Inside the Pedrinhas prison complex, one of Brazil’s most notorious jails [Photo report]

January 30, 2015

David Sim – International Business Times, 1/30/2015

The overcrowded Pedrinhas prison complex in Maranhao state, Brazil, is notorious for gang warfare and riots. About 75 inmates have been killed since 2013, including three who were brutally beheaded during a riot between rival gangs at the hellish penitentiary.

A gory video showing the beheaded bodies of two inmates lying in a pool of blood on the floor was uploaded to YouTube in January 2014.

Built for 1,700 inmates, the facility holds more than 2,500. Overcrowding is one of the primary causes of rioting and violence in Brazil’s prisons. Brazil now has the fourth-largest prison population in the world behind the US, Russia and China. The population of those imprisoned in Brazil has quadrupled in the past 20 years to around 550,000 and the country needs at least 200,000 new incarceration spaces.

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In Brazil, a new bus fare increase elicits tepid protests this time

January 29, 2015

Vincent Bevins – Los Angeles Times, 1/29/2015

In June 2013, an 8-cent bus fare increase spurred student-led protests that quickly grew into a wider movement in which more than a million people took to the streets nationwide to denounce Brazil’s poor public services, government corruption and police abuse.

That price increase was shelved. But this month, amid a series of difficult spending cuts and tax hikes, authorities have raised fares again, this time by 20 cents, to $1.35.

A new round of protests led by the same student groups has begun but has failed to catch on with the wider population.

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Syrians find safety, hospitality in São Paulo

January 22, 2015

Matt Sandy – Al Jazeera, 1/22/2015

Three-year-old Mirna held a doll in one hand and played with her tangled coffee-colored hair in the other. She flashed a smile and asked, “Tudo bem?”

The ubiquitous Brazilian greeting was expressed with its trademark positivity. Mirna, who was born in Damascus three months after the start of the Syrian civil war, is learning Portuguese fast.

Having arrived in Latin America’s largest city just weeks before, for the first time in her life she was enjoying being out in the sunshine and meeting new people. Before, she remained hidden with her family in their home, hearing it shake with every nearby explosion.

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Brazil’s record drought still crippling Sao Paulo’s main reservoir well into wet season

January 21, 2015

Eric Zerkel – The Weather Channel, 01/20/2015

 

Sao Paulo, Brazil’s largest city, is still reeling from its worst drought in more than 80 years halfway through the wet season, with below average rainfall totals doing little to ease the dire state of the city’s reservoirs.

Government officials and residents alike invested much hope in a boisterous wet season to help pull the area out of drought.

So bad is the drought, that back in October, Vincente Andreu, president of Brazil’s National Water Agency, warned that “If it doesn’t rain, we run the risk that the region will have a collapse like we’ve never seen before.”

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Haitians Migrate to Brazil in Droves as Country Continues Long Earthquake Recovery

January 15, 2015

Eva Hershaw – VICE News, 1/15/2015

When a 7.0 magnitude earthquake shook Haiti for 35 seconds five years ago, killing hundreds of thousands of people and leaving millions injured and homeless, Exzaire Dorestin was finding his rhythm as a performer known as DJ Osymix. He lost a cousin who was living in the capital of Port-au-Prince when the quake hit, but his hometown of Gonaïves, located nearly 100 miles to the north, survived relatively unscathed. For a while, his music business even continued to grow. He played at nightclubs as foreign workers and aid dollars poured into the country.

“We felt the earthquake in Gonaïves and we knew it was strong,” Dorestin told VICE News. “Our city got lucky, though. We didn’t see all the death that they saw in Port-au-Prince.”

But the economic aftershocks of the disaster soon reached the countryside, affecting Haitians with little or nothing to give. Dorestin’s livelihood diminished, and his family had difficulty making ends meet. By 2013, he had sold his music equipment and bought a ticket to Ecuador, which requires no entry visa for foreigners. From Quito, he hired smugglers to move him through the Peruvian cities of Lima and Cusco and the country’s remote Madre de Dios jungle region to Brazil.

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Rio protest: Brazil police demand tougher protection laws

December 15, 2014

AP – BBC News, 12/15/2014

Hundreds of Brazilian police officers and their relatives have taken part in a protest in Rio de Janeiro to demand tougher legislation for crimes against the police.

They are demanding changes in the penal code so that the killing of police officers be treated as heinous crimes. Eighty officers were killed in the line of duty in Rio this year alone.

In most cases, they died fighting the criminal gangs that control many of the city’s shantytowns, or favelas. During the week, protesters laid crosses on the sand of Copacabana beach with the names of the dead. Wearing predominantly black, some 500 people staged a march on Sunday to raise awareness to the problem.

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Brazil’s dictatorship: The final reckoning

December 12, 2014

The Economist (print edition) – 12/13/2014

For a country whose recent presidents all suffered at the hands of the military regime that ruled from 1964 to 1985, Brazil has been awfully slow to probe that dark chapter of its history. Dilma Rousseff, the incumbent, was tortured. Her two immediate predecessors, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and Fernando Henrique Cardoso, were respectively jailed and forced into exile. On December 10th, after nearly three years of sleuthing, the National Truth Commission presented its report into human-rights abuses committed from 1946 to 1988, with special attention to the dictatorship years. “Brazil deserves the truth,” said Ms Rousseff, who cried upon receiving the report.

The 4,400-page publication stands out among similar efforts in other countries. It names 377 individuals as responsible for 434 political murders and disappearances. They include all eight military presidents and the top brass, as well as minions who carried out their orders. Their crimes were deliberate acts of policy, not occasional excesses, the report makes clear.

Most culprits are either dead or in their dotage. Under an amnesty law enacted in 1979 (to benefit exiled dissidents) few will face trial. The commission hopes its report will prompt a rethink of the amnesty, which falls foul of human-rights treaties. But for now, symbolism must suffice. While no substitute for justice, admits José Miguel Vivanco of Human Rights Watch, a New York-based lobby group, “it is a start”.

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