Monday, September 25, 2017

Brazilian military deployed in Rio favela (Sept. 25, 2017)

Brazil's armed forces were deployed around Rio de Janeiro's Rocinha favela on Friday, after a week of intense gun battles between rival drug gangs and security forces, reports the Guardian. Brazil’s minister of defense, Raul Jungmann, said that 950 soldiers would be deployed in and around the community. Critics say official response was slow, coming a week after dozens of gang members first invaded the favela.

At least four people were reportedly killed in the turf war between drug gangs, reports Reuters. At least 60 criminals are believed to have launched an effort to control the drug trade in the territory. More than 70,000 people live in the territory which is reportedly the site of a conflict between the jailed leader of Amigos dos Amigos, Nem, and his successor in the territory, Rogério 157, reports El País

Rocinha, Brazil's biggest favela, was touted as a success of the UPP police pacification program in 2011, but has now come to symbolize Rio's growing violence problem. Nem was in fact detained as part of the 2011 UPP operative, and the community has also been the site of human rights violations by the new community police, including the enforced disappearance of Amarildo. 

A fiscal crisis in Rio de Janeiro state, affecting police and other essential services, have also complicated the city's security situation, notes Reuters. There were shootouts in four other favelas as well, according to the BBC

Locals have complained that attention is only paid to violence when it threatens wealthier neighborhoods.

Terrified residents watched the battles on TV as they hid from bullets, according to El País.

More than 3,000 children were left without school today, as institutions stayed closed due to safety concerns, reports O Globo.

News Briefs
  • The U.N. finished deactivating a total of 8,994 firearms and more than 38 tons of explosives collected from the FARC, a milestone commemorated in a ceremony with President Juan Manuel Santos on Friday, reports the Associated Press. A team of 15 German specialists needed six weeks to cut through the metal weapons so they can’t be fired ever again. On the same day, the leadership of the new FARC political party paid tribute to a guerrilla leader killed in a bombing raid seven years ago, ordered by Santos. In a 200 person ceremony, the remains of Jorge "Mono Jojoy" Briceno -- real name Victor Julio Suarez Rojas -- were interred near Bogotá, reports AFP.
  • FARC leader Timoleón Jiménez complained to the U.N. verification commission that the government is aiming to disperse and disunite former guerrillas in the process of reintegrating into society. But the former fighting force is also hindered by a focus on mega projects rather than smaller scale efforts, as well as the leaderships' political focus, reports La Silla Vacía.
  • The U.S. included Venezuelan government officials and their immediate family members in a proclamation that extends the existing travel restrictions on citizens from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria and Yemen, reports the Miami Herald. In the decree, the White House said Venezuela’s government “fails to share public-safety and terrorism-related information adequately” and has been “not fully cooperative” in receiving deportees. On Friday Canada announced targeted sanctions against 40 senior Venezuelan officials, reports Reuters.
  • International pressure on the Venezuelan government is mounting -- but Washington's efforts to force a transition government are unlikely to succeed if Cuba isn't included in the equation, argues Jorge Castañeda in a New York Times Español op-ed. The Cubans are the only ones with the requisite influence on President Nicolás Maduro, he writes. Such an approach could also benefit Cuba in pushing for a return to the Obama administrations efforts towards normalization, he argues. "Venezuela has much to win from a big negotiation that includes Cuba and the U.S., as does Cuba, the U.S. and the rest of Latin America. For now, perhaps it seems naive to think that Maduro and his allies would accept a deal in which he leaves power, just as he seems to have consolidated it. Nonetheless, sometimes that's the best time to reach an agreement. The situation in Venezuela is unsustainable, and the Cubans, who have always been there, know it. Does Trump?"

  • A powerful 6.1-magnitude aftershock earthquake rocked Mexico on Saturday, causing panic in a country devastated by two earthquakes in short succession that together killed more than 400 people. There was some damage in Oaxaca but no immediate reports of new deaths, reports the Associated Press
  • Rescue teams continued working yesterday, though there are increasingly few hopes of finding people alive in the rubble. Inhabitants are wondering how they will deal with structures left unsound, reports the Wall Street Journal. More than 17,000 were in shelters around the city.
  • Official rescue operations are being called off in Mexico City, causing clashed between security forces and civilians who want to continue searching for victims. Anger at slow official response -- especially in smaller rural communities -- is contrasted with extensive volunteer efforts, now focused on donations and aid for affected communities, reports the Guardian. In fact, there might be too much immediate aide, while victims are worried about longer-term needs, like returning to their homes and having building inspections. People in Mexico City seem to be moving forward, while reconstruction efforts in more rural areas need assistance, reports the Washington Post. Aide is piling up in the city's richer districts, while poorer areas in the outskirts lack supplies, reports Reuters.
  • Civic response has been "extraordinary" and filled gaps in the official response, reported the Guardian in an earlier piece this weekend. Behind accusations of mismanagement are fears that aid could be redirected away from needy communities by criminal groups or political machines. 
  • Even as Mexico City pulls together towards recovery, a "manic dread hangs over the city as people wrestle with the lost comforts they once enjoyed in their neighborhoods and, more broadly, their lives," reports the New York Times.
  • Toughened building codes in Mexico, adopted after a catastrophic earthquake in 1985, were not as effective as believed in preventing destruction this time around, reports the New York Times. Enforcement of the code, among the best in the world, is flawed and uneven. Rather, luck played a hand in sparing destruction last week, as the type of earthquake caused less waves that affected shorter buildings more.
  • Large amounts of U.S. aid started entering Puerto Rico on Saturday, racing to stem a growing crisis in towns left without water, fuel, electricity or phone service after Hurricane Maria last week, reports the Associated Press. The storm wiped out about 80 percent of the crop value in Puerto Rico — making it one of the costliest storms to hit the island’s agriculture industry, reports the New York Times.
  • New York Times video of devastation in Dominica the morning after Hurricane Maria last week.
  • Many hurricane hit Caribbean countries are not sovereign nations, but rather "places with diverse and shifting arrangements with their colonial centers," writes Yarimar Bonilla in an opinion piece for the Washington Post. "Natural disasters and moments of social and political upheaval mark the few occasions when these marginal citizens fleetingly appear in the national consciousness. In these moments, it’s common to hear debate about why these societies remain tied to their colonial centers. ... The most obvious answer is geopolitics: These far-flung territories provide military bases, satellite launching centers and footholds in important terrains. Less obvious is the fact that these societies are protected markets for national corporations. American companies such as Walmart and Walgreens have more stores per square mile in Puerto Rico than anywhere else in the world."
  • Peruvian President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski (PPK's) faces a political dilemma this week: whether to pardon dictator Alberto Fujimori, sentenced to 25 years in jail for crimes against humanity. Fujimori's political party, Popular Will, holds a majority in Congress and has consistently complicated PPK's government over the past year. Last week Kuczynski reshuffled his cabinet after a Popular Will-led no confidence vote in Congress. (See last Monday's briefs.) A pardon could be politically expedient, and cabinet members have indicated it is possible based on the former autocrat's supposed ill health. But critics -- including Marío Vargas Llosa -- say the move would not suffice to appease Popular Will, and would be a poor human rights precedent, argues Carlos Cué in El País.
  • Conservative Chilean presidential candidate Sebastian Piñera promised to move the country towards a fully renewable electricity grid by 2040, reports Reuters.
  • Paraguay is exploring how to turn its status as the region's number one exporter of illicit marijuana into a medical cannabis exporter, reports EFE.
  • Few chocolate addicts suspect the constant threat to Latin America's cacao crops, worsened by a heavy dependence on a few varieties susceptible to the same blights, reports the New York Times. A combination of pathogens, environmental risks, and low profits and yields might signal a chocolate shortage on the horizon, even as demand increases from new markets in China and India.

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