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Brazil’s Bolsonaro Accused of Corruption Amid Justice Ministry Chaos

The Brazilian president is under mounting pressure following the resignation of his justice minister over alleged corruption.

By , the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy.
A supporter of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro demonstrates during a motorcade against the quarantine and social distance measures in Brasilia on April 26, 2020.
A supporter of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro demonstrates during a motorcade against the quarantine and social distance measures in Brasilia on April 26, 2020. Sergio Lima/AFP

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro faces fresh allegations of corruption, a separatist group declares self-rule in Yemen, and South Korea says Kim Jong Un is "alive and well."

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Bolsonaro Delays Justice Minister Pick After Outcry

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro faces fresh allegations of corruption, a separatist group declares self-rule in Yemen, and South Korea says Kim Jong Un is “alive and well.”

If you would like to receive Morning Brief in your inbox every weekday, please sign up here.

Bolsonaro Delays Justice Minister Pick After Outcry

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has postponed the appointment of a new justice minister after numerous news reports suggested Bolsonaro loyalist Jorge Oliveira would be the favorite for the role. The decision follows an explosive few days at the top of Brazilian politics as allegations of presidential corruption mount and public confidence in Bolsonaro’s handling of the country’s coronavirus epidemic crumbles.

The latest episode began on Friday with the abrupt resignation of Justice Minister Sergio Moro, after Bolsonaro had fired the head of Brazil’s equivalent to the FBI, Maurício Valeixo. In his resignation press conference, Moro alleged Bolsonaro had fired Valeixo for personal and political reasons relating to ongoing federal investigations into Bolsonaro’s children. Immediately following Moro’s remarks, Brazil’s chief prosecutor asked the Supreme Court to authorize an investigation of Moro’s accusations against Bolsonaro.

All the president’s sons. Over the weekend, details of the president’s children’s actions began leaking out: Federal prosecutors have identified Carlos Bolsonaro as a key figure in a “criminal fake news racket” accused of threatening Brazilian authorities. The Brazilian newspaper Folha de São Paulo reports that another son, Eduardo, is also under investigation in the same case.

Furthermore, on Saturday, The Intercept reported that a third Bolsonaro son, Flavio—already the subject of a federal probe—profited from illegal construction by militia groups using public money.

President Jair Bolsonaro, who ran on an anti-corruption platform, is unlikely to see that reputation return any time soon. His pick for federal police chief, Alexandre Ramagem, has already come under fire after pictures emerged of Ramagem at a New Year’s Eve party with Bolsonaro’s son Carlos.

Is impeachment next? According to a report by Bloomberg, Brazil’s Lower House Speaker, Rodrigo Maia, is unlikely to pursue impeachment immediately, citing the country’s coronavirus epidemic and the need to conduct a full investigation. Capitão Augusto, a member of Brazil’s conservative coalition, echoed Maia while speaking to Reuters: “I think that after this pandemic, the first topic that will be debated will be the question of the impeachment of the president,” he said.

Writing in FP last week, Eduardo Mello observed that Brazilian lawmakers will be loath to remove Bolsonaro if that risks empowering Vice President Hamilton Mourão, a retired four-star general. “While most in Congress know that Bolsonaro’s populist rhetoric is a threat to them, they also think that having a general with no links to the country’s political power brokers is a bigger risk at the moment,” he wrote.

What We’re Following Today

Separatists declare self-rule in southern Yemen. The Southern Transitional Council (STC), a Yemeni group that seized control of the city of Aden in 2018 and has held it intermittently since, has announced emergency rule in Aden and all southern governorates. The move threatens to split the country in a return to its pre-1990 borders—a risk that Alexandra Stark discussed in an August 2019 Foreign Policy article.

The foreign minister of Yemen’s internationally-recognized government, Mohammed al-Hadrami, called for Saudi Arabia to take “decisive measures against the continuing rebellion of the so-called Transitional Council,” a decision that is complicated by the United Arab Emirates’ backing of the STC. Hadrami further claimed that governors in Yemen’s other southern governorates had all rejected the STC’s declaration.

Spain sees death rate decline. Spain recorded its lowest one-day death toll since March 20 on Sunday as its health ministry announced 288 more deaths from coronavirus. Fernando Simon, director of the Spanish Health Alert and Emergency Coordination Center, welcomed the news, “Although it may be hard to give these statistics, it’s a figure which indicates a clear, positive direction in the evolution of the epidemic.” Spain is gradually relaxing its strict lockdown measures: Children under 14 will be allowed outside once per day this week and a ban on outdoor exercise is expected to be lifted on May 2.

South Korea says Kim Jong Un “alive and well.” Despite reports of his demise rocketing through social media, South Korea maintains that the leader of its closest neighbor is doing fine. “Our government position is firm,” Moon Chung-in, an advisor to South Korean President Moon Jae-in, told CNN. “Kim Jong Un is alive and well. He has been staying in the Wonsan area since April 13. No suspicious movements have so far been detected.” Satellite imagery analysis published over the weekend appeared to show that Kim’s personal train had arrived in Wonsan recently, suggesting he was visiting the coastal resort.

Keep an Eye On

Netanyahu confident of U.S. backing on annexation. On Sunday, Benjamin Netanyahu told a pro-Israel Christian group, the European Commission for Israel, that he was confident the United States would give its blessing to a planned annexation of parts of the occupied West Bank in a matter of months. A condition of Netanyahu’s newly formed coalition with Benny Gantz is that Washington must approve any annexation decision first.

Writing in Foreign Policy on April 23, a trio of seasoned Israeli military commanders warned Netanyahu against such a move. Ami Ayalon (a former chief of the Israeli Shin Bet security service), Tamir Pardo (a former director of the Mossad), and Gadi Shamni (a former commander of the Israel Defense Forces Central Command) argued that annexation would undermine Israeli security and could spark a popular backlash in Jordan and Egypt—endangering hard-won peace treaties with those countries. “This irreversible step, once taken, is likely to trigger a chain reaction beyond Israel’s control,” they wrote.

Chile plans coronavirus certificates. Chile is moving forward with a plan to issue “release certificates” to those who have recovered from the coronavirus. The plan, according to Chile’s top health official, Jaime Manalich, would mean holders would be “freed from all types of quarantine or restriction, specifically because they can help their communities enormously since they pose no risk.” The World Health Organization has advised against countries issuing so-called coronavirus passports: “There is currently no evidence that people who have recovered from COVID-19 and have antibodies are protected from a second infection,” it said.

The right to work from home. German Labor and Social Affairs Minister Hubertus Heil has called to enshrine the right to work from home into German law, in a move that could become more common as advanced economies emerge from their coronavirus epidemics. “Anyone who wants to, and whose workplace allows it, should be able to work at home—even when the coronavirus pandemic is over,” Heil told Bild am Sonntag.

The World This Week

On April 29, the U.S. Department of Commerce will release its early estimate for U.S. Gross Domestic Product for the first quarter of 2020.

On Thursday, April 30, the European Union will release its monthly unemployment figures. However, due to collection methods the numbers will only show data as far as February 2020, before lockdown measures were put in place.

Oil giants Chevron, Exxon, and BP will release their first quarter results this week. BP will release theirs on Tuesday, April 28 and Chevron and Exxon will release theirs on Friday, May 1—the same day OPEC oil production cuts are due to take effect.

Odds and Ends

A rare bright spot in Ecuador’s struggle against the coronavirus emerged on Friday, when the family of Alba Murari received news that the 74-year-old was alive, weeks after health authorities had pronounced her dead and given the family what they believed to be her cremated remains. Murari’s family was informed of her death on March 27, after she had been admitted to hospital with coronavirus symptoms.

The mix-up began when family members misidentified a dead body as Murari, blaming restrictions for not being able to see the body up close. Alba awoke from a three-week coma last Thursday and informed doctors of her name, uncovering the case of mistaken identity.  “An ambulance arrived with a doctor, a psychiatrist and the social worker. They apologized, and they tell us ‘Your sister is alive,’ and we were in shock,” Murari’s sister said. “It is a miracle of God what has happened.” Health Minister Juan Carlos Zevallos said the case was under investigation.

That’s it for today. 

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Colm Quinn is the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @colmfquinn

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