Today in Quixotic Endeavors

Angry at the administration of Dilma Rousseff, at a corruption (that crosses both the PSDB and PT years), and at the PT government more generally, some Brazilian activists have decided to march 600 miles in support of “free markets, lower taxes, and privatization.”

It’s difficult to say what’s more risible here. Is it their desire to draw on the role model of the bandeirantes who expanded into Brazil’s interior in the 1700s at the expense of indigenous peoples? (Sure, one of the activists admits that the bandeirantes were “not a great example in terms of human rights,” but to be fair, given the right’s support for the military regime and for police policies that targeted the urban poor, this seems to be a feature, not a bug.) Is it their desire to march inland, where many of the impoverished Brazilians who have benefited from the social policies of the PT and who likely remember the catastrophic impact of neoliberalism on their lives in the 1980s and 1990s (and thus are likely to be unsympathetic to the cause) live? Is it in their highlighting of such political US titans like Rand Paul? Is it their raising the ghost of Margaret Thatcher? Is it the comparison of the March to the Lord of the Rings? Let’s call it a wash – it’s all rather odd and absurd political theater.

Admittedly, Brazil is in the midst of a massive corruption scandal centering on the state-run Petrobras, the damaging effects of neoliberal policies from the 1980s and 1990s are still recent enough in many Brazilians’ memories that appeals to less regulation and more privatization are unlikely to resonate widely. And by relying on with white colonizers from 300 years ago, Rand Paul, and the ghost of Margaret Thatcher as your role models, the activists are really just showing how bereft Brazil is of any intellectual heft for a serious politically right-leaning leader. That said, the activists do (humorously) show the intellectual bankruptcy of original solutions or ideas and the dogmatic partisanship of at least parts of the middle- and upper-classes.

Posted in Brazil, The "Right" in Latin America | Leave a comment

Legal Rights but Social Prejudice for Brazil’s LGBT Community

In the past few years, Brazil has seen dramatic transformations in providing equal rights to the LGBT community. It began in 2011, when the Supreme Court ruled that same-sex couples had the same legal rights as heterosexual married couples, and in 2013, the Supreme Court ruled that same-sex marriage was legal, and that public notaries could not refuse to to perform weddings. Likewise, Brazil’s health-care system provides free sex-change operations as a “basic right” for those who wish to undergo physical gender reassignment in ways that more closely align with who they feel they are as people. From a legal standpoint, Brazil has proven quite progressive not just for Latin America, but for the world more generally, when it comes to LGBT rights.

However, as is the case with abortion, providing legal rights does not always translate into real equality or justice in society, and social prejudices continue to be a major issue, and even the next “frontier,” for LGBT rights in Brazil. Another reminder of this fact emerged in a recent study that found nearly 20% of Brazilian businesses would not hire somebody who identified as gay/homosexual. Seven percent of respondents said they would refuse to hire a gay/lesbian individual outright, while another 11% said they would only hire “if the candidate would never reach a visible position” in the company, i.e., they would never hire a gay man or lesbian to work as a manager, director, CEO, etc. One can look at this in another way – that 80% did not refuse to hire somebody who was LGBT – but the fact that nearly 20% would not is still troubling; just imagine if 20% refused to hire an ethnic minority. Additionally, the fear of having members of the LGBT community in “visible” positions suggests the fear, real or imagined, that society more generally would reject the presence of individuals from the LGBT community; even if it is imagined, the refusal and prejudice perpetuate stigmas that limit social rights.

Transgenders have it particularly difficult. The report highlights the case of Raira Pereira dos Santos, who was an effeminate, gay man who ultimately adopted a feminine identity to match who she felt she was as a person. Even with an education and job experience, she was rejected from jobs for who she was; the only option available ended up being working in a call-center, because “on the telephone nobody sees you. The voice can fool [clients]. But if the job demands physical presence, the boss rejects the gay” applicant. And this prejudice is very real, and has very real consequences on people. As dos Santos says, “If you are gay, you can pretend to be hetero[sexual], but when you let your hair grow and assume your feminine identity, the prejudice increases.” Even those who get hired face prejudice in the workplace, as in the case of Fabio Steiner, who was promised a 6,000 reais (~USD$3,000) salary, but who received only 1000 reais, with the other 5000 going to company to “administer him.”

Thus, even while legal protections remain, there is still a long way to go in the fight for social equality for Brazil’s LGBT community. That is why, even when the Brazilian Chamber of Deputies (which has a very small but vocal number of evangelicals who oppose gay rights) hosts the XII LGBT Seminar of Congress, an act as simple as a kiss between two women who are married and love each other is an important act in fighting for social acceptance. Gay rights have been largely institutionalized in Brazil’s legal system, but that was a first step, and the struggle for social equality continues.

Posted in Brazil, LGBT Rights & Issues | Leave a comment

The Limits of Bans on, and Limited Access to, Abortion

As many know, and as may be unsurprising, Latin America in general is one of the more restrictive regions in the world when it comes to abortion and legal reproductive rights for women. Several countries, including Nicaragua and El Salvador, have total bans on abortion that don’t get rid of the practice, but rather leave women in a precarious state socially and medically. Several other countries allow abortion only in the case of rape, incest, and/or cases where the mother’s health is at risk. While important legal safeguards, two recent cases reveal the limits of such laws even in practice.

In Paraguay, a 10-year-old girl whose stepfather raped her is being denied an abortion. In Paraguay, the only case in which abortion is permitted is when the mother’s health is at risk. In the case of the 10-year-old girl, this is the case; yet the government has failed to act on the law, leaving the girl’s life in danger.

In neighboring Uruguay, which (partially) decriminalized abortion in 2012, a judge has refused to permit an abortion for a mentally-challenged 11-year-old girl whose half-sister’s grandfather raped her. The judge cited the girl’s “desire to maintain [the girl’s] relationship with the 41-year-old man” as a reason for his ruling. This is, simply put, appalling, and the judge’s irresponsibility here is incomprehensible. The judge tried to deflect responsibility by leaving the decision to the mother, but of course, once he issued his ruling, the mother lost any institutionally legal legitimacy she may have had, and dropped the request. As a result, an 11-year-old who doesn’t understand what is going on will give birth to a child under the (alleged) pretenses that she will carry on a relationship with a man who is 30 years her senior, a sexual predator, and in jail.

Meanwhile, in Chile, which also has a total ban on all abortions (a legacy of the Pinochet regime and something president Michele Bachelet is trying to undo), a controversial, satirical campaign on how to “accidentally” terminate a pregnancy is reigniting the debate yet again. The campaign is designed to challenge the country’s total abortion ban by reminding people that criminalizing abortion does not make it go away; it just makes it more precarious, especially for women who cannot afford to pay for safe, healthy, back-door, clandestine procedures. Indeed, data back up this latter point, as estimates of the number of clandestine abortions performed in Chile per year range from 33,000 to 160,000. Collectively, the three cases show the importance of legal reproductive rights, and how, even when such rights are acceded for certain cases, the options for safe health-care and procedures for women is still a struggle.

Posted in Abortion, Children's Rights, Health Issues in the Americas | 2 Comments

Gun Violence in Brazil

A (tragic) parable:

A report on violence in Brazil says around 42,000 people were shot dead in 2012 – the highest figures for gun crime in 35 years.

The study, by the UN and the government on the most recent available data, said almost all the deaths were murders.

More than half of those killed were young men under the age of 30 – two-thirds were described as black.

The Brazilian Congress is debating a controversial bill that would limit access to firearms.

[…] The report says a slow justice system and flawed police investigations as well as the widespread availability of firearms are to blame.

It says Brazil has become a society which tolerates guns to resolve “all sorts of disputes, in most cases for very banal and circumstantial reasons.”

And the data gets even more depressing: 59% (24,882) of those 42,000 deaths are youths between 15 and 29, and the average totals out to 116 gun-related murders a day (or one every 12 minutes).

As always, the causes for this are complex. In Brazil, in addition to the increasing availability of guns in Brazil, the report also cites the notoriously slow justice system and the at-best problematic police forces as factors.

And there is a cultural issue at play here, too, one that may echo social and cultural patterns in other parts of the Americas in the 21st century. Javier Ayuero and Maria Fernanda Berti have recently argued that violence has become a routine “solution” in Argentina as well, an argument that seems to echo throughout other parts of Latin America in differing ways. This seems to be the case not just in Brazil, or even in much of Latin America, but in the western hemisphere more generally.

However, even with these broader cultural shifts, and the institutional challenges both the legal and police systems offer in Brazil, the fact remains that the proliferation of guns is at the heart of the issue. Reducing guns’ circulation will never get rid of gun violence entirely,but it would reduce the abruptness with which Brazilians, and particularly young Brazilians, could make brash, sudden, and ultimately lethal decisions as quickly or easily. And just to worsen matters, this report doesn’t seem to fully take into account all of the state-sponsored murders that occur through police violence.

Meanwhile, in more depressing gun-related news, after several years of a gang-truce, El Salvador is on course to having the highest murder rates in the hemisphere.

Posted in Argentina, Brazil, El Salvador, Latin America, Violence in the Americas, Weapons and Arms in Latin America | Leave a comment

Get to Know a Brazilian

Next Sunday, I’ll return to the weekly “Get to Know a Brazilian” posts. For those interested, below is an archive of past posts about significant, if not always well-known, figures in Brazilian history, society, culture, and politics.

Posted in Get to Know a Brazilian | Leave a comment

An Attempted Return

After a long hiatus, and some long thinking about whether blogging was even a worthwhile activity anymore, I’ve decided to give it another go this summer. I know I’ve been inactive for awhile, for any number of reasons (most having to do with work-related events). However, in thinking about my absence, I’ve come to appreciate how much blogging can offer, be it in keeping up with news, having a platform to think critically about events and the relation between the past and the present, and even spurring my own writing from a professional level. The main argument I always saw against keeping this site maintained was how much time it consumed that could be dedicated elsewhere, and that may again become an issue (though hopefully I can learn to rein myself in on that front). However, after no small amount of reflection, I’ve come to appreciate how the time spent on a blog is outweighed by the conversations, insights, and analyses blogging offers. Though posts may not be quite a daily event, I’m going to do my best to keep things up to date here. I know that the readership here was never extremely high, but hopefully there will be enough here worth saying, and enough that’s original, to keep those of you who always checked in regularly to do so once again. We’ll see where it heads, but for now, at least, I feel more genuinely invested in the act of blogging and, perhaps more importantly, feel more energized by what it does offer than I have for a long time. May it be rewarding for me and for those of you who graciously take some time of your day to read and converse with what goes on here.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Carnaval in Rio de Janeiro, 2015 – The Samba Schools’ Parades

I’ve made it an annual tradition to write about Carnaval in Brazil, and in Rio de Janeiro specifically. Sadly, a number of other projects have kept me away from a more thorough writeup/analysis of Carnaval this year, but you can still see photos for each of the samba schools that paraded in Rio de Janeiro this year below. [And, as is usually the case with hundreds of Carnaval photos, some may be considered NSFW-ish, so be judicious on where/when you click on the links.]

And for those following the international geopolitical ramifications of Carnaval this year, Beija-Flor, whose school reportedly received funding from the son of the infamous dictator of Equitorial Guinea, ended up being the 2015 champion.

First Night of Parades [Monday]
G.R.E.S. Viradouro
– with a focus on African Animals among its themes

G.R.E.S. Mangueira – with a focus on “great women of Brazil”

G.R.E.S. Mocidade – with the theme of the end of the world

G.R.E.S. Unidos da Vila Isabel – with an homage to Paulista conductor Isaac Karabtchevsky

G.R.E.S. Salgueiro – with a focus on food from Minas Gerais

G.R.E.S. Grande Rio – with a theme that hinged on the history of noise

Second Night of Parades [Tuesday]
G.R.E.S. São Clemente – with an homage to the late Carnaval artist Fernando Pamplona (1926-2013)

G.R.E.S. Portela – with a celebration of Rio de Janeiro’s 450th anniversary

G.R.E.S. Beija-Flor – with a focus on Africa and especially on Equatorial Guinea

G.R.E.S. União da Vila – with the overarching message of definitions of beauty across time

G.R.E.S. Imperatriz Leopoldense – with a message of anti-racism

G.R.E.S. Unidos da Tijuca – with an homage to the late museologist and Carnaval artist Clóvis Bornay

Posted in Brazil, Brazilian Culture, Brazilian Music, Carnaval, Rio de Janeiro