Philip Reeves

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To the outsider, there is a beguiling charm and tranquility about the farming town of Central do Maranhão in northeast Brazil. It's tucked amid the palm groves, mango trees and rice fields that cover the landscape rolling gently toward the Atlantic Ocean, some 30 miles to the north.

For once, Jair Bolsonaro is not surrounded by crowds of young, far-right supporters, cheering for him to be the next president of Latin America's largest nation.

The retired Brazilian army captain is sitting at a cafe in an airport departure lounge, gazing intently into his cellphone, the tool that keeps him in constant contact with his millions of social media followers.

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Afro-Brazilian culture is so central to Brazil's port city of Salvador that the city has earned the nickname Roma Negra, or "Black Rome." The nickname resonates with Brazilians who recognize Salvador as a black cultural and intellectual capital — a place where city and culture are as deeply intertwined as Christianity is with Rome.

Afro-Brazilian drummers, snack vendors and visual artists hum through Salvador's streets and plazas. These cultural fixtures are also small businesses — and their challenges are emblematic of those shared nationwide by black Brazilians in business.

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Wander into any bar in Rio de Janeiro at present, and you are sure to meet one of the world's greatest soccer talents.

He or she might be young or old, short or tall, a beer drinker or a fan of the head-spinning cachaça spirit made from sugar cane.

Yet they'll have one thing in common.

He or she will be wearing the bright yellow No. 10 shirt identified with Neymar — the man long seen as the Brazilian national team's finest performer, who's now also its funniest.

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When Ariles López takes a break from her fruit stall and begins to describe her life in Venezuela, there is a moment when she chokes up and begins to cry.

That will not come as a surprise, when you hear her story.

López, who's 47, is among those Venezuelans who say they will vote in Sunday's election, despite a widely held view that it's a fraudulent exercise calculated to keep President Nicolás Maduro in power.

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We turn to Brazil, where an extraordinary scene is underway. The country's former president Lula da Silva is defying a judge's order to turn himself in and start serving a prison sentence for corruption. NPR's Philip Reeves is in Sao Paulo where a standoff is underway. Hey, Phil.

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The former president of Brazil is facing arrest and imprisonment over corruption charges. NPR's Philip Reeves reports.

Easter In Rio

Apr 1, 2018

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Christians in much of the world are celebrating Easter today. That includes in Latin America's largest nation, Brazil. Our correspondent there, Philip Reeves, sent us this postcard from Rio about the role played during this religious season by one of his more unusual neighbors.

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Three days of mourning have begun in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, after the murder of a black human rights campaigner who spoke out against the lethal methods routinely used by security forces within the city's poorest neighborhoods.

Many residents of Rio are hardened to daily incidents of deadly violence yet the killing of Marielle Franco, a city council member and civil society activist, is being met by a huge wave of anger and indignation on social media, and protests on the streets.

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Not long ago, a sudden boom echoed across the rooftops of southern Rio de Janeiro, bouncing off the granite hills and jolting people out of their slumbers in the wee small hours.

It came from a relatively tranquil neighborhood, and it was loud enough to be heard more than a mile away, within the villas beside Sugarloaf Mountain and along Copacabana Beach on the shores of the Atlantic.

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You can buy a remarkable number of items on Copacabana Beach just by sitting on the sand a few yards from the Atlantic waves, and waiting.

Without leaving your beach chair, you can purchase a piece of cheese, a kiddie pool, a blanket, a skewer of shrimp, a string bikini, a selfie-stick, a tropical shirt, a pineapple or a coconut.

Be under no illusions: Copacabana is not merely a beach. It's a giant, restless market, staffed by vendors who drift around in steaming heat, flourishing their wares at the multitude of near-naked basking bodies.

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It's Carnival time in Brazil, and NPR's Philip Reeves says there's more to it than the annual parades and costumes. Phil says if you want to really understand what it's about, you have to hit the streets.

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(SOUNDBITE OF SAMBA PARADES)

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