rioflections

Musings and reflections on daily news and events in Rio de Janeiro

Brazil’s House of Cards – Life Imitates Art August 6, 2017

Filed under: Uncategorized — rioflections @ 1:00 pm

World Report, RTÉ, Radio One (Audio at 12:30m)

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Brazilians continue to suffer the worst recession ever seen in the history of this country. To make matters worse, the south American giant is embroiled in a political crisis that seems almost fictional, with recorded conversations and suitcases bulging with cash being passed from executives to politicians in return for political favours.

Rio de Janeiro, the picture postcard city that hosted the Olympic Games last year, is broke, and heavily in debt. More than two hundred thousand civil servants haven’t been paid in months. Many are forced to queue for hours to receive charitable packs with household staples like rice and beans so they can feed their families.

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Tanks are on the streets of Rio once again, with the army deployed to keep the peace here for the fourth time in 12 months, as robberies and violence spiral all over the city. Police, who haven’t been paid in months, don’t have money to put petrol in patrol cars.

To add insult to injury, the Olympic Velodrome caught fire last weekend, causing millions in damage, albeit to a venue that has only been used once since the Olympic cyclists left town last September. A burning flying lattern is thought to have caused the fire last Sunday in the now derelict Olympic park.

Former mayor Eduardo Paes is accused of taking around 15 million reais (more than 4 million euro) worth in bribes in the run up to last years games. He’s not the only one.   Investigators say many of the infrastructural works contracts leading to the World Cup in 2014 and last years Games were won with bulky brown envelopes.

A federal police operation, code-named Lava Jato, or Car Wash, began as a money laundering investigation at oil giant Petrobras, but uncovered what may be the worlds biggest ever graft scheme. Many, who once seemed untouchable in Brazilian society, are now behind bars. Even the President is under investigation.

Congress voted last week to shelve corruption charges against President Michel Temer, at least until next October after elections are held. No-one, not even Temer, expects that he will continue in politics after that. The people never voted for him in the first place, and he has less than 5% popular support.

The attorney general is preparing further charges against the right wing politician who became President after the impeachment of his former running mate leftist Dilma Rousseuff, exactly a year ago.

Under local law, charges made against a sitting politician in Brazil can only be heard by the Supreme Court; when it’s the President, a two thirds Congress majority is needed for any trial to proceed.

The congress vote, broadcast live on primetime TV into sitting rooms all over Brazil last Wednesday, revealed that politicians prefer to keep Temer where he is.

The release of R$13bn (around three and a half billion euro) in Federal funding in the form of clinics, schools, royalties, and other political favours, in recent weeks, is thought to have helped sway some undecided politicians, with new elections looming.

But, the prosecutor will go again, this time Temer will be charged with obstruction of justice, for allegedly trying to buy the silence of Eduardo Cunha, the now jailed former president of the chamber of deputies, who led impeachment proceedings against Dilma. If a two-thirds majority votes to allow a trial to progress, Temer would have to stand aside for 6 months. But, Rodrigo Maia, the next in line for the throne, is under investigation too.

Many Brazilians hope that Dilma’s charismatic predecessor Lula will come back into power next year, bringing back social programmes that Temer’s government systematically slashed. But, the 71-year-old former union leader, widely praised for bringing millions out of poverty during his two-term tenure, was recently sentenced to nine and a half years in prison, for corruption and money laundering. He will appeal, and if successful will likely run for President again.

A taxi driver in Sao Paulo last week said his vote would be for Jaír Bolsonaro, a far right politician who, during the televised impeachment vote last year, paid homage to a military colonel, head of a unit in the 1960s, where then 22 year old political dissident Dilma underwent prolonged sessions of torture.  According to the cabbie, the only solution for Brazil’s current implosion is a return to military rule.

The population feels powerless. Hunger and eviction are the grim realities faced by many, while the political soap opera continues to unfolds every day, more far-fetched than anything script writers could muster. But, people are too jaded, or too afraid of police repression, to take to the streets.

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For World Report, this is Sarah O’Sullivan in Rio de Janeiro.

 

 

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The Eve of the World Cup (Are we there yet?) June 10, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — rioflections @ 7:38 pm

World Report, RTE Radio One

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The FIFA football will be kicked into play in just four days time, when Croatia plays host Brazil in the opening game of the World Cup. After months, even years, of speculation and drama, will Brazil pull it off?

Football may be coming home, but Brazilians ain’t feeling it. Four years ago, the country was abuzz, streets were decked out in yellow and green. The nation was giddy with the promise of a whole month of the glorious game. But, here in Brazil, the glory has been replaced with a mix of worry and shame.

When foreign fans arrive to the opening match on Thursday, they may wonder why so many live in abject poverty, in homes made from sticks and black bags, why there is such a heavy security presence, and why goods and services cost more than they do back home.

It’s been a chaotic few months round here, with endless public service strikes, violence, vandalism, and vigilantism, not to mention escalating inflation, and a massive property bubble.
President Dilma is worried, not about visitor’s safety, but their perception of safety, she says. The army are on standby to man the major cities, alongside the military police, civil police, federal police, municipal guards… The list goes on.

Here in Sao Paulo, more than two thousand families are squatting on a hill beside the brand-new Itaquara stadium, where the opening match will play. They want the state government to buy the land to build social housing for them. They hope to embarrassing officials into complying with their plan. So far, government hasn’t budged, neither to buy the land, nor to clear them off it. Similar occupations in other cities led to violent removals in the past few months.

Homeless movements have been leading ongoing street protests in Sao Paulo recently. Since last June, when the protests exploded all over Brazil during the FIFA Confederations Cup, every type of social movements has taken their woes to the streets. Demands are mixed, from wage increases to dignified housing, from an end to political corruption to the de-militarisation of police. A governmental over-spend on football stadia, while health and education suffer, is a common refrain.

But, many are tiring of the endless stream of protests. Just last week, a group of Paulista academics published a joint statement – yeah, you’ve got a right to protest, they said. But, do it on your own time. Our commute is long enough already.

Images of native Indian tribes fighting police were published worldwide, while many here wondered why this sector of society should be allowed to carry weapons, and why they seem immune from the same rules and laws as other Brazilians.

The football is spread over twelve Brazilian cities, hundreds of miles apart, so air travel is imperative. All in hand, Brazil is ready, insists team Dilma. But, when heavy rains fell in Brasilia last Tuesday night, the newly built airport was submerged in water. Seemingly, someone forgot to put the roof on.

Scenes were like something from the keystone cops in Tancredo Neves, the international airport in Minas Gerais, as builders, painters and plasterers, frantically wove scaffolding through crowds of commuters and their suitcases. Ground-staff looked ready to cry, as they tried to scream over the sound of jack-hammers.

“Imagina na Copa” chuckled one of the ground staff at the international airport in Curitiba last Wednesday, when it emerged that my five hour journey to Fortaleza would now take twice the time. A fog chokes it, and other airports, every morning at this time of year. Imagining the Copa, I asked whether airline staff could speak English.

She began to hoot. “No, they gave us these little cards with a few phrases on them. Imagine us bent over the little cards trying to explain these delays to foreigners,” she chortled giddily, adding that around three people in the airport can speak English.

“I’m ashamed of my government,” said another commuter stuck in the fog. “Wait until you see the opening ceremony on TV, when Dilma makes her speech. They’ll pump out fake applause, so it looks like we’re all excited. Mark my words.”

Indeed, team Dilma has been on a frantic PR crusade. Worried that the nation isn’t buying in, the government has launched a major television and newspaper ad campaign. Airport billboards remind Brazilians that we’re ready to welcome the world. Full page newspaper ads show that any spend on football stadia dwarves the governmental spend on education and health. A ten year education plan was published on Tuesday.

Many Brazilians are optimistic. A Facebook event, scheduled for the opening match, is called “Find yourself a Gringo husband”, and has thousands of confirmed attendees.
How Brazil handles the crowds is one thing, but how they get on in the football is another. While many say they want nothing to do with the cup, they will still find it hard to miss a match. If Brazil wins and raises the cup in July, Dilma will retain her seat in elections later this year, and life will return to its crazy version of normal, at least until the Olympics Games roll round in two years time.

If they lose, well, all hell could break loose.

For World Report, this is Sarah O’Sullivan, in Sao Paulo. “

 

Lynn lawyers claim death risk May 6, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — rioflections @ 11:54 am

 

 

 

 

 

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Vai ter Copa??? April 27, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — rioflections @ 3:42 pm

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Audio report on RTE Radio One this morning, half-way through.

 

Four years ago, Brazil lapsed into mourning, when Holland beat them in the World Cup quarter-finals.  But, the collective ego of the football nation soon recovered.  It’s ok, they sighed.  We’ll wait, and win it at home.  But, a lot has changed in four years here in Brazil.  The World Cup is about more than just football, and the countdown is tense.   Nao vai ter Copa – or, there will be no World Cup, is the daily mantra at ongoing protests. 

Civil unrest is at boiling point in Rio’s favela, or squatter communities, where formerly voiceless residents are taking advantage of a protest movement that erupted during Fifa’s Confederations Cup last year.  Brazil’s poorest are taking to the streets, to decry disappearances and extra-judicial killings by police, mostly of young black males.

Last Tuesday, while the 18 carat gold World Cup trophy landed at Maracana football stadium, there were riots next to Copacabana beach, where most Rio-bound fans will stay in June.  One protester was shot in the head.

But, it’s not only the poor people who are protesting. Everyone wants to use this global limelight.  Teachers, university professors, police, bus drivers, bin men, even grave-diggers.   Brasil vai para, they say.  Brazil will stop. 

And, in ways, it already has.  Half-finished infrastructure projects all over means traffic nightmares in all the bigger cities.  The threat of a bus driver strike adds insult to injury.  Rumour has it the pilots are considering a strike too. 

The bin-men in Rio set a precedent during Carnaval, allowing rubbish to fill the city streets at it’s busiest time of year.  City Hall caved quickly, and the garis quickly scooped a 37% pay hike.  Now, everyone wants a piece of the pie.  Construction workers on World Cup sites downed tools, until they got a 9% pay hike.

Tourist city Salvador da Bahia had to bring the army onto city streets to tackle widespread looting, when Military Police went on strike there.  Shops, restaurant, even churches locked their doors, and buses stopped running after dark.  The city became a no-go zone, until the strike leader was arrested, and police returned to the beat.   

Even the Federal Police, responsible for border control, threaten strike action during the World Cup.  Spokesman Jonas Leao, said their workload is not viable.  “Our salaries haven’t been touched in seven years,” he said.  “Not even to reflect inflation.” 

How Brazil handles this one could impact confidence in Rio’s ability to host the Olympic Games in two years time.  While any re-routing of the Games is not officially on the table, it hasn’t been completely ruled out.  

Any deviation from the plan would be devastating for Brazil, said north American blogger Julia Michaels.  “It would be a complete waste of money, time and energy, and would narrow Brazil’s opening out onto the world.”

Author of RioRealBlog, Julia said she has seen big change in 30 years of living in Rio.  Brazil is more open to the outside than ever before, she said.  Societal changes are inevitable, she said, as Brazil opens up.   Maybe these mega-events are making changes happen faster, but at least we are seeing change. 

During the World Cup, she said, Brazilians will struggle to juggle their famous hospitality, their inherent love of football, with their desire to have their voices heard by the world.   

Local activist Theresa Williamson, head of NGO Catalytic Communities, predicts general unrest during the World Cup.  She expects that already repressive policing tactics will be even more severe during the games.  Already, protesters are being charged under organised crime legislation, designed for milita groups.  

Many Brazilians will leave town for the World Cup, apprehensive of what will be.  Violence levels are already spiking, and public confidence in policing is at an all-time low. 

A major security plan is underway, with Israeli-made drones being brought in to spy from above, while down below Brazilian security forces stock up on helmets and shields, tear gas, and rubber bullets. 

The social legacy of big sporting events is always laudable on paper.  But, the real legacy of World Cup 2014 remains to be seen. 

For World Report, this is Sarah O’Sullivan in Rio de Janeiro.  

 

I predict a riot March 31, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — rioflections @ 11:07 am

RTE Radio One, March 30th 2014 – Audio at 09:40

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“Ever since it was announced that Brazil would host the soccer World Cup , there has been much speculation as to whether the south American giant could actually pull it off. Now with the clock ticking loudly, it’s still hard to call. 

With just over two months to spare, stadiums are not finished, and there are bulldozers everywhere. Airports have been ripped apart, and roads torn up – ten minute car journeys are now taking hours. Brazil is like a badly run building site.

Traditionally laid-back, Brazilians are  worried. The wave of street protests that exploded last year, bringing massive cities to a standstill, prey on the minds of city and state governments. The population is angry – too much cash is being spent on football stadiums, while hospitals and schools struggle to provide basic services.

 The Confederations Cup, a sort of mini World Cup hosted by Fifa last year was an unmitigated disaster, as millions took to the streets and violent clashes between protesters and police officers were beamed all around the world.

A report recently leaked to Brazilian media suggested major security concerns in half of the host cities. Here in Rio de Janeiro, where the World Cup final will be held, on July 13th, the report cited “a difficult relationship between public authorities and society.”

Public confidence in policing is at a record low here, as cases of brutality continue to ooze across social media. Just last week, a mother of four was caught in the crossfire between police and drugs traffickers in a favela in the north zone of Rio de Janeiro.

Leaving the scene, the woman’s body was seen dangling from the boot of a police car, suspended by a piece of clothing. She was dragged along for about 300m. According to the officers, they were bringing her to hospital, but she died along the way. Sadly, this is not unusual in Rio’s poorer communities, where death and disappearances at the hands of police are the norm. What made this case unusual was that someone filmed the scenes, which went viral online.

The UPP, a pacification project, which placed police in favela communities for the first time in decades is falling apart, with increasing attacks, as drugs traffickers attempt to reclaim territory. Many residents preferred when the teenagers with guns were in charge – at least they knew the rules.

Dissatisfied with policing, some groups are taking the law into their own hands. A homeless teenager who tried to rob a bike in a leafy neighbourhood recently, found himself stripped naked and tied to a post with a bicycle lock around his neck, by a vigilante group calling themselves the Justiceiros. Many applaud their actions. “A good thief is a dead thief”, they say.

And, to further complicate matters, many workers unions are threatening to drop tools during the World Cup. There’ll be no World Cup, they say. Last month, Rio’s bin-men went on strike during Carnaval. Rubbish piled high on Rio’s streets, while glamourous Samba dancers jistled their glittering costumes. Days later, the mayor conceded, and gave them a 37% pay increase. Now, everyone eles wants to follow suit.

Brazil hoped to capture the world’s attention, by hosting a World Cup, and Olympic Games within a two year period. But, now it looks like it bit off more than it can chew, with social unrest spewing under the heavy make-up of sparkling new Fifa stadia.

When Pope Francis came to town last year, the city of Rio bearly coped with the massive crowds of praying pilgrims. The army lined the streets, but there were still some embarrassing slip-ups. With hundreds of thousands of beer-drinking football fans about to descend, many predict a riot.

For World Report, this is Sarah O’Sullivan in Rio de Janeiro.”

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Hearing Michael Lynn October 22, 2013

Filed under: Uncategorized — rioflections @ 2:03 pm

Coverage of the case of Irish solicitor Michael Lynn in Irish media, by Sarah O’Sullivan

 

Sunday Times, Ireland

1st September 2013

 

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8th September 2013

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20th October 2013

 

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Morning Ireland, RTE Radio One

22nd October 2013

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Where is Amarildo? August 26, 2013

Filed under: Uncategorized — rioflections @ 3:02 pm

World Report, 18th August 2013, RTE Radio One (audio 1:41)

Rio de Janeiro has changed. Four years ago, using a mobile phone in public was asking for trouble. Now, everyone walks around using smart-phones, after a booming economy and an ambitious public security campaign in the cities favelas brought relative peace to the city.

But, the protest movement that has erupted here decries any positive spin. After police came down hard on protesters outside the Maracana football stadium in June, hundreds of thousands of Brazilians took to the streets.

No-one expected such a public uprising, and a myriad of police forces, trained for urban warfare, continue to try to quash popular movements with rubber bullets, and tear gas. A running joke here is that police use rubber bullets on the protesters, but real bullets within the favelas, of low income squatter settlements.

Where is Amarildo?” was the message hackers displayed on the website of State Governer Sergio Cabral’s political party last Monday.  The father of six was last seen a month ago with members of the UPP, a pacifiying programme that introduced policing to communities ruled by drugs traffickers for decades. Homicide rates have dropped dramatically, though many say that’s becasue the police are killing fewer.

The night Amarildo went missing in Rocinha, a favela pacified two years ago, security cameras and gps systems on police cars stopped working, as they regularly do during offensives against protesters on the city streets. Amarildo’s family say police have threatened to kill them unless they stop making noise about the missing brick-layer, presumed dead.

All favela residents are treated as criminals by police, complained one Rocinha resident. He said people in the favela continuously go missing, mostly at the hands of police.

Amarildo is one of 35 thousand people gone missing in Rio state in the last six years. Arbitrary killings by both police and drugs traffickers are commonplace, and both sides enjoy a level of impunity. Living in a favela, you are subject to the “lei do silencio”. You see nothing, you hear nothing, and you say nothing. No-one dares disobey.

Brazil’s periphery is finding its voice. In June, police chased a group of car-jackers along Avenida Brasil, Rio’s main highway, and into a nearby favela, Mare, due for imminent pacification. When a police officer was shot dead, his colleagues went on a knifing rampage, reportedly killing 12 favela residents, many inside thier homes. Word reached the social networks, and protesters arrived on the scene en masse, resulting in a police withdrawal, previously unheard of.

In Sao Carlos, another pacified favela, a police officer claims that colleagues maintain list of young people they plan to kill. One teenager there said officers accused him of being a drug dealer, and threatened to kill him. When the 15 year old showed that all he had with him was a kite and a sandwich, the police placed marijuana, cocaine and dog faeces in the sandwich, and force him to eat it.

In Sao Paulo, a 13 year old schoolboy is accused of killing his entire family at point blank range two weeks ago, going to school, then coming home to shoot himself. The boy dreamed of being a hitman, or so the story goes. But, neighbours insist the child is innocent, and it emerged last week that his mother had recently refused to participate in a cash machine robbery plan, an reported her colleauges to superiors. A television presenter said on air that he thought the family were killed by police. His son has since recieved death threats.

Rio remains chaotic, and the city strained to contain crowds of well-wishing, non-drinking pilgrims during the pope’s visit last month. Peaceful protests are scenes of urban warfare. What to expect when the world spills all its drunken football fans onto this postcard pretty city for next year’s World Cup? Only time will tell.

For World Report, this is Sarah O’Sullivan in Rio de Janeiro.