persists in Brazil. They are constantly given signals to what constitutes acceptable behavior. Among men, the notion that they are allowed to touch and grab women without permission endures.”

By the time his Twitter account was suspended, Silva had already retweeted a deluge of replies to his uploaded video — a characteristic one being, “They wrecked that one’s body hahahahahahahahaha the train ripped her hard.” In response to those who told him to take the footage down, Silva wrote, “People see worst stuff in this [expletive] and don’t complain. Just because I posted the chick’s video they now wanna talk crap. [Expletive] it… The video stays. If it bothers you, don’t follow me.”

Silva did not respond to several attempts to reach him by phone. A Facebook profile widely attributed to him by social media users who have attempted to crowdsource information about the crime has been taken offline.

On Thursday, Cybercrime Police Department Sheriff Alessandro Thiers lodged a judicial request to have four suspects arrested, Veja reported. The magazine names them as Silva, the 20-year-old who uploaded the video, Marcelo Miranda da Cruz Corrêa, 18, who also circulated footage of the crime, Raphael Assis Duarte Belo, 41, who allegedly appeared in the clip and took a selfie with the victim’s body, and Santos, the victim’s romantic interest, whom police suspect of direct involvement in the gang-rape.

“What we have in Brazil is a cultural stew of sexism and sexual violence,” Congressman Marcelo Freixo, president of the Human Rights Commission of Rio de Janeiro, said in a telephone interview. According to Freixo, Rio de Janeiro registered 4,725 rapes in 2014 — an average of 13 per day. “We can’t say that we live in a democratic country with rates of sexual violence like these,” Freixo said. “We’re talking about a city that’s about to host the Olympics.”

Freixo on Wednesday accompanied the victim to her first medical exam since the attack. He later announced that the commission will monitor the investigation and make sure that the victim receives psychological support.

“It’s a systemic issue, not confined to one economic class or the other,” he said, regarding rape cases across the country. “And there are politicians who get elected thanks to hate speech.”

Though Freixo didn’t mention him by name, Congress Jair Balsonaro, who represents Rio, has built a reputation for spouting off avowedly anti-feminist and anti-LGBT comments. In 2014, Balsonaro told a fellow congresswoman that he’d never rape her because she didn’t deserve it. In April, he dedicated his vote in favor of impeaching now-suspended President Dilma Rousseff to her “boogeyman,” the colonel who oversaw the torture she endured as a young activist during Brazil’s dictatorship.

Bolsonaro was the most-voted Rio de Janeiro candidate for congress in the 2014 election.

On the same weekend that the Rio teenager was reportedly gang-raped, a 17-year-old girl was found bound and gagged in Bom Jesus, a city in the northern state of Piauí. The victim and the suspects — five teenage boys — knew each other, and socialized on the night of the attack. The crime in Piauí came almost a year to the day after a similar tragedy stunned the state: four teenage girls were gang-raped, beaten and thrown off a cliff. One of them died.

But news of the Rio and Piauí crimes reverberated across social media on Thursday. On Twitter, the hashtag #EstuproNuncaMais (#RapeNeverAgain in English) trended worldwide. On Facebook, São Paulo-based artists Luciana Fernandes and Beatriz Rezende mobilized feminist circles and created Por Todas Elas (For All the Women, in English), a mass protest group with demonstrations now scheduled across five cities.

On Thursday evening, in a Facebook page widely reported across Brazilian media to belong to the Rio victim, she wrote, “Thank you for everyone’s support. I had honestly expected that I’d be judged harshly.”

Brazil’s Temer Swears in New Cabinet

Top Story — Brazil’s acting President Michel Temer spoke of the need to restore confidence in the South American country, both among its citizens and the international community, in his first speech since assuming power on Thursday, some 12 hours after Dilma Rousseff was suspended and forced to face an impeachment trial by the Senate.

Temer introduced his cabinet during his public address, his choice of members signaling a shift to the political right after 13 years of leftist Workers’ Party rule. Almost immediately, the president’s cabinet was criticized nationally and abroad for not including any women or people of color. Bernardo Mello Franco, a columnist for leading Brazilian daily Folha de S. Paulo, described the new cabinet as the most significant ideological shift since the 1964 coup that ushered in 30 years of military dictatorship, and that the new government is “liberal in economic terms and conservative in every other respect.” At least three of Temer’s new ministers are under investigation in relation to the massive kickback scheme at state oil company Petrobras.

Beyond the demographic makeup of Temer’s cabinet, the appointment which caught the most attention was that of Finance Minister Henrique Meirelles, who will face the dilemma of trying to calm international credit markets and address a fiscal budget deficit without too harshly cutting popular social spending programs.

Protesters tried to invade the official presidential office, Planalto Palace, on Thursday afternoon as Temer introduced his cabinet. Earlier that morning, Rousseff delivered a speech from the palace, reiterating that she did not commit a criminal act and that the effort to impeach her amounted to a coup. Rousseff has 20 days to present her impeachment defense to the Senate.

Headlines from the Western Hemisphere

North America

Fernando Aportela, Mexico’s deputy secretary for finance, warned Thursday that if a new U.S. government were to block remittances to Mexico cooperative efforts to prevent money laundering and other financial fraud would be dealt a serious setback.

Mexico’s new ambassador to the United States assumed his position on Thursday, meeting with embassy personnel and saying he would “defend the interests of Mexico and Mexicans” as Donald Trump emerges as the likely Republican presidential nominee.

In light of the Panama Papers revelations, Mexico is stepping up efforts to combat tax evasion by requiring banks to share the names of local clients who have transactions in tax havens.

Caribbean

The Dominican Republic will hold general elections on Sunday with all 4,106 positions, ranging from the presidency to vice mayors, in play for the first time since 1994. Incumbent President Danilo Medina is predicted to win, though analysts differ on whether he can avoid a runoff.

Haiti’s health ministry delivered a truckload of medical supplies to the country’s biggest hospital on Thursday, through doctors said the few dozen boxes of gauze, gloves and other basic materials were not nearly enough to end a strike that has spread through Haiti’s health system. Resident doctors at the hospital have refused to see new patients since late March, saying the government does not provide them with adequate resources or compensation.

U.S. Congressman Raul Grijalva said the continued stalling of Puerto Rico’s debt bill, the release of which was again delayed Thursday morning, would result in the need to pay for a humanitarian aid package as the territory struggles to maintain basic social services.

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff’s impeachment could have a negative impact on Cuba, reports Reuters, as the island has relied on a beneficial exchange of Cuban medical and education services for credit on favorable terms from Brazil’s leftist government.

Central America

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced that it is planning another series of raids that would lead to the deportation of Central American mothers and children who entered the United States illegally following Jan. 1, 2014, a proposal that has drawn criticism from both Democratic presidential candidates.

A new map produced by an international conservation agency highlights the critical role Central America’s indigenous communities play in preserving the region’s forests, data that may help leaders assert their rights to their ancestral lands.

Andes

A U.S. district judge dismissed a civil suit brought by the Central Bank of Venezuela against DolarToday, a website run by Venezuelan exiles in Delaware that publishes the exchange rate of Venezuelan Bolivars in the border town of Cúcuta, Colombia. The Central Bank alleged that the website was part of a conspiracy to manipulate the country’s currency amid escalating inflation — claims the judge dismissed “with prejudice.”

Sony Television announced the creation of a Spanish-language television show based on the life of former Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez, a decision that Venezuela’s socialist leaders fear will damage the late leader’s legacy.

The United Nations refugee agency warned, in a press release, that some 6,000 mostly indigenous and Afro-Caribbean residents of Colombia’s Western Chocó department have been displaced in recent weeks by fighting among illegal armed groups.

Southern Cone

Argentina’s energy minister said Thursday that the government intends to stop importing light crude oil this year, using domestic refineries to limit the need for supplies from abroad. Despite its large oil and gas reserves, Argentina is a net energy importer, which has drained its foreign reserves.

Despite new reports of record inflation in Buenos Aires, the Financial Times notes that President Mauricio Macri’s government has been loaded with “Wall Street alumni,” evidence, along with a recent, successful bond issue, of Macri’s pro-business orientation.

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Brazilian Senate Votes to Impeach Rousseff

Top Story — Brazil’s Senate has voted to suspend President Dilma Rousseff and begin an impeachment trial over accusations that Rousseff manipulated the country’s budget to cover up economic troubles.

LAND’s Brazil-based editor Cleuci de Oliveira was in Brasília for the impeachment vote. Her report examines last night’s impeachment vote and the process that led to Rousseff’s suspension.

Wednesday’s 55 to 22 votes in favor of impeachment took place after a debate in the Senate that lasted nearly 22 hours. Rousseff will step down for up to six months while her impeachment trial takes place, allowing Vice President Michel Temer to take over. Rousseff is now the second out of four democratically-elected presidents to be removed from office since the country returned to democracy in 1985 following decades of dictatorship.

The vote marks the culmination of months of struggle between Brazil’s politicians, many of whom have themselves been accused of wrongdoing: Rousseff’s Workers’ Party is enmeshed in a massive corruption scandal at state-owned oil firm Petrobras; Temer is accused of violating campaign finance laws, and some of his top advisors are under investigation for corruption; and the politician who led the early effort to impeach Rousseff, former speaker of Brazil’s lower house of Congress Eduardo Cunha, had to step down amid allegations that he accepted some $40 million in bribes.

Headlines from the Western Hemisphere

North America

Well-known drug trafficker Rafael Caro Quintero has continued to traffic illegal drugs since his 2013 release from a Mexican prison, using his wife as an accomplice, according to a statement from the U.S. Treasury Department. Quintero had been convicted of ordering the torture and murder of a U.S. anti-drug agent and others in Mexico in 1985.

Mexico’s population of internally displaced people is growing as organized crime violence has forced thousands to flee their homes, with some estimates at over 35,000 people, according to the country’s Human Rights Commission.

The reason behind Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán’s transfer to another prison may have been a power outage in his wing of the Altiplano prison that had authorities worried he was plotting another escape, according to a report by a Mexican columnist citing government sources.

Caribbean

A bill dealing with Puerto Rico’s debt crisis that was meant to be released on Wednesday was delayed as the House Natural Resources Committee responsible for the bill continues to make “minor refinements,” though a Republican aide said the much-anticipated might be introduced today. Meanwhile, The New York Times reports Puerto Rico’s economic crisis may forecast similar fiscal woes in the U.S. mainland, as pension promises made decades ago are now coming due without the means to pay them, the painful situation economists call “deferred costs.”

Central America

The Thompson Reuters Foundation examines the major factors behind El Salvador’s high levels of violence and soaring homicide rate– such as the United States deportation of gang leaders, the aftermath of the war on drugs, and allure of gang culture– after interviewing a wide range of El Salvador’s citizens, from academics to gang leaders themselves.

Thousands of protesters maintained road blocks on 14 major roads in Guatemala, calling for the government to nationalize electricity, distribute land to the peasant class, and halt the persecution of human rights defenders, among other demands.

Andes

The office of Colombia’s attorney general announced Wednesday that it is investigating the National Liberation Army (ELN) rebel group’s top five leaders for some 16,000 war crimes and crimes against humanity allegedly committed by the group, including murder, kidnapping and forced recruitment. The investigations come in the wake of a March announcement by government and ELN representatives that they would begin peace negotiations, despite the group’s continued kidnappings and attacks on oil facilities.

In an effort to combat corruption and improve its reputation following recent scandals, Colombia’s national police force has fired more than 1,400 officers since a new general took over the force 80 days ago.

Anti-government protests in Venezuela got heated on Wednesday as soldiers responded with tear gas to the stone-throwing of demonstrators angered by the delay in the verification of the some 1.85 million signatures submitted by the opposition on May 2 in favor of a referendum to recall President Nicolás Maduro.

Southern Cone

Some 80,000 students marched in Santiago and other cities throughout Chile on Wednesday to demand drastic education reform to rid the current system of enduring Pinochet-era characteristics.

Argentine opposition lawmakers are preparing to introduce a jobs bill which would temporarily halt private and public sector layoffs for six months, and double pensions for those who are actually laid off, a move the austerity-focused and business-friendly President Mauricio Macri is likely to oppose.

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Rousseff Will Face Impeachment Trial as Temer Becomes Interim President

BRASÍLIA — The Brazilian Senate voted to approve an impeachment trial against President Dilma Rousseff on Thursday morning, following a marathon session that began on Wednesday and lasted nearly 22 hours.

The Senate’s vote draws months of political dealing and sudden twists to a close. Rousseff is now forced to step down for up to 180 days to stand trial as Vice President Michel Temer is sworn in as interim president.

Rousseff was impeached for having allegedly violated Brazil’s fiscal laws to obscure a budgetary deficit ahead of her 2014 re-election. Her administration came undone, however, due to an economic downturn that she struggled to contain and a sprawling corruption scandal at state oil giant Petrobras that engulfed key members of her Workers’ Party, including her predecessor and mentor, former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.

A total of 55 out of 77 senators voted to approve Rousseff’s impeachment trial on Thursday, surpassing the required simple majority by 16 votes.

The 15-minute window allotted to each of the senators’ speeches ensured that the vote only took place at 6:33 a.m. The session, while long, was by and large a reserved affair — a respite from the raucous April 17 Chamber of Deputies vote that first secured Rousseff’s impeachment and was marked by chanting, spitting, an homage to a dictatorship-era torturer and a roomful of Congressmen facing graver charges than the now-ousted president.

Rousseff is now the second Brazilian president impeached in less than 24 years. The first, former President Fernando Collor de Mello, returned to politics after his 1992 impeachment and is currently a senator. He voted on Thursday in favor of Rousseff’s ouster.

The impeachment case against Rousseff concerns a creative accounting practice known as fiscal backpedalling.

She is accused of covertly delaying repayments to state banks. By doing so, her critics argue, Rousseff strong-armed public institutions into loaning her funds to pay for popular social programs that were the cornerstone of her administration. Brazil’s fiscal laws prohibit state banks from opening credit lines for the federal government.

Rousseff has argued that past presidents also delayed repayments without having to face impeachment proceedings. She has said that her actions do not amount to a “crime of responsibility,” and that her opponents’ efforts to oust her constitute a coup.

“Did I commit these acts? Yes,” Rousseff said, the day after 367 out of 513 congressmen voted to impeach her. “But I did not commit them illegally. I have been treated in a way that others have not.”

Her critics argue that the backpedalling acts committed under Rousseff’s administration differ from those performed by her predecessors.

“It’s true that past presidents had to pay state banks back in order to balance their budgets,” said Eduardo Mendonça, a constitutional law professor and former Supreme Court ministerial advisor. “But Rousseff’s case contains two key differences, regarding magnitude and time span.”

Former President Fernando Henrique Cardoso, for instance, paid back an average of $290 million (at adjusted rates) in 2001 and 2002, according to investigative non-profit Pública. By contrast, between 2013 and 2014, Rousseff paid back a total of $25 billion.

In addition, the Rousseff administration took longer than usual to make the repayments, according to Mendonça.

“It’s the difference between me owing you money for a month, versus nine months, or two years,” Mendonça said. “The question is, did she exploit an ordinary mechanism to commit fraud?”

Beyond the issue of payments, Brazilians hold Rousseff responsible for an economic downturn that has landed the country in the worst recession of the last 80 years. The week-to-week revelations about the kickback scheme at Petrobras stoked the public’s anger toward her Workers’ Party and motivated her opponents’ drive toward impeachment. But it was her inability or unwillingness to play by the rules of Brazilian politics that proved to be her fatal flaw.

“Rousseff was a bad politician and a worse economic strategist,” said Brian Winter, vice president of policy at the Americas Society/Council of the Americas. “She ran Brazil by personal fiat, rather than through negotiation.”

“In a country with 200 million people, you have to build consensus,” Winter said. “She didn’t like to talk to people in her cabinet, let alone leaders in the business world, or special interest groups.”

Rousseff glided into her first electoral victory in 2010 with 56 percent of the vote, buoyed by the record-breaking approval ratings enjoyed by Silva, her predecessor and political mentor, as well as a commodity boom powered by foreign, especially Chinese, demand for Brazilian exports. Since then, The Wall Street Journal reported, the Chinese appetite for Brazil’s soy, iron and oil reserves contracted, economic mismanagement caused a recession and inflation, unemployment shot up by 4.2 percent and Brazil’s credit rating was downgraded to junk.

“The basic facts surrounding the Petrobras scandal were pretty evident before her re-election in 2014,” Winter said. “So you gotta ask, what’s changed? The answer is that the economy took a major turn for the worst.”

While Rousseff faces charges of attempting to obstruct the Petrobras investigation, she is not implicated in the scheme itself, unlike her opponents.

Temer, Brazil’s new president, stood accused of playing a key role in the appointment of two Petrobras executives that have since received prison sentences for bribery and fraud. The investigation into his role in the scheme was shelved last week. He also faces his own call for impeachment over fiscal backpedalling. On May 3, a São Paulo court convicted Temer of illegal campaign financing, making the new interim president ineligible to run for office for the next eight years.

Eduardo Cunha, the former Congressional House Speaker who masterminded the impeachment effort against Rousseff, lost his post seven days ago over his own charges in the Petrobras probe. In his request that Cunha be removed from office, Brazil’s Attorney General Rodrigo Janot said the suspended congressman used his position to “destroy evidence, pressure witnesses, intimidate victims and obstruct the investigations at any cost.”

And Senate leader Renan Calheiros, who presided over this morning’s vote, stands accused of tax evasion, taking bribes connected to the Petrobras scandal and letting a lobbyist cover his alimony payments for an illegitimate child, The New York Times reports.

“Rousseff is not a bad person, and has revealed her virtues,” Winter said. “She was honest, to a point. She allowed the investigations into Petrobras to continue, when she had multiple chances to halt them. But in the end, it came down to a matter of measuring her virtues against her flaws.”

Brazil Senate to Vote on Rousseff Impeachment

Top Story — Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff faces an impeachment vote in the Senate today that will likely see her removed from power. The vote will mark a watershed moment in Brazilian politics after months of political wheeler-dealing, name-calling and last-minute legal maneuvers by both the president’s supporters and opponents.

Wednesday’s vote will follow a marathon session in the Senate and is expected to last into the early hours of Thursday. If 41 out of 81 Senators vote to impeach her, Rousseff will be removed from office for up to 180 days to face trial. Vice President Michel Temer would then become interim president.

Rousseff stands accused of cooking the government’s books to hide a budget deficit ahead of her 2014 re-election. The president has acknowledged that she engaged in the act known as fiscal backpedalling, but says she did no different than her predecessors, and that the charges against her do not amount to an impeachable “crime of responsibility.” Her opponents have argued that no past president engaged in backpedalling on this scale and that the move caused confidence in Brazil’s financial markets to erode.

The president does not face charges stemming from the wider Petrobras probe that has engulfed some of Brazil’s top industrialists, as well as key members of the Workers’ Party and the opposition, including Vice President Temer and Senate leader Renan Calheiros.

Nonetheless, Brazilians have increasingly held Rousseff responsible for an economic downturn that landed the country in the worst recession since the 1930s. An April poll by the Datafolha institute found that 63 percent of Brazilians considered her government “bad” or “terrible.”

Headlines from the Western Hemisphere

North America

The Associated Press reveals that the Mexican authorities in charge of the investigation into the 43 Ayotzinapa students who were disappeared in September of 2014 allegedly used torture to extract information and gain false confessions from gang member suspects — generating a narrative that was ruled impossible by subsequent independent investigations.

A Guardian report profiles traditional Mexican mezcal distillers as they fight against new regulations they claim attempt to control small-scale outfits to the benefit of larger, more profitable companies.

Caribbean

Russia celebrated the Cuban Five, five Cuban nationals recently released from U.S. prison after being convicted of spying on Floridian anti-Castro groups during the Cold War, calling them heroes “of fortitude and resistance” during ceremonies in Moscow on Tuesday.

Central America

The Mossack Fonseca law firm at the center of the Panama Papers leak has threatened to file a lawsuit against the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists responsible for organizing and publishing the company’s internal documents, which the firm claims were acquired by computer hackers.

The Guatemalan legislature voted to strip a supreme court justice of immunity on Tuesday following the revelation that he received an armored Range Rover in exchange for ruling that a port company was exempt from paying construction fees.

Andes

The Colombian government expects to reach a peace agreement with FARC rebels “in the very near future,” said President Juan Manuel Santos on Wednesday, some six weeks after missing the initial March deadline for concluding negotiations.

The Mexican Telecom company America Movil has announced that its subsidiaries will be buying Olo del Peru S.A.C. and TVS Wireless S.A.C., two of the largest telecommunications operators in Peru.

Southern Cone

As Brazil’s political crisis sharpens, the Associated Press profiles the two men set to potentially take over for President Dilma Rousseff if she’s impeached, Vice President Michel Temer and Senate leader Renan Calheiros, have both been facing corruption charges of their own.

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Brazil’s Supreme Court Suspends Lower House Speaker Eduardo Cunha

Top Story — A Brazilian Supreme Court minister suspended Lower House Speaker Eduardo Cunha from office on Thursday over Cunha’s alleged involvement in the massive corruption scheme at Brazilian oil giant Petrobras.

Cunha stands accused of taking $5 million in bribes as part of the scheme. Thursday’s decision puts a spin on the seemingly non-stop scandal engulfing the Brazilian government. Cunha has long been considered President Dilma Rousseff’s biggest foe, having spearheaded the effort to impeach her.

Supreme Court Minister Teori Zavascki, who heads the probe into Petrobras, based his decision on a December request for Cunha’s removal made by Brazil’s Attorney General Rodrigo Janot, who determined that Cunha used his office to “destroy evidence, pressure witnesses, intimidate victims and obstruct the investigations at any cost.”

The news of Cunha’s removal is unlikely to influence Rousseff’s battle to avoid impeachment. The Congressional vote to impeach her, which was headed by Cunha, already took place on April 17.

However, a Brazilian senator appointed as a fact-finder by the special committee overseeing the latest phase of impeachment proceedings against Rousseff recommended on Wednesday that she face trial over improper handling of the country’s fiscal budget.

The report by Sen. Antônio Anastasia is yet another blow to the beleaguered president, coming one day after Brazil’s top prosecutor asked the Supreme Court to investigate her for allegedly trying to obstruct the sweeping corruption probe at oil giant Petrobras. The special Senate committee is expected to vote in favor of sending Anastasia’s recommendation to the full chamber, Reuters reported.

Rousseff may be forced out of the presidency next Wednesday, when the Senate is scheduled to decide whether she should face an impeachment trial. If at least 41 out of Brazil’s 81 Senators vote in favor of a trial, Rousseff will have to step down for up to 180 days as the trial moves forward. Vice President Michel Temer will then become interim president.

Rousseff is accused of mishandling the country’s finances by borrowing from state banks to cover significant deficits in the budget. The president has argued that her predecessors have also engaged in the act known as fiscal backpedaling, and that she did so to finance crucial social programs to combat hunger and poverty.

Her critics have argued that no former president has engaged in fiscal backpedalling in this scale, and that the maneuver led to an increase in the government’s borrowing costs. Rousseff manipulated the books, according to the critics, in order to make the budget appear healthier than it was ahead of her re-election in 2014.

On Tuesday, Brazil’s Attorney General Rodrigo Janot requested that Rousseff also face charges related to the wider Petrobras scandal that, for the past two years, has engulfed leading members of her Workers’ Party, as well as opposition leaders and the country’s top industrialists. The president stands accused of attempting to obstruct the investigation by naming her predecessor and mentor, former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, minister in March. Silva has also been targeted by the behemoth corruption probe known colloquially in Brazil as Operation Car Wash. His ministerial nomination, suspended not long after, was seen by critics of the Workers’ Party as a way to give the former president special judicial privileges, thus allowing him to avoid prosecution in the lower courts.

Janot, the attorney-general, also requested that the Supreme Court charge Silva in the Petrobras probe.

“This criminal organization could never have functioned for so many years and in such a wide and aggressive manner within the federal government without ex-President Lula’s taking part in it,” Brazilian newspaper O Globo quoted Janot’s petition as saying.

Headlines from the Western Hemisphere

North America

Jaime Rodríguez, the governor of Mexico’s Monterey state whose election last year drew headlines because he lacked any party affiliation, a first in Mexico, has said he expects the apparent Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump to go on to win the presidency.

Mexico City will extend a ban on driving for 40 percent of the city’s motor vehicles for the third day in a row on Thursday due to elevated levels of smog, pointing to the city’s daunting challenges with public transit, industrial pollution and sprawl.

Caribbean

Cuba’s tourism minister said that visits by U.S. citizens have nearly doubled this year, a surge in demand that the authorities are rushing to meet by building new hotels and expanding or repairing strained infrastructure, including Havana’s dated airport.

A pregnant woman in Haiti died outside the gates of a hospital amid a strike by public-sector medical workers, who are protesting a lack of supplies, unsafe conditions in the workplace and poor pay.

The Wall Street Journal compares Puerto Rico’s current economic situation with Argentina, where hedge funds also purchased billions of dollars of the country’s debt and successfully demanded to be paid off in full.

Central America

Efforts to convict former Guatemalan dictator Efraín Rios Montt of genocide were delayed for the latest time on Wednesday, but this time due to the efforts of victims’ families, who successfully lobbied to have Rios Montt’s trial conducted separately from that of his former intelligence chief.

A radio reporter in Honduras recently survived two attempts on his life in a single day, prompting an outcry by press freedom advocates.

The New York Times reports on the “patriotic fervor” sweeping Panama in the wake of the “Panama Papers” document leaks. Panamanians are using hashtags like #PanamaIsMoreThanPapers to combat images of the country as nothing more than tax haven for the rich.

Andes

As Venezuela continues to suffer through widespread product shortages, inflation and power cuts, a new Datanalisis poll shows that President Nicolás Maduro’s approval ratings dropped more than seven points to 26.8 percent in March.

Bolivia’s natural gas exports, which are the country’s biggest source of hard currency, plummeted in this year’s first quarter, with exports to Argentina and Brazil down 48.4 percent to $594.4 million.

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos announced on Wednesday that the United States will help Colombia in its battle against criminal gangs by providing intelligence.

Because of the massive earthquake that hit Ecuador last month, U.S. authorities are considering the possibility of giving Temporary Protected Status to Ecuadorian immigrants living in the United States.

Southern Cone

The Guardian takes a look at the rise of the far right in the wake of Brazil’s massive corruption scandal and the possible impeachment of the president, noting the growing influence of the so-called “bullets, beef and Bible” caucus in Congress.

Brazilian prosecutors have filed a $43.8 billion lawsuit against the two mining companies — Brazil’s Vale SA and the Anglo-Australian BHP Billiton Ltd. — whose dam collapsed last November in the country’s southeast, killing at least 17 and causing what some have described as the worst environmental disaster in the country’s history. The mining companies, which are two of the world’s biggest, saw their shares plummet in the wake of the lawsuit, which will likely disrupt a far less expensive settlement that the companies reached with Brazil in March.

Just days after Brazil’s courts temporarily blocked the popular messaging app WhatsApp, a congressional commission has recommended a bill that would prohibit the government from blocking popular messaging sites.

Bloomberg reports on a strike taking place in Argentina’s southernmost Tierra del Fuego region — dubbed “the end of the world” — over austerity measures taken by pro-business President Mauricio Macri, particularly a decision to raise the pension age limit.

Omar Graffigna, the former head of Argentina’s air force, has been put on trial together with two ex-subordinates over their alleged role in the disappearance of two activists in 1978 during the country’s military dictatorship that lasted.

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Brazil’s Opposition Party Split on Decision to Support New Interim Government

Top Story — Looking ahead to a 2018 presidential run, Brazil’s largest opposition party is split on the degree to which they will support a provisional government in the likely case that President Dilma Rousseff is impeached through a Senate vote on May 12.

Senior members of the Brazilian Social Democracy Party (PSDB) said Monday that while it would back former Vice President Michel Temer’s interim government, the party is divided on the decision of joining his cabinet, Reuters reported.

The maneuvering comes just two weeks after Brazil’s lower house of Congress voted to impeach the president, casting Rousseff into a fight to stay in office that led her to make a speech at the UN General Assembly in New York last Friday, where she described her opponents as “coup mongers.”

Temer’s March 29 split from the government coalition had been the loudest death knell for Rousseff’s presidency up until the fateful vote a few weeks later. He is currently working with his Brazilian Democratic Movement Party to prepare to assume the presidency in May as Rousseff will be suspended from her office if the Senate deals the final blow with an impeachment vote.

In light of Brazil’s worst economic recession since the 1930s, business leaders are pressuring PSDB to fall in line with Temer in order to restore investment credibility and quell the crisis. Former central bank governor and PSDB member Henrique Meirelles is likely to be offered the position as Temer’s finance minister in the interim cabinet; more top posts are expected to be offered to other PSDB members.

Yet PSDB leaders are wary of their top members accepting cabinet positions like this one, as party leader Aécio Neves, who is expected to run in the 2018 elections, said last week. Still, the party walks a fine line, because if they do not fully join the Temer government and the interim president manages to pull Brazil out of the recession, PSDB could lose in the next election. The party plans to meet on May 3 to make a final decision on their position towards a likely Temer presidency.

The PSDB holds leverage over Temer in another way; the party has led efforts to annul Rousseff’s presidency through a case in the Supreme Electoral Tribunal based on allegations of illicit campaign financing. If that case succeeded, Temer, as Rousseff’s running mate in 2014, would be forced out of office as well.

Headlines from the Western Hemisphere

North America

In Mexico, reactions to the release of a final third-party report on the 2014 disappearance of 43 students from Guerrero state have been widely negative. Family members of the students slammed the government, accusing the authorities not just of bungling the case but of misleading them and even planting evidence.

An op-ed in The New York Times by former Mexico correspondent Ginger Thompson compares the fallout of the case of the 43 disappeared students to hand-wringing among Mexican elites over the candidacy of Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump, concluding that the disappearance is a worse blow to Mexico’s image, and a self-inflicted one.

A separate analysis by the Times suggests the party of President Enrique Peña Nieto is likely to weather the fallout from the case despite its impact on Peña Nieto’s approval ratings, based on the fact that his party, the PRI, performed well in midterm elections last year and is likely to do the same in upcoming gubernatorial elections, polls suggest.

A large database of Mexican voter records was discovered by a U.S. security researcher to be entirely accessible to the public on the internet, raising questions about the Mexican National Electoral Institute’s security.

In Acapulco, one of the world’s deadliest cities, local Mexican police headquarters in a beachside tourist area and a hotel across town were simultaneously attacked by a group of armed men, causing the city, which is still a large tourist attraction, to temporarily go into lockdown.

Caribbean

The U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell will visit Puerto Rico to review measures to control the Zika virus, which is expected to begin spreading in the United States in June. Nonetheless, members of the U.S. Congress are unlikely to grant the full $1.9 billion requested by the Obama administration for anti-Zika efforts.

Central America

El Salvador’s prosecutor for human rights, David Morales, said Monday that in at least two cases in 2015, police officers and soldiers executed gang members, then altered the crime scenes to look like shootouts, a claim the country’s defense minister said was being investigating by authorities.

Panama’s Finance Minister Dulcidio de la Guardia squared off with his French counterpart in Paris on Monday in a meeting that was called after the latter’s government threatened Panama with sanctions following the revelations of the Panama Papers.

Andes

Venezuela’s Supreme Court on Monday said it will not allow an opposition-written constitutional amendment cutting the presidential term from six to four years, highlighting the pro-government court’s status as a check on the opposition’s majority in the legislature, and presaging further difficulty in efforts to remove President Nicolás Maduro from office.

Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos on Monday announced a new cabinet on consolidating an anticipated FARC peace deal, as well as combating a slump in Santos’ approval ratings amid a slowdown in the oil-dependent economy.

Southern Cone

The New York Times looks into the diplomatic process behind Argentina’s settlement with its hedge-fund creditors under first-year President Mauricio Macri, who promised to pay the so-called “vulture funds” after years of refusal under former President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner.

Speaking at the international mining-industry fair Expomin, Chilean President Michelle Bachelet cautioned that the country —the world’s largest copper producer— should prepare for a “post-copper economy” in order to free itself from the cycle of commodities booms and busts.

Reuters reports on the increased efforts of Brazil’s environmental agency Ibama to crack down on illegal gold mining in the Amazon, which leads to deforestation and pollutes the environment with large quantities of mercury used in the mining process.

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Brazil’s Rousseff Speaks of Injustice in First Public Address After Impeachment Vote

BRASÍLIA — Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff expressed indignation and disappointment during a national address on Monday, her first since Brazil’s Chamber of Deputies voted to impeach her minutes before midnight on Sunday.

“My dreams, and my rights, underwent torture,” a weary and downcast Rousseff said about the vote. By invoking torture, Rousseff explicitly referenced the torture she underwent in the 1970s, as a political prisoner during Brazil’s military dictatorship.

The impeachment petition against Rousseff stemmed from charges that she cooked the government books to conceal a significant budgetary deficit. In doing so, Reuters reports, she made Brazil’s budget appear healthier than it was during her re-election campaign.

On Monday, Rousseff recognized that her government intentionally delayed repayments to state lenders, but said that past presidents also engaged in the act known as fiscal backpedaling without being subjected to an impeachment process.

“My conscience is clear,” Rousseff said. “Did I commit these acts? Yes. But I did not commit them illegally. I have been treated in a way that others have not.”

Rousseff’s opponents have said that her predecessors never engaged in backpedaling on this scale, and that the act caused the government’s borrowing costs to rise, due to a loss of confidence among investors. Fiscal backpedaling, her opponents said, constituted an impeachable offense.

But Rousseff has not been charged in the wider Operation Carwash probe, which has uncovered a multi-billion-dollar kickback scheme at Petrobras, Brazil’s partially state-run oil behemoth. The probe has ensnared leading figures in her Workers’ Party, some of Brazil’s top industrialists and several of the politicians currently seeking her ouster.

Among those implicated in the Petrobras scheme are House Speaker Eduardo Cunha, who spearheaded the long-running impeachment effort in Congress, and Vice President Michel Temer, whom Rousseff accused of orchestrating her downfall.

“I do not face a single charge of misappropriating public funds. I find it an injustice that those who possess bank accounts abroad have presided over this process,” Rousseff said, taking a stab at Cunha. The house speaker faces a corruption probe over allegedly receiving a $5 million bribe and hiding the money in a Swiss bank account.

“I cannot understand how a Congress filled with people like Cunha, who faces a litany of charges, can lead a campaign against the president,” said Márcia Quadrado, 52, a Workers’ Party supporter who attended a pro-government demonstration in Brasília that occurred concurrently with the impeachment vote. “This Congress does not represent me.”

Quadrado was one of tens of thousands of Brazilians who took to the streets throughout the country to both protest and champion the impeachment vote. Some 79,000 people congregated in the capital’s Monumental Axis, according to estimates by the Military Police, with 26,000 supporting the president and 53,000 cheering on her opponents. Fearing clashes between both sides, authorities in Brasília had earlier in the week erected a 1km-long steel wall to separate pro- and anti-government demonstrators.

The vice president, like Rousseff, faces an impeachment petition for fiscal backpedaling. Earlier in April, a Supreme Court minister chastised Cunha for launching the impeachment petition against Rousseff, his sworn arch-enemy, in the same month in which he shelved a petition against Temer over the same crime. Cunha and Temer are party allies.

Rousseff said that she found it appalling that a vice president would conspire against the president. Temer has flagrantly angled for the top job in the past several weeks despite his own impeachment petition making its way through Brazil’s courts. He is the leader of the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party, whose split from the government coalition on March 29 comprised the strongest sign at the time that Rousseff would not survive an impeachment vote in Congress. Prior to the split, Temer had assembled a team of economists critical of Rousseff’s policies to advise him in the event that he became president, Brazilian newspaper Folha de S. Paulo reported. And six days before the impeachment vote, he released a 12-minute audio clip of himself practicing the acceptance speech he planned to give after Rousseff lost a crucial early decision. (He says he released the audio by mistake.)

“Nobody that displays this kind of behavior deserves respect,” Rousseff said on Monday. “Society does not like traitors.”

A total of 367 congressmen on Sunday voted to oust the president, compared to 137 who rejected the impeachment petition. (There were seven abstentions.) The impeachment effort required two-thirds of the 513 votes to pass. It reached the targeted number with less than an hour left before midnight.

“It is my honor that destiny has chosen me to deliver a rally cry of hope to millions of Brazilians,” said Congressman Bruno Araújo, before delivering the crucial 342th anti-Rousseff vote that officially impeached her. Araújo, like many who voted on Sunday, faces charges of corruption.

The effort to impeach Rousseff now moves to the Senate, which will decide on whether to put her on trial. On Monday, Cunha hand-delivered the successful impeachment vote to Senate leader Renan Calheiros.

If the Senate votes to instate a trial, Rousseff will be forced to step down for up to 180 days until her fate is determined. Temer then becomes interim president.

Temer is not popular among voters. A poll in March by Datafolha found that a staggering one percent of Brazilians would vote for him if he ran for president.

“This is the first step,” said Yuri Carraro, 27, one of the thousands of demonstrators supporting the impeachment process, “but it’s not the solution. Temer is crooked; the PMDB is crooked. What I hope for is political reform and a new election, so that people can choose new leaders.”

An earlier version of this article appeared in the Latin America News Dispatch.

Brazil Congressional Committee Votes to Proceed with Rousseff Impeachment

Top Story — The Brazilian congressional committee set up to determine whether President Dilma Rousseff should face impeachment proceedings decided on Monday to uphold the impeachment process by 38 to 27 votes, further increasing the chances of Rousseff’s ouster.

Monday’s decision brought to an end the first part of the impeachment process, which will now be put to a vote in Brazil’s Chamber of Deputies. If Rousseff fails to secure the support of two-thirds of the 513 deputies, the process moves to a trial in the Senate. The Chamber of Deputies is expected to vote on the 17 or 18 of April.

Rousseff is accused of violating fiscal laws to conceal significant holes in the government budget ahead of her 2014 re-election. Her supporters point out that previous leaders have perpetrated equivalent acts of budgetary window-dressing, and that attempting to impeach Rousseff over this alleged deed is tantamount to a “coup.”

Vice President Michel Temer also faces impeachment proceedings over the same allegations. On Monday, however, Temer accidentally made public the speech he had planned to give once the congressional committee voted to uphold Rousseff’s impeachment process, thus putting him closer to becoming president.

“Many have asked me to address the nation,” Temer said in the recording, which his cabinet confirmed was sent out by mistake to some of his cell phone contacts. “I am doing so now with plenty of modesty, caution and moderation.”

While Monday’s vote deals a blow to the embattled president, Rousseff’s impeachment is far from guaranteed. Her opponents are unsure whether they will be able to secure the 172 votes needed in the upcoming Chamber of Deputies hearing. The impeachment will then have to be approved by the Senate in two separate motions.

Headlines from the Western Hemisphere

North America

The Mexican central bank will move $13.6 billion to the Finance Ministry to purchase federal debt and stabilize the budget—actions experts say are a response to decreasing oil prices and their negative effects to the country’s state-run oil company PEMEX.

U.S. officials have requested the extradition of a Mexican woman on the FBI’s most wanted list who is accused of orchestrating the Dallas County murder of her ex-boyfriend’s new girlfriend.

Passions were stoked as residents of Miami Beach, Florida, and surrounding areas, many of them Cuban-born, voiced their opinions during a town hall meeting to discuss the possibility of the town hosting a Cuban consulate. Both the mayor and commissioner of Miami Beach said they were open to the idea during a March trip to the island country.

Caribbean

With major defaults on the horizon, Puerto Rico proposed a new debt restructuring deal that would see the island pay $1.85 billion a year — up from the $1.7 billion agreed upon in earlier deals. Experts say Puerto Rico will appeal to the U.S. Congress, who are to decide on possible debt solutions ahead of a May 1 repayment deadline .

Central America

Investigators from Panama’s intellectual property prosecutor’s office visited the offices of the Mossack Fonseca law firm, whose leaked documents comprise the “Panama Papers,” to assess claims made by the firm that the leak was the product of hackers.

A group of journalists and free speech activists placed coffins outside the Honduran attorney general’s office in protest of the largely unsolved deaths of 22 journalists who been killed in the country since 2014.

Andes

Venezuela’s Supreme Court has declared an amnesty law for imprisoned opposition leaders unconstitutional, a move criticized by the United Nations. The Supreme Court decision widens the divide between President Nicolás Maduro and the National Assembly lead by the opposition, many of whom came to power promising to fight for the release of what they call political prisoners.

As Peru prepares for its run-off presidential elections scheduled for June, investors have increased their activity in the Peruvian market in anticipation of a potential win by Wall Street-favored conservative Pedro Pablo Kuczynsk.

Venezuelan individuals associated with the ongoing investigation surrounding the leaks of the Panama Papers will have their assets frozen, announced Luisa Ortega, the country’s chief prosecutor.

Southern Cone

According to government officials, Argentina is planning to invest $5 billion in renewable energies by 2018, a plan that aims to reduce the country’s energy deficit.

After many prominent Chilean politicians faced accusations of campaign fraud, President Michelle Bachelet approved two bills that aim to limit campaign spending, establish gender quotas for party lists and ensure that companies can’t form political parties.

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Brazilian Judge Rules Vice President Must Face Impeachment, Complicating Succession Plans

Top Story — A Brazilian Supreme Court justice on Tuesday ordered Congress to initiate impeachment proceedings against Vice President Michel Temer, complicating efforts by Temer’s party to install him in the presidency after impeaching President Dilma Rousseff.

The order, by Judge Marco Aurelio Mello, came on the same day that Temer stepped down as head of the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party (PMDB). Rousseff’s opponents in Congress, many of whom backed a Temer presidency, must now re-calculate their vote against the president, considering her second-in-command is now accused of the same crime as Rousseff.

Rousseff and Temer stand accused of manipulating the government’s books to conceal a large budget deficit ahead of the president’s 2014 re-election. Mariel Márley Marra, the lawyer who authored the impeachment petition against Temer, told the BBC on Tuesday that the president and vice president should be judged in tandem.

The speaker of the house, Eduardo Cunha, also of the PMDB, launched impeachment proceedings against his political nemesis Rousseff in December, the same month in which he shelved a petition to impeach his ally, Temer, on the same grounds. Mello, the judge, said on Tuesday that Cunha lacked the authority to set aside such a petition, and that the decision to reject or go forth with it could only be made by a congressional committee.

Cunha said he will appeal Mello’s ruling. An analyst who spoke to Reuters, however, said the ruling is unlikely to be overturned. For his part, Mello said Cunha will be considered criminally responsible should he fail to immediately act on the Supreme Court order.

Temer, meanwhile, stepped down on Tuesday as the leader of PMDB to distance himself from the party’s attempts to de-legitimize an administration that he remains a part of. Temer’s announcement came one week after PMDB, Brazil’s largest party, abandoned Rousseff’s governing coalition. At the time, the split appeared to deal a fatal blow to the president.

The impeachment committee’s vote on whether Rousseff perpetrated an impeachable crime is scheduled for April 11.

Headlines from the Western Hemisphere

North America

Ford Motor company announced on Tuesday plans to build a $1.6 billion factory in Mexico’s state of San Luis Potosí, which would shift small-car production outside of the United States and create 2,800 jobs. U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump called the decision an “absolute disgrace,” citing it as a reason to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Trump sent The Washington Post a two-page memo outlining how he plans to force Mexico to pay for his proposed 1,000-mile border fence by threatening to change a law that would cut off remittances to the country. U.S. President Barack Obama called Trump’s proposal “half-baked notion” that would hurt Mexico’s economy and in turn spur more migration to the United States.

The harsh rhetoric by Trump and other Republican candidates concerning Mexico may have influenced a decision by Mexico’s Foreign Ministry to nominate a new ambassador to the United States, the current consul general in Los Angeles, just six months after the confirmation of his predecessor.

Mexico’s military said Tuesday that soldiers destroyed nearly an acre of opium poppies growing just 60 miles south of the U.S. border in Baja California, much further north than usual and an apparent sign of expanding heroin production by drug cartels.

Forty-three U.S. Republican senators signed a new Supreme Court brief that accuses Obama of overstepping his powers when he passed his executive action on immigration reform last year, but a notable 11 Republican senators did not sign the document.

Caribbean

The head of Haiti’s electoral council said Tuesday that the group faces numerous challenges that must be resolved before they can issue a new electoral calendar, casting further doubt on the possibility of the tentative April 24 election date.

Meanwhile, a leaked report from the United Nations reveals the organization had uncovered serious sanitation failures in its Haiti peacekeeping mission, including lack of toilets and sewage dumped in the open, just a month after the country suffered a deadly cholera outbreak for which the U.N. has steadfastly refused to compensate victims.

Puerto Rico’s Senate authorized a declaration of emergency and a moratorium on new debt early Tuesday morning, a move that show the U.S. territory’s resistance to a restructuring deal that calls for close federal oversight.

Central America

Nicaragua is facing an increasingly severe water supply crisis due to a three-year drought, coupled with deforestation, which has led the country to lose 60 percent of its surface water sources and caused at least 100 rivers to dry up, a leading activist and former environment minister told Inter Press Service.

Honduras’ President Juan Orlando Hernandez said he will suspend several top police officials after investigators found evidence they conspired in the assassination of a leading anti-drug prosecutor in 2009, highlighting persistent links between the security forces and organized crime.

NPR provides an overview of the international fallout from the release of the Panama Papers, including Tuesday’s resignation of Iceland’s Prime Minister following mass protests and Panama’s continued efforts to combat its reputation as a tax haven.

Andes

In Peru, Tuesday marked the 24th anniversary of now-imprisoned former President Alberto Fujimori’s dissolution of congress, an anniversary that drew large crowds throughout the country marching in memory of past human rights abuses only five days before presidential elections in which Fujimori’s daughter, Keiko Fujimori, is favored, but not by enough to avoid a runoff.

Eliecer García Torrealba, Interpol’s top detective in Venezuela, was arrested over his alleged involvement in shipping over 300 kilograms of cocaine from Venezuela to the Dominican Republic, after authorities intercepted a drug-laden plane he is accused of letting take off.

Southern Cone

The Argentine real estate developer Lázaro Báez was arrested Tuesday on money laundering charges in a case that could implicate former President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, a close associate of Báez.

Gonzalo Delaveu, the head of the Chilean branch of the anti-corruption group Transparency International, resigned after being connected to five offshore companies exposed in the Panama Papers, a coincidence some observers have described as ironic.

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