Beyond 'Occupy' - Why Brazil's Black Bloc Protesters Go Too Far

Police and protesters clash in São Paolo on Brazil's Independence Day, September 7
Police and protesters clash in São Paolo on Brazil's Independence Day, September 7
Alba Zaluar


SAO PAULO — Globalization is an inescapable process. It’s even affecting the new forms of protest against different governments and in different social contexts on our vast, beautiful planet. The problem is that this copycat trend is happening out of context.

The Brazilian “black blocs” and Mídia Ninja (a group of independent journalists) are against globalization, but there is nothing more global than their superhero names and their tactics, inspired by the Occupy movements (always referred to in very global English). They copy the strategies of similar European and American organizations, but not their political goals which are against financial capitalism.

These groups that inspired the Brazilians occupied both London’s City Hall and New York’s Wall Street, and they also disturbed the summits of the G8 and the World Economic Forum. They were focused on their goal and had political coherence.

But their Brazilian equivalents have very different methods of action. In Rio de Janeiro and in Sao Paulo, they’re attacking properties and buildings, destroying urban equipment that is essential for residents, breaking shop windows and cash withdrawal machines. They’re even obstructing traffic for hours after other peaceful demonstrations (like those organized by the teachers) by burning vehicles, garbage containers or other objects they leave in the middle of the streets as they clash with the police, preventing workers from getting back home.

Democracy in the balance

Their main goal is also very different from that of the groups that inspired them, since according to their own statements, their aim is to prevent the 2014 FIFA World Cup and the 2016 Olympic Games from taking place. This is despite the fact that these upcoming events are driving the economy of the cities and the country as a whole. Instead of singling out the mistakes that were made during their planning, they want the government to throw everything away, including what has already been built and spent to make it all come true. They say they’re fighting capitalism, humanity’s biggest enemy, but the targets they’ve chosen don’t reflect that and are marginal at best.

Brazil is now in a phase of trying to reinforce democracy — social rights that are so crucial to fight inequality and respect towards public good. Now is not the time to impose some immature ideas of a hypothetical future society without markets, without government, indeed without anything that we all know are part of any democracy. Besides, when these people are arrested, they count on the very institutions they always attack.

Thankfully, the democratic rule of law in Brazil is growing stronger, and its institutions haven’t yet been dismantled, contrary to the suggestions of Michel Foucault, Antonio Negri and other neo-anarchist ideologues.

There are also unintended consequences to their actions, among them the rise in crime in both Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo. The turning point was in fact in July, when popular demonstrations dropped violence as a tactic. Since then, the number of criminal acts has skyrocketed. In Rio de Janeiro, young drug addicts and small-time dealers are getting paid to join demonstrators and “break everything.” And now that traffickers have their fighting spirit back, they’re trying to recover the territory they had lost, reigniting as a result the war with the police.

If the goal of the “black blocs” wasn’t necessarily the end of the pacification policy, it is nonetheless what they’ve achieved. The time when the inhabitants watched in silence as the Pacifying Police Unit occupied the favelas is over. The gunfight is back.

* Alba Zaluar teaches anthropology at the Social and Political Studies Institute of Rio de Janeiro.

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In Argentina, A Visit To World's Highest Solar Energy Park

With loans and solar panels from China, the massive solar park has been opened a year and is already powering the surrounding areas. Now the Chinese supplier is pushing for an expansion.

960,000 solar panels have been installed at the Cauchari park

Silvia Naishtat

— Driving across the border with Chile into the northwest Argentine department of Susques, you may spot what looks like a black mass in the distance. Arriving at a 4,000-meter altitude in the municipality of Cauchari, what comes into view instead is an assembly of 960,000 solar panels. It is the world's highest photovoltaic (PV) park, which is also the second biggest solar energy facility in Latin America, after Mexico's Aguascalientes plant.

Spread over 800 hectares in an arid landscape, the Cauchari park has been operating for a year, and has so far turned sunshine into 315 megawatts of electricity, enough to power the local provincial capital of Jujuy through the national grid.

It has also generated some $50 million for the province, which Governor Gerardo Morales has allocated to building 239 schools.

Abundant sunshine, low temperatures

The physicist Martín Albornoz says Cauchari, which means "link to the sun," is exposed to the best solar radiation anywhere. The area has 260 days of sunshine, with no smog and relatively low temperatures, which helps keep the panels in optimal conditions.

Its construction began with a loan of more than $331 million from China's Eximbank, which allowed the purchase of panels made in Shanghai. They arrived in Buenos Aires in 2,500 containers and were later trucked a considerable distance to the site in Cauchari . This was a titanic project that required 1,200 builders and 10-ton cranes, but will save some 780,000 tons of CO2 emissions a year.

It is now run by 60 technicians. Its panels, with a 25-year guarantee, follow the sun's path and are cleaned twice a year. The plant is expected to have a service life of 40 years. Its choice of location was based on power lines traced in the 1990s to export power to Chile, now fed by the park.

Chinese engineers working in an office at the Cauchari park


Chinese want to expand

The plant belongs to the public-sector firm Jemse (Jujuy Energía y Minería), created in 2011 by the province's then governor Eduardo Fellner. Jemse's president, Felipe Albornoz, says that once Chinese credits are repaid in 20 years, Cauchari will earn the province $600 million.

The Argentine Energy ministry must now decide on the park's proposed expansion. The Chinese would pay in $200 million, which will help install 400,000 additional panels and generate enough power for the entire province of Jujuy.

The park's CEO, Guillermo Hoerth, observes that state policies are key to turning Jujuy into a green province. "We must change the production model. The world is rapidly cutting fossil fuel emissions. This is a great opportunity," Hoerth says.

The province's energy chief, Mario Pizarro, says in turn that Susques and three other provincial districts are already self-sufficient with clean energy, and three other districts would soon follow.

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