When a murder investigation reaches the president

. Oct 30, 2019
We're covering how President Bolsonaro has been involved in a murder case. Saudi investments in Brazil. And the oil spill in the Northeast could get even worse.

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Good morning! We’re covering how President Bolsonaro has been involved in a murder case. Saudi investments in Brazil. And the oil spill in the Northeast could get even worse. (This newsletter is for platinum and gold subscribers only. Become one now!)

When a murder investigation reaches the president

A new report from Globo TV’s Jornal Nacional—Brazil’s most-watched newscast—links President Jair Bolsonaro to the investigation into the assassination of Marielle Franco, the former Rio city councilor executed on March 14, 2018, in what police believe was a hit job ordered by urban militias.

In a nutshell. Visitation logs and a statement from a doorman suggest the man accused of having driven the getaway car in the murder visited Mr. Bolsonaro’s home in a gated community hours before the crime. The statement, however, contains some inconsistencies. He said he spoke to “Mr. Jair,” who authorized the man’s entrance. But congressional records show that Mr. Bolsonaro was in Brasília at the time.

Why it matters. Rio state prosecutors have informally asked the Supreme Court (the only tribunal with the power to investigate and prosecute a sitting president) about how to proceed next—which indicates the president could, at least momentarily, become part of a murder investigation. 

It could further erode Mr. Bolsonaro’s image and create problems for his administration’s agenda moving forward.

Reaction. Mr. Bolsonaro—who is on an official visit in Saudi Arabia—promptly responded to the report through a Facebook live broadcast, almost in tears. He accused Globo of “shenanigans,” and said that Rio de Janeiro Governor Wilson Witzel is the one who leaked the investigation to the press. He also said he would recommend Justice Minister Sergio Moro to have the Federal Police interrogate the doorman—which some could consider as tampering with an investigation.

Retaliation. In his broadcast, Mr. Bolsonaro suggested he could retaliate against Globo. The company’s concession to operate television frequencies expires on April 15, 2023—and it must be reviewed by the president. “Some companies will renew their contracts soon, I won’t persecute anyone. Those who are lacking, they’re going to find it difficult.” 

Not me. Besides Jair Bolsonaro, his son Carlos (who serves as a Rio city councilor) also lives in the said gated community. He denied any involvement with the case, saying he was also in Brasília on the day of the murder.

Bad company. Several of the figures under investigation in the Marielle Franco case have—potentially coincidental—links with the Bolsonaro family. The man believed to have pulled the trigger lived in the same gated community as the president—and his daughter briefly dated Mr. Bolsonaro’s youngest son. Also, the wife and the mother of a leader of a hit squad called “The Office of Crime” were employed by Senator Flávio Bolsonaro. Fabricio Queiroz, a disgraced former aid to the senator, is also believed to be involved with militias. And just this month, it became public that a man suspected of disposing of the murder weapon had several photos with members of the Bolsonaro family—including the president himself.

Saudi fund to invest USD 10 billion in Brazil

Amid all the trouble back home, the government announced that Saudi Arabia will invest up to USD 10 billion in Brazil, by way of a soon-to-be-created sovereign fund. The deal came after President Bolsonaro met with Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman. Reportedly, Brazil will not be required to do anything in return. 

Why it matters. With a cash-strapped government and a risk-averse business class, Brazil desperately needs foreign investment. That’s why Mr. Bolsonaro went to a roadshow in Asia and the Middle East.

Western hypocrisy. Hypocrisy is the currency used by Western leaders when dealing with Saudi Arabia. Many countries turn a blind eye to the country’s laundry list of human rights abuses in exchange for its abundant petrodollars. Mr. Bolsonaro went a step further by laying praise on the Saudi crown prince (who is accused of ordering the gruesome murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018. “I have a certain affinity with the prince […] Everybody would like to spend an afternoon with a prince.” 

Not the first. This is not the first time Mr. Bolsonaro has praised men known for terrible crimes. He has expressed admiration for former dictators Augusto Pinochet (Chile) and Alfredo Stroessner (Paraguay), both of whom have overseen massive political killings.

Oil spill hits a third of Brazilian shores

The massive crude oil spill continues to plague Brazilian shores, having affected over 2,500 kilometers of Brazil’s coastline. Yesterday, Defense Minister Fernando Azevedo said the government still doesn’t know whether the crisis is coming to an end.

Why it matters. The spill is expected to have devastating environmental impacts on marine life. Not to mention the economic impact on Northeastern states, for which tourism and fishing are major sources of income.

Abrolhos. Small amounts of oil have been detected in the Abrolhos reserve—a region between the coast of the states of Bahia and Espírito Santo. It has one of Brazil’s biggest coral reefs and is considered to be one of the main cradles of marine biodiversity in the South Atlantic, being home to over 1,300 plant and animal species.

Economics. The government has forbidden shrimp and lobster fishing along the coast between November 1 and December 31. During this period, the government will compensate local fishermen.

What else you should know

Interest rates. Around 6 pm today, the Central Bank’s Monetary Policy Committee will announce Brazil’s new benchmark interest rate. The consensus among analysts is that the committee will cut the rate from 5.5 to 5 percent, which would be a new all-time low.

Meat. BRF, one of the world’s biggest meat producers, announced an agreement to invest over USD 120 million in building the company’s first poultry processing plant in Saudi Arabia. The move aims at strengthening its position in one of the key markets for the sector—and where BRF is already the largest food exporter. BRF currently supplies the Saudi market through eight plants in Brazil and an Abu Dhabi factory.

Pensions. A House committee voted on rules to reform the military pension system. The new rules will promote savings of only BRL 10 billion over a decade—and were offset by reforms to military careers that increase officers’ salaries before they even retire. That didn’t prevent relatives of Armed Forces members from protesting in Congress—even calling President Jair Bolsonaro a “traitor” in one viral video.

Ex-allies 1. Jair Bolsonaro’s Social Liberal Party (PSL) reportedly plans to expel six of its members of Congress—including Eduardo Bolsonaro, the president’s third-eldest son. The move comes amid a war between the president and party chairman Luciano Bivar for the control of the PSL and its BRL 100-million electoral fund—and would mark a definitive rupture, making the president’s support base in Congress narrower than it already is.

Ex-allies 2. Gustavo Bebianno, who was once one of President Bolsonaro’s closest allies, will join forces with São Paulo Governor João Doria who, in turn, plans to run for president in 2022. Mr. Bebianno coordinated Mr. Bolsonaro’s 2018 campaign but broke ties with the president less than two months into his term. Upon leaving the cabinet, Mr. Bebianno suggested he knew a few of the president’s secrets. If true, he could use that information in favor of one of Mr. Bolsonaro’s main rivals at present.

Guns. Brazil now has over 1 million registered weapons. This year has presented the highest monthly average of newly cataloged guns—thanks in large part to a series of presidential decrees loosening up gun ownership rules. The Federal Prosecution Office (among many institutions) has been critical of lowering the bar for new guns, saying it “weakens public security.”[/restricted]

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