July 24, 2015
On this day in 1783, one of Latin America’s most significant figures, Simón Bolívar, was born in Caracas. While many in the region will celebrate the occasion, today also marks the anniversary of a more chilling episode in Latin American history. Shortly after midnight on July 24, 1993, nine hooded men, including several off-duty police officers, opened fire on a group of homeless youth sleeping on the steps of Rio de Janeiro’s historic Candelária church. Eight young people between the ages of 11 and 20 were killed in what came to be known as the Candelária Massacre.
Although the incident gained international attention, the Brazilian government at the time did little to stem the tide of extrajudicial killings in the country. Only three of the officers involved in the incident were charged with any crime.
Today, despite attempts at reform, the frequency of police related killings in Brazil can be jarring. Deaths at the hands of law enforcement average around 2,000 annually. State violence in the country disproportionately affects Afro-Brazilians and the urban poor, as evidenced in the pacificação (pacification) process of Rio’s favelas throughout last year’s World Cup.
Atila Roque, director of Amnesty International Brazil, said on the massacre's 20th anniversary in 2013, “Our police still have blood on their hands, and are allowed to act with impunity as extra-judicial killings remain rife in Brazil’s major cities.”
State violence may be more pronounced in Brazil than elsewhere in the region, but citizen insecurity continues to pose a challenge throughout Latin America in part due to negative perceptions of police. According to a 2013 Brookings Institution report, “only 7.5% of the Latin American population express[ed] a lot of confidence in the police.” In the United States, too, confrontations between police and residents in predominantly black communities have left many questioning whether police departments are effectively serving the citizens they are tasked to protect.
Despite the challenges, governments in the region are trying to address the issue. Efforts to cooperate in professionalizing police forces and offering technical assistance to prosecutors, investigators and judges are underway. But more needs to be done, and until criminal justice reforms are effectively implemented, the legacy of the Candelária massacre will remain unsettled.
July 16, 2015
Boom CHA-CHA, de boom CHA-CHA, the sound of funk carioca can be heard reverberating loudly throughout Brazil. Unapologetic, brazen and controversial, the music’s percussion-heavy sound forms the backdrop to life in the favelas. But while the genre is sometimes written off as lewd or “cheap,” funk carioca often reflects the harsh reality of life in Brazil’s marginalized communities.
That reality was brought into focus on Wednesday with the release of a groundbreaking report on child marriage in Brazil by Plan International, Brazil's Federal University of Pará and Instituto Promundo. According to the report, Brazil ranks fourth in the number of girls living with or married to a partner by age 15, and child marriage is “very normalized and accepted” in the country.
As with many social norms, the acceptance of relations with underage girls is reflected in funk music, particularly a newly popular sub-genre called funk putaria (literally "fornication/prostitution funk"). Novinhas, slang for attractive, specifically teenage girls, are often the focus of funk putaria songs. One example from MC R1 begins "novinha você tá na minha mira (novinha, I've got my eye on you)." Most funk songs about these novinhas are written by older men (MC R1 is 29).
But while funk artists continue to make music that refers to young girls and reinforces the norm of youth marriage, an emerging feminist movement has sought to reclaim funk carioca as its own. An increasing number of funkeiras (female MCs) have taken language traditionally used pejoratively to describe women (such as puta, or whore) and instead started using it to describe themselves and confront gender biases. Amy Richards and Jennifer Baumgardner, feminists and co-founders of Soapbox Inc., explain that "for years, these words have been used against women. Now, by singing these songs themselves, the funk artists demonstrate that they are in control."
Whether these new artists can have an impact on the prevalence of underage relationships in the favelas remains to be seen. But one way or another, as a platform for highlighting the social issues facing Brazil today, funk carioca deserves a listen.
July 8, 2015
On Monday, Brazil introduced new rules aimed at curbing the country’s unusually high rate of caesarean sections. The rules will require doctors to inform women about the risks of C-sections and ask them to sign a consent form prior to the procedure. Doctors will also have to sign a form justifying the C-section.
This is not the first time that the Brazilian government has sought to decrease the country’s high caesarean birth rates. For years, Brazil’s federal government has been promoting the benefits of natural childbirth through various programs and legislation. A 2005 law even guarantees women the right to give birth naturally if they so choose, though it is not usually respected.
Yet Brazil is not alone in the region in dealing with high levels of caesarean births. In fact, the Western Hemisphere has the highest rate of C-section operations in the world. The World Health Organization claims that the ideal rate for caesarean sections is between 10 and 15 percent. The rate in the Americas was about 38 percent last year, with particularly high rates in Brazil, Mexico, the United States, Argentina, and the Dominican Republic.
“It´s very worrisome that almost four out of every 10 births in the region are by C-section," said Suzanne Serruya, director of the Latin American Center for Perinatology, Women, and Reproductive Health of the Pan American Health Organization. "Doctors, midwives, obstetric nurses, those responsible for health policies, mothers and fathers, and society as a whole should work together to reduce this number and use caesarean sections only when it´s needed for medical reasons."
This Week in Latin America: Dilma visits U.S.—DR defends immigration policy—Honduras protests—Colombia false positives
June 29, 2015
Here’s a look at some of the stories we’ll be following this week:
Dilma and Obama Meet on Climate, Trade: Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff travels to Washington, DC today to meet with President Barack Obama. The trip, partly the product of a yearlong charm offensive by Vice President Joe Biden, is a sign of warming relations between the U.S. and Brazil. Revelations that the National Security Agency (NSA) spied on members of the Brazilian government led Rousseff to cancel a previous state visit in 2013. Obama and Rousseff are expected to focus on areas of mutual interest, particularly trade, defense and efforts to build support for a global agreement on climate change.
Domican Immigration Policy Under Scrutiny: On Tuesday, the Dominican Republic’s foreign minister, Andrés Navarro, will appear before the Permanent Council of the Organization of American States in Washington, DC. He is expected to respond to recent, widespread criticism of changes to his country’s immigration policies, particularly regarding the potential deportation of thousands of Haitian immigrants and their children. In a speech on Thursday at a Central American Integration System (SICA) summit in Guatemala, Dominican President Danilo Medina addressed critics, saying that the country’s policies were respectful of both Dominican law and human rights. “If in the United States, with all its resources, it’s difficult to properly document immigrants, it’s logical that it would be a challenge for us as well,” he added. Meanwhile, Haiti's prime minister last Thursday warned of a humanitarian crisis, saying that 14,000 people had crossed into Haiti in the space of a week.
Anti-Corruption Proposal Rejected by Protestors: Protests continue to swell in Honduras, as thousands of marchers took to the streets on Friday in a fresh rejection of President Juan Orlando Hernández’s government. The protests marked the fifth straight Friday that marchers have gathered in the capital, Tegucigalpa, and came just days after Hernández presented a proposal for combatting corruption, a chief concern among protesters. The proposal calls for the creation of a new, “integrated system” against impunity and corruption. According to government officials, it is intended to spur dialogue among diverse sectors of the population who have been calling for Hernández’s resignation. James Nealon, U.S. ambassador to Honduras, responded to the proposal via Twitter writing that, while it is not the U.S.’ job to dictate how Central American countries deal with corruption, Hernandez’s ideas were “worthy of serious study.”
False Positives Increase Pressure on Santos: Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos may have to weather another blow to peace talks with the FARC after a report released by Human Rights Watch implicated high-ranking members of the Colombian army in the false positive killings of the early 2000s. The report argues that several members of the military’s top brass knew about and may have even ordered these acts, in which civilians were killed by the military and falsely identified as guerrillas. Support for the negotiations is slipping and there are calls for the imposition of a deadline on the talks. Many wonder whether any peace deal can be negotiated without first renewing the ceasefire agreement with the FARC, which broke down in April.
This week in Latin America: the Pope on climate change—teacher evaluations in Mexico—Brazil's corruption scandal—the beautiful game
June 22, 2015
Here’s a look at some of the stories we’re following this week:
Religious Leaders Respond to Pope Francis' Climate Views: Reaction was swift and loud following the publication of Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment, Friday. While his sweeping indictment of the global response to climate change inspired some to question the pontiff's understanding of economic policy, the reception in Latin America was more positive. Catholic leaders from Mexico to Peru echoed Francis' call for action in their own climate-related sermons on Sunday. The publication of the encyclical comes just weeks ahead of the pope’s trip to Bolivia and Ecuador, two countries with complicated histories when it comes to the environment, and Paraguay, where the government has positioned itself as an important player in UN climate negotiations, as Guy Edwards and Timmons Roberts argue this week in an AQ Online exclusive.
Education Reform Stunted in Mexico: An instructor evaluation program that began over the weekend was marked by low participation and protests by teachers groups. More than 17 percent of teachers who had been scheduled to take evaluation exams failed to show up. Emilio Chuayffet, Mexico's public education secretary, must now negotiate terms with the Coordinadora Nacional de Trabajadores de la Educación (CNTE), a powerful and sometimes violent teachers union, whose opposition to reform contributed to low turnout and led to the outright suspension of evaluations in Oaxaca and Michoacan states. The difficulty in advancing even modest reform underscores a dramatic drop in President Enrique Peña Nieto’s political capital. After successfully pushing through changes to the country’s stiffly regulated energy sector last year, a series of scandals and increasing levels of violence have disrupted the president’s agenda. This week, responsibility for righting the ship lies largely with Mr. Chuayffet.
Brazilian Construction Execs Arrested: An ongoing corruption scandal in Brazil reached new heights on Friday with the arrests of Marcelo Odebrecht and Otávio Marques, two high-level construction executives. The arrests came as part of Operation Carwash, a federal police investigation into decades of graft and bribery at the state-run oil company, Petrobras. The scandal has already lead to the indictment of dozens of government and business officials in the country, and weakened President Dilma Rousseff’s standing among a frustrated populace, though she has not been implicated directly. Still, the accusations may be getting a bit too close for the president’s comfort, and just how far the effects of the scandal will reach is an open question.
Soccer Tournaments Near Conclusion: Finally, the beautiful game will be on display this week, as the Copa America (South America’s most important national soccer tournament) and the Women’s World Cup both enter their decisive knockout stages. The Copa America’s round of sixteen gets underway on Wednesday, with tournament host Chile taking on Uruguay. Despite student protests in the lead up to the tournament, drama on the field has captured most of the attention thus far. Meanwhile, three countries from the hemisphere are still competing at the Women’s World Cup. Canada has already locked down its place in the tournament’s final eight, but the other two regional players, the United States and Colombia, will go head-to-head tonight to determine who will progress.
June 10, 2015
On Tuesday, the Brazilian government unveiled a 198.4 billion reais ($64 billion) infrastructure plan aimed at restoring economic growth through private investments in the country’s depleted roads, rail and ports. “The increase of investments in the Brazilian economy must be done by the private sector,” said Brazilian Planning Minister Nelson Barbosa. “There is a huge demand for better infrastructure in Brazil.”
Battered by high inflation, rising unemployment and a corruption scandal at state oil company Petrobras, Brazil is on the brink of a recession that is expected to be the worst in 25 years. During a ceremony to announce the spending plan on Tuesday, President Dilma Rousseff said the government plans to use market-friendly procedures to calculate the return rate on projects such as roads, where concessions will go to bidders that offer the lowest toll rate.
The government also aims to reduce its role in infrastructure projects, as the planned concessions will feature reduced subsidized funding from the Banco Nacional de Desenvolvimento Econômico e Social (National Social and Economic Development Bank—BNDES).
“Our model of concessions will guarantee that consumers get quality services at fair prices and companies get an adequate return on their investments,” said Rousseff during the ceremony. The concessions include about 2, 715 miles of highways, expansion of existing freight railways and even a railway linking the Atlantic Ocean with the Pacific Ocean via Peru. Repairing the roads will allow Brazil to get its commodities like soy beans to the market.
June 4, 2015
At a secondhand bookstore in Brazil, I recently found an old copy of Graham Greene’s novella-turned-screenplay “The Third Man." Set in the shadowy streets and sewers of post-World War II Vienna, a police investigation reveals that the leader of a crime ring has faked his death to evade police. A coffin is exhumed, a body is found missing, and an iconic sewer chase scene ensues for Orson Welles in the 1949 noir film.
I could have opened up a local newspaper to read a similar tale unfolding.
A suspected ringleader in Brazil’s largest corruption investigation was recently alleged to have faked his death in 2010 to escape prosecution, and on May 20, a congressional committee ordered for his coffin in the city of Londrina, in southern Brazil, to be dug up and for a DNA test to be conducted on the corpse. Former congressman José Janene was thought to have died in a hospital of heart disease in 2010, but now rumors swirled that he was living in Central America with a $185 million Luxembourg bank account.
Digging up corpses could be a sign that Brazil’s corruption investigators will leave no stone (or gravestone) unturned, or that the unfolding scandal at Petróleo Brasileiro S.A. (Petrobras) has devolved into a witch-hunt. In either case, the development showed the extent to which officials need to distance themselves from a scandal that has cost Petrobras at least 6.2 billion reais ($2.1 billion) in graft-related losses, implicated dozens of major domestic and multinational firms, and pushed President Dilma Rousseff’s popularity to record lows.
Monday Memo: Marches in Venezuela—Guatemalan Protests—Chilean Education Law—Transgender Inmates in Rio—Colombian Murder Trial
June 1, 2015
Thousands Amass in Venezuela for Anti-Government Protest: Nearly 3,000 Venezuelan demonstrators clothed in white marched in Caracas on Saturday in the largest protest since last year’s surge of anti-government demonstrations. In a video filmed from his jail cell prior to the protests, former opposition Mayor Leopoldo López encouraged supporters to protest peacefully to demand the release of political prisoners, an end to censorship and a date for the nearing legislative elections. López and former Mayor Daniel Ceballos were both imprisoned in 2014 for mobilizing protests in 2014 that resulted in 43 deaths, and both men went on hunger strikes last week to protest their imprisonment. Protestors in Caracas spoke out against inflation, violent crimes and shortages, and smaller protests occurred in other cities across the country.
Guatemalans Call for President Resignation: Nearly 20,000 protestors from across Guatemala gathered in the capital on Saturday to call for the resignation of President Otto Pérez Molina over charges of corruption. Protestors converged in the Plaza de la Constitución for the sixth consecutive weekend after scandals in the government have prompted several government officials, including former Vice President Roxana Baldetti, to resign. While Pérez Molina has not been accused of any crimes, his administration has been troubled by allegations of pervasive corruption. Presidential elections are set for September, and the president has vowed not to step down before completing his term.
May 29, 2015
The U.S. Justice Department accused more than a dozen people this week of being involved in a massive FIFA corruption scandal that spanned more than two decades. Several high-level officials were arrested in a luxury Zurich hotel Wednesday, including former Confederação Brasileira de Futebol (Brazilian Football Confederation—CBF) President José Maria Marin.
“Our investigation revealed that what should be an expression of international sportsmanship was used as a vehicle in a broader scheme to line executives’ pockets with bribes,” U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch said during a press conference Wednesday in New York. “These individuals and organizations engaged in bribery to decide who would televise games; where the games would be held; and who would run the organization overseeing organized soccer worldwide.”
Marin, who led the jogo bonito’s governing body from March 2012 to April 2015, is facing charges of corruption, racketeering and bribery. According to the indictment, Marin split an $110 million kickback with four others in order to help Uruguayan company Datisa secure global distribution rights for next month’s Copa América and the four future editions of the tournament, including the special centennial cup to be held in the U.S. next year. He also allegedly requested bribe payments from Brazilian sports marketing firm Traffic for distribution rights of the country’s Copa do Brasil.
Others arrested Wednesday were accused of taking bribes to influence the winning bids of the 2010 South Africa World Cup, 2018 Russia World Cup and 2022 Qatar World Cup, with the latter’s selection facing scrutiny for its poor human rights record. Most of these transactions were done using U.S. bank accounts, which triggered the alarm of American authorities in the FBI, IRS and DOJ.
May 27, 2015
Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff met Tuesday with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto in Mexico City to foster a closer relationship between the two largest markets in Latin America and the Caribbean. This event was Rousseff’s first official visit to Mexico since she first became president in 2011.
Rousseff kicked off her official visit to Mexico on Monday evening and was welcomed by the Minister of Foreign Relations José Antonio Meade. She arrived with a delegation of business representatives interested in exploring investment opportunities in Mexico.
On Tuesday, Rousseff and Peña Nieto signed investment agreements and other accords to increase air travel and tourism. They also agreed to review their bilateral preferential trade agreement (the acuerdo de complementación económica Brasil–México, known as ACE 53) in an effort to lower tariffs overall and extend reduced tariffs to over 6,000 new products. As ACE 53 currently stands, less than half of the products that Brazil exports to Mexico are included in the list of goods with reduced tariffs.
Together, the Brazilian and Mexican economies comprise 62 percent of Latin America’s GDP and make up 58 percent of Latin America’s exports. The bilateral trade between the two countries stood at $9.2 billion in 2014, up from $ 5.7 billion in 2006. With the new agreements, the countries hope to double their trade within the next decade.
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