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Posts tagged ‘Amazon Land of Brazil’

Troops deploy in Rio de Janeiro amid increasing violence

July 29, 2017

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Thousands of soldiers began patrolling Rio de Janeiro on Friday amid a spike in violence in Brazil’s second-largest city. The deployment of 8,500 soldiers, plus hundreds of police and highway patrol officers, is aimed at fighting organized crime gangs, which control many of the city’s hundreds of slums.

Defense Minister Raul Jungmann said patrols would soon start participating in operations against drug traffickers. That is a break from previous duties that were limited to patrolling, manning checkpoints and recovering caches of weapons seized during police raids. The operation is scheduled to run until the end of 2018.

Some troops began deploying in the afternoon, with trucks full of soldiers seen rolling over bridges and expressways. While the main efforts were concentrated in the city’s north, where violence is most pervasive, armored vehicles were also patrolling the quiet surroundings of the Santos Dumont airport. As the sun set, a dozen soldiers with rifles in hand stood silhouetted against Guanabara Bay.

“I’m not really sure what they are doing here, since the crime they have to fight is in the other side of the city,” said Almir Soares, a passer-by. He called the deployment a stunt, but then conceded that the military operation could deter violence where it is actually needed.

Three people on average were killed each day by stray bullets in the first six months of the year in Rio de Janeiro. That mounting number, plus criminal assaults and increasing shootouts between drug traffickers and police, have led authorities in recent weeks to acknowledge that much of the city is out of their control.

Last year, 85,000 troops were used to bolster security around the venues of the 2016 Summer Olympics held in Rio. Public security experts say Brazil’s worst recession in decades is exacerbating the situation.

Norway to Brazil: Curb deforestation or we stop the money

June 23, 2017

COPENHAGEN, Denmark (AP) — Norway’s prime minister warned Brazil’s president on Friday to curb deforestation in the Amazon or Norway will reduce its financial contribution to the project this year. The announcement comes as the Amazon and Atlantic rainforests are being cut down at the fastest rate in nearly a decade, according to official Brazilian figures.

Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg said Norway’s more than $1 billion contribution to the so-called Amazon fund is “based on results,” Norway’s NTB news agency said. Since 2001, Norway has donated billions to encourage the conservation of forests.

“If preliminary figures about deforestation in 2016 are confirmed, it will lead to a reduced payout in 2017,” Solberg said after meeting with Brazilian President Michel Temer in Oslo. Temer praised Norway’s contribution to the fund but declined to take questions from media after he and Solberg had made their statements.

“This contribution has enabled us to make a more effective impact to avoiding deforestation,” Temer said, according to NTB. Temer said Monday he had vetoed legislation to reduce the size of protected environmental reserves. However, the apparent victory for environmental groups most likely will be short-lived, as Brazilian Environment Minister Jose Sarney Filho is working on similar legislation.

The legislation passed by Brazil’s Congress last month would have converted around 1.4 million acres (566,000 hectares) of protected land into areas open to logging, mining and agricultural use. However, last week, Filho announced plans to create a new expedited bill that would convert 1.1 million acres of protected land to other uses.

Last year, deforestation in the Amazon jumped 29 percent over the previous year, according to the Brazilian government’s satellite monitoring. That was the highest rate since 2008. Before his meeting with Solberg, Temer was met by protesters holding posters reading “Stop rainforest destruction” and “Respect indigenous peoples’ rights” as he arrived at the prime minister’s office in Oslo.

Brazil’s Temer gets big victory in electoral court ruling

June 10, 2017

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Brazil’s top electoral court gave embattled President Michel Temer a big victory late Friday, voting to reject allegations of campaign finance violations that could have removed him from office.

After four days of deliberations, judges voted 4-3 in a case that many viewed as a measure of whether Temer could remain in office amid a ballooning corruption scandal and single-digit popularity. Last month, a recording emerged that apparently captured Temer endorsing hush money to ex-House Speaker Eduardo Cunha, a former Temer ally serving 15 years in prison for corruption and money laundering. Soon after that, details of another bombshell came out: that Temer was being investigated for allegedly receiving bribes.

Temer has denied wrongdoing and vowed to stay in office. “The facts are very serious, unbearable,” said Judge Luiz Fux, who voted to remove Temer, adding the campaign finance case was about “very serious crimes.”

Judge Gilmar Mendes, who has called Temer “a friend of many years,” cast the decisive vote to keep Temer in office. Mendes, also a justice on the Supreme Federal Tribunal, the country’s highest court, argued that electoral laws needed reform, suggesting that politicians should not pay the price for a broken system.

“The system needs stability. It is very easy to talk about morality, fighting against corruption. I want that too,” said Mendes, who in the past has come to the aid of other politicians facing legal trouble. “A president can’t just be replaced at any time, even if the desire is there.”

The campaign finance case was filed shortly after the 2014 presidential election by one of the losing parties. It alleged that the ticket of President Dilma Rousseff and running mate Temer, then the vice presidential candidate, gained an unfair advantage through illegal campaign contributions. Temer took over the presidency last year after Rousseff was impeached and removed for illegally managing the federal budget.

The campaign finance allegations were bolstered in recent months by stunning testimony from plea bargains signed by current and former executives at the construction giant Odebrecht, a company at the center of a colossal investigation into billions of dollars in inflated contracts and kickbacks to politicians. The executives provided shocking details of tens of millions of dollars in bribes and illegal campaign contributions, including to the Rousseff-Temer ticket.

In their deliberations, the judges argued about whether those plea bargains should be considered in their decision. They also clashed over the strength of the original evidence and whether punishments should be doled out when illegal campaign finance was widespread.

A guilty verdict would have annulled the 2014 victory, thus stripping Temer of the rest of his mandate. It could also have stripped both Rousseff and Temer of political rights for eight years. While Temer had vowed to appeal a conviction, it would have weakened his hand in a climate of several corruption scandals and a public furious about it.

“Temer will stay in office and probably face many demonstrations in the streets,” said Alexandre Barros, a political risk consultant with the Brasilia-based firm Early Warning. “I don’t think anybody is in the mood to decide something unexpected at this point.”

The political turmoil in Brazil — that began with the push last year to remove Rousseff from power for violating budget laws — has reached a fever pitch. There are near weekly protests calling for Temer’s ouster, frequent shouting matches in Congress, and a simmering debate in the media over whether Temer will manage to finish out his term.

That atmosphere was reflected in the courtroom, where there were several tense moments. Among the most dramatic came during the opening of the afternoon session Friday, when a prosecutor requested the disqualification of one of the judges who had once been a lawyer for Rousseff and one justice decried articles in the press that linked him to a corruption investigation. As the tension in the chamber rose, the court’s president called a brief break.

While Temer has survived another day, the future will be difficult. His already very low popularity has plunged further amid the corruption allegations. A Temer ally and former congressman, captured on video by federal police carrying a suitcase full of bribe money, was recently jailed — and any testimony he provides could further implicate Temer.

The main parties in Temer’s coalition have stuck with him so far, but several reports have reflected worry that being associated with his could be detrimental to re-election campaigns next year. Ironically, Temer’s strongest argument to stay in power is that he can deliver major reforms to labor laws and the country’s pension system. While deeply unpopular among Brazilians, many economists have argued they are necessary to help pull Latin America’s largest nation from recession and many members of Congress want them passed, if anything to be able to point at something besides widespread corruption.

“Temer will argue, ‘I’m the guy who is going to give the country the bitter remedy that will cure it,” said Carlos Manhanelli, political marketing specialist and chairman of the Brazilian Association of Political Consultants.

Associated Press reporter Sarah DiLorenzo contributed to this report from Sao Paulo.

Striking military police in Brazil agree to return to work

February 11, 2017

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — The government of Brazil’s southeastern state of Espirito Santo and military police have reached an agreement to end a strike that had paralyzed several cities and led to an uptick in violence.

The agreement reached late Friday came after a week of strikes led by family members of the officers. Wives and other relatives blocked their barracks to demand higher pay for the officers. The government had indicted more than 700 officers for allegedly refusing to work.

The Espirito Santo government released a letter outlining the agreement, which was published by news portal G1. As part of the agreement, the government would not pursue criminal action against officers who returned to work Saturday.

State authorities did not agree to the demand for pay raises, but said they would analyze the system of promotions. Some family members interviewed by local media said they had not been consulted and did not agree, raising the possibility that some barracks might continue to be blocked on Saturday.

Because of the absence of police patrols, schools have been closed and medical services at public hospitals interrupted. Public transportation has been suspended and some shops have been looted. Espirito Santo neighbors the state of Rio de Janeiro to the north. The strike there inspired a handful of much smaller family protests in Rio on Friday. However, in Rio family members did not block barracks, instead demonstrating peacefully outside them.

In Espirito Santo, the union representing civil police officers said 121 people have been killed since police stopped patrolling the streets. The state government has not released a death toll. Earlier this week, Espirito Santo turned over security duties to the army, which has sent 1,200 troops to help quell the violence.

33 inmates die in Brazil, latest in week of prison bloodshed

January 06, 2017

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Brazilian authorities said Friday that 33 more prisoners had died at a prison in northern Brazil just days after 60 were killed in rioting at two prisons in a neighboring state. The federal justice secretary said the new deaths occurred overnight at the Agricultural Penitentiary of Monte Cristo in the city of Boa Vista, in the state of Roraima, but it gave no details. Calls to the secretariat were not returned.

It wasn’t immediately clear whether there was a connection to the gruesome rioting earlier this week in the neighboring state of Amazonas, which officials blamed on a war between rival drug gangs over control of prisons and drug routes in northern Brazil, which borders Colombia, Venezuela, Peru and the Guianas.

A police statement said officers, including a heavily armed military-like riot squad, had been deployed to the prison. “The federal government needs to prepare for a worst case scenario, and that means accelerating measures to keep the situation from getting worse,” said Col. Jose Vicente, a former national security adviser and risk consultant.

Just as details about the latest disturbance were emerging, Justice Minister Alexandre de Moraes announced measures to stop the bloodshed. Moraes said federal police would be more integrated in state capitals and that special task forces would be created to more quickly process criminal charges, a measure aimed at reducing overcrowding. Moraes offered no deadlines for the initiatives but said they would “be realistic” given the recession in Latin America’s largest economy.

The rioting Sunday and Monday in Amazonas include the country’s worst prison bloodshed since 1992, with half of the 56 slain at one institution beheaded and several others also dismembered. In another of the riots, four prisoners died.

A total of 184 inmates escaped from Amazonas prisons in the disturbances. As of Thursday afternoon, only 65 had been recaptured. Authorities say that in Amazonas, the local Family of the North gang attacked members of Sao Paulo-based First Command, Brazil’s biggest criminal organization.

In October, a riot at the Agricultural Penitentiary of Monte Cristo, the same where disturbances were reported on Friday, left 18 dead.

At least 56 inmates killed in prison riot in northern Brazil

January 03, 2017

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — An attack by members of one crime gang on rival inmates touched off a riot at a prison in the northern state of Amazonas, leaving at least 56 dead, including several who were beheaded or dismembered in the worst bloodshed at a Brazilian prison since 1992.

Authorities said the riot that raged from Sunday afternoon into Monday morning grew out of a fight between two of the country’s biggest crime gangs over control of prisons and drug routes in northern Brazil.

In a separate incident Monday evening, four inmates were killed at another Amazonas prison. Police were investigating whether there was a connection between the mass killings at the Anisio Jobim Penitentiary Complex and the later ones at Unidade Prisional do Puraquequara.

Amazonas authorities initially reported 60 dead in the Anisio Jobim prison in Manaus, but the state public security secretary’s office later reduced that figure to 56. Officials also said 112 inmates escaped during the riot.

There were 1,224 inmates in the prison, which was built to hold 592, Amazonas state public security’s office said. The prison is run by a private company that is paid according to the number of inmates.

Twelve prison guards were held hostage by the inmates during the riot, though none was injured. “This is the biggest prison massacre in our state’s history,” Public Security Secretary Sergio Fontes said at a news conference. “What happened here is another chapter of the war that narcos are waging on this country and it shows that this problem cannot be tackled only by state governments.”

Fontes confirmed that many of the dead had been beheaded. Judge Luis Carlos Valois, who negotiated the end of the riot with inmates, said he saw many bodies that had been quartered. “I never saw anything like that in my life. All those bodies, the blood,” Valois wrote on Facebook.

It was the largest death toll during a Brazilian prison riot since the killing of 111 inmates by police officers in the Carandiru penitentiary in Sao Paulo in 1992. Police said they acted in self-defense then.

Two other prisons in Manaus also reported riots since Sunday. At one, 72 prisoners escaped, including an inmate who posted a picture of himself on Facebook as he left. Amazonas police were also looking for any links between those two incidents and the riot at Anisio Jobim.

Authorities said that of the 184 inmates who escaped Amazonas prisons the last two days, only 40 had been recaptured. Fontes said the inmates at Anisio Jobim made few demands to end the riot, saying that hinted at a killing spree organized by members of a local gang, the Family of the North, against those of the First Command of the Capital that is based in Sao Paulo.

Valois said that during the negotiations at Anisio Jobim, inmates asked only “that we did not transfer them, made sure they were not attacked and kept their visitation” rights. Authorities said officers found a hole in a prison wall through which weapons entered the building. A policeman was wounded in exchange of gunfire with the inmates. Several firearms were found when police searched the prison after the riot.

Jose Vicente da Silva, a former national public security secretary, said the incidents in Manaus were a result of Brazil’s severe recession and poor management of the prison system. “Since 2014 homicides in prisons of Amazonas are double the national average, and last year they cut their public security budget by 50 percent due to austerity measures. This incident is a repetition in a bigger scale,” Da Silva told The Associated Press. “Every year 500 inmates die in Brazilian prisons. With the current economic crisis and the budget cuts, the gangs get even bolder.”

The First Command, nationally known as PCC, is the most powerful drug and prison gang in Brazil and it has been trying to extend its reach to northern prisons dominated by the Family of the North. To counter, Family of the North associated with the Red Commando of Rio de Janeiro, the second biggest crime gang in Brazil.

To avoid another wave of killings of PCC members, Amazonas authorities said they had relocated 130 inmates to a prison that was opened in 1907 but deactivated in October because of substandard conditions.

Brazilian police: Greek ambassador killed by wife’s lover

December 31, 2016

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Police in Brazil believe that Greece’s ambassador to the country was killed by his wife’s lover under her orders in a house in the Rio area and have detained three suspects, authorities said Friday.

Ambassador Kyriakos Amiridis went missing on Monday in Nova Iguacu, a city just north of Rio de Janeiro, where the ambassador had been vacationing. The couple lived most of the time in the capital of Brasilia.

On Friday, police investigator Evaristo Pontes Magalhaes said that 29-year-old police officer Sergio Gomes Moreira Filho had confessed to killing Amiridis, alleging self-defense. He said the policeman was having an affair with the ambassador’s 40-year-old wife, Francoise.

Filho’s cousin, Eduardo de Melo, acknowledged taking part in the killing as a lookout, Magalhaes said. The cousin accused Francoise of offering him the equivalent of $25,000 to participate. A judge ordered the detention of Francoise, her lover and his cousin, and the three were in custody.

Francoise has denied any role in the alleged plot. According to Magalhaes, Francoise said she couldn’t stop Filho from killing her husband and insisted she was not at home at the time of the crime. But the police investigator said in a press conference late Friday that the “evidence clearly puts the ambassador’s wife as a co-author of the crime.”

He said she started plotting with her lover to kill the ambassador after the couple had a serious fight three days before Christmas. “All our evidence suggests that her motivation was to use the financial resources left by the ambassador so she could enjoy life with Sergio,” the police officer, Magalhaes said.

The first signs the ambassador had been murdered emerged late Thursday, when police found blood spots believed to be his on a sofa inside the house the couple kept in Nova Iguacu, where the wife’s family lives.

Filho told police that he strangled the ambassador during a fight, but the blood evidence found on the scene makes his claim unlikely, Magalhaes said. Neighbors said they did not hear any shots, leading police to believe the policeman stabbed Amiridis.

The investigation showed that Amiridis’ body was removed from the house in a carpet at the same time that Francoise arrived with their 10 year-old daughter, who did not see the body of her dead father, Magalhaes said.

Police believe a body found in a burned-out car that Amiridis had rented on Dec. 21 belongs to the ambassador, but forensics experts are still working to confirm that it is him. Brazil’s government has offered its condolences to Greece over his death.

The Greek Embassy website in Brazil says Amiridis started his career as diplomat in 1985 in Athens and became Greece’s top diplomat in Brazil in 2016. He earlier was Greece’s ambassador to Libya and worked as consul in Rio from 2001-2004.

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