Friday, October 31, 2014

Remember Brazil’s World Cup Protests?

Remember “Não vai ter copa” and the concerns among international media that protests would overshadow the World Cup games this June/July? As it happened, turnout at the demonstrations was far lower than many expected, and the overall legacy of the event was largely unaffected.

But there may have been a reason for that. The initial round of protests in World Cup host cities in the first days of the Cup was met by a harsh crackdown by the state-level Military Police (PM), especially in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. In the former, local human rights group Conectas criticized the police for restricting civil liberties and acting as if a “state of emergency” had been declared, and journalists in Rio de Janeiro clearly captured footage of Rio PM officers brandishing guns and firing live ammunition to break up protests.

Considering the disproportionately repressive police response to the demonstrations, it’s no wonder that they failed to gather critical mass. Indeed, this may have been an unspoken part of these states’ security strategy all along.

Fortunately it appears that pressure from civil society has achieved a significant victory in limiting police repression of protests, at least in São Paulo state. As Veja and Globo report, last week a São Paulo judge issued an injunction which forbids the PM from using firearms or rubber bullets against crowds. The judge also ordered the Military Police to present a set of rules of engagement for crowd control action within 30 days. Conectas notes that the ruling comes after repeated efforts to compel the government of São Paulo to bring the actions of its military police in line with international human rights and good policing standards.

Surprisingly, there is evidence that the São Paulo PM’s de facto use of rubber bullets goes against the force’s own internal regulations. News site Ponte has obtained a classified internal PM document laying out standard procedures for using rubber bullets, which specifically says that every round fired must come at the order of commanding officers, must be documented, and must be fired at the justified target’s legs from a distance of no less than 20 meters. Ponte then points to a number of protesters with photos of recent injuries sustained from being shot in the face at distances far closer than that, showing that these guidelines essentially go ignored.

The downside to the recent court ruling, however, is that it will likely be appealed. Last year São Paulo Governor Geraldo Alckmin raised expectations by imposing a temporary ban on the use of rubber bullets against protesters, but this ban lasted only four months before their use was reinstated last October. Folha reports that yesterday the governor said his administration was assessing the ruling and weighing an appeal. Nevertheless, Alckmin made his position on police dispersal methods very clear, asserting they are needed to prevent vandalism and violence. “Nobody wants to use rubber bullets,” Alckmin told reporters, “but it is sometimes necessary to preserve public order.”

News Briefs
  • Following Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff’s promise to pursue political reform in her second term, the leadership of the influential PMDB party -- which wields tremendous influence as the second-largest congressional  bloc --  will meet next week to assess its position on Rousseff’s proposal to hold a referendum on reforms, Reuters reports.  
  • Days after promising to establish a commission to oversee a major purge of the country’s police force, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has appointed fomer police inspector and Libertador Mayor Freddy Bernal as the commission’s director, according to El Universal. Maduro announced yesterday that the commission would be in place for six months, and that changes would be made to all of the state police forces, as well as the National Police and its police academy.
  • El Tiempo and RCN Noticias report that Colombia’s FARC rebels have released a statement in Havana in which the guerrillas admit to having harmed civilians in their armed activities. The According to the statement, the FARC rebels “explicitly recognize that our actions have affected civilians in different moments and circumstances throughout the conflict, which has led to prolonged and multiple major impacts,” though they deny that civilians have ever been an intended target of attacks.
  • The New York Times reports on Chile’s approval of a carbon emissions tax last month, which made it the first country to do so in South America. The move comes as some countries, like Australia, South Korea and South Africa, appear to be backing away from previous carbon tax commitments.
  • Yesterday, the Mexican government was called to explain its National Human Rights Program to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, which Spanish news agency EFE notes saw human rights organizations further criticize the government’s handling of the Iguala students’ disappearances. The AP picked up remarks by Emilio Alvarez Icaza, secretary of the Inter-American Commission, who asserted that both the Iguala disappearance and Tlatlaya military massacre point to a “grave crisis” of human rights in the country.  BBC Mundo reports that the Commission is also slated to review the agreement released on Wednesday by Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto with the parents of the 43 missing students, and is considering naming a team to oversee its implementation.
  • BBC Mundo also has a piece looking at the work of the Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team (EAAF) in Mexico, where it has been contracted to help authorities identify the remains found in the mass graves being uncovered in Guerrero. Since arriving the EAAF has faced a number of obstacles to its work from local officials, and last week some of its members claimed that procedural errors meant they could not adequately confirm the government’s claim that  none of the bodies located thus far belong to the students.
  • Writing for The New Yorker, Francisco Goldman offers a hopeful look at the civil society response to the Iguala disappearances, which he describes as having the potential to transform the country’s corrupt political system. Making a similar argument, John Ackerman has an op-ed in the L.A. Times in which he also asserts that Mexico’s democratic development has been stunted because unlike other nations in the Americas, the country’s political class has changed little over the past few decades.
  • Mexico’s Supreme Court has rejected a proposal by Mexico’s left to hold a popular referendum on a law backed by the Peña Nieto administration which opens up the country’s state oil monopoly  to private investment. Animal Politico reports that Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s MORENA movement and the center-left PRD both presented challenges to the law, which were shot down in identical court rulings yesterday.
  • The New York Times reports on the ways in which many Mexicans are increasingly mixing elements of Halloween with their Day of the Dead celebrations, a trend which some in the country view as a potential threat to its cultural traditions.