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LatinNews Regional Monitor: Brazil & Southern Cone - 5 February 2019

BRAZIL: Justice minister presents tough plan to fight crime and corruption

On 4 February, Justice Minister Sergio Moro, presented a new bill outlining his proposals to reduce crime in Brazil, a country that saw a world record of 64,000 homicides in 2017.

Analysis:

The anti-crime bill is one of the top priorities of right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro. Moro presented 14 measures to state governors and security officials gathered in the capital, Brasília - an event that was highly anticipated and aired live on the main 24-hour news channels. His anti-crime bill aims to fight violence and organised criminal gangs and also introduces tougher legislation to tackle electoral campaign financing abuses and electoral fraud. This will lead to heated debates in the national congress, where about one third of lawmakers are under criminal investigation for corruption.

  • In a press conference, Moro, a former judge who jailed former president Lula da Silva (2003-2010), said that the Bolsonaro government wants to be more rigorous with more serious crimes. “We have declared war against organised crime”, Moro said adding that “we are not afraid of criminals”. The bill foresees tougher sentencing, requires leaders of violent gangs to serve time in high security prisons, and introduces a plea-bargaining system based on the US model.
  • One of the most important changes is to immediately send to jail those whose convictions are upheld on first appeal, ending impunity for wealthy and powerful Brazilians who have previously remained free during a lengthy appeals process that can take months or even years.
  • If approved, the new legislation would require a larger budget for the judicial sector, as it will send more people to prisons that are already overcrowded. In Rio de Janeiro state alone, the prison system is 179% overcapacity.
  • The anti-crime bill was well received among Bolsonaro’s support base in congress. However, the political opposition and human rights groups sharply criticised it, in particular a proposal, central to Bolsonaro's presidential campaign, that would grant protection to police officers who kill in the line of duty and adopt a more lenient definition of self-defence, justified by “fear, surprise, or violent emotion”.
  • Federal Deputy Marcelo Freixo of the Socialismo e Liberdade (PSOL) party - tweeted that in Rio de Janeiro state 1,532 people died as a result of the military intervention last year and Moro’s proposal will legalise extrajudicial executions.

Looking Ahead: In his first political test as a minister in Bolsonaro's cabinet, Moro would like to see his anti-crime bill approved as soon as possible, but it will take time to go through congress that is likely to introduce amendments. It remains to be seen how eager the lawmakers who are under investigation for corruption will be to approve a bill that could ultimately put them in jail.