The Squid Years | Drug and Media Policy Shifts

Brazil, one nation with liberty and justice for all … a nation of idiots.

A major shift in Brazilian drug enforcement policy is quietly announced as the Dilma government takes over from the Squid government.

Lula literally means “squid” — although President da Silva’s nickname is actually more of a phonological transformation along the lines of “Louie” for “Louis.” The cartoonist Angelí may have been one of the only Brazilian humorists to take full advantage of the pun.

Source: Estado de S. Paulo/Portal ClippingMP.

Four weeks after being named federal Minister of Justice, José Eduardo Martins Cardozo has announced the appointment of São Paulo Federal Police superintendent Leandro Daiello Coimbra to head the federal police agency.

The future minister also revealed that president-elect Dilma Rousseff has determined that the National Antidrug Secretariat –Senad — will be transferred from the Institutional Security Office — the GSI — to the Justice Ministry.

That is to say, it will be run by civilian police and prosecutors instead of generals.

Anytime Brazilian generals have less to do than they used to is a significant development in a post-dictatorship Brazil, where the military hung onto unusual powers in exchange for handing back the reins of government to civilians.

“This was a decision by President Dilma to align antidrug policy with public safety policy in general,”  Cardozo explained. Headed by a military officer, Senad will now be headed by a civilian. The handoff from the GSI to Justice will take place after the inauguration of the new federal government. The institutional reform was first proposed at the end of the second Cardoso administration.

Also, according to the Folha de S. Paulo in a recent report, indicators of a gradual shift in federal government advertising policy are hampered by the lack of firm statistics.  Continue reading

Landless Workers | Enemy of Western Civilization or Brazilian UFW?

Brazil’s Landless Workers Movement — Movimento dos Trabalhadores Sem Terra | MST — is one of those things that makes you realize you are not in Kansas anymore.

In some ways it resembles the UFW of the 1970s, or is evolving in that direction, at least, it seems.

A cable on MST activities in the Brazilian Northeast by the Consulate in Recife, Pernambuco, actually makes a pretty good case for this analysis, based on an extensive interview with a Catholic Church official close to the movement.

Some of the locals believe the gringos got it all wrong, however — as usual.

Clifford Andrew Welch, for example, is an assistant professor of History at the Federal University of São Paulo |  UNIFESP who was interviewed by American diplomatic personnel this year.

He takes a dim view of the resulting diplomatic dispatch.

The  O Globo daily published an article on these cable on Sunday, December 19, emphasizing the presence of MST “spies” in INCRA and the alleged practice by MST members of “renting the land back to agribusiness.”

“I never said this and never would. In the first place, the term ‘spy’ was invented by O Globo; it never appears in the cables cited by the newspaper,” Welch says.

INCRA is the National Institute on Colonization and Agrarian Reform, an agency of the Ministry of Agricultural Development.

In a first-person affidavit published on the Web site of the MST, Welsh says he was triply misquoted and misconstrued.

It took a long time. In April 2007, I made a personal request for the report prepared by a U.S. investigator who had interviewed me about the MST. I requested the document again in September of this year, by e-mil, but never received so much as a response, much less the document in question.

It was Wikileaks that recently published the report on the agent’s activities in Pontal do Paranapanema, in São Paulo, and my name figured in press reports that circulated on December 19 and 20.

As an assistant coordinator of NERA, the Center for Agrarian Reform Studies, Surveys and Projects at the São Paulo State University (UNESP) in April 2009, I confess to being less than enthusiastic about the visit paid by Vice Consul Benjamin A. LeRoy of the U.S. Consulate in São Paulo, who asked us to set aside a hour to inform him “about NERA’s work, agrarian reform and the MST,”  as political affairs assistant Arlete Salvador wrote to us.

As a historian specializing in U.S. foreign policy in Latin America, I was already familiar with figures like LeRoy and his reports. These serve the hisrorian as important sources for understanding the methods used to keep the empire in business. Now the tables were turned and I was to play the role of source. I was astonished by the errors in Benjamin’s report and the distortion of the facts by Consul Thomas White — which together reveal a weakness of the empirical method used by historians, overly dependent as it is on official documents and press reports.

Does it make sense to trust an investigator who has no idea where he is or with whom he is talking? The report on Benjamin’s activities, for example, refers to UNESTE instead of UNESP and reports my academic affiliation as the University of  Michigan — wrong in both cases..

Even worse is the statement attributed to me by Benjamin and passed along by White, which provided O Globo with its headline: “MST said to have spies inside Incra to aid in invasion planning.” I never said this and never would. …

In the May 29 telegram, White wrote that “the MST follows a strict methodology in its invasion of lands, including the use of contacts at INCRA to select its targets, according to  [...] Welch.”

At another point, the consul says I told him that “the MST uses contacts at INCRA to determine which lands will be expropriated next.” According to this report,, “Welch told Benjamin that Incra does not make this information public, so that the only way the MST can access this information would be through contacts at INCRA.”

The way in which the Consul passed on statements I never made to Benjamin about relations between the MST and INCRA reflects Brazilian MacCarthyism more than Brazilian reality. MacCarthism is the ideology of the “red scare” that so frightened Americans in the mid-XXth century, when Russian spies were said to have infiltrated the government.

But the current situation in Brazil quite obviously has nothing to do with the Cold War. Under the constitution, INCRA’s responsibility is to carry out agrarian reform. The MST seeks to pressure the agency to take action.

As I told Benjamin, furthermore, INCRA does make its information available to the public. I recall trying to explain to Benjamin that most MST occupations are not carried out at random, but target areas currently involved in a process of expropriation. That is, the MST makes an effort to assist in the identification of lands that are nonoproductive or subject to expropriation because of environmental or labor violations. The clandestine nature of this process is a figment of the Consul’s imagination.

Is that true?

It appears to be.

The top news item on the Web site of the government agency at the moment, for example, is “Federal President Designates Another 13 Areas for Agrarian Reform.”

The affected properties are identifed by name, location and acreage.

But wait, these are lands already settled by MST activists.

Can you actually get information about pending enforcement actions straight off the INCRA Web site?

It seems you can.

It takes some familiarity with the native bureaucracy and legal system, which is a far cry from your father’s good old British Common Law.

In the same April 2009 report, titled “The MST Method: Take Advantage of Government, Alienate Neighbors,” the Consul uses Benjamin’s report to alleged that MST members who receive land grants from INCRA wind up  “renting the lands back to agribusiness” — “a cynical and ironic practice.” The source for this statement appeasr to have been “an agribusiness leader” in Presidente Prudente.

I cannot find a telegram with a title translatable that way in the cables published so far by WikiLeaks.

On the other hand, the controversial project is tending to leak cables selectively to its local media partners — Globo and the Folha group — before posting them for public inspection. I find that practice rather contrary to the spirit of a big public data dump, don’t you?

Another report from the April 2009 frames the issue as a question.

I would tend to answer neither, to the extent that the movement uses its legal standing to bring suit against landowners  through INCRA.

The vast majority of this sort of “trespass and sue” cases as filed with INCRA seem to be brought by agricultural workers unions — above.

I would tend to want to say that the policy of the current and continuing government has been to channel the energies of the movement into this legal-institutional framework.

More lawyers arguing, fewer death squads in action. Our professor again:

Out of context, as it appears in the diplomatic dispatch, the rental of these lands seems “ironic and cynical.”

What the report does not take into account is the pressure brought to bear by sugarcane processors, who offer easy money in return for allowing them to plant sugarcane. This has caused problems for land grant recipients, as a number of studies by UNESP show.  MST national leadership is firmly against the practice.

There are other errors of fact and interpretation in the diplomzatic cables and news reports based on them. The Folha de S. Paulo takes advantage of the leaked cables to allege that the MST is in “decline,” that the “popular base of the movement is shrinking.” O Globo cites the alleged abandonment of the movement by the federal president, an interpretation that figures in White’s cable as well.

A cable titled MST “RED APRIL” SHOWS DECLINE IN ACTIVITY cites sources close to the movement for this assessment. For example,

Feliciano noted that in recent years, the MST has had difficulty recruiting new members because recent economic growth has generated new jobs in the cities. An additional factor is the Lula administration’s Bolsa Familia cash transfer program for the poor, which now benefits more than 11 million families. Many Bolsa Familia recipients are reluctant to join MST for fear of losing their benefits. It is difficult for them to comply with the program’s conditions — keeping their children in school and ensuring they are vaccinated on schedule — when living in an MST “acampamento.” Feliciano indicated that Bolsa Familia is but one among a series of reasons that the MST settlements are emptying.

Although the U.S. interest in the movement tends to get justified in terms of the grotesque murder-for-hire of U.S. citizen Dorothy Stang — a naturalized Brazilian citizen active in the Pastoral of the Land — more attention appears to get focused on the risk scenarios of foreign-owned agribusiness concerns. For example,

Although most recent MST invasions have not involved violence, there have been exceptions. Per reftel, last October some militants from MST and Via Campesina, an associated organization, invaded an agricultural research station in Santa Tereza do Oeste, Parana state, owned by the Swiss-based biotech company Syngenta. A skirmish between the invaders and security guards killed two people and wounded eight.

I followed the news on that case. There was some pretty astonishing video of the incident.

To the extent that “involving violence”and “skirmishing” implies violence by both sides, I think this account is grossly misleading.

I saw a bunch of heavily armed people taking pot shots at a bunch of unarmed people, who did pretty much all of the dying and suffering from injuries.

Sorry, but this looked really bad for Syngenta, which ought to have responded with lawyers heavily armed with motions.

You have to be careful whom you hire for private security duties nowadays.

There are stiffer regulations, and increased federal police oversight, of these sorts of firms.

The other cable I read on this subject, on the other hand, argues that the consolidation of agribusiness ownership of extensive areas of lands has forced the MST to switch its focus to environmental advocacy and working conditions — which it visibly has done, I think, if you take the trouble to canvas the Web content they produced in the last year or so.

The MST does not like to give up the fight over title to lands which may, in the distant past, have been griladasgrilagem = “bushwhacking” and “claim jumping,” roughly. But it apparently has had to.

As I tell Brazilian friends, the MST seems more and more like the UFW of the 1970s, which took on agribusiness over working conditions such as occupational safety — pesticide use — and collective bargaining rights without challenging right of title.

We gringos have not seen latifúndio-like settlement patterns, with their accompanying legal uncertainties and violence, since the Range Wars of the XIXth century, if I remember my high school AP History.

So there actually could be something to that assessment, although our professor disagrees.

These arguments are difficult to sustain, however. In fact, government and NERA statistics both support the contrary conclusion, showing that the Lula government has settled more families than the Cardoso government, which claims it did more for agrarian reform than another other government in Brazilian history. The  Lula government responds that it has settled 59% of all reform beneficiaries in Brazilian history.

Statistics on settlements by landless workers tell the same story. During the 8 years of  Cardoso I and II, 57,.650 families took part in 3,876 occupations organized by 20 different movements. Totals for Lula I and II are not yet available, but during the first 7 years of the current government, 480,214 took part in 3,621 occupations.

A better measure might be government spending on incentives to family agriculture and agribusiness, respectively.

The source is an INCRA year-end budget execution report that I have only study in a half-assed manner so far. But these documents are easy to obtain by anyone, anywhere.

That report on changing MST tactics, sourced to someone close to the movement and unambiguously sympathetic to it, actually struck me as a pretty decent job of reporting by our permanent civil servants — even if in the telegrams leaked so far they appear to do less Web mining than they could do.

If it had been me, I would have done more legwork on the range of government programs in this area — like Amazônia Legal — and their calculated and uncalculated effects on the movement’s direction.

“Veja Does Not Correspond To Reality” | Plus, Folha Bid To Consolidate UOL Stake?

Comunique-se (Brazil) reports that senior officials of the outgoing federal government think Veja magazine tends to publish untruths.

Well blow me down. This is a little like saying that it never snows in Bahia — a belaboring of the obvious.

Meanwhile, in the reality-based community:

The Folha media group, which publishes the Folha de S. Paulo and Agora, is in negotations with Portugal Telecom to an additional 28% stake in the Universo Online content portal. The story broke on the front page of Portugal’s Diário Económico.

According to the Lusitanian business daily, the stake is valued at some R$ 320 million (US$189 million). The Portuguese paper says the Folha group has formally submitted the offer but that the Portuguese have declined to sell the stake.

The Folha de S. Paulo group currently owns 54.87% of UOL. The business daily said the group plans to delist UOL from the Bovespa stock market and make the site a major player in online content.

Consolidating Brazilian ownership of what should already be a major player, if not the leading player — the player that throughly trounced AOL in the early Aughts, for example —  in the portal space seems to run counter to recent trends to some degree.

Competing portals like the big content clusters mounted by Terra and Internet Group (iG) tend to have taken on big telecom players as major minority shareholders — Telefonica and BrOi, respectively, in those two cases.

Among the other major national media groups, Globo rival Record has launched and aggressively promoted its R7 portal as an answer to Globo’s G1.

Up and coming portal players like Abril have also taken on outside investors in recent years — in that case, Naspers of South Africa. All pursue an aggressive strategy of global content partnerships as a cornerstone of the business model.

The Estado group, on the other hand,  — it puts out S. Paulo’s second-largest metrosexual daily and runs the Agência Estado national news and financial markets data wire — recently agreed to become the anchor news provider of MSN Brasil, for example, after half-hearted maneuvering to enter the portal space under its own steam, or so it sort of looks to me.

I am just spitballing here, but still: Interesting to see the Folha — a darned good content wrangler with respect to such markets as the entertainment listings, where it competes with Abril’s Time Out clones, the metro editions of Veja, like Veja SP and Veja RJ —  moving in the direction of consolidating its capital base rather than diversifying it.

A reflection of changing conditions for foreign media investments ahead of a regulatory overhaul for the sector?

The remarks by Jorge Hage seem to me like part of a federal government negative publicity blitz ahead of introducing the legislation that will impose the new regulatory regime — which will subject the media sector to direct oversight by antitrust regulators, most importantly.

Top federal auditor Jorge Hage Sobrinho of the Brazilian CGU criticized the year-end retrospective edition of  Veja magazine, saying that some of the articles, and chiefly the Letter from the Editor, do not correspond to reality.

Continue reading

Press Stress | The Alencar-Martins Interview

Franklin Martins

The Sambodian news media is vulnerable to questions about its commitment to impartiality and other commonly accepted standards of journalistic quality.

And how!

The blatant pro-opposition bias of the major media groups has at times even been articulated in public statements by hapless defenders of these practices.

I recall a senior Folha de S. Paulo editor saying, on the record, in effect, “Because the Brazilian political opposition is such an inept shambles, the media has an obligation to assume its role in order to guarantee the democratic order.”

I swear to God, she said that.

And she was not the only one.

As a result, media-bashing played a major role in this year’s national and regional election campaigns, and a lot of talent and well-focused energy went into this effort.

And you have to admit that the tactic is pretty damn effective, too.

I often find myself sympathizing with the ruling party and its allies — against my best intentions — simply because they are the target of this rolling thunder of gabbling disinformation, 24-7-365.

I don’t set out to take sides or run down the opposition, which fields some admirable public figures and policy proposals, but the “with friends like these, who needs enemies?” effect is almost irresistible.

Before joining the government as a cabinet-level press secretary — with control over a huge discretionary budget for government advertising, proving once again that we are no longer in Kansas — Martins was a veteran Globo political analyst who was ratf*#!%!d out of a job for ideological unreliability.

I call them like I see them, excuse me.

Globo ratf*#!%!d the exact wrong guy.  Continue reading

Civil Aviation | “Chaos, Controlled”

Don’t know why
There’s no sun up in the sky
Stormy weather …

Every year, it rains like mad every single freaking day over much of Sambodia.

Every year, the spectacle of flooded-out Brazilians rules the airwaves and hands are wrung.

This year, the images have been of flooding in Southern California and headlines like “Hellish Megastorm Advances on U.S. Northeast!

In a similar way, every year, the Brazilian holiday traveler is bombarded with alarmist messages about the impending “chaos in the skies.”

But if you make a rough comparison of Brazilian aviation statistics with data on the on-time performance of flight operations back at home, they seem actually seem fairly comparable — mutatis mutandis.

We don’t travel enough to provide effective eyewitness testimony, but in our limited experience, nothing bad has happened on a Brazilian flight so far that has not happened on United or American Airlines — and with no huge difference in frequency of occurrence, now that Varig, which really did suck badly, in our experience, is out of business.

It would be interesting to know how much the weather is a factor in on-time performance in the two big countries of similar size and climactic diversity.

U.S. statistics will estimate this for you where Brazilian statistics won’t, not yet.

I tend to think Brazil has more extreme weather, but then again, snowstorms no longer shock me, whereas Sambodians find them astonishing.

The Correio Braziliense reports on the “chaos, controlled” — from a Ministry of Planning press clipping.

Average of flight delays is less than 15% and most passengers report no problems.

With airport workers and pilots working at full strength this Christmas, the situation was calm this Saturday. Attorney Celina Serra, 39, was surprised to encounter such a short line at check-in at the Brasília airport.

“It thought it would be insane, which is why I got here early. But it’s calmer than it is on normal days,”, she said. Celina lives in Fortaleza and traveled to Brasília with her daughter to spend Christmas with her family. From the federal capital, the two traveled on to Rio de Janeiro, where they plan to spend New Year’s.

Flight delays at Brazilian airports from midnight to 3 p.m. on Saturday were the lowest in four days — an average of 13.6% as of 11 a.m. Of the 1,351 domestic take-offs scheduled nationwide, 184 took off more than 30 minutes late.

I think they use 60 minutes back home.  Continue reading

O Jogo Tríplice | The Badly Dubbed House M.D. and Shrek Christmas Marathon Effect

Source::La Jornada | México SA

Whatever happened to that flourishing Mexican movie industry and its Golden Age? I ask not out of nostalgia but,as an observation of the naked truth: It has been been swallowed up by corruption, lack of finance, privatization, and the covert “deculturalization” and “foreignization” brought on by globalization.

At this point, there is little left of our buoyant national film industry, despite our extensive talent pool of screenwriters, directors and actors, who are obliged to squeeze blood from a stone to realize their work in a supply chain dominated by oligopolies.

We are subscribers of Net Virtua triple play service in São Paulo — a joint venture between the Globo media group and a Carlos Slim-led group from Mexico, I forget the name of it.

We can testify to the overwhelming blitz of Shrek and House M.D. Christmas marathons that dominated the closed circuit this holiday season.

At one point, Shek I, II and III and the Xmas special were playing simultaneously on four nominally independent channels.

In point of fact, however, only the Shrek movies come dubbed.

House M.D., like other Universal programming, comes subtitled.

Continue reading

Phantom Menace | The Overheard Epithets of Marcus Aurelius

All speech is vain and empty unless it be accompanied by action –Demosthenes

The object of life is not to be on the side of the majority, but to escape finding oneself in the ranks of the insane. –Marcus Aurelius

Justice Roberts tells the Washington Times that Supreme Court deliberations are being bugged by some rogue COINTELPRO-style operation within the FBI.  Time magazine and ABC News uncritically endorse the accusation.

Justice Scalia chimes in, charging a plot to throw members of the Federalist Society to the lions.

A Warren Commission is empaneled.

The accusations turn out to be completely baseless.

Here in Brazil, O Globo publishes the outcome of a similar episode in a three-sentence footnote on an inside page of a skeleton-crew holiday edition — without repercussion in the rest of the national  news media, as is customary.

A search on Google News for grampo — wiretap — turns up  no reference to the story, while the same search on Google Blogs turns up a number of citations of a note by journalist Luis Nassif on the episode.

In the note, Nassif is a wee bit unfair to Globo journalism to the extent that O Globo designated blogger Ricardo Noblat offers an extended analysis of the episode as well.

Lei & Ordem reproduces Noblat’s online column — translated excerpt follows.

THE FEDERAL POLICE have concluded that there was no illegal wiretapping of the telephones of Supreme Court Chief Justice Gilmar Mendes in the episode in which a conversation between the justice and Senator Demóstenes Torres [DEM-GO] wss made public.

The feds concluded there was no interception of fixed-line or wireless telephones of the high court  The Senate police had already reached the same conclusion.

Furthermore, the 10 electronic “suitcases” of ABIN, the national intelligence agency, were not used for purposes other than those for which they are intended  One was used in a kidnapping case in Paraguay. A technical report by the Army attests that this equipment is not capable of intercepting telephone calls.

So where does that leave us?

There was an unforgettable uproar when Demóstenes and Gilmar confirmed to VEJA magazine that they had in fact had the conversation that appeared in print. VEJA does not have the audio of the conversation. Neither do the Senator or the former Chief Justice, for that matter.

The chief justice threatened to go on national radio and TV to denounce the emergence of a police state. He considered maintaining the high court in permanent session until the matter was cleared up. He requested a meeting with the federal president in which he spoke in harsh terms .

After this meeting, on the advice of Defense Minister Nelson Jobim, the president removed the leadership of ABIN. When things cooled off, no evidence was found of ABIN involvement, nor of any wrongdoing by federal police. Jobim’s statement that ABIN possessed equipment capable of wiretapping was refuted .

On the eve of the presidential elections in 2006, Marco Aurélio de Mello, chief justice at the time of the federal elections tribunal, announced that his telephone was bugged. It was not.. He had based his statement on an ambiguous report from a security consultant hired to sweep the court for bugs.

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