When world leaders recently gathered in Switzerland to discuss the future of Syria last week, Brazil's foreign minister, Luiz Alberto Figueiredo, was in the northeastern city of Natal to participate in the inauguration ceremony of a soccer stadium. He had rejected an invitation to join the peace conference.
A day later, one of Brazil's major newspapers asked Figueiredo for an extensive interview focusing exclusively on the crisis in Syria, which would have allowed the new foreign minister to lay out Brazil's vision to the public. Once again, the minister declined the offer.
At the Munich Security Conference a week later, Brazil was the only large economy without a single participant. Figueiredo, who replaced the brilliant but hapless Antonio Patriota after a diplomatic crisis last year, has been strikingly invisible in the public debate.
President Dilma Rousseff is the main culprit. Obsessive in her drive to centralize decision-making, the president regards foreign policy as a minefield of little use in her bid for re-election. She has surrounded herself by uninspiring yes-men, at least one of whom—Education Minister Aloízio Mercadante—may actively undermine Itamaraty's standing in Brasília.
The Fédération Internationale de Football Association (International Federation of Association Football—FIFA) warned officials in the Brazilian city of Curitiba on Tuesday that it could be excluded as a host site of the 2014 World Cup if preparations remain behind schedule.
FIFA Secretary General Jerome Valcke said that renovation of the 43,000-capacity Arena da Baixada stadium is so far behind schedule that it represents an “emergency situation.” FIFA will decide on February 18 whether to keep Curitiba, the capital of Paraná state, as a host city. The Paraná state government and FIFA have pledged to invest an extra $17 million in the renovations to speed up progress.
Curitiba’s stadium is one of six venues in Brazil that missed FIFA’s December 31 deadline for completion and are still not tournament-ready. Arena da Baixada is scheduled to host its first World Cup match between Iran and Nigeria on June 16, as well as Spain vs. Australia, Honduras vs. Ecuador, and Algeria vs. Russia.
Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff defended the country’s preparedness for the World Cup earlier this month, saying via Twitter, “We love soccer, and that’s why we’ll host this Cup with pride and make it the Cup of Cups.” President Rousseff was responding to an interview with FIFA President Sepp Blatter published by the Swiss newspaper 24 Heures, in which Blatter claimed that the South American nation failed to begin preparations for the mega-tournament early enough.
The Brazilian state of Acre has asked the government to temporarily close the Brazil-Peru border to control Haitian migration. Acre’s secretary of justice and human rights, Nilson Mourão, said the levels of Haitian migration into the region are unsustainable and have strained the capacity of social services in the area.
Since the 7.0-magnitude earthquake that devastated Haiti in 2010, more than 15,000 Haitians have migrated into the Amazon region of Brazil through Brazil’s border with Peru in order to look for jobs.
Acre’s local government says it is not equipped to receive the new migrants, who have overcrowded shelters as they await documentation. This month alone, the arrivals have tripled to between 70 and 80 a day, prompting Mourão’s request to temporarily close the border between the Peruvian town of Iñapari and the town of Assis in Brazil.
This is not the first crackdown on Haitian immigrants in Brazil. In 2012, Brazil restricted Haitian immigration after 4,000 Haitians crossed into the country through the Amazon. After granting 1,600 visas to incoming Haitians fleeing the devastation of the 2010 earthquake, the Brazilian government declared it would only grant 100 temporary work visas and 2,400 humanitarian visas to recent migrants. Hundreds of Haitians were stranded in Peru after the changes were implemented.
Four years after the earthquake in Haiti—which killed 220,000 people and left more than 1.5 million homeless—817,000 Haitians are still in need of humanitarian assistance and 172,000 still live in displacement camps.
On Monday, December 23, 2013, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution establishing the International Decade for People of African Descent, which will run from January 1, 2015 to December 31, 2024. The aim will be to raise social consciousness in the fight against prejudice, intolerance, xenophobia, and racism.
The resolution follows a series of related efforts, including the General Assembly’s December 12, 1997 resolution, which convened the World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia, and Related Intolerance, and the December 16, 2005 resolution, which guided the implementation of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action.
Assembly representatives emphasized its importance. Verene Shepherd, chair of the Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent, stated that the “indigestible fishbone of slavery” continued to stick in the throat due to the persistence of its legacies. She added that the impact of slavery and colonialism were most obvious in the Americas and on the African content itself.
Responses from Brazilian representatives reinforced this perspective. Bruno Santos de Oliveira noted that the 2010 national census data indicated that “more than 100 million Brazilians, more than half the population, had declared themselves African descendants,” and that the country has the largest number of people of African descent outside of Africa. The Brazilian Delegation recalled that the country continues to face racism and intolerance inherited from its colonial past.
President Dilma Rousseff said yesterday that Brazil will successfully host the 2014 FIFA World Cup, despite construction delays at numerous stadiums.
“We love soccer, and that’s why we’ll host this Cup with pride and make it the Cup of Cups,”Rousseff said via Twitter, just days after the Swiss newspaper 24 Heures published an interview with FIFA President Sepp Blatter in which Blatter claimed that the South American nation failed to begin preparations for the mega-tournament early enough.
"[Brazil] is the country which is the furthest behind since I've been at FIFA, and moreover, it's the only one that had so much time—seven years—to prepare itself," Blatter said in the interview.
Four of the 12 stadiums have missed the December 31 construction deadline set by FIFA. Financial problems, worker safety issues and construction-site accidents—including three worker deaths last year—have exacerbated delays. FIFA has since extended the construction deadline to April 15, only weeks before the competition kicks off on June 12 in São Paulo.
The Brazilian government announced that it is not considering granting asylum to Edward Snowden, the former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor who is best known for leaking classified NSA documents.
The announcement comes after Snowden sent an “open letter to the people of Brazil” in which he offered to help conduct a Congressional probe into the NSA spying scandal. Brazil was outraged when details emerged that the U.S. was spying on Brazilian citizens, as well as Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and the national oil giant Petrobras.
Snowden’s letter, which was posted online and published by the Brazilian newspaper Folha de São Paulo on Tuesday, did not qualify as an official request, a Brazilian government spokesman said.
A previous request for asylum, which was sent by Amnesty International on Snowden’s behalf in July, also went unanswered by the Brazilian government. Brazilian authorities said they would not respond to a “generic letter.” Snowden is currently living in Russia under temporary asylum set to expire in August.
Despite the national outrage that Foreign Minister Luiz Alberto Figueiredo called “an inadmissible and unacceptable violation of Brazilian sovereignty," and Rousseff’s cancellation of a state visit to the U.S. over the spying allegations, Brazilian local media later revealed that the Agência Brasileira de Inteligência (Brazilian Intelligence Agency—ABIN) had also spied on diplomatic allies, including the United States.
Three hundred construction workers went on strike in the Brazilian city of Manaus on Monday after a fellow worker, Marcleudo de Melo Ferreira, fell to his death on Saturday. The workers of the Arena Amazonia stadium have demanded better conditions, saying that the pressure to complete construction is affecting their safety. The Prosecutor’s Office has suspended work on the stadium until the contractor provides a detailed report on the safety conditions at the stadium.
With the stadium already behind schedule, laborers like de Melo Ferreira have been working 20 hours per day to ensure the completion of Arena Amazonia by the revised January 15 deadline. More than half of the 12 World Cup stadiums are facing delays in construction or repairs. In November, a crane collapsed killing two workers at the building site for Arena Corinthians in São Paulo, set to host the opening game on June 12. The accident delayed the stadium’s completion, now planned for mid-April. In total, five workers have died at World Cup stadium construction sites in Brazil thus far.
Workers in the city of Curitiba also went on strike last week in protest of late payment. The delays in building of venues and related worker deaths come at a time when many Brazilians are disapproving of the 3.5 billion being spent on preparing for the World Cup. In June, millions of Brazilians filled the streets in seven major cities in protest of misspending by the state, demanding better health care, education and public transport.
“Nations be spyin’, yo!”
That’s how Jon Stewart of The Daily Show recently summed up the ongoing-and-ever-expanding allegations that the U.S. National Security Agency spied on Brazil and other nations, a story to which Wikipedia now devotes more than 33,000 words and nearly 600 source references.
“All nations act in their own self-interest,” Stewart said on October 24, addressing those such as Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff who have responded with outrage to the allegations. “Don’t act like your s*** don’t stink, it does, and we know, because we have a super-secret program that goes through your s***.”
Stewart was more right than he knew.
This week in Brazil, local media revealed that the Agência Brasileira de Inteligência (Brazilian Intelligence Agency—ABIN) has spied on diplomatic allies including the United States—an embarrassing revelation for Rousseff, who in recent months has positioned herself as a champion of privacy rights and even canceled an official state visit this fall to the White House because she said the U.S. refused to swiftly end its spying program.
Awkward. But now, the revelations about Brazil’s spy program have sparked a reaction similar to Stewart’s.
“Brazil has an intelligence agency, so it is not big news that Brazil spies,” Rafael Alcadipani da Silveira, of the Rio de Janeiro think tank Fundação Getúlio Vargas, told me.
“Everybody spies,” agreed Christian Lohbauer, a political scientist at the Universidade de São Paulo (University of São Paulo—USP). If anything, he is now more annoyed at Brazil’s government for having used the issue to gain political points at home.
Likely top stories this week: Brazil will reduce lending by 20 percent next year; Argentina wins a stay on its $1.33 billion payment; Tropical Storm Sonia Hits Mexico; Honduras’ police chief denies abuses; Brazilian delegation opposes Uruguayan marijuana legalization.
Brazil to Reduce Lending Due to Budget Deficit: Brazilian Finance Minister Guido Mantega said Friday that Brazilian development bank BNDES will reduce lending by 20 percent next year, down to about 150 billion reais ($66.6 billion) from this year's estimated 190 billion reais. The announcement came after an Oct. 31 report showed Brazil’s budget deficit widened to 3.3 percent of gross domestic product, the most since November 2009. Some experts speculate that Brazil's credit rating could be cut.
U.S. Court Upholds Stay on Argentine Debt Payment: The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of Argentina on Friday by denying a motion that would have forced the country to start paying $1.33 billion to holdout bondholders. Friday’s decision will permit Argentina to make a second appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court before it is forced to pay the $1.33 billion to NML Capital Ltd and other holdout bondholders who did not accept a debt swap in 2005 and 2010.
Tropical Storm Sonia Hits Mexican Coast: Tropical Storm Sonia hit Mexico's Pacific Coast on Monday morning near the city of El Dorado in Sinaloa. By the time the storm made landfall, it was downgraded to a tropical depression and winds had decreased to about 35 mph. Though the storm is weakening, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said it could still cause floods and landslides in the region. Mexican authorities issued storm warnings from Mazatlan north to Altata on Sunday, and the government of Sinaloa state canceled classes on Monday in five municipalities.
Honduran General Denies Role in Police Abuses: In an interview, Honduran general and police chief Juan Carlos Bonilla denied knowledge or involvement in a wave of police abuses this year in which at least seven detainees have gone missing or been killed in police custody. He also said that he was not involved in setting up death squads starting in 1998, as reported by the police department's internal affairs section in 2002.
Brazilian Delegation Concerned About Uruguayan Marijuana: Brazilian political leaders from the southern state of Rio Grande do Sul will travel to neighboring Uruguay this Tuesday to oppose Uruguayan legislation that will legalize marijuana sale and consumption in the country. The Brazilian delegation will testify before the Uruguayan Senate's health committee in an attempt to prevent the country from moving ahead with legalization.
On October 21, Indian oil and gas firm ONGC Videsh Ltd (OVL) was among 11 foreign companies in Rio de Janiero to bid for Brazil’s latest oil find, the Libra oil field.
The winning consortium was made up of a Sino-European mix of four companies, with Brazil’s Petrobras holding the majority stake. Although OVL didn’t make the final cut, its presence in the bidding process points to India’s growing energy equation with Latin America, as does the recent success of Indian oil majors in acquiring large contracts in Latin America.
Eight Indian companies—OVL, Reliance Industries, Essar Oil, BPCL, Oil India, Videocon Industries, Assam Company, and Indian Oil Corporation—are part of 12 joint ventures in Venezuela, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Cuba, and Peru. Their approach is pragmatic: invest substantial capital with state-run oil companies and use local expertise.
In Venezuela and Brazil, the national oil companies—PDVSA and Petrobras, respectively—get their governments’ support in procuring funding and project clearances, which further facilitates the joint ventures. As a result of the enhanced trade in oil from these countries to refineries at home, India’s total oil imports from Latin America increased from 4.5 percent in 2003 to 11 percent in 2012-13.