Thursday, March 08, 2007

Meanwhile, in Brazil ...

From amongst our southern neighbors, from whom many of my compatriots (myself definitely included) could learn a few things, on a continent where there are still a very sizeable number of people with backbone and a voice (the Associated Press via Yahoo):

SAO PAULO, Brazil - Police clashed Thursday with Brazilians protesting a visit by President Bush and his push for an ethanol energy alliance, while dozens of students in Colombia showed their opposition by lobbing rocks and explosives at authorities.

Violence in Sao Paulo took place several hours before Bush arrived in South America's largest city on the first stop of his five-nation Latin America tour.

More than 6,000 students, environmentalists and left-leaning Brazilians held a largely peaceful march through the financial heart of Brazil before police fired tear gas at protesters and beat them with batons. Hundreds fled and ducked into businesses to avoid the chaos, some of them bloodied.

Authorities did not immediately report any injuries, but Brazilian media said at least six people were hurt and news photographs showed injured people being carried away.

Protesters said scuffles broke out when some radical demonstrators provoked officers and threw sticks at them — but said police overreacted. A police officer who declined to give his name in keeping with department policy confirmed that extremists appeared to cause the confrontations.

After the clash, the protest continued peacefully but with far fewer people. The marchers waved communist flags and railed against Bush, the war in Iraq and the ethanol proposal. Almost all had departed by sundown and streets were calm several hours later when Bush arrived in Sao Paulo.

In the southern Brazilian city of Porto Alegre, more than 500 people yelled "Get Out, Imperialist!" as they marched to a Citigroup Inc. bank branch and burned an effigy of Bush. Protesters also targeted the U.S. Consulate in Rio de Janeiro, splattering it with bright red paint meant to signify blood.

In Colombia, about 200 masked students at Bogota's National University clashed with 300 anti-riot police carrying shields and helmets, spray-painting anti-U.S. slogans on walls and shouting "Out Bush!"

Police fired water cannons and tear gas, and the students hurled back rocks, fireworks, a few Molotov cocktails and dozens of "potato bombs" — small explosives made of gunpowder wrapped in foil. There were no immediate reports of injuries or arrests.

The Colombian demonstrators called for the scuttling of a U.S.-Colombia free trade agreement signed in November and currently stalled in U.S. Congress, and accused Washington of meddling in the South American nation's internal affairs by sending some $700 million a year in mostly military aid.

Colombia is beefing up security in the capital for Bush's visit Sunday, the first by a sitting U.S. president since

Ronald Reagan in 1982. About 21,000 security agents will patrol the capital.
Meanwhile, Colombia's police chief said authorities have foiled leftist rebel plans for terrorist acts to disrupt Bush's visit, but offered no details.

Asked about the protests, White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe said Bush "enjoys traveling to thriving democracies where freedom of speech and expression are the law of the land. He has a positive agenda here that we believe the people of Brazil and the rest of the Americas will benefit from."

Some protesters in Brazil carried stalks of sugarcane — which is used to make ethanol — and a banner reading: "For every liter of ethanol produced, 4 liters of fresh water are consumed, monoculture is destroying the nation's greatest asset."

"Bush and the United States go to war to control oil reserves, and now Bush and his pals are trying to control the production of ethanol in Brazil. And that has to be stopped," said Suzanne Pereira dos Santos of Brazil's Landless Workers Movement.

Activists from the environmental group Greenpeace warned that increased ethanol production could lead to further clearing of the

Amazon rain forest as well as cause social unrest, since most sugarcane-ethanol operations are run by wealthy families or corporations that reap most of the benefits while the poor are left to cut the cane with machetes.

Bush has spoken approvingly of Brazil's ethanol program, which powers eight out of every 10 new cars. The proposed accord is meant to help turn ethanol into an internationally traded commodity and to promote sugarcane-based ethanol production in Central America and the Caribbean.

Brazil is mounting what has been described as its biggest security effort ever in Sao Paulo. About 4,000 agents — including Brazilian troops and FBI and U.S. Secret Service officers — will be on hand during Bush's almost 24-hour visit.

Graffiti reading "Get Out, Bush! Assassin!" appeared on walls near locations in Brazil where Bush will drive past on his tour, which also includes stops in Uruguay, Guatemala and Mexico. However, there were no visible signs of protesters along Bush's motorcade route in the nearly hourlong drive from Sao Paulo's airport to his hotel.

In Mexico, which Bush is scheduled to visit Tuesday, about two dozen demonstrators gathered in front of the U.S. Embassy in the capital chanting slogans against the U.S. project to construct border fences and Bush's visit.

Carmelo Ramirez Reyes showed up in a devil's mask, carrying a placard reading "My name is George Bush, killer of Mexicans."

* * *

I'm a bit surprised--happily--this seems like one of the least anti-protest write-ups of anti-Bush protests I've read in the mainstream press. Then again, these days, given Bush's unpopularity even in the United States, it's easy enough now to use him and his administration as a target and a scapegoat for all the evils of corporate dominance ... as if Bush is the sole problem with the world, a cause (which he is to a certain extent) rather than a symptom (which he is to the depths) ...

No comments: