Tag Archives: Dilma Rousseff

The Pro-Choice Fight in Brazil


This is an edited and cut down version of this piece. It is part of my Beyond the Sex and Sunshine series, where I write about Brazilian women and try to change the sexualized narrative around them. To read the full text please click here and support my work.

Jandira Magdalena dos Santos Cruz, 27, was last seen alive on her way to an illegal abortion clinic in Campo Grande, Rio de Janeiro. Weeks later, her body was found carbonized in a burnt car, without limbs or a dental arch. A divorced mother of two daughters, Jandira resorted to abortion when her boyfriend refused to take responsibility for the pregnancy.

Abortion is illegal in Brazil except in cases of rape or if the mother’s life is in danger. This illegality what led Jandira to pay USD$1,200 for a procedure in an illegal clinic. Her case is not a rare one: according to the World Health Organization (WHO) one woman dies every two days because of unsafe abortions in Brazil. Brazilian public health care estimates indicate that 1.5 million women get abortions yearly while the Ministry of Health’s calculations reveal that 3.7 million Brazilian women between the ages of 15 and 49 have had at least one abortion in their lifetime. In Latin America, 95% of abortions are considered unsafe by WHO.

In Brazil, having an abortion is punishable by law and could result in one to four years in prison. In 2005, a proposed bill of law threatened to take away the already existing provisions for abortions and to make abortion a heinous crime. The law would also forbid stem cell research.

In an election year, the subject of abortion is curiously absent from electoral campaigns and debates. Despite Jandira’s death and that of thousands of women which has caught the attention of mainstream media, advocating for the legalization of abortion is considered political suicide in a country where 79% of people are against any change in legislation.

“Abortion is a taboo, religion and the media display dead babies of eight or nine months and say this is abortion, which causes discomfort in any person,” says activist Isabella Medeiros, organizer of a pro-choice march in Rio de Janeiro on September 28. “This image of taboo that the media shows the population is very fictitious; the rate of women who get abortions is immense. In truth, it is a great manipulation because of religion, more so than politics, where conservative values are predominant.”

Mariana* says this predominant attitude in society makes it harder for women who have abortions to speak out or even heal mentally from the procedure. She got an abortion after paying R$12,000 ($5,000) to a doctor who instructed her to go to a high-class hospital and pretend she was having a miscarriage so she could be operated safely.

“He told me to come to a hospital – a good hospital in Rio – and pretend I was having a miscarriage. I would have to arrive in the early hours of the day. I was lucky – we paid a lot of money. My father got a loan from the bank, my mother didn’t go on a planned trip. I was lucky to have a family that was looking out for me, that supported me. They understood it wasn’t the time for me to have a kid.”

While Mariana was fortunate to have the procedure done in a proper hospital, this is not the reality of most Brazilian women.

“Jandira’s case is an example of what we call unsafe abortion,” explains Dr Ligia Bahia in an interview to newspaper O Globo. “It’s an abortion performed outside of a medical unit with proper credentials. In Brazil, because abortion is illegal, interventions in illegal clinics are more common. Women put themselves in a situation of extreme risk when they seek this kind of operation. Ideally, society would debate this theme without an ideology, focusing only on the grave issue of public health.”

Since the legalization of abortion in Uruguay, the number of abortions has decreased and there have been no deaths as a result of the procedures. Despite this positive result, political leaders in Brazil seldom mention a direct change in legislation, with presidential candidate Marina Silva only going as far as proposing a referendum on the issue. According to Uruguay’s Public Health sub-secretary Leonel Briozzo, “that’s not the best way to solve the problem.”

“For the life of women,” they chanted


On September 28, Latin American and Caribbean Day for the Legalization of Abortion, women took to the streets in several cities across Latin America to protest for their bodily autonomy. In Brazil in particular, organizers of the movement hoped to bring attention to the issue in times of election.

At the end of Copacabana beach, a small group of feminist activists painted pro-choice signs for the march later in the day. They were of all colors and backgrounds, but all of them recognize that the criminalization of abortion is a bigger danger to low-income women of color. One of the signs read: “The rich women pay, the poor women die.”

Besides remembering the death of thousands of women across Latin America who died from unsafe abortion, the march in Copacabana had as an objective to start a political conversation about the legalization and decriminalization of the procedure.

Protester Desirée Carvalho, 23, said: “We think this is something to be debated since we are in an election year and this is a subject that isn’t debated, even though we have more than one woman running for president so our objective is this, to talk about the need of the legalization of abortion by the public health system.”

The march was peaceful, but also met with a bit of hostility. Many people shook their heads in disapproval when the protesters chanted pro-choice songs to call attention to the march. A few others observers pumped their fists and joined in, but the march was mostly met with silence.

In a Lugar de Mulher (A Woman’s Place) blog post that went viral last month, Brazilian feminist writer Clara Averbuck summarizes an approach to the legalization of abortion that might work for Brazil.

She wrote: “Your personal opinion about abortion doesn’t matter. Women will continue to have abortions and to risk their lives while it’s not a legal and safe procedure (…) You hate the idea of abortion? OK, so don’t have one. Your opinion won’t change that women have abortions (…) All kinds of women have abortions and there is not one personal opinion that will change that.”

*Not her real name.

This is an edited and cut down version of this piece. To read the full text please click here and support my work in changing the narrative around Brazilian women.

On foreigner’s privilege during the World Cup

Last week Danish journalist Mikkel Keldorf Jensen left Brazil after deciding he could not participate in the coverage of the World Cup because he felt complicit to how the Brazilian people are being ignored by the authorities. He could not, in good conscience, perpetuate what is happening in Brazil.

This attitude is interesting because, while his intentions were good, his position reeks of privilege. Mikkel is a freelance journalist who spent five months in Brazil, reporting and selling stories internationally. He doesn’t have anyone to pay for his travels as he was not tied to any particular publication.

Brazilians suffer with poverty, lack of education, racism, sexism, exploration and a thousand other issues every single day and the needy are daily ignored by authorities. Seeing this suffering is hard and sometimes even maddening. Mikkel has a pretty huge privilege over low income Brazilian families though: he had the means to come, see and leave. Maybe he feels that by leaving he is not helping FIFA – but the truth is that his ability to flee is the biggest show of privilege of all.

During the World Cup, tourists will come to Brazil and will do the exact same thing: they will come, see, shake their heads in disapproval and leave. Brazilians will be left behind with the same lives they have always had and the same corruption that has stalled social mobility for generations.

I write this not to make tourists feel unwelcome, but to point out the incredible privilege they have in coming to Brazil and not having to stay if they don’t want to.

As a privileged woman in Brazil, I know how fortunate I am when having the ability to leave. In reporting human rights violations in Rio de Janeiro I have been able to walk away from misery and poverty after I finished writing. That’s privilege. And that’s something I have to recognize to properly understand the world around me.

So what does it mean to be extremely privileged in a third world country? It means you can leave when things get ugly.

It might be that the Brazilian government thought tourists would bring more prosperity, and perhaps that’s true. But since the World Cup and Olympics were announced, the cost of living in Brazil has soared – without any increase in the minimum wage. Unemployment in Rio de Janeiro has declined, but with the rise of living costs people’s social status remain the same – and it’s a given that once the event is done with, there will be a rise in unemployment.

Thousands of people have been removed from their homes in the last four years to get the country ready for tourists and for football. Poverty is rampant, violence is commonplace. And Brazilians are forced to live with it.

And of course, as foreigners, there’s virtually nothing you can do about it – it’s not your job to do anything, but it is your job to leave with a better understanding of what Brazilians go through and the toll that the World Cup has taken on them. As writer Eliezer Yudkowsk has put it; ‘You are personally responsible for becoming more ethical than the society you grew up in.’

It’s important not to live within the illusion that we are all equal. The human race is very distant from equality, and denying it by claiming to be ‘colour blind’ or any such excuse is counterproductive. It is better to think that we all should  be equal. Whether we like it or not some of us benefit more from the status quo than others and that’s not about to change in a second.

Bringing an army into Rio is more damaging than scattered, bloody bodies

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Last week President Dilma Rousseff called on the Brazilian army to contain the most recent favela wars. The plans to pacify the favelas seemed to be going well up until now but since the beginning of 2014 Rio has seen 19 murdered police officers. The number is larger than that of 2013, when the number stood at 11.

With less than three months until the World Cup the drug gangs that were expelled from the favelas by the pacifying units are now fighting back to re-conquer their territory. Recent incidents in the favelas of Complexo do Alemão, Rocinha (the largest favela in the world, home to around 70,000 people), Parque Proletário (in Complexo da Penha) and Vila Cruzeiro have brought back the feeling of unsafety in Rio.

The pacification of the slums had been relatively smooth until now. The first favela to receive a Pacifying Police Unit (UPP), Favela Santa Marta, has grown economically in incredible ways in the last six years. The urbanization of the area has benefitted 8,000 residents who can come and go as they please without being afraid of extreme violence.

But it seems that, while Santa Marta is often used as a model for the UPPs program, the reality in other slums is much more violent. President Rousseff’s decision to send 4,000 army men to occupy Complexo da Maré is most likely necessary as a temporary measure. Known as one of the most dangerous and poor parts of the city, the complex of favelas is home to two drug factions that are in constant war with each other. Promises to pacify the area are years old and until recently it seemed that Complexo da Maré would only receive some real attention if it magically moved next to the Maracanã since the 34 (of thousands) already pacified communities in Rio are mostly located in areas that will be used for the event.

The occupation of Maré took place this Sunday without resistance from the community. Most residents stayed home, as they had been previously warned about the occupation. Images show war tanks roaming the favela’s mud streets and policemen looking for weaponry and drugs.

When I visited Complexo da Maré I was greeted with men who were guarding the slum at its entrance. They observed my taxi when it passed by them and decided I was not a menace or a drug buyer. Unscathed, I proceeded to visit a school that educates children of the community who live with daily violence in that community. Speaking to the teachers I learned that the children who are exposed to extreme and constant violence suffer from anxiety, depression, PTSD and other mental illnesses that critically impair their learning skills. The children in the favela are witness to shootings, heavy weaponry, violent deaths, drug addicts, unpunished crimes and desperation.

It might be that sending 4,000 men to Complexo da Maré is needed, but in doing so President Rousseff is once again ignoring how deep the violence in the favelas is. It is not only those who get shot, murdered and dragged by a police car who are damaged by it –entire generations have been suffering for the last two decades because of it. This measure is one made out of an emergency, and it might contain the violence for a few months – but then what?

If Rocinha, Complexo do Alemão and other favelas who have been pacified are any indication, the drug factions will attempt to take their territory back as soon as they can.

And despite the uninterrupted, non-violent pacification a 15 year old boy was shot dead on Sunday when two drug factions were fighting. Relatives of the boy complained that the community was supposed to be safe now – where were the authorities when this young teenager died?

I have to ask – which people is the government protecting? Is it the people in the favelas? Is it the families of the 19 policemen who were killed this year? Is it the football fans? Is it the Brazilians who don’t live in the favelas?

The study Map of Violence: Homicides and Youth in Brazil, published in 2013, reveals that in the last three decades the number of homicides of people between the age of 14 and 25 in Brazil has risen by 326,1%. The Consejo Ciudadano para la Seguridad Pública y Justicia Penal, a study group from Mexico, listed the 50 most violent cities in the world (that are not at war) and of those, 16 are Brazilian. Fortaleza, João Pessoa and Maceió are in the top ten. And the young people who don’t become statistics don’t have many chances to get out of that environment.

Bringing in an army that carries heavy weaponry is psychologically disturbing and damaging to those who live in the favela. All of these slums have been abandoned for generations; they are only given attention when a global event is put at risk. While the army will contain the violence, the question has to be asked: what’s next?

Brazil is relying on a temporary solution that has more to do with the World Cup than actually ensuring the people are safe throughout their lifetime. The violence and crime might be contained for now, but what will contain it after the army and the tanks are gone?


What can a president do?

President Dilma Rousseff has proposed a plebiscite that will determine the future of the Brazilian political reform. Judicially, she is trespassing on her presidential powers because this proposal and its progress depend on the congress. It is not her job to force a political reform onto the several branches of the government, but alas that is what she has done.

What Rousseff is doing is refusing to move the chess pieces she can move. The game has been upped by the audience and it is apparent that politicians are terrified: almost all political parties released statements to the press this week regarding the Brazilian protest, corruption, political reform and excessive spending.

Leaving the problems that have been brought to the table by the people that are actually the fault of the Legislative and the Judicial branches of the government and that can be solved by them, there is much the president herself can do to change the landscape Brazil finds itself in at the moment. The problem is that she has been focusing on the things she can’t actually do to distract the people from the real issues.

So what can she do? Two things on the list of demands can be solved with one strike. Corruption and excessive spending come from most places in the government (Congress, executive, local government, etc) but a good place for Rousseff to start is the number of ministries she has to preside over – ministries her government has created.

In 2002 Brazil had 24 ministries. Today, there are 39 ministries that need R$58,4 billion to function every year, money that of course comes from taxes. This is not only excessive, but double the amount of money used for one of the biggest social programs in Brazil, Bolsa Família. And many of these ministries are redundant and could easily be absorbed by other ministries, making them easier to manage and cheaper to keep.

An example of a ministry that could be absorbed by another is the Ministry of Fishing. It is not just a little bit ridiculous that Brazil has a whole ministry dedicated to fishing, but matters seem worse once it’s revealed that there is a Ministry of Agriculture, Stockbreeding and Provision. There is also a Ministry of Farming.

I could give you many other examples (Social Communication Ministry cold be absorbed by Communication Ministry, Women’s Ministry could be absorbed by Human Rights Ministry and so on) but it doesn’t take a genius to realize that an addition of 15 ministries in ten years drains the public funds considerably.

There is also the fact that controlling 39 ministries can’t be easy for Rousseff. There is a high number of people working in these ministries and they are practically free to spend as they like since there are too many of them to account for. This is where corruption and overspending start in the federal government

I won’t even mention the culture of creating public jobs to buy endorsement or benefit friends and family.

This is where Dilma should start. But the people need to pressure her more. And the Congress have to be shaking in their shoes to do something, so I’m hoping these movements won’t end so soon.

The meek damage control of Dilma Rousseff


After two weeks of protests all over Brazil, President Dilma Rousseff had a cabinet meeting and finally spoke to the nation about the unrest. In a 10 minute speech, she vaguely alluded to the course she is taking in the future to meet the demands of the protesters. Rousseff is an ex-revolutionary and her roots are of change but her words and promises weren’t concrete. A dissection of her discourse follows below.

“[These protests] show the strength of our democracy and the desire of our youth to make Brazil go forward. If we take advantage of this new political impulse we will be able to do, better and faster, many things Brazil still hasn’t been able to because of political and economic limitations.”

Rousseff is playing it safe and condoning the peaceful protests. Later she says the violence should not overshadow the tranquil and unthreatening movement. She got one thing right: the Brazilian political system is a huge barrier to the country’s progress, not only because it gives way to corruption but also because it is lengthy and inefficient. The protests themselves are proof that the parties in power at the moment no longer represent the values and morals of the people.

Huge parts of Brazil are uneducated, don’t really understand the political system (I am not even sure I understand it fully) and have to vote obligatorily every two years (one of the problems with the Brazilian political system is that federal and state elections occur within a two year gap of municipal elections). This means two things: research and the forming of opinion is not done in most communities and corrupt politicians are often re-elected (impeached president Fernando Collor is an acting federal senator since 2007. He was impeached due to corruption charges).

The mandatory vote also encourages buying of votes in more remote and unsupervised parts of the country.

But in terms of economic limitations, there is no real evidence to support that. Brazil has been bragging of economic growth and being the country of the future for two decades. What happened to that money? The lack of transparency leads the people to believe this money has gone to the politicians’ and private companies’ bank accounts.

“My generation fought a lot so that the voices in the streets could be heard.”

It is unsurprising that Rousseff mentioned her revolutionary activist past to create a linear connection with the protesters. However, it doesn’t seem like she has been fighting for her country when she finally has incredible power to do so. And the people have noticed that.

“I will invite the mayors and governors of the main cities in the country to make a great pact for the betterment of the public services.”

This is one of the vague sentences that makes me wonder if one of the main points of the protests has been misunderstood: the people want transparency. She might be aiming for a pact but what will it encompass? The people need to know exactly what will be done, this weak promise tells them nothing. Thankfully, Rousseff gets a little more explicit in the next paragraph.

“The focus will first be on the elaboration of a Plan of National Urban Mobility that will make mass transport better. Secondly, 100% of royalties from oil profits will go to education. Thirdly, we will bring doctors from abroad to Brazil immediately.”

This is concrete, but these options will either not make a big enough impact on society or have already been struggling to be accomplished in the last few years.

The first is already an on-going project that will supposedly have its first facility opening this year in Rio de Janeiro. The project has been in motion since 2011 and will supposedly invest R$18 billion in public transport.

However one of the major problems with building facilities for transport (or of any kind) in Brazil is over-billing by private companies that carry out the projects. More often than not there are big sums of money being transferred under the table to both parties – the politicians and the businessmen.

Another issue is the lack of follow through due to bureaucracy. The São Paulo to Rio de Janeiro train project has been on paper for about ten years and its predicted launch has been changed from 2014 to 2020.

Secondly, the 100% of oil royalties going to education don’t really mean that much more money will be put into education. Senator Cristovam Buarque said the project won’t make any big changes in Brazil’s education system.

He said: “Actually 100% is a small part of the profits.”

He explains that it is 100% of the money that would go to the federal government.

“So that won’t even be 20% [of the royalties].”

And lastly, the problem with Brazilian health is not the competency of its doctors but the lack of beds, hospitals and upkeep of the ones we already have. The salaries of public health doctors are extremely low as well, so most medicine graduates go for the private line of work. Work conditions are also very poor, there is no funding for research, spots and resources in intensive care are extremely scarce and there is no career planning service. In more secluded parts of Brazil, physicians can go months without their salary.

“We need […] better ways to deal with corruption. The Lei de Acesso a Informação (Freedom of Information Act) must be amplified to all powers of the Republic and federal establishments.. It is a powerful instrument the citizen can use to watch over the correct use of public money.”

The problem is not the press exposure of corruption, but the impunity that is entrenched in the government. The press can expose as many crimes as they can, but they will not be punished, even if they are found guilty. The Supreme Federal Court has only found five people guilty of such crimes and none of them are in jail.

And so with talks of peace, democracy and the great nation Brazil is, Rousseff ended her speech with no real conclusion. Her weak attempt to charm the nation has only emphasized that she isn’t using her power as president efficiently, and throwing the ball to the Congress.

This week I will be tackling nepotism, benefit culture, short-sighted measures, excess of ministries, ways into corruption in Brazil and much more. To stay tuned like my Facebook page or follow me on Twitter.

Presenting the “Brazilian way” featuring the Olympic flag


Clearly unaware that the whole world actually cares about the Olympics, Brazilian politicians, security guards and athletes have been holding and touching the Olympic flag without any protective gloves, as is required by Olympic protocol.

This has been happening since the flag left London on Monday. It was first touched by the greasy fingers of the boxer Esquiva Falcão, his brother Yamaguchi Falcão, Rio’s mayor Eduardo Paes, sailor Robert Scheidt, the athlete Maurren Maggi and the street sweeper Renato Sorriso. What really strikes me about it is that these people should be somehow accustomed to public life – oh, what’s that over there? Oh, right. It’s a camera that will take a photo that will be published all over the world.

But it gets worse. When arriving in Brazil, the flag visited President Dilma Roussef, who also held onto the flag without wearing any gloves, along with Carlos Arthur Nuzman, the president of the Brazilian Olympic Committee. Eduardo Paes broke the protocol again when taking the flag for a visit of the favela Complexo do Alemao, where a little girl was photographed touching it.

I present to you something we call the “jeitinho brasileiro”, which translates to “the Brazilian way”. What this means is that if there is any wriggling room in a rule or law, it will be used somehow. Or laws, rules, problems and/or protocols are simply ignored because they may be considered silly or stupid, in a very broad way. It’s not quite selfish, but mindlessly self-centered. That’s the “jeitinho brasileiro” and I promise we shall see a lot more of it in the upcoming World Cup and Olympics.

The real issue with this is that other countries don’t recognize the Brazilian way as any sort of valid behaviour. And I think the Brazilian authorities might just realize that in the coming years.

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For copyrights reasons I cannot actually post any photos of the above events, but you can see them here and here. Photo acquired from here.