Friday, June 13, 2014

World Cup Kicks Off Amid Scattered Protests

The World Cup tournament kicked off yesterday in Brazil, and while anticipated protests around the country were small and scattered, the resulting crackdown has focused attention on police abuses.

Demonstrations broke out in at least five World Cup host cities yesterday, as the AP reports.  While turnout was low -- none saw more than 1,000 participants -- the protests were one of the main points emphasized in international coverage of the tournament’s beginning, earning mention in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times and Los Angeles Times this morning.

In São Paulo, where the first game was held after President Dilma was loudly booed by crowds at the opening ceremony, the police response was especially harsh.  According to O Globo, 12 individuals were injured as a result of clashes with police in the city, including four foreign journalists. One of the latter was CNN producer Barbara Arvanitidis, who was covering demonstrations when -- as her crew’s camera footage shows --police appeared to fire tear gas canisters and stun grenades into the crowd at close range. These heavy-handed tactics gained the attention of the NYT website, which has published a look at other recent instances of excessive force used against demonstrations in the country.

The São Paulo crackdown was condemned by domestic human rights groups, including the local chapter of Amnesty International and Artigo 19, the latter of which also declared that police appeared to be restricting access to the protest from the nearest metro station in an attempt to limit its size.

Of course, while international media is just beginning to pick up on police abuses against demonstrators, Brazilian human rights advocates are well-aware of the tendency, and have documented scores of abuses since a wave of protests swept the country last year. Most recently, Artigo 19 published a 52-page report on authorities’ response to 696 separate demonstrations in 2013, linking the widespread use of lethal weapons, disproportionate police action and lack of concern for public safety to injuries and deaths during last year’s protests.

News Briefs
  • Paulo Sotero, director of the Brazil Institute at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, has a sharp analysis of the protests in an L.A. Times op-ed. He describes them as the result of a kind of political maturation among the country’s middle class, a sign that even the year’s biggest global sporting event cannot distract Brazilians from shortcomings in basic services and stagnating economic growth.
  • Jamaica has become the latest country in the hemisphere to take steps toward  a drastic overhaul of its drug laws. Justice Minister Mark Golding told reporters yesterday that the cabinet of Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller had approved changes to soften the criminal code, making possession of less than two ounces of marijuana a petty offense rather than a jailable crime. As Reuters notes, the new rules would also include exceptions authorizing use of marijuana for medicinal (as prescribed by a registered doctor) and religious purposes. The Jamaica Observer reports that, while the changes have not been implemented yet, a bill to do so is expected to be presented to legislators this summer.
  • Ahead of Colombia’s runoff election on Sunday, President Juan Manuel Santos is projecting an air of confidence even though polls show he and his challenger Oscar Ivan Zuluaga are closely tied. El Espectador reports that the president has predicted he will win reelection “by at least eight points.” La Silla Vacia, meanwhile, has an analysis of both candidates’ differing visions of democracy, as demonstrated by their two-dimensional characterizations of the other.
  • Four months after protests in Venezuela began, EFE offers a rundown on the political climate in the country. The Spanish news agency notes that while demonstrations appear to be gradually losing steam, the dialogue with opposition remains frozen with no sign of progress on the horizon.
  • The Washington Post has obtained a secretly-recorded video of a crowded immigrant detention facility in southern Texas, offering a firsthand look at the sub-par conditions faced by captured immigrants and the challenges the government is up against in tackling what the administration recently characterized as a “humanitarian crisis.”
  • The government of Mexico has come under fire from a top United Nations representative for its heavy reliance on the military over the police in its citizen security efforts. Animal Politico reports that in a presentation to the UN Human Rights Council yesterday, Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Executions Christof Heyns said Mexico was exposing its people to “various human rights violations” with this strategy, noting concerns by local civil society advocates about disappearances and other abuses.
  • This week’s issue of The Economist looks at one of the most brutal massacres of Mexico’s drug war, in which some 30-40 families in northern Coahuila were rounded up and killed for allegedly betraying the Zetas drug gang in 2011. The struggle to recover and identify their remains illustrates the many difficulties faced by victims and their relatives, who accuse the federal government of not prioritizing the issue of disappearances.
  • The local political boss for Mexico's ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party in Mexico City, Cuauhtemoc Gutierrez, has stepped down in the wake of a sex scandal in which his office was caught instructing potential hires for secretary jobs that they were obligated to have sex with him. Forbes contributor Dolia Estevez has a comprehensive overview of the case, calling it “perhaps the biggest and most blatant expression known publicly of abuse of power and influence peddling in the PRI’s tumultuous 85-year history.”

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