Brazil

Brazil: police implicated in Sao Paulo massacre

Gunmen killed at least 18 people in outlying districts of Brazil's largest city, Sao Paulo, in a series of overnight attacks Aug. 14. Witnesses and video footage in several locations indicated that masked gunmen pulled up in a car before opening fire. In many cases they checked the victims' names before shooting, or asked if they had criminal records. At least six other people were injured in the attacks, in the districts of Osasco and Barueri. Authorities are said to be investigating whether the attacks were a coordinated campaign of revenge by off-duty officers following the deaths of two colleagues in the targeted districts the previous week. Police in Brazil are responsible for more than 2,000 deaths per year, and off-duty officers rarely face prosecution for vigilante justice. (Reuters, BBC News, Aug. 15)

Brazil: indigenous activists occupy Justice Ministry

Some 100 Guarani activists on Aug. 13 launched an occupation of an auditorium at the Justice Ministry building in Brasilia, demanding a meeting with the minister, José Eduardo Cardozo, as well as cabinet chief Miguel Rosseto and the head of the indigenous affairs agency FUNAI, João Pedro Gonçalves. The protesters, joined by lawmaker Paulo Pimenta of the ruling center-left Workers Party (PT), are demanding urgent demarcation of their ancestral lands. (CIMI, Aug. 13) In one of several ongoing land conflicts involving the Guarani, on June 24 the indigenous community of Kurusu Mba in Mato Grosso do Sul state was attacked by gunmen after re-occupying traditional lands that had been usurped by local ranchers and soy growers. Huts were put to the torch, and an infant was burned to death. Brazil's high court, the Supreme Federal Tribunal, ruled in April that the community should not be evicted from the re-occupied lands until its traditional territories have been demarcated. The demarcation process remains stalled, while attacks on the Guarani continue. (Survival International, June 26; Survival International, April 3)

Trans-Amazon rail project strikes fear in tribes

A controversial mega-project to build a transcontinental railway through the Amazon basin has caused outrage among indigenous people and advocacy groups. UK-based Survival International charges that the rail project, backed by the Chinese government, would cross through many indigenous territories and areas of high biodiversity across the rainforest in Peru and Brazil, opening them to industrial exploitation, illegal mining and logging, and peasant colonization. Survival warns that "uncontacted tribes" would face devastation from invasions into their lands, calling these peoples "the most vulnerable societies on the planet." Whole populations could be wiped out by violence from outsiders and by diseases like flu and measles to which they have no resistance.

Brazil: prosecutors move against Belo Monte dam

Federal prosecutors in Brazil on June 16 called for authorities to halt the eviction of some 2,000 families living in an area of the Amazon rainforest where the huge Belo Monte dam is being built. Prosecutors with the Federal Public Ministry said the consortium building the dam has broken numerous agreements on the relocation of residents. The Norte Energia consortium is violating terms of a contract with guarantees that the indigenous people, peasant settlers and fishermen living in the area would be relocated and provided with alternative means of survival, prosecutors said. The statement especially urged the government to halt the work of a vessel, known as the "demolition boat," hired by the consortium. "It has been travelling along the Xingu River evicting the families who live by the river, in the area to be flooded by the Belo Monte dam," the prosecutors' statement charges.

China pushes trans-Amazon railway project

China's Premier Li Keqiang, on a tour of South America, is plugging a transcontinental railway project that would cut through the heart of the Amazon rainforest. Last year, President Xi Jinping signed a memorandum on the project with the governments of Brazil and Peru, and Li is now pressing for an actual feasibility study. According to an interactive map on Diálogo Chino website, the "Twin Ocean Railroad" or "Transcontinental Railroad" would start at Porto do Açu in Rio de Janeiro state, and cut through the Brazilian states of Goiás, Mato Grosso and Rondônia. It would terminate at Puerto Ilo in Peru's southern Moquegua region.

Latin America: cartels build own arms industry

Yet more grim evidence emerged this week that Mexico's warring cartels are becoming a real military force and underground parallel state in the country's lawless northeast. Small Wars Journal on Feb. 13 noted a press release from the Mexican attorney general's office, the PGR, announcing that federal police and army troops had raided a winery near Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas state, where 13 vehicles were being fitted with armor plating. Small Wars Journal calls it a "narco-tank factory." A huge amount of ammunition was also confiscated in the raid, although it seems the people who were running the workshop all escaped. The PGR said they believe the makeshift factory was being run by the Gulf Cartel.

Behind oil slump: shale boom or geopolitics?

As we noted in September (when the price had just dipped below $100 a barrel), after an initial price shock when ISIS seized northern Iraq, the world oil price has since slumped. It now stands at around $60 a barrel. Recall that way back in late 2001, when the US was invading Afghanistan, it stood at a lowly $11. At that time, we predicted an imminent price shock to jump-start the planned industry expansion—both in the Caspian Basin and here at home, overcoming environmental concerns. Boy, were we right. The price of a barrel first broke the $100 mark in 2008, and has frequently crossed it in the years since then, although it never quite hit the much-feared $200-a-barrel. But now the petro-oligarchs are talking like $100 may be the new $200. Saudi Arabia's oil minister Ali al-Naimi last month answered "we may not" when asked if markets would ever lift prices to $100 again. (CNN, Dec. 23) How much of this are we to believe, and what is really behind the slump?

Brazil: victory for indigenous land struggle

Indigenous peoples across Brazil declared a victory when the country's Congress concluded work for the year on Dec. 17, having failed to approve a constitutional amendment, known as PEC 215, aimed at gutting the process of land demarcation. PEC 215 would have transfered responsibility for demarcation from the executive to legislative branch, where the land barons have far more power. This would have effectively halted pending demarcations of indigenous lands and Quilombola (Afro-Brazilian) territories. Under congressional rules, the ending of the session without a vote on the amendment automatically disbands the special commission that was established to analyze it. The congressional agribusiness bloc that pushed for PEC 215 will have to start over from zero when the body re-convenes next year. The Association of Indigenous Peoples of Brazil (APIB) issued an open letter to mark the victory, stating, "We indigenous peoples have shown that we will never allow our lands to be recolonized, invaded or destroyed, even if that means sacrificing our own lives."

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