Arguably the most popular leader in Latin America, Brazilian President Lula da Silva was named to Time magazine’s list of the 100 most influential people in the world this week. He is the only Latin American to be among the list of the 25 most influential “world leaders.” [The other sub-categories of the top 100 include “thinkers,” “artists,” and “heroes”]. Interestingly, the filmmaker Michael Moore writes the article which accompanies the honor bestowed on Brazil’s outgoing president, calling Lula a “genuine son of Latin America’s working class.” Moore tells the story of how Lula apparently entered politics, writing that his political awakening occurred “when, at age 25, he watched his wife Maria die during the eighth month of her pregnancy, along with their child, because they couldn't afford decent medical care.” And Moore says the lesson Lula has to teach the world is that you can “propel” a country into the First World with “government social programs like Fome Zero (Zero Starvation), designed to end hunger, and with plans to improve the education available to members of Brazil's working class.” [BBC Mundo highlights Lula’s successful economic policies in the face of the world economic crisis as well].
More on Brazil’s booming economy from the Economist which discusses the recent decision to hike interest rates in an attempt to hold back economic “overheating” and inflation. Tying back to some points raised here yesterday, the magazine writes that while the Brazilian economy has experienced stellar growth in recent years, “growth in productive capacity,” a key to long term economic health, remains limited. “Brazil’s investment rate has increased in recent years, but at its pre-crisis peak, it was still just 19% of GDP, less than half the corresponding figure in parts of Asia.”
And, from Al-Jazeera, a report on an interesting alternative indicator of Brazil’s growing role in the world economy: increases in international connections via Sao Paulo. “Sao Paulo’s international airport has quietly become in recent years the undisputed airport hub of South America – connecting the region with much of the rest of the world,” says Al-Jazeera. Some of the most recent additions include direct flights to Middle East destinations like Doha, Qatar and Tel Aviv. “For every new airline carrier that flies into Sao Paulo, it means more opportunities for Brazil – and South America, for that matter – to become more interconnected with what is increasingly becoming a smaller planet Earth.”
To other stories:
· With one more Brazil story this morning, Infolatam writes that the Federal Supreme Court ruled in favor of a 1979 amnesty law’s constitutionality yesterday. The law has protected both military leaders and opposition/rebel groups from prosecution for human rights crimes committed during the country’s cold war dictatorship. The president of the Amnesty Commission within the Ministry of Justice called yesterday “a sad day for human rights in Brazil,” adding that the ruling “goes against the recent history” in other Latin American countries. Those who ruled in favor of the law’s constitutionality (which included 7 of the 9 justices) argued that amnesty law successfully helped to “pacify” the country and restore “social peace.”
· A recent letter from Costa Rican president Oscar Arias asking Uruguay’s Pepe Mujica to disband the Uruguayan military has sparked some interesting commentary in the blogosphere. CIP’s Abigail Poe gives the letter some context while Two Weeks Notice and Bloggings by Boz offer two distinct arguments about whether or not Pepe Mujica would be wise to follow Arias’s advice.
· In a new statement yesterday, Amnesty International calls on Colombia’s presidential candidates to make human rights a more central priority ahead of a May 30 vote. “It is shocking that, in a country where human rights are routinely abused by those participating in the 45-year-old internal armed conflict, the issue has not been given the priority it deserves,” says Susan Lee, director of Amnesty International's Americas program. Those words come as ex-senator, Antonio Valencia Duque, and former House member, Luis Carlos Restrepo Orozco, were arrested Thursday for apparent links to AUC paramilitaries. The arrests come out of ongoing investigations into the so-called “para-política” scandals. Also, according to BBC Mundo, AUC head, Salvatore Mancuso, told the Colombian Supreme Court yesterday (from his prison cell in the US) that the AUC was a formal supporter of Alvaro Uribe’s first presidential campaign. In his Thursday statement, Mancuso also said the AUC was asked by Venezuelan military generals to help with a coup d’etat against Hugo Chavez – a request the paramilitaries turned down. [On a separate note, yesterday Venezuelan authorities arrested a man allegedly plotting to assassinate Hugo Chavez.]
· With more on the electoral campaign in Colombia, the Economist examines the Green Revolution that is captivating the attention of Colombians and Colombian-watchers alike. Scandal and corruption within the Uribe government, along with Antanas Mockus’s self-proclaimed “centrism,” the magazine writes, have been critical in paving the way for the Green Party’s surge. “Whereas Colombians are grateful to Mr. Uribe for making the country safer (though still not wholly safe), many of them dislike the whiff of scandal that has surrounded his government.” Michael Shifter of the Inter-American Dialogue, meanwhile, offers a view of the elections “from Washington” to El Colombiano.
· The conflict between the Argentine government and Clarín continues to brew with government officials recently accusing the owners of the media empire of adopting two babies stolen by the Argentine military during the 1976-1983 dictatorship. Meanwhile, according to an AP report today, a “people’s trial” against some of the country’s most well-known journalists was held by government-backers yesterday in Buenos Aires. Kirchnerista Hebe de Bonafini of the Madres de la Plaza de Mayo, led the proceedings in front of the Casa Rosada, says the news service. According to Bonafini, the “trial” sought to, in the AP’s words, “expose a younger generation to misdeeds by some journalists during the 1976-1983 dictatorship and to vindicate those members of the media who risked their lives to report about human rights abuses.”
· In Mexico, the AP says 25 police officers were charged yesterday for illicit dealings related to drugs, organized crime, and illegal weapons possession in Guerrero state.
· IPS has more on the paramilitary attack on human rights defenders in Oaxaca earlier in the week. Two were killed in that attack. The incident also provoked a response from the UN High Commission on Human Rights which condemned the murders.
· Another IPS report looks at questions of transparency regarding new military purchases in Peru.
· Guyana’s ambassador to Venezuela comments on an upcoming special summit of UNASUR in Buenos Aires (May 3-4) at which former Argentine President Nestor Kirchner is expected to be named the organization’s first official Secretary General.
· The LA Times has a feature report on Haiti and growing tensions in the country’s tent cities – playing out most acutely in and around recently re-opened schools.
· The State Dept. says Arturo Valenzuela will be traveling to the Central American countries of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Panama, beginning May 2.
· Yesterday the House Ways and Means Committee held a hearing on US-Cuba trade/travel policy. Participants included WOLA’s Geoff Thale, HRW’s José Miguel Vivanco, and CIP’s Wayne Smith. Statements and live webcast are available here.
· And finally, with an opinion in the Miami Herald, Christopher Walker of Freedom House writes about restrictions on press freedoms in Venezuela. But, Walker argues, the case of Venezuela should be considered in a broader world context. “Even more disturbing … is that Venezuela represents just one part of a broader pattern of systematic media repression exerted by a group of influential, regionally diverse authoritarian regimes. These governments -- including in Russia, Iran and China -- have played a central role in the global setback for freedom of expression.” Walker highlights censorship on the internet in particular: “The authoritarians' deft adaptation of censorship has especially serious implications for Internet freedom. By using their wealth and technical acumen to subvert the free flow of information online, governments in these countries are serving as incubators for new media suppression.”