Brazil: Reforms Fail to End Torture

July 28, 2014

Human Rights Watch, 7/28/2014

Torture remains a serious problem in Brazil despite recent measures to curb the practice, Human Rights Watch said today in a letter to the Brazilian Congress. Congress should approve a bill that would safeguard against ill-treatment of detainees by requiring officials to physically present them before a judge for a “custody hearing” within 24 hours of arrest.

Human Rights Watch found compelling evidence in 64 cases of alleged abuse since 2010 that security forces or prison authorities engaged in cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment against people in their custody. In 40 of these cases, the evidence supported the conclusion that the abuse rose to the level of torture. While these abuses often occur in the first 24 hours in police custody, detainees typically must wait for three months or more before they see a judge to whom they can directly report the abuse.

“Brazil has taken important steps to confront the problem of torture, but much more is needed,” said Maria Laura Canineu, Brazil director at Human Rights Watch. “So long as detainees wait months to see a judge, they’re far less likely to report the abuses they’ve suffered – and by then, the physical evidence may well have disappeared.”

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Andres Oppenheimer: World Cup has been a failure for Brazil

June 23, 2014

Andres Oppenheimer – Miami Herald, 6/21/2014

The World Cup is far from over, but it’s not too early to declare it a failure for Brazil: The country has missed a golden opportunity to rebrand itself as an emerging technological power, and to upgrade its stereotype of being the nation of carnival, beaches and soccer.

Here are some of the stories you are not hearing from the more than 5,000 journalists from 70 countries who have traveled to Brazil to cover the world’s biggest sporting event, and who in recent weeks — before the opening of the games — have written extensively about the country:

• Brazil is one of the world’s leading aircraft manufacturers. It’s Embraer aircraft maker is the world leader in production of mid-size passenger planes, which it sells to American Airlines, United Airlines, Air France, Lufthansa and nearly 80 other commercial airlines.

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Brazilian congress to investigate ballooning World Cup costs

July 18, 2013

Reuters, 07/17/2013

The Brazilian Congress will investigate the billions of dollars spent on soccer stadiums for next year’s World Cup, one of the main complaints that fueled massive street protests last month against the country’s political establishment.

Lawmakers gathered enough signatures to establish a joint investigation by both chambers of Congress that will look into cost overruns and allegations of corruption in the building or overhaul of 12 stadiums that will host the global soccer event.

The signatures still have to be verified and the petition confirmed by both chambers, which will not happen until August, allowing time for the government to convince lawmakers to withdraw their support and scuttle the probe.

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Farmers v Ameridians

June 13, 2013

The Economist, 06/15/2013

WHEN Brazil’s constitution was adopted in 1988, five years was meant to be enough to decide which areas should be declared Amerindian tribal lands. Nearly 25 years later, the country has 557 indigenous territories covering 13% of its area, most of them in the Amazon. But more than 100 others are still being considered. The delay is causing conflict in long-farmed regions farther south.

In the past month several Terena Indians have been injured and one killed in confrontations with police and farmers in Sidrolândia in Mato Grosso do Sul (see map). It is just the latest flashpoint in a heavily agricultural state that is home to less than a tenth of Brazil’s 900,000 Indians, but more than half of those murdered since 2003. Federal security forces have been sent to keep the peace at Sidrolândia. Funai, the agency that advises the federal government on demarcation, is under fire in Congress and faces losing some of its powers. On June 7th its boss stepped down, citing ill health.

In the past month several Terena Indians have been injured and one killed in confrontations with police and farmers in Sidrolândia in Mato Grosso do Sul (see map). It is just the latest flashpoint in a heavily agricultural state that is home to less than a tenth of Brazil’s 900,000 Indians, but more than half of those murdered since 2003. Federal security forces have been sent to keep the peace at Sidrolândia. Funai, the agency that advises the federal government on demarcation, is under fire in Congress and faces losing some of its powers. On June 7th its boss stepped down, citing ill health.

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Brazil grapples with dysfunctional Congress

April 11, 2013

Joe Leahy – The Washington Post/Financial Times, 04/10/2013

The YouTube video of Marcos Feliciano, a Brazilian evangelical pastor and federal congressman, would be funny were it not so tragic.

In it, the preacher derides a member of his congregation for giving him a credit card without the PIN number during collection time.

“This is the last time I’ll say it, Samuel de Souza gave his card but not the password. That doesn’t count,” he scowls, as other brethren hand in checks for 500 to 1,000 real ($250 to $500) and even a motorbike.

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A richer Brazil grants its maids daycare, overtime

March 28, 2013

Brad Haynes – Reuters, 03/27/2013

After decades as second-class citizens under Brazil’s constitution, maids and caretakers have finally won an equal seat at the table.

A constitutional amendment that Congress passed late Tuesday will remove a clause treating domestic servants as a distinct category of worker – a striking reminder of how an economic boom over the past decade has chipped away at Brazil’s vast inequalities.

“We are finally burying the slave quarters,” Senator Antonio Carlos Valadares told his colleagues from the floor of the chamber before they unanimously approved the amendment.

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Cuban dissident blogger inflames splits in Brazil’s Congress

February 21, 2013

Anthony Boadle – Reuters, 02/20/2013

Cold War politics appeared to take over Brazil’s Congress on Wednesday during a visit by Cuban blogger Yoani Sanchez, with leftists heckling her as a pawn of U.S. imperialism and others praising her for standing up to Cuba’s communist government.

Sanchez, Cuba’s best-known dissident, has been followed by boisterous sympathizers of the Cuban government since she arrived in Brazil on Monday on her first trip abroad since receiving a passport to leave the Caribbean island.

After the screening of a documentary about Cuba that she was due to attend in northeastern Brazil was disrupted by demonstrators, Brazilian opposition politicians invited Sanchez to the capital Brasilia for a showing of the documentary in Congress.

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Brazil`s zombie politicians. Unstoppable?

February 14, 2013

The Economist, 02/14/2013

“BRAZILIANS! You’ve just been taken for fools!” So wrote the organisers of an online petition calling for the impeachment of Renan Calheiros, who was elected president of Brazil’s Senate on February 1st. And on February 11th, though Carnival was in full swing, the petition notched up more than 1.36m signatures, 1% of the electorate. That gives its backers the right to present their demand to Congress, though they will have to wait until after February 19th to do so: whereas other Brazilians get three days off for Carnival, lawmakers enjoy two full weeks.

Mr Calheiros, a wheeler-dealer of the sort who excels in Brazil’s fragmented coalition politics, was president of the Senate from 2005 to 2007. But he resigned after allegations that a lobbyist had paid maintenance on his behalf to a lover with whom he had had a child, and that he then faked receipts for the sale of cattle to try to prove that he could have afforded to pay her himself. He denies all wrongdoing and has since stayed active in politics, but only behind the scenes. His allies in the Party of the Brazilian Democratic Movement (PMDB), Brazil’s largest, evidently judged it was time for him to return to centre-stage.

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Brazilian forestry bill splits nation

December 7, 2011

John Lyons – Wall Street Journal, 12/06/2011

An overview of the dense canopy and deforestation in the Amazon rain forest outside the city of Manaus, Brazil. Getty

The country’s Senate passed a controversial forestry bill sought by the powerful growers and ranchers of the country’s vast interior—and opposed by activists who say it would quicken illegal deforestation in the Amazon forest and other wilds.

The new forest code would reduce the amount of forest preserves farmers are required to keep when deforesting land, and pardon some past illegal deforestation among other measures. The bill must be reconciled with another version if it passed in the lower house of Congress in May, and then signed by the president to become law.

The bill is the single biggest piece of legislation to hit the Brazilian Congress during the first year of President Dilma Rousseff’s four-year term, and brings into relief concerns about the environmental costs of Brazil’s strategy to employ its vast natural resources to drive economic growth.

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Dilma tries to drain the swamp

August 22, 2011

The Economist – From the print edition, 08/20/2011

As another minister goes, Brazil’s president may find that the price of trying to clean up politics involves forgoing reforms the country needs

SHE arrived in the presidential palace with a reputation as a no-nonsense manager, but one who had never previously held elected office. Almost eight months into her term as Brazil’s president, Dilma Rousseff has found herself sucked into the political swamp that is Brasília. She has reacted firmly to corruption scandals, and is striving to trim budget pork and to fill senior government jobs on merit rather than through political connections. Her reward has been signs of mutiny in her coalition. With the world economy deteriorating, whether Ms Rousseff can impose her authority on her allies matters a lot for Brazil’s prospects.

In June the president dawdled before dispensing with Antonio Palocci, her chief of staff, after allegations of past influence-peddling had made his position untenable. Since then she has been quick to nip any scandal in the bud. When Veja, a weekly magazine, published evidence of systematic overbilling on contracts at the transport ministry, the president fired dozens of officials, including the minister. Next Veja reported on similar overpayments and kickbacks at the agriculture ministry. The number two at the ministry was sacked; on August 17th the minister, Wagner Rossi, a sidekick of the vice-president, Michel Temer, resigned. This month police arrested more than 30 officials in the tourism ministry, including the deputy minister, on suspicion of stealing public money intended for training hotel staff ahead of the 2014 football World Cup. In the midst of all this the president sacked the defence minister after he insulted some of her closest aides in an interview.

In all this Ms Rousseff is slowly putting her own stamp on a government that she inherited from her predecessor and political mentor, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. But the multiple scandals are straining her ramshackle coalition. This consists of over a dozen parties, ranging from communist to right-wing populist, that between them give her the nominal support of around three-quarters of Congress. The main interest of some of the coalition’s smaller members is not ideology but the extraction of jobs and money—for personal gain or party financing—from government. They are annoyed that Ms Rousseff has tried to rewrite the rules of the game.

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