Friday, July 1, 2016

Rio's mega-game mess (July 1, 2016)

Olympics preparation disaster stories are a genre unto themselves. The media is always rife with stories of last minute construction, soaring costs and political sniping. Rio de Janeiro, with body parts washing up on the beach, protracted gun battles around the city, and a financial crisis threatening the state's ability to pay for basic public services, is no exception. Not to mention the possibility that President Dilma Rousseff will be impeached by the Senate the day before the games close.

Thousands of civil servants -- ranging from doctors and teachers to firefighters and police officers -- are threatening to strike over unpaid salaries and poor working conditions. The issue raises the questions over how the city could cope with a major public health emergency during the mega event, such as a major train or bus accident, according to the Wall Street Journal.

In the latest piece of news, Brazil just replaced the head of the country's antidoping agency, after the World Anti-Doping Agency suspended the Rio lab that was supposed to be the center of athlete testing, reports the Wall Street Journal.

Yesterday, the Brazilian government confirmed a $895 million emergency loan to the state to cover Olympic security spending, reports Reuters. The funds will also help complete a subway extension that will carry visitors to Olympic venues from the city center.

In an entertaining New York Times op-ed Vanesa Barbara reviews the various issues of unpreparedness facing Rio, including the major issue of safety: "76 people have been hit by stray bullets in Rio so far this year; 21 of them have died." Those who were worried about Zika might want to realign their priorities, a woman is 10 times more likely to be raped in Rio than to contract the mosquito-borne virus, she writes.

The causes of the megagame crisis include reckless spending and the country's ongoing political crisis, she writes. But she notes a problem at the heart of all the major event spending in Rio over the past decade is that regular citizens were not consulted. "The favela Providência is a good example of what’s wrong with the mayor’s approach. The residents there asked for water and basic sanitation. Instead, they got a $22 million gondola, primarily for tourists." 

She concludes that the big winners of the Olympics are residents of upscale areas, contractors and landowners who have leveraged the games into value increases for their holdings.

The Intercept has an interesting piece that goes in-depth on some of the issues around the firefighter and police demands for payment, which was criticized by dominant newspaper O Globo as “ethically reprehensible” actions “bordering on terrorism.” The piece calls out Grupo Globo's business interests in the Olympics.  

Vox has a great video showing how Olympic construction is removing and hiding the city's poor from the influx of tourists expected.

And Guernica has an interview with Catalytic Communities' Theresa Williamson. The group has been working to document the impact of the Olympics on the city's favelas for years.

"Williamson argues that favelas point to a number of possibilities for more creative and just cities, and that these possibilities derive precisely from their “informality”: from housing built and communities organized not so much outside the state as despite its neglect. According to CatComm, favelas manifest a self-organized solution to unaffordable housing in a city where landless farmworkers, young people without formal education, and former slaves have had no other option for seeking employment and shelter."

News Briefs
  • A report earlier this week by independent auditors for the Brazilian Senate basically debunked most of the accusations against President Dilma Rousseff of budgetary accusations. While it did not fully exonerate her, it did debunk the allegation that she engaged in pedaladas (“peddling”: illegal delay of re-payments to state banks) to mask public debt, explains Glen Greenwald for the Intercept. (See Tuesday's briefs.) The fact that the report hasn't even dented the impeachment momentum against Rousseff is telling he argues. He cites a Folha de S. Paulo column by Elio Gaspari who said the impeachment may not be a coup in the sense of legality, but is one in the sense that it is a ruse to oust the president based on ideological factors rather than legal ones.
  • Rousseff said yesterday that former president and Workers' Party leader Luíz Inacio Lula da Silva will be a candidate in the 2018 presidential elections, reports TeleSUR.
  • Brazil's acting President Michel Temer approved a new law banning politicians from assuming posts in state-run companies for three years after their involvement in an election, a measure aimed at limiting corruption, reports Reuters.
  • Temer appears to be backing away from Rousseff's promises to take in 100,000 Syrian refugees, reports Vice News.
  • Hundreds of Guatemalans participated in the annual March of Historical Memory yesterday, commemorating the victims of the government military genocide, reports TeleSUR. From 1960 to 1996, at least 150,000 people died or were forcibly disappeared by the Guatemalan military.
  • The New York Times Magazine has a very in-depth piece on the work of Guatemalan forensic anthropologists, who have uncovered evidence of mass killings that will be used in landmark case against top former military leaders, who will stand trial for massacres, torture and disappearances they ordered or helped orchestrate at a military base in the city of Cobán between 1981 and 1987. (See Jan. 7's post on the arrests related to the case and the evidence gathered about the killings.)
  • A report by the Due Process Law Foundation (DPLF) looks at the challenges of attaining post-conflict reconciliation in El Salvador, where after the country's bloody civil war "a variety of legal and political obstacles to accountability were put in place, encouraging the society to forgive and forget those responsible for the widespread violence." The piece evaluates potential criminal justice measures that could help "bring an end to the impunity that has prevailed since the peace accords were signed."
  • Colombian and Venezuelan top officials have begun talks to reopen the border between the two countries, unilaterally closed by Venezuela last year, according to Colombia Reports. The area on both sides of the border is troubled, in part because of neglect from central governments its rife with guerrilla groups and drug traffickers. (See Wednesday's post on post-conflict strategies for the Colombian side of the border.)
  • Venezuelan state-oil company Pdvsa signed financing deals with services firms Halliburton and Weatherford, according to Reuters.
  • In an interview with Real News Network, journalist Gabriel Hetland explains how the apocalyptic portrait of Venezuela being painted by U.S. mainstream media is dangerous because it supports potential regime-change agenda and could make things far worst for Venezuelans. "The solutions to the problems ... are complicated and involve economic policy changes where you have to get masses of the population to trust that the government does have the capacity to get private businesses and state institutions to follow laws, to provide food for people. You have to have people trusting that the government will be able to provide the resources they need. ... They do need to change. They do need policy change. They need better policies, for sure. But having a sort of crisis in the sort of political and international sphere is going to make that much, much harder to actually happen."
  • On the double standard in American mainstream media, James North has a piece in The Nation on the violent confrontation between security forces and protesters in Mexico's Oaxaca state that is increasingly being referred to as a "massacre." (See yesterday's post.)"Make no mistake: If police in Venezuela had shot down 11 unarmed demonstrators, a pack of American reporters would have raced there," he writes. Back to the Nochixtlán, his sources deny the government version of events that subversive armed groups ambushed unarmed police. One teacher he cites says: “It was planned in advance. The police put snipers in a couple of hotels. They used heavy weapons we have never seen before. We are teachers; we don’t use arms. Our weapons are our ideas.”
  • Puerto Rico is entering unchartered waters of a massive debt default, just as a rescue package passed by the U.S. Congress and signed by President Barack Obama yesterday provides a temporary protection from creditor lawsuits seeking to recover millions of dollars invested in Puerto Rico bonds, reports the Associated Press. The rescue package allows Puerto Rico to restructure some of its debt as U.S. cities and counties can. It also creates a board appointed by Congress and the White House that will oversee the debt-restructuring process and Puerto Rico's finances, including requiring the island to have balanced budgets, explains the Associated Press in another piece. The debt crisis and U.S. rescue have brought out mixed feelings in Puerto Rico regarding their elected officials' poor management, a bitter resentment towards Washignton "and yet a begrudging appreciation of the benefits that American citizenship and the United States safety net can bring," notes the New York Times. Feelings of being second-class citizens are creating support for Puerto Rican statehood, according to the AP.
  • A meeting of the Pacific Alliance trade bloc yesterday highlighted the impact of domestic political shifts rightward on the region's diplomatic sphere. Macri and Peruvian President-elect Pedro Pablo Kuczynski called for better energy ties across the region, reports Reuters.
  • Argentine authorities raided several properties of former President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner searching for evidence of illicit enrichment. Fernández denounced the searches as political persecution, reports the Associated Press. The raids are based on accusations by an opposition legislator that property rental by a company owned by Fernández -- established by her late husband, former President Nestor Kirchner -- covered up kickbacks to the couple for granting lucrative contracts.

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