What Do the Tragedies of the Kiss Nightclub, the “Mountain Tsunami” at Mariana, and the Spread of the Zika Virus All Have in Common? ... The Unbridled Pursuit of Profit and Exploitation by the Capitalist System!
The Right to Abortion Must Be Discussed!
By Joao Evangelista (CCR, Section of the RCIT in Brazil), February 2016, http://elmundosocialista.blogspot.com
In January 2013 there occurred a tragic conflagration at the Kiss Nightclub in the city of Santa Maria in the state of Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil in which 230 people died, as we reported in our article at the time.  On November 5, 2015 a “mountain tsunami” of 62 million cubic meters of iron ore slime destroyed Bento Rodrigues, a sub-district of the historic city of Mariana in the state of Minas Gerais, when the dam restraining the sludge burst.  The huge flood of toxic refuse, the byproducts of the mining and extracting operations, swept into Rio Doce, a river in the southeast of Brazil, which forms the border between the states of Minas Gerais and Espirito Santo. With a length of 853 km, the course of the river is the most important watershed entirely within the Southeast of the Brazil. The toxic leach residue contaminated the full length of the river and flowed into the Atlantic Ocean, causing what has been called the largest environmental disaster in the history of Brazil. As a result of the mining disaster the river is technically dead. Experts say that it will take decades for it to recover. Thousands became homeless; hundreds of fishermen lost their livelihood; tourism in the region was severely impacted; lives were destroyed. The company that caused the disaster is Samarco, a powerful multinational subsidiary of the Vale do Rio Doce corporation, which itself belongs to the Anglo-Australian monopoly BHP Billiton.
The Zika virus, transmitted by the bite the mosquito Aedes aegypti, although rarely involving complications for its bearer, is evidently linked to congenital microcephaly affecting the fetus when acquired by pregnant women.  Microcephaly is a birth defect in which a baby’s head is smaller than expected when compared to babies of the same sex and age. Babies with microcephaly often have smaller brains that might not have developed properly.  During the first half of 2015, there were confirmed cases of the disease from states in all regions of Brazil. With milder symptoms than those of dengue and the chikungunya fever (diseases also transmitted by the Aedes aegypti mosquito), the Zika virus was initially ignored by health authorities. However, with its rapid spread throughout Brazil, and its incursion into countries throughout Latin America, and the reporting of cases now from Europe, it no longer was possible to pretend that nothing was happening. As long as the contamination by the Zika virus was only limited to the poorest sections of the population, it could be treated as something localized; but as it started to spread, even residents of the richest neighborhoods of large cities became vulnerable.
At the beginning of February of this year, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared that the fight against the Zika virus should be considered a public health emergency of international concern. This is the same WHO which was recently criticized harshly for ignoring the extent of the danger of Ebola virus that killed thousands of persons in Africa. As the 2016 Olympics are scheduled to be held in Rio de Janeiro later this year, the Olympic Committee of the United States (USOC) said its athletes should consider not competing in the Olympic Games in August, but only hours later the USOC denied having made this comment.
While the tragedy of the fire at the Kiss nightclub was the result of corporate greed which bribed public officials to ignore the building’s safety infractions, and the colossal disaster in Mariana followed the same script, the spread of Zika virus in Brazil and the rest of the world is primarily related to the lack of proper sanitary conditions in the poorest neighborhoods and slums, i.e., it is clearly a problem that originates with social inequality. But the municipal, state and federal governments of Brazil prefer to blame the citizens for their “carelessness in not eliminating mosquito breeding sites.”
The national and global repercussions of the threat of an epidemic-like spread of a disease causing microcephaly in fetuses and babies yet to be born has brought to the forefront debates on abortion never seen before in Brazil. In recent days attempts have been made to open up the discussion on permitting abortions in cases beyond what is already allowed by law: when rape is involved or when anencephaly, development of the fetus without a brain, occurs. An appeal in this matter is being prepared for presentation before the Supreme Federal Tribunal.  The Catholic Church and other conservative religious bodies have spoken out against such an easing of the restrictions on abortion, but the trend is that this time the discussion will go beyond the moral question. In a statement on the impact of the crisis on women's rights, the High Commissioner of the Law of UN Women, Zeid Al Hussein, called on countries affected by the virus to enable women to have access to contraception and abortion.
Medically supervised abortion in Brazil has been “permitted” for many years, but only for the well-to-do families which, when they want it for their daughters, can afford to pay between 5 and 20 thousand Reals in specialized clinics, while thousands of working women and young people must resort to backyard improvisations. The website of the newspaper O Globo estimates that between 7.5 and 9.3 million women interrupted pregnancies in Brazil between 2004 and 2013. Although it affects thousands and cost the public coffers at least R$ 142 million annually abortion continues to be treated as a matter to be avoided in political campaigns for the presidency, and most candidates, even those considered progressives, seek to evade the issue.
We in the CCR, the Brazilian section of RCIT, defend the right of women to decide about their own body. Preventing women from having autonomy over their bodies is a brutal form of oppression. In our manifesto (Chapter V, entitled “Joint fight for women's liberation!”) we make it clear what we think on this issue when we say that “in the history of mankind, class-based economic systems existed from the beginning side by side with forms of political oppression (by the state) and social oppression of specific groups (for example, women, youth, etc.). The oppression of women is therefore deeply rooted in class society throughout history and can only be eliminated with the abolition of class exploitation. Therefore, the struggle for women’s liberation is invariably and closely linked with the struggle for socialism.”
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