Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Lawyers Seek Impeachment of Troubled Brazilian Governor

A group of human rights lawyers filed a request today for the impeachment of a Brazilian governor who has come under fire over rampant prison violence.

The twelve attorneys representing the Lawyers Collective of Human Rights (Cadhu, in Portuguese) appealed to the Maranhão state legislature and claimed that Gov. Roseana Sarney is at fault for major overcrowding of local prisons as well as serious violations of the human rights of inmates.

“The impeachment law says that the chief of the executive branch may be removed from office if, in the case of violation of basic rights, he or she doesn’t hold anyone accountable for the abuses,” said Cadhu member Eloisa Machado de Almeida.

“We have long denounced the chaos that has worsened this state government.  They had the information to investigate and ensure that (violence in Maranhão prisons) did not occur,” said fellow petitioner Murilo Henrique Morelli. 

“The majority of legislators represent the people of Maranhão and the residents are clamoring for peace,” Morelli added.

The Maranhão state legislature has fifteen days to create a commission to investigate the lawyers’ petition.

Gov. Sarney, daughter of former Brazilian President José Sarney, has yet to respond to the push for impeachment.  In the aftermath of the recent firebombing of a bus that killed one girl, she alleged that nearly 2800 extra spaces for prisoners were made available and that the spike in violence in her state was a “consequence of a growing population and the growing wealth in the state.”  (But as this article notes, Maranhão is Brazil’s second-most impoverished state and in 2013 the state’s population grew by almost 4% while the homicide rate soared by nearly 62%).

The move for impeachment comes a day after a federal judge gave a sixty day deadline for officials to enact reforms aimed at easing prison overcrowding.  Part of the magistrate’s order called for the construction of new prisons and the expansion of the Pedrinhas Penitentiary Complex, which has a capacity for 1700 prisoners but currently houses some 2,500 inmates.

Earlier this month Sarney and Brazil’s justice minister agreed to an eleven-point “emergency plan” aimed at lowering high levels of violence in Maranhão.  That may be insufficient for some national senators who visited the infamous Pedrinhas prison and called for greater control of the state over the local prison system.

The prison violence in Maranhão “can happen in neighboring states,” said Sen. Randolfe Rodrigues today.  “The question we have to ask the justice minister is what is being done to prevent it from spreading to other states?” added Rodrigues who also claimed to be troubled by the use of outsourced prison employees and the housing of temporary inmates along with those serving lengthy sentences.

Three months ago at least ten people died during a riot at Pedrinhas while last week the Folha de Sao Paulo newspaper released a video purportedly taped last month and depicting three decapitated inmates.  Both incidents are believed to have been related to tensions between prisoners allied to local gangs versus factions of the Sao Paulo-based First Command of the Capital.

The problems in Maranhão are indicative of a broken prison system plaguing one of the world’s emerging global powers:
Critics say the horror in Maranhão reflects broader problems across the country. Overcrowding is a significant issue: At year-end 2012, Brazil had some 548,003 inmates packed into prisons designed to hold just 318,739 people, according to the National Penitentiary Department. Many prisons are believed to be effectively run by criminal gangs funded by drug trafficking. Prisoners aren't separated by types of crime, so petty criminals fall prey to organized crime. Many in jail still are awaiting trial: A 2012 review of state data shows nearly 62% of those held at Pedrinhas hadn't been convicted.
"Brazilian society still believes that locking people up and throwing away the key is the solution," said Renato Sérgio de Lima, vice president of the board of the Brazilian Public Safety Forum, a think tank that aims to bring together police officers, researchers and the public. "Brazil wants to be modern, but it hasn't resolved problems of the Middle Ages."
Video Source– YouTube user IdeaSunriseTV

Online Sources – Wall Street Journal; CNN; O Globo; Agencia Brasil; InSerbia News; Folha.com; Thomson Reuters Foundation

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