Tag Archive | "brazil"

Rousseff Wins Narrow Re-election: What Next for Brazil and Latin America?


Yesterday, Brazil’s Partido dos Trabalhadores (PT) obtained its fourth consecutive presidential victory, and its candidate, Dilma Rousseff, her second. Rousseff beat the Partido da Social Democracia Brasileira’s (PSDB) candidate Aécio Neves by 51.64% to 48,36%.

By the time Rousseff’s new term —which will begin with the new year— ends in 2019, the PT will have been in power for a massive 16 years, a record in Brazil’s democratic history.

However, so many years in power come at a cost, and the second-round victory that many celebrated with great relief was almost too close for comfort for Rousseff’s supporters.

Dilma Rousseff celebrates yesterday's narrow re-election (Photo via official Dilma Rousseff  Facebook page)

Dilma Rousseff celebrates yesterday’s narrow re-election (Photo via official Dilma Rousseff Facebook page)

The Campaign

Yesterday’s election was the culmination of a tense, at times aggressive campaign. Rousseff herself admitted it had some “sorry moments”, and Neves complained about the way the president treated him and the other candidates, calling it “a sad page in the history of Brazilian democracy.”

It had its heart-stopping moments as well, such as the death of the Partido Socialista Brasileiro (PSB) candidate Eduardo Campos, which propelled environmentalist Marina Silva to the race. For a moment, it seemed like Silva could comfortably surpass Neves, and even come head to head with Rousseff herself. Finally, “Hurricane Marina” proved to be little more than a tropical storm, as she finished third with 21.3% of the vote.

Many wondered then how much of the result was due to Silva’s own ineptitude and inability to hang on to voters’ preferences, and how much of the original stir around her was all the media’s making. Indeed, the media played an important role in the campaign, generally to the detriment of the PT candidate.

The enmity between the government and the country’s big media is legendary, and began with Lula Da Silva’s first term. This time, after unsuccessfully propping up Silva for the first round, they went all out in trying to stop Rousseff’s second-round victory. The most striking example of this is probably that of weekly magazine Veja, which changed its publication date last week, from Saturday, when it normally comes out, to Friday, in order to cause a greater electoral impact. The cover had Rousseff and Lula Da Silva implicated in a corruption scandal involving state oil company Petrobras, under the headline “The knew all about it”.

In the end, the vote was split along pretty clear social and geographic lines. This can be seen in the vote distribution across the country: overwhelmingly, the poor north and north-east voted for the PT, whilst the wealthier south (including Brazil’s largest city and financial capital, São Paulo) favoured the PSDB.

Facing the Opposition

After such a tough campaign and close victory, Rousseff opened her victory speech by making a call for “peace and unity”. She acknowledged that whilst the majority of Brazilians voted for continuity, they also demand changes. “Sometimes in history, close results have produced deeper and quicker changes than landslide victories,” she affirmed.

To be able to carry out these changes, however, Rousseff will have to deal with an increasingly fragmented Congress. Whilst the government still holds a majority of the 513 seats in the lower house, both the PT and its main ally, the centrist Partido do Movimento Democrático Brasileiro (PMDB) lost seats in this election. Its main contenders, the PSDB and the PSB, both improved their performance in the legislative election, which coincided with the first round of the presidential election. The number of parties represented in the lower house rose from 22 to 28.

“The increase in the number of parties makes political negotiations more complex, especially for the president,” explained an article published in Senate’s website after the first round.

The government’s parliamentary majority is based on an alliance between ten parties, which makes negotiations a necessity. The alliance with the PMDB (which holds the largest number of seats in the Senate) is clearly pragmatic, as they tend to support whoever is in power in exchange for political posts. Their behaviour is, then, potentially unpredictable, especially in the face of a somewhat weaker government.

In the traditionally fragmented landscape of Brazilian politics, Rousseff will also have to deal with a clear opposition leader in Neves —who has came out stronger after the election— and a divided and demobilised PT. Within the next four years, the party will also need to choose a successor for Rousseff, who cannot run for a third term. Ever-popular Lula, who always seemed like the obvious choice, will be 73 in 2019, and it is not certain he will be up for the top job anymore.

A divided Brazil (red state voted for Rousseff, blue states voted in favour of Neves)

A divided Brazil (red states voted for Rousseff, blue states voted in favour of Neves)

Challenges Ahead

Rousseff’s most urgent and pressing challenge is to inject some life back into the Brazilian economy, which entered a technical recession in the first half of 2014. Rousseff’s other major victory pledge was a comprehensive political reform –to be eventually voted on via a public referendum– and renewed measures to stamp out impunity and corruption.

She is up against a highly distrustful investor market, with the Bovespa stock market and Brazilian real plunging after Rousseff’s re-election was confirmed. And she will come under pressure to reform in the country’s major financial centre, São Paulo, and its south-westerly agricultural heartlands, which voted strongly in favour of Neves.

In her victory speech, Rousseff pledged to restore economic growth and, particularly, to develop the industrial sector. She also promised to keep inflation in check and govern with fiscal responsibility, two key areas of criticism during the campaign. However, efforts to appeal to the pro-business sectors and to private investors could also create rifts within her traditional support base and even within the ranks of the PT; furthermore, these efforts will have to be carried out facing the more hostile legislative branch.

A Regional Look

Rousseff’s re-election, alongside a comprehensive first-round victory for the Frente Amplio (FA) in Uruguay, was seen as further consolidating the so-called ‘pink tide’ of leftist forces that have governed much of Latin America over the last decade. Yesterday’s results come on the back of a landslide triumph for Evo Morales in Bolivia earlier this month, while leftist leaders were re-elected or voted in last year in Ecuador (Rafael Correa), Venezuela (Nicolás Maduro), and Chile (Michelle Bachelet).

The leftist presidents of Mercosur in 2013 (Foto: Analía Garelli/enviada especial/Télam/lz)

The leftist presidents of Mercosur in 2013 (Foto: Analía Garelli/enviada especial/Télam/lz)

Soon after the result was announced last night, Argentine president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner publicly congratulated Rousseff, calling her re-election a “great victory for social inclusion and regional integration.” Certainly, the support to the status quo in so many states –and now in the local powerhouse Brazil– will reinforce recent efforts to create a more cohesive region and reduce traditional US influence in the south via institutions such as Mercosur, Unasur, and CELAC —something the PSDB had openly challenged.

Ecuador’s Correa celebrated the regional dynamic too, exclaiming on Twitter that “Our America will never be the same again!” Correa was referring to the recurring victories for leftist parties, yet his view is arguably even more pertinent in terms of the opposition and how it has evolved over the last decade.

Candidates such as Henrique Capriles in Venezuela and Neves in Brazil, both of whom came within a whisker of victory in pivotal Latin American states, have emerged as the new faces leading a more moderate centre-right challenge. Though with personal ties to the ‘old establishment’, their campaigns shied away from references to the neo-liberal policies of the ’80s and ’90s, and both promised to maintain flagship social welfare programmes introduced by their rivals. The driving message of these new opposition campaigns was a hard-line stance on tackling corruption and crime combined with a softer approach to economic reform, complete with assurances that recent gains in social equality would not be reversed.

Maduro and Rousseff survived these new challenges, just, thanks to strong support in areas that have most benefitted from the renewed emphasis on wealth distribution. But Luis Lacalle Pou remains hopeful of causing an upset in Uruguay’s presidential run-off on 30th November, while Sergio Massa and Mauricio Macri are both strong contenders to end 12 years of rule by Fernández’s Frente Para la Victoria party at Argentina’s general election in October 2015.

As political journalist Pablo Stefanoni concluded in a recent article for Le Monde Diplomatique, the future of the Latin American left will be determined in large part by its “ability to prevent the post-modern right –with its new faces, a renewed discourse, and younger candidates better trained to tread the post-neoliberal campaign path paved by the leftist parties- from commandeering the vehicle of change.”

Rousseff has already promised widespread political and economic reforms, saying she was ready to make the changes that a divided society has demanded. Whether this sort of adaptation, which seems to imply a shift towards the political middle ground, will be echoed around the region remains to be seen.

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Brazil: Amazon Deforestation Increased 290% in September


The charred remains of burned forest on Awá land, only kilometres from an Awá community. Photo © Survival

The charred remains of burned forest in Maranhão state, close to an indigenous community. Photo © Survival

Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon showed a 290% rise in September compared to the same month last year. According to figures released by Brazilian NGO Imazon, 402km2 were cleared last month, compared to 103km2 during the September 2013.

The worst affected areas were the states of Rondonia, which accounted for 33% of the total, Pará (23%), Mato Grosso (18%), and Amazonas (12%).

In addition to the areas cleared, a further 624km2 were “degraded” during September 2014, showing a slight rise (3.8%) on last year’s figures.

The figures published by Imazon are independent figures – the government has postponed the release of official figures until after Sunday’s presidential run-off, in which incumbent Dilma Rousseff faces a strong challenge from Aécio Neves, a pro-business candidate who has the endorsement of Marina Silva, the popular former environment minister who herself came third in the first round of elections on 5th October.

However, the official numbers are expected to confirm the Imazon’s statistics, entrenching a reversal that started last year, when deforestation rose by 29% after eight years of progress in tackling the clearing.

Among the reasons for the setback are a shift in government priorities. Under Rousseff, the government has put a lower priority on the environment and built alliances with powerful agribusiness groups. It has weakened the Forest Code and pushed ahead with dam construction in the Amazon.

The environment ministry has tried to step up monitoring operations and campaigns to catch major violators, but farmers and loggers have also become more sophisticated by clearing small areas of fewer than 25 hectares, which are harder to detect on the government’s satellite.

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The Indy Guide to October’s Elections in South America


October is set to be a decisive month in South American politics, with more than 150m people in Brazil, Bolivia, and Uruguay set to cast their vote in presidential and legislative elections. While the vote is something of a formality for the supremely popular Bolivian leader Evo Morales, the contests in Brazil and Uruguay are set to be decided in tight, second round run-offs.

Here we provide a quick guide to the elections in each country, including a look at the key candidates and campaign issues.

 

BRAZIL: 5th October

What: General Elections to choose president, national congress, state governors, and state legislatures.
Run-off: If no candidate wins more than 50% of the vote in presidential and gubernatorial races, a run-off will be held on 26th October.
Term: New president will be sworn in on 1st January 2015, members of congress on 1st February 2015.

South America’s largest country goes to the polls amid an economic downturn that has sparked growing criticism of incumbent Dilma Rousseff, now seeking a second term. Rousseff remains favourite, but renewed competition from environmentalist Marina Silva could lead to a tense run-off at the end of the month.

Candidates:

640px-Dilma_Rousseff_-_foto_oficial_2011-01-09Dilma Rousseff, Worker’s Party (PT)
VP: Michel Temer (PMDB)
Coalition: With the strength of the people
Current ranking in the polls: 38%

Incumbent Dilma Rousseff, 66, Brazil’s first female president, is running for re-election. Rousseff became a socialist during her youth and under the military dictatorship she was captured and jailed between 1970 and 1972, and was reportedly tortured. She was one of the founders of the Democratic Labour Party (PDT) in the state of Rio Grande do Sul, and worked her way up the ranks to become state Energy Secretary. In 2000, after an internal PDT dispute, Rousseff deflected to the Worker’s Party (PT). In 2002, Rousseff joined the committee responsible for the energy policy of presidential candidate Luiz Inácio ‘Lula’ da Silva, who, after winning the election, invited her to become Energy Minister. In 2005 she became Lula’s Chief of Staff, a post she held until 2010 when she resigned to run for president, winning in the second round.

Rousseff has continued many of Lula’s social policies, and until mid-2013 had popularity ratings equal to that of her predecessor, regularly topping 80%. However, in June last year things changed when over a million people took to the streets to vent anger at the escalating prices of public services and corruption among politicians, as well as what was seen to be excessive spending on the stadiums for this year’s football World Cup.

Under Rousseff the country’s growth has slowed down, largely due to the impacts of the global economic downturn, but also, according to some analysts, due to policies that her administration has implemented, and her “economic micromanaging”. Brazil is currently in a recession, although unemployment remains historically low at 4.9% and household incomes have managed to keep up with the high inflation. However, it is thought that were Rousseff to win re-election she would not encourage confidence in foreign investors, which could affect the country’s long-term growth.

Marina_Silva2010Marina Silva, Brazilian Socialist Part (PSB)
VP: Beto Albuquerque (PSB)
Coalition: United for Brazil
Current ranking in the polls: 29%

Marina Silva, 56, only officially became the PSB candidate six weeks ago, after the original PSB candidate, Eduardo Campos, was killed in a plane crash in Santos on 13th August and Silva, who had been Campos’ running mate, was chosen to succeed him.

Silva is as known for her background as an environmentalist as she is a politician. Growing up in the Brazilian Amazon, Silva comes from humble origins, and only learned to read and write at the age of 16. She was a colleague of activist Chico Mendes, who was killed for defending the rainforest in 1988, around the time Silva became a member of the Worker’s Party (PT), a membership she continued until 2009. She served as former president Lula’s Environment Minister from 2003, but frequently clashed with then Energy Minister Dilma Rousseff, and resigned in 2008. In 2010 Silva ran for president as a Green Party candidate, obtaining 19.4% of the votes, the highest ever figure for a Green Party candidate, far exceeding expectations. In 2013, she attempted to create new party Sustainability Network, but after failing to gather the required number of signatures to create the party, she changed her affiliation to the PSB. In April, Campos named her as his running mate.

The PSB is traditionally a centrist party with market sympathies, and Silva had to work hard when inheriting the ticket to convince the party’s traditional base that she wasn’t a radical reformist. She has outlined a market-friendly plan that both businesses on the ground in Brazil as well as foreign investors believe will spur productivity and encourage investment, both of which have tailed off under Rousseff. Silva has also said she would reinstate fuel tax and allow more fluctuation in prices of things that are currently regulated. She would also give the central bank more independence, and her policies underscore an ideology of fiscal rectitude, tax reform, and more robust inflation-targeting. Socially, Silvia is seen to be conservative – due to her religious faith, she retracted Campos’ support for gay marriage, although her campaign has since come out to say she is a supporter of LGBT rights and human rights in general. Her posture has led Rousseff to claim she is continually switching sides and affiliations, something which could prove to be her Achilles’ heel.

Aécio_Neves_2014-02-20Aécio Neves, Brazilian Social Democracy Party (PSDB)
VP: Aloysio Nunes
Coalition: Change, Brazil
Current ranking in the polls: 18%

Economist and politician, Aécio Neves, 54, is currently a senator representing Minas Gerais state. Since entering politics in the 1980s, he has only been defeated once, when he ran for mayor of Belo Horizonte in 1992. He was elected four times to Brazil’s lower house between 1987 and 2002, before becoming governor of Minas Gerais from 2003-2010, the first to be elected outright in the first round and also the youngest in the state’s history. As governor, Neves introduced the “Management Shock”: a set of sweeping reforms designed to bring the state budget under control by reducing government expenditure and promoting investment.

Neves, a centre-right candidate, is the market’s favourite, and a win would bring back into power the party that Lula’s Worker’s Party beat in 2002, and which has remained in the wings for the past 12 years.

 

BOLIVIA: 12th October

 

What: General Elections to choose president, vice-president, renew 130 seats in the Chamber of Deputies and 36 in the Senate. There will also be seven new ‘special’ seats for indigenous leaders in the lower house.
Run-off: If no candidate wins more than 50% of the vote – or at least 40% and a 10 percentage point lead over the nearest rival – in presidential race, a run-off will be held on 7th December.
Term: New president will be sworn in on 22nd January 2015.

President Evo Morales (left) and opposition candidate Samuel Doria Medina

President Evo Morales (left) and opposition candidate Samuel Doria Medina

Candidates:

Evo Morales (Movimiento al Socialismo, MAS-IPSP)
VP: Álvaro García Linera
Current support in opinion polls: 52-55%

Incumbent Evo Morales, 54, is expected to win another landslide election – his third – in the first round. Bolivia’s first indigenous president, a former cocalero in power now since 2006, has managed to combine a socio-economic revolution with relative political stability, and fervent anti-capitalist rhetoric with pragmatic macroeconomic management. The results are impressive: The nationalisation of key energy, mining, and communication sectors would normally draw the ire of neo-liberal observers, but even the IMF has praised a track record of strong growth, moderate inflation, low debt, and balanced budgets. At home, his approval ratings hover around the 70% mark. At the heart of the model is the indigenous concept of Suma Qamaña (good living), the idea that community bonds and living in harmony with la Pachamama (Mother Earth) are just as important for well-being as an increase in income.

However, it has not all been plain sailing for Morales. While enjoying huge support among the country’s majority indigenous population, he has faced regular challenges by opposition in the economic wealth province of Santa Cruz. Morales says this unrest is deliberately provoked by the local business elite and supported by the US embassy, which last year he threatened to shut down after his presidential plane was rerouted and grounded by European authorities who accused him of smuggling Edward Snowdon out of Russia. However, he also faced a major crisis in 2010 after raising the price of state-subsidised gas, a decision he eventually reversed after a week of widespread protests (the ‘gasolinazo’). Meanwhile, the plan to construct a major international highway running through the TIPNIS indigenous territory sparked major protests in 2012 and created some divisions within the party’s support base.

Other challenges remain if he is elected, as expected, for his third term. Poverty levels have fallen by around a third since 2005, but at around 40% are still high in regional terms. After easing some of the country’s worst economic ills, the long-term future will require greater industrialisation and diversification to reduce the heavy dependence on primary exports from extracting oil, gas, and minerals. Finally, the government is facing growing pressure to tackle social issues such as same-sex marriage and abortion, which are both prohibited.

Samuel Doria Medina (Frente de Unidad Nacional, FUN)
VP: Ernesto Suárez
Coalition: Concertación Unidad Demócrata (FUN+MDS)
Current support in opinion polls: 14-17%

The business magnate will run against Morales for the third time. In 2005 and 2009 he came third with less than 8% of the vote, though opinion polls this time rank him as a comfortable second. Despite being involve in politics for more than 20 years, Doria Medina is still better known for his business exploits. Since 1987 he has been the president and main shareholder of the Sociedad Boliviana de Cemento (SOBOCE), one of the largest companies in the country, while his portfolio has expanded to include the local franchise of fast food outlets such as Burger King and Subway.

Doria Medina says he offers an alternative to Morales’ authoritarian style and unsustainable economic model, proposing more market-friendly policies including providing foreign investors with a greater share of Bolivia’s oil wealth in return for an injection of capital. He also calls for more investment in renewable energies, technology, and services, which he claims this will provide more jobs and help reduce crime. However, Doria Medina he has failed to unite the opposition – which includes ex-president Jorge Quiroga (Partido Demócrata Cristiano, PDC) and leftist challenger Juan del Granado, of the Movimiento Sin Miedo (MSM) – behind his cause.

 

URUGUAY: 26th October

What: General election to choose president, vice-president, and complete renewal of both legislative houses in the General Assembly.
Run-off: If no presidential candidate achieves an absolute majority in the first round, a run-off will be held on 30th November.
Term: New president and legislators will be sworn in on 1st March 2015.

From left to right, Tabaré Vázquez, Luis Alberto Lacalle Pou, Pedro Bordaberry  (Photos via Wikipedia)

From left to right, Tabaré Vázquez, Luis Alberto Lacalle Pou, Pedro Bordaberry (Photos via Wikipedia)

José “Pepe” Mujica has won the hearts and minds of the global media as “the world’s poorest president” who legalised marijuana, but he is forbidden by the constitution for seeking re-election. His predecessor and Frente Amplio colleague Tabaré Vázquez is currently favourite to return for his second term, though latest polls suggest a second round run-off is likely and could be a close call. Education reform and crime are two of the key campaign issues.

Candidates:

Tabaré Vázquez (Frente Amplio, FA)
VP: Raúl Sendic
Support: 40-43%

Oncologist Tabaré Vázquez, president between 2005 and 2010, is looking to secure another five-year term at the age of 74. The country’s situation has changed significantly since he first came to power a decade ago: poverty has fallen from around 40% to just over 10%, while unemployment is at historic lows. The country has also become one of the world’s most socially progressive after decriminalising abortion, legalising same sex marriage, and regulating the market for legal marijuana.

Vázquez says a third successive Frente Amplio government would be “committed to improving even further the life of every Uruguayan citizen” by consolidating these social and economic advances and tackling problematic areas. One of his key electoral promises is to increase education spending to 6% of GDP (from around 4.5% currently), another the introduction of a Nordic-style ‘national care system’ to increase state support for families with dependants (infants, disabled or elderly relatives).

If triumphant, however, Vázquez will face a challenge to keep the more radical leftist factions of the Frente Amplio coalition in line, especially if a weak parliamentary majority or direct minority results in new concessions to a rejuvenated centre-right opposition (he has already made overtones about reaching “broad agreements”).

Luis Alberto Lacalle Pou (Partido Nacional, PN)
VP: Jorge Larrañaga
Support: 29-33%

Son of former president Luis Alberto Lacalle (1990-1995), 41-year-old Luis Lacalle Pou was a surprise winner in the primaries, something that is considered an advantage for the main event as his rivals were preparing to face a different candidate (Jorge Larrañaga, who has since become Lacalle Pou’s running mate). His campaign has sought to play up his image as a fresh and youthful alternative to Vázquez, and he has promised a renewal of politics with “action, not reaction”, preferring to talk about policy management rather than ideological concerns.

Lacalle Pou has said that education, security, and infrastructure were three “emergencies” that his administration would treat.

Pedro Bordaberry (Partido Colorado, PC)
VP: Germán Coutinho
Support: 11-15%

Another son of an ex-president, though this time former dictator Juan María, Bordaberry represents the country’s traditional right-wing Colorados. Bordaberry has promised deep education reform, including a guarantee for a 200-day school year and decentralising decision-making. He has also put security at the heart of his camping, pledging to reverse the legalisation of marijuana, lower the age of criminal responsibility for serious crimes, and use the military to support police operations.

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Brazil: “Good” Mosquitos Released in Rio Favela to Combat Dengue


Mosquito (photo: wikipedia)

Mosquito (photo: wikipedia)

Yesterday, 10,000 mosquitoes were released in Tubiacanga, a favela in the north of Rio de Janeiro, in an effort to combat dengue fever. The aedes aegypti mosquitoes have been injected with a bacteria that prevents then from transmitting the disease, which has killed 330 people in Brazil and infected over 1.5m since the start of 2014.

Researchers at the Oswaldo Cruz state laboratory injected the mosquitoes with the Wolbachia bacteria, which is innocuous to humans.

When male carriers reproduce with normal females, their eggs to not produce larva. And when female carriers reproduce with non-carrying males, the offspring inherit the characteristics of the male.

The method has also been tested with positive results in other parts of the world, such as Australia, Indonesia, and Vietnam, but it is the first time it has been tested in Latin America.

Brazil has the highest number of reported dengue cases in the world. The most severe form of the illness, dengue hemorrhagic fever, can lead to shock, coma, and death.

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Brazil: Climate Tower Built in Amazon as Deforestation Linked to Drought


Construction work has begun on a giant observation tower in the Amazon basin to monitor climate change, and the relationship between the rainforest and the atmosphere. The Amazon Tall Tower Observatory (ATTO) will be 325 metres tall when completed, and is located in a remote spot 170km from Manaus in the state of Amazonas.

The ATTO tower will be built close to Manaus in the Amazon rainforest (photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

The ATTO tower will be built close to Manaus in the Amazon rainforest (photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

The tower is a joint project between Brazil’s National Institute of Amazonian Research and Germany’s Max Planck Institute. It will be equipped to gather data on heat, water, carbon gas, winds, cloud formation, carbon absorption, and weather patterns.

The Amazon jungle is one of the world’s most sensitive ecosystems, with a powerful influence on the atmospheric release or intake of carbon.

“The tower will help us answer innumerable questions related to global climate change,” said Paulo Artaxo, a project coordinator from the University of São Paulo. “We will gain a better understanding of the role of the Amazon and other humid tropical areas in climate models.”

Scientists hope that the data they gather will allow them to greater understand the sources of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Once completed, the tower will compliment a similar observatory in central Siberia.

Deforestation Linked to Drought

The construction comes at the same time that a new report has linked Amazon deforestation to the drought currently being suffered in São Paulo and all Brazil’s centre and southeast. The drought, which is the worst since records began, has had devastating effects on agriculture, energy, and domestic water supplies.

Antonio Nobre, one of Brazil’s leading climate scientists, explains that in a single day, the Amazon region evaporates 20bn tonnes of vapour − more than the 17m tonnes of water that the Amazon river discharges each day into the Atlantic.

“A big tree with a crown 20 metres across evaporates up to 300 litres a day, whereas one square metre of ocean evaporates exactly one square metre,” he said. “One square metre of forest can contain eight or ten metres of leaves, so it evaporates eight or ten times more than the ocean. This flying river, which rises into the atmosphere in the form of vapour, is bigger than the biggest river on the Earth.”

Last week, figures released by the Brazilian government show that the rate of deforestation has increased again for the second year running. Destruction of the rainforest was up by 29% in the 12 months up to the end of July 2013, with almost 6,000km2 of forest within Brazil’s borders being cleared during the period. The largest increases in deforestation were seen in the states of Para and Mato Grosso, where most of the country’s agricultural expansion is taking place.

The fear is that if the Amazon rainforest continues to be depleted at the present rate, events like the unprecedented drought will occur more often.

Deforestation in Brazil has reached alarming proportions in all three of its forested area: 22% of the Amazon rainforest, 47% of the Cerrado, the biologically richest savannah in the world, lying in central Brazil, and 91.5% of the Atlantic forest that used to cover the entire length of the coastal area have been destroyed.

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Brazil: Tribunal Rules on Crimes Against Humanity


The Brazilian Supreme Court upheld the amnesty law (photo: Fabio Pozzebom/ABr)

The Brazilian Supreme Court upheld the amnesty law (photo: Fabio Pozzebom/ABr)

The regional federal tribunal of Rio de Janeiro has, for the first time, characterised as crimes against humanity the murders and disappearances carried out during the military dictatorship (1964-1985).

An amnesty law has so far prevented Brazil from trying military officers involved in the dictatorship. However, the Rio court has given the go-ahead to the process against five officers charged with murdering and concealing the body of a deputy critical of the regime, Rubens Paiva, in 1971.

The accused had lodged an appeal before the second instance court to stop the trial, carried out by a first instance judge, claiming protection under the 1979 amnesty law. They will now appeal this ruling before the Supreme Court.

“It is the first time that the Brazilian justice recognises that certain crimes committed during the dictatorship are crimes against humanity,” said prosecutor Silvana Batini. “There were previous decisions in that respect made individually by some judges,” she explained, but never by a second-instance collegiate tribunal.

In a statement, tribunal member Messod Azulay said that the amnesty law —ratified by the Supreme Court in 2010— does not deal with crimes such as homicide and concealment of bodies, which fall under the criminal code. He also pointed out that the Inter-American Convention of Human Rights does not recognise amnesty laws in cases of crimes against humanity. “We have a specific chance to be held accountable to society, as it should be in mature democracies,” said the judge.

In 2010, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR) ruled that “the provisions of the Brazilian
Amnesty Law that prevent the investigation and sanctioning of severe human rights violations are incompatible with the American Convention [and] have no legal effects.” With this ruling, Brazil became the fourth country in Latin America (after Peru, Chile, and Uruguay) to have its amnesty law invalidated by the IACHR. However, only Argentina and Uruguay have repealed their respective amnesty laws.

Brazil officially recognises 400 people dead and disappeared during the dictatorship.

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Brazil: Police Dismantle Biggest Amazon Deforestation Gang


Environmental group TIES' campaign to highlight deforestation (photo courtesy of TIES)

Environmental group TIES’ campaign to highlight Amazonian deforestation (photo courtesy of TIES)

Brazilian federal police have undertaken an operation to disband the country’s largest Amazonian deforestation gang, who are alleged to have invaded enormous swathes of the rainforest, burnt them down, and then illegally sold lots to cattle ranchers and farmers.

Investigators value the environmental destruction they have caused to top US$220m, and the area affected includes the Jamanxin national park.

Operation Castanheira, or Chestnut, was mostly developed from the city of Novo Progresso in the Amazonian state of Pará, but extended over the states of Paraná, Matto Grosso, and São Paulo in the country’s south. Some 96 police officers and 19 prosecutors from the Brazilian Environment Institute (Ibama) were involved in the raids, which were a result of 22 search and 14 arrest warrants.

Those involved will be charged with the crimes of invasion of public lands, theft, environmental crimes, counterfeiting, criminal conspiracy, tax evasion and money laundering. Sentences may total over 50 years in prison.

The operation has been hailed by environmentalists, who see it as a small battle won in the war on deforestation of the jungle, which grew 28% last year, according to Greenpeace.

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Dams and Deforestation: The Human Contribution to Natural Disasters


As the southern hemisphere Spring approaches, widespread areas of the Río de la Plata basin are still picking up the pieces after suffering a winter of heavy flooding. During June and July, at least 360,000 people in southern Brazil, northern Argentina, Paraguay, and Uruguay were evacuated after several of the region’s major rivers broke their banks, causing some of the worst floods in decades.

Disaster hit after heavy downpours in June around the triple border between Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay – an area already soaked by months of unseasonably high rainfall – caused a surge in the region’s key tributaries.

The town of El Soberbio, in Misiones province, was hit hard by flooding after the Uruguay River burst its banks (Photo: Sofia Schiavoni)

The town of El Soberbio, in Misiones province, was hit hard by flooding after the Uruguay River burst its banks (Photo: Sofia Schiavoni)

Over 190 municipalities in southern Brazil declared a state of emergency as the Paraná, Iguazú, and Uruguay rivers overflowed, killing a dozen people and affecting around 50,000 more. In Paraguay, the country worst affected, a quarter of a million people were displaced along the banks of its eponymous river, which cuts 537km from north to south. This included 88,000 from mainly impoverished and informal riverside settlements in the capital Asunción, where many remain in temporary shelters today. Finally, as the swell moved downstream towards the Río de la Plata, thousands more were evacuated in Argentina’s north-eastern provinces and, to a lesser extent, parts of Uruguay.

Though the emergency situation has now eased after a relatively dry and warm August for much of the region, thousands of families remain stranded after their riverside homes were destroyed. And with river levels still well above normal in many areas, the full extent of the damage to infrastructure, livestock and crops has not yet been calculated.

More Prone

A wet autumn and freakish storms in June – some areas received more than three times the average monthly rainfall in just a few days – are widely accepted as the principal cause of the recent floods. However, several NGOs and environmental groups say it is human activity – namely rampant deforestation and the construction of huge hydroelectric dams on major rivers – that has left the region more prone to devastating floods when such rainfalls occurs.

“The jungle acts like a sponge,” explains Manuel Jaramillo, investigator at Fundación Vida Silvestre. “Water that hits leaves on a tree 20 or 30 metres off the ground trickles more slowly down branches and trunks and can filter into the ground. If the earth is bare, or cultivated year round – as is the case mainly with soy – it is quickly saturated with rainwater, which then runs into streams and rivers.”

The Atlantic Forest in Alto Paraná (Photo courtesy of WWF Paraguay)

The Atlantic Forest in Alto Paraná (Photo courtesy of WWF Paraguay)

According to Vida Silvestre, the Bosque Atlántico, or Atlantic Forest (also known as the Selva Paranaense or Mata Atlantico), once covered an estimated 500,000km2 of land in Brazil, Paraguay, and Argentina. After decades of unchecked deforestation, mainly to clear land for soy production and cattle ranching, only around 7% of the original forest remains today. Not only does this make the area less absorbent and more vulnerable to landslides, but the excess run-off also carries top soil and sediment into the rivers, adding to the overall increase in water levels.

Concerns over the environmental impact of human intervention in forests and rivers are not new, says Hernán Giardini, coordinator of Greenpeace Argentina’s Forests campaign. Yet little has been done so far to control them.

“Deforestation in important river basins has repeatedly caused flooding in Argentina,” he says. “There was Tartagal [in Salta] in 2009, and in Santa Fe in 2007, where the local university reported a direct link with deforestation in the north of the province. These incidents keep on occurring, and we argue that they are not just down to natural causes but have been influenced by man.

“It is not about a lack of scientific information, but of political will.”

The Agri-Boom

The expansion of the agricultural sector has been a feature of economic development in the Southern Cone countries in recent decades. Driven by elevated market prices and the proliferation of genetically modified seeds, the territory used to plant soy has doubled in Argentina since the turn of the century, with Paraguay and Brazil experiencing a similar story.

Seduced by rising export revenues and pressured by a powerful lobby, governments in the area have shown little appetite to place stringent restrictions on the large agribusinesses that dominate the sector.

“The three countries see in investment in agricultural and livestock a means of development for a poor region, but in reality this implies serious environmental and social problems. It’s a problem because the same countries favour greater production by any means, even at the cost of the trees and the people that live there,” says Giardini.

Illegal deforestation in Salta (Photo courtesy of Greenpeace Argentina)

Illegal deforestation in Salta (Photo courtesy of Greenpeace Argentina)

There has been new legislation introduced in the last decade to protect native forests: figures show that the 2009 ‘Forest Law‘ in Argentina and to a lesser the 2004 ‘Zero Deforestation Law’ in Paraguay have had a significant impact in slowing the rate of deforestation in some areas, especially in the Bosque Atlántico, though Jaramillo notes that this is also partly due to there being so little forest left.

Moreover, even when improvements are made in some territories, they are often undermined by limited scope or weak enforcement. In Paraguay, the Zero Deforestation Law applies only to the eastern part of the country, where WWF Paraguay says it has reduced deforestation by as much as 90%. In the west, however, deforestation in the Gran Chaco forest remains among the highest in the world, with 236,000 hectares cleared last year alone, according to Guyra, a private, non-profit environmental organisation.

In Argentina, too, the progress has been uneven. Earlier this year, Greenpeace Argentina launched a new campaign denouncing the provincial governor of Salta for issuing decrees that would allow the deforestation of 120,000 hectares in territory protected by the national Forest Law. Greenpeace says around 400,000 hectares of the Gran Chaco forest have already been cleared since the law was approved in 2009. “There is a clear decision at the provincial level not to comply with the law, and a clear decision by the national government not to pressure the regional authorities to do so,” says Giardini.

Dam Politics

The other major man-made contribution of increased flood risks, according to environmental groups, are the large hydroelectric dams that line major rivers. Together, the Iguazú and Uruguay Rivers have nearly a dozen large-scale dams either in operation or under construction, having a major impact on the natural water flow.

According to Jaramillo, who is based in Misiones, after the heavy rains in June led to rising water levels in dam reservoirs, the energy companies were obliged to open their flood gates to prevent damage, sending a surge of water that can have devastating consequences further downstream. It was this that led to water smashing a new dam under construction (Baixo Iguazú), causing the Iguazú river swell to 37 times its normal volume and forcing authorities to close access to the Iguazú Falls for several days.

“There are many issues that result in the dams having a negative impact on the local population, even if they are not directly responsible for the flooding,” says Jaramillo. This includes the creation of massive reservoirs in forested areas: building one of the world’s largest dams, Itaipú, on the Paraná River involved flooding an area of 1350km2. “Changing the surface of the earth from one that can absorb water to one that contains water itself has a big effect [on drainage].”

The debate over the environmental impact of hydroelectric dams, which ostensibly represent a clean and renewable source of energy, is arguably even more contentious. In the search for energy self-sufficiency without carbon emissions, many South American countries have turned to large hydroelectric power projects, accepting the environmental and social impact on local wildlife and communities that are displaced by reservoirs.

Paraguay already generates enough hydroelectric power to satisfy its entire energy needs through its huge bi-national dams with Brazil (Itaipú) and Argentina (Yacyretá), both of which lie on the Paraná River. Meanwhile, Brazil and Argentina are moving forward with projects for two dams (Garabí and Panambí) on the Uruguay River, dams that Jaramillo says would have made the recent flooding much worse by slowing the discharge of excess water towards the Río de la Plata.

Even aside from environmental concerns, recent research suggests that these mega projects are not even a viable economic solution for developing countries. A data study published earlier this year by Oxford University revealed that building large dams typically take nearly a decade with cost overruns of around 90%. The report highlights that the Itaipú Dam, one of the largest in the world, cost 240% more than budgeted, while Yacyretá took nearly three decades to complete and was shrouded in so many murky political and business dealings that it became known as “a monument to corruption”.

It can take decades of full operation for these dams to recover the initial outlay, during which time the project remains vulnerable to economic or political crises that affect energy markets. The economic life of a dam can also be cut short if excess sediment carried in rivers – itself a symptom of deforestation – gradually fills up the reservoir and reduces the dam’s capacity to generate energy over time.

The Itaipú Dam from the air. Recent research from Oxford University claims the dam, one of the biggest in the world, may never recover the full costs of its construction. (Photo via Wikipedia)

The Itaipú Dam from the air. Recent research from Oxford University claims the dam, one of the biggest in the world, will never recover the full costs of its construction (Photo via Wikipedia)

Though Yacyretá now produces around 20% of Argentina’s electricity needs, Jaramillo says the communities in Misiones most affected by the dam’s haphazard construction do not see the benefits because the energy generated is not suitable for the local power infrastructure.

“The energy produced by flooding rivers in Misiones goes to feed cities like Rosario or Buenos Aires,” he says. “It would be more logical and useful for the development of the local economy to use smaller hydro projects to generate energy for local residents and industry but without affecting large areas of land or involving astronomical constructions.”

Preparing for the Future

According to forecasts from the Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change (IPCC), rainfall anomalies (positive or negative) will be larger for tropical areas of Latin America, while the frequency and intensity of weather extremes is likely to increase. The region is already bracing itself for the possibility of an El Niño event later this year, which meteorologists say could lead to above-average rainfall and accentuate the threat of extreme downpours in the Spring and Summer months.

A man uses a boat to travel around his neighbourhood in El Soberbio, Misiones (Photo: Sofia Schiavoni)

A man uses a boat to travel around his neighbourhood in El Soberbio, Misiones (Photo: Sofia Schiavoni)

As the probability of recurring natural disasters like flooding and landslides rises, considering how human activity can exacerbate the damages caused has never been more important. Even more so as Argentina plans to increase its output of grains by 60% before the end of the decade, a programme that Greenpeace’s Giardini says could further undermine the Forest Law.

Moreover, estimated 412 large dams are planned or under construction in the Amazon basin alone, according to a report released in Lima a few months ago. The study concluded that this “hydroelectric experiment on a continental scale” could lead to the “end of free-flowing rivers” and “ecosystem collapse”.

“It’s a big challenge,” says Jaramillo, who nevertheless remains optimistic. “A lot of forest cover has been lost, but we have managed to reduce the rate of deforestation and create more awareness. The challenge now is to work closely with the political sector.

“We believe it is still possible to revert the situation, so that in 50 or 100 years the Bosque Atlántico still exists and society learns to live in harmony with the forests while also obtaining the necessary resources for genuinely sustainable development.”

Posted in Environment, Social IssuesComments (0)

Brazil: 31 People Rescued from Slavery in São Paulo


Those rescued were forced to work 15 hours a day in unhygienic and unsafe conditions (photo via SRTE/SP)

Those rescued were forced to work 15 hours a day in unhygienic and unsafe conditions (photo via SRTE/SP)

Authorities have rescued 31 people found working in “slave-like conditions” in the centre of São Paulo. The 19 Bolivian and 12 Haitian nationals were discovered in two textile workshops after a tip off from the dressmakers’ union.

According to the Regional Superintendence of Work and Employment in São Paulo (SRTE-SP), the 12 Haitian and two Bolivian victims found in one of the workshops were forced to work up to 15 hours a day for two months in unsafe and unhygienic conditions. They slept on old mattresses or on the floor and were not given sufficient food supplies. Those who complained about not being paid were denied food rations. The SRTE-SP added that this is the first time that Haitians have been rescued from slavery in the city.

In the other workshop, in which a 15-year-old pregnant girl was among the 17 Bolivians rescued, food was stored with cleaning products or on the floor. Faulty and exposed wiring also created a fire hazard, according to the SRTE-SP press release. The workers received R$700 a month, less than the minimum wage in Brazil, and had their IDs confiscated to prevent them from leaving.

The workshops produced items used by Brazilian clothing brands, As Marias and Seike, which have been fined, according to authorities. A spokesperson for As Marias told local NGO Reporter Brasil that the company had outsourced production to a third party and was unaware of the workers’ conditions.

“Slavery is a crime and a national disgrace,” said SRTE-SP superintendent Luiz Antonio Medeiros. “In São Paulo we are introducing harsher punishments for companies that use slave labour in their chain of production.” Medeiros claimed that from now on, guilty companies will be entered onto a blacklists and have tax benefits removed. According to the Labour Ministry, there are currently 609 companies blacklisted for subjecting workers to slave-like conditions.

Those directly responsible for holding workers in slave conditions, meanwhile, could face up to eight years in prison.

Posted in News From Latin America, Round Ups Latin AmericaComments (0)

Brazil: Marina Silva to Replace Dead PSB Candidate


PSB presidential candidate Marina Silva (photo: José Cruz/ABr)

PSB presidential candidate Marina Silva (photo: José Cruz/ABr)

Former senator and environmental activist Marina Silva was appointed yesterday as the presidential candidate for the Partido Socialista Brasileiro (PSB), after the death of party leader Eduardo Campos in a plane crash last week.

Silva’s joining of the presidential race changes the political landscape, complicating the so far comfortable position of favourite Dilma Rousseff. A recent poll for Datafolha, conducted after the death of Campos, shows that President Rousseff could obtain 36% of the votes in the first round on 5th October, whilst Silva comes second with 21% (12 points more than Campos), and Aecio Neves of the Partido da Social Democracia Brasileira (PSDB) a close third with 20% of the vote. However, in the event of a second round on 26th October -which would be held if no candidate reaches 50% of the votes- the poll suggests Silva could beat Rousseff by 47% to 43%.

Silva will be joined by vice-presidential candidate Luiz Roberto ‘Beto’ de Albuquerque, a deputy representing the state of Rio Grande do Sul. Albuquerque has been linked to the agribusinesses that environmentalist Silva opposes, which have contributed funds to his political campaigns. He is expected to mediate between Silva and the representatives of the rural sector.

Silva’s campaign team has decided to not accept funds from companies that produce tobacco, arms, and alcoholic beverages. She has also announced she will not campaign in districts where she disapproves of the local alliances established by the PSB, such as Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, Santa Catarina, and Paraná.

A “Black Woman of Humble Origins”

Marina Silva was born in 1958 in the city of Rio Branco, capital of the state of Acre, near the border with Peru and Bolivia. The descendent of black slaves and Portuguese immigrants, her father worked in the rubber plantations in the countryside and her mother died when Marina was 14.

At age 16, Silva moved to Rio Branco to get treatment for hepatitis, and there she learned to read and write. She then worked as a maid, obtained a history degree in university, and became involved in politics and unionism. In 1985, together with union leader Chico Mendes, she founded the local branch of the Unified Workers’ Central (CUT) and became a member of the Partido dos Trabalhadores (PT).

In 1988 Silva obtained the only left-wing seat in the local Rio Branco council, and in that same year her friend Chico Mendes was murdered. In 1990 she was elected to the state congress of Acre, and in 1994 to the federal Senate in representation of her state. In 2003, she was appointed by the newly elected president Luiz Inácio ‘Lula’ Da Silva as Environment Minister.

During her term at the Ministry, Brazil reduced the rate of deforestation in the Amazon, created new natural reserves, and arrested hundreds of people for environmental crimes. However, she lost the battle against the expansion of transgenic crops and nuclear energy. Her relationship with other members of Lula’s government, such as then-minister Dilma Rousseff, was difficult, and she also denounced receiving pressure from some state governors who opposed her measures against deforestation in the Amazon. She resigned on 13th May 2008, citing differences with the Lula administration’s environmental outlook, and returned to her seat in the Senate.

In 2010, Silva ran for president in representation of the Partido Verde and obtained almost 20m votes (19% of the total). Back then, she expressed her desire to be “the first black woman of humble origins” to reach the Brazilian presidency.

Upon the announcement of her candidacy, Silva said that, if elected, she plans to favour technological development in the rural sector in order to increase productivity whilst decreasing the exploitation of natural resources and ratified her commitment to economic measures such as inflation goals, a floating exchange rate, and fiscal responsibility.

In terms of social policies, she has rejected reforms such as the legalisation of abortion, drugs, and homosexual marriage, based on her evangelical faith. Her religious views could cost her votes amongst the Catholic majority and socially progressive sectors, though they could attract the growing number of Evangelical Christians.

Posted in News From Latin America, Round Ups Latin AmericaComments (0)

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