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Brazil: the ‘B’ in BRICSAM

Brazil, more than any other Latin American country, is attracting the attention of the world and LAB finds itself providing increasing coverage of developments in the country. In the coming period, the World Cup (2014) and Olympics (2016) in Rio guarantee a flow of tourists, a surge of worldwide interest and the show-casing of Brazilian culture. 

While we warmly welcome the greater press attention on Brazil, the growing attraction that the country has for foreign investors can distort the coverage. In Britain, the Guardian newspaper recently included an extensive paid-for supplement that provided an exaggerated eulogy of Rio, the copy clearly geared to business and advertisers. 

Brazil is making some positive advances in social inclusion. Figures published this week by the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE) showed that over the last ten years that poorest 20% of the population has increased its share in national wealth from 2.5% to 3.5% – still a tiny amount but a step in the right direction. 

A similar advance, if also at a snail’’s pace, is happening on the racial front. The same IBGE figures showed that black people are finally managing to achieve some degree of social mobility, with the percentage of black or mixed-race Brazilians among the richest one per cent of the population increasing from 9.6% in 2001 to 16.3% in 2011 – still very low for a country where most citizens are not white.

However, in a special article for LAB, Tom Gatehouse Tom Gatehouse takes a look behind Brazil’s vaunted image as a multi-racial society and suggests that the huge disparities in income and opportunity between the black majority and the predominantly white elite remain a blind-spot that must be addressed (Read more).

Part of the reason for the slow progress in social equality has been the reluctance of successive PT (Workers’ Party) governments to face up to vested interests. Mining companies, industrialists, logging companies and agribusiness are continuing to exploit Brazil’s vast natural resources for their own benefit. A case in point is the controversial new Forest Code that has finally been approved in Congress, after much discussion. Even though President Dilma Rousseff vetoed some of the more outrageous amendments introduced by the agribusiness lobby, it remains, as LAB editor Francis McDonagh explains, a law ‘made in the image and likeness of agribusiness’ (Read more).

Thanks to the environmental movement and mounting world-wide concern about climate change, there is growing awareness that large-scale habitat loss in the vast Amazon basin (which makes up 40% of the land area of Brazil and accounts for 20% of the total amount of river-water feeding the world’s oceans) will affect us all. Despite the use of aerial and satellite photography to monitor deforestation, LAB editor Sue Branford’s recent journey to the Xingu river area of eastern Amazonia discovered how widespread illegal logging, too dispersed to be apparent from the air, is devastating forest areas. Sue’s blog from her travels (Read more) and detailed analysis on her return (Read more) explain the details.

Brazil’s economic growth and its growing willingness to take on a global role have brought it membership of the so-called BRICS or BRICSAM bloc of countries, consisting of Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa and Mexico. At a summit in New Delhi in March, the bloc announced the setting up of a huge new development bank that will challenge the dominance of the World Bank, which the bloc believes to be excessively geared to the interest of the old industrial powers (Read more).

There are, however, concerns about how Brazil, in particular, is deploying its power beyond its frontiers, not just in South America but in Africa. Its agribusiness companies are involved with Japanese partners in a vast soya and maize project in former Portuguese colony Mozambique (Read more). 

Brazilian politics have long been significantly tarnished by corruption but few politicians have ever been punished. This tradition was broken  when the recent the trial around the Mensalão scandal ended with heavy sentences for José Dirceu and a number of leading figures in the PT. In a special article for LAB, Jan Rocha looks at the evidence (Read more).

Despite the glamour of Rio’s beaches, Brazil’s cities remain plagued by violence, pollution, the absence of effective planning controls and the exclusion of marginal communities. In another special article Jan Rocha examines the recent spate of killings in São Paulo (Read more), while Maria Rita Kehl makes a plea for ‘delicacy’ and humanity in City government (Read more). The city’s notorious pollution was described by Katia Mello (Read more) and Sue Branford chronicled her impressions on revisiting the city after an absence of several years (Read more).

LAB will be returning to the theme of Brazil in 2013. In March we will publish a remarkable novel by Brazilian journalist Bernardo Kucinski, whose sister was disappeared and murdered by the military dictatorship. The book, runner up for the Telecom Portugal Prize 2012, charts the desperate search of Bernardo’s father, himself a Jewish political refugee from Poland, for his missing daughter and the extraordinary conspiracy of silence that in Brazil, unlike Argentina and Chile, has remained largely intact until now. At the same time, LAB will be publishing a Special Report by Patrick Wilcken about the Brazil Truth Commission. 

Bernardo and Patrick will be speaking at a seminar on the subject at King’s College London in March 2013. Details  will be announced on the LAB website.

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Early in 2013 we will write to you in more detail about our fund-raising needs and plans.

In Other News

As Hugo Chavez returns to Cuba for further treatment for abdominal cancer, for the first time he explicitly names a successor, Nicolas Maduro. Venezuela expert Julia Buxton examines the political and constitutional dilemmas the country faces (Read more).

Mining remains a major source of controversy in the Region. In Argentina’s vast Patagonian south, communities are deeply divided about whether to welcome or oppose plans for large-scale mining at Chubut (Read more). Three women from Peru, Venezuela and Guatemala recently visited London to describe the impact of mining on their communities (Read more).

Earlier this year, Paraguayan president Fernando Lugo was impeached, partly as a result of a massacre in Curuguaty on June 15th when six policemen and 11 peasants were killed. Brazilian NGO Pública managed to speak to two of the peasants under arrest for their involvement in the conflict and has now released a report into the incident which clearly implicates rich landowners in the killing of the policemen as part of a plot to oust the president. (Read more).

In a LAB exclusive, famous Mexican film actor Gael García Bernal (famous for his role as Ché in Motocycle Diaries) talks to Matt Kennard about his latest film No, about the campaign which brought to an end the Pinochet Dictatorship in Chile (Read more) and discusses art and politics in film.

Become a LAB Partner

Latin America Bureau (LAB) is extending a cordial invitation to NGOs, CSOs and others in the Region (as well as Aid Agencies, Campaigns, Human Rights and Solidarity groups concerned with the Region) to become LAB Partners. LAB will list Partners, with a brief Profile of each, where they work, their objectives, contact details, website links, etc., on the Partners Page of LAB’s website (www.lab.org.uk).

There is no cost. The Partner simply completes a very brief survey and signs the agreement. LAB will then add them to the listing of LAB Partners.

As our work develops, we hope to publish links to websites and articles with news of the Partners’ work and campaigns; to launch discussions and blogs through which the Partners can communicate with one another; to provide training material and skills to help Partners to improve their communication skills; and to build an e-Library of links to articles and reports on campaigns and themes of common interest.

To become a LAB Partner, simply click the appropriate link below and complete the Survey and Agreement:  

Spanish: www.surveymonkey.com/s/LABPartnerProfileSpa

English: www.surveymonkey.com/s/LABPartnerProfileEng 

French: www.surveymonkey.com/s/LABPartnerProfileFre 

Portuguese: www.surveymonkey.com/s/LABPartnerProfilePor