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Security or Counterinsurgency in Rio favelas?

April 16, 2014

by Sabrina Karim

In anticipation of the 2014 World Cup, the Brazilian government enacted a policy to have special units of police occupy favelas in Rio de Janeiro. As of last week, one of Rio’s most dangerous shanty towns, Complexo da Maré, was taken over by close to 3,000 Brazilian troops. The shift—from using the elite Unidade de Policia Pacificadora (Police Pacifying Unit—UPP) forces to bringing in the military—marks a new stage of Brazil’s “pacification” policy. Up until now, the UPP had been responsible for sweeping and occupying the favelas.

Many of Rio’s 1,000 favelas are controlled by criminal groups like the Comando Vermelho (Red Command) and the Terceiro Comando Puro (Third Command), which are embroiled in a battle to control more of the city. Turf wars between rival gangs have consistently led to high levels of violence and crime. Brazil is fraught with crack cocaine use, and ranks second in consumer use of the drug and its derivatives.  The country also has one of the highest homicide rates in the world. 

To add to this, criminal gangs in Brazilian cities do not have a problem attacking law enforcement. For example, in 2009, a police helicopter was riddled with bullets by gangs from the Morro de Macaco favela.  In order to control such aggressions, the government has increased the firepower of armed forces.

Before, when police were attacked, the UPP would be sent in. Now, when the UPP is attacked, the military is sent in. Consequently, Brazil’s policy toward its favelas has become increasingly militarized.

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Tags: Brazil, 2014 World Cup, Crime and Security

Modernizing Brazil’s Ports: A Plan for 2014

April 9, 2014

by Christine V. Gomes

Brazil’s Minister of Ports, Antônio Henrique Pinheiro Silveira stopped in Washington, D.C. last week on his hemispheric road-show to present the details of Brazil’s latest port modernization efforts. In June of 2013, the Brazilian government passed new regulatory reform laws for ports, in hopes of modernizing current infrastructure, increasing efficiencies and driving competition.

Since 2005, Brazil has experienced a boom in commodity exports such as soy, sugar, meat, coffee, tobacco, orange juice, and minerals. Much of this demand stems from China, who became Brazil’s largest trading partner in 2012. But the outdated ports and other trade infrastructure in Brazil has become a hindrance to economic growth.

The private sector is concerned about the bottlenecks in Brazil’s trade infrastructure as well as the costs in getting products to the global markets. One of the biggest problems facing exporters in Brazil is the country’s reliance on trucks and poor highway systems to connect goods to ports. In 2013, a truck gridlock stretched for 31 miles outside of Santos, a major port in São Paulo that accounts for 25 percent of all agricultural exports. A lack of railway and waterway infrastructure forces companies to rely on a limited number of roads to transport goods from farms and mines to the ships at port.

Another obstacle for the private sector is port capacity. There is rising demand for additional ports and terminal capacity in states like Pará, home of the Amazon River basin. As the Panama Canal upgrades are completed, Pará is will be a key port for increased trade in the north.

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Tags: Brazil, Infrastructure, Antônio Henrique Pinheiro Silva

Monday Memo: Costa Rican Elections – U.S. Deportations – Venezuela-Spain Spat – FIFA Delays

April 7, 2014

by AQ Online

Unchallenged Costa Rican Candidate Wins Presidency: Luis Guillermo Solís of the Partido Acción Ciudadana (Citizen Action Party—PAC) won Sunday’s presidential election in Costa Rica, claiming 78 percent of the vote. The challenging candidate, Johnny Araya of the Partido Liberación Nacional (National Liberation Party—PLN), dropped out of the running after a March 5 opinion poll ranked his support at 22 percent, compared to Solís’s 64 percent, but remained on the ballot due to constitutional law. The monumental vote marks the first time in 44 years that a third-party candidate has been elected. Solís has vowed to strengthen small businesses and social and environmental programs through an activist government, however passing new legislation may prove difficult as PAC holds just 13 of the 57 seats in the National Assembly. Solís will be sworn into office on May 8.

Pressure Increases on Obama Administration over Deportations: A New York Times report has shown that two-thirds of the nearly two million undocumented immigrants deported under the Obama Administration—a record number of deportations—had either committed minor infractions or had no criminal record at the time of their removal. Only 20 percent of those deported had been convicted of serious offenses, the demographic the Obama Administration has purported to target for removal. The President has typically side-stepped executive authority to act on this issue—with the exception of the 2012 passage of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which temporarily suspends deportation and authorizes approved applicants to work in the U.S. legally—in order to allow Congress time to move forward with comprehensive immigration reform. Yet pressure is mounting on his administration to halt deportations and fix the country’s broken immigration system.

Venezuela Slams Spain for Halting Export of Riot Gear: The administration of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro questioned the “moral authority” of the Spanish government after it halted the export of anti-riot and police equipment to Venezuela. Spanish Foreign Minister José Manuel Garcia Margallo said on Saturday that his government suspended sales in order to stop adding “fuel to the fire when there is a conflict.” The decision comes after weeks of violence between protesters, police and armed militia that have killed 39 people and injured over 600.  A new round of protests erupted on Friday after Venezuela’s attorney general charged opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez with inciting violence, arson, damage to property and conspiracy.

FIFA Admits Brazil Is Still Behind Schedule: With less than 70 days before the 2014 World Cup kicks off in Brazil, FIFA’s Secretary General Jerome Valcke said that preparations are still behind schedule. During a press conference in South Africa on Wednesday, Valcke said, "If you want me to summarize... we are not ready.” Two stadiums, the Itaquerão in São Paulo and the Estadio Beira Rio in Porto Alegre, remain unfinished. Construction at Itaquerão, the venue for the opening match on June 12, has been delayed due to the death of a worker  two weeks ago—the third to die while working on that stadium and the seventh preparing for the tournament countrywide. Still, Valcke guaranteed that Brazil would be ready for the start of the tournament, insisting that “there is no Plan B.”

Tags: Costa Rica Elections, Venezuela, FIFA World Cup, Cuba, Deportation

Monday Memo: Investment in Cuba – Venezuela – Costa Rican Elections – Rio Police – Mining in Peru

March 31, 2014

by AQ Online

Cuba Approves New Foreign Investment Law: The Cuban government on Saturday unanimously approved a law that provides new incentives for foreign investment in the island. The law will reduce taxes on profits from 30 to 15 percent in most areas, will speed up the approval process for foreign investment, and will exempt new investors from paying taxes for eight years, among other incentives. The government hopes that the new law, which will come into force in three months, will help triple the country’s economic growth. However, the law will not become official until the full text is published in the Gazeta Oficial, which is expected to happen sometime this week.

Troops Clear Venezuelan Protest City: Venezuelan troops retook control of the western city of San Cristóbal this weekend, according to a top military commander.  General Vladimir Padrino said that troops cleared barricades throughout the city and reported that no one was hurt in the operation. Meanwhile, San Cristóbal’s mayor, opposition member Daniel Ceballos, has been removed from office and sentenced to 12 months in prison for failing to order the removal of the barricades himself. The countrywide protests began in San Cristóbal nearly two months ago, and since then, at least 39 people have been killed. Last Friday, the Vatican said that it was willing to help facilitate a dialogue between the Venezuelan government and the opposition to resolve the crisis.

Solís Lacks Opponent in Costa Rican Presidential Runoff: Costa Rican presidential candidate Luis Guillermo Solís still has no opponent in Sunday’s presidential runoff between the ruling Partido de Liberación Nacional (National Liberation Party—PLN) and Solis’ Partido de Acción Ciudadana (Citizen Action Party—PAC). PLN candidate Johnny Araya dropped out of the race on March 5 due to financial troubles and a poor showing in the polls, where PAC candidate Solís enjoyed a 44 percent lead. However, Araya’s name will still remain on the ballot, and he said he would accept the presidency if voters gave him a majority—though Solís’ victory seems assured.

Brazilian Troops Occupy Maré Favela: Brazilian security forces raided the Maré favela in Rio de Janeiro on Sunday in an effort to take control of the neighborhood, which is home to 130,000 people. More than 1,000 troops entered with tanks and reportedly took control of the area in 15 minutes, seizing guns and drugs. But later that day, more violence erupted between rival gangs, a 15-year-old boy died, and three other people were taken to a hospital. Maré is located near Galeão/ Antônio Carlos Jobim International Airport, a major transit hub that will bring thousands of tourists into the country for the FIFA World Cup in June.

Chinese Mining Company Halts Toromocho Project in Peru: Chinalco Mining Corp. International has halted its operations at the Toromocho copper project after the national environmental agency said on March 28 that the company had failed to adhere to environmental standards. Inspections carried out by the Organismo de Evaluación y Fiscalización Ambiental (Environmental Evaluation and Fiscalization Organism—OEFA)  earlier this month detected contaminants in Lake Huacrococha and Lake Huascacocha, which are located near the mine. Mining work, which began in December 2013, will be suspended until the issues are resolved.

Tags: Luis Guillermo Solís, Toromocho, Cuba, Costa Rica

Brazil Charges Execs with Price Fixing

March 26, 2014

by AQ Online

Thirty executives from a dozen international companies were charged on Tuesday with price-fixing during the construction and maintenance of subway and train systems in São Paulo, Brasilia, Belo Horizonte, Porto Alegre and Rio de Janeiro. The companies named by the São Paulo State Prosecutor's Office include Siemens of Germany, CAF of Spain, and Alstom of France, among others. 

Investigations into the allegations began last week, when Brazil's Conselho Administrativo de Defesa Econômica (Administrative Council for Economic Defense—CADE) accused the companies of forming a cartel to fix the prices of the construction projects.  According to CADE, the 18 companies were involved in 15 projects valued at $4 billion from 1998 to 2013, with contracts in the Brazilian Federal District and the states of Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, Minas Gerais and Rio Grande do Sul. According to CADE’s investigations, the companies allegedly prearranged prices through bidding and bribing officials to secure the contracts.

Bombardier and Siemens have said they will cooperate with the investigations. Brazilian judges still have to decide if they will accept the charges and bring the executives to trial.  The companies named in the investigation will present their defense at an undisclosed date.

Tags: Brazil, corruption, Conselho Administrativo de Defesa Econômica

Monday Memo: Chilean Protests – Rio Violence – Guantánamo – Venezuela Protests – Buenaventura, Colombia

March 24, 2014

by AQ Online

Likely top stories this week: Chileans protest in Santiago; Brazil sends the military into Rio’s favelas; Uruguay will receive five Guantánamo prisoners; Venezuela will investigate abuses during protests; Colombia sends troops to Buenaventura.

Chilean Protests: Newly-elected Chilean President Michelle Bachelet faced the first major protest of her new administration on Saturday, which was organized to remind the president of her commitment to constitutional reforms and to protecting Indigenous and LGBT rights and the environment. The demonstration, which convened anywhere between 25,000 to 150,000 people, depending on the source, was dubbed “the march of all marches” and was largely peaceful, though isolated clashes led police to deploy tear gas and water cannons. At least 50 people were arrested and three policemen injured, according to authorities.

Brazil to Deploy Military in Rio de Janeiro Favelas: Rio de Janeiro’s state governor, Sérgio Cabral, has requested military reinforcements to contain the recent upswing in violence in sections of Rio de Janeiro, six years after the city launched a campaign to reduce crime in the city ahead of the World Cup and Olympic Games. On Thursday, three police pacification units (Unidade de Polícia Pacificadora—UPP) were set on fire in apparently coordinated attacks. Human rights abuses by police have also added to the recent tension and eroded public trust in the police forces.

Uruguay Will Take in Guantánamo Prisoners: Uruguayan President José Mujica said that there are various job leads for the five Guantánamo prisoners from Syria that Uruguay said it would take in last week. Mujica, a former political prisoner, last week accepted a request from U.S. President Barack Obama to allow the five prisoners to live in Uruguay, since they cannot return to their country of origin. Currently, there are 154 detainees still in Guantánamo. Mujica also said he would likely cancel a May 12 meeting he had scheduled with Obama, in order to focus on Uruguay’s October elections.

Venezuela to Investigate Abuses: a 28 year-old pregnant Venezuelan woman was shot and killed this Sunday in Miranda state, adding to the list of casualties in the country’s recent protests. The woman, Adriana Urquiola, was not actually protesting, but was reportedly near a protest barricade when she was shot by gunmen in a dark car. Venezuelan Attorney General Luisa Ortega Díaz said that Venezuela will investigate 60 cases of human rights abuses. According to Díaz, 31 people have died since the protests began, and at least 15 officials have been imprisoned for links to the violence.

Gang Violence in Buenaventura, Colombia: Colombian Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzón deployed an additional 700 troops to the port city of Buenaventura on Friday, a day after Human Rights Watch issued a report condemning the death and disappearance of hundreds of residents in the last three years. The crimes are attributed to powerful criminal groups with paramilitary backgrounds, such as the Urabeños and La Empresa. More than 19,000 people fled Buenaventura in 2013, according to official numbers.

Tags: Guantanamo, Venezuela, Buenaventura

World Cup Tickets Close to Being Sold Out

March 13, 2014

by AQ Online

Two-thirds of the 345,000 remaining World Cup tickets were sold within three hours of the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA)’s final sales phase on Wednesday.

Tickets were made available for 60 of the 64 World Cup matches set to take place in June and July. The fastest selling tickets were to Brazil matches, followed by games for England, Germany, and the United States. Countries with the most purchases were Brazil (143,085), the United States (16,059), Australia (5,357), Colombia (4,574), and Argentina (3,800). Due to the influx of online customers, fans had to wait almost an hour in some cases to place their virtual purchases. Ticket sales will close on April 1 and a final round of last-minute ticket sales will open on April 15.

Prior to the final sales phase, 2.3 million of the total 3.3 million tickets had already been sold and distributed, including all tickets to the opening and closing matches in São Paulo and at Rio de Janeiro’s Maracana, as well as the semifinals.

Brazil passed the 100 days to the World Cup mark last Monday and currently is still awaiting final construction on three of its stadiums. The ninth World Cup stadium, Arena da Amazônia, was inaugurated on Sunday, leaving Itaquerão, the Arena Pantanal, and the Arena da Baixada stadiums in São Paulo, Cuiabá and Curitiba, respectively, to be finished.

Tags: World Cup, Brazil, FIFA

Curitiba Narrowly Hangs on to World Cup Host Claim

February 19, 2014

by AQ Online

Curitiba, Brazil narrowly avoided losing its spot as a 2014 World Cup venue city on Tuesday, after the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (International Federation of Association Football—FIFA) threatened to exclude the city from the tournament. The news comes one month after FIFA Secretary General Jerome Valcke said that the delays in construction of Curitiba’s Arena da Baixada amounted to a “emergency situation.”

With less than four months before Iran and Nigeria play the first group stage match in Curitiba on June 16, organizers have imported hundreds of extra workers to complete the 43,000-capacity stadium. After speaking with representatives the city of Curitiba, its local football club Atlético Paranaense, and the State of Paraná, Valcke confirmed yesterday that the stadium will be ready for the tournament, calling the Curitiba "a special city in terms of sustainability and passion for football” and confirming that it will remain part of the FIFA World Cup lineup.

However, Valcke made clear that the remaining construction must continue at the “highest pace,” and that the process will require “regular monitoring.”

Of the six stadiums that missed the December 31 construction deadline set by FIFA, Curitiba’s was the furthest behind schedule. Construction still has to be completed on four other stadiums, including the Arena de São Paulo, which will host the World Cup opener on June 12, even though the stadium is not expected to be finished until April.

In addition to the June 16 match, the Arena da Baixada is scheduled to host four group stage matches, including Honduras vs. Ecuador (June 20), Australia vs. Spain (June 23) and Algeria vs. Russia (June 26).

Tags: World Cup, Curitiba, FIFA

Brazil's Diplomatic Retreat

February 11, 2014

by Oliver Stuenkel

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.

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Tags: Brazil, Brazil Foreign Policy, Dilma Rousseff, Aloizio Mercadante

Monday Memo: Turf Battle in Michoacán — Venezuelan Media — Manaus Stadium Death — Keystone Pipeline — Guatemala Massacre

February 10, 2014

by AQ Online

Knights Templar and Vigilante Groups Clash in Apatzingan, Michoacán: Vigilante self-defense groups drove into the town of Apatzingan, Michoacán on Saturday, bolstered by support from local police and army personnel. The town, previously a command center for the Knights Templar drug cartel, has been caught in a bloody battle since the self-defense groups launched an offensive against the cartel in early January. The Knights Templar cartel says that the self-defense groups are actually a proxy for the rival New Generation cartel from neighboring Jalisco, an accusation that the self-defense forces deny. Meanwhile, the Mexican government has granted the self-defense groups legal status by defining them as “rural defense corps.”

Venezuelan Newspapers Say They May Close Due to Currency Controls: Venezuelan newspapers say they may have to shut down due to a paper shortage caused by paper importers’ inability to obtain dollars due to strict government controls. Newspaper employees and media advocates have been staging protests outside the Venezuelan currency-exchange board, warning that the scarcity of newsprint will silence opposition voices and curtail free speech. The Venezuelan advocacy group Espacio Público said that 12 newspapers have recently closed and another 15 may follow suit. The government has declined to comment on the paper shortage. Venezuela imports most of its newsprint from Canada.

Manaus Stadium Workers Threaten Strike After Another Death: After a third construction-related death at Amazonia Arena in Manaus, Brazil on Friday, workers are threatening to go on strike.  A 55 year-old man died in an accident while disassembling a crane for the stadium’s roof. Two other workers have died at the stadium in less than a year. Amazonia Arena is scheduled to host four matches for this year’s World Cup, and was expected to be inaugurated this month.

Public Awaits Decision on Keystone Pipeline: A week after the U.S. State Department released its environmental impact assessment of TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline, spurring a wave a protests from environmental activists, President Obama is expected to make a decision on whether or not to approve the pipeline in the coming days. The State Department report claimed that the pipeline, which would cross through six U.S. states, would have a somewhat larger carbon footprint than other sources of oil but would not likely affect the rate at which oil from Canada’s tar sands is extracted. Obama has said that he would approve the pipeline as long as it did not “significantly exacerbate” climate change.

Nine People Die in Guatemala Massacre: Armed gunmen killed nine people in Petén, Guatemala on Saturday, killing seven adults, a 5-year-old girl, and a 3-month-old baby. Guatemalan Security Minister Mauricio López said that the shooting appeared to be related to drug trafficking in the area, but no arrests have yet been made. Petén shares a border with Mexico and organized crime has been a major problem. Meanwhile, Guatemala’s attorney general, Claudia Paz y Paz, will be forced to step down early from her four-year term in May, due to a ruling last week by Guatemala’s Constitutional Court that upheld a claim that her term began in May 2010, when her predecessor was appointed, rather than in December 2010. Paz y Paz has been recognized for her prosecution of organized crime and retired military officers accused of human rights abuses.

Tags: Keystone Pipeline, Claudia Paz y Paz, 2014 World Cup

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