The New York Times reports that the investigation was officially announced by Public Ministry prosecutors on Friday, who requested that federal police look into claims that Lula knew about the so-called “mensalão” vote-buying scheme during his presidency, and even benefited from it financially.
These allegations were made by businessman Marcos Valerio, who in October was convicted of facilitating the scheme and sentenced to 40 years’ imprisonment. In September, Valerio testified that he transferred funds to Lula at least twice as part of the scheme. When the accusations leaked to the press late last year, Lula himself called them an outright “lie,” and criticized press coverage of Valerio’s testimony as sensationalism.
Despite his vehement rejection of any links to the scandal, there is room for doubt. Seeing as Lula’s ex-chief of staff, the former head of his Workers’ Party (PT) and a number of other figures in his administration have been convicted of involvement in the scandal, it is likely that he was at least aware of the activity at the time.
As Reuters points out, if Lula is implicated in the scandal, it could potentially hurt President Rousseff, who served as Lula’s chief of staff from 2005 to 2010, and is seen as his political protégé. Rousseff currently enjoys a 79 percent approval rating, but this could take a hit if her mentor is successfully linked to the mensalão plot. It may even cost her re-election in 2014. She is already vulnerable to criticism over economic issues, and widespread dissatisfaction with the level of corruption in Brazil could cause the public to turn against her, depending on the degree of Lula’s involvement.
At the very least it will serve as fodder for the campaign of Brazilian Senator Aecio Neves, which will reportedly be advised by David Axelrod, former chief strategist for U.S. President Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign. Neves is a rising star in the Social Democracy Party (PSDB), which has been spearheading Brazil’s high profile anti-corruption investigations in recent months.
- In other Brazilian campaign-related media coverage, the New York Times’ Simon Romero writes an interesting profile of Brazilian campaign strategist João Santana. Santana ran Lula’s 2005 re-election campaign, Rousseff’s 2010 campaign, Dominican President Danilo Medina’s 2012 presidential campaign, as well as the final re-election campaign of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. He is in high demand among politicians across Latin America, and is seen as particularly skilled at pinpointing the weaknesses of candidate’s political adversaries.
- Former Chilean President Michelle Bachelet has announced the names of her campaign team ahead of Chile’s November presidential elections, La Tercera reports. It includes figures from her previous administration, as well as some newcomers who were obviously chosen with an eye towards expanding her support amongst sectors of the left which are distrustful of the former president. Included in this category is former student leader Karina Delfino, head of the campaign’s youth initiatives. Her selection is a clear nod to Chile’s student movement, and a sign that she may take up their calls for education reform.
- The Miami Herald reports that Venezuelan opposition candidate Henrique Capriles held the final rally before elections in Caracas on Sunday, delivering “one of the most combative and optimistic speeches” of his campaign.
- Ahead of this Saturday’s presidential election in Paraguay, a human rights organization has accused Horacio Cartes, the frontrunner in the race, of having ties to drug trafficking organizations. According to EFE, the Paraguayan Permanent Assembly of Human Rights filed a complaint with the country's Anti-Corruption Prosecutor's Office to investigate claims that property owned by Cartes has been used by drug runners.
- The Guardian spoke with the elusive author of the most popular blog on organized crime in Mexico, “El Blog del Narco,” who revealed some unexpected facts about her identity. Under the pseudonym Lucy, she claims to be a young female journalist in her mid-20s living in northern Mexico.
- The AFP reports that a leader of Mexican teachers’ union CNTE is organizing a protest against the government’s education reform push. In contrast, the larger SNTE union appears to have tacitly consented to the reforms, and its new leader met with President Enrique Peña Nieto last week.
- Afro-Cuban essayist Roberto Zurbano, who recently wrote a NYT op-ed in which he spoke out against economic marginalization of blacks in his country, has been dismissed from his post as editor of the Casa de las Americas publishing house, according to the Havana Times blog. Zurbano apparently told supporters that the government-funded Casa de las Americas had offer him another position.
- The BBC reported on Friday that the death toll caused by flash flooding in Argentina’s Buenos Aires province rose in the days following the rainfall that began last Tuesday, rising to 57 confirmed deaths. La Nacion reports that local judicial officials say the figure could be even higher. The Christian Science Monitor has an overview of the political blame game that has ensued in the wake of the disaster.
- The exhumation of the remains of Chilean poet Pablo Neruda has begun, La Tercera reports. The paper is live-blogging the event here, although a verdict on the cause of his death (many suspect he was killed by the Pinochet regime) will not be released for days.
- Alias "Pablo Catatumbo," a top commander of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) has arrived in Havana to join the group’s peace talks with the government, bringing the number of members of the FARC Secretariat in Havana to three.