Friday, May 16, 2008

Sad news for Brazil, the Amazon and the world

Marina Silva's life and her fight to preserve the largest and most biologically diverse tropical rainforest on earth is not only inspirational but it would make for a great Hollywood film. Regrettfully, now that she has stepped down as Brazil's Environment Minister, the future of the Amazon and the final scene in this film could turn tragic.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The sleeping giant awakes?

Here's a great piece echoing my concerns here about Brazil finally awakening as a true global player. Thankfully, some still know this nation has a lot to overcome and warns Brazil to avoid getting too cocky too fast, especially given the nation's newest boost could go bust with a simple change in commodities markets.

To the north, Environment Minister Marina Silva has resigned. She was an honest defender of the Amazon and insiders say the battle was too much for her and that she was against all odd. There is a perfect storm brewing over the Amazon these days. New laws which will place the forest at greater peril, a new law to limit the movement of the forest's greatest defenders and now the only real political support the forest had, is stepping down.

We live in interesting times here.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Watch the rhetoric and lies

A horrible and yet all to common story out of the Amazon last week. After being convicted and sentenced to 30 years for ordering the assassination of Nun, Missionary and environmentalist Dororthy Stang, the farmer Vitalmiro Moura was acquitted on appeal. What most point to as further proof to the long and blatant tradition of impunity enjoyed by the wealthy in Brazil, this article by the Associated press speaks to another issue that has also long plagued the Amazon region but is usually ignored by the international community. Regretfully it is something that is happening in other parts of the world, too.

Environmentalists in the Amazon region have long been accused of working for foreign governments to usurp control of the Amazon from Brazil. We’re demonized here as a tactic to deflect attention from the activies of thieves and their illegal and destruction opeartions. And what better way to obfuscate the situation in the hearts of most citizens here than to create a foreign threat? In Brazil, many have been forced to believe that environmentalists wish to steal the Amazon for richer countries to plunder. That’s right. I work with non governmental organizations that were created by the U.N or the United States, or Europe (depending on the version of the myth), with the specific task of claiming ownership over 6 million square kilometers of tropical forest, so that Bush can watch their financial portfolios grow. Sound absurd? Of course it is.

It is just as absurd as what many in North America believe in regards to the issue of global warming. At first it was argued that Environmentalists are little communist foot-soldiers looking to steal the developed world’s wealth and redistribute it to poorer nations - the tool to do so would be the Kyoto Protocol. More recently, the conspiracy focuses on an elaborate get rich scheme concocted by the one man who couldn´t manage to get elected President against a doornob in 2000. You see some similarities with these and the conspiracies in Brazil? Most will. Your more entrenched and scholastically challenged right wing rogues will be left scratching their heads.

I raise this not only because I attended Dorothy’s memorial in 2006, and I have worked in this region (under some of the most stressful conditions) for over 10 years, and that I’m sincerely
worried about those who I know that continue with great efforts in the Amazon; I bring this up because this idea of lying to demonize environmentalists to either protect the status quo or two win cheap political shots is not only incredibly stupid, but it can prove deadly. The debate in north America is getting uglier and more caustic. I’ve seen Juliano Fatino call peaceful environmentalists “terrorists”; the blogosphere is filled with conservative generated hate and conspiracies aimed at painting the environmental movement as “anti-human”, “unpatriotic” and DANGEROUS. However, the danger is not in what environmentalists do, but what can come when some pro-gun nutjob believes environmentalists are a threat to his nation and personal liberties.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Big economic gains, but little changes where it counts

It’s welcome news here, and of course because it’s a positive story about Brazil (for a change) the national media is all over it like a Rio pro over an American monger. “the sleeping giant is awakening” screams the headlines here in Brazil and it must be true, because a foreigner from England has said so.

I’m happy that the nation is doing better economically, and really this is what is at the heart of the article. All international economic indexes point out that the fourth largest country in the world, blessed with the best natural resources on the planet, has finally managed and learn how to make some cash off of its mineral, biological and agricultural inheritance. There’s no innovation here, or very little of it, the money is coming in through resource extraction and farming. This is not necessarily a problem, unless you’re an Indian in the Amazon. However, the world has long surpassed the agrarian age, and although we need food to eat and farmers to plant and cultivate, Brazil needs to diversify its economic portfolio and look more to R&D and technology. The country has been close to reaching it’s potential for greatness on myriad occasions, but it’s a country with a penchant for putting all its eggs in one basket. Any minor trip that affects that one sector or commodity produces disasters results as the centuries here have highlighted. The famous phrase: “Brazil is the country of the future, and always will be” was born from such historical close calls and fumbles.

But again, even with an expanded portfolio all we’re really celebrating here is that there is a few in the country getting extremely rich while for the rest of us, relatively little has changed. I guess the fact that nothing has really gotten worse for people financially, especially after decades of hyperinflation should be seen as an achievement. There is talk of a burgeoning middle class but it is still horribly eclipsed by the endemic poverty that plagues this nation. The president triumphantly bellows that millions are being lifted from poverty, and to ignore a marginal improvement here would be suspect. That said, with 50% of the nation, approximately 80 million people, living on slightly 2 dollars a day, I’d not want to stick my neck out and say “we’re winning the war on poverty”. When you figure you have this level of poverty in a nation that has more personal helicopters than any other and then you get to see the problem a bit more clearly. Brazil is only second to South Africa in term of income inequality.

Education is still in dire straights and academically Brazil, year after year, places in the lowest levels of international results when tested on the basics: literacy, math and science. Simple conversations with your more impoverished will provide you with anecdotal proof. For President Lula this is OK. He too is a simple man who uses simple logic and simple language; it’s his bailiwick as it is with most populists in this part of the world. “Stupid is those who didn’t think I can run a country” is a recent line of his which aptly reinforces my point.

Violence in the nation is on the rise (with the exception of Sao Paulo, where it is in fact getting marginally better) although the media is more infatuate with banality like throughout the rest of the world. In a country where over 40,000 are killed each year and in cities such as Rio where the young are 8 times more likely to be killed than in the Gaza strip in Palestine, this should be the Media’s war cry. There are respected news weeklies that do their best (readership is low, not surprisingly), but they are shunned by the President, politicians and by the masses because they “only focus on the negative”. Lula has long proven to be thin-skinned in terms of bad media coverage about Brazil or about him. He once personally tried to expel a New York Times reporter from Brazil because the journalist had the audacity to repeat what the national media was saying: Lula likes to drink. Not quite the "Watergateesque" revelation you'd think would shake and move the highest office in the land to act, but that's Brazil for you.

This may not last long. The government wishes to place greater restrictions on the media here as well as control the movement of foreigners in 61% of the Nation: the Amazon. International television, too, is in the government’s radar to reign in. As more and more celebrate the supposed new birth of a rich and prosperous land few are questioning the erosion of their personal rights and the rights of others. In fact in a recent poll about the restriction of foreigners in the Amazon, 97 percent of those responded actually agreed with the blatantly xenophobic and discriminatory move.

Arguably, with a better economy the rest of the problems I raised should solve themselves. So say “invisible hand” theorists. But this is Brazil. As long as corruption is allowed to continue without leaders (let me emphasis that LEADERS) being punished, and the rich continue to do what they like with impunity, we’ll just see more Brazilian flags on Yachts in Europe and not much of a difference made here back home.

I don’t want this to come across as a blatantly bitter attack on the country in which I currently reside (although I am thinking about making a move). I do cheer for the nation and I do have hopes and aspirations like others that Brazil can overcome some of its greatest hurtles and emerge more equitable, less violent, less corrupt and just a little bit smarter but..but…but…

I am happy to see some good news in the papers about Brazil for a change, I just wish I could see it here where it counts.

I'll write again on some of the things I cherish in the nation, soonest. Many in North America, regardless of some of the problems that Brazil faces, could learn a lot from this culture.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

It's not nipplegate, but....

These are the moments I find interesting in Brazil. While North America watched in disgust as Governor Eliot Spitzer’s political career spiraled into disgrace and oblivion, and the MSM was tailing the young -- and apparently costly -- professional sextrade worker Ashley Dupre that dallied with Eli, few paid but scant attention to the women who orchestrated much of Dupre’s work and literally signed Spitzer’s fate.

A Brazilian prostitute turned Madam named AndrĂ©ia Schwartz was in the thick of the scandal and apparently following her cooperation with authorities was promptly escorted out of the US to her native Brazil. Although either ignored or shunned by the North American press, upon her return here, she was received with a hero’s welcome. OK, that might be a bit of an exaggeration, but for the Brazilian media she was more apropos to the story than the stunning Girls Gone Wild Dupre, and when AndrĂ©ia’s plane touched down in Sambalandia she was swarmed by a gaggle of paparazzi that would have made Paris Hilton blush with envy.

As with what usually happens when any young attractive women in Brazil makes news for whatever reason, they later appear in Playboy or some other gentleman’s weekly for the nation to ogle over. Our Miss Schwartz has certainly been making the rounds. Here she is yet again, and interestingly enough she is now being introduced as "the Brazilian MODEL". Talk about vocational euphemisms.

Friday, May 02, 2008

A hero is made

Domingo Silva may lose his job, and back home its quite possible that nationalist libertarians will slaughter him in editorials for bringing dishonor to his nation, but he's one more hero in my book. Few on this planet are willing to stick their neck out so far for something like this. Hats off to you sir, I'd break bread with you any time.