Thursday, July 21, 2016

Rio and the Olympics briefs (July 21, 2016)

With the Olympics just three weeks away, news stories on Rio police violence, disputes over the Olympic legacy and security threats are piling up.
  • American delegates of the Black Lives Matter movement and local activists warned that the Olympics could prove deadly for Rio's poor black people. During the games, about 85,000 soldiers and police will be on the streets, in a country where a United Nations report has concluded law enforcement officers are responsible for a "significant portion" of the nearly 60,000 annual violent deaths, reports the Associated Press. Amnesty International's Rio chapter estimates police were responsible for one of every five slayings in the state in 2015 and said police killings in the state increased by about 40 percent during the 2014 World Cup soccer tournament. The piece looks at the interesting exchange between the two groups, which "shared their personal stories and discussed similarities between the black experience in Brazil and in the U.S., with both groups complaining of racial profiling, police killings and the criminalization of poor communities."
  • Violence in favelas doesn't just affect people. Animals can get caught in the crossfire too, like a dog who was shot five times earlier this month. This story at least has a happy ending for the dog, nicknamed Netinho Coragem, or "little brave one," he is recovering from surgery and will soon be put up for adoption, reports the Associated Press.
  • Rio's favelas will be increasingly in world sites, so it's a good time to have a better grasp of what they are. Local NGO Catalytic Communities has a cute animation that does just that. "Favelas were formed because there was simply no place for migrants and descendants of enslaved Africans to live. ... Favelas are built by their residents, brick by brick. Most favelas have housed families for generations, producing a rich history in each home."
  • A Guardian piece seeks to asses the long term positive and negative impacts of the Olympics for Rio. Controversial points include displacement -- critics point to upwards of 70,000 displaced families, while the mayor's office says those numbers are distorted. Resource allocation is another big topic of contention, critics say money has been spent mostly on the city's wealthy South zone and that construction firms, real estate companies, and "industries related to gentrification" are the big winners. Again the mayor disputes that narrative. “Seventy-five percent of my investment is in the north and west of the city. That’s where I get my votes," he told the Guardian. The piece goes in-depth regarding specific areas of Olympic development in the city.
  • These may be the "Filth Olympics," according to the Washington Post, which reports that the lagoon in front of the Olympic Park is so polluted that fish are dying. As part of Rio’s Olympic commitments, the city agreed to build five river-treatment units to clean water flowing into this lake system, but only one was completed.
  • Brazil's intelligence agency is looking into threats ahead of the games, as a presumed Brazilian Islamist group pledged allegiance to Islamic State, reports Reuters.
  • Brazil deported a French-Algerian nuclear physicist once linked to al Qaeda, reports the Wall Street Journal. The 39-year-old scientist, Adlène Hicheur, had been working in Brazil since 2013 as a visiting professor at Rio de Janeiro Federal University.
  • The World Anti-Doping Agency lifted the suspension of the Rio lab scheduled to do all the drug testing for athletes during the upcoming games, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • A community of descendants of runaway slaves, called a "quilombo," says the Olympics media village was built on land where their ancestors were buried, which they consider sacred, according to the Guardian.

News Briefs

  • Reuters piece profiles the Brazilian government's Legal Land program, launched in 2009 to give small-scale farmers title deeds. Since then the program has given about 20,000 title deeds to farmers who farmed land for decades without technically owning it. By the end of last year the program titled nearly 12 million hectares of land - an area about the size of Cuba.
  • And a piece in the Guardian looks at how land disputes between indigenous groups and farmers in Brazil's Mato Grosso do Sul have turned deadly.
  • Brazilian women's groups are set to present a challenge to the country's abortion laws before the Supreme Court, arguing that the Brazilian government’s policies on Zika and microcephaly have breached women’s human rights, reports the Guardian.
  • A year after Cuba and the U.S. resumed diplomatic relations, a top Cuban diplomat says that the island-nation will never lower its guard when it comes to the U.S., but that the renewed relationship is permitting advances on many areas of mutual interest, reports the Miami Herald.
  • Cuba's established its first private wholesale market, a potential game changer for the country's legion of small entrepreneurs who currently have to buy supplies for their businesses at consumer prices, Reuters reported earlier this month.
  • A two-month roadblock strike in Chiapas was broken up by hooded people and police officers, according to the CNTE teachers' union, which is struggling against a national education reform. Animal Político reports on the story.
  • A trucker strike in Colombia has lasted a month and a half already, and has caused food scarcities and major price increases in parts of the country, reports the Associated Press. Yesterday hundreds of truckers burned tires and threw rocks in a confrontation with riot police in Bogotá. The truckers' union is demanding to charge more for cargo, lower gas prices and regulation for cargo carrying licenses. After a month of protests, the truckers began blocking roads yesterday, to which the government has responded harshly, according to Colombia Reports. President Juan Manuel Santos has ordered police to capture vehicles used in road blocks and to suspend the licenses of companies and drivers involved in them. Other measures include the establishment of a logistical center to coordinate shipments and transportation with businesses not participating in the strike and an increase in security forces patrolling the highways, all presented as "an effort to restore and protect the rights of Colombian citizens." And the dialogue between the two is fruitless so far, which means continuation of the standoff, according to El Espectador. Yesterday the negotiating table was joined by Catholic Church mediators, reports Publimetro. The country has already lost $1,000 million due to the strike, reports El Telégrafo. Truckers accuse the government of dragging out the negotiation, reports TeleSUR.
  • Guardian editorial lauds the accomplishments of Colombia's peace process up until now. "The proposals are ambitious, comprehensive and specific. Importantly, they include pledges to address the roots of the conflict by boosting rural development, with some land redistribution, and tackling the world’s largest cocaine production industry. They are also imaginative, detailing plans to build three giant monuments from surrendered arms." It also notes that President Juan Manuel Santos has urged the international community to abandon prohibition-based approaches to drugs, and emphasizes the link between conflict and the narcotics trade in Colombia. (See yesterday's post.)
  • OAS diplomats, led by Caricom representatives, lauded Haitian interim President Jocelerme Privert's executive order calling for elections on Oct. 9, but also called on the country's parliament to swiftly resolve the political crisis over Haiti's leadership. Privert's 120-mandate expired last month, reports the Miami Herald.
  • The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein voiced concern regarding the conviction in Paraguay of 11 landless farmers accused of being involved in deadly clashes with police four years ago, reports Reuters. (See July 12's briefs.)
  • Panama said it will ask the U.S. government to declassify documents related to the 1989 invasion that led to the capture of dictator Manuel Noriega, according to the Latin American Herald Tribune.
  • Anthropology professor Robin Maria DeLugan, writes in Nacla on the recent overturning of El Salvador's amnesty law. She notes a potential link between impunity for civil war crimes and incredibly high levels of postwar violence."Despite reservations from some in government, the Attorney General’s office appears to have the will to undertake investigations.  However, the government lacks resources for the processes, including funds to support the indemnization of the victims who are determined to have suffered “moral damage” (daño moral)," she says.
  • Peruvian environmental activist Victor Zambrano is facing constant death threats, reports TeleSUR.
  • Guatemala's private sector security industry is booming, amid rising insecurity, according to the BBC. "In total, there are estimated to be as many as 150,000 private security guards in the country, compared with a police force of just 30,000. This is in a country with a population of 15.5 million, of which 4.5 million live in and around the capital."
  • Mexico is prohibiting night fishing and gill nets in the upper Gulf of California, a bid to save the vaquita marina porpoise, which is on the brink of extinction. Environmentalists praised the measures, reports the Associated Press.
  • Some Chilean municipal authorities are fighting back against big chain pharmacies by opening up so-called "popular" drugstores. The drugstores, which operate in 58 municipalities already sell products up to 78 percent cheaper than regular pharmacies, reports Bloomberg. Court rulings in 1995 and 2012 found that the commercial-drugstore market, dominated by three companies, colluded to raise prices.

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