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Hand of Pod: Violence Rears its Head Again in Argentine Football

Hand of Pod: Violence Rears its Head Again in Argentine Football

Hand Of Pod is a podcast dedicated to discussing the domestic football scene in Argentina, with the inevitable occasional digressions into the land of the continental cups and the national team.

This week’s Hand Of Pod sees Sam and Andrés have as much off-pitch stuff to focus on as on-pitch. San Lorenzo drew and Boca Juniors won, to leave Boca two points clear at the top heading into this Sunday’s clash of the top two, but the bigger news last weekend was in Mendoza, where Godoy Cruz v Racing was called off after 25 minutes with Racing leading 1-0, after Godoy Cruz barras started pelting the players with stones, apparently in protest at new manager Gabriel Heinze’s refusal to give them money. There is also crisis at Crucero del Norte, whose players have started to publicly complain about how they have to travel to away matches. As well as all this, we look at the latest bizarre twists in the ongoing story of Marcelo Tinelli’s campaign to get elected as president of the Argentine FA, look at two more points dropped by River Plate, and much more.


 

Mystic Sam’s twenty-second round predictions (last week: 3/14)
Banfield v Argentinos
Tigre v Godoy Cruz
Central v Arsenal
Temperley v Belgrano
Defensa y Justicia v Newell’s
Huracán v Independiente
Crucero v Lanús
Colón v Sarmiento
Boca v San Lorenzo
Racing v Gimnasia
Olimpo v Unión
Chicago v River
San Martín v Vélez
Atlético de Rafaela v Quilmes
Estudiantes v Aldosivi

You can find out more about the team behind HOP here.

Posted in Sport, TOP STORY0 Comments

Guatemala: President Pérez Molina Resigns

[Story in development]

President Otto Pérez Molina has resigned hours after courts issued a warrant for his arrest based on accusations that he led a major customs fraud scandal known as ‘La Línea’.

The president’s decision to step down comes a day after he was stripped of his immunity by Congress and barred from leaving the country.

President Otto Pérez Molina (Photo: Archive/Sandra Sebastián/Plaza Publica)

President Otto Pérez Molina (Photo: Archive/Sandra Sebastián/Plaza Publica)

It also arrives just days before Sunday’s general election, in which Pérez Molina is not standing for re-election.

Vice-President Alejandro Maldonado, who is set to take on the leadership of the country until the new president is inaugurated in January, wrote today on Twitter. “Young people of Guatemala: Clear minds, clean hearts, and broad shoulders!”

“From the beginning of by professional and political career, I have fought for democracy, peace, and the well-being of the Guatemalan people,” the president wrote in a resignation letter sent to Congress last night. “Given the current situation and taking into account above all the interests of the State, I must continue with my duty and with the conviction to do what is right, hand myself over to the justice system to resolve my personal situation.”

The outgoing president has not been formally charged with anything yet, though Public Prosecutor Thelma Aldana said on Tuesday that he could face charges including criminal conspiracy, accepting bribes, and customs fraud.

Aldana said today that the accusations against Pérez Molina were based on more than 90,000 recording of telephone conversations that had been cross-checked with electronic and paper documents.

She said that the now ex-president would be investigated as any other citizen and that the presumption of innocence would be respected.

“I will face the due process with a clear conscience, and with the principles and values that I was raised with,” said Pérez Molina, who maintains his innocence.

Pérez Molina’s former vice-president, Roxana Baldetti, was arrested on 21st August and is still being held as part of the same investigation. She also claims to be innocent of any wrong-doing.

The president’s resignation letter

“From the beginning of by professional and political career, I have fought for democracy, peace, and the well-being of the Guatemalan people. Given the current situation and taking into account above all the interests of the State, I must continue with my duty and with the conviction to do what is right, hand myself over to the justice system to resolve my personal situation. I present to you and the honourable Congress of the Republic my resignation as President of the Republic of Guatemala.

I will face the due process with a clear conscience, and with the principles and values that I have been raised with. Today more than ever my commitment to the people of Guatemala is to submit myself with integrity, via the due process, to the law and discredit the accusations they are throwing at me.

I call on all Guatemalans to leave aside hate and resentment and, within the rule of law, contribute to the deep transformations required of the State, to face the big challenges in the construction of our Guatemala, to be the expression of justice, security, peace, and development, especially of the most deprived.

I have conviction and faith in God that the future is full of promise, that new times are coming, and that a nation that provides a decent life for all will be a reality.

I thank the Catholic Church and the Evangelical Church for their prayers, and the millions of Guatemalans who trusted and still believe that together we can build a better Guatemala.”

President Pérez Molina's resignation letter.

Posted in News From Latin America, Round Ups Latin America0 Comments

Guatemala: President Stripped of Immunity, Barred from Leaving Country

The political crisis in Guatemala intensified yesterday as President Otto Pérez Molina had his immunity stripped by Congress and just hours later was barred by a court order from leaving the country.

President Otto Pérez Molina (Photo via Government of Guatemala)

President Otto Pérez Molina (Photo via Government of Guatemala)

All 132 of the 158 legislators present in yesterday’s session voted to remove the president’s immunity from prosecution, the first time this recourse has been used in Guatemala.

This leaves him open to a full criminal investigation into his alleged role as leader of a major customs fraud network know as “La Línea”.

Immediately after the vote, prosecutors at the Public Ministry (PM) filed a petition at the court to prevent President Pérez Molina from fleeing the country. A few hours later Judge Miguel Ángel Gálvez issued the order to bar the president from leaving Guatemala.

Public Prosecutor Thelma Aldana declared last night that the president could be arrested “in the coming days” on charges including criminal conspiracy, accepting bribes, and customs fraud.

“After his immunity has been stripped, the president will face the courts as any other citizen would,” said Aldana. “Guatemala is showing that nobody is above the law, it is a message for all public officials now and in the future.”

Pérez Molina’s former vice-president, Roxana Baldetti, was arrested on 21st August and is still being held as part of the same investigation.

Crowds of Guatemalans celebrated the decision to strip the president of immunity (Photo: Gerardo del Valle/ Plaza Publica)

Crowds of Guatemalans celebrated the decision to strip the president of immunity (Photo: Gerardo del Valle/ Plaza Publica)

Elections

The political crisis, which began will the revelations of the “La Línea” corruption scandal in April, deepened just days before the election to determine who will succeed President Pérez Molina.

Opposition leader Manuel Baldizón, of the conservative Libertad Democrática Renovada (Lider) party is currently ahead in opinion polls.

Posted in News From Latin America, Round Ups Latin America0 Comments

Argentina Seeks Beef Exports to US ‘Before Year Ends’

The Argentine government said it would be ready to export beef to the US “before the end of the year” after the World Trade Organisation (WTO) ruled that Washington must end a 14-year ban.

The WTO’s Dispute Settlement Body ruled against the US’ 2001 ban on imports of frozen or refrigerated beef from Argentina.

The embargo was originally implemented due to outbreaks of foot and mouth disease (FMD) in Argentina, but remained in place even though the country has been internationally-recognised as FMD since 2007. Since then, the US restriction has cost Argentina approximately US$2bn in export sales, according to estimates from the Economy Ministry.

Foreign Affairs Minsiter Héctor Timerman and Agriculture Minister Carlos Casamiquela speaking earlier today (Photo via Casa Rosada)

Foreign Affairs Minsiter Héctor Timerman and Agriculture Minister Carlos Casamiquela speaking earlier today (Photo via Casa Rosada)

This morning, Foreign Affairs Minsiter Héctor Timerman and Agriculture Minister Carlos Casamiquela celebrated the WTO decision, which was announced in July but confirmed yesterday without the possibility of appeal.

“It is a great triumph for Argentina, and I hope that cattle producers will be happy with the news,” said Timerman. “The reason we went to the WTO in 2012 was because we had tried unsuccessfully to negotiate the end of the trade restrictions imposed unilaterally by the US.”

Timerman also warned that cattle organisations and the so-called vulture funds in the US were lobbying to block the sale of Argentine meat in the world’s biggest economy, but added that the WTO’s decision is “not up for appeal: they either open the market or could face sanctions.”

Meanwhile, Casamiquela estimated that if the US removes the ban “Argentina will be ready to export before the end of the year.”

The government forecasts that beef sales to the US could amount to US$280m per year if the market is re-opened.

Latest figures from the National Food Safety and Quality Service (SENASA) show a modest recovery in the volume exports of fresh meat and related products in the first half of 2015. However, it still remains barely a third of the output in the same period of 2009.

Posted in News From Argentina, Round Ups Argentina0 Comments

Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo Recover 117th Grandchild

The Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo have announced the recovery of the 117th grandchild abducted during Argentina’s last military dictatorship.

(Photo courtesy of @abuelasdifusion Twitter account).

(Photo courtesy of @abuelasdifusion Twitter account).

The daughter of Gladys Castro and Walter Domínguez, both kidnapped in Mendoza in 1977 when Castro was six months pregnant, was born in captivity in March of 1978.

Although the identity of their daughter has not been made public, it was announced that it was confirmed through genetic tests that she was the child of disappeared parents just two days ago.

The Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo held a press conference earlier today during which the recovered grandchild’s grandmothers and a paternal uncle accompanied the organisation’s leader, Estela de Carlotto, who explained that the 117th grandchild “knew she wasn’t the biological daughter” of the couple who raised her and that she “immediately agreed” to get a DNA test done.

“Welcome granddaughter 117 and many more grandchildren!” said Carlotto.

Posted in News From Argentina, Round Ups Argentina1 Comment

Crisis in Guatemala: The Fall of the President and his Vice

Crisis in Guatemala: The Fall of the President and his Vice

This article originally appeared on 22nd August as ‘Otto Pérez y Baldetti: la caída‘ in Plaza Publica. Translation by Marc Rogers.

In the space of 12 hours Otto Pérez Molina’s artificially sustained presidency crumbled. His ex-vice president, Roxana Baldetti, is being held as a presumed member of a customs fraud ring in the ‘La Línea’ case. The Public Ministry and CICIG describe Otto Pérez as the head of the structure and are calling for his immunity to be stripped to investigate him. “The president” that appears in recorded phone conversations is, they now think, the actual president. And this is just scraping the surface of the crisis.

Former vice president Roxana Baldetti has been detained, accused of leading a major network of customs fraud and, according to prosecutors, of receiving millions in bribes. Baldetti quit under pressure on 8th May, and in the following days watched as her accounts were checked, her assets wiped out, and her houses raided. The latter, on 20th August, was just one day before Judge Miguel Ángel Gálvez stood at her bed in the Centro Médico Hospital and told her she was under arrest. Before that happened, Baldetti had lost the support of her party, of her running mate, and of the chambers of commerce that stood behind the current administration in the previous elections.

President Otto Pérez Molina and ex-Vice President Roxana Baldetti (Photo: Sandra Sebastián, via Plaza Publica)

President Otto Pérez Molina and ex-Vice President Roxana Baldetti (Photo: Sandra Sebastián, via Plaza Publica)

But despite the gravity of the situation, it is just the tip of the iceberg of this crisis. In a declaration made on 21st August, the Public Minsitry (PM) and International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) made it clear that incumbent president Otto Fernando Pérez Molina is the likely figurehead of the criminal network, which was possibly running even before he won the 2011 elections.

While the ex-vice is held in the General Matamoros barracks and the president barricaded behind the institionality of his office, those calling for his resignation on the streets become more vocal. The public prosecutor, Thelma Aldana, and the CICIG commissioner, Iván Velásquez, have no doubt that there is sufficient evidence to take Baldetti to trial and for [the courts to] strip President Pérez Molina of his immunity so he can be investigated*. And even this is just another layer of the crisis: in play is the political direction of the entire country.

For Baldetti the latest chapter of this story began the previous Friday [14th August] when, according to the private hospital ‘Centro Médico’, she was interned for a “gastronomic infection” brought on by stress. Unofficial reports, however, note that she went in to the hospital on the Sunday. The rumours of new arrests, advances in the investigations into numerous corruption scandals, such as ‘La Línea’, had been growing during the week.

Judge Miguel Ángel Gálvez had issued an arrest warrant for Baldetti on charges of criminal conspiracy, passive bribery, and specific cases of customs fraud last Wednesday, but the information had not been made public. The next day the PM searched her home and confiscated documents, phones, and computers deemed relevant to the investigation. On Friday night, the prosecutor on the case declared on Canal Antigua that the raid was to gather information. They knew, he said, that they wouldn’t find Baldetti at home, even though they weren’t aware at the time that she was in hospital.

Friday was ‘D’ Day for Roxana Baldetti.

Public Ministy officials went to the Centro Médico to search for the former vice president, who had tried one last throw of the dice with an appeal for ‘personal exhibition’ through her lawyer Mario Cano. A desperate strategy against the inevitable, as such appeals are only applicable in cases of unlawful arrest. That morning, one of the formerly most powerful women in Guatemala faced her darkest hours. According to the PM, three or four officials remained in her room while waiting for the judge to come with her arrest warrant.

The woman who had lead so many rallies and public activities for the Partido Patriota (PP) received no support from her party. Before the PM and CICIG had revealed the links connecting Baldetti to the ‘La Línea’ network, the PP presidential candidate Mario David García, previously a mentor in her career as a journalist, disowned her. In a statement, García asked that “the law be applied without any mercy” in Baldetti’s case.

In the rest of the PP, or what remains of it, silence reigned.

The PM and CICIG Show Their Hand

While Baldetti awaited her fate in her hospital room, the PM and CICIG called a press conference to reveal the new evidence in the ‘La Línea’ case. The first blow was landed even before they showed the evidence: they brought forward the request to impeach Otto Pérez while he was at an event in the district of Zacapa. The president, rattled and annoyed, said that it was “lamentable” but that he was not considering stepping down – he was going “to face it”.

President Otto Pérez Molina speaks to press about the allegations against him (Photo: Presidencia Guatemala)

President Otto Pérez Molina speaks to press about the allegations against him (Photo: Presidencia Guatemala)

A few minutes later the press conference began and all fell silent in the presidential palace. First, as is commonplace, came the avalanche of figures from a massive investigation:

Phone intercepts: 88,920 calls;
Emails: 5906;
Forensic samples: 175,000 documents;
Institutional reports: 100;
Raids: 17;
Documents discovered in these raids: 650,000 files;
Goods declared: 2,814;
Phone records: 100 in 32 phone books;
Financial information from 100 people and 22 companies.

Behind the cascade of numbers lies a fact: up to now the investigation has not called one witness forward. The axiom of the PM and CICIG has been that the truth lies in the analysis of large amounts of data, acquired with scientific proof.

Between 16th April, when the ‘La Línea’ case was revealed, and 21st August, the number of phone intercepts jumped from 66,000 to 88,920. Among these, according to Public Prosecutor Thelma Aldana, are communications between the president and leaders of the criminal network behind ‘La Línea’. Other conversations reveal meetings in one of Pérez Molina’s houses with key figures of the network that are currently being detained.

And that was just the beginning.

Velásquez described it thus: “We discovered documents that revealed close ties between the president and the then-vice president with members of the criminal organisation that we exposed on 16th April. These were business and financial ties. For example, in one office we found a sales plan in which Otto Pérez Molina was indicated as a client in a property transaction, or we found documents showing payments for armour-plated vehicles belonging to Otto Pérez Molina but delivered to Juan Carlos Monzón [Baldetti’s former private secretary].”

In one raid in the offices of Salvador Estuardo González Álvarez, alias ‘Eco’ they found two cheques in the name of Baldetti on behalf of the company Proyectos Rentables de Inversión S.A., a financial company in which the ex-vice president herself admits she is a shareholder. They amount to Q1,145,000 (US$150,000) in February 2014, and Q2,256,250 (US$294,000) in April 2014. In total, six cheques received by Baldetti totalled Q7,958,823.34 (US$1,036,000). The payment, requested by Juan Carlos Monzón, alias ‘JC’ (in February 2013) to armour-plate a Jaguar XF3.0 belonging to the president, was received by Adquisiciones, Inversiones y Servicios, S.A., a company owned by Proyectos Rentables de Inversión S.A.

It was a structure in which the two leaders, Salvador Estuardo González Álvarez and Juan Carlos Monzón Rojas acted as errand boys for the presidential pair. They were also charged with processing payments and receipts for the Baldetti family.

And then there was the most revealing aspect of the case: a memorandum written by Salvador González to the president with the title ‘Tax income from the customs office’, found in Eco’s office in the 16th April raids. It had been sent three days earlier to “General Otto Pérez Molina, Constitutional President of the Republic.” In this memo, says Velásquez, Eco reports to the president about the customs system: “In accordance with your instructions a report was made to identify the weaknesses in the collection of customs revenues, tariffs, and VAT.”

This “analysis” of improvements in tax collection was carried out sometimes outside of the tax office (SAT), and González even noted ironically: “The CICIG could know about this as they may know the government’s methods to reach the tax collection targets.”

Salvador González’s computer, a mine of information, also included tables with payment controls and a distribution of spending. “Fortunately, it was very organised,” says Velásquez. “I say fortunately because it will allow us to be more accurate in finding other elements of proof in the financial analysis.” According to the tables, “1 and 2” were assigned 50% of the fraudulent takings, Monzón 7.5%, and González 6.5%.

Evidence presented by the MP and CICIG (Photo: Justice Ministry)

Evidence presented by the MP and CICIG (Photo: Justice Ministry)

In the only dramatic gesture of the conference, towards the end, the PM and CICIG showed the hierarchy of the La Línea framework, with the image of the president and ex-vice president above Monzón and González. The CICIG commissioner concluded: “There is no doubt, due to references to meetings, that ‘1 and 2’ correspond to the president and former vice-president.

Bank Accounts and Phone Recordings: Another Nail in the Coffin

The money trail is the next step in the investigation against the suspected leaders of ‘La Línea’. The public prosecutor explained that the information presented is just a sample, and that they have more documents to analyse. The imperturbable Aldana fired a shot at Pérez Molina: “We hope they determine that there is a case against the president, that way we can demand access to his bank accounts. We are already at that stage in the case of Baldetti. Prosecutors are leading the investigation into money laundering and other actions.”

But where did the money received by the network, which according to telephone recordings was deposited in at least four bank accounts, end up?

“In that recording I think there were four accounts opened by Corpogold. We have identified close to nine accounts, from financial records provided by banks and the large amount of information gathered. We aim to get a complete understanding of the phenomenon so we can determine the amounts moved between these accounts and other destinations,” affirmed Velásquez. The commissioner declined to say if the money had left the country, a move that would open the door to investigations in money laundering by other countries, such as the US.

Prosecutor Aldana specified that the previous day anti-money laundering officials had started to analyse Baldetti’s accounts. She did not deny the possibility that the analysis of financial records could lead them to the president himself. In an interview with Guatevisión on the Friday night, the prosecutor also declared that they have recording of telephone coversations between the president and members of La Línea. Though the president’s phone was never tapped, those of other members of the network were, and conversations revealed contact and even meetings between them. Asked about the president’s role in La Línea, Aldana was categorical: “He was not only aware of La Línea, he was a part of it.”

The “Head of the Estate”, Increasingly Alone

Another psuedonym for the leaders of La Línea was revealed during the PM and CICIG conference last week. The president may have been called “Head of the Estate”, and the vice-president simply “The boss”.

The alleged structure of La Línea. (Photo: CICIG)

The alleged structure of La Línea. (Photo: CICIG)

If Baldetti learned of the vacuum of power in hospital, Otto Pérez Molina is suffering the same fate but surrounded by officials who view his administration as a walking corpse. While the ex-vice contemplated her fate in hospital, things were not looking much rosier for the president.

The first message was once again sent by the US government via its ambassador Todd Robinson. In an interview with Radio Sonora, Robinson stated that “Justice must be applied [to Baldetti]. The PM and CICIG have conducted a serious investigation,” leaving open the possibility that Baldetti could be extradited to the US if it was shown that she took her alleged dealings there.

The establishment, which had called for Baldetti’s impeachment when the street protests and messages from the US embassy turned serious, called a press conference that same Friday afternoon [21st August]. There, the Coordinating Committee of Agricultural, Commercial, Industrial, and Financial Associations (CACIF) pronounced the words that it had refused to say for months while it though the crisis was manageable, withdrawing its support for the government.

Jorge Briz, an old ally of Otto Pérez during the Gran Alianza Nacional but enemy since the president became a harsh critic of the Oscar Berger administration, delivered the ultimatum. “Today the PM and CICIG have presented evidence that indicate possible links between the president and a network of contrabrand and customs fraud, something that severely compromises and makes his position as leader of the Executive untenable,” declared Briz. “As such, we call on Otto Pérez Molina to hand in his immediate resignation as president of the Republic of Guatemala.” CACIF also called on current vice-president Alejandro Maldonado Aguirre to take on the role as leader if the president goes.

The pressure is growing and the president finds himself in a corner. There are analytical reports preparing for any event: if Congress rejects the impeachment request in an attempt to avoid a citizen-wide demand for a political purge; if the Supreme Court accepts the case against the president and puts more pressure on Congress*; if the president flees the country and breaks the constitutional order, or simply retires.

That same Friday afternoon, in front of the Palacio Nacional a mass of angry people demanded what many people have been demanding for months: for Pérez Molina to step down. That night, the television showd Baldetti being taken to the barracks at Matamoros, a group of people calling her a “Thief!” and “Corrupt!” as she hid her face like any other person shown being arrested in TV news report.

This, today and for months now, is the image that for those protesting on the streets best describes not just the case against the ex-vice president, but Guatemala’s entire political system. If General Otto Pérez Molina, whose political career took off during the 1993 ‘self-coup’ by President Jorge Serrano Elías, watched all of this, he might have imagined a return to the past, but this time he is the one on the precipice.

*On Wednesday 26th August, Guatemala’s Supreme Court approved the request to impeach President Otto Pérez Molina. On Saturday 29th August, a Congressional committee also recommended that the president be stripped of his immunity, meaning the issue will be taken to a vote in the coming days.

Posted in Analysis, News From Latin America, TOP STORY0 Comments

Hand of Pod: San Lorenzo and Boca Push Ahead in League Marathon

Hand of Pod: San Lorenzo and Boca Push Ahead in League Marathon

Hand Of Pod is a podcast dedicated to discussing the domestic football scene in Argentina, with the inevitable occasional digressions into the land of the continental cups and the national team.

In the latest episode of Hand Of Pod, Sam and Andrés look back on a weekend which saw San Lorenzo and Boca Juniors extend their (joint-)leadership of the title race, as they both won and River Plate slumped to a second straight defeat. Even more amazingly, Nueva Chicago won for the second week running – though we suspect both they and the team they beat, Crucero del Norte, will still be the two sides ultimately doomed to relegation. Argentina manager Gerardo Martino had some choice words for the Argentine FA’s schedulers, and River are entering the transfer market after Ramiro Funes Mori’s sale to Everton leaves them with a slot to fill in the defence and the cash to do so. HOP is sponsored by Argentina Independent, a fine English-language source of news from Argentina and across Latin America.

Mystic Sam’s 22nd round predictions (last week: 6/15)
Newell’s v Colón
Argentinos v Crucero del Norte
Sarmiento v Atl. Rafaela
Vélez v Defensa y Justicia
Quilmes v Temperley
Arsenal v Tigre
San Lorenzo v Banfield
Independiente v Estudiantes
River v Huracán
Unión v Central
Aldosivi v San Martín
Belgrano v Olimpo
Godoy Cruz v Racing
Lanús v Chicago

You can find out more about the team behind HOP here.

Posted in Sport0 Comments

Poetic Injustice: María Kodama vs. The Lit Scene

Poetic Injustice: María Kodama vs. The Lit Scene

This is an exclusive English-language translation of the article ‘#InjusticPoética‘, originally published in Revista Anfibia.

In 2010, María Kodama purchased the rights to her former husband’s complete works for a sum of two million euros. In 2011, her lawyer accused the writer Pablo Katchadjian of copyright infringement. The punishment: an order for seizure of assets valued at $80, and a possible prison sentence.

Where does this story begin? Does it begin sometime in autumn of 2011, when Pablo Katchadjian finds a letter underneath his door and realises that María Kodama, the widow and universal heir of Jorge Luis Borges, had filed a lawsuit against him for copyright infringement? Does it begin when, having recently learned of the existence of a book called ‘El Aleph engordado’ by some young man with an Armenian surname, Kodama decides to speak to a lawyer about filing a lawsuit? Or when Katchadjian adds 5,600 words to the 4,000 comprising the original story, and then publishes the results under the title ‘El Aleph engordado’ in an independent publishing house in 2009? Or months earlier, when he jots down in a notebook: “Try fattening-up a book, like ‘El Aleph’”? Or does this story begin back in the ’40s, when Jorge Luis Borges sits down to write a story about a house and inside, a basement where a single point in space contains every other point in the universe: a point from where one makes out vast oceans, the sunrise, the afternoon, the crowded masses of America, a silver-plated spider web fixed at the center of a black pyramid, a red labyrinth (London, it turns out), bunches of stuff, snow, tobacco, veins of metal, steam, convex equatorial deserts and every last grain of sand, a woman and a young writer, a trial and the outcome of that trial about which we remain ignorant, although there it was, plain to see, in the minute point on the staircase in the house of some such Carlos Argentino Daneri, on Garay street?

***

'El Aleph engordado' - the book published by Pablo Katchadjian based on Borges' classic tale.

‘El Aleph engordado’ – the book published by Pablo Katchadjian based on Borges’ classic tale.

Towards the end of 2011, Pablo Katchadjian was typing away on his computer when someone slipped an envelope underneath his door. He went over and picked it up and read the word “Kodama”. What could that possibly mean? A week earlier he had been speaking with Ricardo Strafacce, a writer and lawyer. He thought to call him.

“I just got a letter,” he said.

Strafacce, as per usual, was at the bar Varela Varelita, one of the greats, the kind of bar brimming with conversation, simple drinks, and tattered menus, populated with politicians, artists, and, of course, writers and poets. Héctor Libertella was among the local denizens.

“Come on over,” he said.

Some time passed and Katchadjian arrived. He approached the table and showed the paper. Strafacce read it.

“This isn’t a letter. It’s a notice from the court.”

Acting through her lawyer Fernando Soto, María Kodama had filed a lawsuit against him for copyright infringement. The accusation specifically concerned ‘El Aleph engordado’. Among other things, it accused him of having modified the original story, “distorting one of Borges’ most celebrated works, turning it into a pastiche…”; of having caused financial damages to a woman, who, it should be mentioned, already had tongues wagging throughout the Frankfurt Book Fair that same year after she transferred legal ownership between Planeta and Random House publishers for a sum of US$2m; and for not having clearly indicated which words belonged to Borges and which were his own. In brief, she accused him of violating intellectual property rights as protected by subsections A and C of article 72 of Law 11,723.

***

Now Katchadjian knows all about it. He knows all about the words that sit gathering dust in just about every archive in the Tribunales district of Buenos Aires: notices, appeals, stays, lawsuits.

“I’ve learnt a lot about civil and criminal law. I didn’t know anything before. For me, it was just a black box where you inserted cases and out came sentences. Now I read the newspaper and think to myself: ‘Ah, now he could appeal that…’ Like when a sick patient is forced to learn about medicine.”

Katchadjian has been sitting for the last couple hours in the same bar where he first found out that he was being sued. Sitting beside him, Strafacce is talking on the telephone. The sun was still out when they entered the bar at three in the afternoon. Now it’s six o’clock, the customers have all come and gone, and the streetlights are coming on. The two of them look like a pair of celebrity authors at the international book fair, journalists all waiting to have their turn for an interview. And even though it’s not an elegant reception hall, or Recoleta, still the journalists keep coming from every sort of media outlet. A reporter from Brazil’s Folha de São Paulo is waiting her turn at one table. Nor is she the only representative from the foreign presses: El País, The Guardian, and many more are also there. The waiter is already ready with a coffee for the next interview. The coffee comes served with signature foam art, a fact Katchadjian and Strafacce like to highlight before starting each interview.

In the last six years since ‘El Aleph engordado’ first appeared, and in the last four since the first lawsuit, there have been a number of reviews of his books. The critic Augusto Munaro, for example, stated that Katchadjian had managed “to significantly alter the act of reading”. Katchadjian rarely does book signings.

Katchadjian was born in 1977. He first broke onto the scene in 2004 with ‘Dp canta el alma’, a book of poems published by Vox, a publishing house known for maintaining a carefully curated catalog. The course he teaches at the Communication degree of the University of Buenos Aires, Expression I, comes highly recommended by all his students. Professors often cite his undergraduate thesis as an example of how to write a proper essay. The thesis dealt specifically with the idea of adventure as a literary genre, in which he wrote the following: “Adventure is an ambiguous power, where the same guiding principles can be championed to uphold capitalism or to promote a complete rupture with the existing order.” Among the books he’s authored, there are ‘Qué hacer’ and ‘Gracias’, and special mention goes to his literary exercise ‘El Martin Fierro ordenado alfabéticamente’, wherein he restructured the verses making up the national epic in alphabetical order from A to Z.

He wears a beige sweater and keeps the table clear of papers, an old scuffed mobile phone the only thing keeping him company. He speaks calmly and wears a pair of plain, thin-rimmed glasses. The moustache he’s had for years is the only thing piercing through an otherwise subdued image. Stylists would call it an imperial moustache: bushy, sculpted into pointy tips that curl upward. He seems tired but still manages to make a few jokes. Several times during the last few years he’s asked himself: “When will this all end?” In fact, at that time there seemed to be just one more step left, an acquittal decision, when suddenly the whole thing started all over again.

And that series of interviews you just had, how did that go?

“For the first three and half years, from 2011 until now, I just tried to treat it like a legal formality that I eventually had to take care of. I didn’t do anything.” His hands hardly move as he talks, except occasionally to stroke his chin or to scratch at his neck. “Now that I’m on trial I decided to say what needed to be said and make people understand, since there’s been a number of strange versions of the story circulating, like that I did it all on purpose, that I was looking for a scandal.”

Borges and Katchadjian (Illustration by Hernán Vargas)

Borges and Katchadjian (Illustration by Hernán Vargas)

***

Katchadjian concludes his book with the following postscript:

“The postscript, dated March 1st, 1943, does not appear in the original manuscript of ‘El Aleph’; written after the story itself, it represents the first reading of Borges’ own story. It is also the only part of the original that remains intact throughout this fattening-up exercise. The other 4,000 words were turned into 9,600. This exercise in fattening-up the text had one single rule: under no circumstances alter the original text, not words, not commas, not stops or structure. That means that Borges’ original text is completely untouched, although entirely traversed with my own, in such a way that if one wished to they could go find in it the original Borges text. Regarding my own writing, while I never intended to hide behind Borges’ writing as if it were my own, I also never meant for my style to stand out: I feel that the best moments are those when the reader can’t tell who wrote what.”

‘El Aleph engordado’ was published in 2009 by Imprenta Argentina de Poesía. In total, 150 copies were printed, of which Katchadjian gave away 100 as gifts. Of the remaining few that went on sale, the selling price was set at $15. The book itself had a simple cover, nothing flamboyant: a light blue background with black lettering. The Spanish author Javier Cercas found the project to be completely brilliant and concluded: “What first appeared an attempt to murder Borges is in fact a great homage”. César Aira was also among those that championed the work: “Here we have a famous story that has been expanded, but that story happens to be ‘El Aleph’. And the choice is completely justified, just as it was with Martín Fierro and the case of national memory; here too we find the latent case for expansion at the heart of el Aleph, inside the Aleph itself,” wrote the author of ‘Cómo me hice monja’ in Otra Parte magazine. At the time, the book was critically acclaimed.

“It took me some time. I was careful with it. It’s a piece of writing. Not a gesture. Not a joke. I printed it, I edited it. For me it’s a book that I wrote. It was a worthwhile thing that I spent my time on. I think the book is good. I wrote it, I published it, and I take responsibility for it.”

It never occurred to you that Kodama might sue you?

“No. I don’t spend my time thinking about Kodama. No one does. I didn’t feel like I was doing something wrong, or that I was harming anyone. No one ever even brought it up. If someone at the time had asked me, I might have answered that she might not like it. But how much can one angry reader do? I didn’t publish Borges’ story. I published my own novel. It’s different. Plagiarism isn’t a literary concept. It’s a legal concept, whatever that may be, but there’s nothing literary about it. I was just thinking about making literature.”

***

Apart from the curious fact that Mick Jagger is sighted reading one of Borges’ books (‘Ficciones’) in the ’90s film Freejack, there seems to be little left that hasn’t already been said about Borges. Nevertheless, in front of Court No. 3 there was one question that still had to be answered: What proof was there that he, Jorge Luis Borges, had in fact written ‘El Aleph’?

So it followed, Kodama’s lawyer Fernando Soto had to provide as evidence issue 131 of the magazine Sur, where the story first appeared in 1945. A copy of the inscription must have been left with the Registry of Intellectual Property in 1940. All to prove that it was “a matter of public knowledge” that ‘El Aleph’ was in fact written by Borges. Whether mockingly, casually, or ironically, both sides seem to agree on that particular point.

With the case already begun, Strafacce wrote the defence that would be presented in December of 2011 in the Investigating Court No. 3, with Judge Guillermo Carvajal presiding. He brought along a copy of Katchadjian’s CV, a copy of ‘El Aleph engordado’ as well as a number of stories and quotes that effectively gave substance to a literary tradition in which the defendant was participating. He stated over and over that there was never any intention to plagiarise Borges.

Amidst rulings and appeals on the part of Kodama’s lawyer, the story can be summarised in the following manner: from the outset, the judge halted the legal proceedings against Katchadjian on the grounds that there was no malice involved (he grasped that there was nowhere any attempt of false attribution of authorship, the postscript having made that clear). Fernando Soto, Kodama’s lawyer, appealed and the Appeals Court upheld the suspension of the case. So Soto appealed again. This time at the Appeals Court the tables were turned. They found Kodama’s lawyer’s arguments persuasive. The indictment arrived on 18th June, placing a seizure on his assets for $80,000.

When there’s a murder, the forensic specialist picks apart a cadaver. They look for signs throughout the body, what stories it can tell and what findings it might have to communicate to the courts. A literary forensic specialist also picks apart a body, of the literary kind. Elsa Drucaroff is a writer, critic, and she’s also worked as a literary forensic specialist. She knows a thing or two and has been responsible for evaluating similar situations.

El Aleph is a classic Borgesian tale (Illustration by Hernán Vargas)

El Aleph is a classic Borgesian tale (Illustration by Hernán Vargas)

“In Katchadjian’s case, it’s just a game of wits. An open door, completely apparent for anyone to see, he just picks up someone else’s work and makes his own intervention. I don’t think that constitutes plagiarism. It’s the problem with the kind of savage capitalism that for some time now has affected the culture industry,” she says. “If he’d done the same with a classic, nobody would have been irked because no living relative has the standing to demand thousands of pesos. However, he did it with Kodama, and with a writer that forms part of a booming industry. But from a literary and theoretical perspective, it’s not plagiarism. Just the opposite, now more people than ever know about ‘El Aleph’, it’s great advertising. This doesn’t hurt Borges at all. Quite the contrary.”

***

The literary scene is in an uproar. Facebook and Twitter are the battlefields where, in Damián Rios’ own words, there’s a guerrilla campaign currently underway. The issue starts to catch on, a group is started on Facebook that features as its avatar the flared moustache of Katchadjian, and soon the whole thing snowballs, turning into a letter of support with signatures from writers of all walks, ages, styles, and ideologies. Martín Kohan, Fabián Casas, Maximiliano Tomas, no one can be left out. Leopoldo Brizuela from his Facebook account proposes a game: list all the works by Argentine authors that in one way or another expand or reformulate another literary work. ‘La condesa sangrienta’, by Alejandra Pizarnik and Valentine Penrose’s ‘La condesa sangrienta’; ‘La señora Macbeth’, by Griselda Gambaro and Shakespeare’s ‘Macbeth’; ‘Help a él’ by Fogwill about ‘El Aleph’ are just a few that make the list. The climax finally comes, in front of the National Library, in a public demonstration demanding that the charges against Katchjadian be dropped. Capping off the night is a debate that includes the author of ‘El Aleph engordado’, César Aira, María Pía López, and Jorge Panesi.

“It’s the best tribute Borges has received in a long time,” says Rios by telephone. “It’s Pablo’s text. Not Kodama’s. We want to reverse the whole line of thinking. It wasn’t Pablo that stole Borges’ text. It’s that Kodama demands ownership of a text that doesn’t even belong to her.”

You wrote that Katchadjian’s text is even better than the Borges original. How do you mean that?

“He made Borges’ story into a small nouvelle, remarkable considering that Borges’ forte was always the story, the economical. Contemporary Argentine narrative is looking to other models now: North American writers, Carver, John Fante, Southern writers, and there Pablo was thinking about Borges. It’s something that happened to many writers, but in earlier generations: Piglia, Aira, Saer, Fogwill.”

Simultaneously, the legal question catches fire with organisations like Fundación Vía Libre, which has long been attempting to put the topic on the docket for discussion. “The idea of authorial rights is undergoing a crisis,” says Beatriz Busaniche, an academic specialist on the topic. Motivated by what she perceives as the great injustices perpetrated by intellectual property legislation, Bunasiche organised a masters program dedicated to the subject and that defends the right to democratic access to culture.

“Every author has the right to enjoy the benefits derived from their work, but that sentiment has to be brought down to earth in order to see its legal applications. The general remarks from the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights of 2005 states it clearly. Lawyers try to avoid it, because what the text says is that there exists a fundamental right of author, but that isn’t equitable with intellectual property rights. The purpose of that remark is to make sure that authors are able to secure a dignified living, without guaranteeing a monopoly for the author’s whole life nor that of their heirs. If there existed such a kind of human right, it would be the right to Borges, which also necessarily implies the death of Borges.”

How does Argentine intellectual property law compare to that in other countries?

“It’s horrible. Argentina faces the worst possible scenario, because it refuses to talk about the subject. Intellectual property is still a sacred cow here. It’s a debate that’s over before it’s even begun. In Chile they at least have the right to parody, and library rights. These modern regulations exist to be made more flexible, not more rigid. We aspire to guarantee the other human right, the right to access and participation in culture.”

***

Kodama is myopic but doesn’t use glasses. She’s diminutive. When she does grant interviews, journalists portray her as affable, full of courtesy so long as you don’t cross any lines. She first read Borges when she was ten years old, ‘Las ruinas circulares’. Many years later she met him. They fell in love. Today she’s one of the most controversial figures of the publishing world. The universal heir of Borges’ intellectual rights is a heavily criticised figure. They make her out to be the Cruella deVil of Argentine literature, the unmoving guardian of the tower. The legal frenzies she’s become known for is her way of guarding over the work of her former husband. Once, she took French critic Pierre Assouline to court because he had suggested that she obstructed the French publication of one of Borges’ books. Another time, she set her sights on the Spanish author Agustín Fernández Mallo and his experimental book ‘El hacedor (de Borges), Remake’. He was never brought before the courts. The publisher Alfaguara agreed to withdraw every unsold copy from the market, making clear that while it respected the legal issue, it also stood behind the literary gesture that the work represented. Later came the head on collision with Taringa! and the author Juan Gasparini. And that’s not all.

Alejandro Vaccaro is the head of the Argentine Writers Society, as well as Borges’ biographer. He’s had his own judicial run-ins with Kodama. She accused him of slander for an article published in 2006 in the magazine Veintitrés. The title of the article read ‘Borges. The sickening fight for his estate’, in which he talked about her handling of the author’s estate and included the sentence: “This woman has altered Borges’ lifework in order to settle personal disputes”. Kodama sued. The case made it to the Supreme Court, where Kodama had to pay for Vaccaro’s legal representation. He says that at this point, such situations don’t faze him:

“True, it’s uncomfortable to go through it all: meetings, lawyers, investigations, but if you can keep your cool, like I did, it turns out fine. In Katchadjian’s case, I don’t think there was ever any intent to harm Borges’ work. I myself might not have written it, but that’s just a literary matter, although it is something new: for me it’s homage.”

While all the commotion is happening, Kodama is in Japan as an invited guest at one of that country’s universities. Fernando Soto says that he hasn’t spoke with her recently, that she doesn’t use email, and that he’ll speak with her when she returns to Argentina. As she’s done time and again, the widower and president of the Jorge Luis Borges Foundation prefers to remain silent and leave the talking for the courts.

***

Straface is wearing a polar fleece and his hair is unkempt. On the table are a few scattered papers and a copy of ‘El Aleph engordado’. Whenever he needs to speak with Katchadjian, he goes out for a smoke. He’s tall, 55 years old, and has spent years working as a writer and a lawyer. He likes to joke that thanks to the lawyer, the writer is able to eat. He spent ten years researching and writing about the life of Argentine writer Osvaldo Lamborghini. He did it all without a grant or any kind of institutional affiliation. He also writes novels: he’s published ‘Frío de Rusia’, ‘La Boliviana’, ‘El Parnaso Argentino’. He presents the books right there in Varela Varelita, the bar with no art objects, no mood lighting, just the fluorescent tube lighting and the red tablecloth with plastic coverings. He says he wants to start moving away from the legal profession.

“Maybe this will be his last case,” says Katchadjian.

***

There are a pair of plaid upholstered sofas inside the waiting room in the offices on Av. Corrientes, Fernando Soto walks in from the street, suitcase in hand, and says hello. He’s wearing a brownish suit, the same color as his tie. Inside his offices, he gets settled in and then says to come in. He’s spent 30 years in the business and has served, among other cases, as the lawyer for the victims of the Cromañon nightclub fires. He often appears on television speaking about topics related to his specialty, criminal law. His profile photo on Twitter shows him in the studio of C5N.

Jorge Luis Borges (Illustration by Hernán Vargas)

Jorge Luis Borges (Illustration by Hernán Vargas)

There’s a large window in the office, a desk cluttered with papers but still allowing for small curios, and a library full of those imposing law books, and just to one side of an old plaster Geniol advertisement: a small figurine, the head of Borges.

-Did you read much Borges when you first met Kodama?

“I’d read Borges at university, and later when were doing an investigation because the publishers had warned that several of his prologues were being sold and reproduced in newspapers without authorisation… when I got down to reading those texts, I thought ‘This is incredible’, and I went back to reading Borges.”

Soto knows when to speak passionately, how to wait for the silence that can serve as a buffer between a question and its response. He speaks with confidence. He controls the cadence of his voice. He always meets your eyes.

“Part of María’s inheritance is to protect Borges’ work. It’s not for nothing that they invite her from every part of the world to speak about the literature of Borges. She guards the lifework of Borges in its entirety so that scholars can study it properly. A painter has their paintings, a sculptor their sculptures, whereas an author doesn’t have anything tangible. It’s the idea, or better, the words. That’s his work, the words are what have to be preserved.”

– How did she find out about Katchadjian’s book?

“I don’t know. She’s always asking me about different things, so she brought me the book and said: ‘Take a look at this’.”

He makes a gesture with one hand and leans back in his seat, but quickly sits upright and clasps his hands together. He’s not smiling anymore.

“She’s very disturbed that Borges’ literature has been transformed and disfigured. The claim isn’t that he copied and published Borges without authorisation, which is actually the case, but that the book is called ‘El Aleph engordado’ by Pablo Katchadjian. It isn’t called ‘Borges’ El Aleph, altered’. You have to read the entire book to understand that what you’ve just read aren’t the author’s own words. Even if you were an expert you wouldn’t realise it. There will always be his text, which is what he wanted and it’s what he got, but it’s never made clear to the reader, not even in the postscript, which is Borges’ text.”

***

Katchadjian is coming back from a workshop he taught in Tucumán. Back in Buenos Aires, he’s answering the telephone while talking to his two-year-old son, who meanwhile is trying to tell him something.

“Business as usual,” he says. “Now it’s just a question of waiting.”

***

The year is 1978. The camera falls on a lamp, a window, and a sofa where Borges is seated, speaking with some difficulty: “I don’t like what I’ve written. That’s to say, perhaps I like a few stories, some poems, a line here or there, which, if a poet hopes to live on, in a few lines, that should do it. He can be happy with that. Everything else was just a draft for that one necessary line, and if that line manages to form a part of the Spanish language, as is my case, if the author of those lines is forgotten, just some South American poet, born in 1899 in the centre of Buenos Aires, all the better. I aspire to anonymity. That’s the greatest kind of fame.”

Translation by Nicolas Allen.

Posted in Literature, TOP STORY0 Comments

Tucumán: Several Injured After Police Suppress Protest

Several people received injuries from rubber bullets and tear gas after police violently suppressed a protest in the city of San Miguel de Tucumán last night.

Thousands of people had gathered in the heart of the provincial capital to protest against allegations of fraud and widespread irregularities in Sunday’s gubernatorial election.

The largely peaceful protest turned violent at around 10.30pm when police attempted to forcibly clear the Plaza de Independencia by firing rubber bullets and tear gas indiscriminately at protesters. Many protesters ran, while a small minority threw rocks and oranges at the police.

Several people were injured in the ensuing chaos, which also saw mounted police ride into the square. The crowd dispersed but a smaller number returned to the square to continue protesting peacefully against the police brutality, the election result, and outgoing Governor José Alperovich.

The police action was widely condemned in the media and on social networks. The opposition candidate for Acuerdo Para el Bicentenario, José Cano, claimed that members of the Civil Police had infiltrated the crowd and provoked the repression. “The public protested last night and there was a provocation by civil police that caused the repression. We will report this [to the judiciary] today because they acted like thugs – it was filmed, and there were people hurt,” said Cano on local radio.

This morning, Alperovich admitted that the police used “excessive” force, and promised an investigation. In Buenos Aires, Cabinet Chief Aníbal Fernández criticism the police repression, but said the opposition was instigating a climate of violence by trying to discredit the electoral system.

A Contested Vote

Frente para la Victoria (FpV)’s Juan Manzur won the election comfortably with a provisional 54.4% of the vote, ahead of Cano who obtained 40,76%.

However, Sunday’s vote was marred by outbreaks of violence and allegations of fraud in the vote count. In addition, 42 ballot boxes were burned and one box was found to contain 30 sealed ballots before voting had even began.

Cano, who was backed by an alliance of opposition parties, refused to accept Manzur’s victory and demanded a full recount.

Presidential candidate for Cambiemos, Mauricio Macri, also criticised the voting procedure and Manzur for declaring victory: “It was imprudent of the FpV candidate to say that he had won and that it had been a normal election. It can never be normal when there are burned ballot boxes, detained electoral supervisors, and forged vote count certificates.”

“We must wait for the final count and see what happens. Cambiemos will recognise the result if it falls in favour of Manzur,” added Macri.

The definitive vote count will start at 6pm today, with officials warning that it could take up to three weeks.

Speaking with Pagina 12 before last night’s violence, Manzur said that he “condemned” the irregularities registered on Sunday, but said they were in a small minority of places.

“In Tucumán there are nearly 3,500 voting tables, and around 40 were observed [with problems]. So around 0.8% of the total,” said Manzur. “But let it be clear that each ballot box and each vote is important, so today we have asked the judiciary for complimentary [local] elections in the places where these incidents occurred.”

Manzur also criticised the opposition for making repeated claims of fraud. “We lost in some towns that were ours, that’s true. We have to be self-critical, and we will be, and we recognised that they [the opposition] won those districts. But, on the other hand, when the opposition win they dance and throw balloon; when they lose they call fraud.

“You have to know how to win and know how to lose.”

Posted in News From Argentina, Round Ups Argentina0 Comments

Crisis in Brazil: A View from the Left

Crisis in Brazil: A View from the Left

This is an exclusive English version of an article originally published in www.mst.org.br and Notas.

Faced with the complex situation that Brazil is currently going through, Giselene dos Santos, a leader with the left-wing social group Movimiento de los Sin Tierra (MST) analyses the current political climate and the marches from the political left and right this week.

The MST rally in Brazil (Photo via MST)

The MST rallying in Brazil (Photo via MST)

One side calls for the impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff, part of a discourse of hate such as that seen in last Sunday’s marches. On the other side lie movements that are highly critical of the government’s economic policies – namely fiscal austerity and ‘Agenda Brasil’ – but also emphasise the defence of democracy and respect for the popular vote that elected Dilma as president for the second time. They marched on Thursday.

Giselene dos Santos, MST leader, analyses the current political climate and argues that the unity between organisations is “against the conservative measures and attacks on people’s rights coming from Congress, represented by the figure of Eduardo Cunha (Partido de Movimiento Democrático Brasileño, PMDB).” She also criticises the government’s economic policies. “We believe the solution [to the crisis] is found with the left, with the people in the streets and with popular reforms.”

What is your view on last Sunday’s protest march?

Everyone has the right to protest. But the ‘Dilma Out’ act represents a minority of the Brazilian public, a privileged middle class that doesn’t want to lose these privileges and feels threatened by the rise of the working class. It’s clear that those people want a government that widens the gap between the rich and the poor.

Do you think there is a real possibility of an impeachment?

We never thought that this was possible. This is because the social class that really runs the country – the large economic powers and financial capital – is already satisfied with this government since the start of its second term.

The current economic policies of the federal government, with interest rate hikes, labour market flexibilisation, cuts to social spending are those that benefits these groups who have the most political and economic power. For that they they are not interested in creating even more political instability without any certainty over the consequences it could bring.

Now, it’s a fact that some groups on the right do seek this impeachment. And for this they resort to a conservative, sometimes fascist, discourse, spreading a feeling of hate around society using generic issues such as corruption.

Who has benefitted the most from corruption throughout Brazil’s history? It was precisely the Brasilian bourgeoisie, made up of businessmen, bankers, land barons etc. For a corrupt person to exist there must be someone else who corrupts them.

A huge anti-government rally took place in Sao Paulo and across Brazil on Sunday. (Marcelo Camargo/Agência Brasil)

A huge anti-government rally took place in Sao Paulo and across Brazil on Sunday. (Marcelo Camargo/Agência Brasil)

In recent weeks there has been a change in the editorial line of mainstream media. Why do you think that is?

Beyond the pressure of those groups we talked about there are other factors that help explain this change in the ‘impeachment’ discourse.

The first could be that it is part of the strategy of the Globo media network, to push things right to the limit and then step aside, allowing the movement to continue of its own accord. That way Globo preserves its image – if there is a coup it could say that at the last moment it stood up for democracy and for the continuation of Dilma’s mandate.

Another issue is the overemphasis on the economic crisis. Even though this is true to an extent, it is not as serious as the media make it out to be. But pushing this issue so much can actually worsen the crisis, even harming the advertising revenues of the same media outlets.

A final point is the lack of consensus within the Brazilian Right in terms of what they would do if the president were removed from office. In other words, they haven’t been about to create political stability.

The government’s response to the political and economic crisis was the ‘Agenda Brazil’. How do you view this proposal?

The ‘Agenda Brazil’ is a trick, a step back for workers’ rights. Renan Calheiros, president of the Senate and the [opposition party] PMDB, does not represent the interests of Brazil. He represents the agenda of the major land owners, agribusinesses, corporations, banks, and a Senate that is not concerned about the Brazilian public and has no proposals to deal with the reality it faces.

The president saw the ‘Agenda Brazil’ as a way out of the political crisis that has gripped her administration since the start of her second term. But the Agenda is a setback for workers’ rights, healthcare, and the environment.

It strengthens, for example, the PL 4330 (now PLC 30), which allows for unrestricted outsourcing of labour, relaxes environmental laws for large development projects, blocks debate about the new Mining Code, and opens the way for agribusiness on land belonging to indigenous people.

Brazil's Senate. The MST says people don't feel represented by Congress anymore. (Fabio Rodrigues Pozzebom/Agência Brasil)

Brazil’s Senate. The MST says people don’t feel represented by Congress anymore. (Fabio Rodrigues Pozzebom/Agência Brasil)

So what is a possible way for the government to overcome this moment, and why haven’t they taken it?

President Dilma has to govern for those who voted for her at the ballot boxes. She must take a firm stance and amplify public policies rather than withdraw them, especially with regards labour rights.

In terms of the economic crisis, the government must put the burden on those who really owe the Brazilian people, taxing the rich, reforming the tax code – which is one of the most unfair in the world – lowering interest rates, and reinstalling the state as the driver of the Brazilian economy, favouring the productive – not the financial – market.

As for politics, we believe that only a deep reform of the political system can end with this distortion. No one feels represented by the National Congress anymore, and that’s because large corporation took control of the Brazilian electoral system through financing campaign funds.

What are the measures that political movements are taking to take a stand in this climate?

Firstly by informing the public so that they cannot be exploited or manipulated by the right, which is currently represented by the media. Secondly, by getting our members out on the streets to defend our rights. It’s not a coincidence that the ‘Anti-terrorist Law’ was created and approved – those on the right know that there are social organisations willing to fight against the capitalist and neo-liberal model.

Lastly, by building a popular national front for Brazil, uniting movements, unions, political parties, and diverse sectors of society. We need a vision for the country that consolidates democracy, increases worker rights, and guarantees public participation in the political life.

This Thursday diverse organisations have called the public out on the streets. What do you hope from this event? [Editor’s note: the article was written before the 20th August marches, in which tens of thousands came together in defence of democracy and/or to support President Rousseff.]

The second half of the year has start well. In first week of July we had a national day for the MST’s struggle, in which we occupied 13 buildings belonging to the Economy Ministry and marched in 18 states. A week later more than 70,000 women from rural areas marched in Brasilia in the ‘Marcha de las Margaritas’. This week we have mobilisations on 20th August, and on the 5th September we will launch the Frente Brasil Popular.

The popular forces are mobilising more and more to alter the correlation of forces in society, both with street marches and the creation of a united front to come up with a medium/long-term vision for the country.

A counter march to defend democracy and/or the president took place across Brazil on Thursday 20th August (Marcelo Camargo/Agência Brasil)

A counter march to defend democracy and/or the president took place across Brazil on Thursday 20th August (Marcelo Camargo/Agência Brasil)

The event on the 20th is the continuation of a series of marches that have brought together rural and urban social movements, political parties, and trade unions in the defence of our rights.

We march against the conservative measures and attack on rights coming from Congress, led by Eduardo Cunha. Another central point is our criticism of the government’s economic policy. We believe that the way out is with the Left, with the people out on the streets and popular reforms.

In other words, it will be another example of popular unity, of the fight against retreat in economic policy, and for the defence of democracy. We will be out on the streets through the country with concrete demands and objective, such as tax, agricultural, urban, educations, and political reform, and for the democratisation of the media.

Posted in Analysis, News From Latin America, TOP STORY1 Comment

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