Reprimanded by West, Putin builds bridges in South America

Anadolu Agency

Since its G-8 expulsion, Russia keen for friends in Southern hemisphere

By Lucy Jordan and Ben Tavener

BRASÍLIA, Brazil – Russian President Vladimir Putin met with South American leaders Wednesday at the sixth BRICS summit in Brasilia, flexing his geopolitical muscle and taking steps to build new alliances in the region following his diplomatic break with US and Europe over Ukraine.

Beyond the five leaders of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff invited South America’s 11 heads of state to the third day of the VI BRICS Summit. During the first two days of the summit, in the north-eastern Brazilian city of Fortaleza, BRICS leaders agreed on the details of a new $100 billion BRICS development bank and a $100 billion currency reserve fund, to act as counterweights to western-led institutions the International Monetary Fund and World Bank.

- Putin making overtures to Latin America

Since Russia was expelled from the G-8 grouping in March after annexing Crimea, Putin has made a series of geopolitically charged overtures to Latin America.

“Russia is seeking to sell mostly weapons and to strike partnership in energy in Latin America as elsewhere,” Carlo Gallo, director of analysis firm Enquirisk, told AA. “Some of this makes commercial sense, some is arguably mostly geopolitical alliance building, for example relations with Venezuela and Cuba, to annoy the US.”

Putin has ramped up joint military exercises with Venezuela, and earlier this month he wrote off most of Cuba’s debt and promised to help the small Caribbean state surmount its longstanding US trade blockade. Putin and Cuban leader Rául Castro inked energy deals and Putin said Russia would look into installing stations for its GLONASS satellite navigations system in the island state.

As signals go, this is a strong one: Russian defense communications equipment based on Cuba, a potent historical symbol of the Cold War and just 90 miles (145 km) from US mainland, will make the US very uncomfortable.

A few days later, Putin turned his attention to Europe: At a dinner with Argentinian President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner he criticised Britain’s role in the long-running Falkland Islands dispute, alluding to “double discourse” in international affairs.

Kirchner had previously accused Britain of hypocrisy over its criticism of Crimea’s vote to secede from Ukraine. Last year Britain argued that a referendum in which Falkland residents voted to remain British vindicated its long rule over the distant archipelago.

- Putin warmly received

Putin has been well received in South America, most recently agreeing to cooperate with Brazil on defense systems and nuclear power, and inking health, technological and economic deals. Despite its diplomatic repercussions in Europe and the US, Putin’s BRICS allies gave tacit support to his annexation of Crimea, rejecting Western sanctions of Russia.

With Putin benefitting from residual anti-Americanism in some quarters of South America, and from a more relaxed attitude towards borders than that of Europe, the issue is unlikely to cause friction, said expert on Russian-Latin American relations and editor of Slon.ru, Alexander Baunov.

“Even if questions are raised over the recent annexing of Crimea from Ukraine, [Putin] will frame it such a way to show that Russian influence was merely ejecting an unwanted American advancement into Ukraine,” Baunov told AA, referring to the 2004 Orange Revolution protests that helped bring pro-Western President Viktor Yushchenko to power.

“[Putin] is keen to have friends who are less concerned by changing borders – something that is sacrosanct and unalienable in Europe,” Baunov added.

Baunov added that while overtures to Cuba are a “slap in the face to the US,” he does not believe Putin’s meetings with more important leaders Rousseff and Kirchner could seriously worsen already-chilly US-Russia relations.

“Meetings with leaders such as Rousseff and Kirchner, which are deemed far more respectable by the US, are unlikely to make relations worse than they currently are,” Baunov said.

- Russia-Brazil relations remain warm

Ahead of his visit to South America, Putin spoke warmly of summit-host Brazil, alluding to its role in an evolving global balance that rejected Western economic and geopolitical dominance.

“This powerful and fast-developing country is destined to play an important role in the emerging poly-centric world order,” he told the ITAR-tass news agency.

The creation of the BRICS New Development Bank, with $100 billion subscribed capital and a currency reserve fund of $100 billion, has been widely interpreted as a alternative for developing countries to US-based Bretton Woods institutions like the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank.

Some experts also see geopolitical manoeuvring in Brazil’s decision to invite all South American leaders to the third day of the summit.

Oliver Stuenkel, who focuses on emerging powers as assistant professor of International Relations at the Getúlio Vargas Foundation, recently called it “a shrewd attempt to position itself as the region’s leader and representative.”

Even so, Stuenkel doesn’t see, in Brazil’s embrace of Latin American leadership and lean toward the BRICS, a necessary shift away from the US.

“For Brazil, the BRICS platform is a useful way to facilitate the diversification of its partnerships and to adapt to a more multipolar global order,” he writes. “Brazil no longer needs to choose between leaning more towards the United States or the developing world – it must have strong ties to both, established and emerging powers alike.

Spirits Dampened, Brazilians Show Waning Support for 4th-Place Team

The New York Times

World Cup 2014: Brazil’s Two Big Losses Disappoint Its Fans

By SETH KUGEL and LUCY JORDAN

BRASÍLIA — The yellow-clad fans arrived at Estádio Nacional later, more quietly and with far less face paint than usual. And no wonder: They were attending the World Cup’s third-place game, a match that newspapers around the world had called “a meaningless exercise,” “a pointless sideshow” and “the final insult.”

André Gonçalves, 48, an accountant in Brasília who was attending his fifth game in the stadium with his family, was struck by the difference in the scene outside the stadium Saturday afternoon before the Netherlands played Brazil. “This silence, this calm,” he said. “It conveys sadness.”

André Galvão, a reporter for TV Bandeirantes, was having trouble finding the usual energy from Brazil fans.

“It seems like people have to force themselves to cheer for Brazil,” he said. “At the other games, I go live, and everyone starts singing.”

But there were still signs that many Brazilians cared deeply about the game. Flights to Brasília, the capital, this weekend were sold out, even after fares skyrocketed to five times normal. Hotels are mostly full, a weekend rarity in a city where government business grinds to a halt on Fridays. And the stadium’s 69,000 seats were sold out — perhaps for the last time, given its status as a white elephant in waiting.

Some who arrived with shiny, colorful match tickets in their bags sounded almost as if Brazil were still playing for the championship.

“For me, it’s a chance to be a part of history,” said Tiago de Paula, a 32-year-old banker. “Not to put a picture on Facebook, but to be able to tell my children and grandchildren.”

He and his sister Camila had jumped through numerous hoops in securing tickets and getting to the stadium from their homes outside São Paulo. They woke up at 4 a.m. to make certain they were online when the FIFA website released a trickle of tickets each day. A stranger in Rio de Janeiro said he had tickets to sell them, but he required them to wire him money first. Their web efforts were futile, but the stranger came through, and without a big enough budget for round-trip airline tickets, they flew to the game but planned to return on a 14-hour bus ride afterward.

“If the game goes to penalty kicks, we’ll have to miss them,” said Camila de Paula, a 30-year-old actress.

That did not happen. Brazil lost, 3-0, before a crowd that cheered the national anthem, did the wave and sang, but eventually rained down boos.

Far from the stadium, there were signs that Saturday was different from previous game days.

“For other Brazil games, we had awesome parties, used special green-and-yellow makeup,” said Nathalia Toledo, 28, who manages an eyewear shop. This time, she dressed in black, “like a funeral,” and watched with her husband, who declined her request to put on a movie when Brazil fell behind.

Fewer parties meant fewer beer sales.

“The day before all other games, there was much more beer sold than usual,” Daniel Silva, a worker at a local supermarket, said Friday. “It was crazily busy. Today, things are practically at a standstill.”

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Germany thrashed Brazil, 7-1, in a semifinal on Tuesday, and the next day, workers removed the festive green-and-yellow decorations from the aisles.

A walk down a commercial street in the city’s Asa Sul section before the game revealed few Brazilians wearing team colors. A group of women in matching canary-yellow shirts turned out to be workers on a break from Sol & Vento, a women’s clothing store.

“The truth is that it’s the store’s uniform,” Fabiana Duarte, 36, said.

Resenha, a sports bar that reached its 240-person capacity an hour or more before previous Brazil games, maxed out at 200 this time.

“You can see that the city looks like the match is not happening,” said Ivonete Ribeiro, a 65-year-old retiree who spent the game in a park, drinking coffee with a friend. “Usually, a Brazil game in Brasília? My God! Everyone in the streets, in costumes, heading to the stadium.”

The prevailing sentiment among residents not attending the game seemed to be one of pensive anticipation. The Germany game “was the worst defeat in our history,” said Guilherme Cintra Guimarães, a 32-year-old lawyer. “But even so, I still think it’s worth cheering for the national team. It’s been a beautiful World Cup.”

After the loss, fans filed quietly out of the stadium. “The Cup is a success,” Rodrigo Barreto, 36, a shop owner in Brasília, said as he led his family home. “But our team is a failure.”

Many residents were looking ahead to Sunday’s championship game between Germany and Argentina, Brazil’s archrival.

“The Argentines are terrible neighbors,” said Erasmo Alberto Losi, a 67-year-old dentist. “On Sunday, what I would like from the Germans is an 8-1 win. Nine to one would be even better.”

29 Minutes That Shook Brazil

The New York Times

World Cup 2014: Five German Kicks Felt in Brazilian Guts Everywhere

By Sam Borden

(Lucy Jordan contributed reporting from Brasília)

BELO HORIZONTE, Brazil — It started, innocently enough, in the 11th minute.

Thomas Müller, Germany’s top scorer at this World Cup, slyly slid around the back of Brazil’s defense. When the ball arrived from a corner kick, he blasted it home.

The Brazilian fans who made up most of the crowd of 58,000 went quiet for a moment. But then, unbowed, they resumed their defiant chants.

In Ceilândia, some 450 miles north of the Estádio Mineirão, a housecleaner shrugged.

“After the first goal, our reaction was not too much of a shock because Germany is a strong competitor,” said the housecleaner, Neide Moura de Brito do Nascimento, who was watching on TV with her family. “We already expected one or two goals from them.”

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Brazilians Grumble and Take Stock After Crushing World Cup Loss

The New York Times

By Simon Romero

(Lucy Jordan contributed reporting from Brasília)

RIO DE JANEIRO — As Brazil tried to absorb the shock of its 7-1 loss to Germany in the World Cup, the rout offered a vivid reminder of how the fortunes of the national soccer team can mirror how Brazilians view their society even as other traumas recede into history.

The hosting of the World Cup has been politicized from the moment FIFA, the scandal-tarred organization that oversees global soccer, awarded the tournament to Brazil in 2007. Back then, the economy was booming and the president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, viewed the Cup as an opportunity to celebrate Brazil’s achievements on the global stage.

Now the economy is sluggish, in its fourth consecutive year of slow growth. While the feat of lifting millions out of poverty over the past decade remains intact, Mr. Lula da Silva’s handpicked successor, Dilma Rousseff, has grappled with widespread protests over political corruption and spending on lavish stadiums.

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Rousseff urges unity after Brazil’s World Cup shame

Anadolu Agency

Despite some popular belief to the contrary, analysts believe Brazil’s spectacular loss is unlikely to hurt President Dilma Rousseff’s chances of re-election in October

BRASÍLIA, Brazil – As the dust settled and the hangovers cleared following Germany’s extraordinary 7-1 drubbing of Brazil, President Dilma Rousseff came out fighting on Wednesday, urging Brazil to pull together in the face of adversity.

Rousseff admitted the result was more calamitous than she had expected, telling CNN’s Christiane Amanpour that even her “nightmares never got so bad.”

She said: “As a supporter, of course, I am deeply sorry because I share the same sorrow of all supporters. But I also know that we are a country that has one very peculiar feature. We rise to the challenge in the face of adversity. We are able to overcome.”

Rousseff’s comments have been widely interpreted as an attempt to minimize potential political fallout from the spectacular loss — Brazil’s worst ever World Cup defeat.

She has hitched her fortunes firmly to the World Cup and despite violent protests and intense media scrutiny, the tournament had so far been a boon for the president, who stand for re-election in October.

The tournament has run smoother than many anticipated and had Brazil reached the final Rousseff’s popularity could have been expected to rise. A poll this month saw her share of the vote increase four percent compared to one conducted in June before the tournament started.

But last night everything changed as Germany tore through Brazil’s weak and disorganized defense, scoring quickly and repeatedly.

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Potential Brazil-Argentina World Cup final fuels historic rivalry

Provocative chants and chance of a clash in the final heats up historically intense football rivalry

Anadolu Agency

BRASÍLIA, Brazil – Considering they were playing a quarterfinal World Cup match against Argentina, Belgium got surprisingly little attention amongst the crowds outside Brasilia’s Mane Garrincha stadium on Saturday.

That is, of course, unless it was being used as a pawn in a rather more ancient and storied rivalry.

“Today, I supported Belgium,” said Brazilian Anna Ximenes, a 35-year-old dentist from Brasilia. Why? “I hate Argentina. It’s that simple.”

Brazilians in the stands spent much of today’s game, which ended 1 – 0 to Argentina, singing traditional Brazilian football songs, and cheering on Belgium — just as they have with every team that Argentina has faced.

Argentines retaliated with a new chant, invented for this World Cup.

“Brasil, decime que se siente, tener en casa tu papa?” they taunted, which translates roughly as “Brazil, how does it feel to be bossed around in your own home?”

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Doubts Set In as Pressure Builds

The New York Times

World Cup 2014: Brazil’s Fans Nervously Eye Colombia

By Andrew Das

(Lucy Jordan contributed reporting from Brasília)

RIO DE JANEIRO — The doctor thinks the patient is critical. The taxi driver sees trouble ahead. The personal trainer is worried.

Brazil may have put aside its problems to cheer its national team in the World Cup, but across the nation on Thursday, the mood on the streets, and in restaurants and offices and on park benches and buses, was concern and dread that the home team’s quarterfinal match against Colombia on Friday might be its last of the tournament.

“I’m afraid,” said Gorete Bittencourt, a doctor from São Paulo. “I’m afraid of our players, of who we are going to put on the field.”

Brazil narrowly escaped against Chile last week, when it needed to survive a penalty kick shootout in a match many Brazilians expected to be a walkover. On Friday in Fortaleza, a confident Colombia team looms as Brazil’s toughest opponent yet, with James Rodríguez, a breakout star of the tournament, threatening to outshine even Brazil’s Neymar.

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Isolated tribe flees illegal logging in deepest Amazon

Anadolu Agency

NGO says group is at grave risk of contracting disease; there are thought to be 77 such uncontacted tribes in the Amazon.

BRASÍLIA, BRAZIL – Illegal logging and drug trafficking in Peru’s western Amazon rainforest has forced a group of “uncontacted” Indians to flee over the border into Brazil and make contact with a settled Indian community, human rights organisation Survival International said Wednesday.

The Western part of the Amazon, which covers Brazil’s Amazonas, Acre and Rondonia states and parts of Peru, is home to some of the world’s last uncontacted Indians.

Survival International defines uncontacted groups as those who have no peaceful contact with anyone in the mainstream society. It is thought that there are about 100 uncontacted tribes in the world, with 77 of those located in the remotest parts of the Amazon rainforest.

Brazil’s Indian Affairs Department, FUNAI, confirmed that the uncontacted tribe made contact with the Ashaninka people, who live along the Envira river, on June 29.

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‘Soccer’ surges in popularity in US

Anadolu Agency

American fans bought more tickets to the World Cup than any other country except Brazil

BRASÍLIA, BRAZIL – When the U.S. meet Belgium in Tuesday’s World Cup group, round 16 knock-out match, they will be cheered on in the stadium by some 6,000 fans who have made the long trip to Salvador from the U.S., and a potentially record-breaking TV audience at home.

For most other teams in the tournament, this would be nothing unusual. But not long ago, it was hard to find a bar in the U.S. that would have showed international football matches.

That is changing, say experts and fans alike. Long side-lined by sports like baseball and american football, “soccer” is becoming increasingly popular in the U.S.

This year, U.S. fans bought far more World Cup tickets than any other country bar the host Brazil. Almost 200,000 tickets were sold in the U.S., with Argentina, Brazil’s neighbor and a notoriously football-mad country, coming in a distant second with just over 60,000 tickets sold.

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In Latin America’s largest favela, some conflicted over World Cup

Anadolu Agency

Brazil’s biggest slum lies some 16 miles from the Brasília, the country’s gleamingly modern seat of government

SOL NASCENTE, BRAZIL – Pot-holes a foot deep and a metre wide. Children and dogs rifling through piles of rubbish, side by side. And hanging above it all, a persistent whiff of sewage in the air.

This is not the Brasília that World Cup tourists have seen over the past two weeks, as they flock to a $900 million football stadium and tour Oscar Niemeyer’s modernist planned city, its buildings revered by architects everywhere for their sleek concrete curves.

Rio’s favelas may be better known, made famous by feature films like City of God, and overlooking some of the city’s toniest districts. But the dubious honour of Latin America’s largest favela belongs to Brazil’s meticulously planned capital.

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