Monday, February 6, 2012

Brazil Sends Military to Keep Order as Police Strike in Salvador

Brazil sent 3,500 federal troops to keep order on the streets of Salvador, after murders shot up during a police strike weeks before carnival is set to begin in the northeastern city.

Some 10,000 Bahia state officers began striking Tuesday to demand better pay and conditions, as well as amnesty from prosecution for the strike. Some armed police set up roadblocks, while others are occupying the city’s legislative assembly. The government has declared the action illegal, and ordered the officers to surrender.

The strike has triggered a crime wave in the city, with some 89 murders reportedly taking place since it began, which media reports say is at least double the previous week. Reuters reports that shops are being looted, while assaults and car thefts have shot up. Brazzil blog reports on a sense of chaos in the city, with trash going uncollected and ATMs empty of cash.

An elite federal force of some 40 officers has been sent to eject the strikers from the assembly, and arrest their ringleaders, reports the AFPThe Wall Street Journal said that the situation had calmed on Sunday with the presence of the federal troops, but the strikers have refused to step down. One anonymous police officer reportedly told media "The government knows that 99 percent of us are armed. If they try to evict us there will be a bloodbath." On Monday morning some 1,000 army troops were surrounding the assembly building, and had used rubber bullets against strikers trying to join their colleagues inside, wounding at least two, reports O Globo. The occupiers include women and children, according to the Rio-based newspaper.

The state officers, who on average earn $867 a month, are demanding a 50 percent pay rise, according to the AFP. They are not alone in their dissatisfaction; police in Ceara and Maranho states have also recently carried out strikes, while Rio de Janeiro is currently being threatened with a strike by police, fire fighters and lifeguards starting February 10 -- a week before the world-famous carnival.

The strikes provide another example of how economic inequalities persist despite Brazil’s fast-expanding economy, with poverty and high violence rates damaging the country’s image on the world stage. Both Rio and Salvador are among the cities set to host World Cup soccer games in 2014, and both are expecting massive influxes of tourists for their carnivals this month.

The LA Times has more on the theme of inequality, with a piece on the forced evictionof thousands of residents from Sao Paulo’s Pinheirinho slum, which “brought a storm of criticism that some of the poor and marginalized are being cast aside in the race to profit from growth.” The newspaper notes that Sao Paulo is now the most costly city in the Western Hemisphere;
Incomes and property values are rising, new consumers are spending more, and international investors are winning big returns. But investments in health, education and infrastructure have not kept up, economists say.
By contrast, the Washington Post looks at the increasing number of young professionals choosing to relocate to Brazil. Some 1.5 million foreigners were living in the country last year, up around a third from the previous year. One hedge fund manager from the US told the newspaper that:
he runs into the executives of big firms at the gym, and he is a cab ride away from 80 percent of the firms on the Sao Paulo exchange. “Those interactions are priceless,” he said. “You don’t get that in New York.”

News Briefs

  • Mexico’s conservative ruling PAN party has selected Josefina Vazquez Mota as its candidate for the July presidential elections. She is the first woman to run as the candidate of one of the major parties, and declared after winning the nomination that, “I am going to be the first woman president in history.” Vazquez’s major rivals for the post are Enrique Peña Nieto, from the centrist PRI party which ruled Mexico for some seven decades until 2000, and Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador of the leftists PRD. The NYT notes that Vazquez’s ties to Calderon, having been education secretary in his cabinet, could be a hindrance to her campaign, with many sick of the surging violence accompanying his war against the drug cartels. Bloggings by Boz points out, however, that she has enough distance from Calderon to avoid having to run on his record. A December poll showed 21 percent of voters favoring her, against 42 for Peña Nieto and 17 for Lopez Obrador. The PAN candidate has already clashed with front-runner Peña Nieto, after he failed to give the price of tortillas and explained that he was not a “housewife.” In response, Vazquez told press that she was “a housewife who knows what happens every day at the dining table and in the kitchen.”
    More from Reuters.
  • The ALBA bloc met in Caracas on the weekend and shot off a volley of anti-US policies, as well as announcing plans for closer economic cooperation. The group expressed their support for the Syrian regime, and signed a document backing independence for Puerto Rico. They also agreed to each place some 1 percent of GDP in a joint fund to pay for development projects. Suriname and Santa Lucia are seeking membership of the eight-country group.
  • Police in Panama have clashed with protesters, killing at least one and injuring 39, in clashes over proposed mining projects in indigenous territory. The dead man, a member of an indigenous group blocking the Pan-American Highway, was shot in the chest on Sunday as police attempted to clear the road, reports the Associated Press. The closure, which had gone on for more than a week, left some travelers trapped on the road without food supplies, and paralyzed commerce through the country.
  • Panamanian former dictator Manuel Noriega, currently serving a prison sentence after returning to the country from France in December, has been hospitalized with a suspected stroke.
  • The Miami Herald has a piece on the growing focus in US election debates on fears over Iranian links to Latin America, with some politicians suggesting that Iran could use the region to launch attacks on the US. Andres Oppenheimer plays down these concerns, arguing that “the Iran-Latin America connection will overshadow a much-needed discussion on enhancing U.S. economic ties with Latin America.”
  • A boat carrying migrants from the Dominican Republic capsized on its way to Puerto Rico, killing at least 17 people. Thirteen have been rescued. The Associated Press reports on the story of one passenger: “Maria Sobeida Guzman, a 28-year-old mother of three who also survived the journey, said she paid just over $1,000 for the illegal trip to Puerto Rico, where a cousin promised to get her a job giving manicures.”
  • Mary Anastasia O’Grady at the WSJ looks at the primaries of Venezuelan opposition coalition MUD, highlighting  Maria Corina Machado as the best candidate for those who would like to see Venezuela move away from socialist policies. “Ms. Machado talks the language of markets and liberty. She speaks of 'Peoples' Capitalism' and of ending Venezuelan dependence on the state. She is the only candidate who has called for private investment in the oil sector.”
  • The Washington Post has an op-ed on how lax US gun control laws contribute to violence in Mexico.
  • The Miami Herald has a gallery of photos from Haiti, with images of some brighter moments in the troubled country.

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