Tag Archives: Brazil

State of Queer: being gay in Latin America

unnamed

IGUALES: an organisation promoting a wider inclusion of minorities into the society

Many countries in Latin America have been quick to adopt legislation towards the greater inclusion of LGBT individuals in society, but the struggle is far from over. México, Chile and Guatemala illustrate some of the differences, and the challenges looking forward. For a bigger picture, have a look at this map.

Edgar Sosa Meyemberg was an openly gay man and an active member of Ave de México, an organization that promotes awareness of HIV – a problem that is even greater among the homosexual community in México. He was last seen 24 February 2014, only to be found dead a month later. Ave de México, where Sosa served as director of development, demanded a prompt investigation of the case, but it ran into institutional and societal indifference. Though the authorities are not exclusively negligent in cases that involve members of the LGBT community, impunity being the norm for most Latin American countries, but they are quick to dismiss crimes like these on the grounds that they are usually crimes of passion. Both the attorney of the Texcoco and Nezahualcoyotl municipalities declared the crime to be so, after a photograph of Edgar with a rainbow flag surfaced in the investigation.

This sort of stereotype, says Carlos García de León, a fellow activist and friend of Sosa, is not rare in Mexican society. “Cases like these bring to light the sheer ignorance of the reality and dynamics of homosexual individuals by the authorities, as it is guided by stereotypes and indifference”, he claims. He also cites the death of another Ave de Mexico team member that was never investigated, Francisco Estrada Valle, who died in 1992, and the more recent killing of a 24 year old gay activist, Christian Iván Sánchez, in July 2011. Sánchez was involved with the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), who is friendlier among Mexican political parties when it comes to LGBT issues. General violence and hate crimes, based on the victims’ sexual orientation, is a grave issue in Latin America. Between 1995 and 2005, around 400 victims lost their lives to violence due to their sexual orientation in México, whereas 312 were killed in Brazil during 2013. There is hope, however, as a wave of legislative changes have mobilised the region towards greater acceptance of LGBT individuals as part of society and will continue to do so in the following years.

A silver lining

A crime, in fact, can be a trigger for change, as the case of Daniel Zamudio in Chile illustrates. Zamudio was a 24 year old man who was attacked and tortured in 2012 when his attackers learned about his homosexuality. He was severely injured and died three weeks later, but the media attention and the prompt response by local activist organisations sped up public discussion and legislation against discrimination. Then President Sebastián Piñera urged the Chilean parliament to speed up the adoption of a law against discrimination, which banned discrimination based on race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, gender, appearance and disability. Also under Piñera, a project to regulate civil unions for non-married couples, heterosexual and same-sex alike, was introduced for discussion partly through the pressure of civil society and activist organizations. It is now known as the AVP, as the Spanish acronym for life partnership accord. Political momentum was not enough, as the discussion of the project has been delayed for about 4 years and is only now in the final stages of approval.

Luis Larraín, knows that the project is only a step in the direction of greater acceptance for the rights of LGBT individuals, which is the long-term goal of the organisation he presides over; Fundación Iguales. In fact, the AVP has been disputed both by hard-line activists, who don’t want civil unions to overcrowd the diversity agenda thereby pushing other topics off the table, as by conservatives, who perceive it as a threat to the institution of family. But Larraín and his co-founder, writer Pablo Simonetti, and the team at Iguales all agree on the necessity for gradual change. Civil unions are just one more milestone in a longer path: “Though the discussion has amplified from the AVP to equal marriage, the legal project has been pending approval for 4 years, and is coming close to finally being sanctioned. Introducing a new project right now would take at least a few months to get approval”, stated Larraín. “The time that passes translates into lives of people whose relationships and rights are not duly recognised”, he clarifies.

In fact, the delay has been put to good use, as public debates have engaged Chilean citizens in an honest discussion about the inclusion of all citizens to democratic processes – a wave that also encompasses changes in education and tax reform, as well as better treatment of women, migrants and indigenous peoples. “Next steps include the gender identity law, which would allow trans individuals to adjust their identity documents, which we hope will be approved next year. We’re also proposing adoption by same-sex couples, though not yet at the legislative level, and are socialising a proposal for equal marriage. Hopefully, it will be granted its proper importance and will be voted as part of [current President Michelle] Bachelet’s term”, Larraín explains.

The main success for the cause of LGBT peoples in Latin America, however, has come from sharing a message that appeals even to non-LGBT peoples. Andrés Zúñiga, programmes manager at Iguales, sums it up: “Besides being gay, you’re also a student, a brother, a son, a poor or rich, right-wing or left-wing person. People are recognising that increasingly”. Both also noticed that the issue is closely related to the prevalence of homosexuality having a more prominent spot on the public agenda, but other gender identities have started to gain track in recent years. “It’s more than just about homosexuality; it’s about diversity”, adds Zúñiga, who is also a psychology student.

 An Unequal Transition

Chile has had a steady, though slow, progress toward greater inclusion. So has Argentina, the first country in the region where gay marriage was legal since 2010, Uruguay, Brazil and Mexico. The middle to high-level income in those countries may be a one reason why social movements towards greater inclusion have been successful. In fact, inequality is a problem even domestically, as Zúñiga points out that “Lower-income constituencies are more at risk than their middle and high income counterparts. The underlying reason is their lack of access to education, and the corresponding influence conservative or religious leaders may have with them”.

But as Javier Corrales, a political science professor at Amherst University points out, social movements are also strong in Bolivia, Colombia, Costa Rica and Peru, and their struggle to institutionalise change cannot be explained with recourse to education and income alone. “What seems to make a difference is … whether they forge strong ties with national-level political parties”, he writes  in the New York Times.

Worryingly, there are a few countries where the voices for LGBT activism are not nearly as organised. Such is the case in Guatemala. As the host country for the 43rd General Assembly for the Association of American States (OAS), held in early June 2013, the president Otto Pérez Molina was forced to take a stance on abortion and gay marriage, topics that were intensely discussed as part of the summit’s agenda. He promptly and almost candidly affirmed that “Guatemala is a conservative country, and is therefore against abortion and marriage between homosexuals”. A few dozen people had been protesting outside the meeting, calling for the defense of “life, family and marriage”. They later sent him a letter thanking him for his “resistance to pressures”, signed by 150 people. Jorge Lopez Sologaistoa, president of OASIS Guatemala, presented a public denunciation against the President and other government officials at the Office of the Human Rights Procurator. “That type of comments incite discrimination, and violates the universal human rights. You cannot recognise them in one place and not in other”, López explained , but the demand went mostly under the radar.

Sadly, people in most countries of Latin America still face enormous social pressure to conform to expectations about masculinity and femininity that are based in culture or religion, some of them live in countries without the institutions that might help provide a better council, or support. Then, most gay, lesbian, transsexual, bisexual, queer and bisexual individuals are bound to negotiate their rights at a great disadvantage, even if it doesn’t translate into actual violence. Luckily, a high level of engagement and the work of courageous individuals point to higher grounds.

By Luis Eduardo Barrueto

Picture: Paola Ossandón

Advertisements

Electoral hangover in Brazil as blank ballots give power to ‘racist neo-liberals’

With 38 million blank ballots, Brazilians refused to vote the available candidates. Rookie mistake: results benefited those recognized for opposing individual liberties. 

THERE IS A bitter taste in the mouths of millions of Brazilians, who still do not understand how polls contradict the chants and banners of last year. As the country prepares for the second round between two representatives of the so-called ‘old politics’, outcomes at state level frighten. Rio de Janeiro, Rio Grande do Sul and São Paulo – in theory, the most politicized of the country – have chosen as rulers men recognized for their racist, neoliberal and anti-LGBT proposals.

Bolsonaro: advocate of  the death penalty, defendant of homophobic violence
After a failed attempt to run for presidency, Jair Messias Bolsonaro was elected Federal Congressman for the sixth time, now with the largest amount of votes in the state of Rio de Janeiro. Known to favour the implementation of death penalty and new military intervention on civil matters, he became particularly known abroad after being interviewed by Stephen Fry for BBC [3], regarding his role on barring the bill that criminalized homophobia. In 2010, he defended the use of physical violence to “cure” homosexuality.

Feliciano:  not who you’d call a ‘feminist’
In economic superpower São Paulo, Pastor Marcos Feliciano was the third most voted candidate, despite last year’s protests specifically targeting his positionings regarding women’s reproductive rights. An extract from an interview to O Globo [4]: “When you stimulate a woman to have the same rights as men, she wanting to work, her part as a mother begins to get canceled. To avoid motherhood, either she’ll not marry, or will hold a relation with someone of the same sex so she can have pleasure without children.” He was, ironically, head of the Human Rights Commission in Congress at the time.

Heinze: racist of the year
Brazil is one of the largest food exporters in the world, and agricultural production gives financial and political power to landowners and multinational companies throughout national territory. Tensions over land use often result in armed conflict between indigenous and maroon (slave-descendant) communities. All with political support of people like Luis Carlos Heinze, re-elected in Rio Grande do Sul. In March, he received the Racist of the Year ‘Award’, from the British NGO Survival. [5]

If corruption were criterion, the list would be meaningfully longer, with traditional emphasis on Paulo Maluf. Better known for figuring Interpol’s red list regarding accusations made ​​in the USA – related to deviations of public money in Brazil – and surviving through an absurd loophole: the country does not extradite its own citizens. As long as he doesn’t cross the border, he cannot be charged or trialed.  However, he is free to perform in public office, nationwide. Yesterday, Maluf was among the top ten deputies voted in Sao Paulo.

For the first time in a long career, his candidacy will be banned and he can not assume the position. Impediment is due to a new law passed last year under popular pressure. The ‘Clean Record’ makes ineligible for eight years a candidate who previously had his mandate revoked, resigned to avoid impeachment or has been convicted. But with such turnout, there are still many questions to be raised.

But what happened, Marina?141006020838_marina_silva_624x351_ap

It is still difficult to make sense of the defeat of the ‘electoral tsunami’ which was not borne out. Despite having grown exponentially during the three-month campaign, Marina Silva didn’t even pass to the second round. On the 26th, the remaining governors and a president will be chosen – either the newcomer Aécio Neves, or a surprising comeback for Dilma Rousseff – the first woman to rule the country since Princess Regent Isabel, a hundred years ago.


For the win…

Yesterday’s elections showed at least two positive results: the high rate of blank votes, and agility in the verification. One in three Brazilians refused to vote for the current candidates, nullifying their vote. If, on the one hand, this resulted in the above, it also gives consistency in relation to protests of 2013. Exhausted, citizens withdrew from this particular political game.

The second positive point is the role of technology. For years the country has an electronic system for polling and counting of votes, but this time there is an impressive number of free apps – from official and civil society actors – created to oversee the background of candidates and parties, as well as tracking outcomes and monitoring irregularities. We highlight a few:

Acordei: The app recounts the professional and personal background of each candidate. One should remember that in Brazil, political career is a profession, and the elected stop performing their usual social functions – medicine, law, commerce … A list of lawsuits and charges, property and proposal for governance are part of the profile.

Voto x Veto: The app features real motions of candidates, drawn from official plans for governance. They are presented individually, without identifying the candidate who proposed them. The user then chooses whether to agree (vote) or disagree (veto) it, and only then discovers who is the candidate who suggested that platform. A good way of encouraging reflection, making Rousseau proud.

Candidaturas e Apuração 2014: Both created by the Electoral Court, they are the official reference apps. The first is an impressive list of candidates, with information on coalitions, donations, government proposals and performance in previous elections. The second rocked this morning (GMT): it’s a minute-by-minute report on the results sent by electronic ballots. Between 17:00 and 19:00 local time, mobile devices followed the back-and-forth of candidates as if they were racehorses.

Você, fiscal [2]:  Perhaps the most creative solution, it audits the results of each ballot box in order to gather evidence of fraud in the verification. The initiative of a renowned university (Unicamp) invites voters and volunteers to photograph this Bulletins printed by the electronic ballot during the closure of each voting position. By comparing this ‘statement’ from each region to the official results, it denounces security flaws and frauds. This is of particular importance since the Superior Electoral Court suspended the implementation of safety tests in 2012 when, even on limited resources and short period of time, the anonymity of voters was broken with ease.


 

Written by Scheila Farias Silveira:  a Brazilian journalist, currently based in Germany. She is a public affairs specialist working with sustainability, corporate social responsibility and social management.

Image credits: BBC, Senado Federal

 

The lesson 142,8 million Brazilians want you to learn

15448445395_6f1513bde4_b_d

When it comes to politics, the ability to read in between the lines is  just as important as tracking numbers.

AFTER BUSY MONTHS of protest, Brazilians’ lack of satisfaction with political scenario reaches a turning point as 142,8 million people cast their votes this Sunday. As the usual ensemble of oligarchs, happy-go-lucky first timers and community leaders try their luck towards state and federal-level government positions, voters acknowledge looking up personal and professional backgrounds might not be enough.

In a complex society as this, full of regional disparities and local interests, accountability for the past might not be enough  when it come to choosing which leaders will guide the country from January 1st. With predictions of bleak government budget for the coming term, religious threats to personal freedom, soaring levels of impunity  for corrupt politicians and US demand for intervenion in ISIS, Brazilians have learned that futurology is needed to balance  both internal and external interests of the now global player.

Eleven candidates run for presidency this year, three with real chance of election. For the first time since the reestablishment of democracy thirty years ago, none of them ARE believed to bring social progress or financial stability. However, they can all mean some kind of loss to Brazilian society.

The current president

Dilma Rousseff was Minister of Mines and Energy, and later Chief-of-Staff during Luiz Inácio Lula da dilmaSilva’s government, and much of the sucess of income distribution policies and social development strategies were atributed to her, even though some of these programmes had been started with previous rulers. Her association with his image might have earned her first term but, several corruption scandals later, might be more harmful now than beneficial.

These scandals range from the widely known “Mensalão” scandal – a “vote buying” scandal relating to the congress – to some recent developments, the latest of which involve the state owned petrol giant Petrobras. According to recent statements by former director Paulo Roberto Costa, the federal government was “leaking” money from the company in order to pay politicians for favorable votes in congress. While the scandal is still unproven, it has taken its toll. The electoral period has become a minefield, with old scandals returning (even when proved false) and new ones – such as the postal office allegedly “distributing campaign fliers illegally” – popping around.

Other scandals involving the Workers Party led government have not to do with corruption, but with diplomacy – namely the support given to Latin American countries, the pardon to debts mantained by African countries, the support to Palestine, the hiring of 10 thousand Cuban physicians, financial aid to Cuba, and most recently, the non-commital stance on warfare against ISIS. All of those have brought forth the wrath of the opposition and – with greater intensity – conservatives.

Stock market behaviour during the last three months have shown that whenever Rousseff’s ratings go up, investors freeze or remove their bets on the Brazilian economy. Considering that employment indexes and GDP have ceased to grow, those focused on economic prosperity – more related to exports than national growth – do not see the president with keen eyes. With a projected GDP growth of a measly 0,3%, inflation nearing the Central Bank ceiling of 6,5% and interest rates at 10%, there might be a point in these fears. Still, with 40% of the intended vote, she is most likely to make it to the second round

The socialist ‘newcomer’

Marina Silva is not exactly new to politics. As her campaign constantly enforced, she was Chico Mendes’ sister-in-arms in the defence of labour rights in Acre. Embedded in the middle of the Amazon, the commotion was the battle between the rubber tappers who depended on the forest to extract rubber, and loggers who depended deforestation to ensure their livelihood. As a result, both came to be seen as environmentalists.

marina

She has since become Minister of the Environment, also during Lula’a government. Disagreement about conservation policies as “sustainable development” no longer seemed a priority for the party made her abdicate office, beginning her popularity among voters who considered it a rare case of consistentency.

However, Marina is a neopentecostal evangelic, and has received increasing support from a conservative, right-wing portion of society.  Powerful pastors – some of which already hold federal positions – have drawn followers to vote for what they believe will be a Christian politician. However, this support comes at a high cost. Promises considering LGBT rights, for example,  have been withdrawn within 24 hours of publication, after pressure from such religious leaders. This has also earned her a reputation as a flip-flopper – as noted by candidate Aécio Neves, during the last debate, who replied her critiques with “the one who constantly changes  position here is not me”. She has yet to explain, as well, her sudden visit to the US on september 26th, talking to US State leaders.

Part of her current popularity – with 24% of the intended vote, according to pollsters – came from tragedy: the death of previous Brazilian Socialist Party (PSB) candidate Eduardo Campos in a plane crash, in august 13th. Afterwards PSB candidature went steadily upwards, and is almost certainly going to second turn. If so, this will be an unprecedented event for Brazilian politics: for the first time, a non-catholic, black leader will be in power. More importantly, she represents a part of the country historically excluded from decision-making processes.

So far she has changed her position on GMOs, LGBT rights and work legislation. In the last five years alone, she has changed party three times: from the Worker’s Party (PT) to the Green Party (PV in 2009) and  from PV to her own proto-party Rede Sustentabilidade in 2013, which failed to be approved in time to run for president; and this year from Rede to PSB, running for vice-president, and later president.

The main man from the opposition

While Dilma represents the current stablishment, and Marina portrays herself as the “new politics”, Social Democrat Aécio Neves is pure tradition: grandson of president ellect Tancredo Neves – the first ellected president after the military dictatorship ended in 1985, and who died before assuming – Aécio has years of experience on his shoulders. Federal congressman for 15 years, Minas Gerais Governor for 8 years, one of the largests votings on Senator in the countries history – yet he’s on decline, despite promoting the neo-liberal agenda that is on the rise in social media.

Much like Dilma, he is involved in his fair share of scandals. These are regarding airports in particular, as during his time as Governor, he built two new airports in Minas, one of them in the small city of Claúdio, 60 kilometers away from another airport – inside his family’s farm. One of his main allies in the senate’s helicopter was stopped carrying 450kg of cocaine in 2013, yet the scandal failed to hit either of them.

Neves also faces another problem: while he pleads to mantain most of president Dilma’s social programs, a sizeable part of his electorate is rabidly opposed to them. Either he risks losing the popular vote – as he did when his probably Economy Secretary Armínio Fraga said the minimum wage was “too high” – or he risks losing his own electorate. This combines with a reputation of censorship:  relating to lawsuits against twitter users, and search and seizure warrants against bloggers from criticizing him fora  very strange candidate.

The man with the air train

A prominent and rather folclorical figure is presidential candidate Levy Fidelix; while his portly shape, bald head and tick mustache make him look like an aging Oliver Hardy or a middle aged Super Mario, his call to fame comes from what is his main (or only) proposal since first attempting to run for president, in 1994: the air train, a high speed bullet train connecting the cities of Campinas, Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. Besides that, his program is marked by reducing the size of the state – and for that he presents in debate a lot of numbers, and little actual plans on actual implementation.

However, after a september 27th debate, Fidelix ceased to be just a comical symbol of a failed project. A far right, conservative candidate with a motto of “morally enrighting the country”, his view became the center of a controversy after being asked about gay marriage – in national TV he called “upon the majority” to “fight against this minority”, said gay rights threatened the country, and closed up by saying “those people”(in reference to LGBTs) need psychiatric treatment – “far away from the rest of us”. In response, the National Order of Lawyers and other civil entities sued his candidature – who has less than 1% of the vote.

Smaller, yet notable

While those are the so called “mainstream” candidates, and one who has risen to notability after saying heinous things in national television, there are a grand total of eleven candidates for president. Joined up, most of them don’t add to one percent of the vote, but some deserve attention – either for escaping this fate, or for representing something about national politics.

Christian Social Party candidate Everaldo Dias Pereira, a.k.a Pastor (Preacher) Everaldo, is one such case; with a measly 1% of the vote, according to polls, Everaldo nonetheless represents an expressive part of the political debate in Brazil. While simultaneously defending minimum state – going as far as suggesting privatizing the police – Everaldo defends the idea that peoples private lives – or at least, deviant’s private lives – are an state affair. Essentially, much like some brazilian libertarians, he is for freedom – unless that freedom is to have sex with someone your own gender, use drugs, practice your religion or abort. Not that it is any surprise: his party is a front for churches eager for more state intervention in “morality”, and less in business.

Another “small notable” is Socialism and Freedom candidate Luciana Genro, daughter of former Worker’s Party President Tarso Genro. Again with a mere 1% of the vote, and little political experience, Genro has fiercely attempted to push her agenda against “the private capital”, even though she has no chance of being elected. While being ridiculed by some, Luciana has much like Green Party candidate Eduardo Jorge (mentioned in the previous article) become a sort of “Living meme”. She definetely won’t be elected – but won’t be forgotten. Even if that means people still aren’t taking politics seriously.

So what have Brazilians to teach us?

That looking for solutions for the future is far more complex than just looking at candi*rties. Other spheres of society – like churches – and foreign policies are far more intervening on homeland developments.

________________________________________________________

Written by Scheila Farias Silveira and Pedro Henrique Leal.

Picture Credits: Marina Silva campaign site, Marcos Fernandes, Ichiro Guerra

Scheila Farias Silveira is a Brazilian journalist, currently based in Germany. She is a public affairs specialist working with sustainability, corporate social responsibility and social management.

Pedro Henrique Leal is a brazilian journalist and human rights activist, currently based in Wales. He writes mostly about human rights and social issues for independent websites À Margem and Coletivo Metranca.

The lesson 142,8 million Brazilians want you to learn

When it comes to politics, the ability to read in between the lines is  just as important as tracking numbers.

AFTER BUSY MONTHS of protest, Brazilians’ lack of satisfaction with political scenario reaches a turning point as 142,8 million people cast their votes this Sunday. As the usual ensemble of oligarchs, happy-go-lucky first timers and community leaders try their luck towards state and federal-level government positions, voters acknowledge looking up personal and professional backgrounds might not be enough.

In a complex society as this, full of regional disparities and local interests, accountability for the past might not be enough  when it come to choosing which leaders will guide the country from January 1st. With predictions of bleak government budget for the coming term, religious threats to personal freedom, soaring levels of impunity  for corrupt politicians and US demand for intervenion in ISIS, Brazilians have learned that futurology is needed to balance  both internal and external interests of the now global player.

Eleven candidates run for presidency this year, three with real chance of election. For the first time since the reestablishment of democracy thirty years ago, none of them ARE believed to bring social progress or financial stability. However, they can all mean some kind of loss to Brazilian society.

The current president

Dilma Rousseff was Minister of Mines and Energy, and later Chief-of-Staff during Luiz Inácio Lula da dilmaSilva’s government, and much of the sucess of income distribution policies and social development strategies were atributed to her, even though some of these programmes had been started with previous rulers. Her association with his image might have earned her first term but, several corruption scandals later, might be more harmful now than beneficial.

These scandals range from the widely known “Mensalão” scandal – a “vote buying” scandal relating to the congress – to some recent developments, the latest of which involve the state owned petrol giant Petrobras. According to recent statements by former director Paulo Roberto Costa, the federal government was “leaking” money from the company in order to pay politicians for favorable votes in congress. While the scandal is still unproven, it has taken its toll. The electoral period has become a minefield, with old scandals returning (even when proved false) and new ones – such as the postal office allegedly “distributing campaign fliers illegally” – popping around.

Other scandals involving the Workers Party led government have not to do with corruption, but with diplomacy – namely the support given to Latin American countries, the pardon to debts mantained by African countries, the support to Palestine, the hiring of 10 thousand Cuban physicians, financial aid to Cuba, and most recently, the non-commital stance on warfare against ISIS. All of those have brought forth the wrath of the opposition and – with greater intensity – conservatives.

Stock market behaviour during the last three months have shown that whenever Rousseff’s ratings go up, investors freeze or remove their bets on the Brazilian economy. Considering that employment indexes and GDP have ceased to grow, those focused on economic prosperity – more related to exports than national growth – do not see the president with keen eyes. With a projected GDP growth of a measly 0,3%, inflation nearing the Central Bank ceiling of 6,5% and interest rates at 10%, there might be a point in these fears. Still, with 40% of the intended vote, she is most likely to make it to the second round

The socialist ‘newcomer’

Marina Silva is not exactly new to politics. As her campaign constantly enforced, she was Chico Mendes’ sister-in-arms in the defence of labour rights in Acre. Embedded in the middle of the Amazon, the commotion was the battle between the rubber tappers who depended on the forest to extract rubber, and loggers who depended deforestation to ensure their livelihood. As a result, both came to be seen as environmentalists.

marina

She has since become Minister of the Environment, also during Lula’a government. Disagreement about conservation policies as “sustainable development” no longer seemed a priority for the party made her abdicate office, beginning her popularity among voters who considered it a rare case of consistentency.

However, Marina is a neopentecostal evangelic, and has received increasing support from a conservative, right-wing portion of society.  Powerful pastors – some of which already hold federal positions – have drawn followers to vote for what they believe will be a Christian politician. However, this support comes at a high cost. Promises considering LGBT rights, for example,  have been withdrawn within 24 hours of publication, after pressure from such religious leaders. This has also earned her a reputation as a flip-flopper – as noted by candidate Aécio Neves, during the last debate, who replied her critiques with “the one who constantly changes  position here is not me”. She has yet to explain, as well, her sudden visit to the US on september 26th, talking to US State leaders.

Part of her current popularity – with 24% of the intended vote, according to pollsters – came from tragedy: the death of previous Brazilian Socialist Party (PSB) candidate Eduardo Campos in a plane crash, in august 13th. Afterwards PSB candidature went steadily upwards, and is almost certainly going to second turn. If so, this will be an unprecedented event for Brazilian politics: for the first time, a non-catholic, black leader will be in power. More importantly, she represents a part of the country historically excluded from decision-making processes.

So far she has changed her position on GMOs, LGBT rights and work legislation. In the last five years alone, she has changed party three times: from the Worker’s Party (PT) to the Green Party (PV in 2009) and  from PV to her own proto-party Rede Sustentabilidade in 2013, which failed to be approved in time to run for president; and this year from Rede to PSB, running for vice-president, and later president.

The main man from the opposition

While Dilma represents the current stablishment, and Marina portrays herself as the “new politics”, Social Democrat Aécio Neves is pure tradition: grandson of president ellect Tancredo Neves – the first ellected president after the military dictatorship ended in 1985, and who died before assuming – Aécio has years of experience on his shoulders. Federal congressman for 15 years, Minas Gerais Governor for 8 years, one of the largests votings on Senator in the countries history – yet he’s on decline, despite promoting the neo-liberal agenda that is on the rise in social media.

Much like Dilma, he is involved in his fair share of scandals. These are regarding airports in particular, as during his time as Governor, he built two new airports in Minas, one of them in the small city of Claúdio, 60 kilometers away from another airport – inside his family’s farm. One of his main allies in the senate’s helicopter was stopped carrying 450kg of cocaine in 2013, yet the scandal failed to hit either of them.

Neves also faces another problem: while he pleads to mantain most of president Dilma’s social programs, a sizeable part of his electorate is rabidly opposed to them. Either he risks losing the popular vote – as he did when his probably Economy Secretary Armínio Fraga said the minimum wage was “too high” – or he risks losing his own electorate. This combines with a reputation of censorship:  relating to lawsuits against twitter users, and search and seizure warrants against bloggers from criticizing him fora  very strange candidate.

The man with the air train

A prominent and rather folclorical figure is presidential candidate Levy Fidelix; while his portly shape, bald head and tick mustache make him look like an aging Oliver Hardy or a middle aged Super Mario, his call to fame comes from what is his main (or only) proposal since first attempting to run for president, in 1994: the air train, a high speed bullet train connecting the cities of Campinas, Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. Besides that, his program is marked by reducing the size of the state – and for that he presents in debate a lot of numbers, and little actual plans on actual implementation.

However, after a september 27th debate, Fidelix ceased to be just a comical symbol of a failed project. A far right, conservative candidate with a motto of “morally enrighting the country”, his view became the center of a controversy after being asked about gay marriage – in national TV he called “upon the majority” to “fight against this minority”, said gay rights threatened the country, and closed up by saying “those people”(in reference to LGBTs) need psychiatric treatment – “far away from the rest of us”. In response, the National Order of Lawyers and other civil entities sued his candidature – who has less than 1% of the vote.

Smaller, yet notable

While those are the so called “mainstream” candidates, and one who has risen to notability after saying heinous things in national television, there are a grand total of eleven candidates for president. Joined up, most of them don’t add to one percent of the vote, but some deserve attention – either for escaping this fate, or for representing something about national politics.

Christian Social Party candidate Everaldo Dias Pereira, a.k.a Pastor (Preacher) Everaldo, is one such case; with a measly 1% of the vote, according to polls, Everaldo nonetheless represents an expressive part of the political debate in Brazil. While simultaneously defending minimum state – going as far as suggesting privatizing the police – Everaldo defends the idea that peoples private lives – or at least, deviant’s private lives – are an state affair. Essentially, much like some brazilian libertarians, he is for freedom – unless that freedom is to have sex with someone your own gender, use drugs, practice your religion or abort. Not that it is any surprise: his party is a front for churches eager for more state intervention in “morality”, and less in business.

Another “small notable” is Socialism and Freedom candidate Luciana Genro, daughter of former Worker’s Party President Tarso Genro. Again with a mere 1% of the vote, and little political experience, Genro has fiercely attempted to push her agenda against “the private capital”, even though she has no chance of being elected. While being ridiculed by some, Luciana has much like Green Party candidate Eduardo Jorge (mentioned in the previous article) become a sort of “Living meme”. She definetely won’t be elected – but won’t be forgotten. Even if that means people still aren’t taking politics seriously.

So what have Brazilians to teach us?

That looking for solutions for the future is far more complex than just looking at candi*rties. Other spheres of society – like churches – and foreign policies are far more intervening on homeland developments.

________________________________________________________

Written by Scheila Farias Silveira and Pedro Henrique Leal.

Picture Credits: Marina Silva campaign site, Marcos Fernandes, Ichiro Guerra

Scheila Farias Silveira is a Brazilian journalist, currently based in Germany. She is a public affairs specialist working with sustainability, corporate social responsibility and social management.

Pedro Henrique Leal is a brazilian journalist and human rights activist, currently based in Wales. He writes mostly about human rights and social issues for independent websites À Margem and Coletivo Metranca.

Homophobic terror attack ahead of wedding


TO MANY PEOPLE, 11th September is a date rife with memories of terror, violence and fire; 24 year old Solange Ramires and 26 year old Sabriny Benites never expected, however, those feelings would become so personal.

The two were to be wed in a local Gaucho Traditions Center (CTG) in Santana do Livramento on the 13th, along with 27 other couples. However, at four a.m on the 11th, the so eagerly expected marriage was threatened when the CTG was set ablaze by molotov cocktails, in what has been called a terror attack.

The attack was not random: a month earlier, when news of the wedding first came out on the small Rio Grande do Sul city, both the local judge – Carine Labres – and the head of the CTG – city representative Gilberto “Xepa” Gisler –  received death threats over the “immorality”.

Following this were, sadly fulfilled,  threats of arson. According to Gisler, an anonymous caller said “there was no way” the wedding was to happen – even if they had to “beat the crap out of this so called ‘Xepa’, get rid of the judge and set the CTG on fire”.

To the police, the fire was a deliberate attack. To Brazil’s Human Rights minister, Ideli Salvatti, this arson is another reason why the country urgently needs to criminalize homophobia.

According to eyewitness reports, after Gisler left the center early on the 11th, four men left a nearby bar in a white car, and lobbed in what the police believes were molotov cocktails.The attack started two localized fires, one of them in the main hall which was completely destroyed.

While locals started rebuilding the center on the following day, in preparation for the ceremony, the collective wedding had to be moved to the local courthouse. It happened without further incidents.

However, the whole affair caused a great deal of debate in social media and the Rio Grande do Sul press. Many – including Zero Hora columnist David Coimbra – took the position that the true offenders were the judge and the two women; according to that mindset, they were “offending tradition” and “provoking hostility” to the point that “defenders of such traditions felt more comfortable torching the CTG than seeing it hosting a gay wedding”.

Others claimed minorities should “know their place” – which according to online comments, doesn’t include CTGs, churches, courthouses, stadiums or the state of Rio Grande do Sul – and that the judge should be “relieved of duty” for supporting gay rights. On the 12th, Judge Labres requested a fake Facebook profile of herself be taken down – the online profile was being used to malign and defame her.

About the intimidation, she was succinct: “we won’t be shut down, the rights of minorities are guaranteed”.

Others were supportive of the wedding – including many in the same newspaper, Zero Hora. Adriana Franciosi, another ZH writer, noted that –  in the ‘name of tradition’ –  black people were forbidden to enter many CTGs until 1988. By claiming that marrying two women in the CTG “attacks tradition”, she claims,  Coimbra is at the same time defending social conservatism.

“If we followed David’s logic”, she said in a open Facebook status “women would still be confined to the kitchen and the household. After all, why work and be independent? As puts David, why cause trouble?”.

Written by Pedro Leal
Photo Credit: Rodrigo_Soldon

‘Foul Play’ at World Cup: harassment and harm to 14 journalists during final


Final reports are in: 14 journalists were harassed or harmed by police during the coverage of protests outside the World Cup final match

During the closing ceremony, a half empty Maracanã awaited for Argentine and German fans. But it is outside the stadium tensions were building up. One kilometre away, at Saens Peña square in Tijuca, one thousand protestors gathered to vindicate the immediate release of dozens arrested the night before. Around the stadium, 26 thousand soldiers and police officers integrated the country’s largest security operation ever.

Brazil has multiple police forces: Civil, Federal and Military. The first deals with investigation and arrest of accused for criminal felonies. The second, prevent and suppress the trafficking of drugs and contraband, immigration and fraud investigation. The third body is responsible for a broader concept: prevention. It is the only police that does not act independently, and responds to the governor of each state. As a result, it often acts on internal repression – it is a part of the army targeted at Brazil’s own population. Riot police belongs to the last group. As a consequence, force tends to be used over negotiation, even in peaceful demonstrations.

New media rebuttal has begun. “What year is it?”, asked columnist Mônica Mourão in Carta Capital, The Economist’s sister publication. To her, arbitrary acts against protesters in 2013 and 2014 share “striking resemblance to repressive actions taken by the civil-military dictatorship” that occurred between 1964 and 1985. Besides repressing protesters, police impeded the work of lawyers and journalists.

“Preventive” arrests

According to official figures, police in Rio de Janeiro arrested at least 37 people, for alleged connections with demonstrations scheduled to coincide with the end of the World Cup. However, citizen journalism groups point to almost 60. It was confirmed that 16 people were arrested without a warrant, only for “investigatory purposes.” They were arrested because they were in the home of the arrested suspects, informed a spokesperson of the Civil Police.

The chairman of the Commission on Human Rights from the National Bar Association (OAB), Marcelo Chalreo, reinforced in an interview with BBC that the arrests are unconstitutional. “These have intimidatory  nature, without legal grounds, and have sharp political bias”, he stated. He alleges that the purpose behind these is “driving people away from public acts”.
Police confirmed that one of the people arrested “in flagrant” is the father of one of the youngsters at who one of the arrest warrants was directed. Upon entering the residence for the arrest, the police found a pistol, legalized, but with expired license register. Another teenager was arrested for possession of marijuana, although also within amount allowed by law. The presence of sports equipment – such as knee and elbow pads – as well as flyers, banners and signs were considered incriminating evidence.

“Someone who has a mere newspaper at home may have participated in other violent action,” said the head of Rio’s civil police, Fernando Veloso. Consequently, charges were upgraded to “formation of armed gang”, making habeas corpus no longer possible. The Rio activist Elisa Pinto Tables Sanzio, 28, was arrested in Porto Alegre and accused of being ringleader. When questioned by volunteer lawyers about the absence of more weapons, the answer received is that suspects had performed deeds tracked during the investigation started in September, which allowed delegate, prosecutor and judge to conclude that they “participated in acts of violence, even if not directly”.

“These people want to make war, want to cause chaos and the police cannot allow it,” added Veloso. This argument has already been used in a meeting for political discussion that took place in São Paulo two weeks ago. During a debate organized by students at Roosevelt Square, Military Police confiscated a copy of “Marighella”, a biography carried in the backpack of one of the attendants. About the episode, the author Mário Magalhães was emphatic. “It opens up a witch hunt for those who intend to know the history of this revolutionary man, whether they like the character or not”. Last year, it won the highest literary honour in the country, Jabuti. “We are in 2014, but sometimes it does not seem like it,” he added.

The NGO Amnesty International has been denouncing abuses of Brazilian state governments towards protests since the tournament began. “Freedom of expression and peaceful protest is a human right and should be respected and guaranteed by the authorities in all situations, including during the World Cup. Nobody should be detained or arrested only for attending a demonstration and exercising such right”, said the official statement made on Monday the 14th.

 

Cornered media
Reporters Without Borders released a public awareness campaign on the 13th to denounce the attacks on freedom of information and the daily violent acts committed against journalists in Brazil. Ironically, on the same day, the coverage of the protest in Rio de Janeiro had the highest number of occurrences: 14, all authored by the police.
The Brazilian Association of Investigative Journalism (Abraji) recorded 38 cases of arrests, assaults and holdings involving 36 media professionals while covering events between June 12 and July 13.

By note, the organization explained that, in keeping along with the pattern observed since June last year, most violations (89%) came from the police. Among these, 52% were intentional – i.e. the victim identified himself as media professional or bore clear and prominent identification. he other aggressions were caused by rioters and FIFA private security guards. “The cases highlight the disproportionate use of force by the police,” it read. “Deliberate attacks constitute direct censorship and cannot be tolerated.”

Reporters Without Borders has recorded at least 54 attacks on journalists since the start of the year. In February, Santiago Andrade Ilídio from Bandeirantes TV, died due to a firework thrown by protesters. “The defeat may have been traumatic, but it should not overshadow other much more serious losses for the country in terms of access to information,” said Christophe Deloire, secretary general of the NGO. The country is in the 111th position among 180 countries in the World Press Freedom Index.

Counterattack

Until Saturday (19), Amnesty International runs a petition requiring preventive and punitive measures towards cases of excessive use of force by the military, which will be delivered to President Dilma Rousseff. At the same time, alternative media and citizen journalism groups such as Mídia Ninja and Pragmatismo Político grow significantly.

The most promising initiative is perhaps the “Bridge”, in operation since June 23. The project brings together 20 renowned journalists who have decided to create a new communication tool, focused on public safety and human rights. The new venture has the support of investigative journalism agency Pública and professionals of recognized trajectory in related fields.

According to Laura Capriglione, who worked for nearly ten years in Folha de São Paulo on guidelines on public safety, Ponte questions traditional mainstream media coverage. “Evening television programs are tremendously sensationalist”. The difference is in promoting coverage that favors the rights of the accused and compliance with the law, which is not seen in programs where there is even presenters calling for the summary execution of alleged criminals, regardless of investigation. With the rising tide of vigilante justice, it is a good start.

Written by Scheila Silveira
Photo Credit: Paulisson Miura

 

Picking the wound of Brazil’s dire prison system

BRAZILIAN PRISONS ARE an out-dated deposit for human beings, and imprisonment has more to do with persecution than crime rates. With arbitrary arrests that use the World Cup as excuse, the country re-opens the issue.

 The 7×1 by Germany is the smallest reason why Brazilians should be embarrassed. In the final weekend of the World Cup, a legal anomaly made national news: 60 preventive arrests were carried out using “possible future crimes” against protesters, family members and even guests present in their homes at the time.  By violating the constitutional principle that all are innocent until proven guilty, it was considered by some as an authoritarian measure. However, the ongoing issue dug into a larger problem: the abysmal conditions of the country’s penal system. Without going to trial and no jail to be held, those arrested were taken to Bangú Prison (Rio de Janeiro), one of the most feared penitentiary complexes in the country.

Debate about the national justice system is increasingly necessary. Easy solutions have been launched aimlessly, but mostly boil down to increasing violence against the offender, making more arrests, removing rights referred to as privileges and extending penalties. ​But being tough on crime ignores certain vulnerabilities and is based on a series of flawed assumptions.

​Demographics

Discussing crime often involves the claim that there are not enough prisons in the country; there are too many laws that
protect criminals; penal age should be lowered; and, occasionally, that the right to a fair trial is “kindness towards the bad guy”. ​However, statistics issued by the InfoPen database and the National Council of Justice (CNJ) point out that the lack of arrests is simply not real. Moreover, data suggests that ​the inhuman​ conditions means that, instead of resocializing, penitentiaries actually “breed” criminals.​

In 2012, InfoPen indicated a prison population of 548 thousand inmates. The number presented by Depen (National Penitentiary Department) is 563.7 thousand. Of these, 195 thousand are on temporary situation, that is, those who – like the protestors – have not yet been convicted and should not be imprisoned. There are another 22 thousand inmates which, according to CNJ, have already served their sentences and should have been released. In other words: almost 40% of Brazilian inmates should not be in prison in the first place.​

Tanozzo

A task force led by CNJ in 2011 spelled out the problems that accompany this scenario. Between manning and excessive sentences, there is unnecessary suffering caused by the poor conditions, such as diseases and forced labour, not established by court. According to official data processed by Thiago Reis and Clara Velasco for the G1 news portal, there is a deficit of 200.2 thousand vacancies, considering the system is able to handle only 363.5 thousand people. Although claims of insufficient arrests exist, the number of prisoners in Brazil has grown exponentially over the past 20 years, from 126 thousand to nearly 564 thousand imprisoned between 1993 and 2013.

So what does this mean, in global terms? Brazil has the fourth largest prison population in the world, only behind US (2 million prisoners), China (1.6 million prisoners) and Russia (780 thousand). This cannot be a good indicator, as  two of these are authoritarian regimes, the remainder being a largely privatized system with the largest penal population on the planet. It is worth mentioning the US maintains life imprisonment for recidivates (recurring offenders) in many states, in addition to a privatised system that strengthens lobbying to expand the use of deprivation of freedom instead of alternative punishment. “The model is outdated”, argues Humberto Fabretti, professor of criminal law and criminology at the Mackenzie Presbyterian University, in a column in Jornal do Brasil. “No one seems aware of the paradox that you want to re-socialize somebody away from society,” he says.

Inspections performed by the National Council of Public Prosecutors (CNMP), entity responsible for investigating abuses by public bodies, revealed that prisons serve as schools for crime. Those charged with minor felonies receive the same treatment as those accused of heinous crimes. According to the agency, out of the 1.598 prisons to receive the inspection, 79% mix temporary and definitive prisoners; 67% mix people who are serving sentences in different regimes (open, semi-open, closed); and almost 78% mix first-time and repeat offenders. In 68% of the sites, there is no separation by dangerousness or according to the offense committed. In 65%, gang members are not separated.

 

Imprisonment, violence and socialization

The treatment of prisoners is often uneven. In the prison of Grajaú, “imprisoned employees” took over administrative routines, while in Pavuna (both in Rio de Janeiro), “internal security” has been passed on to the detainees as a measure to save investments on prison guards. In both cases, as in many other unofficial agreements between staff and prisoners, the “employees” received perks that included air-conditioning, refrigerators and televisions, while the rest of prisoners huddled in overcrowded and filthy cells.

Last May, Amnesty International released the global campaign “Stop Torture”, result from a survey of countries where torture remains as a State practice. In Brazil, about 80% of the population is afraid of being arrested and tortured. Alexandre Ciconello, chairperson for the NGO, called state governments’ discourse on the practice “hypocritical”. “Some truly embrace torture as policy, others make the speech that are against torture, but in practice do not restrain it, or, when they do, it is in a very shy way”, he stated. In response, José Eduardo Cardozo, justice minister since 2011, admitted that the prison system in the country is “on an almost medieval situation.”

As pointed out by the joint effort by CNJ, the treatment of prisoners in Brazil involves a series systematized acts of violence that often make the rehabilitation of the inmate impossible. Governmental disregard towards prisoners paved the way for prisons to become the playfield of organized crime groups One such group is the infamous Primeiro Comando da Capital (PCC); dealing in drugs, prostitution and kidnappings, coordinating the action from inside jail, the PCC was responsible for a series of 250 attacks in 2006, that left 128 dead – since then, the group has been involved in multiple prisoner rebellions.

Often, newbies are required to join one of the gangs formed inside the detention facility in exchange for a minimum level of security, not offered by the state. In numbers: there were at least 218 killings last year alone. Official reports by the prison system represent the average of one death every two days. Frequent cases of violence against detainees include beatings, torture and even executions, both by prison officers and criminal factions. The intent is to intimidate the rest of the prisoners through example. Sexual abuse and rape against inmates occur, often in group.

7432865036_b022746478_b

 

Even granted benefits can be delivered in a twisted fashion. Although conjugal (sexual) visits are allowed, this sometimes means harassment and intimidation against partners. In feminine facilities in particular, the deprivation of medical treatment is shocking, with inmates being handcuffed in the postpartum and prolonged isolation schemes are handed out without justifiable cause. Cells designed for four people frequently harbour fifteen. They are unventilated, subjected to excessive heat and painful cold, depending on season and region. Inmates sleep crammed on the floor, often filthy, many times over the hole that serves as a toilet. All problems which, admittedly, are not restricted to Brazil.

Unsanitary hygiene conditions are standard, not the exception. So is the lack of health material. In some cases, the task force encountered wards in which medication expired more than five months before. Rats and cockroaches are regular company. Again, female prisons scare: one report says prisoners were using pieces of bread as tampons. It is also common that these cells, already inadequate for adults, also house their small children. According to a 2005 report by the University of Brasilia, there were 291 children living inside prisons – and while the CNJ didn’t supply a precise number, it’s 2013 report indicates the situation has worsened since then.

Still, population calls for a even more grotesque treatment due to a couple of factors. First, there is dehumanization of the offender. Secondly because the problem of repeated felonies – 70% for juvenile offenders (one of the largest in the world) and “mere” 50% for adults – is not usually seen as related to how he was brutalized in prison. Third, neither to how he is marginalized from society on release. And this comes from how inmates and criminals are portrayed in public imagination.

Social stigma

The argument to justify violence against the convict is very simplistic: it is deserved because of the people he harmed. But this is pretty emblematic if considered the actual felonies. There is a fixed idea that every criminal is violent, dangerous, irredeemable and, therefore, deserves abject violence. However, CNJ points that 65% of Brazilian inmates have not committed violent crimes – and, as mentioned earlier, nearly 200 thousand of them have not even been to court.

The situation is little different with female detainees: two thirds of the female prison population were arrested for drug related offenses, and according to Claúdia Priscila – director of a documentary about women in prison – these are often lesser offenses. “They generally play a secondary role in the drug trade, and do not represent a threat to society”, she explained to brazilian website PortoCultura. They often take the blame so to spare their partners from being charged. The end result of these arrests, she claims, are broken families.

Both in news media and in the entertainment industry, social factors of crime are ignored. The problem in reduced from a complex social factor to a mere question of character and personality. It is not social policies, lack of opportunities, drug addiction, discrimination or the parallel state formed in disadvantaged communities that leads young people in vulnerable situations to crime. It is “bad blood”; “lack of character”; “the easy way to get ahead”.

Low educational levels should, by law, be compensated while serving time. Education in prison is a constitutional right, and one of the cornerstones of the rehabilitation process. However, only 8.6% of prisoners are included in educational programs, and only a fifth of them work legally during the period, in apprenticeship programmes. In Brazil, every three worked days deduce one day from the total due time, and any remuneration is passed on to the detainee’s family.

Outside prison, being a former convict is synonymous with unemployment, as some employers ask for the criminal record of potential candidates. Many consider correct not hire ex-cons, because of believed security risks. The somewhat obvious result is poverty. According to the CNJ, 95% of prisoners are poor or very poor, mostly coming from favelas and illegal occupations – where government bodies are absent, except for episodes of repression. Of these, 65% have not completed primary education, which severely limits integration to the labour market and the possibility of livelihood.

6605969807_e86948a697_b

 

What comes next

Aggravation is yet to come. Recently, Congresswoman Antônia Lúcia, from the Social Christian Party, has proposed an amendment to the constitution, which eliminates financial support granted to the families of inmates who have contributed to social security through taxes. The aid was established in 1988 in order to cover inmate’s children basic necessities. However, she argues this “promotes banditry”, suggesting it would be better to leave out in the open the family as an explicit additional punishment. Although this means another violation of the Constitution, by consciously harming innocents for crimes of others (in this case, the father or mother).

She argues that the aid would be passed on to the victim, who already receives compensation from the defendant and the State on demand. Support comes from the increasingly common phenomena: since the beginning of the year, there has been over 45 successful lynching attempts by organized civilian mobs dedicated to vigilante justice. More than 300 hundred attempted attacks have also been registered by police forces. In most cases, no evidence other than hearsay existed against the victims.

For all such instances, Fabretti urges caution. “The prisoners are entitled to fundamental rights, and sooner or later they return to society”. He also poses a reflection: “The question that arises is in which shape we want them back?”

 

 

Written By:

Pedro Leal is a freelance journalist, currently based in Wales. He wrote on human rights and social issues for Brazilian newspapers and news sites, working with minority rights and social inequality.

Scheila Silveira lives in the Brazil-Germany skybridge. She is a public affairs specialist working with sustainability, corporate social responsibility and social management.

Photo Credits: Jack Two, Osvaldoeaf, Blog do Milton Jung, Tanozzo