The following guest post was written by Derek Poppert, former Global Exchange Latin America Reality Tours Director.

Last week, 24-year old Brazilian judo player Rafaela Silva won Brazil’s first gold medal of the 2016 Olympic games. Her accomplishment is both inspiring and symbolic.

It is inspiring because she hails from a particularly notorious favela in Rio de Janeiro, having faced steep odds to rise to the top of her sport as a black woman in a poor and highly-marginalized community, the same favela depicted in the famous Brazilian movie named after the favela itself: The City of God.

It is symbolic because it is this exact type of community – the many favelas spread out across Rio de Janeiro – that have paid the highest price to host the 2016 Olympic games. And yet it is a young black woman from a favela in Rio de Janeiro who won Brazil’s first gold: a symbol of triumph, redemption and hope for those who daily feel the effects of the Olympics on their lives in Rio’s favelas: the police incursions, the bulldozing of their homes, the racial targeting, the stigmatization of their communities in the media.

Lost in NBC’s nightly primetime coverage is the reality that the highest cost of hosting these Olympics is not even the $11.9 billion price tag in the face of economic contraction, poverty, political crisis and vast inequality: it is the displacement and repression of Brazil’s most vulnerable communities.

Ricardo Moraes/Reuters

Ricardo Moraes/Reuters

What most people tuning into NBC might not know is that over 60,000 people have been forcefully displaced from their homes in Rio de Janeiro to make way for Olympic-related construction. The vast majority of those displaced live in favelas: low-income communities (incorrectly referred to as “slums” in most western media) that informally established themselves on city outskirts decades ago but have since become high-functioning communities and sustainable forms of low-income, close-quarter urban living.

Whole neighborhoods have been clear cut to make room for construction projects mainly geared towards foreigners and the Brazilian elite: the Olympic village, new bus and metro lines, luxury condominiums. The Olympics were perfect justification for real estate developers to do what they have long wanted to do near the current Olympics venues in the south of Rio: get rid of the poorer communities that keep real estate values from ballooning like they do all along the waterfront of other parts of Rio.

Favelas are often stigmatized in Brazil as “lesser” than other communities and have a reputation of drugs and violence – stereotypes perpetuated by portrayals such as that in the movie The City of God, which for most westerners is perhaps the only experience they will ever have with a Brazilian favela. Violence and the drug trade certainly do exist in favelas, but much of the violence occurs at the hands of the state. The Olympics were used as justification not only for mass displacement and eviction, but for an enormous police-military buildup and a swift crackdown on basic civil liberties, particularly in poor areas. The Olympics called for “security”, and this allowed the heavy hand of the Brazilian police further power to do what it has long done to fight the drug trade: home incursions without legal process, arbitrary search and seizures, kidnapping, torture, racial profiling and homicides with near impunity.

A security force of 85,000 has arrived in Rio to “keep the peace” during the Olympics. But while a military build-up along Rio’s tourist areas in Copacabana and Ipanema gives the impression of security, repression meanwhile occurs in the city’s poor areas that tourists will never see.

If this all sounds familiar, you’d be right – the World Cup two years ago highlighted the exact same issues. Profit and sport at the expense of people and human rights. Displacement in the name of preparation and police violence in the name of security. Then it was FIFA that was co-responsible, now it’s the IOC (International Olympic Committee).

As Amnesty International Brazil puts it:

We’ve seen this before. In 2014 – the year that Brazil hosted the FIFA World Cup – police killings in Rio de Janeiro state shot up by 40%. Police and military forces were deployed as part of ‘public security’ plans. As tensions rose, they repressed protestors with brutality and unleashed lethal violence in favelas. ‘Shoot first, ask questions later’. No one was held to account; security forces got away with murder. Right now, these same kinds of ‘public security’ plans are being put in place for the 2016 Games.

Getty Images

Getty Images

The IOC should be ashamed it has allowed the preparations for the 2016 Olympics to proceed in the manner it has, in the face of such tragedies over the past 7 years since Rio won the Olympic bid. It should be ashamed it did not demand a better way to go forward with Olympic preparations. The IOC’s claim that they and the Olympics are “a-political” is an illusion: nothing in this world is a-political, and certainly nothing as massive, global and cash-infused as the Olympics. The Olympics are intrinsically and inevitably connected to enormous political, social and economic ramifications, and the IOC should have the backbone to stand up for what is right while it makes its plans for the bi-annual event with the host country.

We take this opportunity to lend a voice of solidarity to the groups on the ground in Rio and across Brazil opposing these tremendous forces of money and power: the organizers, the community groups, the peaceful protestors. Olympic competition is an incredible sight to behold, but it should never come at the price of people, communities and human rights.

This content was originally published by Telesur under the following address: Global Exchange has translated the article into English. Translated by Laura Krasovitzky

La caravana recorrerá varios puntos por cada ciudad y luego partirá a New York. | Foto: La Tribuna Este contenido ha sido publicado originalmente por teleSUR bajo la siguiente dirección: Si piensa hacer uso del mismo, por favor, cite la fuente y coloque un enlace hacia la nota original de donde usted ha tomado este contenido.

La caravana recorrerá varios puntos por cada ciudad y luego partirá a New York. | Foto: La Tribuna

Human rights defenders and victims along with religious leaders are participating in a caravan that seeks to compile testimonies that can be heard at the U.N. Special Session on drugs taking place on April 19. With the goal of raising awareness on the negative effects of prohibitionist drug policies around the world, the caravan will be traveling through Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala and Mexico before culminating at the U.N. headquarters in New York.

The initiative began this past Monday and is being led by human rights defenders, religious leaders and victims of human rights violations who seek to open spaces for dialogue. During the U.N. special session, heads of state will address the issue of national drug policies and the future frameworks for regulation of these narcotics.

The civic organizations that make up this caravan have criticized the rol the United States has played in relation to drugs and drug trafficking. According to Human Rights Director of Global Exchange Ted Lewis, “The United States has played a key role in promoting these prohibitionist policies around the world, especially Latin America. Here we have a new series of laws that are being implemented with racist biases in criminal justice reform and in Latin America this has manifested in the way of interventions and violence against its own people,“ said the director.

In light of these views and the thousands of victims, especially in countries represented by the Caravan, the Friedrich Ebert Foundation and Honduran human rights organizations have endorsed the initiative and marked that the Caravan for Peace, Life and Justice is expected to arrive one day before the U.N. special session.

Women and the War on Drugs
by Robin Lloyd

The following piece was originally published by Peace and Justice Newsletter of Burlington. The author, Robin Lloyd, is a filmmaker and peace activist from Burlington VT.

I first smoked marijuana when I was thirty years old. I found it to be more fun than alcohol. And more spiritual. It reminded me why I became a Quaker. It helped me see the inner light in people.

The next realization was that it was insane to make this simple plant illegal.  In reading books on the subject I learned a surprising fact: the legal prohibition of cannabis, coca and poppy plants is determined at the highest level, not by God (since after all it is reported that Jesus used a cannabis extract in healing) but by the UN’s Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs of 1961.  In 1970, Richard Nixon signed the legislation implementing national prohibition in compliance with the Convention: the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act.

So just to make that clear, US drug policy is determined by a United Nations Convention.

A potentially momentous reconsideration of that Convention will be taking place this April in New York City at the second United National General Assembly Special Session on Drugs (UNGASS).

I attended the first UNGASS in 1998 as part of the effort by the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) to change policy and especially to assert our position that ending the war on drugs is a women’s issue.

Why? There are many things wrong with this War – its racism, its reliance on military solutions – but one not frequently mentioned is its impact on women.

The War on Drugs condones a form of macho violence. In earlier decades, that violence was played out between cops and robbers, then cowboys and Indians, and now the DEA and narco traffickers.

The War allows men to find an excuse to be violent and to militarize societies. Women lose in time of war, no matter what George Bush says.  And what are the results of criminalizing a natural human desire to change consciousness? A massive international slush fund of illegal money funding brothels, gun running, bribes, and casinos: all endeavors that are not much fun for women.

The legal enforcement of prohibition leads to racism and punitive incarceration. On the supply side, the chaos caused when Latin American governments, bullied by the US, agree to spray farmers’ land to destroy coca crops – without asking their permission of course –  in the middle of a civil war, has been an ongoing environmental tragedy and political disaster.

I accompanied a WILPF delegation to Colombia in 1996 and documented our meetings with the courageous but melancholy victims of the war: women heartbroken that their sons were forced to join a paramilitary group to kill other women’s sons who had joined the guerillas. A high point of our visit was a meeting with the secretary of the Small Coca Farmers Cooperative. Olmyra Morales arrived at our meeting at a human rights center in Bogota carrying a small suitcase. Like an Avon door-to-door saleswoman, she set out the healing lotions and teas made from he coca plant and described their beneficent uses.

A year later, WILPF US, under the leadership of executive director Marilyn Clement,  got a grant from the Drug Policy Foundation for a US tour of women survivors of the War on Drugs:  North and South. Olmyra came from Colombia, joining a coca farmer from Bolivia and Peru and an African-American former cocaine addict who was HIV positive – Marsha Burnett from Montpelier VT.

On one of the stops on the tour we met with the staff of a anti-drug abuse program  in Baltimore. It was an amazing but gentle confrontation between women who grew the crops whose product was destroying the communities in the inner city of Baltimore, and those who had to deal with the effects of this epidemic. Who was to blame?  Who was ‘evil’? New insights were gained that day.

The next year Olmyra came back to the US  to testify at the first UNGASS on Drugs in 1998, sponsored by the Transnational Institute from the Netherlands. She and Marsha Burnett were chosen from amongst civil society participants to address (from the balcony) hundreds of diplomats making up the UN Committee of the Whole. They spoke as victims of the supply and demand side of this war.

They held hands aloft and said “We together, representing the two criminalized extremes of the drug problem, say that we are united in seeking a sustainable way of life for our communities…”.

It was moving to hear poor women speaking the truth in those august halls. But did anyone really listen? What was the outcome of that first UNGASS? Titled “A Drug-Free World — We Can Do It!”, President Clinton cajoled the rest of the world into increasing the military response to drug use. The US government was happy to assist Latin American  countries in acquiring high speed motor boats for interdiction and low cost loans to build prisons for drug offenders (and anyone else who offended the state).

A lot of drugs have passed under the bridge since that time. This April, UNGASS II will take place in a much changed atmosphere.  According to the Transnational Institute,  UNGASS 2016 is an unparalleled opportunity to put an end to the horrors of the drug war and instead prioritize health, human rights, and safety.WILPF’s attempt to speak truth to power before UNGASS 1 was a low profile, grassroots effort. By contrast, this April, survivors and victims of this war, north and south, will be traveling as part of a much more robust caravan, starting in Honduras, to present their case to the UN.  Sponsored by Global Exchange, with a large grant from George Soros’s Open Society, this movement for freedom from government oppression has a chance to be a game changer.

To follow the Caravan, and for information on UNGASS,  please go to For info on the film Courageous Women of Colombia, visit

Cuban Women Dancing

Since 1988, Global Exchange has been offering meaningful, socially responsible travel through our Reality Tours. For eight of those years, Drea Hightower has been the backbone of our tours to Cuba. As a tribute to her leadership, and appreciated presence at Global Exchange, we would like to share with you a deeper look at our Reality Tours through the eyes of one of our most passionate team members.

We present to you, a Q&A with Drea.


Question: What separates Global Exchange Reality Tours from other modalities of travel?

Answer: Reality Tours provides participants the opportunity to have unique visits with groups and individuals that you wouldn’t have access to if you were traveling on your own. Our trips are always led by local guides and experts that are educated in a number of areas; they can speak with expertise on a variety of issues, as well as to the realities of the people in-country. Global Exchange and our partners are committed to exposing you as best as possible to the realities on the ground in each country; both the challenges and the achievements.

Question: Do you believe that people to people tourism helps alleviate cultural and political tension?

Answer: Absolutely. Simply giving yourself the space and opportunity to see and feel and experience another country, it’s people, and culture is a first step in suspending the tension that comes from simply not knowing. The same can be said on the other end when folks see you are taking the time to learn about them via travel. In my opinion it speaks volumes.

Question: What does an average day look like when on a Reality Tour?

Answer: When trip leading, I’m always busy. I’m up early, making sure everyone is feeling good and ready to start the day! I work as a team with local guides and drivers to ensure we’re supportive of each other during this experience. I’m always available to our participants to answer questions and facilitate dialogue if necessary. Of course I also take time to connect with our long-time friends and partners on the ground. Trips are a learning opportunity so you’ll also find me taking notes about new developments in-country, or just ideas on how to make our trips better!

For a participant, the day starts with breakfast with their fellow travelers. The morning comprises of meetings with community project leaders, and visits with ICAP hosts to hear about their perspective on Cuba and U.S. relations. After a relaxing, leisurely lunch and cafecito, (oh! and cuban ice cream or flan of course), participants will meet with local artists, visit polyclinics to learn about the healthcare system, and engage with educators through school visits. Undoubtedly, the highlight of the trip is meeting with CDR committees for the defense of the revolution. During this meeting you exchange with community members, which includes: one on one interactions with all age groups, lots of music and dancing, performances from kids while sharing fruits and beverages. This is an incredible opportunity for community building, by breaking down barriers through personal exchange. Also, because the trips are always led by a local guide, it really sets the tone for the tour. Participants are able to travel through a cuban prospective. Such a rich alternative experience would not be possible without our long time relationships with our partners on the ground.

Question: What have the participants expressed of their time in Cuba; regarding their mental state going in, and coming out of such a dynamic experience?

Answer: I talked to a woman today on the phone who is a part of a group of Black educators here in the states. She has been eagerly waiting to return to Cuba with Reality Tours. She told me, “The trip changed my life. It opened my eyes to other possibilities that work in the world.” She was speaking to the fact that a nation is able to survive in a different way than our own, concerning anything from education to healthcare.

Another participant from the New Years Eve trip to Cuba expressed to me that she felt like she came away from the trip as a daughter of the revolution. She truly understood how people were on board with the revolution, and how humbling Cuba has been to recognize that their economic model needs to evolve with the global economy. They are moving forward to be able to successfully progress with the world for their people. She was inspired by the pillars of the revolution, and by the governments ability to take accountability for a system that has not been as successful as they hoped, and then make steps to improve.

You learn in Cuba that the revolution prioritizes things that not even the US has.  Like education, health care, the arts, culture, and community. They removed access of private funding/business for programs like healthcare and education. Its not about who’s making money, its about their people and what they need.

Question: How has the reality tour impacted you, and your view on Cuba and the world?

Answer: Well it certainly impacted me in many ways. I’ve sort of become jaded. Not that Cuba has the best systems, but that they do have great systems in place that provides their community with the right to social programs such as health care and education. It has shown me what is possible in a society where you don’t have privatization. It gives me hope that we can strive for better in this country. But it has also opened my eyes to just how much emphasis we put on corporate interests here in the U.S. It just becomes that much more in your face. You start to see how corporations have taken control over aspects of our life. It is as though our government does not prioritize making its people healthy and educated, its about how can they make a dollar.

There is no denying that, politically speaking Cubans are divided. Just as anywhere else in the world. However, I doubt you would ever find a Cuban saying,  “Yes, I think privatization is a good idea.” Whether or not you believe in the revolution, the point of the trip is to see what we can learn from Cuba. Why it is a right to exchange with Cubans, to have people to people dialogues, to see what we can learn from Cuba, and how we can apply those things to enrich our lives.

Questions: Are there any last words that you would like readers to take away from this inside scoop on a Global Exchange Reality Tour?

Answer: I would like to share one of my favorite sayings that I believe embodies our Reality Tours, “Suspend disbelief.” If you can just pause and give yourself the opportunity to see something for what it is, knowing it’s not perfect, how we can learn from it, and apply the lessons learned to our own lives. This is the biggest gift of all, and I thank Cuba for giving me the opportunity to do so.

End Q&A 


Global Exchange is first and foremost a human rights organization, dedicated to promoting social, economic and environmental justice around the world. Reality Tours is just one of the many ways we aim to make change. By offering experiential educational tours, and connecting people to people, issues with movements, we know that our participants will leave feeling empowered to take action. Traveling is great, traveling with a purpose is even greater. Join us, or learn more about our Reality Tours here!


Special thanks to Drea Hightower,


Caravan Video Contest Graphic (1)

In just two months the Global Exchange Caravan for Peace, Life, and Justice will start a month-long, five-nation journey north from Honduras to New York City, arriving at the United Nations General Assembly Special Session on the World Drug Problem on April 19th.

The Caravan aims to give voice to victims of the failed war on drugs and raise the call for drug policy reform that prioritizes health, harm reduction, and human rights.

The drug war is a failure and we all know it, but the stories of why and how it will end are just beginning to be told.

That is why we are launching an international video contest. We want to hear your story!

We invite you to create a 1-3 minute original video on the drug war’s impact in your community and what people are (or aren’t) doing about it. Convey to an international audience the urgency for action to end the drug war tragedy.

The creators of the top 3 videos will win great prizes:

  • First prize: A chance to join the Caravan as part of the audiovisual team in charge of the documentation of the Caravan for Peace, Life, and Justice, March 28th until April 19th, 2016, from Honduras to New York, with all expenses paid, including airfare, accommodations, transportation, and food!
  • Second Prize: $1,500 grant.
  • Third Prize: Nikon D7100 Digital Camera

To Participate: Upload your video to YouTube and send us the link at by March 1, 2016.

Your story will be part of the growing movement to end the war on drugs!!

Making the cost of the drug war visible, encouraging debate and demanding compassionate change are at the heart of the “Caravan for Peace, Life, and Justice.”  Join us in building a powerful movement to Stop the Harm and ensure Peace, Life and Justice for all.

Learn more about the contest here and the upcoming Caravan:


by Seghel Yohannes

I did not know what to expect when I went to Haiti through Global Exchange. Like the majority of other developing nations, the primary U.S. news coverage in Haiti focused on the country’s poverty and devastation due to natural disasters. Haiti was on everyone’s radar in January 2010, the month of its devastating 7.0 earthquake. Multiple western nations, including the United States, pledged millions of dollars in aid toward Haiti. The media response was swift and hopeful, and dozens of high-profile celebrities took advantage of the limelight. Actors and politicians went to Haiti to build houses while camera crews followed them around.

Nearly six years later, Haiti has virtually vanished from U.S. media. I would go so far as to wager a guess that the majority of Americans don’t know that Haiti is currently in the midst of a heated presidential election, which has been rescheduled several times. Haitians have been waiting with bated breath for this moment for years. The current president, Michel Martelly, has been in power since 2011. Haitians have been extremely dissatisfied with his tenure, and he has had several allegations of corruption against him.

Soulouque, myself, and Réa overlooking Haiti

Soulouque, myself, and Réa overlooking Haiti

Even less likely to be known is that Haiti has been facing an ongoing cholera outbreak since approximately October 2010, considered one of the worst cholera outbreaks in recent history. Foreign aid workers mostly likely caused this outbreak. MINUSTAH, the acronym of the French translation for the United Nations Mission in Haiti, sent peacekeepers to Haiti in October 2010. The waste from their encampment was transferred to an open area where children and animals had access to it. Shortly after aid workers set up their camp, hospitals in the same region were faced with an increase in deaths from diarrhea and dehydration, symptoms frequently associated with cholera. The UN does not acknowledge responsibility for causing the cholera epidemic in Haiti.

So where did that leave Haiti in March 2015? During my incredible stay there, I met some of the most passionate, driven, independent individuals I have ever known. The most incredible of whom was Madame Réa Dol, a Haitian mother and teacher in her early 50s. For most of her life, she’s facilitated community-driven partnerships with the goals of education reform, medical treatment and prevention programs, and microfinance initiatives. She introduced us to activists, parents, and teenagers who were all fiercely invested in the future of Haiti and were building support systems for themselves and their families through education, innovation, and technology.


A Fearless motorcyclist riding down a typical hilly mountainside

One example of innovation in Haiti is SOPUDEP (Society of Providence United for the Economic Development of Petion-Ville). SOPUDEP is a Haitian-founded and run grassroots organization located in Port-au-Prince. The organization’s Founder and Director is Réa. SOPUDEP’s focus is on providing accessible education to adults and children, supporting children’s and women’s rights, and creating programs of economic empowerment for members of their community. SOPUDEP also works closely with other local organizations to help them achieve these same goals in other communities that face economic and social challenges.

Another example of innovation in education is MOJUB, a literacy circle and community development organization established and run by women in an impoverished neighborhood of the city. MOJUB runs a school for the community, an Internet center (established through international support), and a microcredit program to help women launch income-generating activities.

During my 10-day trip in Port-au-Prince, the gorgeous and bustling capital of Haiti, I was lucky enough to travel with Réa and stay in her home with her family and 25 other American tourists. She built a hostel attachment to her home that travelers can rent out. In addition to her family, her staff and their children also live on her compound.


Delicious beef, rice, beans, vegetables, and salad with amazing local avocados.

I had the heady and breathtaking experience of bearing witness to Réa’s daily life. Her cell phone rang every ten minutes. It seemed as though everyone in Port-au-Prince knew Réa. From finding foster-care placements to helping students at her school afford uniforms, Réa knew everything there was to know. After dinner at Réa’s home, I would hang out with Réa’s son, a budding business guru, the daughter of one of Réa’s drivers, a sweet nursing student solidly focused on her future, and Réa’s adopted 9-year old son, who was fluent in Haitian Creole and Spanish and could easily understand conversational French and English. This little boy was an exacting language teacher, and I credit him for teaching me proper pronunciation when speaking Haitian Creole.

As an American in Haiti, I felt incredibly aware and self-conscious of my ignorance. I speak conversational French and mistakenly assumed that I would be well equipped to communicate with those around me. While French is technically one of the official languages of Haiti, roughly 40% of the population speaks the language.  The official language of Creole is primarily spoken in Haiti and is an essential component of wide communication. Haitian Creole is a mix of French, Spanish, Portugese, Taíno, and West African languages, and I had so much fun learning it. Going around with my little journal and scribbling down phrases, I found it was easy to ask those around me for help learning. That was just the beginning. I have so much more to learn and can’t wait to go back. I have so many friends I can’t wait to visit!



October 1, 2014

Contact: Shannon Biggs, Global Exchange 415.298.9419


Nature Puts Chevron Refinery and Legal System on Trial

People’s Tribunal in Oakland Seeks to Give Nature a Voice in Law this Sunday


Oakland CA chevron — On Sunday October 5, a People’s Tribunal will examine the violations of community and nature’s rights caused by the fossil fuel industry, using Chevron’s refinery in Richmond as a case study.  Recognizing legal standing for ecosystems is a concept that has been gaining strength over the past decade, in dozens of US communities and in the constitution of Ecuador.

Two years after the refinery explosion that rocked the Richmond, CA community, residents still live in fear, while air quality and land remain contaminated. Despite having been found guilty of 62 violations of the law in 2012, Chevron Corp. will be expanding operations, and 4 new projects will bring Tar Sands and fracked crude from North Dakota to the Bay Area.  The question for a growing many isn’t the violations of the law, but the daily chemical exposure permitted under the law.

 “Chevron has been destroying nature and poisoning people for over 100 years. Humanity is part of the web of life known as Nature. If Nature doesn’t have rights, then a viable future for the next seven generations is doubtful,says Richmond resident and Native American activist Pennie Opal Plant, who will also be one of several expert witnesses at the Tribunal.

Global Exchange’s Community & Nature’s Rights director, Shannon Biggs, one of the organizers of the event added, “the fact is, current law treats nature as property, so it’s easy for corporations to get a permit to blow the tops off of mountains for coal, or frack communities for profit.  Recognizing nature’s rights provides new and critical protections for our communities and the ecosystems we all depend on.”

  The tribunal, a project of the Bay Area Rights of Nature Alliance (BARONA)barona_logo_Mowder takes place Sunday 10 am – 2 pm at Laney College’s Forum, highlighting the impacts on people and nature from the Chevron refinery, and place on trial current legal and economic systems that advance the destruction of nature by the oil industry. Tribunal judges include:

  • Carl Anthony (Breakthrough Communities; Urban Habitat)
  • Brian Swimme (California Institute of Integral Studies; Journey of the Universe)
  • Anuradha Mittal (Oakland Institute)
  • Courtney Cummings (Arikara and Cheyenne; Native Wellness Center, Richmond)
  • Bill Twist (Pachamama Alliance)

The day will also include a “Web of Life Labyrinth,” created by local artists (opens 9:30 am), local music and food for purchase. Members of BARONA, a network of leading Bay Area rights of nature, ecological justice, human rights, local economy, Indigenous, women’s, and other groups will be on hand to answer questions. The event will be part of the global “Earth Rights Days of Action” sponsored by the Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature and the related efforts of the International Rights of Nature Tribunals in Quito, Ecuador (January 2014) and Lima, Peru (December 2014).

Please join us for a rich discussion of just what rights of nature could mean for residents in Richmond, CA—and across the country. Learn what over 100 other communities across the US are doing differently to put the rights of residents and nature before corporate profits.

Save your space for this important event register now.


The following is the second installment of a multi-part series examining the preparations and aftermaths of the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics in Brazil. Read the entire “Re-think the World Cup” series.

The 2014 World Cup is about far more than sport.

When I talk to people here in the U.S. about the upcoming World Cup in Brazil, most still tend to think of soccer parties and cool World Cup commercials. The lack of awareness as to the realities of the event is startling. 

The U.S. media is partially to blame, as comprehensive coverage of the issue has been nearly absent up until very recently. And while sport and parties are certainly aspects to the upcoming World Cup, they are only a part of the story – and to many in Brazil, the least important part.

Photo: Getty Images

Photo: Getty Images

Brazil was booming economy during the first decade of the 21st century. Its GDP growth topped that of most countries in the world, it slashed its rates of poverty and inequality, it saw a significant drop in its legacy of drug-related violence, and it emerged as a growing player on the geopolitical world stage. These factors, combined with Brazil’s famous national passion for the game of futebol, made the country an understandable candidate for host of the 2014 World Cup.

However, some important underlying issues in Brazilian society were overlooked or ignored in the decision to bring the World Cup to Brazil, and which now threaten the very integrity of the event itself.

Among the issues: poverty, a stubborn gap between rich and poor, a deep need for better education, schools, and hospitals, a perverse presence of corruption within all ranks of government, damning environmental realities, and some of the world’s highest rates of violent crime.

Some of these indicators have seen improvements in the last decade, but hardly enough to shrug them off as solved. And despite the country’s firestorm rate of economic growth in the new milennium, this growth has slowed considerably in the last few years.

FIFA was blind to these underlying issues, or at least indifferent to them. And it was certainly of no interest to Brazil’s corruptos, who were quick to jump on the influx of hundreds of millions of investment dollars that would flow into the country for the event – a quick and easy penny in a system ladled with bribery and corruption.

Brazil is slated to spend 14 billion dollars on the World Cup – the most expensive World Cup to date, and far over budget. It’s a staggering figure no matter the place or context – but in the face of Brazil’s widespread social issues, it feels decidedly darker.

Logic would seem to say that a government should use the wealth of its country to address the social issues it still faces. Logic would say: the gains of the last decades were nice, but they need to be better; the gains of the last decades have improved some things, but the improvements are delicate and much more needs to be done.

But logic has not been at play here. Power, corruption, and the financial interest of a select elite few are.

White Elephants, Disparities, and Evictions

Perhaps the most potent and visible symbols of this World Cup’s injustices are its stadiums. Several of the new or renovated World Cup stadiums are being dubbed “white elephants” – expensive behemoths that will have little use once the frenzy of the World Cup has passed.

In Brasilia, the nation’s capital, the new stadium has cost $900 million and will hold 70,000 seats despite the fact that the local home team rarely brings in more than a few hundred fans per game and despite the fact that 80% of public schools in Brasilia have inadequate facilities that lack chairs, books, and water-tight roofs. For what? The stadium will host seven World Cup matches.

In the northern Amazonian city of Manaus, the stadium Arena da Amazonia has cost $240 million and is designed to hold 43,000 people despite the fact that the average attendance for local games is only 588 people and the local team that plays there is a fourth level professional team. The stadium will host four World Cup matches.

The price for these stadium projects has not just been monetary: 8 workers have died in the fevered rush to complete stadiums on time for the World Cup, attempting to make up for delays in red tape, bureaucracy, and inefficiency.

The 14 billion dollars spent on the World Cup is a huge sum of money, and the opportunity cost – where the money could have been used elsewhere – can be hard to put into context, especially from a continent away. But when I was living in Brazil for a period of time last year, the reality of this injustice was made very real.

Maracanã Stadium, Rio de Janeiro
Photo: AFP

I went to a local soccer match at the Maracanã, Rio’s legendary soccer stadium and home to the championship match of the World Cup. The facility has been completely renovated up to FIFA standards, complete with sleek jumbotrons, sparkling hallways, clean new seats, and a pristine turf pitch. It is certainly fit for the highest levels of competition and a global spotlight.

While perhaps none of this would ordinarily be such a point of contention, when a soccer match ends at Maracanã and you walk out of the stadium you will quickly see why it is indeed just that. The disparity and dichotomy is unavoidable – the injustice, literally, in your face.

As I walked out of the revamped stadium, I looked up and was blighted by a scene of complete disconnect in front of my eyes: hillsides of sprawling favelas right next door – stark reminders of the realities the country still faces, and an instigator of many questions: what could the millions that were used to renovate the stadium I was just sitting in have done for the favelas I was now looking up at?

Favelas are often jointly referred to in Western media as slums or shantytowns, but this is not really an accurate definition – a favela is a favela, a low-income but sustainable model of urban development in its own right. Favelas are home to 12 million people in Brazil; residents often live below or near the poverty line, and can lack access to essential resources such as job training and education, as well as utilities such as sewage and sanitation. Favelas also have a long legacy of violence, both between rival drug gangs and with an abusive, corrupt police force.

But despite its image problem, favelas have emerged as sustainable models of urban living – organic and natural outcroppings from a legacy of disbandment and marginalization of poor populations, sprung up from squatters on the hillsides of large urban cities in the late 19th century. They have become sources of pride for their inhabitants, and contain an emerging middle class, solid structures, and an increasingly sustainable model of close quarter urban development.

Upwards of 200,000 residents have been forcefully evicted throughout Brazil in order to make room for sports-related projects. Residents are given stark options and little notice ahead of time, forced to uproot from their communities they have lived in for generations. They are given negligent compensation, if any at all. Those who do receive alternative housing are pushed to high rise public housing on the outskirts of major cities, far away from their jobs in the inner city and even further away from the cherished sense of established community they once enjoyed despite their financial hardships. 

The state of Rio de Janeiro’s hallmark “pacification” program, designed to both drive out drug cartels from favelas and finally incorporate favelas into city grids, is now being questioned and criticized openly. The program, developed after Brazil won its World Cup bid, has been largely credited with historic lulls in violence in Rio since its inception in 2008. However, recent months have witnessed a marked increase in violence, even in “pacified” favelas close to sport and tourist areas.

Of the hundreds of favelas that exist in Rio, only 37 have been “pacified”. Unsurprisingly, these 37 find themselves conveniently close to tourist areas, wealthy neighborhoods, and sporting venues. While levels of violence have dropped overall, the pacification program has also simply pushed much of the violence farther to the city’s outskirts rather than addressing its root causes. And in the process, heavy-handed police raids that attempt to drive out drug traffickers from favelas and keep sporting areas “safe” continue unabated. The incursions, some made by forces trained by U.S. defense companies, occur with little regard to innocent collateral and the human rights violations committed by police proceed with near total impunity.

Who is the World Cup for?

Photo: @tapiture | Twitter

World Cup graffiti has surfaced all over Brazil
Photo: @tapiture | Twitter

It’s the question many in Brazil have been asking.

The Brazilian people will pay 14 billion dollars out of their own pockets to produce the World Cup while FIFA, a “non-profit” organization, will walk away from Brazil with a projected 4 billion dollar untaxed revenue when the tournament is over.

FIFA and its sponsors will benefit handsomely from the event, as will select developers and certain members of Brazilian government. Sadly, the benefits are not so equally felt.

Despite old claims that mega-sporting events like the World Cup bring long-term economic gains to host countries, recent studies such as those done by sports economist Dennis Coates have shown that this idea is actually false. The games benefit a small circle of people at the top, while the rest of the country experiences no such gains. Meanwhile, the opportunity cost is huge – particularly in a developing country such as Brazil.

The conflict for Brazilians is obvious: they love their futebol, but they also want a better country. They want to celebrate the passion they hold for the sport, but they also want a better future for themselves and their children. The organization of Brazilian civil society in opposition to the World Cup despite their national obsession with soccer is the most telling sign of just how far off this mega-sporting event has become. That 60% of Brazilians feel that the World Cup is bad for the country in a population as soccer-crazed as Brazil is nothing short of remarkable.

We may indeed look back and see that the 2014 World Cup stood on the crux between an old and a new. Like in the Middle East, we are witnessing the rise of a burgeoning civil society in Brazil that is young, tech savvy, and fed up with business as usual. The injustices of the World Cup have forced long-standing social issues in Brazil into the limelight like never before and have instigated a larger social movement that may not fade once the competitions are over. And it us now offering us the chance, as a global community, to re-think and adjust our approach to the ways we go about producing, thinking about, and discussing these mega-sporting events.

The irony would be amusing, if it weren’t so tragic: while corrupt actors initially saw the World Cup as an opportunity to prop themselves up, they may have in fact instigated their own downfall.

Read all entries in the Re-Think the World Cup blog series.

Explore these issues firsthand by traveling to Brazil on a Global Exchange Reality Tour. Become a Global Exchange member today and travel for 10% off all Reality Tours.

By Kiara Collins, Community Rights program intern, Global Exchange


Mora County Road Signs

Mora County, New Mexico is not the first place that comes to mind for challenging the ‘rights’ of corporations. This is high desert, and life moves pretty slowly for the 5,000 residents—at least until fracking arrived.

This sparsely populated county is politically conservative, with a large Native American population. Over half of those living in Mora County are native Spanish speakers, and for just about everybody, homesteading, ranching and living close to the land is a way of life. As resident Roger Alcon told the Los Angeles Times, “We’ve lived off the land for five generations.  I don’t want to destroy our water, [and] you can’t drink oil.”


Do we have the right to pollute her future?

In 2013, Mora County became the first county in the U.S to ban hydraulic fracturing by exercising their right to local self-governance. By enacting these rights, they passed a local law—the Community Water Rights and Local Self-Governance ordinance—that bans all fossil-fuel extraction in their county, because to do so would be a violation of residents’ civil rights. The ordinance also strips corporations of their “right” to frack, and recognizes that the ecosystem upon which all life depends has a right to be free of the contamination that fracking brings.


Shortly after the ordinance was passed, the Independent Petroleum Association of New Mexico and three landowners in a federal district court sued Mora County. They protested that Mora County had violated corporate constitutional rights “commemorated in the 1st, 5th, and 14th amendments,” — the Constitution and a Supreme Court that has “found” that large corporations are rights bearing “persons”—which means as long as they have a permit, unwanted industry can set up shop where we live—even over our community objections.

Then in January of 2014, Shell Western E&P Inc. (SWEPI), a subsidiary of Royal Dutch Shell also sued Mora County claiming that enacting the Community Water Rights and Local Self-Governance ordinance was a violation of the corporation’s Constitutional rights.

Despite what the Supreme Court has said, Mora County residents don’t see the justice in corporate decision makers wielding the law to turn their community into a sacrifice zone for profit.  The Mora County ordinance clearly states “…corporate entities and their directors and managers shall not enjoy special privileges and powers under the law which make community majorities subordinate to them.”


thisiswhyMora County is not giving in to Big Oil & Gas’ exploitation of welfare, property values, health and the ecosystem all residents depend on. They stand behind the Bill of Rights ordinance which says that, “corporations in violation of the prohibitions enacted by this ordinance, or seeking to engage in activities prohibited by this ordinance, shall not have the rights of ‘persons’ afforded by the United States and New Mexico constitutions…”

With support from the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF), Mora County Commissioners are working to defend this Community Bill of Rights, but even more so to defend themselves from laws that elevate corporate “rights” over community rights. CELDF and the New Mexico Environmental Law Center stand in solidarity with Mora County to exercise their inherent rights of environmental health and safety. Mora County Commissioners are calling on all communities across the U.S to stand in solidarity with the people of Mora county to challenge a structure of law that permits exploitation of  the ecosystems and the poisoning of residents for the profit of corporate frackers.

As said by Ben Price, National Organizing Director of CELDF,

“Why is the outcome of this fight important beyond Mora County? Because at the heart of it is the question: ‘who has rights; people or corporations?’”

The Community Bill Of Rights aims to take back power that people have been stripped of due to corporate greed. People have a right and a duty to protect themselves from corporate elites who desire only to increase profit margins, and in the process, destroy local environments and families.

Nearly 170 communities have passed similar laws that aim to place the rights of residents and ecosystems above corporate interests. In Mendocino County, California, residents have formed the  Community Rights Network of Mendocino County (CRNMC) in partnership with Global Exchange to  pass a similar rights-based ordinance banning fracking.

CRNMC spokesperson Ed Oberweiser believes this is a time for standing in solidarity with residents in Mora County, saying

“Congratulations to Mora County for standing up against an unjust system that says communities don’t have the authority to decide what happens in their community. We here in Mendocino County, California are working to get a community rights ordinance on our November ballot for a vote by we the people. We hope to join Mora County soon with a passed ordinance.”


If you’d like to support the people of Mora County in this battle with big oil and the corporate elite, please visit the Mora County Legal Defense Fund. The Mora County Legal Defense Fund recognizes that Mora’s Community Bill of Rights Ordinance, and the lawsuits filed in an attempt to overturn it, are about much more than simply fracking—so they have filed to intervene in the case.

In a recent press release from the intervenors, their civil rights attorney Jeffrey Haas stated,

“This case is about who controls the water, the land, the natural environment in Mora County, the residents of the County who have passed the ordinance to protect their rights and the rights of nature, or an out of State Corporation.”


Because a picture says 1,000 words, check out this short video on fracking, and get informed about  Community Rights by downloading Global Exchange’s new toolkit!

Kiara Collins is the Community Rights Program intern at Global Exchange. She aims to create positive change in her local and global community through acute social action and education. She currently attends Sonoma State University where she will be a sophomore this Fall.

The following is the first installment of a multi-part series examining the preparations and aftermaths of the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics in Brazil.

There are visible and invisible dictators. The power structure of world football is monarchical. It’s the most secret kingdom in the world.”

So said the great Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano. Thanks to sports journalist Dave Zirin, the quote has been getting quite a bit of attention recently. But the power structure of world football is not the only malevolent shadow lurking in the dark today. There have been a great series of injustices secretly unfolding in Brazil ever since the South American giant won its bid for the World Cup back in 2007.

Brazilian artist Paulo Ito created this mural on the doors of a schoolhouse in São Paulo. The image has since gone viral. Courtesy of Paulo Ito.

Brazilian artist Paulo Ito created this mural on the doors of a schoolhouse in São Paulo. The image has since gone viral. Photo courtesy of Paulo Ito.

On June 12th, the world will shift its attention and collective body clock south, with the idea that the 2014 World Cup is solely about soccer and national rivalries as the planet’s 32 top teams vie for soccer’s most coveted prize in 12 cities throughout Brazil. While an intriguing storyline for FIFA and its corporate sponsors, the storyline is a misleading half-truth at best.

At one point in time, I wanted to be in Brazil during the upcoming World Cup. To attend the pinnacle event of the world’s most popular sport, in the spiritual home of the sport itself, the idea was alluring – all the more so being that I had fallen in love with that wonderful country and its people after living there for a period of time during 2013.

I envisioned Brazilian flags hanging from balconies, groups of fans chanting in unison, and eruptions of shouts from outdoor cafes in Rio following a goal by Neymar. The sun would be shining, live samba would be flowing from open-air bars, and maybe – just maybe – there would be a raucous celebration throughout the streets of Brazil upon the Brazilian national team winning it all.

Unfortunately, this was an ill-fated vision. One that fell hard and swiftly upon learning what this World Cup is really about.

When I think about the upcoming World Cup now, a very different set of images come to mind.

I see 14 billion Brazilian taxpayer dollars squandered while FIFA escapes with 4 billion dollars in revenue tax-free; I see the use of those billions of taxpayer dollars to build or renovate stadiums that will sit idle or offensively underused after the World Cup, rather than building badly needed schools and hospitals in a country that is still very much developing and still very much grappling with widespread poverty, inequality, and violence; I see the forced evictions of thousands of marginalized, low-income favela residents to make room for sport venues and infrastructure projects; I see a corrupt government out to gain for itself and please foreign interests rather than take concern for the welfare of its own people and wondrous natural environment; I see the hijacking of a country by a select elite few, including FIFA, corrupt politicians, and foreign corporations; I see police brutality and a thinly layered mascara attempting to cover up deep-seated and festering social dynamics within society.

And through it all I see the continued endorsement of the event by major U.S. corporations, as well as hordes of foreign tourists who will flock to the shores and cities of Brazil by the hundreds of thousands, pleasantly ignorant to the true realities of this mega sporting event, the true costs of hosting it in this still-developing nation, the true impact that it has wreaked and will continue to wreak on the lives of many ordinary Brazilians.

The upcoming World Cup in Brazil is not largely about sport, it is about money. It is not about the pinnacle of competition, it is about greed and corruption. It is not about communal enjoyment of games, it is about inequality and corporate power.

It’s time to re-think the World Cup. The façade of sport needs to come down. It can come down as swiftly and forcefully as it did for my glorious visions of the World Cup. And it can start now, with Brazil.

Expose the kingdoms from their secrecy, and the kingdoms will reform. Or fall.

Read all entries in the Re-Think the World Cup blog series.

Explore these issues firsthand by traveling to Brazil on a Global Exchange Reality Tour. Become a Global Exchange member today and travel for 10% off all Reality Tours.