Tuesday, June 25, 2013

WNU #1181: Brazil’s Giant Protests Continue

Weekly News Update on the Americas
Issue #1181, June 23, 2013

1. Brazil: Giant Protests Continue Despite Government Concessions
2. Brazil: Tensions Had Been Growing Before the Protests
3. Brazil: Where Is the Protest Movement Heading?
4. Honduras: Judge Suspends Case Against Indigenous Leader
5. Puerto Rico: Monsanto Blows Off Legislative Hearing
6. Links to alternative sources on: Latin America, Chile, Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, Honduras, Mexico, US/immigration

ISSN#: 1084 922X. Weekly News Update on the Americas covers news from Latin America and the Caribbean, compiled and written from a progressive perspective. It has been published weekly by the Nicaragua Solidarity Network of Greater New York since 1990. It is archived at http://weeklynewsupdate.blogspot.com. For a subscription, write to weeklynewsupdate@gmail.com. Follow us on Twitter at http://twitter.com/WeeklyNewsUpdat.

*1. Brazil: Giant Protests Continue Despite Government Concessions
The massive protests that have shaken Brazil for more than a week continued on June 22, although on a smaller scale than during the previous two days. The largest actions of the day focused on the protesters’ objection to the allocation of money to preparations for the 2014 World Cup soccer championship and the 2016 Olympic Games while health, education, transportation and infrastructure remain underfunded. Some 70,000 people marched on the soccer stadium in the country’s third largest city, Belo Horizonte in the eastern state of Minas Gerais, where the Mexican and Japanese teams were playing. “World Cup for whom?” and “FIFA out!” the marchers chanted, referring to the International Federation of Association Football, which sponsors the championship. Police agents used tear gas to keep the protesters from approaching the stadium. In Salvador de Bahia, in the impoverished northeastern state of Bahia, about 12,000 protesters marched on the Fonte Nova stadium, site of a soccer match between Brazil and Italy. Some protesters carried signs with cartoons of business owners and sports association directors sitting on big bags of money.

The protests come after two years of slow economic growth under President Dilma Rousseff, who took office in January 2010. She is a member of the center-left Workers Party (PT), which has governed Brazil since 2003. An opinion poll published on June 22 by the magazine Epoca showed 75% of respondents supporting the demonstrations. Some 6% said they had taken part in the marches, and 35% said they were willing to demonstrate publicly. Brazil’s population is about 197 million. (La Jornada (Mexico) 6/23/13 from AFP, Reuters, DPA)

The wave of marches started earlier in June with protests in São Paulo, Brazil’s largest city, over an increase of 20 centavos (a little less than nine US cents) in bus, subway and train fares, raising the cost of a ticket to about $1.70. Some 2,000 people marched down Paulista Avenue on June 6 to protest the increase; 50 people were injured and 15 were detained in clashes with the police. There were also small demonstrations in Rio de Janeiro, the second largest city; in Salvador de Bahia; in Natal in the northeastern state of Rio Grande do Norte; and in Goiania, capital of the central state of Goiás.

One week later, on June 13, more than 50,000 people marched in São Paulo, and there were protests in many other state capitals. The militarized police in São Paulo responded to the march with rubber bullets, tear gas and violent beatings—with the result that photos and videos of police brutality circulated through the internet and triggered still more demonstrations.

By June 17 a largely spontaneous nationwide protest movement had developed, expanding its focus from the fare increases to include poor services in general, the heavy investment in the World Cup and the Olympics, government corruption and police repression. At least 100,000 people marched that night; there were also demonstrations in Rio de Janeiro; São Paulo; Belo Horizonte; Salvador de Bahia; Brasilia, the national capital; Belém in the northern state of Pará; and many other cities.

On June 19 Rio de Janeiro mayor Eduardo Paes, São Paulo mayor Fernando Haddad and São Paulo state governor Geraldo Alckmin announced a rollback in the fare increase. Apparently this decision resulted largely from a meeting the night before that President Rousseff and former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (2003-2011) held with Mayor Haddad. Lula and Rousseff reportedly accused Haddad, a rising star in the PT, of incompetence and lack of vision in relying on police repression rather than negotiations to deal with the demonstrators.

But the fare rollback wasn’t enough to slow the protests’ momentum. The night of June 20 brought 1.25 million people to the streets in 460 cities and towns. With 100,000 protesters marching in Recife in the northeastern state of Pernambuco, more than 100,000 in São Paulo and 300,000 in Rio, Brazil was said to have experienced its largest day of demonstrations at least since the marches 29 years earlier that helped end the 1964-1985 military dictatorship. Acts of vandalism were reported in Rio and in Brasilia. Two deaths were also reported: an 18-year-old was killed by a car in the city of Ribeirão Preto, in São Paulo state, and a street sweeper died in Pará, possibly of a heart attack.

More huge demonstrations followed on June 21, despite a call from Rousseff for dialogue. (AFP 6/7/13 via Global Post; The Guardian (UK) 6/18/13 from correspondent; LJ 6/20/13, 6/21/13, 6/23/13 from correspondent; Adital (Brazil) 6/21/13, some from unidentified wire services)

*2. Brazil: Tensions Had Been Growing Before the Protests
Although commentators expressed surprise at the size and spontaneity of the protests that swept Brazil in the third week of June, leftist and grassroots organizations had been focusing on some of the issues for some time. In May groups in Rio de Janeiro issued a report highlighting the displacement of thousands of families to make way for facilities to be used in the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics [see Update #1177]. Impacted communities in Rio were planning to hold a “People’s Cup Against the Removals” on June 15, the day that the Confederations Cup soccer matches were to start in Brazil in the lead-up to the World Cup next year. The grassroots event, which included amateur soccer matches, an exhibit of photos and videos, political discussions and cultural events, was intended to build ties among the affected communities. (Adital (Brazil) 6/13/13)

Another issue has been the influence of social conservatives in the National Congress. In March the Chamber of Deputies appointed Marcos Feliciano, a Social Christian Party (PSC) deputy from São Paulo who is also an evangelical minister, to head the body’s Commission for Human Rights and Minorities. Feminists, LGBT rights activists and human rights activists fought against his appointment. Feliciano opposes abortion even when the mother’s health is in danger, and he has made homophobic slurs—for example, a reference in a tweet to AIDS as “gay cancer.”

On June 18, when the protests were near their height, Feliciano’s commission approved a bill that would allow psychologists to treat homosexuality as a disorder or pathology, despite a 1999 decision by the Federal Psychology Council banning such treatments. Feliciano’s “gay cure” law isn’t expected to win approval from the full Congress, but it quickly became an issue in the protests. During the June 20 march in Brasilia, demonstrators chanted “I’m a Brazilian with much pride” at the Congress building and “Even the Pope resigned; Feliciano, your time has come,” a reference to Pope Benedict XVI, who left the papacy in February. (Miami Herald 6/18/13 from AP; Clarín (Argentina) 6/20/13 from correspondent; La Jornada (Mexico) 6/23/13 from correspondent)

Tensions had also been increasing among indigenous groups over what they consider threats to their way of life. On June 6 indigenous Terena seeking to regain ancestral territory in the southern state of Mato Grosso do Sul held a joint demonstration in Brasilia with indigenous Munduruku who were protesting the construction of the giant Belo Monte dam in the northern state of Pará [see Update #1180]. Violence against indigenous people may be on the rise in Mato Grosso, where cattle ranches and sugarcane and soy plantations have been spreading, generating land disputes with local communities. An indigenous Guaraní, Celso Rodrigues, was shot dead on June 12 while walking with his father near the city of Sete Quedas; a masked man shot Rodrigues with a handgun and then again with a rifle, according to Rodrigues’ father, who wasn’t harmed. However, a police investigator, Rinaldo Moreira, told Agência Brasil that the murder might not be connected to a land conflict. (BBC News 6/13/13)

*3. Brazil: Where Is the Protest Movement Heading?
Soon after massive protests started spreading in Brazil in mid-June, Spanish-language media began calling the protesters los indignados—“the angry ones,” or “the indignant ones,” a reference to May 2011 anti-austerity protests in Spain [see Update #1101]. It was obvious to most commentators that the Brazilian uprising fit into a pattern of spontaneous mass protests in response to the ongoing world economic crisis: the “Arab Spring” of early 2011, the Spanish protests, Occupy Wall Street in the US, demonstrations for free education in Chile and in Canada’s Quebec province, and the more recent protests in Greece and Turkey.

The demonstrations in Brazil “raise awareness among people, they allow the whole of society to speak and serve as a strong point of pressure on governments,” Emir Sader, a leftist professor emeritus of political science at the University of São Paulo, wrote on June 20. “Moreover, the movement opened up a discussion on an essential question in the fight against neoliberalism: the polarization between public and private interests, and the issue of who should finance the costs of essential public services.” But a movement that is amorphous and politically inexperienced is also vulnerable to “external manipulation,” according to Sader.

This is especially true in Brazil, after 10 years of government by the center-left Workers Party (PT). Some elements of the PT at first seemed to attribute the protests to rightwing anti-government sentiment. Other PT elements were more supportive, but their association with the government undercut their credibility, and the hostility carried over to parts of the left with no connection to the PT. On June 20 some unions, social organizations and political parties, including the PT and the National Student Union (UNE), tried to join the marches carrying their banners. But in São Paulo other protesters jeered them, calling them “opportunists” and telling them: “Go to Cuba!” and “Go to Venezuela!” The mainstream media have worked to use these sentiments to push the protests to the right. But in other cases leftists seemed to have a presence. A São Paulo newspaper ran a photo of a young woman carrying a sign with a picture of Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff in her youth, when she belonged to a guerrilla organization fighting the 1964-1985 military dictatorship. Under the picture the sign read: “We want this Dilma back.”

“The correct attitude [for the left] is to learn from the movement and act together with it,” Sader advised, “in order to help it achieve a clear consciousness of its objectives, of its limitations, of the [right’s] attempts [to use it], of the problems that have emerged and how to carry out a discussion regarding its significance and the best way to confront challenges.” (Carta Maior (Brazil) 6/20/13, translated in Links (Australia) 6/22/13; Clarín (Argentina) 6/20/13 from correspondent; Estado de São Paulo (Brazil) 6/22/13)

Some of the movement’s ambiguities were present in a support demonstration that several hundred Brazilians and others attended in New York’s Lower Manhattan on June 22. The organizers stressed the similarities with other movements by holding the protest in Zuccotti Park, Occupy Wall Street’s headquarters in the fall of 2011, and by inviting participation by New York-based Turkish and Greek activists. Despite the clearly internationalist and leftist orientation, rightwing elements were on hand. One man held a poster denouncing President Rousseff as a “terrorist” and a “communist.” But the participants also cheered a speech by a Brazilian socialist who criticized the rightwing and notoriously homophobic legislative deputy Marcos Feliciano. The crowd joined her in the chant: “Fora Feliciano” (“Feliciano out”). (World War 4 Report 6/22/13; report from Update editor)

*4. Honduras: Judge Suspends Case Against Indigenous Leader
After an eight-hour hearing on June 13, a court in Santa Bárbara, the capital of the western Honduran department of the same name, suspended a legal action against indigenous leader Berta Isabel Cáceres Flores for the alleged illegal possession of a weapon. According to Cáceres’ lawyer, Marcelino Martínez, the court found that there was not enough evidence to proceed with the case. Cáceres, who coordinates the Civic Council of Grassroots and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH), is now free to travel out of the country, although the case could still be reopened. Representatives from some 40 organizations came to the city on June 13 in an expression of solidarity with the activist.

Cáceres was arrested along with COPINH radio communicator Tómas Gómez Membreño on May 24 when a group of about 20 soldiers stopped their vehicle and claimed to find a pistol under a car seat [see Update #1178, where we gave the date incorrectly as May 25]. Cáceres and Gómez Membreño had been visiting Lenca communities that were protesting the Agua Zarca hydroelectric project. The leader of the military patrol, First Battalion of Engineers commander Col. Milton Amaya, explicitly linked the arrests to the activists’ political work: the Honduran online publication Proceso Digital reported that Amaya “accused Cáceres of going around haranguing indigenous residents of a border region between Santa Bárbara and Intibucá known as Río Blanco so that they would oppose the building of the Agua Zarca hydroelectric dam.”

According to SOA Watch—a US-based group that monitors the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC), formerly the US Army School of the Americas (SOA)—Amaya has studied at the school on two occasions. (Proceso Digital 5/26/13; Adital (Brazil) 6/14/13; Kaos en la Red 6/14/13 from COPINH, Radio Mundo Real, Honduras Libre, Derechos Humanos; SOA Watch 6/21/13)

In other news, on June 12 US State Department official William Brownfield denied accusations that he had “stymied” an investigation into the killing of four indigenous Honduran civilians in a bungled US-backed narcotics operation at the Caribbean village of Ahuas on May 11, 2012 [see World War 4 Report 5/28/13]. Agents from the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) were part of the operation, which also employed a State Department helicopter. The accusation against Brownfield, the assistant secretary of state for international narcotics and law-enforcement affairs, came from Aurelia Fedensin, a former investigator for the State Department inspector general’s office who has been leaking internal department memos. One of the memos reported that Brownfield “was not forthcoming” when interviewed by an unnamed agent. He “gave the impression [that State] should not pursue the investigation,” the memo said. (Foreign Policy 6/12/13)

*5. Puerto Rico: Monsanto Blows Off Legislative Hearing
The Monsanto Company, the Missouri-based biotech giant, has been refusing to cooperate with efforts by Puerto Rico’s legislature to regulate the development and sale of seeds on the island. The company chose not to testify at a hearing the Senate Agriculture Committee held on June 17 for a bill, PS624, that would create a seed board and a certification and licensing system to regulate seed development and sale. Monsanto representative Eric Torres-Collazo wrote to the committee that the company’s activities are not subject to regulation by Puerto Rico’s legislature. “Monsanto does not produce, sell (or) offer... basic or certified seed with the purpose of planting in Puerto Rico,” Torres-Collazo explained. The company has used the same reasoning to claim that it is exempt from a constitutional ban on individual farms larger than 500 acres [see Update #1178].

In fact, Puerto Rico has been an important part of the development of genetically modified (GM) seeds by Monsanto and other companies since 1987, and while Monsanto doesn’t sell the seeds in Puerto Rico, it exports them to other markets, notably the US. The Agriculture Committee chair, Sen. Ramón Ruiz-Nieves of the Popular Democratic Party (PPD), said Monsanto should be regulated because it receives local and US government subsidies for its activities in Puerto Rico and is registered as a farmer with the Puerto Rican Agriculture Department. According to local media, the department provided Monsanto with $4.9 million in subsidies to help cover payroll expenses from 2006 to 2013. Sen. Ruiz-Nieves told reporters that he would push Monsanto to testify before the committee at another hearing. (Corrpwatch 6/19/13)

*6. Links to alternative sources on: Latin America, Chile, Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, Honduras, Mexico, US/immigration

Norway’s Foreign Policy in the Americas: A Better Way Forward? (Latin America)

"El Mauro" Tailings-Dam Pits Community Against the Oligarchy in Chile

Mass Protests Sweep Brazil in Uproar over Public Services Cuts & High Costs of World Cup, Olympics

Protests roil Brazil despite fare rollback

Brazil comes to Zuccotti Park

Resurgence of Indigenous Identity in the Crossfire in Brazil

Gas, Mother Earth, and the Plurinational State: Vice-President García Linera Embodies Bolivia’s Contradictions

NY Left Forum dissidents make Bolivian yellow press

Peru: new stand-off at Conga mine site

Colombian Peace Talks Move to FARC's Political Participation

Colombia: protest militarization of Peace Community

A Timeline of Venezuelan Opposition Reactions to the Recent Elections

Venezuela Promotes Breastfeeding over Baby Food, Corporate Media Spins Out of Control

Twenty-one U.S. Senators Ask Kerry to Conduct “Thorough Review” of Security Assistance to Honduras

Mexico: Israel training Chiapas police?

Narcoland: The Mexican Drug Lords and Their Godfathers - Book Review

Migrant Deaths and the New Disappeared on the South Texas Border (US/immigration)

Arizona law denying bail for undocumented immigrants upheld (US/immigration)

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