Brazilian Military Police backed by Marine troops occupied the massive Maré favela next to Rio de Janeiro's Galeao international airport on March 31, allegedly without firing a shot. The aim was to secure one of the city's most violent districts, long under control of drug gangs, ahead of the World Cup, to be held in Brazil in June. Shock troops of the elite Special Police Operations Battalion (BOPE) and Marines in armored vehicles and helicopters secured the Maré area, where 130,000 people live in poverty on the north side of Rio. Police said they seized guns and 450 kilos of marijuana, and arrested two suspected dealers. But residents said most gang leaders slipped out the favela ahead of the occupation. The operation had been expected; in preceding days Police Pacification Units (UPPs) had been installed in 174 of Rio's favelas— home to around 600,000 people. (InSerbia, April 1; MercoPress, March 31)
A new anti-terrorism bill presented in the Brazilian National Congress on April 19—two months ahead of the 2014 World Cup—has raised concern among human rights groups who allege the law threatens free speech and peaceful assembly. Brazilian lawmakers argue the legislation is required to fill a missing piece in the Brazilian legal system as the country's international exposure grows. The anti-terrorism bill would impose a 15-30 year prison sentence for "causing or inciting widespread terror by threatening or trying to threaten the life, the physical integrity or the health or liberty of a person." The broad language of the bill is a major point of concern for human rights groups, but the drafters of the law stated they will amend the language to clear up ambiguities. Two human rights groups are leading the challenge against the bill: Brazil's Institute of Human Rights Defenders and Amnesty International. The rights groups believe any change in language will not alter the new police power embedded in the law, and the measure may criminalize freedom of expression.
Brazilian police have closed down a notorious security firm accused of killing at least two Guarani leaders, and brutally attacking hundreds more. Gaspem was described as a ‘private militia’ by public prosecutors who had called for the closure last year. Ranchers reportedly paid Gaspem 30,000 reais (US$ 13,400) each time it evicted Guarani Indians from their lands, which are now occupied by sugar cane and soya plantations, and cattle ranches. The company's owner, Aurelino Arce, was arrested in 2012 in connection with the murder of Guarani leader Nísio Gomes. For years, the Guarani have been appealing for the company to be shut down. A judge's decision to force the company to close marks a huge victory for Guarani communities across the central state of Mato Grosso do Sul.
More than 1,500 Military Police were mobilized April 11 to evict thousands of squatters who had recently taken over an abandoned office complex in Rio de Janeiro. Brazilian media reported that most of the squatters left peacefully, but others resisted, sparking pitched street battles with police. Protesters chanted "We want houses!," and some hurled bricks and Molotov cocktails at police and set several vehicles on fire. Four buildings were also set aflame. Authorities reported 12 injured and 26 detained, including six minors. The squatted complex was known as Telerj Favela, because it had been the offices of the Telerj, the state telecommunications company, before it was recently vacated. (SMH, April 12; Europa Press, April 12; EuroNews, April 11)
On April 1, the 50th anniversary of the military coup that removed left-leaning Brazilian president João Goulart (1961-64) from office, the Washington, DC-based research group National Security Archive posted 16 Brazil-related documents from the administration of US president John Kennedy (1961-1963) on its website. The documents—which include declassified National Security Council (NSC) records and recently transcribed tapes of White House conversations—detail the administration's efforts to bring President Goulart into line, and its plans for dealing with him if he continued to implement social reforms and to oppose US policy on Cuba.
Opposed by the media, the city government and their own union, street sweepers in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil's second largest city, won a 37% raise and an increase in benefits on March 8 after an eight-day wildcat strike that left streets littered during Rio's famous Carnaval celebrations. The settlement reached by the municipal government and the strikers' committee increased the sweepers' base monthly pay from 802 to 1,100 reais (US$338.61 to $466.64). The sweepers also gained an increase in their daily meal tickets from 12 to 20 reais ($5.09 to $8.49), payment for extra hours, and increases for medical and dental care. The settlement included a guarantee that no workers would be fired for taking part in the strike.
In the latest protest against what activists say is the Brazilian government's diversion of funds from social services to sports events, more than 1,000 people marched in downtown São Paulo from the Praça da República to the Anhangabaú subway station on the evening of Feb. 22. The protest ended with some 1,000 agents of the militarized police using stun grenades and tear gas to disperse the marchers and making a total of 230 arrests. Among those arrested were five journalists, two photographers and three reporters; the reporters were from the newspapers O Globo and Folha de São Paulo and from the news website G1. Bruno Santos, a photographer for the Terra Brasil website, received an injury in his leg.
More than 15,000 Brazilian campesinos marched some 9 km from a meeting at the Nilson Nelson Gymnasium stadium in Brasilia to the Plaza of the Three Powers on Feb. 12 to protest the slow pace at which the center-left government of President Dilma Rousseff is implementing agrarian reform. The protesters had been attending the Sixth Congress of the Landless Rural Workers Movement (MST), the largest of the Brazilian groups organizing landless campesinos. Kelli Marfort, from the MST's Gender sector, called the government's policy an "embarrassment." "Last year 7,000 families were settled," she charged, saying that the MST alone has 90,000 families living in encampments and waiting for land. "A total of 150,000 families are in encampments in Brazil, many of them for more than 10 years. We're here to announce that we're not satisfied, and we're asking for a people's agrarian reform."