I recently discovered CQC (Custe o que custar), a comedy show on Band in Brazil, which roughly translates as "Whatever it takes." Though it is mostly a mixture of comedy segments, it has a fantastic political segment called "Proteste já" (Protest Now). The show sends one of the hosts, Rafinha Bastos, to investigate a social problem in a town or city in Brazil, in an effort to bring attention to the problem and to alert the responsible authorities, to ultimately resolve the problem.
In this week's episode, Rafinha (who is, incidentally, a Jewish stand-up comedian) goes to a town in Sao Paulo state where the public hospital is in a state of complete disarray. Despite the fact that the city government spends twice as much as the legal amount on public health, there are no doctors in the ER the day Rafinha arrives, with few doctors available, a broken X-ray machine, and insufficient medical instruments. Rafinha goes to the Secretary of Health in the city and gets up in his face (unlike the soft-balling Globo version of "Proteste Ja" when they show the problem, play dramatic music, and call it a day). Dressed up as Death, he reads him a long list of problems with the hospital, and asks him to give a definite answer about when and how he'll deal with the crisis. He also asks if the secretary uses the hospital, the only one in town; he meekly replies: "I go to a private hospital."
Inspired by the segment, I'm starting a new series to shed light on local issues in the Americas not getting enough attention in the international media that need to be addressed.
For the first post, let's have a look at some serious shenanigans going on in Para, one of the most lawless states in Brazil. It is also in the Amazon, and one of the most rapidly deforested areas in Brazil, due to illegal logging and cattle ranching.
Ibama, the government branch responsible for protecting the environment and punishing those who destroy it, is currently working on an operation called Boi Pirata II in the Novo Progresso area of Para, which is the municipality with the highest rate of deforestation in the country. The operation is being led by Ibama agent Leslie Tavares, who is managing one hundred agents from Ibama, the National Security Forces, the Federal Police, and the Federal Highway Police, working together to fine illegal loggers and confiscate illegal goods. In 2008, Ibama ran Operation Boi Pirata I and managed to confiscate 3,500 heads of cattle and remove another 100,000 from illegal ranches. So far, Operation Boi Pirata II has punished ranchers with $15,000 in fines and has removed 2,500 heads of cattle.
The area of the operation, which includes a national park, stretches 13,000 square kilometers, 11% of which is now completely deforested due to illegal commercial activity. The operation seeks to limit area destroyed for cattle ranching and to enforce environmental law. However, cattle ranchers essentially run entire areas of the Northeast with an iron fist, like in the days of the coronels.
Sadly, the judicial system in Para, one of the most corrupt in the country, is not always supportive of the federal government's efforts, and is often supportive of the local strongmen. This week, one of the ranchers who was fined in the operation, one Jocemar Picolotto, went to a state judge asking him to put a stop to the operation. The judge conceded the request, and ruled that Boi Pirata II must halt its efforts and return all confiscated cattle to their owners. Ibama, however, ignored the ban, after a federal appeals court (TRF-1) swiftly overturned the ruling. Nevertheless, on Tuesday, the state judge ordered that Leslie Tavares, the head of the operation, be imprisoned for failing to halt the operation. In other words--the court ordered a federal agent to be thrown in jail for doing his job.
Chaos ensued when military police came to put Tavares behind bars, while Ibama agents and federal police tried to help Tavares. But the military police succeeded and put Tavares in jail. Later, Ibama informed the authorities of the TRF's ruling, and Tavares was released. Now, Ibama says, the judge could be thrown in jail for failing to enforce the higher court's ruling, but it is not clear what will happen to him or to Tavares.
*Please email suggestions for this series to riogringaconsult at gmail dot com. They can be in Brazil, the US, or Latin America.