On Tuesday, the Unidos de Vila Isabel school took this top honor at carnival with the theme “You semba there[…] I sambo here. The free song of Angola.”
The announcement came as the Carnival celebration ended on Tuesday in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, after attracting what Brazilian authorities believe is a record total of 2.2 million revelers. According to tourism officials, up to 850,000 foreign tourists had traveled to Rio de Janeiro to partake in the celebrations.
The traditional Carnival festivities are held across Latin America every year 46 days before Easter. Brazil’s celebrations are among the world’s most famous, but there are distinct celebrations for every city and country in the region. Rio de Janeiro’s Carnival, Bola Preta, which officially dates back to 1918, is a five-day celebration and massive parade through the iconic sambodromo stadium. Every year, seven different samba schools parade and compete for the title of the Estandarte de Ouro for the city’s best samba school. This year the Unidos de Vila Isabel school took the prize. Once a religious holiday, Carnival has taken a different focus and is seen as a celebration that brings everybody together, from all districts and neighboring towns.
From the Americas Society/Council of the Americas. AS/COA Online's news brief examines the major—as well as some of the overlooked—events and stories occurring across the Americas. Check back every Wednesday for the weekly roundup.
Term Limits, Economic Liberalization, and a Leadership Shuffle for Cuba
Cuban head of state Raúl Castro proposed enacting term limits in order to rejuvenate the country’s political leadership, currently dominated by geriatric revolutionaries who rose to prominence in the 1950s and 1960s. Castro made the proposal at the opening of Cuba’s Sixth Communist Party Congress, where the island’s leaders evaluated a slew of proposals designed to allow a greater role for private initiative and pare back the role of the state. The Congress officially retired Fidel Castro, bumping Raúl Castro up to the position of first secretary of the Cuban Communist Party. José Ramón Machado, an octogenarian, was named to replace Raúl in the number two spot and The Christian Science Monitor notes that none of the top three spots went to an official under the age of 78.
Read an AS/COA News Analysis about the reforms considered by the Communist Party Congress over the weekend.
Obama Administration Ready to Move on Panama FTA
U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk told Congress this week that he is ready to begin technical discussions for the ratification of the pending free trade agreement with Panama. The Obama administration took the decision to move forward on the deal after Panama’s Congress passed changes to its tax law that will allow the United States and Panama to share information on bank accounts in their countries. Bloomberg reports that the trade agreement with Panama could be worth some $6.5 billion to U.S. companies, based on U.S. Census Bureau data. Obama will meet with Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli at the White House on April 28.
Latin America's Middle Class Makes Strides
The Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean released its 2011 review, with a focus on the rapid expansion of the region’s middle class as well as how expanded ties with China affect exports. Thanks to rising GDP, falling poverty rates, and better income distribution, Latin America’s middle class grew by 56 million since 1999. Brazil accounted for the largest portion of that growth, given that 38 million people joined middle class ranks there over the past decade.
World Bank Applauds LatAm Growth, but Warns of Challenges ahead
Latin America and the Caribbean weathered the economic crisis better and bounced back more strongly than the United States, Europe, and Central Asia, with an average 6 percent growth rate last year, according to a World Bank report released last week. But the report warns that Latin American economies remain dependent on the rebound of high-income countries and high commodity prices. Inflation, the inflow of speculative foreign capital, and the possibility of local currency appreciation also threaten to undermine the region’s continued economic wellbeing.
At least 511 people have been reported killed since Wednesday by mudslides and flooding in Brazil’s deadliest natural disaster in recent memory. Heavy precipitation over the past few days is now predicted to continue in the coming weeks, threatening further damage and hindering rescue efforts in the states of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo.
The cities of Petropolis, Teresopolis and Nova Friburgo—all located in a mountainous region about 40 miles north of Rio de Janeiro—were the hardest hit as rain swelled rivers and swept away houses. With the death toll rising, authorities and experts have already begun assigning blame for what are perceived as inadequate rescue efforts and insufficient preparation for floods, which have become increasingly common in Brazil.
“There is carelessness at every level of government,” says Gil Castello Branco, secretary general of Contas Abertas, a group that monitors government spending. Although annual flooding is common in southeastern Brazil, the federal budget for disaster prevention and preparation measures dropped 18 percent in 2010, says Mr. Castello Branco.
Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and Rio de Janeiro Governor Sergio Cabral, however, cite poor oversight by municipal authorities who allow people to build houses on hillsides vulnerable to landslides. Mr. Cabral said 18,000 people lived in high risk areas in the city of Rio de Janeiro alone. Ms. Rousseff concurred, saying “mountains untouched by men dissolved. But we also saw areas in which illegal occupation caused damage to the health and lives of people…When there aren't housing policies, where are people who earn no more than twice the minimum wage going to live?"
Brazilian federal police announced yesterday that, beginning next month, they intend to use unmanned spy planes for surveillance purposes in the slums of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. The planes, which are equipped with high definition video cameras and radars, will monitor activities in those cities and along the country’s borders with Paraguay and Bolivia to combat drug- and gang-related crime.
The deal follows an October 2009 incident in which drug gangs shot down a police helicopter during a gun battle between rival gangs in Rio de Janeiro. Security has become a top priority for the federal and local governments in Brazil as the country prepares to host both the 2014 World Cup and the Olympics in 2016.
The Heron drones are manufactured by Israel Aerospace Industries Ltd. and were part of a $350 million security deal signed between Brazil and Israel last week during Israeli President Shimon Peres’ state visit. The first phase of the deal will involve the transfer of three unmanned planes, a base station and control and inspection systems. The second phase will allow Brazil to purchase 11 more drones.