Thursday, September 10, 2015

Rio - one year before the Olympics (September 10, 2015)

There are eleven months till the Olympics hit Rio de Janeiro. Sports aren't really my thing, but the mega event is nothing if not an urban policy geek dream case study.

Rio on Watch, a local community reporting project focused on favelas, published a news roundup last month, as the countdown to the world invasion begins. The piece gives updates on key issues like forced evictions, public security and environmental impact.

Their piece on the best and worst favela reporting highlights two community journalists' pieces in The Guardian. Michel Silva, critiques the Brazilian mainstream media’s portrayal of the Rocinha favela as a "dangerous and dirty place where residents lack an understanding of how the world works." He overviews Rocinha’s history and demographics, summarizes what residents are proud of and what they lack, and calls for more "discussion of public security policies with local people."

And Thaís Cavalcante highlights last year's forced evictions in the Salsa and Merengue communities, mega-event impacts that received no English-language mainstream media coverage.

The worst, according to Rio on Watch? Pieces that focus on whether the city will be ready for the mega event, which will eventually allow the city to play off having the games as a success in and of itself. "Key to holding the 2016 Rio Olympics accountable will be media coverage that emphasizes the tougher questions of costs and impacts on citizens over the easier question of whether the Games infrastructure will be ready."

"In this context, even with less than a year to go to Rio 2016, there is still a lack of clarity regarding what can be considered an Olympic legacy for these [favela] areas, which are home to approximately 20% of the population of the city," bemoans a Folha de S. Paulo piece.

"On the one hand, the government maintains that the Brazilian Olympics have been the catalyst behind efforts and resources, such as urban development, mobility and security, that will particularly benefit residents of these communities. On the other hand, residents, activists and researchers have denounced the events which have legitimized forced evictions in favelas, real estate speculation and construction which do not serve local priorities—where basic sanitation invariably occupies the top of the list."

Reuters reported on the plight of the few remaining families in Vila Autodromo, where more than 20 families refuse to leave their favela on the border of the Olympic Park in Rio de Janeiro.The 450 families that have already been moved from the favela are just a small part of more than 20,000 families re-located since 2009 in the state of Rio de Janeiro alone, many of them to make way for Olympic projects, reports the piece.

Six years after favela pacification began -- in an effort to reduce crime and violence in the city's informal neighborhoods -- the results are mixed, reports NPR. In ome favelas, like the Complexo de Alemao, residents have been caught in crossfire and say the policy has been a failure. On the other hand, in Vidigal tourists arrive by cable car and take pictures of the stunning view. "They are not a single experience,"

Ignacio Cano, an expert on pacification with Rio de Janeiro's State University says in the piece. "The situation varies a lot from some communities to others. Anything good or bad which has happened in the last five, six years in terms of public security in Rio has systematically been attributed to the UPPs." The data shows that the situation is much more complicated he says. Many analysts say pacification has been a net positive for Rio. The program is expected to continue beyond next summer's Olympic Games in Rio.

Police seeking to ensure tourist safety on beaches have been condemned for detaining youths -- mostly black -- to prevent them from reaching the shore. The practice has been dubbed "symbolic apartheid," reports The Independent. But in August the arrest of 160 youths who had not committed any crimes and were not carrying drugs or guns, provoked outrage. The kids ended up on the floor of a police van even though they had failed to commit any crimes, reports El País. The police raid was conducted as part of an attempt to contain a fresh wave of group robberies, a practice that became common in the 1990s on Río’s beaches.

But all is not bad news. A hotly anticipated new soap opera that premiered last month attempts to show life in a fictional favela, using reality show filming techniques and carefully crafted, extensive and intricate set design, reports the Rio Times

News Briefs 

  • Standard & Poor's Ratings Services downgraded Brazil’s sovereign debt by one notch, placing it in junk territory for the first time since 2008. The move comes a month after Moody’s Investors Service downgraded Brazil to its lowest investment-grade rating but gave it a stable outlook. f matched by another credit-ratings firm, the downgrade could trigger a massive outflow of cash from Brazilian financial markets, as big international pension funds often invest only in assets rated as investment class by at least two of three major firms, explains the Wall Street Journal. The firms' assessment batters the government's credibility with investors and could worsen what is already the country's worst economic downturn in a quarter of a century. It's an especially difficult blow for President Dilma Rousseff who has put her political standing on the line by pushing an austerity agenda that is unpopular with her own party, largely aimed at saving Brazil's status as a trustworthy debtor.
  • The New York Times analyzes the Mexican government's reaction to the international report that contradicts the official account of what happened to the missing 43 students from Ayotzinapa. (See Tuesday's and yesterday's briefs.) Unusually for President Enrique Peña Nieto's administration, officials have publicly accepted the findings and acknowledge that more could be done in the investigation, according to the piece. It might be "a sign that Mr. Peña Nieto’s administration may be starting to recognize that the chasm between the people and their president has never been greater."
  • Haiti's presidential campaign got off to a tepid start yesterday, reflecting a lack of cash among the approximately 50 presidential contenders and uncertainty as to whether the elections scheduled for October 25 will actually happen, reports the Miami Herald. The nine-member Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) has been has lost credibility and members would have to be replaced in order to salvage this years electoral process, according to experts cited in the piece. A month after the first round of elections too place last month, the CEP still hasn't announced which legislative candidates will be in the upcoming run-off election, which will also be held on Oct 25.
  • Former Guatemalan President Otto Perez accused the United States on Wednesday of helping to topple him by interfering in the Central American country and endorsing a United Nations-backed anti-corruption commission, reports Reuters.
  • Venezuela and Colombia's presidents traded barbs yesterday, as the three-week old border dispute between the two countries shows little sign of abating. Colombia's Juan Manuel Santos accused Venezuela's Nicolas Maduro of scapegoating Colombians. "The revolution is self-destructing because of its own effects, not because of the Colombians," he said. After Santos spoke, Maduro said that he was profoundly offended by his comments, reports the Associated Press. "You've made a serious mistake, disrespecting the office of the president of Venezuela," Maduro said. "But I'm obligated to talk with you nonetheless and work to resolve the urgent matter of the border." Santo's comments came as Venezuela’s government went on a public relations offensive, including a full-page ad in the New York Times yesterday explaining its position on the border dispute, reports the Wall Street Journal. The two countries cannot agree when and where they'll meet to resolve the issue. Colombia is pushing for Uruguay, while Venezuela wants Argentina and Brazil to mediate.
  • The Associated Press goes more in depth on the difficulties faced by the 600,000 Wayuu, the semi-nomadic tribe that dominates life on the foreboding La Guajira peninsula, straddling the border between Venezuela and Colombia that is currently the focus of an increasingly heated spat between the two countries.
  • Bolivian President Evo Morales' supporters in Congress are seeking to amend the national constitution so he can run for a fourth term in 2020. Morales’s supporters control the two-thirds of Congress needed to pass such legislation. After that, voters would decide in a referendum, reports the Associated Press.
  • An indigenous community in Brazil's northern Maranhão state have organized a "forest guardian" militia that seeks to fight halt illegal logging in the Amazon with aggressive confrontation. The tools used by the Ka’apor tribe include bows, arrows and GPS trackers, reports The Guardian. The tribe decided to manage its own protection in 2011. Logging trucks and tractors that encroach upon their territory are intercepted and burned. Drivers and chainsaw operators are warned never to return. Those that fail to heed the advice are stripped and beaten. And they have succeeded in reducing timber theft, though several tribe members have been murdered and others have been received death threats.
  • The Caribbean is once again becoming a popular cocaine smuggling route, decades after U.S. authorities all but shut down cocaine smuggling into Florida, reports the Associated Press. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration estimates smugglers have increased shipments of cocaine through the Caribbean from about 60 tons to about 100 tons in the past several years. 
  • David Rowley was sworn in as Trinidad and Tobago's new prime minister yesterday, after the previous ruling party was voted out in elections, reports the Associated Press. Former Fifa VP Jack Warner, accused of corruption in an international scandal, was one of the casualties of the election, he lost his seat in the parliament, reports the AP in a separate story.
  • Trump is just the gift that never stops giving. NYTimes' Open Source reports that Mexican TV Azteca produced an ad that remixes Donald J. Trump's comments about the death of the American dream to mock the chances of the United States soccer team to win an upcoming match between the two countries.

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