Tuesday, 23 September 2008

Will the Brazilian Police be Taking Note?

Three years on, and the inquest into the fatal police shooting of Brazilian, Jean Charles de Menezes, remains ongoing.

Today on the TV news we could watch judge, jury, lawyers and de Menezes’ family being shown around the underground passages of Stockwell tube station, re-enacting Jean Charles’ final movements, before he was shot at point blank range by anti-terrorist police officers.

Tragic as the whole incident is, I can’t help but at least commend the British judicial system in assuring that this horrific accidence is understood and the surveillance system that failed so horribly is brought to account. The question that lingers at the back of my mind is, whether the same level of insistence to come to the bottom of such a police error would be taking place, had this happened in Jean Charles’ native Brazil? A flicker through any of the cop-films coming out of Brazil, such as “Elite Squad”, and you get a picture of the extreme use of violence by the Brazilian police force, and their perceived immunity in the face of any misuse of power. I wonder what attention the inquest into de Menezes’ death is getting back in Brazil and whether or not the Brazilian police are taking notice...

Monday, 22 September 2008

Anti-Americanism Alive and Well in Latin America

An e-mail in my inbox asked me to part with a few hours of my time last Wednesday, standing outside in the Autumn cold and picketing the US embassy here in London. US ambassadors to Bolivia and Venezuela were in the space of a couple of days sent packing amidst accusations of fomenting regional violence in Bolivia and plotting to overthrow Chávez. According to the protesters:

US President George W Bush has made it his top priority to overthrow the new left-wing governments in Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador and others before he leaves office at the end of the year (www.handsoffvenezuela.org)

Whilst I have no doubt that the US would shed no tears if either Evo Morales or Hugo Chávez were finally toppled, the recent expulsions of the respective US ambassadors has far more to do with Morales' and Chávez's populist support to a large extent consolidated by their anti-US positions.

With Russian battleships on course for Venezuelan waters for joint exercises, US may indeed have cause for concern regarding Chávez's strategic alliances - "Russian navy sails to Venezuela." Is this yet more evidence of yesteryear's Cold War battle lines being redrawn as Russia strengthens its ties in and increases its presence in Latin America - just as it did in Cuba in the 1960s? And then there are continuing anti-democratic measures taken by Chávez; the most recent being the expelling of human rights activists after having accused Chávez's government of "openly endors[ing] acts of discrimination" - "Venezuela expels two human rights activist" But are these legitimate causes for concern enough for the US to reattempt its misguided foray into overthrowing democratically elected leaders?

And what does the US gain from further destabilising Bolivia? Aside from the issue of Morales' government not doing enough to cut down on coca production, there is very little his government can be accused of that directly goes against US interests. The US has little interest in Bolivian gas reserves and their recent nationalisation. And surely they must realise that the toppling of a President that only weeks was strengthened his mandate with 67% of the popular vote in the recall referendum.
The history of US interventionism etched into the Latin American psyche, the extent to which it imbues populist rhetoric, ultimately renders the need for sound reasoning behind these anti-US conspiracies completely unnecessary. Even with George Bush at the helm, this mode of politics should not play a central role in any Latin American nations' foreign policy. Yes, the USA is by no means the 'Good Neighbour' it had once set itself up to be. But far more stands to be lost in the long-term by doing your utmost to strain relations with USA, merely for the purpose of short-term populist/nationalist gains.
This is not to say that the US are wholeheartedly innocent either. Failing to show strong enough support for the democratically-elected leaders of both countries is seen as a green light for opposition movements in Venezuela and Bolivia to challenge their Presidents in any way they see fit - as was the case with the failed coup in Venezuela in 2002 and with the violence in Bolivia right now.
Needless to say I did not spend last Wednesday afternoon picketing the US embassy.