Friday, June 21, 2013

Rousseff Calls Emergency Cabinet Meeting as Protests Widen

After the biggest wave of demonstrations yet broke out last night in over 80 cities across the country, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff has scheduled an emergency cabinet meeting this morning to address protesters’ demands.

The AP and NYT report that more than 1 million people took to the streets last night in at least 80 cities in Brazil, the largest demonstrations yet. According to this map by Folha de São Paulo, the number of cities in which demonstrations were planned is closer to 90.

Last nights’ protests seem to have been more violent than previous ones, with dozens injured across the county in clashes with police and at least one person killed in Sao Paulo state after a car rammed into a crowd of demonstrators.

In Brasilia, police were able to block protesters from accessing the Congress building like they had on Monday, but many headed on to the iconic Itamaraty Palace, which houses the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, where they set fire to the entrance and smashed windows, O Estadão reports. O Globo has some striking photos of the marches throughout the country last night.

Meanwhile, hackers sympathetic to the protests have apparently taken over the World Cup website for the city of Cuiabá, using it to broadcast a message imploring foreigners not to come to the World Cup in protest of the government’s focus on the football championship, allegedly at the expense of social issues like education and health.

As Brazilian news site Agência Pública (available in Spanish at IDL-Reporteros) notes, the Cup has become a central point of contention for protesters. In addition to the government’s controversial and often heavy-handed police operations to “clean up” favelas close to Cup events, Brazilians are angry at the fact that the tournament will only be accessible to largely foreign elites.

Aside from sympathizing with the message of protests on Tuesday, Rousseff has kept a low profile so far this week, likely waiting for them to die down on their own accord. Now that they have only picked up steam, she is unable to ignore them any longer. At the last minute, she canceled a planned trip to Japan to hold the emergency cabinet meeting today.

News Briefs
  • For more on the political significance of the protests in Brazil, see this Democracy Now interview with Lucia Nader, executive director of the São Paulo-based rights group Conectas, in which she expresses concern that the protests are “taking a path that can weaken democratic institutions and the several achievements that Brazil had in the last decade.” Also worth listening to is the latest WOLA podcast, featuring the input of Brazil specialist Joe Bateman, who suggests that the protests reached a tipping point when police began to target journalists at demonstrations.
  • Gay and lesbian couples across Colombia went to public notaries yesterday in the hopes of entering into a civil marriage, after Colombia’s Constitutional Court ruled in 2011 that same-sex couples could legally register their relationships on June 20 of this year if the country’s legislative branch failed to pass legislation on the matter, as it did in April. The legal status of these relationships remain unclear, however, as the Court has yet to weigh in on the current status of gay marriage in the country. Still, the Santos administration appears to be backing them. While some prosecutors have said they would investigate notaries who approve gay marriages, the Attorney General has announced these individuals would be charged with abuse of authority, Caracol reports.
  • A U.S. DEA official was reportedly stabbed to death last night in Bogota, according to U.S. ambassador to Colombia Michael McKinley. McKinley told Caracol Radio that the official had been the victim of a robbery after leaving a Bogota restaurant on Thursday night and entering a taxi.
  • BBC Mundo takes a look at recent protests in Nicaragua by senior citizens demanding that the country’s pension system be widened to include those who have worked less than the mandatory 750 weeks of required pay-in. According to Nicaragua Dispatch, the headquarters of the National Social Security Institute (INSS) has been closed since Tuesday after around 100 elderly demonstrators occupied the building. Their call for partial pension access was picked up by student groups, and the occupation gained momentum before police stormed the building yesterday morning and arrested those present.
  • The Economist features a critical look at Ecuador’s new media law, which proponents claim will allow for a more inclusive media landscape. Critics, however, say it will encourage self-censorship and allow the Correa administration to stifle opposition of his administration.
  • The AP reports on recent improvements in U.S. Cuba relations, which have come in the form of recent talks on held talks on resuming direct mail service, as well as a planned discussion on migration issues next month. While at face value these talks appear insignificant, the wire service claims that “under the radar, diplomats on both sides describe a sea change in the tone of their dealings.”
  • It appears that Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, who last week announced he intended to launch a new anti-corruption unit, may be serious about combating corruption within the ranks of his PSUV.  Or he at least wants to give that impression. In televised remarks yesterday, Maduro said that a top official in Venezuela’s tax collection agency (SENIAT) had been arrested, and that officials found the equivalent of $630,000 in cash in his luxury apartment, El Nacional and the AP report.
  • Americas Quarterly reports on Maduro’s visit with French President François Hollande on Wednesday, the second stop on his official tour of Europe. While Maduro appears to have succeeded at shoring up his claim to the presidency in spite of the protests of opposition leader Henrique Capriles, the latter is still pressing on with an international campaign against Maduro. Yesterday the opposition claimed that a Capriles visit to Washington “is on the horizon,” though a date has not yet been announced.
  • A Nicaraguan army helicopter crashed yesterday over the western edge of Lake Managua, killing nine military personnel. According to Nicaragua’s La Prensa, a top air force colonel is among the victims. 

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