Mounting Chaos in Rio Sparks Worries Over World Cup

The languid seaside city of Rio de Janriro, normally characterized by its white sand beaches and carnival celebrations, is becoming better known for tear gas and chaotic anticapitalist demonstrations.

The World Cup was meant to be a lovefest between a soccer-mad nation and a championship it has won a record five times. But many here now worry that what was supposed to be Brazil’s coming-out party on the global stage could be marred by protesters and vandals who don’t feel the country’s economic and political rise has broadly benefited its citizens.

“The hope brought by the World Cup and the Olympics has run out,” said Doriam Borges, a researcher at the University of the State of Rio’s Laboratory of Violence Analysis. Citizens realized that “for projects related to the World Cup and the Olympics, investment was huge, but not for health and education.”

The protests add to security concerns for organizers, who already face the daunting task of safely ushering tens of thousands of fans and athletes around the country. The federal government has also activated military troops to assist.

Rio state security officials say they have paid $6.9 million in extra costs for the protests over the past three months, including overtime to police officers, and expect to pay as much as $1.8 billion by the time the World Cup is over.

Read more here.

Brazil’s Free-Speech Battle

Though Brazil’s constitution protects free speech, the country’s laws against anonymity and defamation have been increasingly used by celebrities, companies and government officials to censor their critics. Brazil lacks protections, common elsewhere, which free Internet service providers from responsibility over user-generated content.

In 2012, the same year Brazilians became among the world’s top users on YouTube, Facebook and Twitter, Google said it was asked to remove 756 pieces of election-related content alone. Brazil also topped the list of countries in Twitter’s transparency report for the first half of 2013, with 10 court orders and government agency requests to remove content.

Read more, including about Brazilian Youtuber Otario Anonymous and an author whose biography on Brazilian singer Roberto Carlos was banned, here: Brazilians on Social Media at Fore of Free-Speech Battle

Bill Comes Due for Brazil’s Middle Class

Odete Meira da Silva’s debt woes help explain why Brazil’s once-dazzling growth has fizzled and isn’t expected to blast off again soon. Most people think of Brazil—among the world’s biggest producers of iron ore and soybeans—as a poor country that lives or dies on sales of commodities. But aspiring shoppers like Ms. Silva fueled much of the country’s recent boom, as consumer loans more than doubled to around $600 billion in five years.

Now, many of these new shoppers are suffering from credit-card fatigue—or worse. Some are defaulting on Brazilian credit cards that can charge 80% annual interest or more. Facing more defaults, banks are now warier about lending.

As a result, consumption is expanding at its lowest rate since 2004. That is compounding other problems, including weaker exports to China and a manufacturing slump caused by a strong currency, that were already slowing Brazil down. With consumer confidence declining, Brazil’s gross domestic product is expected to post 2.4% growth this year, after reaching 7.5% in 2010.

Read our page one story here: Debt Woes Help Explain Why the Country’s Once-Dazzling Growth Has Fizzled

Inhotim & Ouro Preto

I’m taking off for a few days to Minas Gerais for my first pure-fun vacation in Brazil since moving here. I’ll spend the weekend exploring Inhotim (pictured above), what looks like a breathtaking botatical garden and contemporary art museum founded by mining magnate Bernardo Paz. City girl that I am, I’ll stay in BH, explore Brazil’s third-largest city and eat lots of Mineira food. After that I’ll head to colonial town Ouro Preto.

Ate mais!

“Where’s Amarildo?” Investigation Uncovers Torture, Murder

Authorities concluded a more than two-month investigation into the disappearance of favela resident Amarildo, and allege that he was brutally tortured and murdered by police.

Read our story here: Police Criticized After Allegations of Torture in Rio

Also check out my colleague John Lyon’s earlier story on police killings in Brazil: As Crime Rattles Brazil, Killings by Police Turn Routine