Wednesday, January 13, 2016

São Paulo bus fare protests repressed (Jan. 13, 2015)

Military police in São Paulo aggressively repressed a protest against bus fare hikes -- the second in several days -- using tear gas to disperse marchers, reports Folha de S. Paulo.

The demonstrators were led by the Free Fare Movement (MPL), the same group that in 2013 brought out hundreds of thousands of protesters. In this case they were protesting a 0.30 reais public transit fare hike

Security officials said the adopted heavier-handed tactics, including stun grenades, after protesters tried to cross a police blockade, reports Reuters. Police said they arrested 17 people.

The demonstrators were confused by a blockade attempting to redirect the march along a different street, explains Folha.

But the Associated Press notes that the first stun grenades were heard before the march began Tuesday.

According to the MPL 28 people were injured.

Police said about 3,000 people attended the demonstration. The MPL is calling for another protest Thursday.

News Briefs

  • In the wake of scandals over the United States' National Security Agency's collection of Brazilian citizens’ communications and phone-tapping of top government officials in 2013, Brazil became a world-champion of internet freedom and net neutrality. But that legacy is being challenged by proposed legislation that would roll back key provisions of the country's digital bill of rights, known as the Marco Civil da Internet, write Robbert Muggah and Nathan Thompson in a New York Times op-ed. They point to other examples, including a judicial decision last month that temporarily suspended the popular messaging service Whatsapp (see Dec. 18th's briefs) and government monitoring of civilian activists and politicians after huge protests in 2013. "Having emerged from authoritarian rule just 30 years ago, Brazilians are especially sensitive to encroachments on their basic freedoms, including digital ones. ... Brazil's politicians and judges should be more conscious than most of the slippery slope of curbing fundamental rights."
  • Foreign Affairs has a piece by Jonathan Tepperman extolling the virtues of Brazil's ambitious antipoverty program Bolsa Família. The program aims to redistribute wealth towards the country's poorest families by giving cash to them directly in exchange for school attendance for minors, vaccinations and medical check-ups. "... recent studies credit Bolsa Família with having helped reduce the country's overall income gap by a third and rank the program as the second most important contributor to this change after general economic growth." And the world is watching: over 63 countries have sent experts to copy Brazil's model and at least 40 countries (including most in Latin America) have implemented a similar program.
  • As Brazil enters the peak of its summer, the mosquito-borne Zika virus is gaining ground. The disease has been linked to thousands of cases of brain damage in infants. Last week there were 356 fresh cases of suspected Zika-related microcephaly versus 199 new suspected cases in the week ended Jan. 2, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • In the wake of the institutional face-off between Venezuela's National Assembly and the national executive and judicial branches of government, the opposition-led Congress is failing to even meet. Assembly President Henry Ramos Allup said yesterday's session failed to reach a quorum, with neither side showing, reports the Wall Street Journal. President Nicolás Maduro appears to have one at least a round of fighting this week. Maduro is scheduled to give his annual report to Congress on Friday, though it's unclear whether that will occur, reports the Miami Herald. The Assembly will meet today to officially respond to the Supreme Court ruling invalidating all of its decisions after three opposition legislators whose elections are in question were sworn in. Ramos announced that they will step aside temporarily according to the WSJ. (See yesterday's briefs.) 
  • Venezuelan legislator and wife of President Nicolás Maduro, Cilia Flores, said her nephews -- who are currently in U.S. custody on drug trafficking charges -- were kidnapped by the DEA in violation of Venezuelan sovereignty, reports the Associated Press. Opposition critics have described the two as "narconephews" and said the case signaled a broader involvement of Venezuelan authorities in drug trafficking, reports Reuters.
  • Haitians gathered yesterday to commemorate the sixth anniversary of the 2010 earthquake that killed more than 300,000 people, reports the Associated Press. According to the International Organization for Migration, the number of Haitians displaced by the earthquake has dropped from 1.5 million to 59,720, reports the Miami Herald. In a low-key wreathe laying ceremony at a mountain-top where many of the dead lie in mass graves, President Michel Martelly avoided mentioning the political crisis facing the country: opposition presidential candidate Jude Célestin is refusing to participate in the run-off election scheduled for Jan. 24, demanding that the government adopt recommendations from an electoral commission that says the October presidential election was plagued by irregularities and fraud. 
  • On Monday Martelly was denied the opportunity to give his final "state of the union" address to the National Assembly, when senators opted to swear in newly elected colleagues in a small ceremony in their chamber, reports the Miami Herald. The swearing in of new deputies and senators took place despite the allegations that two rounds of voting this year were were marred by fraud, and under pressure from the international community to respect the constitutionally mandated date for parliament to start functioning, despite the unfinished electoral process. There are still 26 deputies and six senators left to be elected on the rescheduled Jan 24 election. Opposition political leaders criticized the parliament's reentry and three senators boycotted the swearing-in ceremony in protest. 
  • Cuba's lead negotiator in talks with the U.S., Josefina Vidal, said the upcoming U.S. presidential election could endanger the rapprochement between the two countries and urged President Barak Obama to dismantle existing U.S. sanctions on the island while he is still in power in order to secure the process, reports the Associated Press.
  • A Cuban delegation will participate in a U.S. co-sponsored security conference for the first time. The island's participation in an annual Caribbean security conference is a significant step in the ongoing diplomatic thaw between the two countries, reports the Associated Press. It is not clear if Cuba will use the opportunity to raise objections to the presence of the U.S. Navy base in Guantanamo Bay.
  • At least three U.S.-based cruise lines are planning itineraries that include Cuba -- and are even advertising trips for this winter and spring. But none have yet obtained permission to berth in Cuba, reports the Miami Herald.
  • A group of 180 Cuban migrants stranded in Costa Rica took off last night toward El Salvador, where they will continue their journey to the U.S., reports the Associated Press. (See Jan. 4th's briefs.)
  • Mexican authorities have increased security at the Altiplano prison where recaptured drug kingpin Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán is being held. This time he's in isolation and with a 24-hour guard placed at the door, reports Reuters. They are moving him constantly from cell to cell inside the maximum security prison, notes the Associated Press. (See Monday's briefs and yesterday's post.)
  • Guzmán was caught early last Friday after the most intensive manhunt in modern Mexican history, with at least 2,500 security and intelligence agents dedicated to the case, reports the Associated Press.
  • The Mexican government said that it would not be investigating the actors Sean Penn or Kate del Castillo for their meeting with Guzmán, clarifying that it would rather be looking into the circumstances surrounding the meeting, reports the New York Times.
  • Guzmán's family tried to trademark his name in order to produce merchandise, including clothing, watches, walking canes and even Christmas tree ornaments. His lawyers also applied to trademark his name as part of a plan for making a motion picture on his larger-then-life story, reports the Guardian.

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