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Wild Amazon faces destruction as Brazils farmers and loggers target national park

The Sierra Ricardo Franco park was meant to be a conservation area protecting rare wildlife

To understand why the Brazilian government is deliberately losing the battle against deforestation, you need only retrace the bootmarks of the Edwardian explorer Percy Fawcett along the Amazonian border with Bolivia.

During a failed attempt to cross a spectacular tabletop plateau here in 1906, the adventurer nearly died on the first of his many trips to South America. Back then, the area was so far from human habitation, the foliage so dense and the terrain so steep that Fawcett and his party came close to starvation.

He returned home with tales of a towering, inaccessible mesa teeming with wildlife and irrigated by secret waterfalls and crystalline rivers. By some accounts, this was one of the stories that inspired his friend Arthur Conan Doyle to write The Lost World about a fictional plateau jutting high above the jungle that served as a sanctuary for species long since extinct elsewhere.

In their wildest fantasies, however, neither Fawcett nor Conan Doyle are likely to have imagined the modern reality of that plateau, which can no longer be certain of protection from geography, the law or Brazils international commitments.

Today, orange dirt roads, cut into the forest by illegal loggers, lead you to the north-western flank of the elevated hilltop. Now called the Serra Ricardo Franco state park, this is nominally a conservation area set up with support from the World Bank. Instead of forest, however, you find swaths of land invaded by farmers, stripped of trees, and turned over to pasture for 240,000 cows. There are even private airfields inside the parks boundaries, which exist on maps only.

Far from being an isolated area where a wanderer might starve, this is now despite its dubious legal status one of the worlds great centres of food production. In recent months, it has also emerged as a symbol of the resurgent influence of a landowning class in Brazil who, even more than in the US under Donald Trump, are cashing in on the destruction of the wild.

Locals say a member of President Michel Temers cabinet chief of staff Eliseu Padilha owns ranches here on hillsides stripped of forest in a supposedly protected park. The municipal ombudsmen told the Observer the cattle raised here are then sold in contravention of pledges to prosecutors and international consumers to JBS, the worlds biggest meat-packing company, which is at the centre of a huge bribery scandal.

These allegations are denied by farmers but there is no doubt the government is easing controls as it opens up more land for ranches, dams, roads and soy fields to meet the growing appetite of China. Last year, Brazil reported an alarming 29% increase of deforestation, raising doubts that the country will be able to meet its global commitments to reduce carbon emissions. Rather than an aberration, this appears to mark a return to historical norms for a country that has been built on 500 years of land seizures that were later legalised by the politicians who benefited from them.

The concurrent erosion of legal authority and natural habitat can be seen in many Brazilian states: the newest soy frontiers of Maranho, Tocantins and Bahia; the hydropower heartland of Par and the wild west mining and logging regions of Rondnia and Acre. But it is in Mato Grosso that the political forces behind deforestation associated with corruption, violence, weak regulation and deliberate obfuscation of land ownership reveal themselves most clearly.

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The 158,000-hectare Serra Ricardo Franco state park is supposed to be a conservation area, but farmers and loggers moved in to clear the land. Photograph: Phil Clarke Hill/Corbis via Getty Images

The 158,000-hectare Serra Ricardo Franco state park sits at the intersection of three great biomes; the Amazon rainforest, the Cerrado tropical savanna and the Pantanal wetlands. Its western neighbour, separated only by the narrow Rio Verde, is Bolivias dense Noel Kempff Mercado National Park, which covers an area five times larger. Together, they make up one of the worlds biggest and most biodiverse ecological reserves.

To the east are the light green plains of Mato Grosso a state bigger than the combined area of the UK and France which was named after the once thick bushland that has now mostly been cleared for soy fields and cattle ranches.

The plan to establish a park in this geologically and biologically important landscape was agreed amid the giddy optimism of the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, which was hailed as a breakthrough for international cooperation on the environment.

Ricardo Franco was one of nine conservation areas promised by the Mato Grosso government in return for a $205m loan from the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development. The primary source of funds was the World Bank, which noted at the time that the money was to be used for vehicles, staff training and salaries, office construction and research. The envisaged Ricardo Franco park was supposed to cover 400,000 hectares.

The reality was very different. After several years of studies, the park that was eventually established in 1997 was less than half the expected size. At least 20,000 hectares of it had already been cleared by farmers who were supposed to be compensated and removed. This never happened. Nor could the Observer find evidence of fences ever being erected, or administrative centres built either in the park nor the nearest town of Vila Bela da Santssima Trindade.

The only signs and boundary markers are for fazendas (plantations). Although the park is supposed to be publicly owned and used only for ecotourism or scientific research, many areas could only be accessed after paying an entrance fee or requesting a key from the owner of the farm occupying the property.

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Serro Ricardo Franco is in one of the worlds biggest and most diverse ecological reserves. But reality on the ground is different, putting many animals at risk, such as Yacare caiman and giant river otters. Photograph: Angelo Gandolfi/Getty Images/Nature Picture Library

A quarter of the land has been cleared over the past four decades, but there are still areas of immense natural beauty and biodiversity that have changed little since Fawcetts time. Over two half-days, the Observer spotted an armadillo, spider monkeys, capuchins, otters, fish leaping a waterfall, clouds of butterflies, and a hand-sized spider that was slowly succumbing to the sting of a giant vespa wasp. Local guides report sightings of panthers, pumas, anaconda, pink dolphins and six-metre long alligators.

Trails now lead up to the previously undisturbed heights, but they are rarely used. The 5km hiking route to the 248-metre high Jatoba waterfall was deserted, as were the sapphire waters of the Agua Azul canyon. It was not, however, well maintained. Rubbish and used toilet paper littered one area. Another clearing was scarred with the charred remains of a barbecue (likely to be prohibited as a fire hazard in a well-run conservation area). On the banks of the Rio Verde, fishing lines were tangled on the rocks despite signs declaring Strictly no fishing or hunting. But it is undoubtedly the 20,000 to 39,000 hectares of farmland (the size is disputed) that has had the biggest environmental impact.

What is happening in the park is very sad, said a local biologist, who asked for her name to be withheld because she fears repercussions. This area is very important. There are species here not found anywhere else. But its degrading year by year.

Ranchers inside the park disagree. Ademir Talini, the manager of the Fazenda de Serra, boasts of boosting production of soy and beef on what he claims is the third most fertile land in the world.

Our municipality has the biggest abattoir in Brazil, the best beef comes from here and farms here contribute greatly to GDP, he says. He then points toward the nearby border with Bolivia. Over there is the biggest conservation area in the world. So what difference does 39,000 hectares make?

He points out that many of the farms preceded the creation of the park a refrain echoed by other ranchers.

The state government created a virtual park to get money, said Donizete dos Reis Lima, who owns the farm next to the border. Nobody here is against the park. I want a future for my children. But lets have a decent park. If we go, who is going to pay us compensation.

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About 240,000 cattle graze within the cleared forest in the park. This farm is owned by government chief of staff Eliseu Padilha. Photograph: Jonathan Watts for the Observer

The issue is not black and white. The burly farmer says he is the legal owner of the land, having arrived in the area long before it was a park. But he also recounts how he opened up the roads to the region as part of his work as a logger. The area he cleared was later regularised by the land agency (Incra).

Then, as now, this process often involved corruption and collusion with the authorities. Elsio Ferreira de Souza, a retired municipal employee, recalls the illegal origins of land clearances in the 1970s. It was done with the connivance of local politicians and only later legalised, he says.

Regiane Soares de Aguiar, the public prosecutor who has filed multiple lawsuits against the farmers, agrees. All of the land was cleared illegally, she says. Even the landowners that were there before the creation of the park would not have had permission to deforest the land. Satellite data shows the problem has since worsened, she said, as more farmers moved inside the park, bringing more cattle that needed more pasture.

This illegal activity has done spectacular damage to forest and water sources. According to the prosecutor, JBS should share the blame because the meat company has bought livestock from inside the park despite a pledge to public prosecutors, foreign buyers and environmental NGOs not to source cattle from illegally cleared land. To get around this, it briefly launders the animals at untainted farms outside the park before taking them to the slaughter.

In a statement to the Observer, JBS said it had blocked sales from farms inside the park after being requested to do so by the prosecutors office. The company said it used data from satellites, the environment agency, ministry of labour and other sources to monitor its 70,000 cattle suppliers. The results, it said, were independently audited.

Since 2013, more than 99.9% of direct suppliers located purchases of cattle in the Amazon region comply with the Public Commitment of Livestock and agreements signed with federal prosecutors, it noted.

But cattle laundering is rife. Regulation is a challenge at the best of times. Even when the authorities impose a penalty for forest clearances or other violations, very few fines are ever paid.

I penalise them, but they challenge me in the courts and justice is so slow, says Laerte Marques, from the State Secretariat for the Environment (Sema). It has been very difficult. There is pressure from all sides. On one side there is the public prosecutor, on the other are the farmers.

The landowners have launched a campaign for the park to be abolished. Prosecutors, however, have urged the conservation area be administered on a more formal footing. Last month, they appeared to have won a victory when the Mato Grosso government announced a two-year study to determine the status of the park and what should become of its farms. But there are fears this will simply shrink the boundaries and allow the farms to be excluded.

Powerful landowners are trying to use this opportunity to reduce the limits of the park, said Aguiar. That would only benefit those who cleared forest. But there is a lot of economic power behind them, she warned.

Near the entrance of the Paredon 1 Fazenda is an overgrown airstrip and a dirt road that cuts through the state park to fields of cattle grazing among tree stumps on an otherwise bare hillside overlooking the Bolivian forest. This is one of several farms in the park owned directly or indirectly by Eliseu Padilha, the chief of staff. Locals in Vila Bela say he is an intimidating presence. He is not the only one. Several of Brazils richest businessmen as well as local politicians own land inside the park.

The forces lined up against conservation have deep roots. The post-colonial history of Brazil is, to a large extent, the history of deforestation. Following the arrival of European ships, settlers carved out roads into the jungle in search of gold. Since then, massive fortunes have been made by the clearance of forest, initially for coffee and rubber plantations and more recently for cattle and soy. Landowners happily backed the 1964-85 military dictatorship, which ensured that campaigners for indigenous rights and agrarian reform did not get in the way of farm and ranch expansions. The return of democracy initially made little difference. The first president under the new constitution was Jos Sarney, an old-school coronel who ruled the northern state of Maranho as if it were his personal fiefdom. Deforestation surged to new peaks at the turn of the 21st century.

The first time the problem came close to being brought under control was during the initial Workers party administration of Luiz Incio Lula da Silva (2003-06). His environment minister at the time, Marina Silva, put in place tougher penalties and a monitoring system that used satellites in the sky and rangers on the ground to identify farmers who burned or cut down forests. This resulted in an impressive slowdown that lasted nearly a decade, winning kudos from the international community and putting Brazil in an influential position in global climate talks.

But the effectiveness of this system weakened under Lulas Workers party successor as president Dilma Rousseff, who was much closer to the ruralista lobby than her predecessor. She had little choice. Increased demand for soy and beef, particularly from China, had made agriculture the main driver for economic growth and a political force to be reckoned with.

With 200 seats, the bancada ruralista had become the most powerful caucus in Congress. To placate them, Rousseff approved a relaxation of the Forest Code, which was the main legal tool against tree felling. It was a disaster for the Amazon.

Before that change in 2012, deforestation rates had been creeping down. After it, rates increased by 75%, according to Paulo Barreto, a senior researcher at Imazon, an independent monitoring organisation. He said this put at risk the commitments Brazil had made in international climate talks to reduce annual clearance to 3,800 square kilometres per year by 2020. At one point, we were on the right path. But last year, 8,000 square kilometres were cleared, double the goal for 2020, he points out. Two-thirds of Brazils carbon emissions come from this source.

Meanwhile, beef and soy barons have strengthened their grip on power. After last years impeachment of Rousseff, her replacement, Michel Temer, appointed several ruralistas to his cabinet and moved to dismantle and dilute the institutions and laws that slowed forest clearance.

His pick as agriculture minister is Blairo Maggi, the owner of the countrys biggest soy producer, Amaggi Group, and a former governor of Mato Grosso, who supported moves to abolish the Ricardo Franco park. The justice minister, Osmar Serraglio, is at the forefront of the beef lobby, which was his main campaign donor, and a fierce opponent of indigenous land demarcation (the most effective method of forest protection).

Under his watch, the National Indian Foundation (Funai) has seen its finances and personnel gutted. The foundations president, Antnio Costa, was sacked earlier this year. In a parting speech, he described Serraglio as a dictator. He is the minister of one cause: agro-business, he warned.

The counterbalance ought to be the environment ministry, which is headed by Jos Sarney Filho, the son of the top landowner in Maranho state. Although his ideals are widely praised by conservationists, his ability to act has been neutered. Last year, the environment budget was cut by 51% (compared to a 31% reduction of the Environmental Protection Agency in the US under Trump).

In March, the ministers weak position was apparent when he issued a grovelling public apology to JBS after inspectors embargoed two meat-processing factories that were alleged to have bought tens of thousands of cattle from illegally deforested areas of the Amazon. Rather than assess the rights and wrongs of the case, the minister said the action was badly timed because it could hurt a major exporter that was already bogged down in scandal.

Almost every week, there is a new roll back of forest protections. Last Tuesday, the Senate approved a bill that slashed protected areas in the Amazon by 597,000 hectares (about four times the area of Greater London). The previous week, the lower house of Congress paved the way for the legalisation of land that had been illegally occupied by grileiro a move that is likely to encourage more seizures and forest clearance. Environmental licensing requirements for agriculture have been emasculated.

Temers unhealthily close ties to the agriculture lobby may yet, however, come to be his undoing.

Earlier this month, the attorney-general formally accused the president and his aides of accepting bribes and colluding with top executives from JBS to buy the silence of witnesses in a corruption scandal. Temer has denied all wrongdoing. The evidence was provided in a plea-bargain by the owners of the beef company, which is reportedly looking for a clean bill of legal health so that it can relocate its headquarters to the US. If so, its links to Padilha and the cattle raised inside Ricardo Franco and numerous other conservation areas also deserves more scrutiny, as does the process for deciding whether farms will be excluded from the soon-to-be regularised park.

Foreign adventurers and Brazilian bandeirantes helped to pave the way for this development, even if their intention was to escape fazendas and cities alike. As Fawcett said: Deep down inside me a tiny voice was calling. At first scarcely audible, it persisted until I could no longer ignore it. It was the voice of the wild places, and I knew that it was now part of me forever.

With each day that passes, that voice is becoming harder to hear.

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The tatu-bola armadillo was last year reclassified as at risk of extinction. Photograph: belizar73/Getty Images/iStockphoto


World Cup mascot is now at risk as forests disappear

The tatu-bola armadillo, the mascot for the 2014 World Cup, is now a symbol for a very different phenomenon in Brazil: the growing impact of deforestation on biodiversity.

The small armoured mammal was chosen to represent the tournament because it rolls up into the shape of a football when threatened, but its ability to protect itself has been undermined by a loss of habitat that is also devastating thousands of other species.

Late last year, the International Union for Conservation of Nature raised the alarm by reclassifying the creature also known as the three-banded armadillo from vulnerable to at risk of extinction.

This has prompted the group that led the campaign for its selection as a mascot to launch a crowdfunding drive last month to raise $500,000 to save the animal.

Samuel Portela, co-ordinator of protected areas at the Caatinga Association, estimates the tatu-bola population has declined by 30% in the past decade due to deforestation and hunting.It is fundamental that steps be taken towards the conservation of this species and its habitat, because under the present conditions, the tatu-bola could be extinct in 50 years, he said.

The animal is mainly found in the northeastern Brazil in the caatinga (an indigenous term for white or desert forest) and cerrado tropical savannas. Even more than the Amazon, these two ecosystems have been diminished by the expansion of farmland.

Scientists warn that many other animals face similar or worse threats and the risks are rising along with the pace of land clearance in Brazil, the worlds most biodiverse nation. Last year, the government reported a 29% increase in deforestation the sharpest rise in more than a decade. Forest clearing in Brazil has already condemned at least 20 species of birds, 10 species of mammals and eight of amphibians to regional extinction. Scientists estimate this is just a fifth of those that will die out due to habitat loss. Among the most endangered are giant otters and bare-faced tamarins. A 2015 study predicted half of the 15,000 tree species in the Amazon could be lost if current rates of deforestation continue.

According to the Chico Mendes Institute for Biodiversity Conservation, the tatu-bola faces a particularly hard struggle to recover its population because of the animals low metabolic rate, small litter size, prolonged parental care and long gestation periods.

WILDLIFE OF THE LOST WORLD

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/may/27/brazil-wild-amazon-faces-destruction-farmers-loggers-sierra-ricardo-franco-park

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China’s ‘war on law’: victims’ wives tell US Congress of torture and trauma

Women whose husbands were targets of Communist party crackdown on human rights lawyers call for US sanctions

The wives of some of the most prominent victims of Xi Jinpings crackdown on civil society have stepped up their campaign for justice, backing calls for US sanctions against Chinese officials involved in allegedly barbaric cases of torture and abuse.

Addressing a congressional hearing in Washington on Thursday, the women, whose husbands were among the key targets of a Communist party offensive against human rights lawyers, detailed the physical and psychological trauma inflicted by Chinas so-called war on law.

Chen Guiqiu, who fled to the United States in March, told of how her husband, the attorney Xie Yang, had been imprisoned and brutally tortured because of his work defending victims of land grabs, religious persecution and dissidents.

She described her husbands ordeal as an example of Chinas lawlessness and claimed that at his recent trial Xie had been forced to refute detailed claims that he had been the victim of sustained and brutal campaign of torture.

Wang Yanfeng, the wife of Tang Jingling, a lawyer and democracy activist who was jailed in 2016 in what campaigners described as a gross injustice, said her husband had suffered repeated spells of abuse, threats and torture. Today other [lawyers and political prisoners] are still suffering from such torture, Wang said, calling on US president Donald Trump to challenge China over such abuses.

In a video message, Li Wenzu, the wife of lawyer Wang Quanzhang, said she had heard nothing from him since he was seized by police at the start of the campaign against lawyers in July 2015. I am deeply concerned about my husbands safety. I dont know how his health is. I dont know whether he has been left disabled by the torture. I dont even know whether he is alive.

Wang Qiaoling, whose husband, Li Heping, recently emerged from a 22-month stint in custody, said he returned home looking 20 years older and had told of being forced to sit for hours in stress positions and being shackled with chains. He suffered from very cruel and sick torture, Wang added.

Also giving testimony was Lee Chin-yu, whose husband, the Taiwanese human rights activist Lee Ming-che, vanished into Chinese custody in March after travelling to the mainland. I stand alone before you today to plead for your help for my husband, Lee said, calling on Washington to pressure China to end her husbands illegitimate detention.

Since Chinas crackdown on lawyers began almost two years ago, its victims wives have emerged as a relentless and forceful voice of opposition, often using humorous online videos and public performances to champion their cause. They say they have done so in defiance of a campaign of state-sponsored intimidation that has seen them trailed by undercover agents, struggle to enrol their children into schools or be evicted from their homes.

Terry Halliday, the author of a book about Chinas human rights lawyers, said the lawyers wives had opened up a new line of struggle that we have not seen before in China.

These women have become a very powerful and visible public presence both of criticism of the government, of appeals for the release of their loved-ones but also impugning China in the eyes of the world. It is remarkable.

Its a whole new front, Halliday added. It is not so easy for the government to silence wives and daughters.

Thursdays hearing was part of a push by human rights groups to convince the Trump administration to use a law called the Magnitsky Act to bring sanctions such as travel bans or property seizures against Chinese officials involved in human rights abuses.

We should be seeking to hold accountable any Chinese officials complicit in torture, human rights abuses and illegal detentions, said Chris Smith, the Republican congressman who chaired the session and said he was compiling a list of potential targets.

Smith said he hoped such action could help end the shocking, offensive, immoral, barbaric and inhumane treatment of Chinese activists that has accelerated since Xi Jinping took power in 2012.

While President Xi Jinping feels feted at Davos and lauded in national capitals for his public commitments to openness, his government is torturing and abusing those seeking rights guaranteed by Chinas own constitution, Smith said.

China has rejected claims of torture against the human rights lawyers it has imprisoned, dismissing such allegations as fake news.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/may/19/chinas-war-on-law-victims-wives-tell-us-congress-of-torture-and-trauma

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Trump’s alleged boast to Russians could wreck the trust of America’s allies

The vital intelligence-sharing alliances could see permanent damage if it proves true that Trump shared highly classified information at a recent meeting

Donald Trumps Oval Office boasting to the Russians, if confirmed, could wreak its deepest and most enduring damage on vital intelligence-sharing by US allies.

A similar erosion of trust in the presidents loyalties and competence appeared to have accelerated among Trumps political allies in Washington. As the White House fought back hard against the Washington Post report, which was confirmed on Tuesday night by several other US news organisations, it was unclear how far his support from the Republican establishment essential to his survival as president had been weakened.

In the world of intelligence-sharing among nations, however, any semblance of doubt can be corrosive and irrevocable. Even before this latest indiscretion, there had been rumblings of concern from the CIAs partner agencies abroad, uneasy about the Trump campaigns seemingly cosy relation with Moscow, reports of possible collusion in the 2016 election campaign, and Trumps own disdain for the US intelligence community. He frequently appeared to give more credence to conspiracy sites and the Kremlin that the intelligence briefings he received before taking office.

During the transition, many allies voiced concern Trump team might share intel with Moscow. Todays news will compound that concern, Colin Kahl, a senior official in the Obama administrations national security council (NSC), said in a tweet.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/may/15/donald-trump-russia-classified-information-impact-allies

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Beyond Bollywood: where India’s biggest movie hits really come from

The global success of fantasy epic Baahubali 2: The Conclusion underscores the power of the countrys billion-dollar regional film industry

The global success of SS Rajamoulis fantasy epic sequel Baahubali 2: The Conclusion has once again brought Indian cinema to the attention of the world. Its forerunner, the $31m-budgeted Baahubali: The Beginning (2015), grossed $100m worldwide but caused little more than a ripple outside India. Within the country, it made waves because the film, made in the south Indian Telugu and Tamil languages, saw the Hindi-dubbed version alone gross more than $20m.

It is a common misconception that the Hindi-language, Mumbai-based film industry known as Bollywood is Indias national cinema. The numbers tell a different story. India produces an astonishing 1,900 films a year on average, of which Hindi-language Bollywood accounts for about 340. The bulk of the rest comes from the Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, Kannada, Marathi, Bengali, Punjabi and Gujarati languages. Domestic box office has remained stagnant at about $1.5bn and, while Bollywood might produce more films (Tamil had 291, Telugu 275, and Kannada 204 films in 2016), it contributes just a third of the box office gross. In short, Bollywood has the visibility, but not the profits, with the under-performers far outweighing the hits.

In this context, the numbers racked up by the regional Baahubali 2 budgeted at $39m, made in Telugu and Tamil, with Hindi and Malayalam dubbed versions are astonishing by Indian standards. The film opened on 28 April and grossed $194m in 13 days, making it the highest Indian grosser of all time and putting it on track to become the first Indian film to gross $200m. It easily outperformed the $123m collected by PK (2014), starring Bollywood icon Aamir Khan.

Baahubali 2 consolidated this performance by delivering an extraordinary result in the US, opening in third position at the box office, above The Circle starring Tom Hanks and Emma Watson. With $17m and counting, it is the highest grossing Indian film of all time in North America.

Baahubali 2 has the perfect blend of action, emotion and all the right ingredients that a moviegoer wants, says Soma Kancherla, of the films US distributors Great India Films. Baahubali 1s success and the curiosity factor had created a huge hype. The conclusion had lived up to the expectations.

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Female empowerment saga Parched, directed by Leena Yadav. Photograph: Brisbane Asia and Pacific Film Festival

Has the film broken out beyond Indian diaspora audiences to a broader audience? Yes, says Kancherla. We factored some of that into our promotion and targeted non-Indians, and to some extent it worked. We have seen many Americans in the theatres who watched and appreciated the film.

The film also collected $2.3m across 66 Imax screens around the world in its opening weekend. This included $1.8m from 45 Imax locations in North America, making it the highest ever opening in the format for a foreign language film.

In the UK, rather than the consolidated figure of the various versions charting as in North America, fragmented versions were listed, with the Hindi version bowing in sixth position, the Tamil one in ninth and the Malayalam and Telugu versions lower in the Top 20.

Creating and maintaining anticipation for the larger-than-life saga of warring cousins and fiery queens was a carefully calibrated task for producer Shobu Yarlagaddaof Arka Mediaworks, the company behind the films. As we started preproduction on the film, we knew that for the kind of efforts we were planning to put into the project, financial and otherwise, it would be sad if we didnt at least attempt to go beyond our regional strongholds, says Yarlagadda.

Global
Global hit Dangal has taken $143m worldwide. Photograph: Disney

Getting a wide release in the south Indian language markets of Telugu, Tamil, Kannada and Malayalam was simple enough as director Rajamouli is a brand name there, with hits such as Eega and Magadheera behind him. For north India and the international markets, Arka promoted the project on social media platforms, as well as attending comic-cons and university festivals.

The so-called traditional market for Indian films is a block of 50 territories with the biggest being the US, the UAE, the UK, Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Indias south Asian neighbours, Australia and New Zealand, and North Africa, with some pockets in France, Germany and Switzerland. Elsewhere, Indian films were popular in Russia and China in the 1950s, particularly actor/film-maker Raj Kapoors blockbuster Awara, while dancing action star Mithun Chakraborty enjoyed fame there with his 1982 film Disco Dancer. However, of late, Indian studio majors have been striking out into non-traditional territories with dubbed or subtitled versions of films: Ki & Ka was released in territories as diverse as Ivory Coast, Zimbabwe and Gibraltar; Bajrangi Bhaijaan in Morocco, Tunisia and Poland; and Mary Kom in Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, and Kyrgyzstan.

Indian producers have utilised every trick in the book to reach overseas audiences. Arka hired Franois Da Silva, former artistic director of Cannes directors fortnight, to sell and market the film internationally. Non-Indian behind-the-camera talent is increasingly common. Leena Yadavs female empowerment saga Parched, in Hindi, boasts Titanic cinematographer Russell Carpenter and The Descendants editor Kevin Tent.

Accessible English-language titles are also on the rise. Pan Nalins Angry Indian Goddesses, billed as Indias first female buddy movie, sold to 61 territories internationally. Nalin says: Based on my past movies and gaining some experience with international distribution one thing I realised is that its not enough to just have a great movie. We also need a great title which is universally appealing. Titling it in English has paid off. Across the world, the moment we utter or read Angry Indian Goddesses it puts a smile on faces.

All the major Hollywood films are released in English and in Hindi, Telugu and Tamil dubs, demonstrating that India loves global tentpoles, provided they speak in their own tongues. (Appropriately, the highest grossing Hollywood film in India is the India-set The Jungle Book, which roared to $28m in 2016.) Nevertheless, the dominance being enjoyed by Baahubali 2 could be under threat. Wrestling drama Dangal has taken $143m at the global box office, while fans of Baahubalis spectacle will be waiting for the big-budget adaptations of epic story cycles The Ramayana and The Mahabharata, which are in the works. Its fair to say that, with Hollywood accounting for just 10% of the local box office, the Indian film industry continues to enjoy rude good health.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/film/filmblog/2017/may/13/bollywood-india-film-industry-baahubali-2-the-conclusion

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Robert Mugabe ‘not sleeping, just resting his eyes’

Zimbabwes 93-year-old president has been photographed seemingly nodding off at several conferences, but his spokesman says its an optical affliction

Robert Mugabe is not sleeping in meetings as a series of images would suggest. In fact, his PR man has said, he is simply resting his eyes.

The state-run Herald newspaper on Thursday quoted spokesman George Charamba as saying the 93-year-old Zimbabwean president has a medical condition that means his eyes cant handle bright lights.

He spoke after Mugabe left this week for medical treatment for his eyes in Singapore.

I feel like a failure when there is this reading that the president is sleeping in conferences no, Charamba said.

The comments came after Mugabe was captured apparently dozing at a World Economic Forum meeting in South Africa this month.

Theophilous (@tchiviru)

#Mugabe sleeping at the #WEF during a discussion on youth involvement in decision making. Sad…. pic.twitter.com/OYQjuTkFE3

May 4, 2017

It isnt the first time he has been photographed mid-nap. It also happened during Ghanas 60th anniversary of Independence parade in March.

Ismail Akwei (@akweiakwei)

#Ghana is 60 and ongoing is the independence day parade. Mugabe is caught sleeping while ceremony is ongoing. #Ghana60YearsOn pic.twitter.com/5qajyiFnUw

March 6, 2017

Mugabes weakening health is being watched carefully in Zimbabwe. Images of him struggling to walk on a red carpet and toppling from a raised lectern in 2015 have trended on social media.

He has been in power since 1980 and says he will run for election again next year.

Associated Press contributed to this report

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/may/12/robert-mugabe-not-sleeping-just-resting-his-eyes

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‘I know he is alive’: wife of Taiwan activist seized by China pleads for release

Lee Ming-che has been detained by Beijing authorities amid a targeting of activists, dissidents and scholars based abroad

The wife of a Taiwanese human rights activist detained in China for over a month without charge has vowed to take her fight for justice to the US and European Union, urging them to pressure Beijing to release him.

It has now been 40 days since Lee Ching-yus partner, best friend and confidante suddenly disappeared while travelling to visit friends in Guangzhou, southern China.

Beijing, which views democratic Taiwan as a renegade province, admitted only after 10 days that Lee Ming-che, 42, a community college worker known for supporting human rights, had been detained for allegedly threatening national security.

He is feared to be the latest victim of an escalation in Chinas repression of rights and free speech.

It is only through international support that we can force a country that encroaches on human rights to stop this action, Lee Ching-yu told The Guardian in her first interview with the British press. She intends to seek help in Washington DC and Brussels next month.

Under standard Chinese criminal law, Lees husband should have been charged or released on Monday, after 37 days in custody.

Instead, her hopes of a speedy resolution were shattered on Wednesday when Chinas Taiwan affairs office announced that Lee was still under investigation, that his health was good, and that he has clearly explained the relevant situation to his family in a letter.

The letter, which contained scant information, was delivered in early April by an unofficial middleman Lee Ching-yu did not know whether to trust.

It was my husbands handwriting but he made no connection with me, she said. He did not write that letter voluntarily.

Lee, also 42, has struggled largely alone, with the support of a few local activists, to uncover the truth.

With little government support, she has fended off unidentified brokers offering help through unofficial channels.

One suggested her silence and inaction might buy her husbands freedom, or at least spare him the humiliation of a video confession. But Lee has refused to strike a backroom deal.

She is defiant but the strain of her ordeal has made her visibly more gaunt and she frequently fights back tears. I have to keep a strong face in front of the media, but when I see my husbands photo I get very emotional, she said.

The couple met at college 20 years ago and were drawn to each other through a shared passion for human rights.

Lee Ching-yu became a researcher at the Shin Ming-te foundation, studying the history of Taiwans own dark period of martial law, when thousands were disappeared. Her work both gives her strength and haunts her. I can imagine what my husband might have gone through, she said.

Lee Ming-che kept his human rights work low key. Supporters believe he may have been targeted after speaking openly on Chinese messaging service WeChat about Taiwanese democracy.

The values and beliefs that my husband holds and spreads would not be charged in any democratic or civilised country, said Lee.

She broke down describing how he had tried to help the poverty-stricken families of Chinese activists, imprisoned for their beliefs.

At least I know my husband is alive, she said. Others who disappear dont receive the same media attention and they might be in more danger. When I realise how severe the situation in China is, its hard to stay calm.

Lee has approached the United Nations Committee on Enforced Disappearances for help.

Her husbands case has been complicated by Taiwans lack of international clout and by frozen diplomatic ties between Taipei and Beijing over Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wens refusal to endorse Chinas view that the self-governed island and mainland are part of a single Chinese nation.

Taiwans government maintains it is working behind the scenes to resolve Lees case, but local NGOs argue they could do more.

Mrs Lee is already standing so strongwe need support from the government, not only to just keep it low key, said E-Ling Chiu, head of the Taiwan Association for Human Rights.

Many fear Lee may have fallen foul of a harsh new Chinese law to monitor and control foreign-funded NGOs, enforced earlier this year as part of a crackdown on civil society.

The environment for foreign and domestic human rights NGOs had become treacherous, said Maya Wang an Asia researcher with Human Rights Watch.

The case of Mr Lee fits within the greater pattern of a new trend of the Chinese government targeting activists, dissidents, or even scholars based abroad, she said. All of these cases deserve equal press and attention.

However, Lee may also have become a pawn in internal Chinese politics by factions opposed to President Xi Jinpings perceived mild approach to Taiwan, ventured Michael Cole, a Taipei-based political analyst.

It would be difficult for Xi to back down while demonstrating strength over Taiwan, he said. Equally, Tsai had to tread cautiously.

It would not serve Mr Lees interests if she came out guns blazing. Ultimately his case is part of something thats much bigger.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/apr/28/wife-of-taiwan-activist-seized-china-pleads-for-release-lee-ming-che

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Two-thirds of people in Mexico, Chile and Ecuador are obese, UN finds

Study calls epidemic frightening and finds that overnutrition and sedentary lifestyles are costing countries tens of billions of dollars every year

More than two-thirds of people living in Mexico, Chile and Ecuador are overweight or obese, costing their economies tens of billions of dollars every year, driving rates of disease and straining health services, according to a new UN report.

While the number of hungry people in Latin America and the Caribbean has halved in the past 25 years, the region is now struggling to combat an obesity epidemic.

Changing diets, including more processed food that are high in salt, sugar and fat, along with more sedentary lifestyles have triggered a rising tide of obesity, experts say.

The implications for the future of countries are frightening … undernutrition is declining, but overnutrition is expected to become the largest social and economic burden in the region, the UN World Food Programme (WFP) said in a statement.

The report by the WFP and the UNs Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), said over the next six decades people being overweight and obese would cost Mexico an estimated $13bn a year, Ecuador $3bn and Chile $1bn.

Undernutrition, when people do not get enough food, and obesity itself a form of malnutrition are two sides of the same coin, and together they inflict a so-called double burden of disease on people and economies, the report said.

Undernutrition impairs child growth and brain development, while obesity can led to type 2 diabetes, cancer and heart disease.

We now witness a worrying trend among vulnerable communities with cases of undernourishment and overweight simultaneously within the same families, said Miguel Barreto, WFPs regional director said in a statement.

Both undernourishment and overweight represent a serious burden for the health of those families, that eventually translates into losses in productivity, and in pressure on the health and education systems in the country where they live.

According to the World Health Organisation, obesity is an epidemic worldwide, killing 2.8 million adults every year, and obesity-related conditions now cause more deaths than hunger.

In Latin America, obesity is increasingly affecting the regions poor, particularly women.

In Mexico, a country that faces one of the worlds most acute obesity crisis, 74% of women are obese or overweight compared with 70% of men, the report said.

The report urged food companies to play a greater role in combating obesity.

The food industry has the opportunity to ensure the production, availability and accessibility of healthier food products, it said.

Governments should also do more to promote exercise and health eating and place greater controls on food labelling.

The report noted Chiles efforts to combat obesity, including an 18% tax on sugary drinks introduced in 2014 one of the worlds highest along with laws that restrict the advertising of unhealthy foods targeting children.

In 2014, Mexico also introduced a 10% tax on fizzy drinks, and 2016 research by the British Medical Journal found that the sugar tax led to as much as a 12% reduction in sales during the first year it was implemented.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2017/apr/25/obesity-epidemic-latin-america-mexico-chile-ecuador-un-report