Monday, August 1, 2016

Brazilian Olympic briefing (Aug. 1, 2016)

  • Five days before the Rio de Janeiro Olympics games start, rallies were held around the country both supporting and against suspended President Dilma Rousseff. Hundreds of people demonstrated on Rio's Copacabana beach demanding Rousseff's ouster, ahead of a Senate vote on her impeachment in upcoming weeks, reports Reuters. There were also protests against acting President Michel Temer, who will likely be booed at the opening ceremony.
  • Former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva will face trial on charges of obstructing justice in the Petrobras corruption case. Friday's judicial decision complicates the legendary Workers' Party leader, who was emerging as a lead contender for the 2018 presidential election, reports the New York Times. Brasilia federal court judge, Ricardo Augusto Soares Leite, released a document Friday saying that a May request by Attorney General Rodrigo Janot shows enough proof to move ahead with a trial, explains the Wall Street Journal. The Guardian notes that the former president denies the charges, and says the accusation is based on testimony made by former senator Delcídio do Amaral as part of a plea bargain to get out of jail.
  • Security tops the list of concerns for Brazilian authorities, as they finish preparing for the Games, according to the Wall Street Journal. New data from Rio de Janeiro state showed an increase in murders, muggings and carjackings last month in the capital. Killings in June of this year more than doubled to 49 people, compared to the same month in 2015. (SeeFriday's briefs on Amnesty International's campaign against police violence during the games.) Temer spoke with the foreign press in a bid to reassure the world that the country is ready for the Olympics, though he said a rouge terror attack could never be ruled out, reports the Wall Street Journal in a separate story. Around 500,000 visitors, including an estimated 200,000 Americans, are expected in Rio for the Games. Last week the Washington Post made the case that Brazil lives in a pre-9/11 world when it comes to security -- they may have more than their fair share of crime, but not experience with international terrorism. On the other hand, others note that Brazil has hosted megaevents in recent years with no major security issues.
  • Brazilian police have taken over security screening for the Games from a private firm that had originally won the bid for the job, reports the Wall Street Journal. The last minute change, when the private firm was unable to hire enough staff in time for the events, raises more concerns over security, according to the WSJ.
  • And Brazilian police are focusing on terrorism concerns. On Friday they announced the arrest of a Lebanese man who was a former member of the militant group Hezbollah and wanted for drug trafficking, reportsReuters.
  • On the issue of security ahead of the Olympics, Brazilian police freed the kidnapped mother-in-law of Formula One executive Bernie Ecclestone, a week after she was reported missing, according to Reuters. The high-profile kidnapping emphasized security concerns ahead of the game, notes the Wall Street Journal
  • And the Los Angeles Times focuses on the controversial pacification program in Rio's favelas. The piece lauds initial success in improving security, but says the security situation has worsened in recent years as financial setbacks undermined social programs.
  • Officials plan on launching a major subway extension to get visitors to Olympic venues this week -- a bit late in the game for a 10 mile rail that's seven months overdue, reports the Wall Street Journal. On the broader issue of transport in Rio, in a city already known for bumper-to-bumper traffic, "local television networks are already preparing locals for the Olympics of Traffic." The Washington Post also focused on this aspect -- touting the "Congestion Games" -- if the metro line is not up and running today. At the heart of the problem is a lack of long-term transportation planning, according to experts.
  • A fire in an Olympic Village building, the second in a week, has caused further embarrassment for hosts, though the issue was quickly resolved, reports the Guardian. (See last Wednesday's briefs for more criticisms of housing for athletes, which has caused some delegations to decamp for hotels.)
  • More questions regarding the quality of construction for the Olympics, after a sailing ramp partially collapsed this weekend, reports theAssociated Press.
  • A non-Latin America Olympics aside: the New York Times magazine has an interesting piece on Boston citizens who organized to reject their city's Olympic bid. The piece notes that the only financially sound bet for the Olympics is to create permanent Winter and Summer sites, or returning the games to cities that already hosted.

News Briefs
  • The opposition-led Venezuelan National Assembly swore in three opposition legislators who were suspended by the Supreme Court in January over allegations of vote buying. The move comes amid criticisms that the Supreme Court is dragging its feet on the case, which kept the opposition just below the two-thirds majority needed for wider reforms, reports Reuters. However Thursday's swearing in of the contested legislators puts the body in contempt of court and means it's illegitimately constituted, said Venezuela's attorney general this weekend. It means bills passed by the National Assembly could be considered illegitimate, he said, according to the Associated Press.
  • The Washington Post has analysis on El Salvador's crackdown on street gang Mara Salvatrucha's financial network last week. (See Friday's post.) The piece notes that the official strategy of sowing dissent between gang leaders and followers by emphasizing the vast income of the gang cupola could backfire. “When it comes to organized crime, there’s a misguided belief on the part of authorities that by cutting off the monster’s head, the problem will be solved,” José Miguel Cruz, a political scientist told the Post. “But when you take out the leaders, you create space for others” to take their place. There are also accusations that authorities cast too wide a net. One of the arrested Dany Romero is accused using his nonprofit organization work to pass information to gang members in prison. He has worked with violence prevention and human rights groups since being released from prison in 2006, and says his arrest last week is retaliation for his work tracking and denouncing police shootings of unarmed gang members.
  • Salvadoran human rights ombudsman David Morales told EFE that the country has an environment that favors the emergence of death squads, thanks to lack of internal discipline in security forces, high tolerance for abuses and a warlike discourse regarding crime in the country. "We have identified clearly a pattern of violence that in El Salvador is known as extermination violence ... for purposes of social cleansing," Morales said.
  • The Los Angeles Times reports on the grim health crisis in Haiti where a doctors strike has paralyzed public hospitals.
  • Cuban and U.S. officials have met for more substantive discussion of the claims each country has against the other -- a new phase after an eight month hiatus in talks on the issue, reports the Miami Herald.
  • The case of a Peruvian town facing economic downturn thanks to a smelter shutdown could be a showcase for newly sworn in President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski's approach to attracting investment. People in La Oruya have seen their jobs disappear along with the smelter, Kuczynski says the country needs to relax pollution standards in order to attract investment to reopen the complex, reports the Wall Street Journal. While his perspective reflects his experience in the business world, it could also have drawbacks in a town that has experienced serious health issues from industrial pollution.
  • The New York Times has an in-depth piece on security issues with the newly expanded Panama Canal, specifically the new system for ships entering the locks and the potential for accidents. 
  • Last week Chilean police dispersed and arrested some students protesting education reform in Santiago, as the demonstrators lacked the proper municipal permit, reports the Latin American Herald Tribune.
  • Argentina's clean-energy market could attract significant investment thanks to  a new law designed to boost renewable energy, reportsBloomberg.
  • The Miami Herald focuses on a crowdfunding enterprise for Caribbean women entrepreneurs.

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