As climate activists protest against inaction at the United Nations Rio+20 summit in Brazil and members of the 99 percent call for change at financial centers around the world, the Pemón people of Venezuela made their own demonstration outside the German embassy in Caracas yesterday.
More than 100 indigenous Venezuelans – the women clad in traditional colorful dress and men in loincloths, some wielding decorative spears – marched in the wealthy La Castellana district of the city to demand the return of a sacred, 35-ton rock that currently sits in a Berlin park. The demonstrators blocked the sidewalk and entrance to the building, which also houses the British and Portuguese embassies, chanting, "Return the stone!" Many police were present, though the protests were not violent.
The Kueka stone is claimed by some of the Pemón as a spiritual "grandmother" that belongs in the country's deep interior: the setting, some say, of Arthur Conan Doyle's book, The Lost World, a secret and magical region where dinosaurs roam free. The protestors said they traveled overnight from la Gran Sabana to Caracas.
Juxtaposing the ancient aura of the indigenous protest in Caracas were a string of government buses lining the road nearby and officials from the government's press wing collecting the names of journalists and photographers covering the event.
This has led to speculation that the protest was incited by the government in its long quest to antagonize the West. "The whole protest has been manipulated," Bruno Illius, an ethnologist from Berlin's Free University who is an expert on the Pemón, told the Guardian newspaper. "Most of the Pemón even find it quite embarrassing."
German artist Wolfgang Kraker von Schwarzenfeld said that the boulder was given as a "gift to the German people" in 1997 and that Pemón people helped him choose it for an installation at Berlin's central Tiergarten park, reports AP. The stone forms part of a project containing five stones from five continents.
German ambassador Georg-Clemens Dick met with protestors yesterday in front of the embassy. "We consider the Kueka stone a gift from Venezuela given in order to create a global work of art for peace," Mr. Dick said.
Also outside the German embassy, Irma Caldera stood, dressed in a bright red headband and a bright, colorful dress. “The rock is special for us; it’s spiritual,” Ms. Caldera says, clutching photos of it. “They took our rock without consulting us, nothing.” She said she didn't know what prompted the protests to start up so suddenly.
A fellow protestor wore a red baseball cap with the acronym PSUV emblazoned upon it, the name of Chávez's political party.
The government of Uruguay is considering an unorthodox approach to combating drug trafficking: legalizing and regulating marijuana sales in an effort to cut cocaine consumption and remove a significant source of funding for criminal groups.
The administration of Uruguayan President Jose Mujica has announced that it plans to send Congress a proposal for a bill which would legalize the sale of marijuana, but make the government the only legitimate provider of the drug. It is currently legal to possess the drug. Under the plan, the state would sell marijuana cigarettes to adults who signed up to a government register, which would allow officials to monitor purchases. People who attempted to purchase more than a specified amount at a time would be required to undergo drug rehabilitation treatment.
According to El Pais, the Mujica government has framed the move as a part of a larger attempt to rein in cocaine consumption in the country. Uruguayan law enforcement has seen a significant rise in the amount of cocaine seized in recent years, usually in the form of cocaine paste, a cheaper and less refined version of the drug similar to crack. If marijuana is legalized and regulated, authorities hope it will encourage drug users to turn to this less addictive drug.
InSight Crime Analysis
The proposal comes amid growing concern over the influence of organized crime in the historically peaceful South American country, as InSight Crime reported in January. While Uruguay still has the lowest homicide rate in Latin America (6.1 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants), a May 2011 survey by polling firm Interconsult found that 62 percent of Uruguayans believe that their country is becoming more insecure. The perception is backed by the statistics; according to the country’s Interior Ministry, there were 133 homicides between January and May, up from 76 in the same period last year.
The Associated Press notes that Minister Eleuterio Fernandez Huidobro told reporters yesterday that the details of the plan need to be worked out, but if implemented it could significantly hit the illicit drug trade in the country. "The laws of the market will rule here: whoever sells the best and the cheapest will get rid of drug trafficking," Fernandez said. "We'll have to regulate farm production so there's no contraband and regulate distribution ... we must make sure we don't affect neighboring countries or be accused of being an international drug production center."
Despite this optimism, it is still not clear whether the plan would have the intended effect on cocaine consumption and crime. Drug experts in the country have pointed out that while it might make marijuana consumption safer, as users would not have to deal with criminal suppliers, it probably would not have much impact on cocaine use.
A version of this article appeared on the Pan-American Post.
– Geoffrey Ramsey is a writer for Insight – Organized Crime in the Americas, which provides research, analysis, and investigation of the criminal world throughout the region. Find all of his research here.
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Central America’s myriad problems – violence, drugs, corruption, political folly, social unrest, natural disasters, poverty, emigration, and chupacabras – are a well known and seemingly chronic condition.
But according to the Happy Planet Index – an attempt to measure human well-being and environmental impact using a perplexing mathematical formula – most Central Americans couldn’t be more pleased about their situation. Even narco-gangbangers are whistling while they work.
Six of the seven countries that share this habitually troubled isthmus (including some of the most violent places in the world) rank in the Top 10 of this year’s Happy Planet Index, published last week by British think tank New Economics Foundation.
The Top 10 is bookended by Costa Rica, which again finished in 1st place (¡pura vida, mae!), and Guatemala, which finished in 10th place, probably to the surprise of most Guatemalans hiding inside their homes. Rounding out the champions’ circle is Belize at No. 4 (just happy to be included as part of Central America), El Salvador at No. 5 (after a 100-day gang truce, Salvadorans may soon overtake Belizeans in the cheerful category), Panama at No. 7 (apparently the poll wasn’t conducted during rush hour traffic in Panama City), and Nicaragua at No. 8 (a Sandinista poll released today also shows that President Daniel Ortega enjoys an 80 percent approval rating in a country where statistics have a 113.85 percent level of accuracy).
Honduras, the gloomiest country in the region, finished in 13th place out of 151 countries, apparently as the joy of the 2009 coup slowly fades.
The incessantly fretful United States ranked a depressing 105 on the world index.
The Happy Planet Index measures comparative data on life expectancy, experienced well-being, and ecological footprint in a curious algorithm that looks like this: (experienced well-being (X) life expectancy) / ecological footprint.
Or, as New Economics Foundation explains it, “The index is an efficiency measure; it ranks countries on how many long and happy lives they produce per unit of environmental input.”
However the math works, it’s undeniable that many Central Americans seem to be genuinely fun-loving and happy folks, despite having plenty of reasons to worry. As the world economic downturn of 2008 showed, problems are pretty relative in this part of the world.
“When you tell someone who normally eats only once a day that they are going to miss another meal, it’s no big deal. It’s the people who eat three times a day who think there’s a crisis when they miss a meal,” Nicaraguan taxi driver Tirso Vilchez told me when explaining why most Nicaraguans weren’t too worried about the financial meltdown of global markets.
Now that Central America’s economy has recovered, people have even more reason to smile. Ironically, however, with the region’s new economic growth comes new development that’s potentially damaging to the environment. Nicaragua is currently passing the hat to raise $30 billion to cut a canal across their country, while Costa Rica pushes forward on highway project built without any environmental impact studies that has caused serious ecological damage along the border with Nicaragua.
Indeed, the happiest country in the world is deepening its environmental footprint every day. And that could affect their ranking in next year’s index, when life expectancy is multiplied by well-being and then divided by units of environmental impact. Or something like that.
• A version of this post ran on the author's blog. The views expressed are the author's own.
It would be hard to find two countries more opposite within South America than Chile and Venezuela. Excessively rigid rules vs. no rules. Homages to a right-wing dictator vs. homages to a left-wing dictator. Majority white European vs. a rainbow of mestizaje. Wheat, wine, apples, softwoods and salmon vs. oil, rum, mangoes, chemicals, and red snapper.
But there’s one thing everyone can agree on: we want cheap gas, cheap parking, and unlimited road space for our death monsters.
In Chile, yesterday, the government announced new rules for shopping mall parking prices. First half hour free, always round time periods down, post prices. Wait, I get the second parts, as it’s important to know what you’re going to pay, but really? The government is going to force the malls to offer the first half hour free?
You can make the logical arguments if you like: that now, pedestrians, cyclists, and transit riders will be forced to subsidize motorists’ parking. That reduced prices will give the malls an incentive to build only the required minimum number of parking spaces, rather than the number they believe to be necessary. That once the government starts controlling prices for one thing, where does it stop?
Or you can go with the appeal to an extreme case. Coincidentally, Gustavo at Caracas Chronicles wrote today about what happens when parking prices are controlled too hard, for too long.
Meanwhile, Chilean motorists have also demanded the government “do something” about high fuel prices. The government responded with a remarkably well programmed and useless website. The state is now spending its scarce pesos tracking gasoline prices across the country and posting them online weekly. Yes, the government tracks every gas station in the country and helps motorists find the cheaper fuel.
If you go click around over there, you’ll see that the variance from the median in fuel prices is almost never more than 10 percent in any given region. Which is amazing. Almost every region of Chile includes a reasonable-sized city, often with a port, and then an interior that is often rugged, rural, and remote. That fuel prices vary so little – in the Bio Bio region, for example, diesel today ranges from 580 to 648 pesos per liter – shows that there is already intense competition. In fact, the prices are so similar that it’s rarely worthwhile to drive out of the way in the quest for cheaper fuel. The time and fuel cost of the extra distance is hard to justify for at most 68 cents (about US $0.14) a liter.
Meanwhile, this is a country where the market failures are omnipresent. Medicine is a good example. A friend yesterday went and got prices for the same contact lenses at her optometrist and at a glasses shop next door. One offered six months of lenses for 130,000 pesos, the other for 290,000. Similar price ranges exist for every aspect of medicine, from drugs to operations to doctors’ visits. And there is nowhere to look up the prices. Point being, if the government wants to support the free market, why start with gas stations?
It’s not because motorists are especially organized. They don’t have marches or Critical Mass drives. It’s because politicians drive. And there is a huge gap between the perception of driving – open road, freedom, acceleration, efficiency – and the reality of gridlocked streets, being trapped in a box, constantly braking, spending all your money. Rather than following the market signals and getting out of the damn car, politicians who normally carry the mantle of free-market neolibs turn to the state to support their habit. It’s the same thing you see everywhere. Capitalism for thee, socialism for mee.
• A version of this post ran on the author's blog, Caracas Chronicles. The views expressed are the author's own.
Lost in the electoral hoopla, there was a recent “tug of war” between the Bolivarian government and the people responsible for parking lots, which brought back to the public sphere a seldom talked about – but very, very annoying – problem in Venezuelan cities today: it’s really, really hard to find parking.
After the new Labor Law was approved by stealth, the National Association of Parking Lots’ Owners and Administrators (ANPAGE) found out that applying the new legislation would be too costly for them, so they decided to drastically reduce their working schedules (including closing lots on Saturdays), unless prices were raised. This, mind you, after a seven year [price] freeze.
For those of you abroad: yup, even parking lot prices are state controlled in Bolivarian Venezuela. And it turns out your economics textbook was right: it doesn’t matter if you’re talking about rice, apartments for rent, sanitary pads, or parking spots, the second you mandate a price that’s too low, shortages arise.
A statement from former Labor Minister Ricardo Dorado became the government’s official response: No, you can’t do that because that would mean “…a reduction in a public service”. Stirring stuff. (Life, liberty and the pursuit of a parking spot…)
When everything pointed to a big showdown between the two sides, the government caved in and tripled parking prices. Parking owners suspended the plan to reduce hours in return and everything went back to normal. Well, back to Venezuelan normal, anyway.
Finding a free place to park is still a nightmare for those living and/or working in the city. The few parking locations are constantly full, forcing drivers to park in unsuitable places (left in hands of cuidadores de carros) and leaving their cars vulnerable exposed to theft.
The problem is expected to get worse in the forseeable future: Construction in our cities (like the capital Caracas) [is] growing at breakneck speed and parking lots are the ones paying the price for the lack of coherent urban planning.
– Gustavo Hernandez Acevedo is a writer for Caracas Chronicles, the place for opposition-leaning-but-not-insane analysis of the Venezuelan political scene since 2002
The man who defends the publishing of classified diplomatic cables as the ultimate right of freedom of expression is turning to a government that has been accused of major declines in press freedom in recent years, according to experts.
“There has been a serious, serious deterioration of freedom of the press in the last five years in Ecuador,” says Carlos Lauria, the Americas director for the Committee to Protect Journalists in New York.
The Ecuadorean foreign minister, according to the Associate Press, reported that Mr. Assange sought refuge in the Andean country's embassy in London, and is seeking political asylum.
Ecuador is now reportedly weighing the request.
Assange has been wanted for questioning in Sweden after two women accused him of sexual misconduct there during a 2010 visit. Last week the British Supreme Court said it would not reopen his extradition case, paving the way for him to be sent to Sweden.
Assange shot to international attention in 2010 with the publishing of US diplomatic cables, the largest leak of classified US documents in history.
Why Ecuador? Mr. Lauria says it could possibly be linked to the television interview Assange did with President Correa on his television show The World Tomorrow in May.
On the show, according to this transcript, the two talk about WikiLeaks and Correa defends their publication, saying:
"First you don't owe anything, have nothing to fear. We have nothing to hide. Your WikiLeaks have made us stronger as the main accusations made by the American Embassy were due to our excessive nationalism and defense of the sovereignty of the Ecuadorian Government.
"On the other hand, WikiLeaks wrote a lot about the goals that the national media pursue, about the power groups who seek help and report to foreign embassies. We have absolutely nothing to fear. Let them publish everything they have about the Ecuadorian Government. But you will see how many things about those who oppose the civil revolution in Ecuador will come to light. Things to do with opportunism, betrayal, and being self-serving."
That kind of transparency, however, is not what media observers have witnessed inside Ecuador.
Correa has sued journalists and clamped down on the media with new laws, at the same time that he has expanded state media outlets. He says he is doing so to demand fairness from a sensational industry that happens to be his no. 1 critic. But Correa has been condemned across the board inside and outside Ecuador. An editorial in the Washington Post in January described Correa as the man behind “the most comprehensive and ruthless assault on free media underway in the Western Hemisphere.”
Most recently Freedom House condemned Correa for shutting down another independent media outlet. “Freedom of expression continues to be severely threatened in Ecuador,” said Daniel Calingaert, vice president of policy and external affairs at Freedom House, in a statement in June.
Of course, Assange might have trouble finding a suitable ally in terms of a free press at many Latin American embassies. According to Freedom House's 2011 press freedom index, the region enjoys free press in 39 percent of countries, while in 44 percent of nations the press environment is only “partly free.” Venezuela and Cuba continued to be “not free,” for their state control of the media, while Mexico and Honduras faced the same “not free” fate, mostly due to the threat of drug traffickers and other extralegal groups. The region's ranking was also influenced by the slipping of Chile and Guyana, and of course the dramatic slide of Ecuador.
“Chile’s decline to Partly Free and major setbacks in Ecuador are the latest in a series of negative developments in Latin America over the past decade. Whether due to violence by criminal groups, as in Mexico and Honduras, or government hostility to media criticism, as in Venezuela, Argentina, and Bolivia, media freedom is under threat in much of the region,” according to Freedom House.
When the TV interview with Correa wrapped up last month, the Ecuadorean president signed off by telling Assange, "Cheer up. Welcome to the club of the Persecuted."
• A version of this post ran on the author's blog, bloggingsbyboz.com. The views expressed are the author's own.
On the sidelines of the G20, the United States formally invited Mexico to join negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Coverage from Reuters, McClatchy, AQ.
For Mexican President Felipe Calderon, involvement in the TPP was an economic priority. The organization is seen as a more modern trade agreement that includes labor rights, small business development, and other efforts that go beyond tariff negotiations to try to place the countries on a more level playing field.
The NYT recently reported on how Mexico stacks up against Brazil in terms of economic influence. Among the differences between the two countries is how they relate to China, with Brazil benefiting while Mexico competes. With the TPP, Mexico moves beyond competition with China for the North American market by negotiating this agreement with Vietnam, Malaysia, and Singapore, pushing its competition with China onto new turf.
The TPP also strengthens Calderon's version of how Mexico fits into the hemisphere. Calderon was already instrumental in building the Pacific Alliance with Chile, Peru, and Colombia. He invited the presidents of Chile and Colombia to participate in the G20 meeting. Calderon sees a strategy to strengthen that section of Latin America and move it towards a Pacific focus and the TPP fits right into that.
– James Bosworth is a freelance writer and consultant who runs Bloggings by Boz.
• A version of this post ran on the Foreign Policy Association blog. The views expressed are the author's own.
After years of writing on the FPA immigration blog on topics usually concerned with Latino immigration in the United States, I sincerely believe that there are no current policies or legal frameworks that can handle the issue of illegal immigration in the US. With no real spokesperson for the millions of illegal immigrants in the US, specifically one that is actually a part of that group themselves, the needs of that group of people and fairness in handling the issue will never clearly come forward. Speaking on behalf of a community is not the same as truly coming from it and representing those people, leaving the discussions to take place outside of that community and never come to a realistic solution. A re-think of policy development and a non-partisan legal approach is needed, and that will not occur in the current political system. Until then, stopping illegal immigration is like trying to apply car brakes on a boat, it will not stop and your only choice is to choose to drift in a new direction, trapped in the same current.
In the past I have given legal advice to many illegal immigrants in my own country, and have personally seen issues that have never been addressed in immigration policies like those being discussed by Obama and Romney over the last few days. This past week, President Obama introduced a policy to allow children of illegal immigrants who live and have grown up in the US to be able to work and study in the only country they have ever really known. It is surprising that there was any real opposition to this move by Romney a few months ago as prohibiting their status allows for the creation of a population without a true identity. This was an issue with children in Europe who’s parents came from Turkey and had their children while working in Switzerland, but were not able to secure their children’s nationality in the only country they have ever known. They were not Swiss, but not Turkish either, and legally for an individual to have an identity under international law, they have to be a citizen of a state. A fine example of this confronted me one day when I had a client who was reported by his ex-girlfriend who wished to make a silly point to him and had him arrested for his immigration status. When I tried to speak to him in Spanish, he stopped me and answered me in English with the same accent I had, specifically from my city, and told me that his parents were refugees from Chile back in the 1970s and they did not know how to apply for their status and stayed ever since then. He never knew Chile, his Spanish was not likely good enough to work there, and he had a decent education and worked his whole life in my same country, but in the end he was deported. This case stood out for us as we never had someone who was almost exactly like us get kicked out of the country, but the laws were not evolved enough to understand that placing people who are truly part of your society and community into a position with no identity and no power has nothing but negative effects on the entire community.
Obama’s proposed change to the immigration law does achieve one small goal, it places focus on a community of young pseudo-Americans and acknowledges that they exist and that they are some part of American society. This acknowledgement of their group is the first step to tackling the challenges that groups without a full legal identity face in all communities. Three issues that concern me over encouraging a community without an identity in American society have become serious issues lately, and for the powerless in society it makes them into walking targets. The first issue is that this group might take to violent protests and further marginalize their cause and rights in the wider society. Protests often exist for many in Western countries for the sake of protest, and miss focusing on a real issue. This creates breathing space for productive protests to be labelled as issueless, thus muting their real message and chance for real change.
A major issue that needs to be addressed is that when there is questionable legal identity of a group, it leaves them to be subject to the undercurrent of illegal activities taking place in a society and across borders. This may place some women without the supports to avoid being trafficked into prostitution, a large issue that often targets women from poorer communities worldwide, removing their passports and money and creating modern day slaves for those without legal or physical power. While this has not become a major issue for young Latinos in the US, it is a serious problem in Europe and Latin America and could easily start sourcing the issues within the US itself.
The last major issue that is a great concern is bullying, specifically bullying that leads to workplace violence. The bullying debate often focuses on all kids in school, but over the last few years injuries and deaths have grown exponentially in North America from bullying in the workplace. For the powerless, the laws and anti-coercion measures are lacking and almost completely ineffective for those who do not have the power or money to fight a violent individual at work. Often being civil and going through the proper processes do not help and many are forced to live in an abusive relationship simply because they cannot find other work. For those young Latinos and children of illegal immigrants, they are simply walking targets for those who wish to take advantage of them and abuse them because they know they are financially weak and have no legal backing. For anyone facing violence in the workplace it is difficult to stop someone who chooses to physically abuse them while they try to simply live as any American does. Giving an individual power and strength to secure their own dignity is the most basic right for any individual in a democratic society. Obama’s new policy with support from Romney is a move in the right direction, now lets see if they can seriously address the underlying issues for the benefit of all communities living in the United States.
– Rich Basas is a Latin America blogger and Europe blogger at the Foreign Policy Association. Read the blogs here for Latin America and here for Europe.
Mexico doesn't often bask in the glow of good news.
The mood at the annual summit of the world's leading economies is anything but upbeat, despite a temporary sigh of relief that Greeks elected into office the pro-bailout candidate – averting, at least temporarily, an immediate meltdown in the European Union.
As it has for the third year in a row, the eurozone crisis will be at the center of G20 talks. But at least Mexico, along with a host of developing countries in Latin America, is on the right side of macroeconomic stability, after finding itself at the center of economic crises in the '80s and '90s.
The expectations are not high that the G20 is actually going to solve any of the globe's problems, but it does give Mexican President Felipe Calderon, who is at the end of his presidency and constitutionally barred from running for re-election, perhaps his last opportunity to put Mexico on the international stage for something other than the grisly drug violence that has dominated world headlines.
“A lot of countries are belly up and we are not. We have ideas about how to face these things,” says David Mena Alemán, a professor of international affairs at the Iberoamericana University in Mexico City. “In other conditions there are things that would have detracted from any prestige or recognition of the Mexican government – why there are so many poor, why we are sending so many people to US, and all the drug trafficking – but there is a mega crisis out there, and [countries] are willing to listen to how we dealt with it and how we are dealing with it.”
Leaders of the G20, who began arriving in Mexico on Sunday, were holding their breath over the outcome in Greece. The New Democracy party, which favors the terms of a EU bailout, won. Had the leftist party Syriza taken the race, rejecting the austerity placed on the nation, panic in the markets would have taken every ounce of leaders' energy at the G20 as the EU may have been faced with the unprecedented consequence of a country leaving the eurozone.
While President Calderon has downplayed expectations of what the meeting can accomplish, he has said that the meeting could produce more funds for the International Monetary Fund (IMF), without the contribution of the US – a small example of the new voice that lesser developed nations have won through the years, particularly as their economic health has remained solid despite the world financial crisis. (The US is bowing out of funding what has been portrayed as a bailout for Europe.)
“I hope there’s a very important agreement about the IMF,” Calderon said. “It’s going to be the first time the fund is capitalized without the US, which reflects the importance of emerging markets.”
Calderon acknowledges that Mexico's identity abroad has been colored by the 50,000-plus murders in drug-fueled violence that have occurred since he took office and sent the military to fight organized crime. As the meeting kicked off he sought to highlight what Mexico has done well, including its ability to hold major events like the G20 (as well as the 2010 climate summit in Cancun and the pope's visit this spring).
Mexico, of course, has deep-rooted problems that have long kept it back (a theme that we will explore in the next edition of our print magazine ahead of Mexico's July 1 presidential race.)
But it has also done well on many measures – particularly well during the financial crisis of 2008 and 2009, given its long-running dependence on the US and the scale of the crisis. Its economy's growth is picking up, outpacing the much more celebrated Brazil last year and probably this year as well. More to the point, in contrast to the eurozone crisis that as host of the G20 it is trying to help solve, it's been stable for nearly 20 years. Inflation is in check, its economy wide open.
(See an interesting Economist analysis of growing trade relations with the US here).
Calderon, Mr. Olson recalls, started talking about the EU, about the problems in Greece and Spain. “At first I didn't understand,” says Olson. “And then I realized, this is Mexico speaking as the [host] of the G20. This is Mexico speaking as a world leader, not Mexico limiting itself to US-Mexico relations, the traditional role they play.”
Or as David Shirk at San Diego University's Trans-Border Institute puts it in a recent opinion piece at the BBC: “If Mexico were a stock, now might be the time to buy. The country has been severely under-valued in recent years.”
"Mexico was arguably the Greece of the 1980s and 1990s, suffering excruciating debt and monetary crises. But Mexico, which hosts the G20 summit next week, is Greece no more."
• A version of this post ran on the author's blog, Riogringa. The views expressed are the author's own.
Rio+20 [began last week, with the main event kicking off on June 20], and as usual, everything is coming together at the last minute. With 50,000 visitors and around 100 heads of state expected, the city's preparations are being finalized. It's a good sign, since the massive event is going to serve as a practice run for upcoming mega-events like the Confederations Cup, the World Cup, and the Olympics.
The city government is taking preventative measures to try to reduce the city's notorious traffic, which is especially heavy in Barra, where the main part of the conference is taking place. The mayor declared a school holiday for all levels, from pre-K to universities, as well as a partial public worker holiday. and special traffic measures are being put into place. A lane on the Linha Vermelha highway will have an exclusive lane for heads of state, and Avenida Niemeyer – a narrow, seaside road which connects Barra to the South Zone – will operate in a single direction during peak hours from the 20th to 22nd. There will be special buses running to transport visitors to and from the conference, including "green" buses.
Earlier this month, the city inaugurated its first bus rapid transit system, which if all goes as planned, will connect the city from end to end, from the airport to Barra. There's only one section operating so far, but it's one of the sections within the West Zone, where Rio+20 is taking place. There are some concerns that adding more buses in Barra won't solve its traffic problem in the long run, but the fact that part of it is up and running is a good sign for the city's expanding infrastructure.
Security, as for all big events, is traditionally led by the military. Around 20,000 troops and police are operating in the city, and a special operations center along with 400 security cameras will monitor the city in real time.
Possibly because of the still-high prices, there are hotel rooms to spare – around 15 percent of all rooms are unoccupied this week, and 5 percent for next week. Some creative attendees are actually camping out on one of Rio's college campuses and in one of the city's parks, and there are even accommodations available at the Sambodrome and public education centers.
Attending the conference isn't cheap, but then, neither is traveling to Rio. After the hotel price imbroglio, the latest issue is that food at Riocentro (the conference center) is being sold at "international prices" with R$5 soda cans and a R$12 slice of pizza. Visitors from all over the world are evidently complaining about the high prices, though there are simpler lunch options at more reasonable prices.
Technology is also being tested at Rio+20. Along with wireless internet for the thousands of conference participants, the event is the first in Brazil that will have a 4G connection, which will be used as an experiment to test the connection. Brazil hopes to expand 4G to regular internet users by 2013 in time for the Confederations Cup, and the government just raised $1.4 billion this week in its 4G auction. That said, journalists were complaining about technology issues, including not being able to send photos or video, not being allowed to use printers because it "isn't sustainable," even though delegates are allowed to print, and the absence of adapters available for foreign journalists.
The real test will begin on the 20th, when the heads of state arrive. But like with Carnival every year, things are coming together.