Brazil Recession Starts To Weigh On Neighbors

Good times and bad times seep across Latin American borders, as Brazil's economic crisis begins to slows exports and manufacturing in neighbors like Argentina.

Anti-government protests last month in Sao Paulo
Anti-government protests last month in Sao Paulo
Pablo Maas

BUENOS AIRES â€" Recession for Brazil â€" a giant economy and huge market â€" will not leave its neighbors unaffected. For starters, other Latin American countries export goods to the nation of 200 million.

Brazil's GDP is already 2.6% lower than in the second half of 2014, even if observers are a little baffled by the speed and depth of its downturn. Only three years ago, the mood in Latin America's BRICS nation was one of euphoria.

Now, observers see several likely reasons for recession in Brazil, including slowing demand in its own export markets â€" notably, China â€" and ongoing corruption scandals that are unsettling institutional life and investment prospects. The country may even face a credit downgrade that would raise the cost of loans.

As a strategic member of regional trading association Mercosur, any weakness in Brazil can only highlight the dependence of partners like Argentina; for months now, exporters of products like fruit and wine have been feeling the chill of reduced demand in Brazil. The impact on car manufacturing is also becoming evident. Days ago, union sources revealed that General Motors would pause production at its plant in Rosario, northwest of Buenos Aires, every Monday in September.

Fiat took similar steps earlier in Córdoba in northern Argentina. Not for the first time, the continent's big economies face problems simultaneously, but they may not be resolved via private contacts of corporate VIPs anymore, or at summits of ministers and presidents that had showed increasing political and economic closeness over the past decade.

So now, Brazil's incipient recession is coinciding with a power transition in Argentina. As Dilma Rousseff struggles into a choppy second presidential term, candidates in Buenos Aires are jostling to succeed Cristina Kirchner at the presidential palace. A new working relationship will have to be forged to help lift the economic fortunes of both countries.

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Dutch Cities Have Been Secretly Probing Mosques Since 2013

Revelations of a nationally funded clandestine operation within 10 municipalities in the Netherlands to keep tabs on mosques and Muslim organizations after a rise in radicalization eight years ago.

The Nasser mosque in Veenendaal, one of the mosques reportedly surveilled

Meike Eijsberg

At least ten Dutch towns and cities have secretly used a private agency to probe mosques and other local religious organizations, Amsterdam-based daily het NRC reports in an exclusive investigation.

The clandestine operation — funded by NCTV, the National Security Services, the Netherlands' leading counter-terrorism agency — was prompted by the social unrest and uncertainty following multiple terror attacks in 2013, and a rise in Islamic radicalization.

The NCTV, which advises and financially supports municipalities in countering radicalization, put the municipalities in touch with Nuance by Training and Advice (Nuance door Trainingen en Advies, NTA), a private research agency based in Deventer, Netherlands. Among the institutions targeted by the investigations, which came at a cost of circa 500,000 euros, were the Al Mouahidin mosque in the central Dutch town of Ede, and the Nasser mosque east of the city of Utrecht, according to NRC.

Photo of people standing on prayer mats inside a Dutch mosque

Praying inside a Dutch mosque.


Broken trust in Islamic community

Unlike public officials, the private agency can enter the mosques to clandestinely research the situation. In this case, the agents observed activity, talk to visitors, administrators, and religious leaders, and investigated what they do and say on social media.

All findings then wound up in a secret report which includes personal details about what the administrators and teachers studied, who their relatives are, with whom they argued, and how often they had contact with authorities in foreign countries, like Morocco.

Leaders of the Muslim organizations that were secretly probed say they feel betrayed.

It is unclear whether the practice is legal, which is why several members of the Dutch Parliament are now demanding clarification from the outgoing Minister of Justice and Security, Ferd Grapperhaus, who is said to be involved.

"The ease with which the government violates (fundamental) rights when it comes to Islam or Muslims is shocking," Stephan van Baarle, member of the leftist party DENK, told De Volkskrant, another Dutch newspaper.

Leaders of the Muslim organizations that were secretly probed say they feel betrayed. Hassan Saidi, director of one of the mosques investigated, said that the relationship with the local municipality had been good. "This puts a huge dent in the trust I'd had in the municipality," he told the Dutch public broadcaster NOS.

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