Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff inaugurated a new safety system yesterday, the Integrated Command and Control Center (Centro Integrado de Comando y Control—CICC), that will increase security in several cities—and soccer stadiums—through a coordinated effort among the police (federal, military and civil), the armed forces, the fire brigade, and public utility companies. This new safety system became operational just two days before Brazil kicks off the Confederations Cup —a two-week soccer tournament expected to attract over 350,000 tourists—and that will serve as a test of the country’s readiness for the World Cup in 2014 and the Olympics in 2016.
The first center became operational on Thursday in Brasilia, with the president’s announcement serving to inaugurate similar facilities in other Brazilian cities.
The command centers have been installed in the six cities hosting the Confederations Cup: Brasilia, Rio de Janeiro, Belo Horizonte, Fortaleza, Salvador, and Recife. Over the next six months, the enhanced security technology will also be installed in Manaus, Natal, São Paulo, Cuiabá, Curitiba, and Porto Alegre.
The centers are modeled after similar security technology in cities such as London, New York, Mexico City, and Madrid, and will receive real-time images of each stadium and the surrounding areas through fixed and mobile cameras installed on helicopters or police patrols. Unmanned aerial vehicles—small planes that flies over a stadium and monitor ground movement for up to 16 hours within a radius of 250 kilometers (155 miles).
Brazil Minister of Justice José Eduardo Cardozo emphasized that the centers will “allow Brazil to strengthen the fight against organized crime and provide greater security for all its people.”
Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro marked the end of his three-day trip through Uruguay, Argentina and Brazil yesterday with a meeting in Brasilia with President Dilma Rousseff to highlight Venezuela’s strategic alliance with Brazil.
Maduro traveled to Mercosur member countries for his first trip post-presidential election in an effort to consolidate bilateral ties. In Uruguay, his first stop, the Venezuelan president met with President José Mujica, as well as former Uruguayan President Tabaré Vázquez, and pledged a “permanent” supply of petroleum. He continued on to Argentina, where he signed 11 bilateral agreements with President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and gave a public address at a soccer stadium where he invoked the legacies of deceased Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez as well as deceased Argentine President Nestor Kirchner.
In Brazil, his final stop, Maduro received a firm endorsement from President Rousseff. The two leaders announced that Brazilian construction and engineering conglomerate Odebrecht will construct a 1.5-million-tonne-a-year urea plant in Venezuela. Venezuela is the second largest market, after Argentina, for Brazilian manufactured goods.
The international trip also carries domestic implications. Eduardo Viola, International Relations professor from Universidad de Brasilia said that “with this trip to Mercosur member countries whose leaders have demonstrated support, Maduro seeks to legitimize his situation, highly questionable in his country, not only because of the tight electoral results questioned by the opposition but also because of the grave economic and public safety conditions which are bleak.”
While an audit of Venezuelan election results began this week, nearly every nation in the region has accepted Maduro's presidency.
Brazil is once again seeking to enhance its international profile. But this time, rather than engaging in close partnerships with its fellow BRICS club members—Russia, India, China, and South Africa—Brazil is collaborating with a smaller nation: Cuba.
Since assuming office in 2011, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff has worked closely with Cuban President Raúl Castro to strengthen their partnership in the hopes of further bolstering Brazil's economic advantages and regional influence. She is achieving this by providing financial and technical assistance to help restructure Cuba's economy while at the same time advancing Brazil’s economic interests through strategic investments in port infrastructure. Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez' quickly deteriorating health has created incentives for Dilma to fortify her ties with Castro, gradually replacing Venezuela—Cuba’s biggest benefactor—as Cuba's most important ally in the region.
But instead of bullying Cuba into following Brazil's lead, Dilma is also gaining something in return for her citizens: technical assistance from Cuba to address educational illiteracy, a long-time developmental challenge for Brazil. In so doing, Cuba benefits by displaying its impressive success in education reform, while highlighting its potential to be an amicable partner in hemispheric affairs.
Top stories this week are likely to include: Mercosur convenes; first week of Enrique Peña Nieto’s presidency; FARC peace negotiations resume; Peru, Chile dispute their border at The Hague; and Rousseff’s oil royalties veto makes waves in Brazil.
Mercosur Considers Ecuador and Bolivia: When Mercosur’s member nations convene on Friday in Brasilia, they will consider upgrading Bolivia and Ecuador—currently associate members—to full membership. Brazilian Foreign Minister Antonio Patriota cites a desire to deepen South American integration. AQ Editor-in-Chief Christopher Sabatini notes that “with each new addition to Mercosur the original intent of the customs union is becoming diluted. The additions may be economic benefits to Brazil and serve a broader political end, but with Venezuela and now potentially Bolivia and Ecuador the task of coordinating a common external tariff and ensuring that monetary policy doesn't interfere with internal trade is nearly impossible.”
Peña Nieto in the Presidency: After announcing his cabinet on Friday and transitioning into power the following day, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto undergoes his first full week in Mexico’s highest office. Yesterday, the main domestic political parties announced the Pacto por México (Pact for Mexico) that outlines desired political reforms for Peña Nieto’s term. The reforms center on three areas: strengthening the state; economic and political modernization; and expansion of social rights. As AQ Senior Editor Jason Marczak observes, “the show of unity with the joint signing of the Pacto por México is an important accomplishment for Peña Nieto but the specifics of how to implement these reforms will be the real challenge especially with PRD legislators already threatening to block them.”
Peru, Chile at The Hague: Beginning today, the International Court of Justice will hear a lawsuit by Peru brought against Chile over an unclear maritime border. In the lead-up, however, both Chilean President Sebastián Piñera and his Peruvian counterpart Ollanta Humala have discouraged their respective citizens from being belligerently nationalistic. Piñera wrote against “exacerbated nationalism, which poisons the soul of the people,” while Humala urged for both countries to consider the outcome of the lawsuit as “the end point of a dispute between brother countries.”
Colombia, FARC Continue Talks: Both sides will resume peace negotiations in Havana on Wednesday. The Colombian government’s chief negotiator, Humberto de la Calle, has stressed “a stable and enduring peace” as the desired outcome of the talks; President Juan Manuel Santos recently announced that he has designated November 2013 as the deadline for an agreement.
Impact of Dilma’s Partial Veto: Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff was absent at last Friday’s Unasur meeting in Lima due to “domestic engagements.” The issue in question was whether she would sign into law a controversial law on oil royalties, which would spread the nation’s resource wealth to non-producing states. According to Reuters, Dilma’s veto “changes the bill so that producer states continue to receive royalties on output from existing oil concessions. She signed most of the rest of the bill passed [in early November] by Congress, redistributing royalties from all future oil concessions so that non-producing states get a greater share.” The oil-producing states had threatened to take their case to the Supreme Court, which would have dragged out the case amid Brazil’s preparations for the 2014 and 2016 sporting mega-events. Pay attention this week to see further reactions within Brazil to Dilma’s partial veto.
Brazil was ranked 14th in the world for the number of its students now studying at American Universities, Agência Brasil announced Monday. According to the Open Doors report, Brazilians made up 9,029 of the 764, 495 international students at universities in the United States from 2011-2012, an increase of about 6 percent from 2010-2011. U.S. Ambassador to Brazil Thomas A. Shannon, Jr. expressed his hope that this rate would continue to increase.
Ambassador Shannon attributed the increased numbers of Brazilian students in the U.S. to Science Without Borders, a joint effort between the U.S. and Brazil meant to increase the number of Brazilians in higher education, specifically in scientific fields. The government of Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff pledged to provide 75,000 scholarships to Brazilian students wishing to study abroad in scientific and technology-related fields.
In an article published yesterday in the new Americas Quarterly, Shannon explained that this initiative is the most ambitious in Brazilian history: “it is not confined to a single economic or scientific sector. [It] covers all aspects of scientific study: computer and information technology; mathematics; physics; biology; health science; marine science; industrial and electrical engineering; mining, oil and gas technologies; and systems analysis and industrial design."
Ambassador Shannon said that President Rousseff’s ultimate goal is to transform Brazil’s economy to include more jobs in the science and technology sectors, as well as to increase social mobility in one generation.
Although the United States is only poised to receive 20,000 of the total 100,000 Brazilian students studying abroad, Ambassador Shannon would like to see the U.S. receive between 60,000 and 100,000 students. A press briefing was held today with Assistant Secretary of State Ann Stock and the president and CEO of the Institute of International Education, Allan Goodman, in Washington DC to discuss the Open Doors data.
After accepting the government’s offer of a 15.8-percent pay raise over three years, some 400,000 public-sector employees ended their month-long strike and returned to work on Monday. While the workers may have gotten what they wanted, popular patience with public sector workers and unions may be wearing thin.
The strikes started in May with university professors and in June spread to other sectors, causing widespread disruption. University students sat idle, wondering if they would have to repeat the academic year. Lines in airports were measured in hours, or kilometers, rather than minutes. Imports of food and medicines were stalled and visas delayed.
The public here has been historically sympathetic to organized labor; union resistance helped bring down the military dictatorship, and former President Lula da Silva, still wildly popular, started out as a union leader. But there are signs that, with these strikes, patience may have dwindled for a public sector that many consider too large and too coddled.
Folha has called repeatedly for a review of the right-to-strike laws, calling the strikes “excessive” and a “hazard to the population.” This aspect was not lost on the public: in an overpass above the main highway between Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo someone reportedly hung a sign that read, “Police station closed—free passage for drug trafficking and arms.” The dry humor belied a serious threat: a separate 10-day police strike in the northeastern state of Bahia in February was said to have caused a spike in murders on the streets of the capital, Salvador.
Época referred to the Brazilian public sector as “giant and inefficient,” in the first in a series of color spreads that indignantly detailed some of the “supersalaries” of some of the most generously paid public servants. (“It’s you who pays,” ran the headline.) Estadão published a feature on the human consequences of the strikes, citing allergic children who are not receiving the special foods they need, dengue prevention efforts for Indigenous populations that had been stalled, and patients who were forced to wait for urgent bone marrow treatment.
The Brazilian government announced yesterday the first phase of a 25-year stimulus package designed to reignite the Brazilian economy. The plan includes more than $60 billion of investment in 10,000 kilometers (6,200 miles) of railways and building or widening 7,500 kilometers (4,660 miles) of federal highways, with that to be followed by investments in ports and airports.
Under the new strategy, the Brazilian government aims to double the capacity of the country’s transportation system to reduce significant infrastructure bottlenecks - a critical step to fostering long-term growth. This would help bring the export environment in Brazil closer in line with those of other BRIC countries. In general, exporting from Brazil is twice as expensive as exporting from China, and 1.5 times more expensive than from India.
The administration also hopes to boost labor know-how – one of the country’s main limitations – by handing over to the private sector the responsibility for developing and managing the new infrastructure. The government will grant concessions for construction, maintenance and operation of the projects through a competitive bidding process. This new emphasis on investment is a different strategy from previous growth strategies focused on increasing local consumption
This year Brazil’s economic growth is expected to be less than 2 percent—the country’s worst performance since 2009 and a sharp slowdown since the 7.5 percent seen in 2010.
There is one story dominating the Brazilian headlines: The mensalão, a huge corruption case that could taint the legacy of former President Lula and the reputation of his Partido dos Trabalhadores (Workers’ Party—PT) to which his successor Dilma Rousseff belongs.
Certainly the scope is wide. With 38 high-profile defendants including former ministers, bankers and wealthy businessmen, 600 witnesses and, according to calculations by Globo, a slush-fund of more than R$100 million ($49.7 million) in public funds, the mensalão has been dubbed the “trial of the century” by commentators here.
Prosecutors charge that, from 2003 to 2005, public money was handed to some members of the ruling coalition as a “mensalão”—roughly translated to “big monthly payment”—to ensure their support on key votes. The money was allegedly moved through government contracts granted to private companies, which then redistributed the funds amongst legislators.
The defendants deny the accusations, originally made by whistle-blower Roberto Jefferson, president of the Partido Trabalhista Brasileiro (Brazilian Worker Party—PTB) who belonged to Lula’s coalition but did not support Dilma’s bid for the presidency. If found guilty of the charges, which include corruption and racketeering, the defendants could face prison terms of up to 45 years.
Today’s Mercosur presidential meeting, in Mendoza, Argentina, is getting rather more international attention than it likely anticipated. Previously expected to be little more than tussling over tariffs and a perfunctory discussion of fiscal woes in Europe, the focus now will be Fernando Lugo’s sudden removal from the Paraguayan presidency last Friday.
Although Paraguay claimed to adhere to due legislative process, Lugo’s vice president Federico Franco was sworn in mere hours later, causing international observers to ask if the swift removal had, in fact, been a bloodless coup. In Brazil, use of the neologism “golpeachment”—a combination of the Portuguese words for impeachment and coup—quickly began to spread through social networking sites.
Condemnation came swiftly from Paraguay’s neighbors, leery of regional democratic instability following a series of bloody coups in the 1970s and 1980s. The Mercosur alliance—founding members being Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay—suspended Paraguay from this week’s meetings.
Here in Brazil, the Foreign Ministry refused to confirm circulating reports that President Dilma Rousseff had drawn up “a menu of sanctions” against Franco’s government, and as the week wore on it looked increasingly likely that Brazil’s response would remain diplomatic. As Colin Snider, a professor of Latin American history, pointed out in an interview, Brazil’s ambassador to Paraguay was recalled “for consultations,” but not withdrawn permanently, “an important marker on the more moderate, ‘wait-and-see’ approach from Brazil.”
Mercosur member nations officially decided today not to impose economic sanctions on Paraguay; Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner (CFK) said that Mercosur doesn’t believe in sanctions because “they never hurt governments; they always hurt the people.” Brazilian Foreign Minister Antonio Patriota gave hints yesterday that he would advise against economic sanctions.
Peru Declares State of Emergency amid Mining Protests
The Peruvian government declared a state of emergency yesterday in the southeastern province of Espinar after a week of protests left at least two dead and 70 injured. Espinar residents are protesting a $1.5 billion expansion of the Tintaya copper mine, claiming that the mine’s Swiss owner Xstrata—the largest single mining investor in Peru—does not contribute enough to the local economy. Similar demonstrations took place last year in the province of Cajamarca, where residents protested the expansion of a gold mine.
Brazil Plans Five New Hydroelectric Dams
On May 25, Valor Econômico reported that the Brazilian government is forging ahead with plans to construct five hydroelectric dams in the Tapajos River basin, a tributary of the Amazon. The publication said that environmental studies are underway and bidding for operators will begin next year. Belo Monte—one of the country’s largest hydroelectric construction projects also located in the Amazon basin—encountered numerous obstacles to construction, including lawsuits and worker strikes.
Dilma Announces Changes to Polemical Forest Code
On May 25, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff issued a number of alterations to the new version of the Forest Code, a legal framework for forest preservation in Brazil. She made 12 line-item vetoes and 32 modifications, most notably nixing amnesty for large-scale illegal deforesters who cleared land before 2008. The law now returns to Congress, where it won’t likely be discussed until after Brazil hosts the UN Rio+20 environmental conference in June.
Read more about the Forest Code in an AS/COA News Analysis on environmental issues in Brazil.
Brazil, Venezuela Rank High in Software Piracy
Four Latin American countries—Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, and Venezuela—make the top 20 in the Business Software Alliance’s annual report on software piracy. Brazil comes out on top (and fifth overall) in terms of value of pirated software at $2.8 billion. But Venezuela leads the pack with the highest rate of pirated software—88 percent.
Venezuela Targets Civilian Aircraft in Drug Fight
The Venezuelan Congress passed legislation May 23 permitting the country’s air force to shoot down aircraft suspected of carrying illegal drugs. Though the government believes the law will help Venezuela in its fight against international organized crime groups, InsightCrime believes “a policy advocating the use of force against civilian aircraft carries risk.”
Poll Shows Narrower Lead for Chávez
A recent survey by Venezuelan polling firm Varianzas puts opposition candidate Henrique Capriles Radonski within five points of his competitor, President Hugo Chávez. The current president leads with 50.7 percent of likely votes while Capriles has 45.5 percent, the poll found. However, 53.3 percent of respondents said they believed Chávez would win in October, compared with 42.4 percent for Capriles.