Category Archives: Latin America

Chart of the day II: Infant mortality in Americas


And note that Cuba does better than the U.S.

From World Health Statistics 2016, the World Health Organization’s just-released compendium of the latest data from countries around the world:

Under-five mortality (green bar) and neonatal mortality (grey line) rates per 1000 live births, 2015

Under-five mortality (green bar) and neonatal mortality (grey line) rates per 1000 live births, 2015

Brazil coup regime guts environmental laws


And like good Thatcherite/Reaganite neoliberal governments everywhere, they also gutted science funding.

The big winners are land developers and land-grabbers.

From Science:

The new interim government, led by former Vice President Michel Temer, has set out to trim government spending and boost business. Days after taking power, it merged the science ministry with the communications ministry, leaving researchers fearing for what’s left of their already diminished budgets. Meanwhile, powerful political players are attempting to remove roadblocks to development. “We are very worried about these actions that represent the demoting of science and innovation in the country,” says Luiz Davidovich, the president of the Brazilian Academy of Sciences.

Now, Brazil has a three-step licensing process for infrastructure and development projects. During each phase a project can be challenged or halted by lawsuits, and delays can last for years. The amendment, known as PEC 65, would eliminate all but the first step: the submission of a preliminary environmental impact statement. After that requirement is met—and regardless of how serious the impact seems to be—a project could not be delayed or canceled for environmental reasons, barring the introduction of substantially new facts.

“If this legislation is approved, it will probably be catastrophic for the environment and the people who depend on it,” says Hani Rocha El Bizri, an ecologist at the Federal Rural University of the Amazon in Belém. Representatives of several government agencies agree. In practice, PEC 65 “proposes the end of licensing,” says Thomaz Miazaki de Toledo, the director for environmental licensing at the Brazilian Institute for the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources in Brasília, an arm of the Ministry of the Environment. If the amendment passes, he says, “mitigation and compensation, now required and supervised by the licensing authority, would be voluntary.”

Tape proves Rousseff ouster really was a coup


Anyone with the slightest doubt that the impeachment of Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff is anything other than a coup should be disabused of their credulity by events coming out of that Latin American nation today.

The scenario unfolding in Brasilia has elements of the Nixonian [tapes], touched with good old-fashioned corruption.

We open with the Independent:

Brazil’s interim leader Michel Temer is facing his first full-blown political crisis following the release of tape recordings seemingly showing that the suspension two weeks ago of President Dilma Rousseff was the result less of legitimate constitutional complaints and more of a plot.

After a day of frantic speculation in the capital, Brasilia, the country’s barely installed planning minister and top Temer ally, Romero Juca, announced he was temporarily stepping aside after admitting earlier in the day that his was one of two voices heard on the tape.

>snip<

Mr Temer became interim president of Latin America’s largest economy earlier this month after the upper chamber of the National Congress voted to suspend Ms Rousseff and begin an impeachment trial against her on charges she fiddled the nation’s books to paper over a dire budget deficit.  She and her allies contended however that she was in fact a victim of a “coup”.

The bomb was dropped on the Temer team early Monday when one of Brazil’s leading papers, the Folha de São Paulo, released chunks of a 75-minute conversation from early March between Mr Juca, who was then a Senator, and Sergio Machado, also a former senator and the head of a state oil company.  Who made the tape and why is not clear.

Al Jazeera English examines the timing and identifies the suspected Taper, whose motivations weren’t exactly Nixonian:

The scandal threatens Temer only 11 days after taking power from Rousseff, whom the Senate suspended as president on May 12 at the start of an impeachment trial on charges of breaking government accounting rules.

The Folha newspaper released what it said were recordings of conversations in March between Juca and Sergio Machado, a former oil executive.

The recordings were allegedly made secretly by Machado who, like Juca, is the target of an investigation into massive embezzlement centred on state oil company Petrobras.

In the conversations, Juca is heard calling for a “national pact” that he appears to suggest would stop the investigation, known as Operation Car Wash, in which dozens of top-ranking politicians from a variety of parties, as well as business executives, have been charged or already convicted for involvement in the Petrobras scheme.

MercoPress covers embarrassment:

Juca’s decision to take a leave from his post to defend himself is a huge blow for Interim President Michel Temer, who counted on the experienced senator to secure legislative support for key economic measures and reforms.

The new scandal also raises fears of further political instability in Brazil less than two weeks after President Dilma Rousseff was suspended to stand trial in the Senate for allegedly breaking fiscal laws.

>snip<

In recorded comments made before Rousseff was suspended and published by newspaper Folha de S. Paulo on Monday, Juca told an ally he agreed on the need for a “national pact” to circumscribe the probe known as “Operation Car Wash.”

Asked for help by a friend and former senator under investigation in the probe, Jucá replied, “The government has to be changed in order to stop this bleeding.”

There’s a whole lot more after the jump. . . Continue reading

A fascinating conversation with Oliver Stone


Few American filmmakers arouse more controversy than Oliver Stone, both from his eclectic choice of subject matter to the content of the films themselves.

In his 1986 film Salvador, he explores a repressive regime through the eyes of a U.S. photojournalist drawn to Latin America in hopes resurrecting his fading career. In the much more financially successful Platoon, released in the same year, he captures the deep systemic corruption of a war that would tear two nations apart through the eyes of a naive young solider. In JFK he captures the dark uncertainty at the heart of an epochal event still shrouded in uncertainty.

Most of his other films are similar dissections of the American psyche and the contemporary Zeitgeist, ranging from with two Wall Street films, to Nixon, W, Natural Born Killers, The Doors, Any Given Sunday, and Talk Radio.

His newest film, slated for release 16 Star, is Snowden, starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt in the title role.

In this, the latest episode of Conversations with History, Harry Kreisler, Executive Director of UC Berkeley’s Institute of International Studies, conducts a fascinating conversation with the director, with the topics ranging form Stone’s approach to the cinematic arts to his own views of the American system.

It’s well worth your time.

From University of California Television:

Movies, Politics and History with Oliver Stone — Conversations with History

Program notes:

Published on May 23, 2016

Conversations host Harry Kreisler welcomes filmmaker Oliver Stone for a discussion of his career as director, screenwriter, and producer. Stone describes formative experiences, talks about different aspects of the filmmaking process including working with actors, writing screenplays, and postproduction. He focuses on the themes that have drawn him, and emphasizes the distinction between a historian and dramatist who works with historical materials. He concludes with a discussion of recent works including Alexander and the 10-part documentary on The Untold History of the United States.

Map of the day: Some of what’s at stake in Brazil


While the government of suspended Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff had blocked attempts to clear yet more of the Brazilian rain forest, the measure is moving forward under acting President Michel Temer, sponsored by a senator who is also the nation’s leading soybean producer,.

From the Washington Post, a map of what’s already been lost between 1988 and 2013:

BLOG Deforested

Bigoted Hispanic studies book pushed in Texas


With all the anti-immigrant hysteria in the air, it should come as no surprise that Texas has proposed the adoption of a new Hispanic studies textbook perfectly in tune with these Trumpian times.

From NBC News in Dallas-Fort Worth:

A textbook proposed to help teach the cultural history of Mexican-Americans in Texas public schools is under scrutiny by scholars, some of whom decry the effort as racist and not a reflection of serious academic study.

The textbook, titled “Mexican American Heritage,” describes Mexican-Americans as people who “adopted a revolutionary narrative that opposed Western civilization and wanted to destroy this society.” It also links Mexican-Americans to undocumented immigrants, saying illegal immigration has “caused a number of economic and security problems” in the U.S. that include “poverty, drugs, crime, non-assimilation, and exploitation”

The State Board of Education voted to include textbooks on Mexican-American studies after activists last year demanded the subject be formally included in state curriculum. “Mexican American Heritage” is the first textbook on the subject included in a list of proposed instructional materials.

“Paradoxically, we pressed for the board to include texts on Mexican-American studies, and we achieved it, but not in the way we were expecting,” Tony Diaz, host of Nuestra Palabra (Our Word) radio program in Houston and director of Intercultural Initiatives at Lone Star College-North Harris, told the Houston Chronicle. “Instead of a text that is respectful of the Mexican-American history, we have a book poorly written, racist, and prepared by non-experts.”

More from the Associated Press:

Texans have until September to submit comments on the proposed instructional materials, said TEA spokeswoman DeEtta Culbertson. She also said the proposed textbooks will undergo review by a committee that includes teachers and administrators and that committee will make recommendations to the board.

Ultimately, books adopted by the elected members of the Texas State Board of Education in November become part of the recommended instructional materials for statewide curriculums, but school districts aren’t required to embrace them. Individual districts can use their state money to buy whatever textbooks they wish.

The book “is not a text that we have recommended nor we will be recommending,” says Douglas Torres-Edwards, coordinator of a TEA-approved Mexican-American studies course that has been implemented in some Houston Independent School District schools. “Frankly, that author is not recognized as someone who is part of the Mexican-American studies scholarship and most individuals engaged in scholarship will not recognize her as an author.”

Patrick Michels of the Texas Observer broke the story earlier this month, though it was largely ignored by most media until this week.

There’s more, after the jump. . . Continue reading

Brazil’s acting president hews to neoliberal line


Michel Temer, Brazil’s acting president and chief neoliberal, is setting about the most ruthless privatization of the nation’s commons since the Portuguese colonialist first arrived.

And just as with the Portuguese, the nation’s indigenous peoples are shapping up to be the first victims of the relentless drive to turn everything public into a center of private profit.

From the Thomson Reuters Foundation:

Brazil’s interim government is moving ahead with plans for a constitutional amendment that would weaken indigenous land rights and pave the way for new plantations and dams to encroach on lands inhabited by native peoples, a United Nations official said.

Erika Yamada, a member of the U.N’s Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, a human rights advisory body, said the proposed constitutional change would result in Brazil moving backwards on indigenous land rights.

The procedures used to identify and indigenous territories could be altered to give lawmakers more power to decide which territories belong to native peoples, she said.

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“They (lawmakers) will try and move forward with changes to the constitution that would make it much harder to defend indigenous rights,” Yamada told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in an interview this week.

“I think they will also weaken the process of authorization for large development projects with great social and environmental impact for traditional communities.”

And it’s not just the land and water of the indigenous that are marked for the auction block

From Bloomberg:

Brazil’s Acting President Michel Temer is studying the sale of state assets to shore up public accounts, as well as an audit of the country’s largest savings bank, said a government official with direct knowledge of the matter.

A government task force will consider selling stakes in companies such as power utility Furnas Centrais Eletricas SA and BR Distribuidora, a unit of Petroleo Brasileiro SA, the oil producer known as Petrobras, said the official, who asked not to be named because the plans haven’t been made public. The intention is to help plug a near-record budget deficit and improve the efficiency of state-owned enterprises.

Petrobras’s preferred shares rallied as much as 1.6 per cent on the report, after posting losses during most of the morning.

The plans are the clearest sign yet of a policy shift since the Senate’s suspension last week of President Dilma Rousseff, who had increased the role of the government and state companies in the economy.

Temer has also take the first steps to privatizing the national public broadcaster, reports teleSUR English:

Michel Temer, head of the coup government in Brazil, fired the head of the Brazil Communications Company, the public firm that manages the country’s public media outlets.

The action was rejected by the firm’s board of directors on the grounds that the law that regulates the company prohibits political interference.

“The notion that the president-director of the company should have fixed term, that does not coincide with a presidential mandates, was enshrined precisely to ensure the independence, impartiality and guiding principles of public outlets,” read a statement by the board of the Brazil Communications Company.

“The aim is to ensure autonomy from the federal government and protect the right of Brazilian society to free and public communications, which ensures the expression of diversity and plurality — foundations of a modern and democratic society,” added the statement.

The head of the company, Ricardo Melo, was appointed by democratically elected President Dilma Rousseff for a four year term earlier this month.

The coup government, however, ignored the concerns of the board.

Melo was replaced by Laerte Rimoli, who served as spokesperson for Aecio Neves, the right-wing candidate defeated by Rousseff in the 2014 presidential election. He also previously served as press officer for Eduardo Cunha, the embattled former head of the Chamber of Deputies who was recently suspended by the Supreme Court.

There’s much more, after the jump. . . Continue reading