Rio: favela violence spills into Copacabana
At least three cars, including a police vehicle, were set ablaze in the Rio de Janeiro favela of Complexo do Alemão on April 29 after the fatal shooting of an elderly woman—the latest in a series of such outbreaks as Brazilian authorities attempt to clean up Rio's slums before the World Cup games open next month. Arlinda Bezerra de Assis, 72, died after being shot in the stomach during a gun battle between police and presumed gang members. In another incident on April 23, the favela violence actually spilled into Rio's posh beachfront tourist districts—an unprecedented occurrence that doubtless struck fear deep into the hearts of the city fathers. The protests broke out in the Pavao-Pavaozinho favela, perched on the hills overlooking the famed Copacabana district. The riots were sparked after word spread that the body of Douglas Rafael da Silva Pereira, 25, a popular dancer on Brazil's Globo TV network, had been discovered in the favela—apparently killed as "collateral damage" in another one of the frequent police shoot-outs with drug gangs. Residents swept down into Copacabana, setting fires and hurling bottles at police, vehicles and businesses. The violence also spilled over into nearby Ipanema, another posh tourist district. The young dancer's funeral two days later also exploded into a riot, as mourners blocked traffic after leaving the Sao Joao Batista cemetery, chanting "Justice! Justice! Police murderers!" Police used tear-gas to clear the intersection. The Military Police "pacification" campaign aimed at getting the favelas under control ahead of the World Cup and 2016 Summer Olympics looks like it may be backfiring horribly. (World Bulletin, April 29; AFP, April 25; Daily Mail,VOA, April 23)
Amazon mega-dams: 'hydrological experiment'?
A new report issued by Peruvian NGO Environmental and Natural Resrouces Law (DAR) counts 412 hydro-electric dams to be built across the Amazon basin and its headwaters if current plans go ahead, potentially leading to the "end of free-flowing rivers" and contributing to "ecosystem collapse." Of the 412 dams already in operation, under construction or proposed, 256 are in Brazil, 77 in Peru, 55 in Ecuador, 14 in Bolivia, six in Venezuela, two in Guyana, and one each in Colombia, French Guyana and Surinam, said anthropologist Paul Little at the launch of the English version of the report, "Mega-Development Projects in Amazonia: A Geopolitical and Socioenvironmental Primer." (PDF). The report finds: "This new wave of dam building in the headwaters of the Basin is a 'hydrological experiment' of continental proportions, yet little is known scientifically of pan-Amazonian hydrological dynamics, creating the risk of provoking irreversible changes in rivers." (The Guardian's Andes to the Amazon blog, May 6)
Brazil: riot rocks Rio favela
Military Police occupied the favela, or shantytown, of Caramujo, in the city of Niteroi outside Río de Janeiro, following riots sparked by the death of two local youths in incidents with the security forces April 19. One of the victims, Anderson Luiz Santos da Silva, 21, was outside a church with his family on Good Friday when he was hit by a stray bullet—apparently from a shoot-out between police and local drug dealers. His nine-year-old brother was also wounded in the incident. "The young man died trying to protect his mother and sister," said Niteroi's Catholic Church in a statement. The second victim, Emanoel Gomes, 17, was killed when a police armored vehicle crashed his motorbike. Residents set fire to vehicles and battled police, calling for justice. Amnesty International says some 2,000 people die every year in Brazil in careless and violent police actions. The favelas have been targeted for aggressive police action ahead of the World Cup, which Brazil is to host in June. Rio de Janeiro is also slated to host the 2016 Olympics. (Notimérica, April 20; BBC News, April 19)
Rio de Janeiro: military operation against favelas
Brazilian Military Police backed by Marine troops occupied the massive Maré favela next to Rio de Janeiro's Galeao international airport on March 31, allegedly without firing a shot. The aim was to secure one of the city's most violent districts, long under control of drug gangs, ahead of the World Cup, to be held in Brazil in June. Shock troops of the elite Special Police Operations Battalion (BOPE) and Marines in armored vehicles and helicopters secured the Maré area, where 130,000 people live in poverty on the north side of Rio. Police said they seized guns and 450 kilos of marijuana, and arrested two suspected dealers. But residents said most gang leaders slipped out the favela ahead of the occupation. The operation had been expected; in preceding days Police Pacification Units (UPPs) had been installed in 174 of Rio's favelas— home to around 600,000 people. (InSerbia, April 1; MercoPress, March 31)
Brazil: anti-terrorism law sparks rights concerns
A new anti-terrorism bill presented in the Brazilian National Congress on April 19—two months ahead of the 2014 World Cup—has raised concern among human rights groups who allege the law threatens free speech and peaceful assembly. Brazilian lawmakers argue the legislation is required to fill a missing piece in the Brazilian legal system as the country's international exposure grows. The anti-terrorism bill would impose a 15-30 year prison sentence for "causing or inciting widespread terror by threatening or trying to threaten the life, the physical integrity or the health or liberty of a person." The broad language of the bill is a major point of concern for human rights groups, but the drafters of the law stated they will amend the language to clear up ambiguities. Two human rights groups are leading the challenge against the bill: Brazil's Institute of Human Rights Defenders and Amnesty International. The rights groups believe any change in language will not alter the new police power embedded in the law, and the measure may criminalize freedom of expression.
Police close 'militia' following Guarani murders
Brazilian police have closed down a notorious security firm accused of killing at least two Guarani leaders, and brutally attacking hundreds more. Gaspem was described as a ‘private militia’ by public prosecutors who had called for the closure last year. Ranchers reportedly paid Gaspem 30,000 reais (US$ 13,400) each time it evicted Guarani Indians from their lands, which are now occupied by sugar cane and soya plantations, and cattle ranches. The company's owner, Aurelino Arce, was arrested in 2012 in connection with the murder of Guarani leader Nísio Gomes. For years, the Guarani have been appealing for the company to be shut down. A judge's decision to force the company to close marks a huge victory for Guarani communities across the central state of Mato Grosso do Sul.
Squatter 'mega-eviction' rocks Rio de Janeiro
More than 1,500 Military Police were mobilized April 11 to evict thousands of squatters who had recently taken over an abandoned office complex in Rio de Janeiro. Brazilian media reported that most of the squatters left peacefully, but others resisted, sparking pitched street battles with police. Protesters chanted "We want houses!," and some hurled bricks and Molotov cocktails at police and set several vehicles on fire. Four buildings were also set aflame. Authorities reported 12 injured and 26 detained, including six minors. The squatted complex was known as Telerj Favela, because it had been the offices of the Telerj, the state telecommunications company, before it was recently vacated. (SMH, April 12; Europa Press, April 12; EuroNews, April 11)
Brazil: Kennedy backed plan for 1964 coup
On April 1, the 50th anniversary of the military coup that removed left-leaning Brazilian president João Goulart (1961-64) from office, the Washington, DC-based research group National Security Archive posted 16 Brazil-related documents from the administration of US president John Kennedy (1961-1963) on its website. The documents—which include declassified National Security Council (NSC) records and recently transcribed tapes of White House conversations—detail the administration's efforts to bring President Goulart into line, and its plans for dealing with him if he continued to implement social reforms and to oppose US policy on Cuba.
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