Brazil. The year began with the terrible fire tragedy at the Kiss Club nightclub in Santa Maria in the southern state of Rio Grande do Sul on January 26. The fire broke out when a band against all regulations would start a fire show on stage. The club room had only one emergency exit and fire extinguishers did not work. 235 people were killed, many of them in the toilets where they tried to get out. Four people were arrested in the aftermath of the accident, including the club owners and the club’s security officer.
According to Countryaah, the Santa Maria accident raised the general issue of security during the Soccer World Cup to be held in Brazil 2014, a debate that also received other violent expressions during the year. In conjunction with the international football tournament Confederations Cup, which was held in Brazil in June and is considered a kind of prelude to the World Cup, violent protests erupted around the country which rapidly grew stronger. The protests focused on the large investments made before the tournament and before the World Cup when Brazil is still a country with major social problems and shortcomings in public service. In São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, hundreds of thousands of people demonstrated in the streets, many of them young, and were met by riot police equipped with tear gas and rubber bullets.
In July, the largest trade union organizations announced a general strike, the first in Brazil in 22 years, with demands for changes in statutory working hours and social security systems, and a teacher strike in Rio that began in August also degenerated a month later into new unrest. In connection with Pope Francis’s visit in July, when as many as three million people gathered at Copacabana to see him, there were also unrest.
The unrest again raised fears that the safety of the World Cup could not be guaranteed. At the same time, statistics from the military police showed that the violence in Rio has decreased, thanks in large part to the new Unidades de Polícia Pacificadora (UP) police units, created with a direct view on the security during the World Cup.
President Dilma Rousseff’s popularity persisted throughout the year and rose further after the revelation in September, through former NSA consultant Edward Snowden, that the US security service NSA spied on her and several other top politicians and she herself canceled an official visit to the United States. During a speech at the UN, she sharply criticized the NSA’s methods. Brazil’s international image also rose by the appointment of Roberto Azevêdo in May as the World Trade Organization’s new head of WTO.
A major political battle erupted in connection with the appointment of Freemason chaplain Marco Antonio Feliciano in March as chairman of the congressional human rights and minority committee. Feliciano has made several controversial statements about women, gays and blacks, and Amnesty International commented on the announcement that Feliciano was immediately unacceptable.
Brazil’s future Foreign Minister Ernesto Araújo called in mid-December to overthrow Venezuela’s President Maduro, declaring that Maduro was not invited to the Bolsonaro deployment in January. Venezuela’s Foreign Ministry struck back immediately, published two letters showing Maduro was actually invited, but then provided Venezuela’s official response to Brazil’s forthcoming regime: President who is the epitome of intolerance, fascism, and who stands for a policy that is a total blow to the interests that are against integration in Latin America and the Caribbean. ” In an interview with the daily newspaper La Tercera in Chile, Bolsonaro insisted, that Brazil had no immediate plans to invade Venezuela, but clearly wanted to have Maduro removed. “I do not want him dead, but only that he disappears to another country,” Bolsonaro declared. Neither the EU nor the US had any objections to Brazil’s threats to Venezuela.
Newly elected right-wing governor of Rio de Janeiro, Wilson Witzel, a few days after taking over the governor’s post, stated that the state security forces would have the unrestricted right to shoot for killing. He subsequently stated that Rio should set up his own Guantanamo camp to house criminals, whom he referred to as “terrorists”. President Bolsonaro has stated that he would like to put the military into the slums if the governors so desire. 2018 was the bloodiest year in Rio so far with 1444 people murdered by police. The last police murder was on a young man whose umbrella was considered a gun by police. A month later, the police executed 13 people at an action in the Fallet/Fogueteiro favela in central Rio. In the first three months of 2019, police committed 434 murders in Rio. An increase of 18% compared to the previous year.
In line with the militarization of the community, in mid-January, Bolsonaro issued a decree that eased the country’s gun laws, allowing more people to be allowed to have weapons in their homes. At the same time, the requirement for an interview with the police is abolished. The Weapons Act was tightened in 2003 in conjunction with a campaign in which illegal weapons were collected at the same time. Brazil has one of the highest murder rates in the world. 63,880 were murdered in 2018. Attorneys and human rights activists pointed out that the easing will increase the number of killings. (Brazil’s Bolsonaro signs decree loosening gun ownership rules, Guardian 15/1 2019)
Brazil’s newly appointed “Environment Minister” Ricardo Salles in January attacked the country’s environmental organizations. He immediately put a stop to cooperation between the state and the environmental NGO for a 90-day period, while the ministry investigates the individual organizations. Salles is the landlord’s husband who is to open the Amazon up for cattle and mining. He has previously denied the existence of global climate change. (Brazil environment chief accused of ‘war on NGOs’ paused as partnerships, Gurdian 17/1 2019)