quinta-feira, 30 de dezembro de 2010

Brazil Eager to be a Force of Change and Moderation in the Region

From Deutsche Welle

Thursday, December 30, 2010

On New Years Day, Brazilian Worker’s Party President-elect Dilma Rousseff takes over from her mentor, outgoing President Luis Inácio "Lula" da Silvia. She has big shoes to fill as she tries to emulate her predecessor.

Lula has an approval rating over 80 percent. His social welfare programs and economic policy have lifted millions out of poverty, paid off the country's debt to the IMF, and sailed South America's largest economy through the world financial crisis at over 7 percent growth a year.

Lula also set a new precedent in Brazilian foreign policy, lifting his country into the international arena like few have in Brazilian history. He increased dialogue with the emerging BRIC powers (Brazil, Russia, India and China) and in May 2010, negotiated the Iran-Turkey-Brazil nuclear deal.

But it was in Western Hemispheric relations where Lula truly carved his mark, and where Dilma will be expected to pick up where he leaves off. Lula quickly broke with the historic Brazilian position of bowing to US dominance in the region, and paved a new path for Brazilian foreign policy.

"Under Lula, Brazil began to see South America as an autonomous geopolitical region, separate from the United States and not subordinated," Igor Fuser, analyst and professor at the Cásper Libero University in São Paulo, told Deutsche Welle.

With Foreign Minister Celso Amorim, Brasilia shouldered its historic ties with the United States, blocking the US-sponsored Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) and turning toward South-South cooperation and regional integration. Under Lula, Brazil joined the Latin American leftward tide, embracing radical neighbors such as Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and Bolivian President Evo Morales.

Yet Lula was also willing to walk the line, negotiating and courting friendly relations with everyone, including the Unites States. In 2007, Lula signed ethanol agreements with then-President George W. Bush. This April, Brazil signed a bilateral military cooperation agreement with the US.

"It is a pragmatic foreign policy. It is a progressive, reformist, autonomist foreign policy, but it is not a foreign policy to challenge the center of global power, or the United States," said Fuser.

Foreign policy under Dilma

BRIC leaders

Dilma has promised to continue Lula's policies, "but it is going to be a lot more difficult than on the domestic front, because Lula's foreign policy is highly personalized. It has been probably one of the most personalized foreign policies in the history of Brazil," Oliver Stuenkel, visiting Professor in International Relations at the University of São Paulo and a Fellow at the Global Public Policy Institute, told Deutsche Welle.

"For example being at an IMF meeting and declaring that Brazil would start lending money to the IMF and then at home criticizing the IMF," said Stuenkel. "I think Lula was really able to align with developing countries and position himself as a leader of the South and also get along fairly well with the European countries and America."

Dilma lacks the personality of the charismatic Lula da Silva, which will make her job more difficult. However, she "is a good manager and a good technocrat," Adam Isacson, Regional Security Program Director of the Washington Office on Latin America, told Deutsche Welle. "Her foreign policy all depends on her choice of foreign minister."

At the beginning of the month, Dilma announced that she had picked 56-year-old career diplomat Antônio Patriota to fill the position of foreign minister. The move was expected and seen as a continuation of Lula's foreign policy under the Dilma administration. Patriota has worked with the current foreign minister for 15 years.

In another sign of continuity, Marco Aurélio Garcia will remain at his post of special foreign policy adviser under Dilma. In an interview in November, Garcia said that there will be no change in foreign policy under the new government, and that the president-elect won't shy away from intervening on the international scene as Lula has.

Patriota – a boost for Washington?

The future Foreign Minister Patriota is the current Brazilian Secretary General of Foreign Relations, but he spent more than two years as Brazilian Ambassador to the United States. The diplomat is still on good terms with Washington.

"There is no doubt that Patriota was very loved and respected in Washington," Peter Hakim, President of the Inter-American Dialogue Institute, recently told the Brazilian newspaper O Imparcial. "But he will have to modify at least the style of Amorim and Lula, adopting less conflictive positions with the United States, because in the best of the circumstances, the two countries are going to collide on many issues, while Brazil grows in importance."

Lula befriended the US but disagreed with Washington over Iran and criticized the US for its continued blockade against Cuba. In 2009 he denounced the Honduran coup d'état against President Manuel Zelaya. For four months Lula housed ousted-president Zelaya and his advisors in the Brazilian embassy in Teguciglapa, despite criticism from the United States.

Washington insiders say they are looking forward to the change in Brasilia. But president-elect Dilma has made it clear that the US is not at the core of Brazilian foreign policy as it once was. While Patriota may be a force of moderation in US-Brazilian relations, Brazilian insiders say that both the economic crisis and the US midterm elections will likely push Brazil to distance itself further from the United States.

"The first prognosis made by sectors close to the Lula government is that the Republican victory in the legislative elections in the US strengthened the certainty of maintaining more autonomous Brazilian foreign policy," said Fuser. "The political sector that supports the Dilma government is also very skeptical of US measures to combat the economic crisis."

Regional integration

Mercosur ministers

Over his nearly eight years in power Lula has mediated international conflicts between Venezuela and Colombia and overseen the inauguration of the EU-inspired Union of South American Nations (Unasur) in Brasilia. The Unasur South American Defense Council (SADC) was promoted by Lula's Defense Minister Nelson Jobim, and approved in late 2008. The region's countries have increased trade and collaboration over energy and development.

All signs point to continued policies of regional integration under Dilma. "Mercosur and South America will continue to be among the top priorities," said Dilma's foreign policy advisory Garcia in November.

But like her predecessor, Dilma is going to face resistance to both Mercosur and Unasur from Brazil's private sector - by far the largest in the region.

"The problems of regionalism in South America do not just depend on the political will of the Brazilian government. In terms of international affairs, Brazilian relations is represented above all by the businesses," said Fuser.

Brazilian companies are interested in increased access to new and expanding markets. Despite their involvement in the Southern Cone trade block, Mercosur, (Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay) Brazil's closest neighbors are not necessarily keen on powerful competition from their much larger competitors. And despite increased commercial ties in the region, the US is still Brazil's largest trading partner, followed closely by China, and then Argentina and Germany.

It is clear that with the planet's eighth-largest economy, and a population of just under 186 million people - nearly equaling all the other South American countries combined - Brazil is key to any regional projects. But there is a question over how much Brazil itself is willing to sacrifice to make integration a reality.

"If you look at Brazil in Mercosur, it's like Germany and France combined in the EU. It's by far the most important player, so everything basically depends on Brazil. Germany, for example has made huge efforts to promote integration. Germany has, to a large part, financed integration. It has really given up sovereignty. Brazil, in my opinion is not willing to do either," said Stuenkel.

Despite Brazil's new-found international prominence, Latin America's largest country is still wrestling with its own problems - poverty, inequality, violence, a failing education system and an antiquated tax regime - that Dilma says she will tackle first. For most Brazilians foreign policy was not even an issue in this year's elections.

"For us Brazilians, it wasn't of central importance, but in reality it is one of the most important points," said Fuser. "This Brazilian election was of huge international importance, with global implications."

Dilma may not have the charisma of President Lula, but after five years as Lula's chief of staff, she has proven herself a powerful woman. While some analysts believe that Lula will be directing the new government from behind the scenes, Dilma appears to have already found her own voice on several issues, albeit within the framework of Lula's policies.

"In South America, the Lula government was a force of change and moderation at the same time," said Fuser. "The new Dilma government doesn't see any reason to change direction. At the same time, it also doesn't see any reason for a radicalization."

segunda-feira, 6 de dezembro de 2010

Rio Crackdown—Cleaning Up Drug Gangs to Create the Olympic City

From New America Media

Monday, December 6, 2010

RIO DE JANEIRO—They are calling it: “D Day for the war against drug trafficking.” “Rio’s War.” “Elite Squad 3.” Rio de Janeiro residents are used to living with low-intensity warfare in their own backyard, as gangs and police duke it out in the city’s favelas (slums). But the last couple of weeks have been like nothing residents have ever seen before. They say it’s the largest such operation in Rio’s history and there is likely more to come.

While massive city-wide violence may be the immediate reason for the crackdown, just as important are two events still several years away: the World Cup, which is coming to Brazil in 2014, and the Summer Olympics, set for Rio two years later.

On Thursday, November 25, after days of violence thought to be incited by imprisoned gang leaders, 500 officers from Rio’s police force pushed their way into the Vila Cruzeiro, one of two major narco-trafficking strongholds in the northern part of the city. The officers were backed by six armored tanks lent from the marines—the first time this type of high-powered machinery was used in such an operation.

Knowing they couldn’t hold back the tanks, hundreds of gang members fled from Cruzeiro into the neighboring Complexo do Alemão, actually a mass of 15 favelas with 57,000 residents that has been under the control of drug gangs for three decades.

Three days later, some 2,600 military troops and police officers pushed into the Complexo do Alemão. Although there were small skirmishes, the police took the favela with little resistance, arresting at least 20 gang members and confiscating 13 tons of marijuana, 200 kilos of cocaine and 10 kilos of crack.

Analysts say these sort of police actions could become more common as Brazil’s leaders try to assure the rest of the world, and especially World Cup and Olympics officials, that the country is safe and stable.

Praise for Police—and Concern for Harsh Tactics

The police offensive—like something out of the wildly popular Elite Squad 1 and 2 movies (Tropa de Elite)—earned praise from the mainstream media. In Vila Cruzeiro and Complexo do Alemão, residents offered water to the arriving soldiers and made a record number of calls to the city’s gang hotline, providing tips on the whereabouts of gang members and drug and weapons caches. The overwhelming community support led one BOPE soldier to say that he had “never seen anything like it.”

Yet it seems that many innocent bystanders were also caught up in the raids. Isabel Cristina Jennerjahn, a member of the Network of Movements and Communities Against Violence, confirmed the sense of relief felt by the majority of was Vila Cruzeiro’s residents, but she told the Brazilian weekly Brasil de Fato that many people have also decided to move out. According to Jennerjahn, the BOPE ransacked several homes and prevented family members from collecting the bodies of traffickers killed during the action.

"I have never felt so humiliated," one Complexo do Alemão resident, who asked not to be identified, told IPSNews.net. She said that during the operation, the police smashed homes and mistreated "honest" workers like her cousin, who she said had nothing to do with "the crooks."

Some see a link between the harsh tactics and the fact that 60 percent of the forces involved in the favela occupations have spent time with the Brazil-led U.N. peacekeeping force in Haiti. “We’ve been warning that this would happen for a long time,” said Sandra Quintela of the Jubilee South Network, who has denounced the “constant” repression and human rights abuses carried out by the Brazilian force in that country. “They train there to practice here.”

In Rio, the day after the Vila Cruzeiro action, Amnesty International called on Rio’s police to act within the law.

According to the human rights group, Rio police have killed more than 500 people so far this year in so-called “acts of resistance.”

“This [narco] violence is totally unacceptable, but the police response has put communities at risk,” said Patrick Wilcken, the organization’s Brazil researcher. “The authorities must ensure that the security and well-being of the broader population comes first and foremost in any operation carried out in residential areas. The current wave of criminal violence is symptomatic of wider failures throughout the criminal justice system.”

From Drug Gangs, to Milicias, to UPPs

For many years, the fight between the gangs and police was at a relative, albeit violent, standstill. Payoffs. Skirmishes. Low-intensity warfare. The narcos knew their territory. Where the Police Battalion of Special Operations (BOPE) was able to kick the traffickers out, clandestine milicias sprouted up. Organized largely by plainclothes police and firefighters, these paramilitary groups took control of their areas, charging their own bribes in exchange for service and protection. By 2007, according to an Amnesty International report, milicias controlled 92 of Rio’s 1,000 favelas, and the following year,
a massive investigation by the Rio de Janeiro State Legislative Assembly sent 275 people to prison, including police and elected officials. The investigation reported that milicias controlled 171 communities throughout the state.

A year after Brazil was selected to host the 2014 World Cup, and only months before it was granted the Olympics, police went on the offensive, working to “pacify Rio” by eradicating the gangs from the favelas. Special operations ran the narco-traffickers out of Santa Marta and set up the first Pacifying Police Unit (or UPP, for Unidades de Polícia Pacificadora) just up the hill from the middle-class neighborhood of Botafogo. The UPPs are essentially police units tasked with ensuring that the gangs don’t return.

There are now 13 UPPs across the city, many adjacent to the middle and upper-class neighborhoods in the Zona Sul in southern Rio de Janeiro. To an extent, they have been a success, ridding the neighborhoods of the gangs.

But real estate prices in the areas with UPPs have soared—almost doubling in Santa Marta, for example—which means that many renters who stuck it out through the worst of the gang era are being pushed out by gentrification.

Meanwhile, gang members from the UPP-patrolled areas lashed out by taking their violence to the streets. Some traffickers traveled north, to the poorer end of town, where both Vila Cruzeiro and Complexo do Alemão are located.

More UPPs on the Horizon

The violence that erupted across the city on November 21—precipitating the police assaults—was apparently ordered by jailed gang leaders, in retaliation for creation of the UPPs. Several cars were hijacked and buses torched. The incidents ignited a wave of violence across the city, which, according to O Globo, resulted in 34 deaths and 192 arrests in just four days.

Despite predictions by residents in the Complexo do Alemão that the “circus” would soon be over, the security forces aren’t going away. Rio state governor Sérgio Cabral announced this week that the BOPE and armed troops would occupy the favelas at least through next October, when the city plans to replace them with UPPs.

Meanwhile, with Rio's narco-traffickers on the run, there is enormous pressure on President-elect Dilma Rousseff, the onetime Marxist guerilla who takes over from President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva on January 1, to establish UPPs elsewhere around the country.

Many believe the creation of the UPPs is based entirely on the upcoming international sports competitionss. “This is not done to eradicate the drug trafficking— it is to have military control of some strategic areas for the Olympic city that they envision,” Marcelo Freixo, the human rights lawyer largely behind the milicia investigations and a Socialist and Freedom Party (PSOL) member who represents Rio de Janeiro in the state legislature, told Agencia NP.

Freixo and others see a correlation between the UPPs and 10-foot-high containment walls that were built around several poor neighborhoods last year, under the pretext of environmental preservation. Brightly colored sound barriers have also been erected along the major highway from Antonio Carlos Jobim International Airport to the city center, obscuring the view of the poor communities on the other side.

“The UPPs, as well as the acoustic barriers and the walls around the favelas, are part of the Olympic project,” Freixo said. “A project for a city that is going to be very exclusive, a city for the few. We know that Rio is going to go through these problems,” he added, referring to the recent violence and the likelihood of more in the future. “Where you build an Olympic city, you are also creating non-Olympic cities around it.”

This reality was further confirmed on December 2, with the WikiLeaks disclosure of a U.S. State Department document on Brazil:

"The SENASP (the National Secretariat for Public Security, Ministry of Justice) has been put in charge of security for the Olympics and will be coordinating the GOB's overall on-the-ground security efforts. Rio authorities, meanwhile, expressed confidence in the impact the Favela Pacification Plan (Ref d) will have on the city's overall security. The Plan - which involves evicting drug traffickers, establishing a sustained police presence, and providing basic services to favela residents - envisions the "pacification" of over 100 favela communities by 2016."

quinta-feira, 2 de dezembro de 2010

Celebrating Brazilian Samba Day (December 2nd)

Since most people are unable to celebrate Brazil's Samba Day in person, this is the next best thing. Several playlists with Samba, Pagode, Adoniran Barbosa, Paulinho da Viola, Zeca Pagodinho and more.

quarta-feira, 1 de dezembro de 2010

South of the Ballot Box

Here's a great review of our 2008 documentary, Beyond Elections, by NACLA's Todd Miller.

"After the midterm elections in November, headlines throughout the United States trumpeted the news of the great Republican comeback. The voters had spoken, and once again it was time to go home and wait until the next opportunity to vote. But what if elections weren’t the exclusive focus of democratic practice? Anyone interested in the question of radical democracy, more in practice than in theory, would do well to watch Beyond Elections. The documentary turns to the urban neighborhoods, rural communities, immigrant organizations, and worker collectives that span the Americas, from Argentina to the Bronx—all of them experimenting with collective decision making in the spaces where they live and work." To read more. To watch the film, visit www.beyondelections.com

Wikileaks- US & Honduras

Great article from Robert Naiman, analyzing wikileaks info from the US on Honduras... "By July 24, 2009, the US government was totally clear about the basic facts of what took place in Honduras on June 28, 2009. The US embassy in Tegucigalpa sent a cable to Washington with the subject, "Open and Shut: The Case of the Honduran Coup," asserting that "there is no doubt" that the events of June 28 "constituted an illegal and unconstitutional coup." More here.