Brazilian president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, returned to the Palácio do Planalto this Monday and faces a number of challenging problems. It remains to be seen if ten days at the beach have made the decision-making process easier.
The president must decide on the extradition of Cesare Battisti, the purchase of 36 new fighter jets, smooth ruffled feathers in many sectors of the government due to the National Program for Human Rights and release funds for municipalities ravaged by rain, mudslides, death and destruction.
Aides to the president say the priority is the latter: getting aid to cities and people who have suffered from the rains as soon as possible. That may turn out to be the easiest decision the president faces.
With regard to the so-called FX-2 program which aims to modernize the Brazilian Air Force with brand new fighter jets, Lula has already expressed a clear preference for the French Rafale aircraft, while it seems the military wants a Swedish plane, the Gripen, based on technical criteria. And this is not the only problem Lula has with the military.
Sharp differences of opinion surround the just-released National Program for Human Rights (PNDH-3). First, it opens the door to the possibility of punishing torturers, which is a red button issue with the military.
In fact, people at the ministry of Defense were so upset about this (something supposedly resolved by the 1979 Amnesty Law) that the Minister of Defense, Nelson Jobim, and the heads of the army, air force and navy all threatened to resign.
In favor of the document are the minister of Justice, Tarso Genro, and the head of the Special Secretariat for Human Rights, Paulo Vanucchi, who was a victim of torture.
The Human Rights document also has the agribusiness sector up in arms as it proposes a new approach to the question of land ownership – another hornet’s nest in Brazil and Brazilian history. The program also touches on the subject of liberty of the press in ways that many in the press find disturbing.
As if all that is not enough, it has infuriated the Catholic Church with liberal positions on abortion and same-sex marriage, raised eyebrows in the scientific community with plans to oversee certain areas of research and caused a lot of head scratching because of stated intentions to review health plans and tax large fortunes.
Finally, Lula must decide what to do with Cesare Battisti, an Italian who has been tried, found guilty and sentenced to life in prison for the murder of four people in the late 1970s.
There is passionate debate in some quarters about the exact nature of these crimes: were they just common crimes or political crimes? Battisti escaped from jail in 1981 and since then has lived in Mexico, France and Brazil. He arrived in Brazil in 2004, was arrested here in 2007 for using false documents.
The Italian government immediately requested his extradition. In order to escape being returned to Italy, Battisti claimed refugee status, which was denied by the Brazilian National Refugee Committee. However, in Jan 2009, the minister of Justice, Tarso Genro, conceded Battisti refugee status.
The case went to the Brazilian Supreme Court where there were three votes. First, the court decided 5-4 that refugee status for Battisti was illegal. Second, the court decided 5-4 that his extradition was legal. Third, the court decided 5-4 that the final decision on the case had to made by Lula. Needless to say, the Italian government is not happy about all this.