Panic in Minas Gerais as rain causes 46 deaths

. Jan 27, 2020
intense rainfall Yellow represents heavy rain. Image: INMET

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Good morning! This week, the calamity caused by intense rainfall and flooding in the Southeast. How the UK is lobbying to sell facial recognition technology to Rio de Janeiro. And the money (allegedly) embezzled by 26 state governors.

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Calamity in Minas Gerais

At least 46

people have died—and over 25,000 were displaced—after severe storms and widespread flooding through the southeastern states of Minas Gerais, Espírito Santo, and Rio de Janeiro. Friday was the rainiest day ever recorded in the state capital of Belo Horizonte—in January, the amount of rainfall has been twice what was expected for the month.</p> <p><strong>Where it stands.</strong> On Sunday, 44 municipalities in Minas Gerais and 33 in Espirito Santo declared a state of emergency.&nbsp;</p> <ul><li>The Greater Belo Horizonte area has suffered major disturbances. Streams and creeks have flooded, entire avenues have been closed, and several neighborhoods have faced landslides.</li><li>The Minas Gerais state government will include 55 new cities to the list this morning. Declaring a state of emergency is important, as it allows municipalities to receive state and federal funds to deal with the consequences of the storms.&nbsp;</li><li>In Rio de Janeiro, 6,000 people were affected—and Governor Wilson Witzel announced BRL 23 million in emergency funds to the affected areas.</li><li>The states&#8217; Civil Defense Departments have organized a campaign in partnership with the Red Cross to gather donations for the displaced populations.</li></ul> <iframe title="Municipalities in state of emergency, as of Sunday" aria-label="Brazil minas gerais municipalities choropleth map" id="datawrapper-chart-v1IAR" src="//" scrolling="no" frameborder="0" style="width: 0; min-width: 100% !important; border: none;" height="400"></iframe><script type="text/javascript">!function(){"use strict";window.addEventListener("message",function(a){if(void 0!["datawrapper-height"])for(var e in["datawrapper-height"]){var t=document.getElementById("datawrapper-chart-"+e)||document.querySelector("iframe[src*='"+e+"']");t&&(["datawrapper-height"][e]+"px")}})}();</script> <p><strong>Cyclone.</strong> According to the National Institute of Meteorology, the record-setting storms are partially explained by Cyclone Kurumi—spotted 250 kilometers off the Brazilian coast—which directed humidity channels from the Amazon into the Southeast.</p> <p><strong>One year on.</strong> The fatal storms come exactly one year after a tailings dam collapsed in the city of Brumadinho, killing 270 people—11 of which have yet to be found (more below). Twelve months later, the town has once again declared a state of emergency.</p> <hr class="wp-block-separator"/> <h2>The lobbying for Rio to use UK facial recognition&nbsp;</h2> <figure class="wp-block-image"><img src="" alt="Governor Witzel with fire-fighting cadets. Photo: Paulo Vitor/ERJ" class="wp-image-30833" srcset=" 1024w, 300w, 768w, 610w, 2047w" sizes="(max-width: 1024px) 100vw, 1024px" /><figcaption>Governor Witzel with fire-fighting cadets. Photo: Paulo Vitor/ERJ</figcaption></figure> <p><em>Unearthed</em>—an investigations unit set up by Greenpeace UK—has obtained documents detailing a meeting between Rio de Janeiro Governor Wilson Witzel and Conor Burns, the UK&#8217;s International Trade Minister. During a August 19 meeting, &#8220;[Mr.] Burns told [Mr.] Witzel that the &#8216;UK stood ready to work together on a range of issues, including security (noted expertise on facial recognition).'&#8221; According to <em>Unearthed</em>, the UK&#8217;s Department of International Trade has provided assistance to British facial recognition company Facewatch, in a deal to get its technology into Rio shopping malls.</p> <p><strong>Why it matters.</strong> Using facial recognition as a way to crack down on crime could quickly spiral into abuse, given Mr. Witzel&#8217;s tough-on-crime demeanor. Under his watch, the state police have killed more than ever—in 2019 alone, a record number of 1,810 deaths resulting from police intervention were registered. And he said he would encourage police to shoot suspects &#8220;in their little heads.&#8221;</p> <p><strong>From the skies.</strong> One of Mr. Witzel&#8217;s flagship security policies is the use of helicopters to engage in favelas dominated by drug gangs. The strategy is criticized by nearly every expert, as it skyrockets the risk of civilian casualties. In August, the Brazilian Bar Association filed a lawsuit to prevent the Rio state government from deploying such operations.</p> <p><strong>Flaws.</strong> Five states are using <a href="">facial recognition tools on a trial basis</a>. A report by NGO Rede de Observatórios da Segurança shows that algorithms may enhance racial bias. A total of 151 suspects were arrested through facial recognition between March and October—90.5 percent of them being either black or mixed-race. Not to mention flat-out mistakes. In July, a woman was arrested after being recognized as a fugitive, but the actual suspect had <em>already</em> been in jail since 2015.</p> <p><strong>Brazil-UK.</strong> During the World Economic Forum last week, Economy Minister Paulo Guedes said: &#8220;the UK has urgency [to sign a trade deal] with Brazil.&#8221;</p> <hr class="wp-block-separator"/> <h2>Markets</h2> <p>Construction company Mitre is accepting reservations for its initial public offering until January 31, with a price range of BRL 14.30–19.30 per share. The IPO has split analysts. Levante Investimentos has recommended it to investors, as Mitre operates in São Paulo&#8217;s middle- and high-income segments, has a lean capital structure, and high selling speed. But Mitre could flop if it fails to deliver on the promises of massive growth. For Nord Research, the risk is not worth taking: “the promise of value generation has not happened yet and we don’t know if the company will be able to maintain its very aggressive promises.”</p> <p style="text-align:center"><strong><em>Natália Scalzaretto</em></strong></p> <hr class="wp-block-separator"/> <h2>Former governors in the courts&#8217; sights</h2> <p>A new <a href="">study</a> on the health of Brazilian democracy shows that over 82 percent of voters agree that &#8220;politicians only represent the interests of the powerful,&#8221; and 69 percent believe that &#8220;putting corrupt elected officials behind bars is more important than respecting defendants&#8217; right of defense.&#8221; These notions are certainly fueled by the profusion of corruption scandals in recent years. Over the past decade, 26 state governors have been accused of embezzlement, with seven of them having already been convicted. Last year, former Rio Governor Sérgio Cabral—the proud owner of 12 convictions, for a combined 267 years in prison—said: &#8220;My error was my attachment to money, power, all of that … it&#8217;s an addiction.&#8221;</p> <div class="flourish-embed" data-src="visualisation/1261695"></div><script src=""></script> <hr class="wp-block-separator"/> <h2>Looking ahead</h2> <p><strong>Deficit.</strong> On Wednesday, the government publishes results of the behavior of Brazil&#8217;s federal accounts in 2019. Between January and November, Brazil registered a primary deficit of BRL 80.3 billion—the best for the period since 2015, but also far from Economy Minister Paulo Guedes&#8217; promises to &#8220;erase the public deficit within one year.&#8221; The official primary deficit goal was of BRL 139 billion.</p> <p><strong>Trade.</strong> The National Confederation of Industry (CNI), a powerful lobbying organization, publishes a survey this week on all 109 anti-subsidy measures against China enforced worldwide. According to the study, only one comes from Brazil, with 64 having been issued by the U.S. Brazilian industrialists want the government to act on it, but agricultural producers are against anything that could disrupt Brazil&#8217;s relationship with its biggest importing market.</p> <p><strong>BNDES.</strong> When taking office, President Jair Bolsonaro said he would <a href="">open the &#8220;black box&#8221; of the National Development Bank</a> (BNDES), searching for alleged illegal contracts signed during the Workers&#8217; Party era. Now, an audit that cost BRL 48 million has come up empty-handed. The Federal Accounts Court has given the bank 20 days to explain the case. From Davos, BNDES President Gustavo Montezano said he would only comment on it after arriving in Brazil.</p> <p><strong>Employment.</strong> On Friday, the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics will publish the latest unemployment data. The rate of Brazilians out of work is slowly going down—but there is more to that statistic than meets the eye. Most new positions are being filled by <a href="">self-employed or underemployed workers</a>, with little to no access to the country’s labor legislation safety net.</p> <hr class="wp-block-separator"/> <h2>In case you missed it</h2> <p><strong>Coronavirus.</strong> The Health Ministry dismissed five suspected cases of coronavirus infections in Brazil last week, saying none fit the criteria established by the World Health Organization. One Brazilian family, however, has been quarantined in the Philippines after having recently traveled to Wuhan and showing signs of respiratory disease. Meanwhile in China, officials say the &#8220;epidemic has entered a more serious and complex period.&#8221; Due to the Lunar New Year holidays, <a href="">5 million people left Wuhan</a> just before the city was put in lockdown. The number of confirmed cases has quickly <a href="">jumped to over 2,700</a>, with 80 coronavirus-related deaths so far.</p> <p><strong>India.</strong> President Jair Bolsonaro is scheduled to return today from a <a href="">trip to India</a>, where he was received as &#8220;chief guest&#8221; during Republic Day celebrations—the highest honor in Indian diplomacy for a foreign leader. The two countries signed 15 deals and memoranda of understanding on various issues, including facilitating investments, social security, and bioenergy.</p> <p><strong>Brumadinho. </strong>Saturday marked the one-year anniversary of the <a href="">Brumadinho dam collapse</a>. The incident caused approximately 12 million cubic meters of mud to spill into the surrounding region, killing 270 people—11 of whom have yet to be found. Last week, prosecutors filed a complaint against mining company Vale, safety auditing firm Tüv Süd, and 16 individuals for 270 counts of first-degree murder. Documents suggest Vale knew the dam was about to collapse but chose not to decommission it.</p> <p><strong>Moro v. Bolsonaro. </strong>Tensions between President Bolsonaro and his Justice Minister, Sergio Moro, once again reached a boiling point. Mr. Bolsonaro said he would consider splitting Mr. Moro&#8217;s ministry into two, taking away his control over the Federal Police. After the minister&#8217;s allies said he would quit if the move was confirmed, the president backpedaled. But the episode once again showed how Mr. Moro&#8217;s popularity bothers Mr. Bolsonaro, who sees him as a potentially powerful adversary in the 2022 presidential race.

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