Brazilian Auction Draws Oil Companies Back to Offshore Drilling

Deepwater projects fell out of favor as oil prices dropped and costs remained prohibitive, but winning bids totaling more than $2.4 billion were hailed as a success in Brazil.

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‘World Upside Down’: As Trump Pushes Tariffs, Latin America Links Up

The Trump administration’s protectionist policies are prompting governments from Chile to Canada to forge closer ties with one another, and to seek more trade with China and Europe.

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Grasping Rio’s Beauty and Tragedy

Rio de Janeiro, a city spectacularly forged between jungle and sea, can be many things to many people: a palm-fringed mecca for scantily clad pleasure seekers, the nerve center of Brazil’s oil industry, the cradle of musical genres ranging from samba to bossa nova and choro.

With his striking photographs, João Pina reminds us that Rio is also a theater of war.

The body count is still climbing in the labyrinth of Rio’s favelas, reflecting a devilishly complex struggle for control of the cocaine trade. Not far from Ipanema’s sands, drug gangs regularly wage gun battles not just with one another, but also with the police and paramilitary militias largely made up of active-duty police officers.

“What I’ve witnessed in Rio isn’t much different from what I’ve seen in places like Libya, Afghanistan or the Ivory Coast,” said Mr. Pina, 37, a Portuguese photographer who is no stranger to war zones.

If anything, Mr. Pina said, Rio is so awash in guns that it can sometimes make the firepower in other conflicts seem quaint by comparison. The title of his forthcoming book of photographs, “46570,” refers to the many thousands killed in the city in the decade leading up to the 2016 Summer Olympics.

The games were supposed to be a celebration of Brazil’s emergence as a powerhouse in the developing world and, for a while, the stars seemed be aligning for Latin America’s largest country. Brazil’s economy lifted off a decade ago, bolstered by deep-sea oil discoveries in the waters off Rio.

After decades of decline, a resurgent Rio fleetingly showcased Brazil’s global ambitions. Tanks rolled into favelas in a “pacification” program while work crews tore apart streets to expand transit systems. Skyscrapers and luxury hotels and lavish Olympic venues reconfigured the cityscape.

While all that was happening, Mr. Pina kept visiting the city and taking pictures. Rio is now mired yet again in graft scandals and surging violence; his photographs serve as a testament of how life remained a struggle during the boom years for many Cariocas, as the city’s residents are called.

Mr. Pina had already won acclaim for his work on the devastating legacy of Operation Condor, the campaign orchestrated in the 1970s by the intelligence agencies of right-wing South American military dictatorships to hunt down leftist dissidents in the region.

In Rio, Mr. Pina found a war largely devoid of ideology yet still producing casualties. One of the most sinister aspects of this bloodshed is how ingrained it is in the daily life of the city. It’s still possible to sip caipirinhas on a hotel terrace overlooking the Atlantic while gunmen slaughter one another in not-too-distant favelas.

Looking at Mr. Pina’s photographs brought back memories of how enchanting and unsettling Rio can feel. I arrived in the city as bureau chief for The Times in 2011, when the economy was sizzling and American professionals with a gold-rush mindset were descending on Rio to open hedge funds and technology start-ups.

Then I witnessed the erosion of Rio’s gains, venturing time and again into some of the same favelas where Mr. Pina was also doing his work, documenting evangelical Christian drug traffickers in prayer, bullet-ridden corpses and burials of police officers. I asked him about what it took to get so close to gun-wielding subjects.

“I believe the doors are more open to me since they know I’m not from Brazil and that my photographs are going to be published abroad,” said Mr. Pina, emphasizing how his upbringing in Portugal, the small European country that colonized Brazil, helped him in Rio.

“It’s the best of both worlds,” he explained, “not being a gringo in that I speak the same language, albeit with a crazy accent, but also not being Brazilian which would certainly prevent some of the access I’ve gained.”

I left Rio in 2017, when the city’s fortunes were at low ebb, but the calculating, vexing, sometimes comical negotiations for entry into Rio’s criminal underworld that Mr. Pina described still feel familiar.

Thankfully, Mr. Pina also cast his gaze on the splendor that mingles with misery on Rio’s streets. I could almost savor one of the tropical cloudbursts he photographed, remembering how heavy rains nurtured Rio’s urban jungle. Sometimes it takes an outsider to grasp the beauty and tragedy of a place.

Follow @viaSimonRomero and @nytimesphoto on Twitter. You can also find Lens on Facebook and Instagram.

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Op-Ed Contributor: Brazil’s Democracy Pushed Into the Abyss

WASHINGTON — The rule of law and the independence of the judiciary are fragile achievements in many countries — and susceptible to sharp reversals.

Brazil, the last country in the Western world to abolish slavery, is a fairly young democracy, having emerged from dictatorship just three decades ago. In the past two years, what could have been a historic advancement — the Workers’ Party government granted autonomy to the judiciary to investigate and prosecute official corruption — has turned into its opposite. As a result, Brazil’s democracy is now weaker than it has been since military rule ended.

This week, that democracy may be further eroded as a three-judge appellate court decides whether the most popular political figure in the country, former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva of the Workers’ Party, will be barred from competing in the 2018 presidential election, or even jailed.

There is not much pretense that the court will be impartial. The presiding judge of the appellate panel has already praised the trial judge’s decision to convict Mr. da Silva for corruption as “technically irreproachable,” and the judge’s chief of staff posted on her Facebook page a petition calling for Mr. da Silva’s imprisonment.

The trial judge, Sérgio Moro, has demonstrated his own partisanship on numerous occasions. He had to apologize to the Supreme Court in 2016 for releasing wiretapped conversations between Mr. da Silva and President Dilma Rousseff, his lawyer, and his wife and children. Judge Moro arranged a spectacle for the press in which the police showed up at Mr. da Silva’s home and took him away for questioning — even though Mr. da Silva had said he would report voluntarily for questioning.

The evidence against Mr. da Silva is far below the standards that would be taken seriously in, for example, the United States’ judicial system.

He is accused of having accepted a bribe from a big construction company, called OAS, which was prosecuted in Brazil’s “Carwash” corruption scheme. That multibillion-dollar scandal involved companies paying large bribes to officials of the state-owned oil company, Petrobras, to obtain contracts at grossly inflated prices.

The bribe alleged to have been received by Mr. da Silva is an apartment owned by OAS. But there is no documentary evidence that either Mr. da Silva or his wife ever received title to, rented or even stayed in the apartment, nor that they tried to accept this gift.

The evidence against Mr. da Silva is based on the testimony of one convicted OAS executive, José Aldemário Pinheiro Filho, who had his prison sentence reduced in exchange for turning state’s evidence. According to reporting by the prominent Brazilian newspaper Folha de São Paulo, Mr. Pinheiro was blocked from plea bargaining when he originally told the same story as Mr. da Silva about the apartment. He also spent about six months in pretrial detention. (This evidence is discussed in the 238-page sentencing document.)

But this scanty evidence was enough for Judge Moro. In something that Americans might consider to be a kangaroo court proceeding, he sentenced Mr. da Silva to nine and a half years in prison.

The rule of law in Brazil had already been dealt a devastating blow in 2016 when Mr. da Silva’s successor, Ms. Rousseff, who was elected in 2010 and re-elected in 2014, was impeached and removed from office. Most of the world (and possibly most of Brazil) may believe that she was impeached for corruption. In fact, she was accused of an accounting maneuver that temporarily made the federal budget deficit look smaller than it otherwise would appear. It was something that other presidents and governors had done without consequences. And the government’s own federal prosecutor concluded that it was not a crime.

While there were officials involved in corruption from parties across the political spectrum, including the Workers’ Party, there were no charges of corruption against Ms. Rousseff in the impeachment proceedings.

Mr. da Silva remains the front-runner in the October election because of his and the party’s success in reversing a long economic decline. From 1980 to 2003, the Brazilian economy barely grew at all, about 0.2 percent annually per capita. Mr. da Silva took office in 2003, and Ms. Rousseff in 2011. By 2014, poverty had been reduced by 55 percent and extreme poverty by 65 percent. The real minimum wage increased by 76 percent, real wages overall had risen 35 percent, unemployment hit record lows, and Brazil’s infamous inequality had finally fallen.

But in 2014, a deep recession began, and the Brazilian right was able to take advantage of the downturn to stage what many Brazilians consider a parliamentary coup.

If Mr. da Silva is barred from the presidential election, the result could have very little legitimacy, as in the Honduran election in November that was widely seen as stolen. A poll last year found that 42.7 percent of Brazilians believed that Mr. da Silva was being persecuted by the news media and the judiciary. A noncredible election could be politically destabilizing.

Perhaps most important, Brazil will have reconstituted itself as a much more limited form of electoral democracy, in which a politicized judiciary can exclude a popular political leader from running for office. That would be a calamity for Brazilians, the region and the world.

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Global Health: How the Response to Zika Failed Millions

The Rio Olympics went ahead without spreading the virus, and new diagnostic tests for Zika were swiftly designed and deployed. Scientists are moving ahead with multiple vaccine candidates and new ways to fight mosquitoes without pesticides.

But the positives were counterbalanced by many negatives, experts said. They harshly criticized the partisan bickering that delayed a Zika-funding bill in Congress for months, and they decried the failure of every city in the hemisphere — other than Miami — to control mosquitoes.

Most praised the W.H.O. for declaring an emergency on Feb. 1, but also condemned as premature its decision to end it on Nov. 18.

But the greatest failure, all agreed, was that while tourists were warned away from epidemic areas, tens of millions of women living in them — many of them poor slum dwellers — were left unprotected.

As a result, a wave of brain-damaged babies is now being born. Their families are already suffering, and their medical care will eventually cost hundreds of millions of dollars.

The failure to advise women to postpone pregnancy, if they could, until the epidemic passed “was the single greatest travesty of the epidemic,” said Amir Attaran, a professor of law and medicine at the University of Ottawa.

It was “hideously racist hypocrisy,” he added. “Female American tourists were given the best and safest public health advice, while brown Puerto Rican inhabitants were told something else entirely.”

Photo

A health worker carrying insecticide that being used to try to kill mosquitoes in Sao Paulo, Brazil this month. Credit Paulo Whitaker/Reuters

Politics Got in the Way

Impoverished Latin American and Caribbean women were badly served in many ways, other experts said.

Trucks sprayed pesticides that often did not work. Admonitions from on high to wear repellent and long sleeves were given with no studies proving that they could protect indefinitely.

And health authorities, fearful of offending religious conservatives, never seriously discussed abortion as an alternative to having permanently deformed babies — even in countries where abortion is legal.

That reluctance created an unusual gulf between official advice and actual practice. Many gynecologists interviewed said privately that they offered abortions to patients whose ultrasound scans showed abnormally small heads or brain damage.

But they did so without official support or guidance from the W.H.O. or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

During the epidemic, when health officials were asked why they did not advise delaying pregnancy or seeking abortions, they said that to do so would interfere with women’s reproductive rights or prevent older women from conceiving in time to have children.

At the W.H.O., Dr. Bruce Aylward, head of the Zika emergency response, called pregnancy “a complicated decision that is different for each individual woman.”

Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, director of the C.D.C., said he followed the advice of Dr. Denise J. Jamieson, chief of the agency’s women’s health and fertility branch, who said it was “not a government doctor’s job to tell women what to do with their bodies.”

Dr. Gostin said he felt the agencies had been too cautious, out of fear of criticism from women’s groups.

“Public health ought to trump that,” he said. “Giving women advice is very different from controlling women.”

Michael T. Osterholm, director of the University of Minnesota’s Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy, gave a blunter explanation for the shyness from officials.

“The C.D.C. always gets in trouble with Congress when it talks about contraception or bullets,” he said. (By the latter, he meant that it was hard for the officials to point out that gunshots are a major cause of American deaths for fear of offending the gun lobby.)

“And abortion?” he added. “You talk about third rails in politics? Abortion is the fifth rail. They can’t touch it. If the C.D.C. had pushed the envelope any farther, its funding would have been at risk.”

C.D.C. guidance on Zika was “a little coy,” agreed Dr. William Schaffner, chairman of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical School.

Photo

Paulo Sergio with his 6-month-old son, who was born with microcephaly in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Credit Vanderlei Almeida/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

“A recommendation to put off pregnancy until the risk abated should have been front and center — and much more explicit.”

Brazil, by far the hardest-hit country in the epidemic, really let its women down, said Dr. Artur Timerman, president of the medical society for dengue and arbovirus specialists there.

“For religious concerns, we have a lot of restrictions regarding advising women on birth control, so we were very far from giving them correct information,” he said. “I think we will have a lot of women infected yet, as we see lower levels of awareness.”

Missed Opportunities

Experts praised the C.D.C. for its work on developing new Zika tests and getting them to state laboratories quickly. Better antibody tests that identify past infections are still needed.

Most countries did not focus enough on preventing sexual transmission, experts said. Even New York City, which has a respected health department, filled its subways with posters showing big mosquitoes.

Yet not one of the nearly 1,000 cases diagnosed there by year’s end was transmitted by a local mosquito; all were either picked up elsewhere or transmitted sexually.

The number of children damaged by the epidemic is still unknown, but is likely to ultimately run into the tens of thousands across the hemisphere. As of the end of 2016, the W.H.O. had recorded more than 2,500 cases of Zika-related microcephaly in 29 countries.

Studies suggest that microcephaly — which results in an abnormally small head — represents only a small fraction of the damage done. Babies are being born blind, deaf or with rigid limbs or frequent seizures, and it seems likely that many more will eventually have learning and emotional problems.

The epidemic also showed that most nations remain inept at mosquito control.

“Miami is the one place that responded effectively,” said Duane J. Gubler, an expert in mosquito-borne diseases at the Duke-NUS Medical School in Singapore. “Others were mediocre or poor.”

Miami used both aerial and ground spraying of insecticide and larvicide, along with teams going house-to-house looking for breeding sites.

The Zika scare made pest-control officials and local residents more willing to test new technologies, including releasing male mosquitoes that pass on a life-shortening gene and female mosquitoes carrying bacteria that suppress their ability to transmit viruses.

A Dangerous Disconnect

Experts in Brazil, where the epidemic started, said doctors there acted quickly but were often thwarted by the country’s political and economic chaos — President Dilma Rousseff was ousted in August — or by hesitant foreign scientists.

“Brazil reacted with seriousness and foresight,” said Dr. Albert I. Ko, a Yale epidemiologist who has also worked in Salvador, Brazil, for many years. “The people in the trenches, the city and state public health officials, should be regarded as heroes.”

Why scientists are worried about the growing epidemic and its effects on pregnant women, and how to avoid the infection.

Both he and Dr. Ernesto T. A. Marques Jr., an infectious disease specialist at the University of Pittsburgh and at the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation in Brazil, said Brazilian scientists felt let down when they looked for outside help — at first from European donors and health agencies.

“The local researchers’ role was mainly to collect samples,” Dr. Marques said bitterly.

The C.D.C.’s initial reluctance to accept Brazilian scientists’ work also slowed the international response, said Dr. Peter J. Hotez, the dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine.

Even when the Brazilians found Zika virus in two women’s amniotic fluid and in the brain of a microcephalic fetus, “The C.D.C. would not accept it until they had done it themselves,” he said. “I saw that as hubris.”

The news media, for once, got relatively high marks from the experts — or at least higher marks than it did in the 2014 Ebola epidemic or the 2009 swine flu pandemic.

Three years ago, pictures from Africa showing men in spacesuits carrying dead bodies exaggerated the risk of Ebola to America, they said. By contrast, pictures of tiny-headed babies made Americans take Zika seriously but sensibly.

“In Brazil, the press was the first to sense that something was going on,” said Dr. Karin Nielsen, a pediatrician at the David Geffen Medical School at the University of California, Los Angeles, who also works in Rio. “It was pushing it even before the medical specialists were.”

The North American media, several experts said, did a good job debunking various myths that arose early in the epidemic, such as rumors blaming microcephaly on genetically modified mosquitoes, larvicide in drinking water or vaccines.

In Brazil, those rumors diverted attention for precious weeks, even prompting some cities to stop fighting mosquitoes temporarily.

Experts also felt scientific collaboration often faltered. For example, plans announced in February to gather 5,000 Zika-infected women into one study never materialized.

One big question remains: Will the virus return?

That is unknowable, most experts said, because no studies show how many people are now immune through previous infection.

Some Brazilian cities, including São Paulo, have not had big outbreaks and may be due for one, said Dr. Scott C. Weaver, a virologist at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston who was one of the first to predict that Zika was likely to strike the Americas. So might Bolivia, Paraguay and Uruguay.

More than half of Puerto Rico’s population is probably still vulnerable, so Zika may flare up again, as it might anywhere along the Gulf Coast outside Miami.

“And even if Zika’s not bad next year,” Dr. Weaver said, “without a vaccine, these viruses are going to come and go.”

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