Having already failed, the Rio Olympics may now suceed

Paulo Sotero – The Financial Times, 07/25/2016

Desfile olímpico de alunos da rede municipal do Rio

A um ano dos Jogos Rio 2016, alunos e professores da rede municipal, participam de desfile olímpico no Parque Madureira, na zona norte da cidade (Tânia Rêgo/Agência Brasil)

Judging by media reports and official statements, this year’s Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro were a flop well before the August 5 opening ceremony. But if history is any guide, the games stand a reasonable chance of being seeing as satisfactory by the time the estimated 10,000 participating athletes return home. Whether it’s the Olympics in Athens, Beijing, London and Sochi or the soccer World Cup in South Africa and Brazil, a disaster-to-success reversal has been the standard narrative of all recent major global sporting events.

The Rio Olympics, the first to take place in South America, may yet turn out to be a special case. With the threat of a terrorist attack seen as a real possibility after the July 21 arrests of 10 Brazilians identified by local authorities as sympathisers of the so-called Islamic State, the only catastrophes that can be discarded are hurricanes, earthquakes and tsunamis, which are rare on the Atlantic coast of South America.

Most forms of man-made disaster, including pollution, pestilence, engineering failure, crime, massive corruption, recession and political meltdown have hit Rio and Brazil as city and country raced against the clock to make final preparation for the games. Ample and mostly fair coverage of bad news by the local press was, as expected, amplified by the international media.

The foul state of the waters in parts of Guanabara Bay and Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas, where some of the nautical events are scheduled to take place, and the Zika virus epidemic, have led doctors from around the world to call for a suspension of the games. A few renowned Olympians said they would stay away. In June, Rio’s acting governor declared a state of “public calamity” in order to free $800m in federal funds urgently needed to complete public works connecting Olympic venues, finish construction of housing for athletes and pay late salaries to public servants, including policemen. To dramatise the situation, some police officers staged a demonstration at Rio’s international airport welcoming visitors to “hell”.

Although violence in general and violence against women have trended down in recent years, the group rape of a young woman and the invasion of a public hospital by a narco gang to free a traffic boss have kept crime in the headlines. In mid-June, Rio’s mayor, Eduardo Paes, said in an interview with CNN that Rio’s police, controlled by the state government and not by him, were doing a “terrible” job. A few days later he said, quite accurately, that “the Rio Olympics are a missed opportunity” for Brazil to showcase itself on the global stage as a rising power.

That is what former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva had in mind when he travelled to London in 2009 to lobby the International Olympic Committee to award this year’s games to Brazil. Today Lula is a diminished if not disgraced politician. He faces two federal criminal investigations and is manoeuvring to stay out of jail. In mid July, the former president was indicted by the attorney general for attempting to obstruct a federal investigation on a massive corruption scandal involving state oil giant Petrobras, which is headquartered in Rio. Exposed in 2014, the Petrobras case has added fuel to a governance crisis that has crippled Brazil’s public finances, compromised investors and public confidence in the economy and thrown the country into its worst recession in a century. Seen as the economic disaster’s architect, Lula’s successor and protégée, Dilma Rousseff, was suspended in April by the House of Representatives and will likely be removed from office at the conclusion of her impeachment trial in the Senate in the weeks following the Olympics closing ceremony.

The scandal led to the arrests of more than a hundred businesses executives, senior bureaucrats and shady political operatives. A slew of former and current elected officials are under investigation or have been indicted, among them a former speaker of the House of Representatives, the current president of the Senate, two dozen members of Congress and ministers appointed by both Rousseff and her former ally and vice-president, Michel Temer, who took office as acting president in May pending the resolution of the impeachment process.

Against this depressing backdrop, Brazilians are not exactly looking forward to hosting the world’s greatest sporting festival. Support for the games has dropped from 92 per cent in 2009 to less than half of that today. Among cariocas, as the 6.5m inhabitants of Rio are known, barely 40 per cent say they are interested in the games. Tens of thousands of Brazilians from other parts of the country who had planned to attend have opted out because of the economic crisis, which has left more than 11m people jobless. Likewise, the number of foreign visitors will probably be much lower than the half a million that were once expected in Rio during the Olympics.

Ironically, such abysmally low expectations may help create a positive perception once the games get under way. With a security apparatus of 85,000 in place, Rio will probably be one of the safest places on the planet in August – in the absence of a terrorist attack. The myriad problems facing Brazilians will not prevent them from welcoming visitors and making sure they enjoy the music, the dance, the beaches and the nightlife Rio offers in abundance. With the first signs of investors’ confidence on the horizon and economists predicting a return to economic growth in 2017, a disaster-free Olympics could even help the country restore some of its lost self-esteem and project virtues the Brazilian people and some of their institutions have displayed in the face of unprecedented crisis and chaos.

Such efforts could start with the show that will precede the opening ceremony and the parade of athletes marching behind their countries’ flags before the lighting of the Olympic torch. Stealing a page from the London Olympics, which opened with a memorable display on the UK’s challenges and achievements, producers could add a scene featuring cars of the Federal Police and actors representing federal law enforcement officers, prosecutors and judges to symbolise the country’s ongoing offensive against systemic corruption and the impunity of criminals in high places, which is supported by nine out of ten Brazilians. The scene would certainly be well received.

So should peaceful rallies that both sympathisers and critics of Rousseff say they will organise to amplify their views before international audiences watching the Olympics. Compared with the scenes of hatred and violence from around the world seen daily on television, the civil manner in which Brazilians have been demonstrating their frustrations and dealing with their differences has been quite refreshing. It should be celebrated along with the Olympians who will gather in Rio to, once again, show humanity’s better face.

Paulo Sotero is director of the Brazil Institute at the Woodrow Wilson International Center of Scholars in Washington, DC.

Rio mayor offers Australians a kangaroo over Olympics village fears

James Griffiths – CNN, 07/25/2016

The mayor of Rio de Janeiro has offered to get a kangaroo for the Australian Olympic team after they refused to move into the Athletes’ Village over safety fears.

“We want them to feel at home here,” Eduardo Paes said. “I almost feel like putting a kangaroo to jump up and down in front of their building.”
The Australian Olympic Committee said in a statement Sunday that its athletes are staying in hotels rather than the village due to the condition of the official accommodation.

For Brazil’s Women, Laws Are Not Enough To Deter Rampant Violence

Lulu Garcia-Navarro – NPR, 07/24/2016

On the day she was killed, Alexsandra Moreira thought she was safe. She thought she had managed to break away and protect herself.

Her brother even escorted her to the bus station that morning to make sure she was OK on her way to work.

“When she got on the bus, my brother told her, ‘If anything happens, just call me.’ Ten minutes later, his phone rang and it was her. All he could hear was her screaming, pleading for help,” Moreira’s sister, Andreza da Silva, says.

Read More & Listen to the Recording…

 

Brazil Authorities Arrest 12th Suspect in Alleged Olympics Terror Plot

Rogerio Jelmayer and Luciana Magalhaes – The Wall Street Journal, 07/25/2016

SÃO PAULO—Brazilian authorities on Sunday arrested a 12th suspect they say was part of a group allegedly plotting to conduct terrorist attacks during the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro next month.

In a brief statement, the Federal Police said late Sunday that the man was arrested in the city of Comodoro, in the central-western state of Mato Grosso. He will be questioned and later sent to a Federal prison, according to the statement.

The suspect is Leonid el Kadre de Melo, a 32-year-old mechanic, according to a person familiar with the investigation. The man was the last being sought by Brazilian authorities for allegedly planning attacks during the Olympics.

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Brazil keen to open trade talks with UK

Joe Leahy – The Financial Times, 07/22/2016

Brazil will push for immediate trade talks with the UK under the auspices of South America’s trading bloc, Mercosur, once Britain’s new foreign secretary Boris Johnson has settled into the job, Brazil’s foreign minister José Serra said.

While Brazil took no position on Brexit — Britain’s vote to leave the EU last month — Mr Serra said Latin America’s largest economy was keen to supplement existing free trade talks between Mercosur and the EU with similar negotiations with the UK.

Mercosur rules require Brazil and the bloc’s other members — Argentina, Uruguay, Venezuela and Paraguay — to jointly negotiate any trade deals with external entities.

Read more…

Political Crisis Opens Up Space for Dialog With the United States – Crise Amplia Espaços de Diálogo com os EUA

Paulo Sotero –  Revista Interesse Nacional, 06/06/2016

The impeachment of Dilma Rousseff and the crisis that it generated was not a surprise to Washington. The interim government of Michel Temer and its foreign policy emphasis were well received and opens space for a renewal of bilateral dialogue and cooperation at a time when Latin America is changing and opening  up, as shown by the election of President Macri in Argentina, the normalization of US-Cuban relations and the breakdown of the Chavez regime in Venezuela. Washington does not underestimate the challenges the political crises for Brazilians, such as the exhaustion of state capitalism and the failure of its corrupt political class and of the system that produced it.  Add to the mix the uncertainties generated  by rise of populist candidates, from both the right and the left, in the presidential campaign in the Unite States. The desire of the Obama administration to invest in  a  deeper relations with Brazil remains, but won’t be acted on before  the impeachment of Dilma Rousseff is concluded, the  Temer administration consolidates its position and the outcome of the  November 8th elections in the United States is known. The good news is that the difficulties open time and political space for government officials and other interested parties to  prepare the way for productive initiatives.

Read the Article in Portuguese…

 

Where Policy Does Not Fully Address Reality – Abortion in Brazil

Therese Kuester – The Brazil Institute, 07/21/2016

Politicians promote, or at least have on their agendas, policies that better the conditions of their own kind. This is often the rationale for people’s assumption that a female president looks to improve the condition of women in her country, especially on issues concerning reproductive choices, access to education, political representation and sexual assault. Brazil is one of a handful of nations that boasts, at least for now, a female president. As President Dilma Rousseff undergoes her impeachment trial, which is most likely to end in August with her removal from office  and with a recent Zika outbreak highlighting reproductive concerns, it seems to be appropriate to ask what this female president has done for her fellow women, with abortion being a central issue.

In what Brazilian news network, O Globo, referred to as Dilma Rousseff’s first public  stance on abortion, they paint the female President as a strong advocate for providing abortion in government operated clinics of the “Sistema Unico de Saude” (SUS) in the case of rape. Indeed, in 2013 President Rousseff supported the approval of a bill (Lei 12.845) that ensures that women who have been raped or assaulted receive immediate care and permission for abortion through state care. According to the President’s press secretary at the time, during the Worker’s party’s thirteen year tenure there was a reduction in deaths due to botched abortions thanks to an expansion of public health services for women. This information was published in a report by the government think tank IPEA (Instituto de Pesquisa Economica Aplicada) report using the national Health Ministry’s data from their Sistema de Informacoes sobre Mortalidade (SIM) which Globo compares with other statistics, showing that there was not as drastic of a drop in the maternal mortality as Rousseff seems to focus on.  Even so, while Rousseff claims that there has been a 54% decline in maternal deaths in 22 years, 1.5 thousand Brazilian women still die each year due to improperly performed abortions. Dilma’s support of the bill contradicts a 2010 campaign promise she made to religious lobbyists, promising she would not seek to alter abortion legislation.

While O Globo examines Rousseff’s accomplishments, they do not provide general statistics on abortions or an explanation of current  legislation. Abortion, as in many countries in Latin America except for Uruguay and Cuba, has been illegal in Brazil since the development of the 1940 penal code (WSJ 2016). There are only three exceptions: a threat to the mother’s life,  evidence that the baby has anencephaly (absence of brain development) and in the case of rape. If a woman seeks an abortion, and is not included in these exceptions, she can be imprisoned for one to three years. Furthermore, if the woman is harmed by the abortion provider, the prison sentence given to the person who performed the abortion can be up to four years and to six if the woman dies. In an article published in March of 2016, Reuters describes how these punishments are enforced and often result in the raid of abortion clinics and the arrest of doctors.

Anti-abortion legislation is strongly defended by religious lobbies, which also advocate for complete criminalization of abortion. Since 1940, when the Brazilian penal code was enacted, the Catholic Church has been very vocal against any type of legalization of abortion. In recent years,  Evangelical Churches have often taken the lead on anti-abortion campaigns . Almost two thirds of Brazilians identify as Catholic, and while this percentage has been in decline in recent years, millions of Brazilians have become members of the Evangelical Church. Several senior politicians, such as Congressman Eduardo Cunha, the former speaker of the Chamber of Deputies, have been vocal about the need to get rid of the exceptions, and want to pave the way to completely criminalize abortions. In the past 70 years 53 abortion-related bills have been tabled by religiously-minded politicians and public support for current abortion laws remains high at almost 82%. Out of the plethora of political parties, Dilma’s Worker’s Party and the Communist Party are the only two to have spoken about legislation of abortion as a matter of public health.

Despite these strict rules and religious views, women have not been stopped from seeking abortions. Over half (56%) of unwanted pregnancies end with abortion. This adds up to around one million abortions being performed in Brazil each year. Many of these abortions are performed in clandestine conditions or are self-induced, with the Guttmacher Institute reporting that at least 10% of pregnancy-related deaths were because of such unsafe abortions, and 760,000 women are hospitalized each year for treatment from complications. According to the Guttmacher report, 26% of all abortions are self-induced, with 26% of respondents reporting self-administering drugs, compared to the 18% who use the mainstream medication called Misoprostol. Many women responded that they chose this method because physicians and drugs are expensive and hard to come by.

Ato em defesa da descriminalização do aborto

Véspera do Dia Nacional de Redução da Mortalidade Materna, feministas em ato na Praça XV, defendem a descriminalização do aborto e destaca o alto índice de mortes em abortos clandestinos (Fernando Frazão/Agência Brasil)

While O Globo says that President Dilma Rousseff takes credit for an increase in access to safer abortions, the data could suggest that there needs to be an expansion on access to abortions beyond those who qualify under the three exceptions. With over one million abortions each year, and a probable increase in the demand with the threat of microcephaly due to Zika, many woman could take extreme measures to terminate a pregnancy which could turn into a public health crisis.

Therese is a staff intern at the Brazil Institute