Rio’s Decaying Infrastructure a Risk

With the World Cup and Olympics looming, “two tragic events have underlined Rio’s need not just to invest in new hotels, venues and transportation but also to take drastic action to shore up the city’s crumbling infrastructure,” says Time.

“On Jan. 25, a 20-story office building collapsed in the city center, bringing down two others and killing at least 17 people. Five days later, a manhole cover blew out of the ground, killing one man and injuring two more, the latest in a series of accidents caused by underground explosions. These events come hot on the heels of other tragedies in which pedestrians were hit by crumbling buildings and a shocking accident last August when a defective tram careened out of control, killing six people and injuring 57 more.”

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Haitians Prompt Immigration Debate in Brazil

“Brazil restricted Haitian immigration in January after about 4,000 Haitians made their way across the Americas to remote outposts in the Amazon, including hundreds who arrived around the end of 2011. Their arrival set off a debate over Brazil’s commitments to Haiti, the hemisphere’s poorest country, and what kind of immigrants Brazil should attract,” writes The New York Times.

“For [some] immigration specialists … the measures  offer an example of shifting priorities. Senior officials in Brasília, the capital, recently signaled that they were planning to retool immigration policies to lure more skilled professionals, even as the government limits the entrance of Haitians.

“Sebastião Nascimento, a sociologist at the University of Campinas in Brazil, said the new policies resembled efforts in the late 19th century and early decades of the 20th century, when Brazil emphasized European immigration as a way of ‘whitening’ the country after the abolition of slavery in 1888.

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Brazil’s Foreign Policy Pragmatism

“[Brazilian President Dilma] Rousseff’s ambivalent tone on human rights in Cuba disappointed those hoping she would take a more public stand. But it will surprise few who watch her closely,” says  The Financial Times.

“As Brazil emerges as one of the new powers of the 21st century, the country is at once seeking to assert itself and its values, broadly those of any western democracy, while wrestling with its deeply entrenched traditions of non-interference in the affairs of other countries, no matter how reprehensible they may appear to be.

“This stance served the country well when it was grappling with its own demons of runaway inflation, and currency and debt crises. But the country’s economic growth over the past decade is leading to more pressure on Brazilian leaders to take a stand on global issues.

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UPDATED Chaos Continues in Salvador Ahead of Carnaval as US Issues Travel Advisory

“At least one person per hour is being shot to death in Salvador,” Brazil’s third largest city, as a result of the police strike and ensuing strife, says Fox News Latino. “There are also incidents of arson in buses, vandalism and store assaults.

“A decree from the Justice of Bahia stated that the strike was illegal and called for the arrest of all officials involved. Nearly 3,000 soldiers are in Salvador after the state’s governor, Jacques Wagner, requested the intervention from the Brazilian Army to reestablish the public order.

“With Carnaval – the city’s largest tourist event – only two weeks away, many Baianos are also worried about safety during the event as well as the profits that could be lost because of the turmoil related to the strike. Governor Wagner, who is not negotiating the 6.5 percent salary increase for the officers, said in a speech that Bahia will invest $ 16 million to enforce the law in the next few weeks and promised the strike would end on Wednesday.”

UPDATE

“The U.S. Embassy in Brazil has issued travel advice urging its citizens to postpone any non-essential travel to Salvador and the surrounding state of Bahia following the unrest,” says The Rio Times.

“The official statement said:

“U.S. citizens should continue to monitor media reports about security conditions” in the region “until security conditions have stabilized”.

Standoff Between Striking Police and Soldiers in Salvador

“Striking state police and their supporters have clashed with Brazilian soldiers outside the state legislature in the northeastern city of Salvador, [the country's third largest]“, says AP.

“Troops surrounded the building Monday as the strike that has paralyzed the city moved into its sixth day. Brazilian television broadcast images of soldiers firing rubber bullets and charging crowds as they tried to enter the building, where strikers are holed up.

“The strike has thrown a pall over preparations for Carnival in Brazil’s third largest city, unleashing a rash of looting and a spike in the murder rate.”

Brazil Cabinet Changes Are Tip of Corruption Problem

“The resignations of seven Brazilian cabinet ministers over corruption charges since President Dilma Rousseff took office are the tip of an endemic problem which experts say hobbles the country’s bid for great power status,” says AFP.

“The contrast between Brazil’s economic prowess and its poor performance in reining in graft has been illustrated by successive resignations from ministers since Rousseff took office early last year.

Explains Antonio Teixeira, an expert on the issue at the respected Getulio Vargas Foundation:

“The oversight is better than in the past, but justice does not follow at the same pace.”

“Corruption is a key concern for the upper and middle classes but the world’s sixth largest economy ranks only 73rd on Transparency International’s latest annual Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI), barely ahead of China.

“Corruption costs the nation between 1.4 percent and 2.3 percent of its GDP, roughly $146 billion, according to the powerful Federation of Industries of São Paulo, which in December released one of the rare studies on the scourge.”

Poor Communities in Rio Destroyed in Preparation for Olympics, World Cup

“Rio de Janeiro is giving [Maracanã, its flagship stadium] a $63.2 million facelift as it prepares to host the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics. Maracanã will be the jewel crowning both events, with the opening and closing ceremonies of the Olympics and the final World Cup matches held within its storied blue and gray walls,” reports AP.

“[Neighboring] Favela do Metro does not fit in that picture. It’s being bulldozed; hundreds of families have been bought out as part of a “revitalization” process for the big events and the hordes of foreigners they will draw.

Says one evicted resident:

“They’re destroying our neighborhood for a game.”

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Another Brazilian Minister Resigns, Accused of Corruption

“Brazil’s minister of cities resigned Thursday amid allegations of irregularities, the eighth member of President Dilma Rousseff’s Cabinet to step down since June, reports AP.

“Rousseff accepted Mario Negromonte’s resignation and wished him luck in his new projects, the office of the presidency said in a brief statement.

“Negromonte is accused of awarding public work contracts to companies that had financed his party. He denies all accusations and said his resignation in no way indicated he was guilty.

“Since Rousseff assumed office on Jan. 1, 2011, the ministers of cities, defense, transportation, agriculture, tourism, sports and labor have stepped down.

“Some have commended Brazil’s first female president for taking action against ministers facing corruption allegations,” something her predecessors, including her mentor Luiz Inácio Lula de Silva, were loath, or incapable, to do.

Controversy Continues on Huge Brazil Dam

Plans for the multi-billion dollar Belo Monte dam, the world’s third largest, on the Xingu River in northern Brazil “have long been controversial,” says Al-Jazeera.

“Critics say it will only help local industries and not the general population, with some claiming that it will be one of the most inefficient hydropower projects in the country’s history.

“Environmentalists also point to the loss of biodiversity in the region and the risk of extinction of hundreds of species of fish in the Xingu River.

“But it is the social implications on the local population that frequently makes the headlines. About 24,000 people are expected to be displaced to make way for the construction.”

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Rousseff in Cuba to Discuss Trade and, Perhaps, Human Rights UPDATED

“Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff began a tour of Cuba on Monday in a visit emphasizing trade and economic cooperation … Her office said the trip would seek to bolster trade between the two nations, which rose 31 percent from 2010 to hit a record $642 million last year,” says the AP.

The heavy public accent on trade and investment does not preclude potential private conversations about human rights: earlier this month, Brazil granted a tourist visa to Yoani Sánchez, a dissident Cuban author.

“President Raul Castro on Tuesday in the capital and also tour the nearby port of Mariel, which is being expanded with the goal of turning the facility into a base for industry and oil operations in the Gulf of Mexico.

“Brazil has financed almost 80 percent of the port project’s $683 million price tag.”

UPDATE

“Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff said Tuesday that her country acted properly in granting an entry visa to Cuban dissident blogger Yoani Sanchez, but that it’s an internal matter for Cuba as to whether Sanchez is allowed to leave the island,” reports the AP.

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