SAO PAULO - Even though it's getting ready to host the World Cup next year and the Summer Olympic Games in 2016, Brazil still has no specific law for fighting terrorism. But specialists, who ask not to be identified, say that the country's neutral position in recent international conflicts does not assure that it is free of risk.
Indeed there is real concern that terrorists could try to hit, for example, one of the national delegations that will arrive for the events.
Security and inteligence agencies from the Brazilian government and the national army are concerned that time is running out to make new laws. Currently, there are six bills dealing with the topic under analysis in the Chamber of Deputies, with the oldest dating back to 1991, and the most recent one presented in 2012.
The only juridic instrument currently available is left over from the military government: the Law for National Security, which some wanted applies against the Landless Rural Workers Movement for their 2006 protest and assault on the Chamber itself.
Though urgent, it is not openly talked about in the federal government, even as specialists point to neighboring Argentina being hit two decades ago by separate terrorist attacks targeting Israel's embassy in Buenos Aires and a local Jewish association, which killed a total of more than 100.
The latest bill in Brazil was proposed by Parliament Member Walter Feldman, from PSDB. the main opposition party. The proposal defines terrorism as crimes that damage or put at risk life, physical integrity, freedom of movement or personal property. Attempts against airplanes, ships and nuclear plants are also considered terrorism, as well as its funding and preparation.
“Unfortunatelly the most advanced tool we have is the Law for National Security. Politics and ideology became obstacles to discussing this issue,” says Feldman.
For Raul Jungmann, a former vice president of the Committee for Security and Actions Against Organized Crime, agrees that Brazil should discuss the issue, but notes the complexity of defining terrorism, which can be connected to the actions of social movements. “We could never mistake protests, even by the wrong means, with terrorism," Jungmann says.
A ripe target
This is the main obstacle for the government to proceed on the issue: the fear of framing social movements like the Landless Rural Workers Movement, historically bonded to the party, to the concept of terrorism.
A specialist from the Brazilian Agency of Inteligence (ABIN), who asked to be identified, said past attempts to apply the standing law to radical social movements were blocked by the ruling party. “This is a spot where neither Lula or Dilma Rousseff dare to touch,” the source says.
Moreover, some accuse the Brazilian government of refusing closer international cooperation to fight terrorism. According to journalist Reinaldo Galhardo, author of a book on the topic, says that in 2008 the US government proposed a new special agency against terror in Brazil.
“There were going to be offices in Brasília, São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. Brazil would obtain a modern operation and intelligence center capable of monitoring any suspicious movement connected to terrorism happening within the country's boundaries,” said Galhardo.
But the proposal fizzled. Galhardo says he has information on a 2008 anti-terrorism training exercise for São Paulo police. “It was all done in the forests of El Salvador,” he says.
Captain José Alberto Cunha Couto, who led a security organization in Brazil for 13 years, says that the country is vulnerable. “We have hundred of possible targets. The most evident are of three types: attempts against embassies; foreign authorities or institutions; attempts aimed at causing serious economic damage, such as the destruction of energy plants, airports, main highways,” he says.
Foreign specialists agree. Gabriel Weimann, from Univeristy of Haifa, in Israel, believes it is highly possible that Brazil becomes a main target for terrorism due to its booming economy, major sports events and social and wealth divides. "Brazil includes large portions of disenfranchized populations," he says. "This is ripe territory for terrorists looking for new members.”
In San Diego, California, a researcher tracked how in the city's low-income neighborhoods that have traditionally lacked dining options, when interesting eateries arrive the gentrification of white, affluent and college-educated people has begun.
SAN DIEGO — Everybody, it seems, welcomes the arrival of new restaurants, cafés, food trucks and farmers markets.
What could be the downside of fresh veggies, homemade empanadas and a pop-up restaurant specializing in banh mis?
But when they appear in unexpected places – think inner-city areas populated by immigrants – they're often the first salvo in a broader effort to rebrand and remake the community. As a result, these neighborhoods can quickly become unaffordable and unrecognizable to longtime residents.
An appetite for gentrification
I live in San Diego, where I teach courses on urban and food geographies and conduct research on the relationship between food and ethnicity in urban contexts.
In recent years, I started to notice a pattern playing out in the city's low-income neighborhoods that have traditionally lacked food options. More ethnic restaurants, street vendors, community gardens and farmers markets were cropping up. These, in turn, spurred growing numbers of white, affluent and college-educated people to venture into areas they had long avoided.
This observation inspired me to write a book, titled The $16 Taco, about how food – including what's seen as "ethnic," "authentic" or "alternative" – often serves as a spearhead for gentrification.
Take City Heights, a large multi-ethnic San Diego neighborhood where successive waves of refugees from places as far away as Vietnam and Somalia have resettled. In 2016, a dusty vacant lot on the busiest boulevard was converted into an outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44. There, food vendors gather in semi-permanent stalls to sell pupusas, lechon (roasted pig), single-sourced cold-brewed coffee, cupcakes and tamarind raspado (crushed ice) to neighborhood residents, along with tourists and visitors from other parts of the city.
Informal street vendors are casualties.
A public-private partnership called the City Heights Community Development Corporation, together with several nonprofits, launched the initiative to increase "access to healthy and culturally appropriate food" and serve as "a business incubator for local micro-entrepreneurs," including immigrants and refugees who live in the neighborhood.
On paper, this all sounds great.
But just a few blocks outside the gates, informal street vendors – who have long sold goods such as fruit, tamales and ice cream to residents who can't easily access supermarkets – now face heightened harassment. They've become causalities in a citywide crackdown on sidewalk vending spurred by complaints from business owners and residents in more affluent areas.
This isn't just happening in San Diego. The same tensions have been playing out in rapidly gentrifying areas like Los Angeles' Boyle Heights neighborhood, Chicago's Pilsen neighborhood, New York's Queens borough and East Austin, Texas.
In all of these places, because "ethnic," "authentic" and "exotic" foods are seen as cultural assets, they've become magnets for development.
A call for food justice
Cities and neighborhoods have long sought to attract educated and affluent residents – people whom sociologist Richard Florida dubbed "the creative class." The thinking goes that these newcomers will spend their dollars and presumably contribute to economic growth and job creation.
Food, it seems, has become the perfect lure.
It's uncontroversial and has broad appeal. It taps into the American Dream and appeals to the multicultural values of many educated, wealthy foodies. Small food businesses, with their relatively low cost of entry, have been a cornerstone of ethnic entrepreneurship in American cities. And initiatives like farmers markets and street fairs don't require much in the way of public investment; instead, they rely on entrepreneurs and community-based organizations to do the heavy lifting.
In City Heights, the Community Development Corporation hosted its first annual City Heights Street Food Festival in 2019 to "get people together around table and food stalls to celebrate another year of community building." Other recent events have included African Restaurant Week, Dia de Los Muertos, New Year Lunar Festival, Soul Food Fest and Brazilian Carnival, all of which rely on food and drink to attract visitors and support local businesses.
Meanwhile, initiatives such as the New Roots Community Farm and the City Heights Farmers' Market have been launched by nonprofits with philanthropic support in the name of "food justice," with the goal of reducing racial disparities in access to healthy food and empowering residents – projects that are particularly appealing to highly educated people who value diversity and democracy.
Upending an existing foodscape
In media coverage of changing foodscapes in low-income neighborhoods like City Heights, you'll rarely find any complaints.
San Diego Magazine's neighborhood guide for City Heights, for example, emphasizes its "claim to authentic international eats, along with live music venues, craft beer, coffee, and outdoor fun." It recommends several ethnic restaurants and warns readers not to be fooled by appearances.
Longtime residents find themselves forced to compete against the "urban food machine"
But that doesn't mean objections don't exist.
Many longtime residents and small-business owners – mostly people of color and immigrants – have, for decades, lived, worked and struggled to feed their families in these neighborhoods. To do so, they've run convenience stores, opened ethnic restaurants, sold food in parks and alleys and created spaces to grow their own food.
All represent strategies to meet community needs in a place mostly ignored by mainstream retailers.
So what happens when new competitors come to town?
Starting at a disadvantage
As I document in my book, these ethnic food businesses, because of a lack of financial and technical support, often struggle to compete with new enterprises that feature fresh façades, celebrity chefs, flashy marketing, bogus claims of authenticity and disproportionate media attention. Furthermore, following the arrival of more-affluent residents, existing ones find it increasingly difficult to stay.
My analysis of real estate ads for properties listed in City Heights and other gentrifying San Diego neighborhoods found that access to restaurants, cafés, farmers markets and outdoor dining is a common selling point. The listings I studied from 2019 often enticed potential buyers with lines like "shop at the local farmers' market," "join food truck festivals" and "participate in community food drives!"
San Diego Magazine's home buyer guide for the same year identified City Heights as an "up-and-coming neighborhood," attributing its appeal to its diverse population and eclectic "culinary landscape," including several restaurants and Fair@44.
When I see that City Heights' home prices rose 58% over the past three years, I'm not surprised.
Going up against the urban food machine
Longtime residents find themselves forced to compete against what I call the "urban food machine," a play on sociologist Harvey Molotch's "urban growth machine" – a term he coined more than 50 years ago to explain how cities were being shaped by a loose coalition of powerful elites who sought to profit off urban growth.
I argue that investors and developers use food as a tool for achieving the same ends.
When their work is done, what's left is a rather insipid and tasteless neighborhood, where foodscapes become more of a marketable mishmash of cultures than an ethnic enclave that's evolved organically to meet the needs of residents. The distinctions of time and place start to blur: An "ethnic food district" in San Diego looks no different than one in Chicago or Austin.
Meanwhile, the routines and rhythms of everyday life have changed so much that longtime residents no longer feel like they belong. Their stories and culture reduced to a selling point, they're forced to either recede to the shadows or leave altogether.
It's hard to see how that's a form of inclusion or empowerment.
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