Monday, September 9, 2013

Brazil Marks Independence Day with Fresh Protests

On Saturday, Brazil’s Independence Day, military parades and official ceremonies across the country were disrupted by a wave of protests. But while organizers sought to rekindle the energy seen in June’s mass mobilizations, it seems they were largely unsuccessful.

The largest demonstrations, according to Reuters, took place in Rio de Janeiro and the capital city of Brasilia. In the former, some 500 people attempted to disrupt a military parade, and the latter saw a march of roughly 1,000 demonstrators head to the Congress building. In both cases police dispersed the protesters with tear gas and pepper spray. Some 80 individuals were arrested in Rio, and around half as many were detained in protests in São Paulo.

O Estadão de São Paulo has some impressive photos of the protests, including some which appear to show police abuse. The paper also has a video showing military police in Brasilia apparently beating a detained protester, footage which is sure to fuel debate over police reform in the country, an issue backed by a number of Brazilian human rights and citizen security advocacy groups like Conectas and the Brazilian Public Security Forum.

The New York Times’ Simon Romero describes the protests as “some of the most vigorous expressions of anger with governing institutions” since the June protests, though he notes that the turnout was significantly lower this time around. This assessment was shared by the AFP, which claimed that organizing efforts “fizzled” in comparison to last June.

Regardless, the weekend protests should not be underestimated. As this interactive map/timeline by O Globo shows, turnout has gone down but the fact that protests were organized in over 50 towns and cities around the country shows there is still overwhelming support for cracking down on political corruption and improving public services, the main demands of the June protests.

With public outrage showing little signs of fading any time soon, organizers of the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio are beginning to express concern about the potential for disruptive demonstrations. On Sunday, Brazil Olympic Committee President Carlos Arthur Nuzman told local press that he expected “the protests will continue until the beginning of the games.”


News Briefs
  • Brazil’s Globo news network has released new revelations about NSA surveillance in the country which could test U.S.-Brazil relations at an already tense moment. On Globo’s Sunday night news program “Fantastico,” the network reported that the U.S. spy agency targeted the internal communications of Brazilian national oil company Petrobras, along with Google and international financial institutions. The NYT reports that the objectives behind NSA’s targeting of Petrobras are unclear, though the paper notes that American, European and Chinese oil companies are seeking to expand operations in the country. In a subsequent press release, U.S. National Intelligence Director James R. Clapper downplayed the news, saying “It is not a secret that the Intelligence Community collects information about economic and financial matters, and terrorist financing.” However, this appears to contrdict a statement given by an NSA spokesperson to the Washington Post last month, which read: “The department does not engage in economic espionage in any domain, including cyber.” Clapper clarified this in his statement yesterday, denying that the NSA or any intelligence agency attempts to “steal the trade secrets of foreign companies” on behalf of U.S. companies. This may not convince officials in Brazil, however. The Post’s Juan Forero writes that the leak is sure to clash with the “sensitivity Brazilians have about foreign meddling when it comes to the country’s natural resources.”
  • InSight Crime looks at the highlights of a recent report published by Interpeace, which provided insight into gender roles in Central America’s “mara” street gangs. Interestingly, the report found that traditional notions of femininity are both discouraged and perpetuated in unique ways. Mara women are expected to take on masculine-associated dress and characteristics like a propensity towards violence, for instance, but they are also expected to cook and care for men, children and the sick.
  • On Saturday, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos reached an agreement with campesino leaders behind the recent wave of rural protests in the country, agreeing to subsidize fertilizer prices and provide credit to farmers in the provinces of Cundinamarca, Cauca, Meta, Boyaca, Nariño, Putmayo and Huila. El Colombiano reports that the agreement resulted in campesino groups agreeing to end roadblocks in these provinces, although they are still negotiating other demands with the government.
  • Today’s New York Times features a piece on the ways in which Chile is commemorating the 40th anniversary of the coup which brought the military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet to power in 1973. Civil society groups are memorializing the anniversary in different ways, and government actors across the political spectrum have expressed regret for their respective involvement in the violence that followed the coup. Still, the Times notes that the government of President Sebastian Piñera and the conservative coalition backing him remain reluctant to recognize the Pinochet regime as a dictatorship.
  • In the wake of the news that Bolivia’s top anti-corruption police official was arrested in Miami and charged with attempting to demand a bribe from a businessman there, columnist Andres Oppenheimer argues that the low level  of press coverage around the issue suggests that incidents illustrating corruption in “authoritarian populist countries” like Bolivia, Ecuador, Venezuela and Argentina are seen as a normal part of politics there. 
  • In an announcement on Sunday, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto presented a much-anticipated proposal for tax reform in the country. The proposed reforms include raising taxes on high income earners and closing loopholes for corporations, which were presented as a means of funding the country’s first nationwide pensions and unemployment insurance. Animal Politico and The Financial Times note that the PRI’s controversial plan to implement a sales tax on food and medicine, which was widely criticized by the Mexican left, was left out of the proposal.
  • Despite the omission, on Sunday leftist leader Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador led a series of major demonstrations in Mexico City against the proposal as well as Peña Nieto’s plan to end the monopoly on oil production in the country. The AFP reports that some 40,000 people gathered in the capital city to protest the president’s announcement, and AMLO has already called for several more mass mobilizations this month, according to La Jornada.
  • The Washington Post looks at Mexico’s recent captivation with a shadowy vigilante figure known as “Diana, huntress of bus drivers,” who in recent days has killed two bus drivers in Ciudad Juarez. A subsequent statement sent to local reporters claimed that the killings were revenge for sexual assault committed by bus drivers on women who work in Juarez’s maquiladoras. “Society may think that we are weak, but in reality we are brave and if we are not respected, we will make ourselves respected. Juarez women are strong,” read the statement.
  • Guatemala’s Prensa Libre reports that on Saturday, group of unidentified gunmen shot 29 people in the small, largely indigenous town of San Jose Nacahuil. 11 were killed. The government told the paper that it suspects local gang members were behind the attack, but the Associated Press notes that locals are skeptical of this claim. Residents of the town say the massacre was committed by corrupt police officers attempting to extort local businesses.
  • As Guatemala prepares to greet a new director of the UN-banked International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), news site Plaza Publica has published an editorial assessing the work of the Commission so far. While they note that the CICIG has committed “very serious errors” like needlessly getting involved in cases that were almost resolved by the Interior Ministry, Plaza Publica’s editorial board congratulate former CICIG commissioner Francisco Dall’anesse for condemning alleged “social cleansing” committed by police in the country.