News from Brazil, Great Britain and Colombia

Tuesday's World Events   —   Posted on March 27, 2012

BRAZIL – Locator chips keep track of students

A tracking microchip similar to the ones embedded in Brazilian school uniforms. (RT.com)

SAO PAULO | Grade-school students in a northeastern Brazilian city are using uniforms embedded with locator chips that help alert parents if they’re cutting classes, the city’s education secretary said Thursday.

Twenty thousand students in 25 of Vitoria da Conquista’s 213 public schools started using T-shirts with chips earlier this week, secretary Coriolano Moraes said by telephone.

By 2013, all of the city’s 43,000 public school students, aged 4 to 14, will be using the chip-embedded T-shirts, he added.

Radio frequency chips in “intelligent uniforms” let a computer know when children enter school and it sends a text message to their cell phones. Parents are also alerted if kids don’t show up 20 minutes after classes begin with the following message: “Your child has still not arrived at school.”

“We noticed that many parents would bring their children to school but would not see if they actually entered the building because they always left in a hurry to get to work on time,” Moraes said in a telephone interview. “They would always be surprised when told of the number times their children skipped class.

After a student skips classes three times parents will be asked to explain the absences. If they fail to do so, the school may notify authorities, Moares said.  …

Moraes said that Vitoria da Conquista is the first city in Brazil “and maybe in the world” to use this system.

“I believe we may be setting a trend because we have received many requests from all over Brazil for information on how our system works,” he said.

GREAT BRITAIN – Brits to See How Taxes Are Spent

LONDON | Every British taxpayer is to receive a personal statement detailing exactly how their taxes are being spent as part of the government’s drive to make the tax system easier to understand and more transparent.

British Treasury chief George Osborne was expected to announce in [last week’s] budget that Britain’s 20 million taxpayers will receive the annual statements [starting in] 2014.

“It is quite right that people know how much tax they pay and what it is spent on,” a person familiar with the matter said.

The statements will set out how much income tax and National Insurance – workers’ contribution toward the state-funded health system – each taxpayer contributes. It will also break down the main areas of spending on public [government] services and how much of the taxpayer’s contribution goes on each.

An example statement released by the Treasury shows that a person earning £25,000 (around $40,000) a year will have taken home almost $31,000 and paid $9,051 in tax. A pie chart showing how the government spent the taxes shows the largest chunk – $3,017 – went to welfare, while $1,576 went toward health. The taxpayer would also have contributed $576 toward paying interest on the government’s debt.

COLOMBIA – Military forces kill 33 FARC rebels in Arauca

Juan Manuel Santos says there will be no let up in operations against the FARC.

BOGOTA – Colombia says its armed forces, using air strikes and ground attacks, killed 33 Marxist guerrillas [members of FARC, in a] 24 hour [period last week] in the remote, oil-rich region of Arauca, the same place the rebels attacked and killed 11 soldiers days earlier.

The military action represents one of the fiercest offensives against Colombia’s main rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, since President Juan Manuel Santos took office in 2010. …

“A major strike against the FARC in Arauca where they killed our soldiers,” President Santos said in a Twitter message upon hearing of the military offensive’s outcome. “Congrats to our forces.”

President Santos said the number of rebels killed was 24, but Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzon told reporters later that the toll was 33 rebels. He said six other FARC fighters were also killed in different parts of the country, bringing to 39 the number of rebels killed in 24 hours.

The counteroffensive by Colombia’s armed forces follows an attack Saturday by FARC rebels on an army encampment that killed 10 soldiers and an officer. It was the deadliest guerrilla attack against government forces in years.  …

Representatives from Ecopetrol and Occidental weren’t immediately available for comment Wednesday.

The FARC, as well as the National Liberation Army, or ELN, each have a strong presence in the Arauca region. While both rebel groups are seen as weaker than they were a decade ago due to a military offensive by the government of former President Alvaro Uribe, there has been a resurgence in rebel activity since shortly after President Santos took office.

Last month, the FARC announced it was abandoning its decades-old practice of kidnapping civilians for ransom, a move analysts said could eventually lead to peace in the country beset by war.

President Santos, however, says he is willing to talk peace with the rebels only if they end all violence and release their remaining civilian and military hostages.

(The news briefs above are from wire reports and staff reports posted at Boston.com on March 22 and The Wall Street Journal on March 20 and March 21.)

Questions

1. For each of the countries, give the following information:
a) location/the countries that share its borders
b) the religious breakdown of the population
c) the type of government
d) the chief of state (and head of government if different) [If monarch or dictator, since what date has he/she ruled? – include name of heir apparent for monarch] e) the population

[Find the answers at the CIA World FactBook website. For each country, answers can be found under the “Geography” “People” and “Government” headings.  Go to worldatlas.com for a list of continents.]

2. For BRAZIL:
a) list the who, what, where and when of the news item
b) How many of the city’s students 14 and under will be using the chip-embedded t-shirts by 2013?
c) Education secretary Moraes thinks his city may be setting a trend because they have “received many many requests from all over Brazil for information on how our system works.”  Why did the city implement this system?
d) Do you think schools in the U.S. with the same problem should utilize this solution?  Explain your answer.

3. For GREAT BRITAIN:
a) list the who, what, where and when of the news item
b) Should the U.S. government do the same?  Explain your answer.
c) Ask a parent the same question.  Compare your answers.

4. For COLOMBIA:
a) list the who, what, where and when of the news item
b) What must FARC do before President Santos will enter peace talks with the group?


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Background

BRAZIL:

  • The Vitoria da Conquista city government invested $670,000 to design, test and make microchipped T-shirts for students, according to education secretary Coriolano Moraes.
  • The chips, similar to those used to track pets in many countries, are placed underneath each school’s coat-of-arms or on one of the sleeves below a phrase that says: “Education does not transform the world. Education changes people and people transform the world.”
  • The T-shirts can be washed and ironed without damaging the chips, Moraes said, adding that the chips have a “security system that makes tampering virtually impossible.” (from the news brief above)

COLOMBIA:  FARC:

  • FARC is a guerrilla organization, self-proclaimed Marxist-Leninist.  The FARC is considered a terrorist group by the Colombian government, the United States, Canada, the Latin American Parliament, and the European Union. (from wikipedia.org)
  • The FARC continues to wage a war of words devoted to Marxist principles, despite the fact that many of its battles are fought with the less idealistic motive of controlling the illicit drug industry. (from tkb.org)
  • FARC is responsible for most of the ransom kidnappings in Colombia; the group targets wealthy landowners, foreign tourists, and prominent international and domestic officials. FARC stepped up terrorist activities against infrastructure in cities before Colombia’s May 2002 presidential election. (from cfr.org)
    (Read about FARC at cfr.org/publication/9272/.)

The rebel attack unleashed harsh public criticism against the Santos government, which has so far retained solid approval ratings. Parents of the soldiers killed went on television claiming their young sons were thrown into the dangerous region with little preparation or backup, making them sitting ducks for the highly trained guerrillas.

President Santos and top military officials had vowed to strike back at the rebels, who have been waging a guerrilla war against the Colombian government for nearly half a century.

The northeastern state of Arauca runs along the Venezuela border, in the upper part of Colombia’s eastern plains, where more than half of the country’s oil production comes from. Arauca has long been a hotbed of leftist guerrilla activity, partly due to its remoteness but also because of the presence of foreign oil companies that the rebels view as potential targets. The rebels also see the oil companies as funding sources by way of extortion.

Among the companies operating in Arauca is California-based Occidental Petroleum Corp. and national oil company Ecopetrol.

Beyond the fighting, rebels in Arauca were also blamed on Saturday for blowing up the Cano Limon oil pipeline, which is operated by Ecopetrol and carries oil from Occidental’s Cano Limon field. It was at least the 15th attack on the pipeline this year. The government blames the attacks on the Cano Limon for a recent decline in overall oil production. (from the news brief above)

Resources

Watch a news report on the topic “Brits to See How Taxes Are Spent”: