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Mercosur Suspends Venezuela’s Membership

Venezuela, Human Rights, Mercosur, Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Uraguay

Mercosur didn’t waste any time. The South American trade group warned that it would suspend Venezuela’s membership if it didn’t improve human rights and immigration conditions by December 1st. On December 2nd, Mercosur did in fact suspend Venezuela, according to the AP Press. The move came after the country failed to meet the standards it agreed to comply with upon joining in 2012.

However, despite the unanimous decision from Mercosur’s four founding members—Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay—the Venezuela government plans to fight back. President Nicolas Maduro has already threatened to take the matter to international authorities, stating that the decision was “a coup d’état." Yet the country is unlikely to receive much sympathy in a world that is quickly veering toward the right.

When Venezuela joined Mercosur, South America was dominated by left-wing governments. But much has changed since 2012—Argentina and Brazil elected centrist leaders, and the country’s regional influence has declined since it began cutting back on oil shipments. And without the support of its neighbors, Venezuela is vulnerable to further punitive action from other nations. The Organization of American States has already debated suspending the country from the hemispheric body due to its growing authoritarianism, and some U.S. Congress members have suggested imposing economic sanctions.

Venezuela crashes the party

Rio 2016: Olympic Games Trump Human Rights?

2016 Olympics, Brazil, Rio de Janiero, Human Rights, Police Brutality

Ready or not, Rio de Janeiro will host the 2016 Summer Olympics in August.  The Brazilian city, which is set to receive one million visitors,  has long been plagued by violent crime and police brutality—a security risk for both athletes and tourists.  In order to combat these fears, Brazil loaned $895 million to the city to keep the peace. But there is another, often neglected group, that also deserves protection: Rio de Janeiro's residents.

Combined with the numbers on police violence, Brazil's security policy gives NGOs and observers reason to pause.  Police in the state of Rio de Janeiro were responsible for 436 killings in 2014 alone, according to Human Rights Watch. And no fewer than 85,000 security officers will be deployed throughout the games. (Forces include civilian and military police, National Public Security Force soldiers, members of the armed forces,  and privately funded brigades.)

Police Brutality

Brazil's extreme security measures might make visitors feel more at home, but the same can't be said for millions of residents who face high rates of homicides committed by police. These security operations to reduce crime before events such as the World Cup or the Olympics often threaten the local population, according to Amnesty International.

Latin America Cleans Up as Renewable Energy Deals Surge

The smog-laden skyline of Mexico City may not be a poster child for air pollution much longer. Demand for clean energy is on the rise in Latin America, particularly in Mexico, Brazil, and Chile.

Clean-energy acquisitions nearly tripled in the region last year--the highest growth rate in the world, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC). An increasing demand for electricity coupled with stricter environmental policies has resulted in renewable energy deals valued at $7.6 billion, up from $2.7 billion in 2014, the consulting firm said in its annual Power & Renewables Deals report.

"There is increasing interest in the region," Arthur Ramos, a partner at PwC's strategic consulting unit Strategy& told BloombergBusiness. "Multinationals are taking stronger positions in Latin America where there is a perspective of lack of power supply in the long term. And many countries are offering low risk models of energy contracts for investors."

In total, mergers and acquisitions in Latin America shot up 56 percent to $12.4 billion last year. Only the Asia Pacific region brokered more deals.

China has already jumped on the investment bandwagon. The Chinese power company Three Gorges Corp. bought the Jupia and Ilha Solteria hydropower plants in Brazil for $3.7 billion, the largest acquisition in the region. Sempra Energy, the San Diego-based natural gas company, came in second with its acquisition of the remaining stake in its Mexican joint venture Gasoductos de Chihuahua for $1.5 billion.

FIFA's Failures

The World Cup is moving into the knockout stages and, rightly so, the tournament has garnered immense attention internationally. I myself have been cheering for the US Men's National Team, though I think that Die Mannschaft (Germany) will ultimately emerge victorious in the tournament. The World Cup never fails to disappoint and this year has certainly been thrilling.

The World Cup is also a moment in which football's governing body, FIFA, is most scrutinized -- and this is for good reason.

Brazil's opportunity to host the World Cup has been a moment of pride for the Brazilian government and is almost too fitting a scene. A country that evokes images of beach parties, carnivale, and joyful people is coupled with a deep appreciation for the rich history of Brazilian soccer -- players like Pele, Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, Marta, and more come to mind.

A World Cup, But Not A People's Cup

Soccer is a universal sport. It is played around the world in a variety of countries: rich and poor, democratic and nondemocratic, Western and Southern. For millions, it is more than just a game, it is a source of national pride, and competing in the World Cup is one of the highest honors a team can bring to its country.

But while the sport itself may be a unifying force within and among countries, the international governing body that organizes the World Cup, the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), is not. In fact, it is the cause of many of the world’s current issues, ranging from corruption to human rights abuses to mass riots. FIFA has gained enough power and influence to become somewhat of a world government, causing it to be dubbed the “United Nations of Football.”

Brazil, the current host of the World Cup, spent $300 million to build just one stadium in a secluded part of the country that does not have a first-class team to play there afterward; it will apparently cost $250,000 per month to maintain. All this comes from a country that suffers from extreme poverty and inequality, a decaying infrastructure, and both healthcare and education programs in need of more funding. The construction has also led to the gentrification of locals, with many enduring rent increases, demolitions, and evictions.

World Cup Puts Global Inequality on Display

A mural street artist Paulo Ito painted on the doors of a schoolhouse in Sao Paulo's Pompela district. From Ito's Flickr feed.

With the 2014 FIFA World Cup underway in Brazil, it’s easy to ignore the headlines about protests in favor of the dramatic, high-scoring football matches capturing the attention of fans worldwide. But before we get out of the group stages, let’s focus on a chief concern of those protestors: inequalities in Brazilian society, and a corollary – how dismayingly common those inequalities are around the world.

Let’s start with Brazil. Around 15.9% of Brazilians are below the national poverty line. Just 3% of Brazilians own two thirds of the arable land, and agriculture is big business in Brazil. The most important picture of Brazil is the contrast in, say, Rio de Janeiro, between the massive favela shanty towns and the picturesque high-rise hotels immediately adjacent – the exact scene that will be playing out for tourists at the World Cup. With families locked in poverty sometimes for generations while the wealthy seemingly stay on top, desperation can easily set in.

But Brazil is only one piece of the puzzle; inequality is getting worse around the world. One study saw the top 1 percent of earners in the world increase their incomes 60 percent from 1988 to 2005; the bottom 20 percent saw no change. Eight percent of people see 50 percent of income worldwide. Coupled with staggering extreme poverty figures – we still have 1.22 billion people living on less than $1.25 a day – we all have a reason to protest.

Climate Change: An Opportunity for a 'New Era of Relations'

Photo by National Geographic Channels/ Rob Taylor

U.S. relations with Latin America have not always been exemplary, but climate change is an issue that presents an opportunity for the U.S. to cooperate with its southern neighbors and to provide the leadership that such a global threat requires.

According to the Pew Research Center data cited in Harrison’s blog, Latin America as a whole is a region very concerned with climate change. In each of the seven Latin American countries polled, climate change was the most widely recognized threat. Sixty-five percent of Latin Americans identify climate change as a threat to their respective countries, compared to 40 percent of people in the United States. In Brazil the percentage is as high as 76, and Argentina is not far behind at 71 percent. Furthermore, not a single Latin American country reported numbers below 50 percent. Even in the oil-rich country of Venezuela, 53 percent of the public recognizes climate change as a threat. This is significant considering that oil-exporting countries generally resist the implications of climate change.

A 2012 study by the World Bank shows that Latin America is at greater risk to the dangers of climate change than most of the world. To make matters worse, many regions within Latin America have insufficient capability to cope with these potentially devastating effects of climate change.

Social Media Is Here To Stay

The recent protests in Turkey and Brazil have caught the international community's attention.

At Global Solutions, we've covered the Turkish protests (you can read more about them here and here). As in Turkey, the protests in Brazil quickly escalated after a peaceful demonstration. Protestors first took to the streets after bus and subway fares went up by ten cents. The protests swiftly turned to other issues, such as taxes, public services, and government spending on the upcoming 2014 World Cup and 2016 summer Olympics. Eduardo Paes, mayor of Rio de Janeiro, has publicly stated, "Brazil has lost a great opportunity with the World Cup. FIFA asked for stadiums and Brazil has only delivered stadiums. We should have used the opportunity to deliver good services too."

While centered on different issues, the Turkish and Brazilian protests are linked by their excellent use of social media.