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[LINK] “Zika Virus May Push South America to Loosen Abortion Bans”

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Wireds Sarah Zhang describes how the spread of the Zika virus has influenced the abortion debate in South America.

With no vaccine, no cure, and without even a reliable diagnosis, doctors are at a loss for how to protect their patients from the Zika virus. In the past year, the mosquito-borne disease has spread throughout Latin America, sparking panic because of a possible link to microcephaly—babies born with abnormally small brains. Without more information, medical advice so far has boiled down to this: Don’t get pregnant. So say official guidelines from Brazil, Colombia, and Honduras. El Salvador has gone so far as to recommend women do not get pregnant until 2018.

But most of these Latin American countries are also Catholic, so access to birth control is often poor and abortion is flat-out banned. “This kind of recommendation that women should avoid pregnancy is not realistic,” says Beatriz Galli, a Brazil-based policy advisor for the reproductive health organization Ipas. “How can they put all the burden of this situation on the women?”

In Brazil, where Zika has hit the hardest, birth control is available—though poor and rural women can still get left out. One report estimates that unplanned pregnancies make up over half of all births in the country. And abortion is illegal, except in cases of rape and certain medical conditions. A raft of impending legislation in Brazil’s conservative-held congress may make it harder to get abortions even in those exempted cases.

Now throw Zika into that. Scientists still haven’t confirmed the link to microcephaly, but Brazilian researchers have confirmed the virus can jump through the placenta from mother to fetus. Circumstantially, the number of of microcephaly cases has gone up 20 fold since Zika first reached Brazil. In the face of fear and incomplete information, women will have to figure out how to protect themselves and their children.

Written by Randy McDonald

February 10, 2016 at 5:10 pm

[LINK] “Soy Boom Revives Amazon Highway”

Fabiana Frayssinet’s Inter Press Service article lokos at how the soy fields of Amazonia are expanding, at significant ecological cost.

The BR-163 highway, an old dream of the Brazilian military to colonise the Amazon jungle, was revived by agroexporters as part of a plan aimed at cutting costs by shipping soy out of river ports. But the improvement of the road has accentuated problems such as deforestation and land tenure, and is fuelling new social conflicts.

The 350-km stretch of road between the cities of Miritituba and Santarem in the northern Brazilian state of Pará look nothing like the popular image of a lush Amazon rainforest, home to some of the greatest biodiversity in the world.

Between the two port terminals – in Santarém, where the Tapajós and Amazon Rivers converge, and in Miritituba on the banks of the Tapajós River – are small scattered groves of trees surrounded by endless fields of soy and pasture.

Cattle grazing peacefully or resting under the few remaining trees, taking shelter from the high temperatures exacerbated by the deforestation, are the only species of mammal in sight.

“A common phrase heard in the area along the BR-163 is ‘whoever deforests, owns the land’ – in other words, deforestation has become an illegal instrument for seizing public land.” – Mauricio Torres
“When we came here 30 years ago this was all jungle,” local small farmer Rosineide Maciel told IPS as she and her family stood watching a bulldozer flatten a stretch of the BR-163 highway in front of their modest dwelling.

Maciel doesn’t miss the days when, along with thousands of other Brazilian migrants, she was drawn here by the then-military government’s (1964-1985) offer of land, part of a strategy to colonise the Amazon rainforest.

Thanks to the paving of the highway that began in 2009, it takes less time to transport her cassava and rice to the town of Rurópolis, 200 km from her farm.

“It’s been easier since they improved the road,” she said. “In the past, there were so many potholes on the way to Rurópolis, and in the wet season it took us three days because of the mud.”

BR-163, built in the 1970s, had become practically impassable. The road links Cuiabá, the capital of the neighbouring state of Mato Grosso – the country’s main soy and corn producer and exporter – with the river port city of Santarém.

Of the highway’s 1,400 kilometres, where traffic of trucks carrying tons of soy and maize is intense, some 200 km have yet to be paved, and a similar number of kilometres of the road are full of potholes.

Accidents occur on a daily basis, caused in the dry season by the red dust thrown up on the stretches that are still dirt, and in the wet season by the mud.

But compared to how things were in the past, it is a paradise for the truckers who drive the route at least five times a month during harvest time.

Truck driver Pedro Gomes from the north of the state of Mato Grosso told IPS: “When soy began to come to Santarém, three years ago, sometimes the drive took me 10 to 15 days. Today we do it in three days, if there’s no rain.”

Written by Randy McDonald

January 7, 2016 at 10:14 pm

[BLOG] Some Monday links

  • Antipope Charlie Stross wonders how technologically advanced a civilization could become without literacy.
  • Crooked Timber notes paleocon Peter Hitchens’ take on the history of England.
  • The Dragon’s Gaze reports on the growth of pebble-accreting planetesimals.
  • Geocurrents maps Tokugawa Japan as a multi-state system, perhaps not unlike the contemporary Holy Roman Empire.
  • Inkfish reports on crows given cameras which track their tool use.
  • Language Hat notes some remarkable Gothic graffiti from Crimea.
  • Marginal Revolution notes the very high levels of public debt in Brazil.
  • The Russian Demographics Blog and Window on Eurasia wonder what will happen if Russia’s future turns out not to be Belarus, but Ukraine.
  • Spacing Toronto notes the time the Stanley Cup got stolen.
  • Window on Eurasia notes that Russians now perceive Ukrainians as separate, looks at the hostile Russian reaction to pan-Turkic nationalism, and notes that the origins of Russia’s Central Asian migrant workers have been changing.

[BLOG] Some Saturday links

  • Crooked Timber shares a John Quiggin blog post, originally from 2004, in which he considers the static nature of popular culture.
  • The Dragon’s Tales reports on a study of the rotating Luhman 16 brown dwarfs.
  • The Dragon’s Tales examines the archeology of the Mayans and of Amazonia.
  • Far Outliers looks at the rise and fall of Baku as a capital of world oil.
  • Language Log notes at the misogyny implicit in the construction of some Chinese characters.
  • Lawyers, Guns and Money looks at this climate change Christmas.
  • The Power and the Money’s Noel Maurer considers the new official names for various exoplanets.
  • Transit Toronto notes the three-year anniversary of an online TTC simulator.
  • The Volokh Conspiracy considers political ignorance on left and right.
  • Window on Eurasia suggests Chechnya is nearly independent already and looks at non-productive Russian reactions to the ongoing collapse in the number of speakers of the Russian language.

[LINK] “Brazil’s Amazon River Ports Give Rise to Dreams and Nightmares”

The Inter Press Service’s Fabiana Frayssinet describes the complications of Brazil’s ports on the Amazon River.

River port terminals in the northern Brazilian city of Santarém are considered strategic by the government. But what some see as an opportunity for development is for others an irreversible change in what was previously a well-preserved part of the Amazon rainforest.

In the evening light on the Tapajós River, whose green-blue waters mix with the darker muddy water of the Amazon River in Santarém, it’s not easy to ignore the silos that overshadow what used to be a public beach, where passenger boats and fishing vessels typical of this part of the Amazon jungle state of Pará tie up.

The port terminal of the U.S. commodities giant Cargill began to operate in 2003 as a centre for the storage, transshipment and loading of soy and corn, in this city of nearly 300,000 people.

The cargo ships and convoys of barges carrying grains are headed for the Amazon River and then the Atlantic Ocean on their way to Europe or China, the biggest markets for Brazil’s main agribusiness exports.

This country is the world’s second-largest producer of soy, after the United States, and the biggest exporter. In the 2014-2015 harvest it produced 95 million tons, 60.7 million of which were exported.

Municipal authorities argue that the river port terminals generate jobs and tax revenue, while they drive the construction and services industries, hotels and fuel supplies.

But Edilberto Sena, a Catholic priest who is the president of the Tapajós Movement Alive, holds a very different view.

“Cargill’s arrival has been a tragedy for Santarém,” he told IPS. “When they began to build the port they argued that it would bring jobs, and while they were building it did create 800 jobs. But as soon as it was completed, most of the workers were fired, and now it employs between 150 and 160 people.”

Written by Randy McDonald

December 14, 2015 at 5:44 pm

[LINK] “Uruguay’s Chinese Car Boom Ends on Cheap Brazil, India Imports”

At first glance, Ken Parks’ Bloomberg article suggests that Uruguayans–at least car-buyers–benefit from a very competitive auto retail sector.

Uruguayans love their beef, wine and cheap Chinese cars that used to account for almost a quarter of new vehicle sales. But competition from low-cost Brazilian and Indian cars has sent Chinese sales into a tailspin this year.

Chinese passenger vehicle sales tumbled almost 34 percent year-on-year during the first 10 months of 2015, compared to a 9 percent decline in the total market, according to data from Uruguayan automotive trade group ACAU.

China’s market share in Uruguay, once the highest in Spanish-speaking South America, has plunged with sales. Brands such as BYD, Geely and Chery represented 17 percent of new passenger vehicle sales this year, down from 23 percent in 2014.

The devaluation of the Brazilian real, which has helped Volkswagen and Fiat factories in Brazil, and Suzuki imports from India have forced dealerships to cut prices on Chinese vehicles, Santiago Guelfi, a director at BYD and Peugeot distributor Sadar, said earlier this month.

Written by Randy McDonald

November 12, 2015 at 8:36 pm

[BLOG] Some Monday links

  • Crooked Timber wonders what Nietzche would have to say about immigration.
  • The Dragon’s Gaze links to a paper examining the atmospheres of different exoplanets orbiting different kinds of stars.
  • The Dragon’s Tales notes that Pluto and Charon may have iron cores.
  • Joe. My. God. notes that Martin Shkreli’s newly-overpriced drug is being vastly underpriced by a new competitor.
  • Language Hat notes a Yiddish translation of a Chinese song.
  • Languages of the World argues that the Indo-Europeans are an identifiable people.
  • Marginal Revolution considers the nature of Chinese economic growth.
  • The Power and the Money’s Noel Maurer looks at the fiscal constraints of Brazil and notes the interactions of the vulture funds with Peru.
  • Bruce Sterling on his tumblr shares a post looking at an American shantytown.
  • Supernova Condensate enthuses about Enceladus.
  • The Understanding Society Blog’s Daniel Little considers how to model organizational recruitment.
  • The Financial Times‘ The World blog wonders if the German economy will benefit from Merkel’s open door.
  • Yorkshire Ranter Alex Harrowell notes the menace of coordinated hype cycles.
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