segunda-feira, 7 de outubro de 2013

Journalist not welcome at Yale University

A Brazilian journalist, Claudia Trevissan, was arrested on Yale Campus on September 26th. The reason: trespassing onto Yale's properties, more specifically, on the Law School premises. She is the Washington-based correspondent of a major Brazilian newspaper, the Estado de S. Paulo (o Estadão)

What could she be doing to get arrested, handcuffed and held for 5 hours, unable to make a phone call?

The journalist was trying to interview Justice Barbosa, president of Brazil’s Supreme Court (STF) (in Brazil, one of 11 Justices - called "Ministros" - is elected through a secret ballot for the presidency of the federal court). Joaquim Barbosa was participating to the 2013 Global Constitutional Seminar, “where some of the world’s foremost jurists can confidentially and freely discuss the most important legal issues of the day with leading academic lawyers”.

Foreign “foremost” jurists have the opportunity to interact with Yale Law School Faculty members (could it be rephrased the other way round?). However, what exactly is being discussed is not known because this seminar is totally closed to the press and the public. Nonetheless, at this private and confidential seminar, held in such a notorious university (e.g. Yale has provided qualified human resource to the CIA; at least once - the underlying analogy would be that of an iceberg), one might easily deduct that the topics they discuss are not about hockey or football.

Trevissan’s initial plan was to wait for Brazil’s “most important” jurist to leave the seminar in order to interview him. Yale’s and Trevissan’s versions of the facts differ, but in the meantime, what both versions indicate is that the University DID know who she was and what her plans were. On the other hand, the police did not seem to have these information (Why?). Moreover, the journalist doesn’t seem to have committed anything serious enough to be treated like a criminal. Being asked to leave or even taken to the door is one thing, but handcuffs and detention seem to be quite zealous, to say the very least.

The fact that it happened on the premises of a Law School raises even more questions (a point mentioned by Claudia Trevissan, who once was a Law student). Imagine for a second what would be Yale’s interpretation of the same situation if it had taken place in Brazil with an American journalist. Besides, wouldn’t Yale security be more than sufficient to handle a situation involving a journalist a bit insistent? Did the police need to be called? This is a first point of interest (even if after all, it might just be normal procedure) which takes us to the other flip of the coin of this strange event.

The participation of the president of Brazil’s judiciary power at this kind of event in the middle of a diplomatic crisis between Brazil and the US raises a few more questions. As a matter of fact, President Rousseff has recently canceled an official visit to Washington regarding recent allegations over US spying operations on Brazilian soil, as revealed by one of the NSA leaks.

Joaquim Barbosa is a renowned jurist. His presence at such a seminar is nothing abnormal, although one may wonder: do Justices from North America take part in confidential seminars abroad? And if they do, would they attend such a seminar in the middle of a diplomatic crisis? Also, the fact that this specific event does not appear on the Minister’s agenda does not mean a rule has been broken. On the other hand, he holds a rather sensible public position, which justifies asking questions. This kind of information should be made more transparent to avoid speculation from the average citizen.

Who is Joaquim Barbosa?

Joaquim Barbosa, appointed by Lula in 2003, has become a public figure. To simplify excessively, he came to represent resilience and achievement (to be an afro-descendant in Brazil and reach such a position is nothing short of an exploit). Today, in the eyes of Brazil's public opinion, he represents one of the main symbols of the fight against corruption. As a matter of fact, he was a leading figure during the trial of the Mensalão (a case of corruption involving, among others, many key members of the Partido dos trabalhadores -PT) that was judged by the STF in 2010-2011. 

The influence of big media groups on public opinion can be particularly acute way in Brazil, especially when the PT is concerned, and this is an important factor to consider when analyzing this case. The part of the media that is working hard against the PT has used extensively Barbosa's image as a symbol of “good” (with whom the poor - read many PT electors - could easily identify with?) in campaign against “evil”, the corrupt people of the PT (and in the process, avoiding to talk about the corruption scandals from other parties). Recently, this strategy has not gone too well. There will be a retrial of the Mensalão after a vote by the STF decided to accept the validity of a motion for reconsideration (embargos infringentes).

Apart from from that story, JB was recently exposed to a few negative stories in the press (connections with influential Rede Globo people, use of military planes for private endeavor, phony registration of an apartment in Miami). Compared to certain public figures, this bad publicity is almost insignificant, but because of what he represents, the damage to his image can be much higher. This lower part of the wave should not be neglected.

Although he was appointed by Lula, he is now openly against the PT. His relationship with the President reached a low point during the visit of the Pope when he literally ignored Dilma Rousseff at the time of greeting Pope Francisco (which he denies).

Would he go to such a seminar if he had been in better terms with Brazil's dominant political party? The handcuffing of a Brazilian journalist on the premises of one of the most renowned Law School in the Western World, where he exchanged over confidential matters, didn't seem to make him too upset. He didn't approve but also didn't condemn. 

The retrial of the Mensalão promises to be agitated, indeed.

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