Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Rousseff Ahead, LGBT Rights in Focus in Brazil Election

It appears that the Brazil observers who stuck with President Dilma Rousseff as the favorite to win the upcoming elections -- despite Marina Silva’s rise in the polls -- may turn out to be right in the end. Recent surveys have shown the incumbent making a rebound head of this weekend’s first round vote, and suggest she will come out ahead of Silva in a likely second-round matchup.

On Friday, Datafolha released a new survey showing that support for the president in the first round had risen from to 40 percent from 37 percent a week earlier, while Silva's first-round support fell to 27 percent from 30 percent.  In a second round, Datafolha showed 47 percent for Rousseff and 43 for Silva.

Other, smaller pollsters have published figures that seem to support this trend to varying degrees, as Reuters reports. On Monday, polling firm MDA released a survey suggesting that the president would win a runoff with 47.7 percent of the votes, compared to 38.7 percent for Silva. Another survey, by Vox Populi, showed Rousseff beating Silva 46 to 39 percent in a runoff.

In Folha’s Painel blog, Bernardo Mello Franco writes that Marina’s falling support has cheered up the Rousseff camp considerably, so much so that some of her advisors are reportedly preparing a backup plan in case the conservative Aecio Neves pulls ahead into the second round instead of the environmentalist candidate.

On another note on Brazil’s election, it is impressive how much LGBT rights have made their mark on the electoral race, often with the help of social media. First, there was the outcry that followed Silva’s dramatic overnight amendment of her platform’s section on LGBT issues. And when Rousseff tried to capitalize on the incident, activists like Congressman Jean Wyllys began holding the president accountable for her own inaction on the same issues, as well for Rousseff’s past dismissal of education programs targeting homophobia and transphobia as “sexual propaganda.”

Now, gay rights have again entered the electoral discourse in the wake of remarks made in Sunday’s debate by minor conservative candidate Levy Fidelix. And as the Associated Press reports, once again activists have taken to online outlets and social media to denounce his bigotry. 

The AP’s write-up of his remarks (the news agency notes Fidelix said: "Those people who have those problems should receive psychological help. And very far away from us, because here it is not acceptable.")  do not to justice to their offensiveness.  The candidate also called on the public to “confront this minority,” and compared being gay with pedophilia, praising the Vatican’s recent crackdown on several high-profile child sex abuse scandals.  

While none of them responded to the remark during the debate, the subsequent backlash has pressured all the main candidates -- Rousseff, Marina and Neves -- to issue statements on Monday criticizing Fidelix’s words, O Globo reports.

As Diego Iraheta writes for the Brasil Post, Fidelix’s language is more than just offensive. It is also punishable by an anti-discrimination law in São Paulo, where the debate was held, and his calls for a “confrontation” could arguably be interpreted as an apology for violence. Iraheta points out that the remarks also take on added weight in the wake of the murder of a gay teen earlier this month in Goias state, a case that gay rights activists say highlights the need for legislation criminalizing homophobia nationwide.  Following the death, Rousseff publicly echoed her past support for a bill in Congress that would do just that, though she said it should be partly amended.

News Briefs
  • Also on the subject of the scale of homophobia in Brazil, O Globo reports that a Bahia-based NGO which serves as a kind of nationwide observatory for the issue claims that at least 216 Brazilians have been killed this year alone because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
  • Foreign Policy has an interview with newly-elected Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela, who lays out the main goals of his administration. Among these is a commitment to transparent governance, combatting crime, and improving services like sanitation and public health.
  • At Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights, David Smilde and Hugo Perez Hernaiz assess the prospect for a renewed UNASUR-facilitated dialogue between the government and Venezuelan opposition. The odds don’t look good, even though the new UNASUR Secretary General  Ernesto Samper has come out in favor of restarting talks. As Smilde and Hernaiz note, Samper’s remarks stand in stark contrast to a recent statement by OAS Secretary General Jose Miguel Insulza to Spain’s El Pais, in which the OAS figure said that the opposition couldn’t be expected to negotiate with some of its leaders --like Leopldo Lopez -- in jail.
  • While authorities in the Mexico state of Guerrero investigate 22 police accused of opening fire on student protests over the weekend, the New York Times and Animal Politico report that 27 protestors are still missing since the violence, with witnesses saying they were put on a bus and escorted from the scene by police officials.
  • InSight Crime reports on the Peruvian government’s recently-announced plans to purchase a fleet of new military aircraft and install 10 military bases in the country's main coca-growing region, supported by a new radar system.  The plan appears to be in response to fears of a growing “air bridge” linking Peru to Brazil’s growing cocaine market, which IDL-Reporteros estimates transfers some 54 to 72 tons of cocaine each month.
  • In the latest chapter of Argentina’s high-profile battle with U.S. Judge Thomas Griesa over the country’s failure to pay holdout creditors, the judge has found Argentina “in contempt” of the court, pointing to its efforts to pay bondholders in defiance of his rulings, the WSJ reports. According to BBC Mundo, Argentina has responded by saying that Griesa’s decision violates international law.
  • Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa has continued to flirt with the idea of running for another term once his current one expires in 2017. As the country awaits a Constitutional Court decision on whether a government-backed reform proposal must be put to a popular vote, EFE reports that Correa has said he is not opposed to calling a referendum on ending term limits, even if the Court does not call one.
  • In an op-ed column for Al Jazeera English, Mark Weisbrot has an analysis of Hilary Clinton’s description of her work in the aftermath of the 2009 Honduran coup in her recently-published book, “Hard Choices.” Weisbrot is critical of the former Secretary of State’s admission that she called for “free and fair elections” in Honduras following the coup, which he identifies as an effort to ensure the coup’s success and guarantee that Zelaya would be permanently removed from office.  
  • The Guardian reports on opposition to Nicaragua’s plan to construct a rival to the Panama Canal from environmental advocacy NGO Forests of the World, which is concerned that the canal will displace indigenous communities and wreak havoc on the local ecosystem.

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