Brazilian culture secretary Roberto Alvim was fired on Friday after using phrases similar to some used by Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels. Alvim made the comments while discussing a new art prize in Latin America's largest democracy. Alvim had held the post since November. Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro made the decision after a backlash from Jewish organizations, key lawmakers, political parties, artists and the country's bar association.
Brazil's government has drawn criticism after its culture minister launched an arts initiative focused on nationalism and religion, while using language he later acknowledged was similar to that used by Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels.
Though cash-strapped, the government of President Jair Bolsonaro will spend $4.9 million to foment the production of literature, theater, opera, music and other arts. It was announced by Bolsonaro, Education Minister Abraham Weintraub and culture secretary Roberto Alvim from a library of the official presidential residence in a live Facebook video.
Alvim, the driving force behind the initiative, is a born-again Christian who found renewed faith while recovering from cancer. He delivered a separate message about the initiative using a phrase that local paper O Globo and some other commentators identified as resembling language in a speech by Goebbels. Alvim, who has disavowed Nazism, acknowledged the similarity but said it was merely a "rhetorical coincidence."
The speeches, whose words have been reviewed by the AP, both say the nation's art "in the next decade will be heroic" and "will be national." Both men conclude: "Or it will be nothing."
The president of Brazil's lower house said on Twitter the video went beyond the pale, and that Bolsonaro should remove Alvim from his position immediately. Bolsonaro's press office declined to comment, saying Alvim had already made a public statement.
While the amount to be spent is a drop in the bucket compared to other arts funding, the project jibes with the government's other efforts to overturn what Bolsonaro calls "cultural Marxism" and some of his ministers say is undermining society's morals. The leftist Workers' Party governed Brazil for 13 years until 2016.
"When culture becomes sick, the people become sick, too," Alvim said in the video beside Bolsonaro. "Brazilian culture was deliberately sickened during the recent decades. Culture is the basis of the homeland."
More than 57 million people — 55% of the voters in 2018's election — embraced Bolsonaro's anti-leftist campaign, in which he promised to fight corruption, violence and leftist ideology with the same energy.
The government will stimulate film projects that focus on Brazil's independence and historical figures, and be aligned with conservative values, Alvim said. Speaking in a separate recorded message released Thursday, with a wooden cross atop his desk, Alvim said he wants 2020 to mark a historic cultural rebirth to "create a new and thriving Brazilian civilization".
He sat beneath a framed picture of Bolsonaro, and orchestral strings played lightly in the background. The music is from an opera by Richard Wagner, sometimes associated with Nazism and German nationalism. Alvim said in a radio interview that he chose the music himself, because the work is transcendent and stemmed from Wagner's Christian faith.
"It's a Nazi-fascist aesthetic, but I ask myself whether there isn't method in the midst of this chaos," former culture minister Marcelo Calero said by phone, adding that cultural projects should strive to create jobs and income. "Culture in the view of this government isn't about economic issues, it's about attacking an enemy to make people think critically."
The cultural campaign in Brazil goes well beyond the arts. From school textbooks to teen pregnancy, from the walls of private museums to those of public institutions, the 2020 ideological push is shaping up on several fronts. And after a series of high-profile resignations and dismissals in year one, Bolsonaro begins his second year in office with a new ministerial team to implement its leader's conservative agenda.
"I'm back, ready for battle," Weintraub tweeted Jan. 5, calling his followers to support him in his fight against "oligarchs, corrupt individuals and the communist-socialist ideological wing."
Bolsonaro has made education, especially in early childhood, one of his top priorities. On Jan. 7, he and Weintraub — his second education minister in a year — spoke live on Facebook and accused previous administrations of turning the ministry of 300,000 employees into a factory of "militants." The two announced a complete "clean-up" of kids' school textbooks.
Without presenting concrete examples, Bolsonaro had previously described textbooks as an "embarrassment" with too much writing in them, and said parents only want their sons to be boys and daughters to be girls.
"There are still some (textbooks) that we don't like but a lot of filth has already come out," Weintraub assured him.
Few specific proposals have been put forward as an alternative — an emphasis on family values, the national anthem (already included in textbooks by law), and a Brazilian flag on the cover.
For Claudia Costin, a former education secretary in Rio de Janeiro and senior director for education at the World Bank, the culture wars are a waste of precious time. Brazil ranked in the bottom third of the 79 countries and economies that took part in the 2018 Program for International Student Assessment conducted by the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development. According to the test's results, Brazilian students have stagnated in mathematics, reading and science. Public schools are performing particularly poorly.
"We have a lot of homework to do," Costin said. "All this is a distraction from what really needs to be done."
The government's conservative agenda has also pushed into health matters.
Damares Alves, the minister of women, family and human rights, recently shared news of an approach to fighting teen pregnancy that would focus on advocating sexual abstinence.
The campaign, expected to be unveiled in the coming days, will target youths, but also parents, educators, and health workers, said Angela Gandra, the secretary in charge of family affairs at Alvares' ministry. She stressed that the campaign is complementary to existing methods of contraception.
"We want to bring reflection to the parents and the children about what human relations are," Gandra said at the ministry's building in Brasilia. "Sexual relations have an impact on human beings, have a greater transcendence than an isolated incident"
In 2017, the latest year for which data is available, more than 480,000 babies were born in Brazil to mothers aged 10 to 19, health ministry statistics show.
At the building next door, in the culture's secretary's office, Alvim's promised campaign is underway. The potential impact of his arts initiative itself is dubious given its small value -- one complex opera alone can cost $250,000 -- though that will only be clear once the government publishes official rules, according to Fernando Schuler, a political philosophy professor at university Insper. Still, this could be the first phase of financial incentives that swell once Brazil overcomes its current fiscal crunch, he said.
On Twitter, Alvim regularly uses the hashtag #DeusVult, or "God wills it," echoing the Christian battle cry of Middle Ages crusaders. It's also popular with white nationalists in the U.S.
Following release of his taped video, Brazil's Israel confederation Conib said in a statement that Alvim's emulation of Goebbels was a "frightening signal of his vision of culture that should be combated and contained," and called for Alvim's dismissal.
An Iranian accused of involvement in the deadly 1994 bombing of a Jewish center in Argentina has added to speculation over the mysterious death of a prosecutor who investigated the attack.
The comments by Moshen Rabbani in an interview with Argentine Radio 10 on Friday were unlikely to clear up the circumstances surrounding the 2015 shooting death of Alberto Nisman, But they fed renewed fascination with a case that was scrutinized in a recently released Netflix documentary.
Rabbani's remarks also come at a time of heightened tension between Iran and the United States following the U.S. drone strike that killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani.
The statements drew swift criticism. Ariel Eichbaum, head of the AMIA Jewish center that was bombed, told local media that Rabbani should turn himself over for trial "if he has information," instead of giving opinions on the radio.
The matter remains especially important for Argentina because Cristina Fernández, who as president had a contentious relationship with the United States and had been accused by Nisman of protecting Iranians allegedly involved in the bombing, returned to power as vice president last month. Fernández denied that she and others conspired to lift Interpol's red alerts against several Iranians accused of bombing the Jewish center, where 85 people died.
Speaking from Iran, Rabbani said, as he has in the past, that he did not orchestrate the bombing while working as cultural attache for the Iranian embassy in Buenos Aires. He also commented about the Nisman case for the first time, though he didn't offer any proof for his conspiracy theories about the prosecutor's death.
At first, Rabbani suggested that Nisman was murdered because he didn't have evidence to support his allegations about Fernández and Iranian involvement in the bombing. Then he speculated that Nisman might have been pressured by others to kill himself for the same reason.
"Who killed Nisman? Why don't they let people in Argentina know the truth?" said Rabbani, whose remarks only seemed to fuel the swirl of conjecture about what happened.
Nisman had alleged that Fernández's government may have negotiated impunity for the Iranian suspects with Tehran in exchange for resuming trade relations. On Jan. 18, 2015 - the day before he was to appear before Congress to discuss his shocking accusations - Nisman was found in the bathroom of his apartment with a gunshot wound to his head and a 22-caliber weapon at his side.
Argentines debated whether Nisman was murdered or took his own life. Many started this year glued to their screens for the release of the Netflix series: "Nisman: The Prosecutor, the President and the Spy."
Uber said Friday it will stop operating in Colombia, following stiff opposition from taxi drivers' unions and a lawsuit that said the ride-sharing app was breaking local transport laws.
In a statement, Uber said it will cease operating in Colombia on Jan. 31 and will comply with a December ruling by Colombia's Superintendency for Industry and Commerce that had ordered the app to shut down.
The company said that it will appeal the ruling, which it described as "arbitrary" and in violation of a free trade agreement between Colombia and the United States.
Uber said that it has more than two million users in Colombia as well as 88,000 drivers who make some or most of their income through the app. The company faces legal challenges in several other Latin American countries, including Brazil and Argentina.
Chile's human rights watchdog is calling for an investigation into the electrocution death of a man during anti-government protests.
The death during clashes between police and protesters on Friday raised the number of those killed during protests that started in October to at least 27.
The man who died was 40 years old and was electrocuted after falling into a pit with cables during chaotic street scenes, according to police and local media.
The exact circumstances of the man's death should be clarified as soon as possible, Chile's National Institute of Human Rights said.
The death happened during a protest in Plaza Italia, a focal point of unrest in the capital of Santiago. The demonstrations started over an increase in the subway fare and eventually encompassed grievances about pensions, education, health care and other issues.
Demonstrations are frequently held on Friday, and a movie theater burned in the latest clashes.
Demonstrators made way for firetrucks arriving to fight the blaze at the Alameda Cultural Center, which also has been a staging ground for volunteer medics who treat injured demonstrators.
Firefighters said the building was badly damaged and the cause would be investigated.
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro's approval rate has fallen to a new low of 29 percent, according to a survey published on Friday.
According to the survey conducted by pollster Ibope and commissioned by the National Industry Confederation, 38 percent of interviewees considered Bolsonaro's government bad or very bad, while 31 percent regarded it as regular and 3 percent were undecided.
In the previous survey published in September, Bolsonaro's approval was slightly higher: 31 percent of interviewees found Bolsonaro's government good or very good, 32 percent found it regular, and 34 percent found it bad or very bad. Three percent were undecided.
Bolsonaro's approval has been falling steadily since the beginning of his administration in January. In the first poll of his government in April, the approval rate was 35 percent, while disapproval was 27 percent.
The latest Ibope poll was carried out on Dec. 5-8, involving 2,000 interviewees from 127 towns across Brazil.