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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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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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Rise of militias boost security policy calls for Rio shantytowns

November 10th, 2009

Photo: Gang'Star, flickr

The growth of militias in Rio de Janiero’s shantytowns is cited as the most alarming aspect of a study into serious levels of violence released by Rio de Janeiro State University.

“The army, federal, state and city police must unite around a security policy capable of meeting this threat,” Alba Zaluar, a sociologist, who worked on the study in conjunction with the university’s applied statistics department said, according to government news agency Agencia Brasil.

By last year, militias had taken control of 400 slums of the 965 included in the study versus 108 four years ago, researchers found.

In some cases, where there is no official police presence, militias have succeeded in forcing out drug traffickers and criminal gangs, taking over areas previously under their control.

It has led to turf wars between criminal gangs, leading to fears the situation is spiralling out of control.

Militias have not only increasingly taken control of the supply of gas canisters used by slum dwellers to fuel ovens in places that are among the most unlikely to be attended by utility companies, but also the selling and letting of properties in such areas.

“It’s a big business that can bring in even more than drug trafficking,” Zaluar underlined.

Having in place so called ‘police peace keeping units’ (UPPs) are just as important as promoting a spirit of trust between the police and the local communities, which fear ‘the shoot first, ask questions later’ approach adopted in many previous operations, Zaluar said.

“The way police see slum dwellers and how they see the police has to change. There has to be a relationship built on trust,” he added.

The report comes on the day police mount a massive search operation for those linked to militias operating in the western Campo Grande part of the city.

Last month, two weeks after the city was awarded the 2016 Olympic Games, two Brazilian policemen were killed after their helicopter crashed, having been shot at in clashes between Rio de Janeiro police and drug gangs.

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Brazilian Bureacracy: Two sides of the same groin

April 23rd, 2009

A simple visit to a health clinic for an ultrasound scan provided an object lesson in the famed sluggishness and painstaking nature of Brazilian bureaucracy.

Photo: turtlephotography, flickr

Photo: turtlephotography, flickr

“Doctor will only scan the right side of the groin unless you provide us with a code for the left side as well,” the receptionist insisted to my medical insurance company on Thursday.

For patients used to the British National Health Service (NHS) and all its supposed failings, the Brazilian private sector, for those lucky enough to able to afford it, can be quite an opener too.

I sit there for nigh-on forty minutes, as the receptionist and the health insurance provider battle it out in call after call.

“The groin counts as one area, so you only need one code,” the health insurance operator told me on the phone, on one of the occasions,  I’m dragged into the row.

By the way, I’m there being tested for a suspected hernia.

All this to-ing and fro-ing with them in this verbal game of tennis and fretting about whether I’ll end up stumping up the cost myself is enough to leave my inner workings down below in a permanent twisted state.

Finally, we have a winner.

After yet another consultation with the doctor, the receptionist — who by now feels like my lawyer — gets her way — and the code– and I’m in and out of the ultrasound in a flash.

The scan was scheduled for 7:40am [NHS please note] and I’m back out into the world outside by 9:30 am, with once again Brazilian bureaucracy triumphant!

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The walls that divide Rio de Janeiro

April 11th, 2009

Moves underway to build walls around the slums of Rio de Janeiro has split opinion among citizens and also highlighted some interesting contrasts, according to a recent opinion poll.

The erection of 3-metre high walls at a cost of R$ 40 million ($18 million) has caused controversy, with 47% of people questioned by pollster Datafolha in favour of such moves and 44% against.

Photo: Walker Dawson, flickr

Photo: Walker Dawson, flickr

In a survey with a 4% margin for error, there appears little to choose between those on opposite sides of the debate.

The Rio de Janeiro state government says it has begun the action to protect remaining areas the city’s forest, although two- thirds of those asked believe won’t the objective won’t be achieved.

Rich-man, poor man?

For some it is seen as a cruel and crude sort of apartheid, separating wealthier from poorer areas, though interestingly 60% of those questioned say they don’t believe the walls will divide the haves from the have nots.

Among those whose monthly family income stretches to two minimum salaries R$930 ($415), 51% are in favour and as many as 39% are against the plan.

At the other end of the scale, 50% of those whose households bring in more than 10 minimum salaries of R$4650 ($2,077) disapprove of the walls against 45% who want them to become a permanent fixture.

Concrete barriers will surround 88,000 slum dwellers in 26,000 houses and shacks crammed into 1.7 square kilometres, if figures published at the turn of the Millennium are anything to go by.

Since then, of course things have not stood still.

Rocinha, which in 2000 was said to have 17,000 inhabitants, now reportedly has close to 26,000 people living there – a more than 50% increase.

Photo: dreamindly, flickr

Photo: dreamindly, flickr

From those who abhor the idea, the 14.6 kilometre long walls that will encircle thirteen favelas — twelve of them in the city’s South Zone, the other in the West Zone — have drawn comparisons with the Berlin Wall and the plight of the Palestinian people.

It has been suggested that the walls are being put up to hide the favelas.

The plans have won approval from 57% of people with a basic education, while 53% from a higher educational background are opposed.

It’s not the first time the idea has been put forward.

Though the plans were dropped following strong criticism five years ago, as part of efforts to protect the environment, while preventing drug traffickers and other alleged criminals fleeing from police raids walls it was announced that walls would be erected around four favelas.

Among those surveyed, 45% now think the walls would stop bandits escaping, while 51% believe they would fail to do so.

Negligent past

Until recent decades, favelas with their precarious living conditions, were seen as part of the solution not the problem by some who were happy to see them expand.

To unscrupulous politicians, slums were and still are viewed as somewhere to dump the poor, uneducated classes and as an easy place to pick up votes by promising, but never having to deliver desperately needed healthcare, sanitary and education facilities.

Keeping the slum-dwellers in poverty is also said to have allowed drug traffickers and other assorted criminal types to keep a stranglehold on their communities, as they carry out all manner of illegal activities.

Meantime, current affairs magazine Veja suggested that the time may have come for the city and state governments to now start applying proper building regulations to all of Rio’s thousand favelas, instead of just a comparative handful.

Indeed, the magazine cited state governor Sérgio Cabral as saying: “This is a wall of inclusion.”
Time will tell.

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