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Brazil: Obama's Visit Marked by Protests, Repression and Criticism

On Monday 21 March, 2011, United States President Barack Obama left Brazil, his first stop on a quick tour of Latin America intended to tighten economic ties. He continued to Santiago, Chile and then on to El Salvador.

Intended to be a party, Obama’s first visit to Brazil was marked by the controversial decision to intervene militarily in Libya, in addition to the “covering up” of the favela shanty towns and police repression of protesters.

Obama go home

Even before touching down on Brazilian soil, Obama's visit was already causing controversy. Early on the night of Friday 18 March, 2011, a protest outside the United States Consulate in Rio ended in violence. Of the more than 300 activists present, thirteen were arrested after a Molotov cocktail was thrown at the Consulate, according to the police, who reacted with rubber bullets, pepper spray and tear gas.

The Youtube video above posted on March 18, shows people singing slogans against Obama’s visit, America’s supposed interest in Brazilian petroleum and the imminent attack on Libya. From 1 minute 45 seconds, the sound of explosions can be heard, followed by running.

In the comments box, user graficautopica [pt] negates the police version:

Este espírito pacífico era compartilhado pelos manifestantes. Entendemos que transformar a passeata em uma batalha apenas favoreceria o imperialismo, evitando que se discuta as verdadeiras intenções da visita. Neste sentido, desconhecemos os autores do ataque e queremos vir a público declarar nossa desconfiança de que provocadores tenham se infiltrado no ato, com esse objetivo.

This peaceful spirit was shared by the protesters. We understand that turning the protest into a battle would only favour imperialism, avoiding the discussion of the real intentions behind the visit. Therefore we do not know who the perpetrators of the attack were and we want to publicly declare our suspicion that provocateurs have infiltrated the action, with this objective.

Those detained were accused of causing bodily harm, attempted arson and conspiracy. In the blogosphere, they are being called political prisoners. For Anderson Balotta [pt], the case has been poorly explained:

pelo que pude perceber se tratou de uma prisão arbitrária de militantes que estavam passando no local e hora e acabaram pagando pelo pato. Novos presos políticos no país da democracia, justamente na visita de Obama e a contradição em alto, che cosa bella, mia gente!!!
Não espere ouvir um parecer da grande mídia (porque esta, está comprometida com as belezas da visita de Obama).

From what I could tell, it was the arbitrary imprisonment of militants who were in the wrong place at the wrong time and ended up as scapegoats. More political prisoners in the country of democracy, right when Obama is visiting and the contradiction is clear, che cosa bella, mia gente!!!
Don’t expect to hear an opinion from the mainstream media (because they are busy with how beautiful Obama’s visit was).

About an hour after Barack Obama left, the Court released a ruling in favour of releasing the protesters, who are now free.

US President Obama is received in Brazilian capital Brasilia. Image by William Volcov, copyright Demotix (19/03/11).

US President Obama is received in Brazilian capital Brasilia. Image by William Volcov, copyright Demotix (19/03/11).

Between Dilma and Libya

The first stage of the trip to Brasília was marked by the decision to launch a military attack on Libya [pt], which was made by Obama, according to the newspaper Folha de São Paulo, during a meeting with president Dilma Rousseff. Obama received a note and reacted by saying that “measures” must be taken.

For José Reinaldo Carvalho [pt], editor of the site Vermelho (Red), Obama disgraced Brazil by starting a “war disguised as a humanitarian cause” there:

Em atitude que viola as regras da hospitalidade, constrangendo o anfitrião, Obama simplesmente desonrou o Brasil, ao fazer uma declaração de guerra no país que por princípio constitucional e tradição advoga a solução pacífica dos conflitos internacionais. O presidente estadunidense ignorou o fato de que o Brasil se absteve na votação da resolução do Conselho de Segurança da ONU que abriu a via legal para a agressão, “por não estar seguro de que o uso da força é o melhor caminho”, conforme explicou a embaixadora Viotti, representante do Brasil no órgão das Nações Unidas.

In an attitude that violates the rules of hospitality, constraining the host, Obama simply disgraced Brazil, by declaring war while in the country which, according to constitutional principle and tradition, advocates the peaceful solution of international conflicts. The US President ignored the fact that Brazil abstained from the vote on the resolution in the UN Security Council which opened the legal path for aggression, “not being sure that the use of force is the best way”, as explained by Ambassador Viotti, Brazil’s representative to the United Nations.

For the Americans to see

Residents of Cidade de Deus find ways to have fun during Obama’s visit. Twitpic from @djvivireis

Residents of Cidade de Deus find ways to have fun during Obama’s visit. Twitpic author's name withheld by request

President Obama made a frantic trip through Rio de Janeiro on Sunday, dedicating half an hour of his time to the shantytown, or favela, Cidade de Deus (City of God), where his lightning-fast visit generated new controversy: residents complained of the “covering up” of the favela to make it look presentable and criticised the security rules imposed by the White House, such as a 300 metre isolation cordon which forced residents from their homes, and the body searches imposed on everyone, including children.

In the face of these requirements, Rio’s Central Única das Favelas (Unified Favela Centre) removed itself from the organisation of the event, refusing to “be used as an exotic stage” [pt]. Its founder, Celso Athayde, let off steam [pt] in various Twitter messages:

Vou tuitar para o consulado para eles não tirarem as pessoas de casa, e não revistar os pretinhos de 3 anos de idade dentro da própria casa

I’m going to tweet to the Consulate that they must not kick people out of their houses, or frisk little three-year-old kids in their own homes.

Here he summarises the visit [pt] from the residents’ point of view:

é isso, eu vou na sua casa, mas eu não quero vc em casa. Uma questão de segurança. Então fica na casa branca irmão

that’s it, I’m going to your house, but I don’t want you to be home. A question of security. So stay in the white house brother.

A video of the collaborative community coverage [pt] published on the blog A Voz da Cidade de Deus (The Voice of Cidade de Deus) shows what wasn’t shown on television:

mostra sem maquiagem os bastidores do evento e a frustação dos moradores da comunidade em não ter visto o presidente dos E.U.A. Alem disso o video mostra um morador que reclama de um policial que o agrediu.

it shows, without covering anything up, what went on behind the scenes of the event and the frustration of the community’s residents at not having seen the US president. The video also shows a resident who complains of being assaulted by a police officer.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4YRkIFPYFAU

In summary

Summarising the main events related to the visit, Cristina Rodrigues [pt] points out what she calls the regression of Brazil’s foreign policy:

Nossos ministros foram revistados por americanos em território brasileiro para participar de evento com Barack Obama. Em cima da hora, por medo de vaias, a comitiva de Obama desiste do discurso em público e o Theatro Municipal é obrigado a cancelar sua programação para receber o presidente americano. Moradores da Cidade de Deus são obrigados a sair de suas casas (!!) para a passagem de Obama pela favela. Isso sem falar que foi daqui que Obama ordenou a invasão à Líbia.

O problema não é demonstrar prestígio a um presidente de outra nação. Tampouco criar condições especiais para que uma cidade receba uma liderança assim com segurança e conforto, fazendo-lhe algumas de suas vontades. O problema está no nível das exigências feitas por essa liderança e a necessidade de o país se rebaixar para cumpri-las. Isso um governo soberano não pode deixar acontecer.

Our ministers were frisked by Americans in Brazilian territory in order to participate in the event with Barack Obama. At the last minute, for fear of being booed, Obama’s entourage gives up on the public speech and the Municipal Theatre is obliged to cancel its programme to receive the American president. Residents of Cidade de Deus are obliged to leave their homes (!!) in order for Obama to pass through the favela. Not to mention the fact that it was here that Obama ordered the invasion of Libya.

The problem lies not in showing prestige to the president of another nation. Nor in creating special conditions so that a city can receive this type of leader in security and comfort, complying with some of his wishes. The problem lies in the level of demands made by this leader and the country’s need to debase itself to fulfill them. A sovereign government must not let this happen.

Obama and Christ the Redeemer, on Twitpic, by @anglinho

Obama and Christ the Redeemer, on Twitpic, by @anglinho

Rudá Ricci [pt] does not know how to evaluate Obama’s visit which, for him, highlighted the editorial poverty of the Brazilian press:

Não soubemos o que faz Obama ser tão criticado em seu país por estar aqui; não soubemos claramente sua pauta (aviões? incorporação efetiva do país ao eixo ocidental liderado pelos EUA? Pré-sal?); análise dos acordos assinados. Sem saber claramente seus objetivos não conseguimos analisar seu sucesso.

We didn’t find out why Obama was criticised so heavily in his home country for being here; we didn’t find out his agenda (planes? effective incorporation of this country into the international axis led by the USA? Pre-salt [oilfields]?; analysis of the signed agreements. Without knowing clearly what its objectives were, we cannot analyse its success.
  • Craig Hill

    The criticism Brazil is comprised in part of a police state while it protects its visitors from anger bred by the economic policies that visitor used to practice against its host, before Brazil broke with impoverishing American economic policy, is very amusing.

    FTR, every time an American protester wears a tee shirt with a message or carries a sign that is not adulatory towards the American president, that protester is arrested, jailed and then let go, with all non-existing charges dropped, lest anyone think everyone at the crowd attending the American president is not supportive of his warlike policies.

    Memorably, the 2004 Democratic convention in Boston had a fenced-in pen near the convention that served as a “free-speech zone”. While Americans, delegates to the convention, wearing peace symbols inside the convention hall, were dragged out by guards for wearing political statements not supporting the aims of the party, citizens carrying signs not supportive of nominee Kerry’s martial attitude toward peace were warned to get into the pen, leave the area or get arrested.

    One protester, incredulous at this anti-American, anti-constitutional dictation, famously responded, “I thought all of America was a free speech zone.”

    Now THAT’S a police state.

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