A tempestade perfeita de Bolsonaro no Brasil: do eleitor indignado ao voto na ultradireita

Por Carolina Botelho

Read this entry in English here.

Manifestação todos com Bolsonaro. (Foto por Gabriela Felin).

A vitória de Jair Bolsonaro na disputa à presidência da República no Brasil surpreendeu muitos analistas em todo o mundo. Ainda candidato, o ex-capitão do exército fez uma campanha com elogios à ditadura militar brasileira e à tortura, criticou movimentos sociais, grupos de minorias e desdenhou de diferentes conquistas dos direitos civis e sociais dos últimos trinta anos. Como candidato a vice-presidente, escolheu o general do exército Hamilton Mourão, que poucos dias antes do pleito fez declarações públicas de que seria a favor de um “auto-golpe”, caso fosse necessário.

Atualmente, muito se discute sobre a emergência e o fortalecimento de uma suposta onda conservadora em diferentes países do mundo, tendência esta que teria contribuído para a vitória de lideranças de ultradireita também no Brasil. No entanto, não recorrerei a esse fenômeno para analisar a vitória de Bolsonaro. Proponho neste artigo chamar atenção para algumas questões que merecem destaque e que repousam sobre o ambiente político e econômico do Brasil nesta ocasião. Recorro também à ideia de que essa eleição, tal como qualquer outra, é um fenômeno amplo e multidimensional, portanto possui muitas explicações. Utilizarei, principalmente, resultados de pesquisas de percepção do brasileiro do monitoramento Pulso Brasil, da Ipsos Public Affairs. Também serão citados alguns dados complementares do Instituto Ideia BigData, Datafolha, Ibope, IBGE, Tesouro Nacional, Banco Central e Banco Mundial.

Presidente Jair Bolsonaro durante uma sessão plenária. (Foto por Edilson Rodrigues/Agência Senado).

Candidato da mudança?

Jair Bolsonaro não é um político inexperiente, nem novo no Congresso, mas conseguiu catalisar para si a indignação e as frustrações de milhares de brasileiros impactados pela crise política e as graves consequências de um cenário de catástrofe econômica.

A trajetória parlamentar do ex-capitão do Exército é longa, sempre aliada a políticos tradicionais no Brasil. Embora tenha atravessado um longo período no parlamento, a sua produtividade legislativa tem pouco destaque. Ao longo dessas quase três décadas, apesar de fazer uma campanha eleitoral baseada num discurso anticorrupção e pró-segurança pública, teve escasso trabalho parlamentar, aprovando apenas dois projetos de lei em defesa de categorias militares, das quais faz parte. Nada mais se encontra em sua produção legislativa, nem em defesa do combate à corrupção, tampouco a respeito de políticas de segurança pública. O trabalho pouco significativo permitiu que passasse incólume na agenda política brasileira.

Apesar disso, observando em retrospecto a trajetória política do ex-capitão e a despeito do discurso baseado em um compromisso moralizador para a sociedade e contra a corrupção, esteve filiado ao longo de sua trajetória como deputado a partidos muito afetados por denúncias de corrupção, como PP (onde esteve de 2005 a 2016, o partido com mais denunciados e condenados na operação Lava Jato, tendo entre seus expoentes Paulo Maluf), PTB (do deputado Roberto Jefferson, condenado na Lava Jato), além de partidos como PSC, PFL, PPR, PDC e PPB (antiga sigla do atual PP). Foi somente em 2018, no limite do prazo para se candidatar à disputa presidencial, que se filiou ao atual partido, o PSL (Partido Social Liberal).

Por que então Bolsonaro conseguiu capitalizar para si o discurso da mudança e contra a corrupção já que sua trajetória como parlamentar esteve ligada a partidos condenados em processos judiciais de corrupção, sem falar nas denúncias da imprensa sobre seu acúmulo pessoal de bens? Sugiro em seguida algumas informações que merecem ser destacadas e que respondem a essa questão.

Plenário do Senado Federal durante sessão deliberativa ordinária. (Foto por Jonas Pereira/Agência Senado).

Cenário pré-eleitoral

O Brasil vive, há quatro anos, um longo período de grave crise econômica, com alta taxa de desemprego e um pronunciado desequilíbrio fiscal. Acompanhando uma queda do PIB mais longa e profunda que a da Grande Depressão, o desemprego disparou em 2015 e 2016, no segundo mandato da presidente Dilma Rousseff, sucessora de Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, ambos do mesmo partido, o PT. Lula completou seu segundo mandato em 2010 com recorde de popularidade e conseguiu que Dilma fosse eleita. Ela seria reeleita em 2014, mas sofreria impeachment em 2016 por infringir regras fiscais, após perder popularidade e apoio parlamentar devido à recessão e aos escândalos de corrupção que atingiram a petroleira estatal, membros de seu governo e o ex-presidente Lula, que seria preso em abril de 2018. O vice-presidente Michel Temer, do PMDB, que acompanhara Dilma na chapa duas vezes eleita, assumiu o poder em maio de 2016. Sua agenda de reformas econômicas foi interrompida por novos escândalos de corrupção e, enquanto o PIB iniciou uma lenta recuperação (cresceu 1% em 2017), o desemprego cedeu pouco, mantendo-se ainda ao redor de 12%. Temer ostenta um recorde de impopularidade quase imbatível no mundo: o percentual que o considera ótimo ou bom é tão baixo quanto as margens de erro das pesquisas de opinião.

Em 2014, iniciou-se no Brasil, por parte do Ministério Público, Polícia Federal e Judiciário, uma série de investigações e operações de combate à corrupção, lideradas pela Operação Lava Jato. Essa operação foi responsável por investigar e condenar uma série de lideranças políticas dos partidos tradicionais, com destaque para PP, PMDB e PT, mas atingindo também PSDB, PTB e muitos outros dos mais de 30 partidos em atividade no país. Para agravar mais o mal-estar da população, a segurança pública piorou de forma bastante acentuada. Em 2017, houve no Brasil cerca de 60 mil homicídios. Numa compilação realizada pelo Banco Mundial em 2017, entre outros 181 países, 94,5% possuem taxas de homicídios por cem mil habitantes menores que a brasileira. A sociedade, cada vez mais prejudicada pela crise econômica e indignada com as denúncias de corrupção que vinham à tona, já dava sinais de que esperava por mudanças.

Presidentes Dilma Rousseff e Michel Temer durante a posse de Dilma Rousseff. (Foto por Jefferson Rudy/Agência Senado).

Percepção do brasileiro sobre os políticos e o rumo do país

As pesquisas sobre percepção do eleitor no Brasil convergiam para direções parecidas. Mais de 80% dos brasileiros passaram a considerar a presidente Dilma como “ruim” ou “péssima” em outubro de 2015, contrastando com 20% menos de um ano antes. Os principais problemas citados pelos brasileiros eram o desemprego e a corrupção, seguidos pela violência e a preocupação com a saúde pública. Assim, a permanência da Operação Lava Jato “custe o que custar” foi defendida por 90% a 96% dos entrevistados na pesquisa e em todos os levantamentos realizados de 2016 a 2018.

O brasileiro demonstrava insatisfação com o governo, assim como uma descrença e falta de identificação com os políticos eleitos. Ainda sim, Lula, mesmo preso, liderava todas as pesquisas eleitorais até um mês antes das eleições, quando Fernando Haddad foi anunciado em seu lugar como candidato do PT. A popularidade de Lula não foi totalmente transferida a Haddad, mas a rejeição ao PT foi.

Nos monitoramentos que vão de 2017 ao período pré-eleitoral, mais de 90% dos entrevistados afirmam que os políticos atuais não os representam. Nem mesmo os políticos em que os próprios entrevistados votaram nas últimas eleições os representam segundo mais de 80% dos respondentes. Além disso, 55% dos entrevistados não votariam novamente no mesmo candidato em que votaram nas últimas eleições para presidente, 63% afirmavam que a corrupção é o tema que mais os angustia e 30% pretendiam votar em algum candidato fora da política tradicional nas próximas eleições para presidente.

Enquanto as instituições políticas são alvo de ampla rejeição, as que gozam de maior credibilidade – ainda que limitada perante o que se observa mundo afora – são a Igreja (61%), os militares (46%) e os juízes (42%). Os sentimentos predominantes sobre o futuro do país, que eram de “otimismo” ou “entusiasmo” para 60% dos brasileiros na primeira eleição de Dilma, já haviam se convertido em “revolta” ou “preocupação” de quase 80% às vésperas de seu impeachment, chegando a 90% no governo Temer. Se em 2010 mais de 80% dos pesquisados consideravam certo o rumo que o país vinha tomando, os que viam um rumo errado chegaram a 93% em 2015 e a 95% um mês antes das eleições de 2018.

Com Lula fora da disputa eleitoral e incapaz de transferir seus votos a Haddad, os monitoramentos realizados em pesquisas de percepção dos eleitores revelavam que a maioria das pessoas pedia mudanças no sistema político. Sendo assim, as candidaturas deveriam passar por novos entrantes, ainda não conhecidos, ou por políticos reconhecidos como “fichas limpas”.

Além dessas questões, há ainda duas que merecem investigação mais ampla por parte de pesquisadores e que foram muito importantes para a vitória do ex-capitão: o apoio de lideranças evangélicas e a influência de fake news sobre determinados grupos da população.

Sobre a primeira, Diniz Alves (2018), com dados DataFolha, estimou que a vantagem Bolsonaro sobre Haddad no segundo turno foi de 11 milhões de votos entre os evangélicos, maior que a diferença no total de eleitores. Em outras palavras, Haddad venceu entre os não evangélicos e seria eleito se a minoria crescente de evangélicos o tivesse apoiado em proporção semelhante à do restante do eleitorado. Bolsonaro também obteve maioria em uma forte polarização geográfica e socioeconômica, perdendo apenas nas regiões mais pobres.. Em um país com 5.570 municípios, nos mil de maior IDH Bolsonaro venceu em 97%, enquanto o segundo colocado venceu em 98% dos mil municípios de menor IDH.

Há ainda algo inédito nas eleições brasileiras. Bolsonaro tinha direito a muito pouco tempo de propaganda oficial na TV, mas passou a ser intensamente exposto via noticiário após sofrer um atentado e firmar aliança com um líder evangélico proprietário de um canal de TV e outras mídias. Além disso, pesquisadores, integrantes de organizações da sociedade civil e representantes do governo federal discutiram a influência dos conteúdos enganosos ou “fake news” no processo eleitoral. Embora a TV ainda seja o meio de comunicação mais utilizado pelos eleitores para se informarem, o aplicativo WhatsApp é muito popular no Brasil e foi o principal veículo disseminador de notícias falsas durante as eleições.

O próprio Tribunal Superior Eleitoral (TSE) criou um conselho consultivo de especialistas para discutir essas influências no processo eleitoral, embora inócuo em termos práticos. Uma pesquisa do IDEA Big Data apontou que a maioria dos eleitores de Bolsonaro acreditou em um inexistente “kit gay” supostamente distribuído às crianças quando Haddad era ministro da Educação, em uma inexistente fraude das urnas eletrônicas contra Bolsonaro ou em outras fake news, como a que associava Haddad a incesto. Mesmo após o TSE proibir Bolsonaro de propagar essas fake news, o candidato e seus apoiadores continuaram (e continuam, mesmo terminada a eleição) disseminando alguns desses conteúdos.

Uma pesquisa publicada por Hunt Allcott e Matthew Gentzkow no Journal of Economic Perspectives  concluiu que as fake news tiveram influência desprezível nas eleições presidenciais americanas de 2016. No entanto, de modo geral, os eleitores brasileiros têm menos escolaridade e acesso a informação do que os americanos. A utilização do aplicativo WhatsApp também não se assemelha entre um lugar e outro. Seria interessante um aprofundamento de pesquisas como essas para o caso brasileiro, com a mensuração da influência do aplicativo sobre diversos grupos. Finalmente, seria também importante verificar uma possível conexão entre variáveis como renda, educação, utilização do WhatsApp e voto evangélico nessas últimas eleições.

A tempestade perfeita

A vitória de Bolsonaro foi viabilizada por uma combinação de fatores simultâneos. Em primeiro lugar, o líder das pesquisas eleitorais, Lula, estava preso por corrupção e seu substituto na corrida eleitoral não herdou toda a sua popularidade, mas sim toda a rejeição a seu partido

Apesar de ser deputado federal há quase três décadas em partidos políticos com graves denúncias e condenações por corrupção, Jair Bolsonaro saiu vitorioso nas eleições presidenciais brasileira intitulando-se o candidato da mudança e do combate à corrupção. O ex-capitão construiu um discurso eficiente e capitalizou a indignação de parte expressiva dos eleitores. Sua narrativa foi certeira ao mirar naquilo que a sociedade demandava: seria rigoroso com as questões relativas à segurança pública, combateria de forma enérgica a corrupção e devolveria ao cidadão o ambiente propício para a retomada do emprego no Brasil. Finalmente, ao adicionar o apoio de parte expressiva dos evangélicos e com uma campanha recheada de notícias falsas encaminhadas por seus apoiadores pelo aplicativo WhatsApp, Bolsonaro beneficiou-se de uma tempestade perfeita.

 

CAROLINA BOTELHO é visiting fellow no Centro de Estudos Latino Americanos da Universidade da Califórnia, Berkeley. Possui doutorado em Ciência Política pelo IESP/UERJ e mestrado em Antropologia e Sociologia pelo IFCS/UFRJ. Foi coordenadora e pesquisadora de ciência política na Fundação Getulio Vargas, consultora sênior na Ipsos Public Affairs e pesquisadora no Ipea. Passou por diversos órgãos governamentais estaduais e federais como assessora técnica. Possui alguns livros publicados, como “Reforma da Previdência – a visita da velha senhora”, pela Gestão Pública,“Caminhos trilhados e os desafios da educação superior no Brasil”, Eduerj e “Brasil pós-crise: uma agenda pra próxima década”, pela Elsevier. em artigos publicados no Estadão, O Globo e Exame.

 

 

 

 

 

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Bolsonaro’s Perfect Storm in Brazil: From Outraged Voters to Extreme Right-Wing Votes

By Carolina Botelho

pro-bolsonaro-rally

A pro-Bolsonaro demonstration. (Photo by Gabriela Felin).

Jair Bolsonaro’s victory in the race for the presidency of the Republic of Brazil surprised many analysts around the world. While still a candidate, the former army captain ran a campaign praising the Brazilian military dictatorship and the use of torture, criticizing social movements and minority groups, and voicing disdain for the country’s civil and social rights achievements in the past 30 years. As his running mate, Bolsonaro chose General Hamilton Mourão, who a few days before the election made public statements that he would be in favor a “self-coup,” if necessary.

Much debate continues about the rise and swell of a “conservative wave” in various countries around the world, a trend that may have contributed to the victory of far-right leaders in Brazil. However, I will not use this phenomenon to analyze Bolsonaro’s victory. Rather, in this brief article, I’ll focus on some issues that deserve more attention and that are intimately connected to the contemporary political and economic environment of Brazil. I also want to stress that this election, like any other, is a vast, multidimensional phenomenon, and thus, it has many interpretations. For sources, I rely primarily on the results of Brazilian public opinion polls carried out by Pulso Brasil of Ipsos Public Affairs. Some additional data will also be cited from the Instituto IDEIA Big Data, Datafolha, IBOPE, IBGE, Brazil’s National Treasury, Brazil’s Central Bank, and the World Bank.

President Jair Bolsonaro during a plenary session.  (Photo by Edilson Rodrigues/Agência Senado).

Candidate for Change?

Jair Bolsonaro is not an inexperienced politician, nor is he new to Congress, yet he managed to catalyze the indignation and frustrations of millions of Brazilians hard hit by the political crisis and the serious consequences of economic catastrophe.

The parliamentary career of the former army captain is a long one and always hand in glove with traditional politicians. Yet, even though he served in parliament for many years, Bolsonaro produced little in the way of prominent legislation. Over the course of nearly three decades, despite a campaign based on an anti-corruption and pro-public-security discourse, he has little parliamentary work to speak of: he only approved two bills which were in defense of military projects. There’s nothing else in his legislative history, nothing in defense of the fight against corruption, nothing related to public security policies. These insignificant efforts allowed him to pass unscathed on the Brazilian political agenda.

Nevertheless, regardless of the former captain’s political trajectory and despite his discourse touting a moral commitment to society and against corruption, throughout his career in parliament Bolsonaro was affiliated with right-wing and center-right parties plagued by reports of corruption: the PP (from 2005 to 2016, he was a member of this party, which had the most charges and convictions in Operação Lava Jato, including Paulo Maluf among its ranks), the PTB (the party of Deputy Roberto Jefferson, who was convicted in Lava Jato), as well as parties such as the PSC, PFL, PPR, PDC, and PPB (the former acronym of what is today the PP). Bolsonaro joined his current party, the right-wing, conservative Partido Social Liberal (PSL, Social Liberal Party) in 2018 — just in time to throw his hat in the presidential race,

So how has Bolsonaro been able to capitalize on the discourse for change and against corruption, when his trajectory as a deputy has been enmeshed with parties convicted in corruption cases, not to mention the accusations from the press regarding his personal accumulation of assets? Let’s look at some pertinent information that may answer this question.

Opposition members in the parliament during a plenary session. (Photo by Jonas Pereira/Agência Senado).

The Scenario Before the Election

For the past four years, Brazil has been experiencing an extended period of severe economic crisis, with high unemployment and a significant fiscal imbalance. In addition to a drop in GDP even longer and deeper than that of the Great Depression, unemployment soared in 2015 and 2016, during the second term of President Dilma Rousseff, the successor of President Luiz Inácio “Lula” da Silva (both of the PT). Lula ended his second term in 2010 with his popularity at a record high and helped get Dilma elected. She was re-elected in 2014, but after losing popular and parliamentary support due to the recession and corruption scandals that hit the state oil company, as well as several members of the PT, Dilma was impeached in 2016 on charges related to manipulating the federal budget. In April 2018, Lula himself was arrested on corruption charges. PMDB party member Vice-President Michel Temer, who stood as Dilma’s running mate twice in a row, took office as President of the Republic of Brazil in May 2016. His economic reform agenda was hobbled by new corruption scandals, and while the GDP began a slow recovery (growing 1 percent in 2017), unemployment barely improved, hovering at around 12 percent. Temer boasts a record of unpopularity almost unmatched around the world: the percentage that consider him to be “great” or “good” is as low as the margin of error in the opinion polls.

In 2014, Brazil’s Public Prosecutor’s Office, the Federal Police, and the Judiciary began a series of investigations and operations to fight corruption, beginning with Operação Lava Jato (Operation Car Wash). This initiative was responsible for investigating and convicting several political leaders from traditional parties, most notably the PP, PMDB, and PT, but it also affected the PSDB, PTB, and many others from the more than 30 parties active in the country. At the same time, public safety has deteriorated sharply, another grave concern for the Brazilian people. In 2017, there were some 60,000 homicides in Brazil. A 2017 World Bank review of 182 countries revealed that 94.5 percent have homicide rates lower than Brazil. Increasingly distressed by the economic crisis and outraged by allegations of corruption that continued to surface, the population was already indicating that they was ready for some changes.

President Dilma Rousseff and Michel Temer during her swearing in ceremony. (Photo by Jefferson Rudy/Agência Senado).

Brazilian Opinions About Politicians and the Future of the Nation

The opinion polls of the voting public in Brazil converged in similar directions. More than 80 percent of Brazilians viewed President Dilma as “bad” or “terrible” in October 2015, contrasting with 20 percent who held this poor opinion of the president less than a year earlier. The main problems cited by Brazilians were unemployment and corruption, followed by violence and public health concerns. The need to continue Lava Jato “no matter what it cost” was defended by 90-96 percent of those surveyed in all polls conducted from 2016 to 2018.

Brazilians were dissatisfied with the government; they neither trusted and nor identified with the politicians currently in office. Nonetheless, despite his imprisonment, Lula continued to hold a lead in all the polls until a month before the election, when Fernando Haddad was presented as the PT candidate in Lula’s stead. However, while former president’s popularity did not totally transfer to Haddad, sentiments against the PT did.

In polls carried out in 2017 and 2018, more than 90 percent of respondents agreed that the politicians currently holding office did not represent them, and more than 80 percent did not feel represented even by the politicians that they had voted for in the most recent elections. In addition, 55 percent of respondents would not give their vote to the same candidate that they had voted for in the last presidential election; 63 percent said that corruption was the subject that most worried them; and 30 percent wanted to vote for a candidate outside of the traditional politics in the next presidential election.

While political institutions are widely rejected, the Church (61 percent), the military (46 percent) and judges (42 percent) are ranked as most credible. The predominant feelings about the country’s future, which were “optimism” or “enthusiasm” for 60 percent of Brazilians under Dilma’s first term, had turned into “disgust” or “worry” for nearly 80 percent on the eve of her impeachment, and 90 percent expressed these negative feelings under the Temer government. While in 2010 more than 80 percent of those surveyed agreed with the course that the country was taking, those who objected to the nation’s current trajectory was as high as 93 percent in 2015 and 95 percent a month before the 2018 elections.

With Lula out of the presidential race and unable to transfer his votes to Haddad, public opinion polls showed that most people were calling for changes to the political system. Such sentiments paved the way for new candidates: either complete unknowns or politicians who offered a “clean slate.”

In addition to these issues, there are still two concerns deserving more extensive study by researchers that were very important for Bolsonaro’s victory: the support of evangelical leaders and the influence of “fake news” on certain groups of the population.

With regard to the first issue, Diniz Alves (2018) used DataFolha data to estimate that in the second round, Bolsonaro’s lead over Haddad was 11 million evangelical votes, which was greater than the difference in total voters. In other words, Haddad won among non-evangelicals and would have been elected if the growing minority of evangelicals had supported him in a proportion similar to that of the rest of the electorate. Bolsonaro also obtained a majority with a strong geographic and socioeconomic polarization, losing only in the poorest regions. In a country with 5,570 municipalities, in the thousand municipalities with the highest Human Development Index rating, Bolsonaro won by 97 percent, while Haddad won in 98 percent of the thousand municipalities with lowest Human Development Index rating.

But there was something else totally unprecedented in the recent Brazilian elections. Bolsonaro was entitled to very little official advertising time on television, but he enjoyed tremendous exposure on the news after being seriously injured in an attack and when he signed an alliance with an evangelical leader who owned a television channel as well as other media outlets. In addition, academic researchers, members of civil society organizations, and representatives of the federal government have discussed the influence of misleading information or “fake news” in the electoral process. Although television is still the most widely used means of communication with voters, the WhatsApp social media platform is very popular in Brazil and was the main disseminator of fake news during the election.

The Tribunal Superior Eleitoral (TSE, Superior Electoral Court) even created an advisory council to discuss these influences on the electoral process, although this group of experts is powerless in practical terms. A poll carried out by IDEA Big Data showed that most Bolsonaro voters believed in a nonexistent “gay kit” supposedly distributed to children when Haddad was Minister of Education, an electronic ballot fraud against Bolsonaro that never happened, and other fake news, including stories claiming that Haddad advocated incest. Even after the TSE prohibited Bolsonaro from spreading fake news, the candidate and his supporters continued (and still continue, even after winning the election) to share some of these stories.

A study by Hunt Allcott and Matthew Gentzkow published in 2017 in the Journal of Economic Perspectives concluded that fake news had a considerable influence in the 2016 presidential elections in the United States. However, in general, Brazilian voters have less formal education and less access to information than the U.S. population. The use of WhatsApp is also very different in the two countries. It would be interesting to explore this research further in the case of Brazil, measuring the social media platform’s influence on several groups. Finally, it would also be important to verify a possible connection between variables such as income, education, use of WhatsApp, and evangelical votes in these recent elections.

Elenao

An anti-Bolsonaro protest in 2018. (Photo by ideasGraves).

 

The Perfect Storm

Bolsonaro’s victory was made possible by a simultaneous combination of factors. Most importantly, Lula, the leader in the election polls, was arrested for corruption, and his replacement in the presidential race did not inherit his widespread popularity, but did have to shoulder the rejection of their party.

Despite being a federal deputy for nearly three decades as a member of political parties that faced serious charges and convictions for corruption, Jair Bolsonaro emerged victorious in the Brazilian presidential elections by calling himself the candidate of change and the fight against corruption. The former army captain constructed an efficient discourse and capitalized on the indignation of a tremendous number of voters. His narrative zeroed in on the demands of the Brazilian population: he would be rigorous on issues related to public security, he would fight corruption with all his might, and he would make sure that citizens could once again enjoy an environment that brought jobs back to Brazil. Finally, with the support of many evangelicals and a campaign packed with false news shared by his supporters through the social media platform of WhatsApp, Bolsonaro harnessed winds of a perfect storm.

 

CAROLINA BOTELHO is a visiting fellow at the Center for Latin American Studies at UC Berkeley. She has a PhD in Political Science from IESP/UERJ and a master’s degree in Anthropology and Sociology from IFCS/UFRJ. She was a coordinator and researcher of political science at Fundação Getulio Vargas, a senior consultant at Ipsos Public Affairs, and a researcher at IPEA. She has also worked as a technical advisor for various state and federal government agencies in Brazil. She is the author of several books, including Reforma da Previdência – a visita da velha senhora (Gestão Publica, 2015) and Caminhos trilhados e os desafios da educação superior no Brasil (Eduerj, 2016). She has written for various Brazilian periodicals, including Estadão, O Globo, and Exame.

 

 

 

 

 

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History and Archaeology among the Ch´ol: Ethnographic Dialogues in Northern Chiapas, Mexico

By Esteban Mirón Marván

Professors at the UIET in Oxolotán after a workshop on Classic Maya archaeology led by the author. (Photo courtesy of Esteban Mirón Marván).

Archaeologists in the Maya region have exploited the heritage and history of the contemporary indigenous Maya peoples for more than a century. For the last eight decades federal institutions in the Mexican state have monopolized the control of the archaeological heritage; when Mexico narrates its history through archaeology, it picks certain aspects of the indigenous material history that tend to the monumental, that fit into a monolithic and evolutionary narrative that erases the diversities of many peoples and many time periods. This also aims to attract an international and domestic market of heritage tourism, an extractive industry on which today´s descendants of the archaeological Maya participate only at the margins, preserved as part of the exotic scenery.

My current academic interests belong to the field of critical heritage studies, with a focus on the contemporary Maya Ch’ol people and their relation with archaeological heritage and archaeological practice. The main questions in my research are about how they conceive and narrate their own past, how they feel and represent themselves as a part of the millennia of history implicitly acknowledged by anthropology, as well as in the archaeological, epigraphic, historical, linguistic, and socio-cultural disciplines. To answer these questions, I engage in ethnography with the Ch’ol population of northern Chiapas, Mexico. My long-term objective is to start a process of decolonization of the Mexican practice of archaeology, towards more inclusive discussions about the national historical narratives and the indigenous rights that are granted by the Mexican Constitution and international agreements, but almost completely ignored by archaeologists, anthropologists, and their institutions.

Participants in the Workshop: Herramientas para la sustentabilidad lingüística en Chiapas, CELALI, San Cristobal de las Casas. (Photo courtesy of Esteban Mirón Marván).

Thanks to the Indigenous Languages of Latin America (ILLA) Travel Fund from the Center for Latin American Studies at UC Berkeley, I was able to travel to Chiapas at the beginning of this year and meet in person a network constituted by Ch´ol people and institutions I have been fostering over the last two years. I had the opportunity to give a workshop on January 14, 2019 about Classic Maya archaeology in the Palenque region for professors of the Universidad Intercultural del Estado de Tabasco, a university designed to host multilingual undergraduate studies for indigenous populations in the southern state of Tabasco. It was a great opportunity to get involved with native Ch´ol academics and to know more about their interests in research and education.

I also had the opportunity to attend the workshop: Herramientas para la sustentabilidad lingüística en Chiapas (Tools for linguistic sustainability in Chiapas), organized by the CELALI, Carol-Rose Little (Cornell University), and Sophia Walters (National Geographic Fellow) in San Cristobal de las Casas on January 17, 2019. Here, a group of scholars, artists, and cultural managers discussed different tools for language preservation. Although I am not a linguist, this congress allowed me to meet a community of academics, which includes several Ch’ol scholars, engaging in discussions about the preservation of Indigenous languages in Chiapas. They are producing tools to enhance indigenous memory, and this workshop represented a fruitful setting for questions of my dissertation, as well as an opportunity to keep learning, to listen to, and to speak in lakty´añ: the Ch’ol language.

 

ESTEBAN MIRÓN MARVÁN  is a PhD candidate in the department of anthropology at UC Berkeley. He has worked in archaeological projects in the Palenque Maya region of northern Chiapas for 16 years, focused on the study of foodways and ceramics of the Late Classic in the Northwestern Maya lowlands. Esteban is interested in contemporary indigenous views of history and the decolonization of archaeological practice in Mexico.

 

 

 

 

 

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Brazil’s Response to the Hepatitis C Epidemic

By Elize Massard

A doctor prepares her notes in Pernambuco, Brazil. (Photo by Pan American Health Organization).

Approximately 700,000 people worldwide, die every year from complications of hepatitis C (HCV virus). In 2017, the World Health Organization proposed a plan to eliminate HCV as a public health emergency by 2030. This is possible thanks to new direct-acting antiviral drugs (DAAs), which are innovative medicines that allows for cure rates exceeding 90% and with fewer side effects than older HCV treatments.

However, the price of these drugs is prohibitive in many countries, requiring creative strategies to guarantee adequate access. Brazil is at the forefront of responding to the hepatitis epidemic. In a recent article published by the New England Journal of Medicine, we discuss the country’s strategy of combining evidence-based treatment protocols with innovative initiatives for local production of generic DAAs in a context of conflicts over pharmaceutical patents.

Download a PDF of the full article here.

This article originally appeared in The New England Journal of Medicine on February 14th, 2019.

ELIZE MASSARD is a visiting fellow at the Center for Latin American Studies at UC Berkeley. Elize holds a PhD in social policy from the University of Edinburgh and is an assistant professor of public administration at the São Paulo Business School (FGV). She is currently working on the emergence and consolidation of an ambitious set of policies to align health commitments with pharmaceutical industrial development in Brazil, and the political economy of pharmaceutical regulation in Latin America. Her research is geared toward impact in Latin America, namely the improvement of governments’ institutional capacity and health policies. She has acted as a technical consultant for several United Nations agencies on monitoring and evaluation of social protection projects.

 

 

 

 

 

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La región no tan transparente

Where the Air Is Not so Clear

By Jimmy Mahady

Mexico City traffic by night. (Photo by Sapdiel Gómez Gutiérrez.)

The people of Mexico City are used to watching the mountains surrounding the city fade into the smoggy afternoons. The snow-capped volcanoes give way to a grey haze that envelops their days. The high-altitude air strains under the weight of the pollution, and the world feels a little more sluggish. People check the air quality like they check the weather report, and millions of evening jogs or bicycle rides are regularly foregone because of the persistent pollution. It is yet another reminder that humans the world over struggle to be good stewards of our shared resources, especially those we consider to be freely accessible and infinite – like the air we breathe.

Supported by a Tinker Foundation and CLAS-funded research grant, I came to Mexico City this past summer for the first time to explore ways that decision-makers could structure investment in vehicle electrification (e.g., electric buses, cars, and associated infrastructure) with an eye to addressing environmental justice challenges. Environmental justice, broadly speaking, is the idea that all people, regardless of identity or background, have a right to clean, safe, and resilient air, water, and surrounding ecosystems along with a right to participate in decision-making processes that affect these shared resources.

In the United States, environmental justice is strongly tied to the significant and consistent correlation between low-income and minority communities bearing the brunt of environmental pollution from both stationary and mobile sources. For example, polluting factories and congested highways in urban areas are frequently located in or adjacent to low-income and minority communities, exposing them to a disproportionately high share of pollution and burdening them with a large share of the pollution generated by society’s economic activity.

Night falls over Mexico City. (Photo by Jimmy Mahady.)

The research team I collaborated with in Mexico City and UC Berkeley decided to approach the challenge of addressing environmental injustices through the lens of electrification of vehicles, a burgeoning technology with the double benefit of significantly reducing atmospheric pollution and improving access to transportation services for individuals within reach of transportation networks. The research team applied a State of California methodology for identifying communities at a socioeconomic and environmental disadvantage to generate a geospatial ranking of the most burdened areas of Mexico City. Our hope is that the map will serve as a tool for decision-makers in Mexico to prioritize investment in vehicle electrification in areas of cities with the worst pollution and highest levels of poverty and marginalization. We will also make the methodology available for continued work both in Mexico City as well as for application in other cities in Mexico that struggle with these parallel challenges.

It was a great pleasure to work with sharp, talented individuals at the Institute for Ecology and Climate Change (INECC) and the Mexico/US Binational Energy lab. I think we were able to, in our own small way, build robust bridges of understanding that stand in defiant contrast to the human rights abuses that were committed by the United States at the border during my time in Mexico. I was consistently impressed by my Mexican colleagues’ generosity and kindness, and hold their thoughtful commitment to their research in high esteem.

Mexico City itself is a bustling beauty. Its museums and pyramids remind you of the splendor and sophistication of pre-Columbian Mexico. The streets are lined with rich, intense food born of an age of tragic and vibrant exchange. If you wander around long enough, you’re bound to stumble upon cobblestone boulevards lined with eighteenth century houses stitched in ivy and draped in bougainvillea. There is a pervasive sense of honesty in interaction, and the people are warm and boisterous.

Mexico City from above. (Photo by Ramsés Espinoza.)

My hope is that, some day in the future, when the last veil of the smog lifts, the people of Mexico City will recall that efforts taken to clean up their air were informed by an environmental justice perspective. That vulnerable communities who stood to benefit from targeted investment and engagement the most were not given short shrift. The technology exists for us to achieve this goal within my lifetime. The question facing us now is not whether, but how quickly and justly, we will clear the skies again.

 

JIMMY MAHADY is a second year Master of Public Policy Student at the Goldman School at UC Berkeley. He has worked on climate, energy, and transportation policy in Uruguay, Mexico, and the U.S. for the last five years. His interest areas include transportation electrification, carbon pricing, electricity markets, and environmental justice.  

 

 

 

 

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A New Abnormal

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Originally Published by The Bulletin of Concerned Scientists

Editor’s note: Founded in 1945 by University of Chicago scientists who had helped develop the first atomic weapons in the Manhattan Project, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists created the Doomsday Clock two years later, using the imagery of apocalypse (midnight) and the contemporary idiom of nuclear explosion (countdown to zero) to convey threats to humanity and the planet. The decision to move (or to leave in place) the minute hand of the Doomsday Clock is made every year by the Bulletin’s Science and Security Board in consultation with its Board of Sponsors, which includes 15 Nobel laureates. The Clock has become a universally recognized indicator of the world’s vulnerability to catastrophe from nuclear weapons, climate change, and new technologies emerging in other domains. 

To: Leaders and citizens of the world 

Re: A new abnormal: It is still two minutes to midnight 

Date: January 24, 2019 

Humanity now faces two simultaneous existential threats, either of which would be cause for extreme concern and immediate attention. These major threats—nuclear weapons and climate change—were exacerbated this past year by the increased use of information warfare to undermine democracy around the world, amplifying risk from these and other threats and putting the future of civilization in extraordinary danger.

In the nuclear realm, the United States abandoned the Iran nuclear deal and announced it would withdraw from the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF), grave steps towards a complete dismantlement of the global arms control process. Although the United States and North Korea moved away from the bellicose rhetoric of 2017, the urgent North Korean nuclear dilemma remains unresolved. Meanwhile, the world’s nuclear nations proceeded with programs of “nuclear modernization” that are all but indistinguishable from a worldwide arms race, and the military doctrines of Russia and the United States have increasingly eroded the long-held taboo against the use of nuclear weapons.

On the climate change front, global carbon dioxide emissions—which seemed to plateau earlier this decade—resumed an upward climb in 2017 and 2018. To halt the worst effects of climate change, the countries of the world must cut net worldwide carbon dioxide emissions to zero by well before the end of the century. By such a measure, the world community failed dismally last year. At the same time, the main global accord on addressing climate change—the 2015 Paris agreement—has become increasingly beleaguered.The United States announced it will withdraw from that pact, and at the December climate summit in Poland, the United States allied itself with Russia, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait (all major petroleum-producing countries) to undercut an expert report on climate change impacts that the Paris climate conference had itself commissioned.

Amid these unfortunate nuclear and climate developments, there was a rise during the last year in the intentional corruption of the information ecosystem on which modern civilization depends. In many forums, including particularly social media, nationalist leaders and their surrogates lied shamelessly, insisting that their lies were truth, and the truth “fake news.” These intentional attempts to distort reality exaggerate social divisions, undermine trust in science, and diminish confidence in elections and democratic institutions. Because these distortions attack the rational discourse required for solving the complex problems facing humanity, cyber-enabled information warfare aggravates other major global dangers—including those posed by nuclear weapons and climate change—as it undermines civilization generally.

There is nothing normal about the complex and frightening reality just described.

The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists Science and Security Board today sets the Doomsday Clock at two minutes to midnight—the closest it has ever been to apocalypse. Though unchanged from 2018, this setting should be taken not as a sign of stability but as a stark warning to leaders and citizens around the world. The current international security situation—what we call the “new abnormal”—has extended over two years now. It’s a state as worrisome as the most dangerous times of the Cold War, a state that features an unpredictable and shifting landscape of simmering disputes that multiply the chances for major military conflict to erupt.

This new abnormal is simply too volatile and dangerous to accept as a continuing state of world affairs.Dire as the present may seem, there is nothing hopeless or predestined about the future.

The Bulletin resolutely believes that human beings can manage the dangers posed by the technology that humans create. Indeed, in the 1990s, leaders in the United States and the Soviet Union took bold action that made nuclear war markedly less likely—and that led the Bulletin to move the minute hand of the Doomsday Clock far from midnight.

But threats must be acknowledged before they can be effectively confronted. The current situation—in which intersecting nuclear, climate, and information warfare threats all go insufficiently recognized and addressed, when they are not simply ignored or denied—is unsustainable. The longer world leaders and citizens carelessly inhabit this new and abnormal reality, the more likely the world is to experience catastrophe of historic proportions.

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Former California Governor Jerry Brown is the New Executive Chair of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists. 

Edmund G. Brown Jr. (Executive Chair) is the Executive Chair of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists’ Boards and he just completed his fourth term as Governor of the State of California in 2019. He began his career in public service in 1969 as a trustee for the LA Community College District and became California Secretary of State in 1970 and Governor of California in 1974 and 1978. After his governorship, Brown lectured and traveled widely, practiced law, served as chairman of the state Democratic Party, and ran for president. Brown was elected Mayor of Oakland in 1988 and California Attorney General in 2006; he was elected to a third gubernatorial term in 2010 and a fourth term in 2014. During this time, Brown helped eliminate the state’s multi-billion dollar budget deficit, spearheaded successful campaigns to provide new funding for California’s schools, and established a robust Rainy Day Fund to prepare for the next economic downturn. His administration established nation-leading targets to protect the environment and fight climate change. Brown attended the University of California, Berkeley, and earned a JD at Yale Law School.

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To read the rest of the Bulletin, go to: https://thebulletin.org/doomsday-clock/current-time/

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Unraveling the Development and Evolution of Transparency in Butterflies

By Aaron Pomerantz

The author at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) in Gamboa, Panama. (Photo courtesy of Aaron Pomerantz.)

How does an animal become invisible? Enter the paradox of the glasswing butterfly. As the name implies, these butterflies have transparent parts of their wings, engendering a common notion that they are “invisible” to avoid predators. However, these butterflies can also have striking orange and iridescent patterns on their wings. Numerous other species are known to mimic the glasswing butterfly’s wing patterns, highlighting the fact that these butterflies are in fact toxic, as they sequester noxious chemicals called pyrrolizidine alkaloids. Their bright colors serve as a warning signal to would-be predators such as birds.

Let’s take a step back to consider where color in butterfly wings comes from in the first place. The primary unit for color in Lepidoptera (insects that include butterflies and moths) is the wing scale cell. The underlying mechanism for a particular color is due to either pigmentation from a biochemical pathway, or to the physical architecture of scales manipulating wavelengths of light, known as structural color. To better understand processes underlying structural scale modifications, my work focuses on a unique coloration strategy: wing transparency in butterflies and moths. Numerous species of Lepidoptera develop wings that allow light to pass through so that objects behind them can be distinctly seen, which has led to the common belief that these species are “invisible” in the context of camouflage to go undetected by predators.

However, my lab and collaborators hypothesize that transparency is a much more complex coloration strategy, playing a role in visual communication through light polarization and iridescence. This form of terrestrial transparency also entails challenging optical requirements whose morphological, physiological, and genetic mechanisms remain virtually unknown.

A glasswing butterfly. (Photo by Aaron Pomerantz.)

To investigate the development of transparent species endemic to the Neotropics (the tropical terrestrial ecoregions of the Americas and the South American temperate zone), it was critical to obtain living specimens at various life stages. Furthermore, experiments in developmental biology often require access to tissue at precisely known time-points. With the support of a Tinker Foundation and CLAS-funded research grant, I turned my sights to the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) located in Gamboa, Panama. Nestled in a small sleepy town in the rainforest, STRI has recently been upgraded to a building with state-of-the-art molecular laboratories.

My goal at STRI was to raise glasswing butterflies, then investigate and experimentally manipulate pupal wings at various developmental stages in order to identify cellular and cytoskeletal scale modifications. I was able to collect and establish a colony of glasswing butterflies at the local insectary. Under the auspices of the laboratory at STRI, I performed dissections of pupal wings and stained wing tissue with fluorescent markers to visualize nuclei and scale cytoskeletal modifications. Additional tissue was preserved for downstream genomic and RNA experiments.

A glasswing butterfly. (Photo by Aaron Pomerantz.)

Results thus far indicate that glasswing butterflies become transparent by modifying the size and shape of their scales. This results in more light passing through to the membrane of the wing, which harbors anti-reflective nanostructures. This has been a critical step in experiments investigating the development of transparency, including gathering material for studying the expression and function of genes involved in scale development. The results from this project and future work on the established colony can now feed into comparative analyses with our physicist and evolutionary biology collaborators and provide insight into the development and evolution of terrestrial transparency.

My questions remain: Are glasswings transparent to avoid being seen? Are they bright to show off warning colors? Or perhaps a bit of both? It would be interesting if the dual nature serves to avoid a certain kind of predator under reflected light. Or do glasswings show ultraviolet colors as a warning? These would be invisible to humans, but clear as day to other animals such as birds, many of which contain opsins in their eyes that are capable of detecting UV. Either way, they are a beautiful group of butterflies, and this is a beautiful scientific mystery to (attempt to) solve.

 

AARON POMERANTZ is a PhD Candidate in the Integrative Biology department at UC Berkeley. Aaron holds an MS in Molecular Biology from the University of Florida and a BS in Entomology from UC Riverside. He is interested in how butterflies are able to produce such an incredible array of colors through the use of both pigments and nanostructure formations in their scales.

 

 

 

 

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Concentration Camps in Northeast Brazil: 1915/1932

By Laura Belik

The author inside of former train station at Campo do Patú, in Senador Pompeu, CE. (Photo courtesy of Laura Belik.)

The concentration camps in Northeast Brazil hold what one might call hidden histories. Built between 1915 and 1932, the camps were perceived as a form of aid towards groups who were migrating from inland Brazil to Fortaleza (Ceará’s capital) as refugees from droughts. While meant for quarantine and isolation as opposed to forced labor or extermination, the living conditions within these guarded spaces were still questionable. Highly influenced by the desires of the elites, who were afraid of the impoverished masses invading their capital city, these constructions worked as barriers masked in humanitarian speech. Out of seven concentration camps that were built, today only one remains partially standing, and has since become a symbol of resistance.

Supported by a Tinker Foundation and CLAS-funded research grant, I traveled to Ceará to find out more about these camps. Buried within the ruins of what was once such a significant part of Ceará’s (and Brazil’s) history are not only the physical camps themselves, but their stories, which are little known across the country. Although the subject has previously been touched upon by scholars, the emphasis on its importance was made clear through the works of Professors Kênia Sousa Rios[1] and Frederico de Castro Neves[2]. While Neves relies on previously existing bibliographies – finding the sparse moments when the Camps are mentioned through seminal works of local historians, Rios’ archival research and detective work builds on Neves’ research, bringing to light a series of contradictions these spaces represent as physical and moral barriers to access to the city and as an example of the power and dominance of class division in Brazil.

A visit to the Archives at Secretaria de Cultura do Estado. (Photo by Laura Belik.)

Beyond these works by Neves and Rios, one key question remained for me: What were the spaces of the concentration camps like? As an architect, the importance of understanding their physical aspects and organization is essential, and has been the main challenge of this research. Very little visual documentation exists of Cearás’ camps, and the construction of these refugee areas have not prevailed through time. On top of that, there is also the issue that each of the seven locations functioned differently. Nevertheless, what they all have in common is precisely their ephemerality. The architecture of the camps per se was described as fragile, with constructions made with sticks, mud, and provisional covers.

While the ruins at the Açúde do Patú in Senador Pompeu are considered to be the only remaining physical evidence of the camps, the standing construction was actually originally built by a British company as the foundation for a local dam in the early 1900’s. The barracos (shacks) that were used by the flagelados (refugees from the droughts) in 1932 are long gone.  The uses of the original spaces changed and adapted as they were transformed into facilities of the camp that housed more than 16,000 people over the course of a year[1], but the areas where the refugees stayed were precarious and temporary, thus, they did not survive through time.

The ruins we see today represent the palimpsest of those times. Current efforts by the Secretaria da Cultura do Estado (Department of Culture of Ceará State) to recognize the remaining spaces as landmarks and cultural heritage sites raises questions around material and immaterial (intangible) importance and preservation.  Since 1982 there has been an independent annual pilgrimage to the area praising the “souls of the dam” (almas da barragem) called the “Drought Walk” (Caminhada da Secas), which gathers over 10,000 people in an event that mixes political and religious motifs. The popular acceptance of the ruins as a space for memory brings to light discussions of values and representation, as well as emphasizes the historical importance and consequences these spaces still hold in nordestinos’ lives today.

Remaining walls from the hospital facilities at Campo do Patú, Senador Pompeu. (Photo by Laura Belik.)

Considering the scarcity of visual documentation and physical evidence of the camps, different research methods must be considered in order to restore the camp’s past. Although there are not many people focusing on the specific topic, interdisciplinary collaboration and exchange define the study of these spaces. In this sense, field research has proven to be an essential part of this quest, especially for building community.  For example, as I would ask permission to look into public archives, the archivists in return asked that I donate my photos and part of my findings to update their files. Historians, geographers, architects, filmmakers, local activists, amongst others are on the same path trying to reconstruct and raise awareness of a hidden past and its effects on Brazilian society.

It is hard not to think about how certain political, social, and economic strategies from over one hundred years ago prevail in the country’s current governance as well. The ephemerality of its construction contrast directly to the stability of social casts. As we continue to produce similar spaces of exclusion, are the concentration camps over, or simply masked and transformed?

[1] Kênia Sousa Rios. Isolamento e Poder: Fortaleza e os campos de concentração na Seca de 1932. (Fortaleza: Imprensa Universitária da Universidade Federal do Ceará /UFC, 2014)
[2] Frederico de Castro Neves. “Curral dos Bárbaros: Os Campos de Concentração no Ceará (1915-1932),” Revista Brasileira de Historia. V. 15, Número 29. (1995): 93-122.

 

LAURA BELIK is a PhD Student in Architecture- History, Theory, and Society at UC Berkeley. Laura holds an MA in Design Studies from Parsons- The New School (New York) and a BA in Architecture and Urban Planning from Escola da Cidade (São Paulo- Brazil). Her main research interests are urbanism, politics of space, urban democracy and Latin America. Laura’s current work is related to the urban and constructed environment and its influence in social and political life.

 

 

 

 

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A Missed Opportunity for Democrats in the Border Wall Showdown

By Elizabeth Oglesby

A version of this article originally appeared in The Hill on December 13th, 2018.

“Mexico only” sign at the U.S.-Mexico border crossing. (Photo by Noah Jacquemin.)

This week’s Oval Office sparring between President Trump and Democratic congressional leaders, over border wall funding and the possibility of a government shutdown, made for great political theater. In reality, both sides got what they wanted. Trump got a get-tough photo op that can be replayed on Fox & Friends, while House and Senate Minority Leaders Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) got Trump to own the shutdown.

But are their positions so far apart? Trump wants his wall, or at least the simulacra of a wall. The Democratic leadership wants the status quo. Both positions are untenable.

As Trump descends into what the Washington Post called a “bottomless Pinocchio” of falsehoods about the border wall, Pelosi and Schumer are missing a key opportunity to launch a broader critique of immigration and border policies. The moment is auspicious for such a critique, and not just because of the Democrats’ electoral gains. The brutal public displays of Trump’s border crackdown, including tear-gassing children last month at the San Ysidro port of entry, have exposed the destructive failings of our border strategies, failings that were decades in the making.

Ocean border fence in San Diego County, California. (Photo by Tony Webster.)

The immediate issue is the federal budget deadline of December 21. Trump wants $5 billion in revenue for his wall, but he doesn’t have the votes to overcome a Senate filibuster. Democrats are offering $1.6 billion in additional funding for “border security,” which includes enhancing and extending the border wall that already exists (although not the concrete buffer Trump wants). Viewed within the context of the entire federal budget, and the nearly $4 billion a year already spent on border security, there is not a lot of daylight between these two proposals.

Trump is half right when he asserts that border wall construction continues apace. More than 700 miles of border barriers exist, including bollard-style steel walls, double chain-linked fences, barbed wire, infrared cameras and drones, guard stations and light poles. Much of this was constructed under President Obama. Trump has been putting into place plans to extend the barriers.

In July 2018, more than 2,500 scientists in the United States and Mexico signed a letter decrying the waiver of federal and state environmental laws to build the wall, saying this “threatens more than a century of binational investment in conservation.” Current plans to make way for the wall include demolishing the National Butterfly Center in Mission, Texas.

Trump’s real victory in Tuesday’s meeting was to get Pelosi and Schumer to repeat the mantra of “border security.”

Pelosi (to Trump) “I’m with you. I’m with you. We are going to have border security.”

Trump: “We need border security. I think we all agree that we need border security. Is that right?

Schumer: “Yes, we do. We do.”

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.). (Photo by Senate Democrats.)

When Schumer advocates continuing the status quo in the name of an ill-defined notion of “border security,” it reinforces two false and damaging framings of the border and immigration. The first is what researcher and former Border Patrol agent Chris Montoya calls the “border threat narrative,” the spurious idea of the southern border as a place of danger. The second is the failed doctrine of “prevention through deterrence,” a strategy to obstruct undocumented immigration begun in the 1990s by President Bill Clinton and continued by George W. Bush, Obama and now Trump.

Montoya poured over Border Patrol and other law enforcement data to conclude that Border Patrol agents enjoy one of the safest law enforcement jobs in America. The number of Border Patrol agents has increased 500 percent since 2000, even while undocumented immigration across the southern border is at a 40-year low.

The true danger, asserts Montoya, lies in the “idea of a dangerous and violent border.” This idea, based on skewed data and hyperbole, moves public discourse about the U.S.-Mexico border and the alleged threat it poses, leading to bad policy.

The policy of “prevention by deterrence” goes back to the Clinton-era Border Patrol strategy to seal off urban entry points, thereby using the harsh Arizona desert as a weapon against migration. Subsequent administrations continued this strategy and added different components, such as deporting people to unfamiliar cities, family detention, and most recently, family separation. But decades of research, from the University of Arizona and elsewhere, shows that ratcheting up punishment against migrants as a form of deterrence doesn’t stop migration. It simply redirects it.

White crosses with the names of those who have died crossing the US border on the Mexican side of the fence in Nogales. (Photo by Jonathan McIntosh.)

The current decline in unauthorized immigration across the U.S. southern border is mostly a reflection of declining rates of Mexican immigration (which, in turn, is related to changing economic and demographic conditions in Mexico). Yet, deaths in the desert have continued at high rates, as migrants, mostly Central Americans now, follow the more treacherous routes. At least 7,000 people have perished in the border desert since 2000, most from heat exposure and dehydration.

Despite the border crisis narrative pushed in Washington, here on the border one finds a different perspective. As southern Arizona business leader Jaime Chamberlain told Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen during her visit to the border last May, “It’s very sexy and grabs headlines to talk about border security. But when people talk to me about border security, I live in a very safe community in Nogales,” adding that the concerns of local businesses are focused more on how to increase cross-border trade and communication.

Rather than repeat the mantra of “border security,” we need a deeper national conversation about our border policies. In addition to humane asylum policies, we need progress on comprehensive immigration reform. We also need to de-escalate the decades-long border militarization that harms communities and ecosystems and reinforces a false narrative of border danger. Not all of this can be achieved in the current political context. But top Democrats like Pelosi and Schumer aren’t trying hard enough to articulate a different vision for the border. They could start by listening to the concerns of border communities.

 

ELIZABETH OGLESBY is an associate professor of Latin American Studies andGeography at the University of Arizona. She is co-editor of “The Guatemala Reader: History, Culture, Politics” and  “Guatemala: The Question of Genocide.” She earned her MA in Latin American Studies and her PhD in Geography at UC Berkeley. Read more of her work from The Hill here.

 

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Ortega Uses Somoza’s Manual to Silence Critics

By Carlos Dada

This article originally appeared in Spanish in El Faro on December 18, 2018 and was translated to English by Delia Neyra.

The Nicaraguan police closes the media company directed by the country’s main journalist, Carlos Fernando Chamorro, in an offensive against the critics of Daniel Ortega’s regime. Exiled from their editorial offices, the journalists of the magazine Confidencial and the television program Esta Semana work from where they can to continue denouncing a regime that today has more political prisoners than that of dictator Anastasio Somoza.

Carlos Fernando Chamorro appeared at the Faustino Ruiz Police Complex to demand an answer after the confiscation of Confidencial and Esta Semana. December 15, 2018. (Photo by Carlos Herrera/Confidencial.)

The Nicaraguan journalist Carlos Fernando Chamorro arrived at Managua’s judicial complex Monday afternoon to file an injunction. Three days had already passed since police agents entered by force and settled into the offices of Confidencial magazine and the television programs Esta Semana and Esta Noche, all directed by Chamorro.

Thirty reporters, from the international press and the few independent media channels that remain in Nicaragua, supported Chamorro’s arrival. The stood in front of riot police who were under command of the same officer who, on Saturday morning, had ordered the forced evacuation of Chamorro and the majority of these same journalists from the National Police headquarters.

“I come armored with the morals of my parents, Pedro Joaquín Chamorro and Violeta Barrios de Chamorro. That is what protects me to be here,” said Chamorro, when asked if he feared for his security. For those who know a bit of Nicaraguan history, the phrase was poetic, irrefutable, and forceful.

Chamorro is one of the most recognized figures in Nicaragua. His father, also a journalist, was assassinated by henchmen of the dictator Anastasio Somoza in 1978. At that time, the elder Chamorro was director of the newspaper La Prensa and an inflexible critic of the dictatorship. His assassination unleashed massive protests against Somoza, which led to the downfall of the dictator.

Shortly after the crime, Carlos Fernando joined the Sandinista lines and directed the newspaper Barricada. He was Vice Minister of Culture in the first government of the revolution and left power after the electoral triumph of his mother, the liberal Violeta Barrios de Chamorro.

Since the return of Daniel Ortega to the presidency in January of 2007, Chamorro has become the main example of independent and critical journalism in his country, recognized internationally and harassed by political power. Ortega and his party, the Sandinista Front, happy to boast internationally that freedom of expression exists in their country, have purchased some of the main television channels in recent years, the same ones that their children now control; and have created their own media system. They had already hounded Chamorro’s two media channels, but they were never able to shut them down. Until now.

Carlos Fernando Chamorro, his wife Desirée Elizondo, and other journalists who showed up with them at the Faustino Ruiz Police Complex to demand an answer after the confiscation of Confidencial and Esta Semana, were evicted by a group of riot police who beat them. December 15, 2018. (Photo by Carlos Herrera/Confidencial.)

The occupation, without a judicial order, of the Confidencial and Esta Semana facilities, as well as the confiscation of their equipment, give an account of a new chapter of the crisis that has affected Nicaragua since April of this year. A chapter in which the president Daniel Ortega has decided to attack, with or without supporting law, media and organizations that are critical of his government. Ortega has decided to grab hold of Somoza’s manual to silence the opposition. He, who was a political prisoner under the Somoza dictatorship, now has more political prisoners than Somoza. The number of people who have died due to the violence in this crisis, almost all attributed to his paramilitary and police forces, already exceeds 350.

Last week, the Assembly cancelled the legal registration of nine non-governmental organizations, among them the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights, the main processing center for reports from victims of the repression unleashed by Sandinista security forces and paramilitary groups since April 18th, when a student protest marked the beginning of this crisis. More than 350 people have been assassinated since then, and the prisons controlled by Ortega now contain 567 political prisoners, according to these organizations.

Protected by the parliamentary vote, the majority pro-Ortega, the Ministry of Governance proceeded to seize the property of these organizations. But the media channels directed by Chamorro were not among them, as they are private companies, not NGOs. In spite of this, the editorial offices of Confidencial are now occupied by heavily armed police that prohibit the entry of journalists.

On Thursday night, uniformed agents invaded the facilities and took all of the equipment: more than 20 computers, television cameras, audio equipment and all the documents they found, including invoices, receipts, and the archive. The following night they returned, expelled security guards, and prohibited access to journalists and employees. Since then armed police agents stroll the halls or watch television on the only screens that were not taken.

Exiled from their editorial offices, the journalists, administrators, and producers of Esta Semana and Confidencial have continued their work from where ever possible: their homes, borrowed computers, a hotel room on the only two computers they were able to save, or the studios of Channel 12 where they have limited access.

On Saturday, from a hotel room, reporters and editors met to agree on the contingency plan, how to continue publishing without an office and without equipment. They’re still doing it. “The editorial office is in the soul, in the brain of the journalists,” said Chamorro in front of the courts when they asked if the occupation of the offices put at risk the production of information. “We will continue working from wherever we can.”

On Sunday night, from another hotel room, the journalists Wilfredo Miranda and Néstor Arce uploaded the program Esta Semana to Youtube and Facebook in addition to the television transmission on Channel 12.

“Our offices are occupied illegally by the National Police, as a consequence of the repressive escalation of the dictatorship,” said Chamorro in the opening of his Sunday program Esta Semana, recorded in a studio that Channel 12 had obtained for them. Next, he recounted the last offensive of the Ortega apparatus, including the closure of seven non-governmental organizations. One of them is the Center of Investigations for Communication, CINCO, whose board of directors includes Chamorro, but whose facilities are found elsewhere, far from the offices taken by the police.

On Saturday night, another television channel, 100 por ciento Noticias, opened its news with the headline: “Carlos Fernando Chamorro, his wife and journalists accompanying him, are assaulted by the police.” That morning, Chamorro arrived at the doors of Confidencial, accompanied by relatives and journalists who covered the facts, to request documentation that supported the occupation of their offices and to explain to the armed agents that their occupation was illegal. On the other side of the bars, the agents suggested that he ask for explanations directly from the main office of the National Police. Chamorro went there and reiterated his complaint. In response, nearly fifty riot police came out to violently evict everyone who accompanied him. The video, in which one can see the riot police hit the journalists, immediately made it to social media, was the front page of the main newspapers, and was an omnipresent image on the few television channels outside of state control.

“This is not an attack only on Esta Semana and Confidencial,” said Chamorro in his program. “This is an attack on the citizens, on their right to be informed. It is an attack on the freedom of the press, on the freedom of expression and on free enterprise.”

On Sunday night, Miranda and Arce watched the repeated images of the beating that they received from the riot police on television. Néstor Arce still has traces of those blows. Various journalists of Confidencial, especially Miranda, have been the object of attacks on social media during the last few days. They have received threats and their picture has circulated in pages of supporters of the president Daniel Ortega. “I do not go out much anymore,” says Miranda, upset because these attacks against him impede him from reporting on the streets. But what he cannot report today, others do.

On Monday, the thirty journalists that covered Chamorro’s arrival at the courts arranged to meet nearby an hour. They walked together, thirty of them, to the door. A motorcyclist stopped in front of them and took out a cell phone to take pictures of them. The response was unanimous: thirty photography, video, and cell phone cameras pointed back at the motorcyclist. They photographed him too. The scene repeated itself some minutes later, when a riot policeman also took out his cellphone. The journalists formed a line, not much different to the one of the agents, and pointed with their cameras. Nobody moved until Chamorro and his wife left. Then, everyone walked in line back to the same parking lot and left in various vehicles in a caravan. If Ortega has achieved anything, it is consolidating the unity of an incipient union of independent media.

Police maintain control of Confidencial and Esta Semana facilities. December 15, 2018. (Photo by Carlos Herrera/Confidencial.)

The President’s Motives

Last weekend, while the police were closing organizations and the media, President Ortega was asking for help in Havana. He met with the presidents of member countries of ALBA (Venezuela, Cuba, and Bolivia) to respond to the Nica Act, the law passed by the United States Congress that foretells individual sanctions against members of the Nicaraguan government and limits international financial activities in the country, including access to loans from international financial organisms. Ortega accused Washington of interference and received the backing of his counterparts in Cuba, Venezuela, and Bolivia.

Little is left for the Nicaraguan president. The deterioration of his relationship with the United States is occurring alongside the end of his honeymoon with the Catholic Church, and even with the conspiracy that he maintained for a decade with big business. Since the brutal repression unleashed by Ortega against student protests in April and the widespread demonstrations of May and June, the main corporate labor union has distanced itself from the regime.

The closure of the NGOs and of Confidencial, moreover, has provoked strong criticism of the regime by the UN, the OAS, the European Union, various Latin American governments, and journalists from all over the continent. The commander is being left on his own.

“Ortega is a man who enjoys accumulating,” says Sergio Ramírez, the Nicaraguan author and winner of the Cervantes Prize. “He has more than 500 political prisoners, now the closure of all these organizations and media channels. He believes this allows him to negotiate, to stay in power by yielding all of these tokens he is accumulating. He thinks it is possible to return to the status quo that existed before April 18th. But this is impossible. This crisis has a magnitude of such delegitimization, of anti-democracy, of repression, of illegality, that cannot be resolved by returning those pieces. Neither is it resolved with a foreign invasion. The only exit is a political negotiation.”

In this recently opened chapter of a now long and profound crisis, the aggressions against Chamorro and the journalists of Confidencial confirm that the regime is no longer open even to a simulation of the rule of law. It is no longer necessary. Ortega, with Somoza’s manual in his hand, confronts the crisis with censorship, imprisonment, and repression. Carlos Fernando Chamorro follows in his father’s footsteps – the journalist critical of, and uncomfortable for, the dictatorship. Protected by his historical legacy, he is today the great model of Nicaraguan journalism. To touch him is to touch all. This is why journalists from all independent media in the country stand by him. They also protect him.

On Monday the 17th, Carlos Fernando Chamorro and his wife Desirée Elizondo went to the Judicial Complex of Managua to present a Writ of Amparo (Photo by Fred Ramos.)

CARLOS DADA is the founder and director of the news website El Faro, which has become a reference for independent and high quality journalism in Central America since 1998 and is known for its investigations of corruption and violence. Dada has reported from various conflict zones including Iraq, Venezuela, Mexico, Guatemala, and Honduras. His work has been published in Latin America, the United States, Bosnia and Spain. In 2011 he won the Maria Moors Cabot Prize for Latin American Reporting.

DELIA NEYRA is a fourth year doctoral student and instructor in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese at UC Berkeley. She studies 19th and 20th century Nicaraguan literature. 

 

Statement on Nicaragua

Center for Latin American Studies and Graduate School of Journalism

December 20, 2018

We are deeply concerned about the growing repression, arbitrary detentions, and state-sanctioned violence in Nicaragua. In addition to ongoing violence, the silencing of dissenting voices and the press must end. A free press is vital for a decent society and essential for a democracy. 

This past week, armed police stormed the headquarters of one of Nicaragua’s top independent media outlets, Confidencial. Officers seized computers and occupied the premises. Confidencial’s Director, Carlos F. Chamorro (who was a visiting scholar at UC Berkeley 1998-99 and 2006-7) stated, “We have been in this regime’s sights for many years. They have attacked us, they have pressured us, they have intimidated us and they have spied on us, and the only conclusion I can draw is that they are now moving towards what they consider the coup de grâce.” Chamorro continued, “It is a blow and a warning.”

Along with governments and human rights organizations around the world, we urge the Government of Nicaragua and all other actors to return to democratic principles. We stand firmly in solidarity with the people of Nicaragua, who are demanding justice and peace. 

Declaración sobre Nicaragua

Centro de Estudios Latinoamericanos y Escuela de Postgrado de Periodismo

20 de diciembre, 2018

Estamos sumamente preocupados sobre la represión creciente, detenciones arbitrarias y violencia autorizada por el estado en Nicaragua. Además de la violencia en desarrollo, el silenciamiento de las voces y la prensa discordantes debe terminar. Una prensa libre es vital para una sociedad decente y esencial para una democracia.

Esta semana pasada, policías armados atacaron la sede de uno de los principales medios de comunicación independientes de Nicaragua, Confidencial. Oficiales incautaron computadoras y ocuparon las instalaciones. El director de Confidencial, Carlos F. Chamorro, (quien fue un investigador visitante en la Universidad de Berkeley, California en 1998-99 y 2006-07) declaró: “Hemos estado en la vista del régimen por muchos años. Ellos nos han atacado, nos han presionado, nos han intimidado y nos han espiado, y la única conclusión que puedo deducir es que ellos ahora están acercándose a lo que ellos consideran el golpe de gracia. Chamorro continuó, “Es un golpe y una advertencia.”

Sumado a gobiernos y organizaciones de derechos humanos alrededor del mundo, instamos al Gobierno de Nicaragua y a todos los demás actores a regresar a principios democráticos. Nos solidarizamos firmemente con el pueblo de Nicaragua, quienes están demandando justicia y paz.

 

 

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