Latin America has set a record in the developing world for reducing food insecurity, achieving a 9 percent drop in hunger in the last 24 years. The UN announced on Tuesday that hunger in the region fell from 14 percent of the population in 1990 to 5 percent in 2014. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) specifically commended Bolivia and Brazil for their hunger reduction programs, citing them as examples for other countries.
Brazil, in particular, celebrated being removed from the World Hunger Map as a result of increased spending on food security and social programs. The federal government increased social spending by 128 percent between 2000 and 2012, leading to a more than 80 percent decrease in the number of undernourished Brazilians. The Fome Cero (Zero Hunger) program has also led to poverty reduction, with poverty dropping from 24.3 percent to 8.4 percent between 2001 and 2012, and extreme poverty falling from 14 percent to 3.5 percent in the same period.
In the Andean region, the FAO labeled Bolivia and Ecuador exceptional cases for their investment in social programs that specifically target typically marginalized communities, such as the large Indigenous populations in both countries. By instituting programs across various sectors, Bolivia was able to reduce extreme poverty by 17.2 percent, and reduce overall poverty by 7.4 percent between 1994 and 2008.
While other development challenges such as crime and low economic growth exist, Latin America is on track to meet the Millennium Development Goal of halving the percentage of people living in extreme poverty by 2015.
In the early 2000s, Colombia’s oil industry was weakening. There had been a decrease in new discoveries, followed by a decline in production from a peak of 800,000 barrels per day (b/d) in 1999 to nearly 550,000 b/d in 2004. Exploration and production had moved to increasingly remote areas with higher security risks and risky geology, requiring more capital and technology. As such, the Colombian government remained dependent on Ecopetrol, the state oil company, which represented the entirety of the Colombian oil industry.
Today, Mexico’s oil industry stands in a similar state of decline, as described by a recently released Americas Society/Council of the Americas white paper, “Mexico: An Opening for Energy Reform.” Oil production in Mexico as a whole has fallen from 3.8 million b/d in 2004 to 2.5 million b/d in 2013. Production of the Cantarell oil field, the most lucrative of Mexico’s shallow water reserves, peaked in 2003 at 2.1 million b/d, and is now producing less than one quarter of that.
Just as in Colombia, the problem in Mexico does not lie in a lack of resources, but rather in a lack of capital and technology. Mexico in particular maintains extensive shale deposits that remain largely untapped. The roots that bind Petróleos Mexicanos, or Pemex, and the Mexican government run even deeper than those that once bound Ecopetrol and the Colombian government. Mexico’s state oil enterprise pays for approximately 40 percent of the country’s budget—and since the government acts as both a regulator and an owner, transparency and accountability suffer.
From the age of 10, Marina Silva would wake up before dawn to prepare food for her father, so that he could set off through the dense jungle before the heat of the tropical sun made it impossible for him to keep working. In Silva’s community of rubber tappers in Brazil’s northwestern state of Acre, survival depended on the collection of natural latex that bleeds like sap from the Amazon’s seringueira tree.
Today, the vice-presidential candidate and former minister of environment draws upon her past experiences in Acre as a model of sustainable living, promoting a government policy of cooperation with forest-dwellers to develop Brazil.
“Gone is the logic of doing for the people,” Silva said last week during the 66th annual meeting of the Sociedade Brasileira para o Progresso da Ciência (Brazilian Society for the Progress of Science–SBPC). “It is [a logic of] doing with the people…a new vision for the development of Brazil…that takes into account sustainability in all of its dimensions: economic, social, environmental, cultural, political, even aesthetic.”
Silva presented her new vision at the conference, held at her alma mater, the Universidade Federal do Acre (Federal University of Acre–UFAC), in the state capital of Rio Branco. The meeting in the oft-forgotten state of Acre united some 5,400 national and international policymakers, rubber tappers, subsistence farmers, student activists, and individuals from over a dozen Indigenous ethnicities.
For the past month, I have been working in Brazil providing production services for international broadcasters covering the World Cup. Twelve Brazilian different cities hosted the tournament, which began on June 12 in São Paulo, and 32 nations from all over the globe participated—bringing hordes of players, fans and reporters to remote parts of Brazil that had never heard their languages or seen their flags before.
I traveled to six of these host cities by air and road, and witnessed just how vast and versatile this country of 200 million people really is—and I didn't even see the half of it.
My four-week journey began in the northeastern city of Natal, capital of Rio Grande do Norte, where I flew into the new São Gonçalo do Amarante–Governador Aluízio Alves International Airport. The privately-owned terminal had been inaugurated a week before our arrival. Its tall ceilings and glass façade were beautiful and modern, with curvy windows that reflected the light from the afternoon sunset. Our 12 pieces of luggage arrived promptly and the employees were helpful and courteous.
However, the airport is far from Natal’s city center, and street signs and pavement were absent at several points along the 20 mile (32 km) route. My taxi driver complained that the airport only had one entry, and cursed the new structure and the World Cup for making the local airport twice as distant as the old one.
On July 15, the leaders of the five BRICS countries—Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa—will convene in Fortaleza, Brazil. This will mark the sixth official meeting between the member nations since the creation of the group in 2009.
Only two days after the final of the World Cup, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff has the opportunity to extend the global spotlight on her country by hosting the BRICS leaders.
For Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi, this will mark his first visit to Brazil and only his second international tour since entering office in May—so Indians will be listening closely to hear his public stance on various issues. Chinese President Xi Jinping will also be making his first trip to Brazil, though he is in no way a stranger to Latin America, an important source of raw materials for China and target for foreign direct investment. Russian President Vladimir Putin will likely be thankful for the change in landscape after receiving such negative attention from the West for Russia’s policies toward the Ukraine. And President Jacob Zuma of South Africa is hopeful that the sixth Summit will produce results that were envisioned in the fifth meeting he hosted last year in Durban.
Brazil was routed 7-1 by Germany during yesterday’s World Cup semifinal match in Belo Horizonte, marking the South American nation’s biggest defeat in the history of the tournament. Neymar Jr., Brazil’s star player, was out of the lineup with a fractured vertebrae from Friday’s physical clash with Colombia. But more than their striker, the seleção sorely missed team captain and defensive leader Thiago Silva, who received a second yellow card on Friday and was prohibited from playing against Germany.
In Silva’s absence, Brazil’s back line looked scattered, allowing four German players to score five goals in the first 30 minutes alone—sending a shock to the country that has won more World Cup trophies (5) than any other team. Following the game, President Dilma Rousseff said on Twitter, “I am immensely sorry for all of us,” and Brazilian coach Luiz Scolari said in a post-game interview that “It was the worst day of my life.”
Dilma will be feeling the pressure as Brazil’s attention turns from the World Cup to the presidential elections in October. Rousseff’s opposition, centrist candidate Aécio Neves, is currently polling at 20 percent, well below the president’s 38 percent voter support. But that margin could become slimmer if Brazilians’ frustration with the $11 billion price tag for hosting the tournament boils over into more protests like those that gripped several Brazilian cities during last summer’s Confederations Cup and immediately preceding this summer’s World Cup.
With the second round of the World Cup soccer tournament concluded the main storylines have been the success of teams from the Americas, the early exit of previous stalwarts England, Italy and Spain, the relatively high number of goals, and—at least in the United States—the sudden realization that soccer actually has a strong and passionate following. The dog that hasn’t barked? The pre-tournament meme about Brazil’s unpreparedness to host such a large event and the crime and street protests which were to have shut down various venues. Clearly, that’s not proven out. With two weeks to go, some commentators are already wondering aloud whether this will be the most successful World Cup of all time.
That may be a bit dramatic, but the signs are encouraging. Problems exist, of course, as they do in every major global event, and big questions about cost and legacy of the tournament will be asked by Brazilians themselves after the tournament concludes. Most observers, however, now seem to be content to enjoy Brazil’s famous hospitality and the joy of the beautiful game at the highest international level.
And what a competition it’s been. Goalies have stolen the show. The U.S.’ Tim Howard, Mexico’s Memo Ochoa, Brazil’s Júlio César, Costa Rica’s Keylor Navas, and others have become international celebrities as a result of their acrobatic, gravity-defying saves. Nonetheless, more goals have already been scored to this point in the tournament this year than were scored in the full 2010 tournament, and that has made the games suspenseful and fun to watch.
As Team U.S.A. took the pitch today in Recife for what might be its final World Cup match, some other Brazilian cities were already turning off the lights on their newly built stadiums now that the tournament is halfway over.
Here in Manaus last night, the final crowds exited the still-shiny $300 million Arena da Amazônia after the Honduras-Switzerland match, bringing a close to the biggest event that ever has—and likely ever will—come to the Amazon rainforest. With no more matches scheduled here or in Cuiabá, Natal, and Curitiba, public scrutiny is now turning to what will become of these mega-investments.
“It’s not economical, it’s not good for the country,” said Kelson Eugenio, sitting inside the stadium yesterday with his eight-year-old son and suggesting the money could have been better spent on education. “At the same time, soccer is soccer. We’re taking advantage of the World Cup being here.”
Brazil’s government is still trying hard to sell the event to a skeptical public—and time is running out, with the final match scheduled for July 13. Some long-term benefits to the event’s $11.3 billion price tag are already visible, such as new infrastructure, a jump in tourism, and a boost to businesses. Others are less apparent, like the government’s claim that $6 billion in new investment has been promised by visiting businesspeople, or the specialized training for Brazilian security and police.
Strikes loom over two of Brazil's largest cities on the eve of the 2014 FIFA World Cup, which begins this afternoon. Airline workers in Rio de Janeiro started a partial strike on Wednesday night that continues today, and transit workers in São Paulo—the site of the opening match—had threatened to strike today but called decided not to late last night.
Airline union workers in Rio de Janeiro are demanding a pay raise as well as a bonus for working during the month of the World Cup. Only 20 percent of airline workers are expected be on strike in an effort to avoid a fine they would be required to pay if more than 80 percent of union workers failed to show up for work. Meanwhile, the flights for the 554,000 visitors headed to Rio are not expected to be affected.
In São Paulo, subway workers suspended a 48-hour strike for higher wages on Monday after being pressured by the government, but threatened to strike again on Thursday if the 42 workers who were fired for vandalism and misconduct on Monday were not hired back. And though a vote by 1,500 of the workers late last night called off today’s strike, a smaller march is still planned for those who were laid off. "We get the feeling that maybe we aren't as prepared for a full confrontation with police on the day the World Cup starts," said union president Altino Prazeres.
Meanwhile, in a statement during prime-time television Tuesday night, President Dilma Rousseff assured Brazilians that the country is ready to host the World Cup and defended the investment in the games—which totaled $11 billion—stating that between 2010 and 2013 the government invested 212 times more than that amount—$762 billion—in education and health care.
Brazil is scheduled to face off against Croatia in the Corinthians stadium in São Paulo today, and the first game in Rio de Janeiro will take place between Argentina and Bosnia and Herzegovina on Sunday.
Today, the eyes of the world will descend upon Brazil as the country hosts the opening match of the 2014 World Cup.
The Brazil v. Croatia match will be held in São Paulo's new Arena de Corinthians, known by its nickname "Itaquerão." The opening ceremony will include performances by Jennifer Lopez, Pitbull and local artist Claudia Leite.
As the country's star players warmed up in the Teresópolis compound in Rio this week, the atmosphere near the São Paulo stadium was heating up. Striking subway workers shut down many parts of this already congested city, leaving thousands stranded. Landless workers belonging to the Movimento dos Trabalhadores Sem Teto (Homeless Workers Movement—MTST) camped out nearby, and groups opposed to government overspending vowed that "there won't be a Cup."
From the beginning, a dark cloud loomed over Itaquerão, the future home of São Paulo's popular Corinthians soccer club. In late 2013, a crane collapsed on part of the stadium, killing three workers and delaying construction. The multi-million dollar stadium was officially inaugurated last May, during a match between Corinthians and Figueirense of Florianópolis. The home team was defeated 0-1, and some hardcore fans claimed the grounds were cursed.
June 1: This AQ-Efecto Naím segment looks at sustainable cities in the hemisphere.