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

The journalist was trying to interview Justice Barbosa, the 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”.

So, foreign “foremost” jurists have the opportunity to interact with Yale Law School Faculty members (could it be rephrased the other way round?), but unfortunately, what is discussed at these seminars is not known as it is confidential and therefore not opened to the press nor the public. Nonetheless, one might easily deduct that the topics discussed at this very private and special events is not about hockey or football. Yale, a prestigious university, contributes to building part of the elite of the US (including its intelligence) and of many foreign countries (including Latin America). Yale also builds networks, conveyors of information.

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 top judiciary institution 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? Even though this specific event does not appear on the agenda of the Minister, it does not mean a rule has been broken. But on the other hand, the fact that he holds such a sensible public position 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, is a well known public figure. In the eyes of the public opinion of Brazil, he has become one of the main symbols of the fight against corruption. As a matter of fact, he was a leading protagonist during the trial of the Mensalão, a controversial case of corruption (involving, among others, many key members of the Partido dos trabalhadores -PT) that was judged by the STF in 2010-2011 (there will be a retrial  because the STF decided (after a vote) to accept the validity of a motion for reconsideration - embargos infringentes). 

The powerful media groups that are working hard against the PT have used extensively Barbosa's image as a symbol of “good” (with whom the poor - read many PT electors - could easily identify with?) against “evil”, read the corrupt people of the PT (but avoiding in the process to talk about the corruption from other parties).

In spite of that, 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 (based on a positive discrimination move on the ground of "race", deplored by JB himself), he is now openly very against the PT. His relationship with  President Rousseff reached a low point during the visit of the Pope when he literally ignored her at the time of greeting Pope Francisco (which he denies).

Anyway, w
hat was his reaction regarding the handcuffing of a Brazilian journalist on the premises of one of the Ivy league institutions? He didn't seem to upset. Didn't approve, obviously, but didn't condemn either.

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

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