Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Pre-Olympics chaos and polemic polls in Brazil (July 26, 2016)

As the Olympics slowly but surely creep up, the media has had a field-day with articles on the security risks, construction delays, and potential mishandling of funds that accompany the Rio de Janeiro game's preparation. Other pieces have focused on the difficult context accompanying the mega sporting event: the mosquito-borne Zika epidemic that's scaring athletes and tourists off, the financial crisis that has imperiled the ability of Rio de Janeiro state to pay for vital services, and, of course, the political drama playing out in the national Congress over whether to impeach President Dilma Rousseff.

"Identifying the myriad problems is easy. More difficult—and more important—is to resist seeing them as 'general chaos,'" warns a piece in The Nation by Dave Zirin. Instead, he argues the situation must be understood as an extreme version of what happens when the Olympics come to town. "But for this year’s Rio Olympics, the corruption is also a function of how Brazil’s elites have always done business, and the crisis has little to do with general problems in the “developing world.” Instead, it is closely connected to the fact that Brazil is an incredibly unequal society, with oligarchical elites who disdain the poor, mourn for a lost military dictatorship, and don’t particularly care for democracy (all attractive traits to the IOC when looking for an Olympic host city). For these elites, the Olympics are a neoliberal Trojan horse allowing powerful construction and real-estate industries to build wasteful projects and displace the poor from coveted land."

On the broader issue of Brazil's political crisis, forty U.S. Democrat lawmakers published a letter to U.S Secretary of State John Kerry yesterday, expressing “deep concern” about threats to democracy in Brazil, just ahead of the upcoming Olympics Games in Rio de Janeiro, reports the Los Angeles Times. The letter was backed by the AFL-CIO and other labor union groups as well as nongovernmental organizations focused on Latin America and criticized the impeachment process that suspended President Dilma Rousseff in May. The U.S. lawmakers urged Kerry to “exercise the utmost caution in your dealings with Brazil’s interim authorities and to refrain from statements or actions that might be interpreted as supportive of the impeachment campaign launched against President Dilma Rousseff.”

Half of the Brazilian electorate wants a new presidential election, preferring that option to either maintaining acting President Michel Temer or a return of Rousseff, reports BBC, based on a new Ipsos poll. Meanwhile, a new Datafolha poll found that 62 percent of Brazilians favor a new election -- a finding that contradicts a previous, very questioned poll that didn't offer respondents that option and thus determined that most Brazilians preferred a continued Temer presidency to a Rousseff return, explains Deutsche Welle. (See last Wednesday's briefs on The Intercept's original story on the polemic framing of the original Datafolha poll.) The Intercept has a follow up piece denouncing that Folha de S. Paulo, "Brazil’s largest and most influential newspaper, not only distorted, but actively concealed, crucial polling data that completely negated what they “reported”: data that establishes that a large majority of Brazilians want “interim President” Michel Temer to resign, not remain in office as the paper claimed. Put simply, this is one of the most remarkable, flagrant, and serious cases of journalistic malfeasance one can imagine," writes Glen Greenwald.

And a piece on NPR focuses on gender violence in Brazil, "one of the most dangerous countries in the world to be a woman." A report from the nonprofit Mapa da Violencia found that a woman is killed every two hours, and assaulted every 15 seconds. Latin America is the region with the most femicides in the world, and though many countries have passed legislation aimed at dealing with the epidemic of violence against women, they don't seem to be working, according to the piece.

And the latest in the Rio contamination series:"Recent tests by government and independent scientists revealed a veritable petri dish of pathogens in many of the city’s waters, from rotaviruses that can cause diarrhea and vomiting to drug-resistant “super bacteria” that can be fatal to people with weakened immune systems," reports the New York Times.

News Briefs
  • The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights celebrated a Salvadoran Supreme Court decision to overrule an amnesty for human rights crimes committed during El Salvador's 12-year civil war, reports the Associated Press.
  • The Latin American Reserve Fund, or FLAR, funded by eight regional central banks agreed to lend Venezuela $482.5 million over the next three years. The funds from Bolivia, Colombia, Venezuela, Peru, Ecuador, Uruguay, Paraguay and Costa Rica come as Venezuela is struggling with a balance of payment crisis, according to Bloomberg. The opposition has questioned the legality of the loan since it doesn't have Congressional approval, notes the Associated Press. Venezuela is using rapidly dwindling foreign reserves to pay for food and medicine imports.
  • Almost a year after its closure, the border between Venezuela and Colombia will be reopened at some point next week, according to Colombia Reports. In the meantime, border officials from both sides agreed not to allow Venezuelans seeking basic goods to cross to Colombia. (See last Wednesday's briefs.)
  • Colombia has declared an end to its Zika epidemic -- the rate of infections has leveled off and started to drop, say officials. This means the disease will continue to be present, but will spread more slowly reports the Guardian. It means Zika will join "the ranks of Chikungunya and dengue as just another reality of living in the tropics," notes the Miami Herald.

  • Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/news/nation-world/world/americas/colombia/article91702882.html#storylink=cpy
  • Council on Hemispheric Affairs focuses on the Paraguayan "Curuguaty Massacre" and ensuing judicial process. Earlier this month eleven subsistence farmers were sentenced to up to 30 years for killing six police officers in clashes regarding land reform in 2012. (See July 12's briefs.) But eleven farmers were killed in those confrontations, a crime which has not even been investigated, notes COHA. "The gravest instance of violence in the Curuguaty case is the overlooked murders of lawful protestors by law enforcement. According to eyewitness and media reports, the farmers had assembled peacefully to call for land reform and were met with lethal violence by police officers. Since then, the 11 beleaguered farmers in the case have been dragged through a trial that has been fundamentally biased in favor of their assailants—the police. Furthermore, it is now evident that the blatant human rights violations that occurred that day were not investigated by Paraguayan authorities and have since been neglected by international media and the broader global community.
  • The case of peanut shipments from the U.S. to Haiti as part of an aid package to help feed school children poses a potentially serious challenge for Haitian peanut farmers whose livelihoods could be affected, reports the Huffington Post. The reason for the U.S. peanut largesse is, quite simply, a surplus, explains the piece. The initiative has been criticized by over 60 aid groups, which sent a letter to the U.S.D.A. saying "...This program stands to become the latest in a long history of U.S-sponsored programs that have destabilized Haiti’s agricultural sector, driving the nation further into poverty while increasing its dependence on foreign aid."
  • Outgoing Peruvian President Ollanta Humala said he will not decide on a new pardon request by former authoritarian president Alberto Fujimori -- who is serving a 25-year sentence for corruption and human rights abuses committed during his government. Instead, the politically delicate question will remain for Humala's successor, Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, who will swear in Thursday, reports Reuters. (See yesterday's briefs.)
  • New York Times feature looks at Peru's struggle to drive out illegal gold miners from the country's Tambopata reserve. "The amount of gold collected by unlicensed miners is far larger than elsewhere in Latin America. And it is ballooning so quickly that environmentalists fear that even a remote reserve like this one — home to thousands of species of plants and animals, some perhaps not even identified by humans — has little chance of survival."
  • The official homicide rate in Mexico rose slightly last year, the first increase in four years, reports the Wall Street Journal. Some experts blame the trend on a resurgence of violence among criminal groups.
  • Mexico's transparency agency -- the Instituto Nacional de Transparencia, Acceso a la Información y Protección de Datos Personales (INAI) -- has presented over 130 complaints over the past decade regarding government agencies that failed to hand over information as requested. But only four proceedings ended in any form of sanction, reports Animal Político.
  • The case of wind-farms in Mexico shows how green energy can bring few benefits for local communities, which are rejecting plans for more projects in some cases as they demand social returns, reports the New York Times. In many communities wind farms have deepened inequality, according to the piece.
  • Semana has an interview with former Colombian labor vice-minister Luis Ernesto Gómez, who is launching a citizen initiative, Seamos, to bring technology to the country's politics. The group has two main areas of focus: on the one part, gathering elected officials who will agree to follow directives from the electorate via votes on the group's digital platform. And on the other hand, attempting to transform social media indignation into real social change, says Gómez.
  • The Bolivian government is postponing a new broadcast licensing system, after media owners warned they could possibly lose their permits under a new system that made renewal difficult, reports the Latin American Herald Tribune.

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