Violent protests spark U-turn on transport fares

June 19th, 2013

Protestors in Brasilia: Photo: Agencia Brasil

Rises in public transport fares in São Paulo and Rio de Janiero that sparked nationwide protests have been cancelled following talks between city and state governments.

The scope of the protests that at times have been marked by violence and looting has widened to include the cost of the the Confederations Cup and next year’s World Cup football tournaments, as well a lack of investment in health, education, basic sanitation and other infrastructure.

Corruption among public officials such as judges and congressmen, who regularly vote themselves hefty pay increases on top of salaries beyond the wildest dreams of poor and even well-paid middle class Brazilians has also become a target for protestors’ anger.

Social media sites have been crackling with chatter and the exchange of information about the demonstrations.

One graphic shared on Facebook showed a congressman picks up more than 25 times the monthly salary of a fireman. Another listed the names of 200 congressmen said to be in favour of a constitutional amendment aimed at limiting their immunity from prosecution.

Brazilian football great Ronaldo, a World Cup winner in 2002, became a target for satirists and cartoonists, after reportedly saying “you can’t have a World Cup with hospitals” during a recorded broadcast.

Some Brazilian fans risked the wrath of FIFA President Sepp Blatter holding up placards protesting at corruption at the Confederations Cup match between Brazil and Mexico on Wednesday in Fortaleza in the northeast of the country, where Brazil ran out 2-0 winners. Political protests at matches are against FIFA rules.

Demonstrations started last week after the price of a single journey ticket in São Paulo was increased on June 2 from R$3 ($1.38) to R$3.20 ($1.47).

Though São Paulo and Rio have now followed the lead of other cities in cancelling the rises, demonstrations have continued with main highways leading in and out of São Paulo and a bridge connecting Rio de Janeiro with Niteroi among the routes being blocked by protestors.

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Brazilian Spring? Transport, World Cup cost protests gather momentum

June 18th, 2013

Protestors occupy the rooftops of Congress in Brasilia. Photos: Agencia Brasil

A wave of protests sweeping across Brazil over increased transport fares and the cost of the Confederations Cup and next year’s World Cup tournaments has reached the rooftops of Congress in the capital Brasilia.

On Monday, police reportedly fired tear gas as they tried to disperse protestors in the south east city of Belo Horizonte. Demonstrations also took place in Brasilia, Rio de Janeiro and Belem.

While police pledged to refrain from using tear gas and rubber bullets in a protest involving a reported 65,000 people in São Paulo, unless property was being threatened, social media sites have been full of images and cartoons critical of their use by police in previous demonstrations.

Some images have even depicted calls for a general strike.

Though football is close to a religion in Brazil - a country that has won the World Cup five times - many people are unhappy that billions of dollars have been spent on building or modernising new stadiums, while swathes of the population go without infrastructure, access to medical treatment or basic sanitation.

Protestors express their anger in English in Brasilia

Protestors express their anger in English.

One municipality close to Belem in northern Brazil saw a record 1,210 admissions per 100,000 people for diarrhea in 2012,  figures from an NGO that monitors basic sanitation in Brazil show. It compares with a low of 1.4 cases per 100,000 people in Taubaté, São Paulo state a year earlier.

For some people the fare increases appear to be the last straw.

One taxi driver in Salvador, northeast Brazil previously took me by surprise, saying that he wouldn’t go to matches at next year’s World Cup even if he were able to get tickets in disgust at the amount of money that should be used to help the public being diverted to fund the tournament.

Though previously said quietly by people through gritted teeth it’s an attitude that now appears to be being expressed more openly and vociferously. Protesters are just as angry about grinding inequality and rampant corruption among officials.

Judges and politicians frequently vote to award themselves enormous pay increases on top of salaries already beyond the wildest dreams of most poor and even well-paid middle class people in Brazil.

At the weekend, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and FIFA boss Sepp Blatter were both booed by the crowd at the Mané Garrincha stadium in Brasilia as they declared the dress rehearsal tournament for next year’s World Cup open.

A protestor is dragged away in Brasilia

On Monday, President Dilma, who herself was imprisoned and tortured during Brazil’s dictatorship, said peaceful protest is a legitimate part of democracy.

Demonstrations started last week after the price of a single journey ticket in São Paulo was increased on June 2 from R$3 ($1.38) to R$3.20 ($1.47).

The protests, which turned violent, started to take in the cost of the Confederations Cup currently taking place in Brazil and the World Cup tournament, which kicks off in just under a year from now.

A number of journalists were among those injured. Earlier pictures showed one young woman reporter, after being hit around the eye by a rubber bullet and another a TV cameraman being sprayed with police pepper gas.

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Capture of Amazon squirrel monkeys seen as vital for conservation

January 29th, 2013

Animal research scientists say they will use data gained from the first-ever capture of squirrel monkeys in the Amazon region to help preserve the species.

Researchers from Pará state’s Federal University in northern Brazil captured twenty squirrel monkeys in November in the Mamirauá Sustainable Development Reserve.

Scientists at the university were keen to gain a greater understanding of the squirrel monkeys’ reproductive systems amid fears their population could be falling in some geographical areas by loss of habitat linked to climate change.

After undergoing blood and biometric tests, the primates were later released back into the wild.

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Indigenous museum to remain at World Cup final stadium site

January 28th, 2013

Chief Carlos Tukano receives proposals from Rio state officials last week. Photo: Rio government

A former museum of indigenous culture close to the Maracana stadium in Rio de Janeiro, where the FIFA World Cup Final is due to played next year will not now be demolished as planned.

Rio de Janeiro state governor Sergio Cabral says that while the building will not be knocked down, the indigenous community living there will have to leave the site.

Without giving precise details, Cabral said in conjuction with the city government there are plans restore the building, dating from 1862.

Authorities want to pay rent assistance to the indigenous community living there, but are yet to reach agreement with chief Carlos Tukano who is only willing negotiate personally with the governor, media reports say.

On Saturday, a court issued an injunction preventing the demolition of the former museum.

The governor’s announcement coincides with a deadline for indigenous groups to leave the property.

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Nightclub fire disaster probe likely to focus on safety

January 27th, 2013
f Firefighters are shocked.     Photo: Agencia Brasil

An investigation into a fire that left 120 men and 112 women dead at a nightclub in southern Brazil is likely to concentrate on the effectiveness of evacuation procedures and whether safety equipment at the was working and up to date.

The death toll from the incident at the Kiss night spot in Santa Maria, Rio Grande do Sul state has been revised downwards to 232 from the original 245, authorities say.

Following the outbreak of fire, some revellers at a freshers ball being held at the venue reportedly confused the bathroom door with the exit, while others became disorientated amid thick smoke.

The number of casualties may still increase due to changes in medical care in regional hospitals, but all bodies have been removed from the scene of the fire.

With 131 people confirmed as needing hospital treatment, fire department officials say they are trying to assist families and speed up identification of victims. Some bodies have already been released after recognition by relatives.

President Dilma Rousseff cut short a visit to Chile has been visiting survivors, saying that everything possible would be done to help the injured and the families of the victims.

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Rio de Janiero landslide rescuers offer little hope of survivors

April 8th, 2010
Photo: Vladimir Platonow, Agencia Brasil

Photo: Vladimir Platonow, Agencia Brasil

Rescue services say they have almost given up hope of finding any survivors following a landslide in Rio de Janeiro that buried an estimated 200 people on Wednesday night.

“We as firefighters always say that we work thinking that we are going to find people alive,” fire service spokesman Colonel José Paulo Miranda said.

“In this situation, in this type of incident, it’s very difficult. There is not the slightest chance that people get away quickly and there is the problem of being buried. We have very little hope, the difficulty is very great,” he added.

Around 50 makeshift homes are believed to have been washed down a hillside, previously housing a waste dump in the Niterói neighbourhood, which is more known for its affluence. TV pictures showed traumatised residents alongside rescue workers.

Shantytowns known as favelas that have increasingly sprouted on hillsides in Rio de Janeiro and other towns and cities across Brazil since the 1950’s are no stranger to this type of tragedy.

The mixture of heavy rains causing mudslides and flimsy accommodation thrown up without any attempt to sink foundations, in areas often flouting planning laws, has become a recipe for disaster.

“The area is a risk and never should have been inhabited,” said Rio de Janiero state Environment Secretary Marilene Ramos.

Rescuers who have been hauling out bodies have been battling precarious conditions as the ground threatens to give way with periods of sunshine of punctuated by bursts of heavy showers.

Record rainfall began lashing down on Monday causing landslides in the city and greater Rio de Janeiro causing chaos as makeshift housing slid down slopes, underground train stations were flooded and electricity supplies cut off.

More than three thousand people have been left homeless by flooding inside and outside the city, with the confirmed death toll so far reaching 175.

Brazil’s federal government on Thursday released R$200 million ($112 million) to help victims. Authorities in the city are asking for emergency payments of R$370 million ($207 million).

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Rio floods death toll reaches 131, initial cost put at $200 million

April 7th, 2010
Photo: Agencia Brasil

Photo: Agencia Brasil

The official death toll from the floods that overwhelmed the city of Rio de Janeiro and its surrounding state this week has reached 131 people.

Record rainfall that began on Monday afternoon led to landslides in the city and greater Rio de Janeiro causing chaos as makeshift housing was washed away from hillsides, underground train stations were flooded and electricity supplies cut off.

Thousands have been left homeless outside and inside the city, where more unusually, affluent areas such as Tijuca were also affected.

In Niterói, one driver whose car was carrying a family of passengers reportedly died in an area noted for its mansion houses when land gave way.

More than a 140 flights to and from Rio’s Santos Dumont airport were cancelled, while many vehicle owners simply abandoned them in the street.

Mopping up operations are underway after flooding left schools, shops and other businesses at a standstill.

Coming during the traditionally slow Easter holiday period when the public heads for the beach, store owners in Rio de Janeiro estimate the cost of lost business at R$ 190 million ($107 million).

Rio de Janeiro state governor Sérgio Cabral and city Mayor Eduardo Paes have presented Brazil’s federal government with a 38-point emergency plan of action to address flood damage. The mayor is asking for around R$370 million ($207 million) for emergency running repairs.

Meantime, authorities say the flooding should not be used as an excuse to increase the price of fruit and vegetables because affected areas are not used for farming.

Though six years away, some say the floods put a question mark over Rio’s capacity to host the 2016 Olympic Games.

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Massive new government growth programme announced

March 30th, 2010

Lula's public approval ratings stand at 76%. Photo: Agencia Brasil

Brazil’s government has unveiled a second rapid growth acceleration programme worth $890 billion, aimed at boosting the country’s economy and infrastructure.

The original so-called ‘PAC’ programme to the tune of $280 billion announced in early 2007 targeted 5% growth a year.

Apart from last year when Brazil suffered fallout from the global economic downturn, targets were met,  though the government and opposition dispute how much of the original programme has actually been completed.

The new programme runs between 2011-2014 and beyond. Projects are grouped into in six categories.

Oil and gas exploration projects will get $ 490 billion, two-thirds of the money after 2014, with $76 billion destined for electricity generation and $70 billion going into projects to drill Brazil’s vast untapped oil resources buried deep below the seabed.

Housing initiatives will get $ 154 billion. Last March, the government announced a $15 billion social housing programme, aimed at building one million homes, though it left the timetable open-ended. The new plan envisages the building of another two million homes. Brazil’s housing shortage stretches to seven million.

High stakes game

With Presidential elections in October, there is little doubt that ‘the son of PAC’ as it has been dubbed will be the flagship policy of the ruling Workers Party (PT) and its official candidate, Dilma Rouseff, who is aiming to become Brazil’s first woman president.

She takes on Sầo Paulo state governor José Serra, whose colleagues immediately attacked the new proposals.

The leader of the main opposition party (PSDB) João Almeida said the government should be re-evaluating the original programme, which he said is weak in management terms, with a low rate of projects being carried out.

“The launch of PAC 2 was an act of campaigning complete with crying and emotion,” he said.

But the government hit back saying the opposition is divorced from the Brazilian people and the interests of the country.

“The opposition only speaks about the election, denunciation, criticism, because they have no other plan,” said Cândido Vaccarezza, the ruling party’s leader in Brazil’s lower congress chamber.

The government says 40% of the original programme has been finished, insisting two-thirds of work on housing and sanitation has been completed, though this falls to 28% in the energy and logistics sectors. Opposition parties banding together say only 11% of work has been done, with the number falling to 4% in the northeast of the country, where it is most needed.

But so far any such talk has had little effect.

Recent reports that the president and his preferred candidate had toured the country together inaugurating unfinished infrastructure projects and that he made comments appearing to back Cuba’s oppressive stance towards dissidents have not dented his standing with the Brazilian public.

As the election approaches Dilma will be hoping to be swept along on a tide of approval from the new programme, as much as for outgoing President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who continues to notch up astonishingly high poll ratings for a second-term president with only nine months left in office.

Dilma may have her work cut out though. A Datafolha poll published at the weekend showed Lula’s stardust has yet to rub off on her, with the vote between the main presidential candidates tied among those who would normally vote for the president.

Since declaring his candidacy recently, Serra has opened up a nine point lead over Dilma, having received an expected ‘bounce’ from the announcement.

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Brazilian presidency up for grabs, poll shows

February 28th, 2010
Still his to lose

José Serra: Is the presidency still his to lose? Photo: Janine Moraes, flickr

The race for the Brazilian presidency is heating up with just four points now separating the two main candidates and a north-south divide opening up between voters, latest data from polling company Datafolha shows.

While the election is being billed as a battle between two less than charismatic but competent centre-left administrators, lately the race itself has become anything but dull in statistical terms.

Starting from a long way back, Dilma Rousseff, now said to be clear of lymph cancer, is suddenly breathing down the neck of the former health minister José Serra, the long-time frontrunner from the PSDB party.

In two separate Datafolha polls featuring the four candidates expected to feature in the first round of elections and a second round run off the gap between Sấo Paulo state governor Serra and Dilma, who officially declared her candicacy last weekend has narrowed to four points.

The poll puts Serra on 45 points and Dilma on 41 points, should no one get more than half the votes in the first round, meaning the race has to go to a deciding vote on October 31. The last time the pollster thrust the metaphorical thermometre into the mouth of the electorate in mid-December, the difference stood at 11 points.

Former Lula government Integration Minister Ciro Gomes and environtmentalist Senator Marina Silva, who left the president’s Workers Party (PT) over policy disagreements are the two candidates expected to line up with the best-placed contenders in the first round four weeks earlier.

In Brazil’s northeast from where much of the president’s popularity stems, Dilma is on 36 points with Serra on 22, but in the more affluent south and southeast regions Serra scored 38 points in contrast to Dilma’s 24 points.

Serra also scores higher among wealthier, better-educated citizens. Dilma holds sway with those who earn and study less.

Political stardust

Photo: Janine Moraes, flickr

Dilma’s recent surge may have been helped not only by the President Lula’s still astonishingly high 73% poll numbers for a politician in their final year of a second term in office, but also by the fact that he has been banging the drum for her at every opportunity at public appearances, hoping some of his stardust will rub off.

The president, who is not allowed to run for a third consecutive term recently ruled out making a comeback in 2014, saying that Dilma’s bid for office would be made on the basis of trying to achieve two-terms for herself.

While president Lula and Dilma, bidding to become Brazil’s first female president, have been hogging the headlines recently, Serra has yet to officially declare himself a candidate.

Some commentators say it’s about time Serra — defeated by Lula in 2002 — got out on the stump and that when he does his poll ratings should get the benefit of a ‘bounce’, as long as he doesn’t leave it too late.

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Carnaval 2010 in full swing throughout Brazil

February 14th, 2010

Carnaval in Rio de Janeiro is known around the world. But cities throughout Brazil stage their own often very different version. Here women in Salvador are decked out in traditional African costumes. Photo: Agencia Brasil

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Carnaval-goers in the northeast city are renowned for their stamina. Officially Carnaval ends on Wednesday. Unofficially, the party could last for the rest of this month! Photo: Agencia Brasil

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The thunderous sound of drums can be heard everywhere. Here one of the smaller bands on display goes through their paces. Photo: Agencia Brasil

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Tourists and locals mingle in the parade in Olinda. Photo: Agencia Brasil

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Large doll-like figures are a feature of Carnaval in Olinda in Brazil's northeast. Photo: Agencia Brasil.

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In the capital city Brasilia, singer Paulo Hora stands before revellers, some of whom have based their costumes around a long-running political bribery scandal. Photo: Agencia Brasil

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