Sunday, December 2, 2012

Brazil's Economic Growth Sluggish

A Reuters article posted on the CNBC website reports that Brazil's economic growth for the third quarter was only 0.6%, half what analysts had predicted. Investment fell for the fifth quarter in a row. 

The continued slow growth is a cause for concern not just for Brazil, but for global markets as well, since it raises fears that Brazil and other emerging economies may be getting pulled into the economic downturn that has affected the rest of the world.

Analysts believe that the unexpectedly slow growth may indicate that underlying structural problems are to blame. The article cites Brazil's under-developed infrastructure, excessive labor regulations, difficulty finding qualified workers due to inferior public schools, and a complex tax code as some of the causes contributing to the slow growth and decreased investment.  

Much of Brazil's recent economic growth has been fueled by consumer spending, including making credit available to lower income workers. However, many consumers appear to have reached their credit limits.

On the positive side, Brazil continues to have impressively low unemployment at 5.3% and the government's finances are stable.  

Analysts give Dilma credit for tax breaks that she has implemented, but one analyst recommends that "instead of making piecemeal measures, the government needs to give clear signals that it will make reforms, that Brazil will be competitive in the future."

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Can Brazil Become More Than A Regional Economic Superpower?

In an article on the US News website, Scheherazade S. Rehman, professor of international finance/business and international affairs at The George Washington University, discusses the future of Brazil as an economic superpower. She writes that without a "miracle," Brazil will likely not be able to become more than a regional economic superpower.  

She lists the following familiar issues as obstacles to Brazil's continued growth:

• Underdeveloped infrastructure (with a particular emphasis on lack of adequate transportation)

• Lack of access to healthcare leading to a high infant mortality rate

• Widespread poverty (about 20 percent of the population)

• High crime rate (24 homicides per 100,000 residents)

• Housing

• Corruption

• Insufficient domestic savings to maintain growth rates without foreign investment

She concludes with this assessment:

"Critical reforms and lots of hard work and difficult decisions must be made during the next decade if Brazil is seeking a seat at the 'big boys table.' This continent-sized country has the world's attention; the question is whether it can keep it beyond a Latin American audience in the days to come. Back to my original assessment—Brazil will stay a regional economic superpower unless a true miracle occurs."

Update, December 7, 2012: In an interview with BBC Brasil, Dr. Rehman answers questions about her article and adds details to her original statements.

Source: Brazil Portal

Monday, November 26, 2012

CNN Article Covering São Paulo Violence

This article on CNN's website offers a grim overview of the violence that has been plaguing São Paulo. According to the article, there have been almost 1,000 homicides in São Paulo this year, with 100 policemen among those killed. 

Much of the violence has been concentrated in the favelas, and is attributed to the ongoing fighting between the prison gang known as the PCC (Primeiro Comando da Capital, or First Command of the Capital) and the police. As anyone who has been following this story knows, the nightly death count from the violence is often 10 people or more.  

This CNN item is interesting, as it's one of the first references to this deadly situation that I have seen in the mainstream American press. While we often read about deaths associated with political violence in the Middle East, violence in our own hemisphere goes under-reported....unless, of course, US citizens are somehow involved, in which case it makes the headlines.

But leaving aside all of that, what really intrigued me about this article were the comments left by readers. While some of them were written by people who seem to be reasonably well-informed and had interesting insights, there were a lot of comments that were ignorant and/or mean-spirited. Here are three samples:

"Just burn the favelas to the ground. Nothing good comes out of there."

"Latin America has an out of control crime problem, not sure what it is, must be something in the water."

"Brazil is a GIGANTIC slum."

There's nothing very surprising about this, of course. People seem to feel free to type whatever they want behind the anonymity of their computer monitors, as can be seen from reading the comments below almost any news item posted on Facebook. Still, the level of animosity in some of these comments is disturbing.

A First: Black Judge Appointed to Head Brazil's Supreme Court

Dilma congratulates newly appointed Joaquim Barbosa
MercoPress reports that Brazil's newly appointed head of the country's supreme court is the first black to hold that office. 

Joaquim Barbosa, 58, was born to a poor family in a small village in Minas Gerais, but went on to attend law school, and was first appointed to the court by former president Lula. 

He has gained recent attention for his role in the "mensalão" scandal, in which he has shown no tolerance for corruption among elected officials.  

The article notes that while Afro-Brazilians comprise over half of the country's population, they are among the country's poorest citizens, with only 2.2% acquiring a university education. 

During his acceptance speech, Barbosa said, "I must honestly declare that there is a great deficit of justice in our country. Not all Brazilians are treated with the same consideration before the courts. What we see here is privileged treatment."  

Source: Brazil Portal

Dilma Fires Corrupt Officials

MercoPress reports that on Friday, November 23, 2012, police raided government offices in Brasilia and São Paulo, arresting six government employees who are accused of being involved in a bribery ring.  

Wasting no time, on Saturday President Dilma Rousseff fired all those arrested, in her ongoing effort to distance herself from any of the scandals that continue to plague her ruling PT party.  

The article also includes results of a recent poll, which show that Dilma has more support (26%) for re-election in 2014 than her predecessor Lula (19%).  

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Brazil Ranks 13th In Soccer Attendance Worldwide. Yes, Seriously.

This headline took me completely by surprise: "World Cup Host Brazil Struggles To Fill Stadiums." What?? I thought that Brazilians were crazy about "futebol." I just assumed, incorrectly as it turns out, that soccer stadiums would be crammed to capacity, just as you'd find a huge crowd filling the stadium on football Saturday at almost any American college or university. 

But no. According to the article, "fewer people go to see professional soccer matches than in China or the United States." OK, I could believe that fewer Brazilians attend soccer matches than in China, since China's population is so huge, but fewer than in the US? That really got my attention.

More from the article: "Brazilian clubs are using different strategies to try to fill their grounds but they are hampered by antiquated stadiums, a lack of respect for fans, television stations that show every game live and insufficient policing and security. In Brazil, just about everyone has a team and an opinion, but few actually go to support their side."

That last sentence sounds like a description of Americans when it comes to politics: everyone has an opinion, but relatively few (between 50 and 60 percent) bother to show up every two years to cast their vote.  Given that Brazilians have a much higher voter turnout than the US (over 80% in the last Presidential election), I assumed (again, incorrectly) that turnout at soccer matches would be really high.

The article cites various reasons for low attendance: the cost of tickets, stadiums in run-down areas, and occasional violence between rival groups of fans.   

Source:  Brazil Portal

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Best Brazilian Rock Album Ever?

I know I'm setting myself up for objections with a title like that, but Raul Seixas' "Krig-ha, Bandolo!" shows up on almost any list of great Brazilian albums, and at the very least, I'd put it in the top five. 

For the record (ha!...a pun, get it?), I'm not alone: the album ranks 12 on Rolling Stone Brasil's list of the 100 greatest MPB albums, and was also on Estadão's list of the 30 best MPB albums of all time. It came in 5th place in Estadão's poll of readers' favorites from that list.

The album was released in 1973.  According to Wikipedia, the title is based on a Tarzan war cry from Hal Foster's Tarzan comic strips. The cover, as you can see, features a somewhat emaciated looking Seixas in a pose that immediately brings the crucifixion to mind (well, to my mind, anyway). The huge medallion around his neck provides some bling, and along with the Gothic font used for the cover, grabs the viewer's attention. When this album was released, cover art was important because it was the first exposure most people had to the album. Record stores used to place the 12" covers in their windows to attract buyers, so the artwork was a form of advertising.  

For this album, Seixas was joined by Paulo Coelho in writing the songs (yes, *that* Paulo Coelho, who went on to write "The Alchemist," among other books).

First of all, let's be clear: I'm not saying it's one of the top five MPB albums, necessarily, though I wouldn't object to that, either.  I'm  talking specifically about *rock* albums, so that leaves out big hitters like João Gilberto, Gilberto Gil, Tom Jobim, Elis Regina, and many others.  

So what is it that makes this such a great album? It's not the inherent beauty of Raul Seixas' voice, which can be raspy and plaintive, but can also be surprisingly smooth and mellow, too. It's what he does with his voice that makes this album so irresistible. There is literally something for everyone here, and whatever Seixas does, he does it extremely well. Not only that, he does it without wasting any time. The entire album clocks in at just under 30 minutes, with the longest song a little over 4 minutes, and most of them between 2 and 3 minutes.  

This is important because it keeps the momentum of the album constantly moving forward, with the listener never wishing that a song would end a little sooner than it does. Although I've listened to the album at least a dozen times now, the end always seems to come faster than I expect, and to me, that's one sign that an album is a success.

While I don't normally do a track-by-track description of albums, I'm making an exception in this case.

The album opens with a scratchy home recording of a young Seixas (9 years old) singing a short version of "Good Rockin' Tonight," and it's clear from this short sample that he had already developed a comfort level in front of the microphone.  In fact, you get the idea that his parents probably couldn't get this kid to be quiet, ever.

Next comes "Mosca Na Sopa," with hard-hitting Afro-beat drums and repetitive lyrics. It's complete with buzzing fly sounds and a spoken-sung section from Seixas as the fly himself, describing exactly how he drives his innocent human victim crazy. Seixas' voice is strong as he almost yells out the lyrics, but it fits the song perfectly.

The next song, "Metamorfose Ambulante," is one that I first heard in the film "Cidade de Deus." Here, Seixas' voice has the plaintive and at times raspy tone that I mentioned earlier, and it also shoots up into a falsetto range as the song develops. There are enough hooks in this song to please even the most skeptical listener.  

"Dentadura Postica" is the next song, and it's one of my favorites. There's a backing chorus that sounds as if it could be a Brazilian gospel group, alternatively chanting "vai cair" and "vai subir" in a sort of call-response pattern with Seixas.  This song will leave you with a huge smile and make you want to sing, or at least hum along.  

In the next song, "As Minas Do Rei Salomão," Seixas sounds very much like Bob Dylan, with  exaggerated and deliberate distortions of the melodic line, and a very country-rock sound.  

"A Hora Do Trem Passar" is a major change of pace from the previous tracks. It's a gentle ballad with Seixas using a voice that's both melodic and sweet, and this is where you begin to admire the man's versatility.  But just when you think he's calmed down to sing you a lullaby, he breaks out with a rock anthem ending, letting you know that he doesn't want you to get *too* comfortable.

"Al Capone" is a song named after the American gangster, and it's a straight-out rocker, with some country influence.  Like "Mosca Na Sopa," it includes some sections that are more spoken than sung, but if anything, it's even more energized than "Mosca."  It also has some amazing guitar passages.

Next up is "How Could I Know," which is sung in English, with almost no perceptible accent.  The first time I heard this song, it reminded me of something that could have been in the musical "Les Misérables." It starts out with Seixas and his guitar, but quickly swells to include an orchestral instrumental background as well as a chorus. I know what you're thinking, but it works. The lyrics and the music are surprisingly engaging, and again, Seixas' versatility and his ability to tackle a variety of genres is impressive.

"Rockixe" is next, and it begins with jazzy sounding trumpets (echoes of Herb Alpert, but better). Seixas' voice is all over the place in this one, including some "woo's" that sound a lot like the early Beatles.  His voice actually breaks on some of the high notes, but it fits and you can tell that he did it deliberately.  

Next we have "Cachorro-Urubu" which finds him channeling Dylan again, but this time, Dylan doing a ballad.  So the voice is somewhat raspy again, but this time the song is slower and more lyrical than "As Minas Do Rei Salmomão." He's joined by back-up singers towards the end. This is another one of my favorites, though with this album it's really hard to choose.

The album ends with "Ouro De Tolo," whose opening bars sound like a Glen Campbell song, but don't worry, it's definitely not that!  Seixas' voice has the plaintive, raspy sound that he uses so effectively, but this time, there's a lush orchestral back-up as he talks and sings his way through the lyrics.  Good luck singing along with this one, since he manages to cram more words into it than you'd think is possible.  

And then it's over, and in my case, I'm not ready for it to end, which usually means that I listen to the whole thing (all 28.7 minutes) all over again.

So, why is this such a great album? Well, there's Seixas' amazing versatility as a singer and a musician. He wisely kept the songs and the album short, never wearing out his welcome. There is not one bad song on the entire album, and I never skip over a song, though I do sometimes repeat one immediately after hearing it. 

The album sounds really good, too, with quality production values and a high level of musicianship throughout. But the bottom line is that it makes me feel good to listen to it, and that's something that you can't say about every album, even ones that are universally accepted as being among the "best" or the "greatest."  

And that's why I think that this may just be the best Brazilian rock album, ever. If you haven't heard it yet, what are you waiting for? It's available for download on iTunes and Amazon.

Update January 17, 2012:  Be sure to read the post that Tom,'s author, wrote about this album, and while you're there, check out his other posts. He's also a great photographer.

Brazil Institute Director Predicts "More Productive Bilateral Relationship" for US and Brazil

In an article published on November 9, 2012, Paulo Sotero, director of the Brazil Institute of the Woodrow Wilson International Center, predicts that the US and Brazil will actively pursue a policy of increased cooperation in a variety of important areas.

He writes that President Obama and President Dilma Rousseff both face economic and political challenges which will encourage them to work more closely together. He indicates that the groundwork for this increased cooperation has already been laid, both by government and business leaders.

In a passage that reflects Mr. Sortero's strong convictions on the subject, he writes: "the rapid increase in the breadth and depth of the bilateral dialogue and the Brazilian and American governments' efforts to maintain the doors open for a more productive and consequential relationship suggest, at a minimum, that they understand they need each other, benefit from working together and risk paying a political price for not doing so."

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

The 100 Greatest MPB Albums from Rolling Stone (Brasil)

This list of the 100 Greatest MPB Albums from Rolling Stone (Brasil) was published back in 2007, but it still makes interesting reading. I was struck by the number of albums on this list that also appeared on the list of the 30 top MPB albums that appeared in Estadão a couple months ago. 

I have copied the top 30 from the Rolling Stone list below, and highlighted albums that also appear in Estadão's list with bold italics. 

In a couple of cases, artists appeared on both lists, but not for the same album, so in those cases, the artist's name appears in bold italics.  

Rolling Stone ranked their choices, but Estadão listed them in chronological order, so it's not possible to compare rankings.

As you can see, 17 albums appear on both lists, and 19 artists appear on both. 

1 Acabou Chorare (1972); Novos Baianos

2 Tropicalia ou Panis et Circencis (1968); Vários artistas

3 Construção (1971); Chico Buarque

4 Chega de Saudade (1959); João Gilberto

5 Secos & Molhados (1973); Secos & Molhados

6 A Tábua de Esmeralda (1974); Jorge Ben

7 Clube da Esquina (1972); Milton Nascimento & Lô Borges

8 Cartola (1976); Cartola

9 Os Mutantes (1968); Os Mutantes

10  Transa (1972); Caetano Veloso

11 Elis & Tom (1974);  Elis Regina e Tom Jobim

12 Krig-ha, Bandolo! (1973);  Raul Seixas

13  Da Lama Ao Caos (1994); Chico Science & Nação Zumbi

14  Sobrevivendo no Inferno (1998); Racionais MC's

15  Samba Esquema Novo (1963); Jorge Ben

16  Fruto Proibido (1975);  Rita Lee

17  Racional (1975); Tim Maia

18  Afrociberdelia (1996); Chico Science & Nação Zumbi

19 Cabeça Dinossauro (1986); Titãs

20 Fa-Tal-Gal A Todo Vapor (1971); Gal Costa

21 Dois (1986); Legião Urbana

22  A Divina Comédia ou Ando Meio Desligado (1970); Os Mutantes

23  Coisas (1965); Moacir Santos

24  Roberto Carlos Em Ritmo de Aventura (1967); Roberto Carlos

25  Tim Maia (1970); Tim Maia

26  Expresso 2222 (1972); Gilberto Gil

27  Nós Vamos Invadir sua Praia (1985); Ultraje a Rigor

28  Roberto Carlos (1971); Roberto Carlos

29  Os Afro-Sambas (1966); Baden Powell e Vinícius de Moraes

30  A Dança da Solidão (1972); Paulinho da Viola

US Election Coverage From BBC Brasil

Tired of the American media's coverage of the election? Check out this special coverage from BBC Brasil for a different perspective, and a chance to brush up your Portuguese reading skills.

And remember to VOTE today!

Monday, November 5, 2012

Brazil's Economic Model: What Can The US Learn From It?

Eduardo Campos and Dilma
Brazil is the world's sixth largest economy, and during the past decade, an estimated 40 million Brazilians have entered the middle class. In addition, Brazil's unemployment rate, even in the current economic downturn, is an enviable 5.4%, a rate significantly lower than those found in the US or the European Union.

To put it in one sentence, Brazil is a burgeoning economic power, with a growing middle class and low unemployment. Of course, we all know about the problems that continue to plague Brazil: corruption, an underdeveloped infrastructure, a huge gap between the very rich and the very poor, violent crime, a cumbersome bureaucracy and a complicated tax code. But in spite of all of this, the country is doing quite well when compared to other capitalist democracies.

An article in the International Herald Tribune by David Rohde, entitled "The Brazilian Economic Model," examines the economic development of the port of Suape, in the state of Pernambuco. Suape is the largest port in the Southern Hemisphere. Mr. Rohde attributes the economic growth to the centrist economic policies of Pernambuco's governor, Eduardo Campos, and President Dilma Rousseff.  The author writes that both of these leaders are "trying to mix liberal and conservative economic approaches."

He goes on to discuss Dilma's support for privatization of infrastructure projects, a payroll tax cut, and various pro-business measures she has taken.  He also points out her aggressive social policies, including the expansion of the "bolsa familia," initiated under former President Lula, which offers poor families a payment if they vaccinate their children and send them to school.

He concludes with this passage:

"Ms. Rousseff and Mr. Campos have their flaws but they should be applauded for breaking free of blindly ideological approaches to economic growth. In too many countries, politicians present voters with a stark choice between sweeping austerity or state largesse.

Europeans and Americans are not used to looking to Latin America for economic guidance. Pernambuco suggests they should."

Brazil and the US have very different political, economic, and social cultures, so any effort to implement Brazil's policies wholesale in the US would probably not be very successful, but the author raises a valid point. I found his criticism of "blindly ideological approaches to economic growth" to be particularly convincing, since there can be no question that polarized political philosophies have hindered meaningful economic growth in both the US and the European Union.

Instead of looking to the past, or to European countries, it's high time for the US to carefully examine the policies that have proven to be successful in Brazil, decide which ones might be worth trying out here, and then adapt them to meet our own needs.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Think You Know Brazil? Test Yourself!

I just found this interactive quiz about Brazil on the Christian Science Monitor's website. There is no date given for it, so I don't know how long it's been there, but it's a fun way to check your knowledge of Brazil.  

Some of the questions are really easy, some are medium, and some are very difficult. 

There's a good mix of politics, history, culture, sports, and questions about demographics and crime statistics. I managed to score 26 out of 33, for an average of 79%....which I am arbitrarily rounding up to 80%.

I did better on the questions about politics, history, and culture than I did with the ones about sports and crime statistics.

The test takes about 10 minutes, depending on how fast you go, of course. After each response, you are shown if your answer was correct, and if it wasn't, the correct answer is highlighted.  There is a running total of how you're doing, too.

Some of the answers were very surprising to me, but I don't want to say which ones because I don't want to give away any of the correct responses, so you'll have to go and see for yourself! 

Update: The CSM has a 20-item quiz about Latin American geography, too. This is a lot easier than the Brazil quiz: I got 19 out of 20 right, and some are very easy, even for geographically-challenged North Americans.  

Monday, October 15, 2012

New York Times To Launch Brazilian Digital Edition in 2013

An article in the Wall Street Journal reports that the New York Times plans to launch an online Brazilian edition in 2013.  

The digital edition will contain Portuguese translations of articles that appeared in English in the newspaper, as well as original content aimed specifically at Brazilian readers.  The Brazilian edition will contain about 40 articles each day, and of those, about a third will be local content.

The following quote by NY Times Chair Arthur Sulzburger is from the article, and summarizes the reasons for the Times developing a Brazilian edition:

"Brazil is an international hub for business that boasts a robust economy, which has brought more and more people into the middle class," said New York Times Chairman Arthur Sulzberger Jr. "As the world gets smaller and digital technology enables us to reach around the globe to attract readers with an interest in high quality news, Brazil is a perfect place for The New York Times to take the next step in expanding our global reach."

Note that Sulzburger specifically singles out Brazil's importance as a center for international trade, its strong economy, and the growth of its middle class as primary reasons for launching a Brazilian edition of the Times.  

Saturday, October 13, 2012

A Good, Brief Summary of the "Mensalão" Scandal

The good people at Street Smart Brazil shared this link from the Economist on their Facebook page a few days ago. If you haven't "liked" their FB page yet, do it now, and also check out their excellent website.  

The article contains an excellent summary of the "mensalão" scandal, and the importance of the unexpectedly strong verdicts that the court has already issued.  The way this scandal is being treated could mark a significant shift in the attitude that Brazilian politicians have toward corruption, because so many of them are already facing real consequences for their crimes.  

This is an important story that has been under-reported in the American media, but unfortunately, our press and even our government seem to persist in having an archaic and paternalistic attitude towards Latin American countries. As if they were little children, Latin Americans only get our attention when we think that they are misbehaving. Think about it: Latin America makes the news when we're threatened by a leader like Hugo Chávez, who is too far left for our own tastes; or when Mexican drug violence spreads across the border; or if something bad happens to Americans who are traveling in Latin America. 

When President Obama failed to meet with the Israeli Prime Minister a few weeks ago in New York, it turned into a major talking point in the Republican campaign.  When he didn't meet with Dilma Rousseff, the leader of the sixth largest economy in the world, with whom the US is currently sparring over tariffs, it doesn't even make the radar. 

Don't even get me started on our educational system's focus on European history and culture at the expense of Latin America. I'll save that for a separate post!

Update: Here's another article about the "mensalão," this time from the Financial Times, in which the author explores the implications of the verdicts as seen by financial analysts. Interesting perspective.  

Source: Street Smart Brazil; The Economist

Film Review: "The Man Who Copied" ("O Homem Que Copiava")

This film surprised me, and in all the right ways. The opening is low-key, and it seems as if the movie might just turn out to be an inner monologue by the main character, André, played brilliantly by Lázaro Ramos. 

Nineteen-year-old André operates a photocopy machine at a stationery store in Porto Alegre, hence the title of the film. With his minimal salary, he would be what we might call a member of the "working poor." He does not live in a favela nor does he lead a life of grinding poverty. Instead, he shares a modest and clean apartment with his mother in what looks like a working-class neighborhood.  

This alone made the film interesting to me, since so many Brazilian movies are about favelas, drugs, gang violence, extreme poverty, and/or political corruption. The exceptions to these themes often focus on the lives of the upper middle class or the very wealthy, so with this film, we get a glimpse of the lives of those who are neither extremely poor, nor extremely rich.

During his free time, André draws, mostly cartoons, which are used as animations throughout the film to reinforce the plot, and to illustrate André's view of what's going on around him. André also uses a pair of binoculars to view his neighbors from his bedroom window. Now, this sort of thing would normally seem creepy, but in André's case, it's no more disturbing than watching Jimmy Stewart use his binoculars in the classic Hitchcock film "Rear Window," or more recently, Shaia LaBeouf in "Disturbia."

The primary object of André's long-distance viewing is Sílvia (Leandra Leal), a girl his age who lives in a nearby building. He manages to follow her one day and is able to find out that she works at a woman's clothing store, and he even works up the nerve to go in and ask to look at a bathrobe for his mother.  He chats somewhat awkwardly with Silvia, and then goes on his way.

Meanwhile, back at the stationery store, we meet André's co-worker Miranês (Luana Piovani), a beautiful and confident young woman. Among other things, she informs André that she has to lie down in order to put on her very tight pants, and that she only dates wealthy men.  When André asks if she wants to go to the opening of a new bar, she agrees, but makes it clear that she is bringing her own date.  At the bar, André meets the man in question, Cardoso, played with great comedic talent by Pedro Cardoso. On the surface, Cardoso is cocky and confident, but within a minute or two, everyone, including André, can see that it's a lot of talk (and in Cardoso's case, there is a *lot* of talk: he spends his first moments on screen explaining that he dislikes the metal tables in the bar, giving a detailed description of how one time, a glass of whisky slid right off a metal table).  

So we now have the four main characters of what is essentially an ensemble film, and their similarities and contrasts make for a dynamic that is never boring and often very funny.  

André sees Sílvia on the bus, and they talk long enough for him to commit to returning to the shop to buy the robe for his mother.  The problem is that the robe costs R$ 38, and he has no money.  

The solution presents itself when his boss gives him a R$ 50 bill and asks that he pay a bill for him.  André agrees, and asks to stay in the store after work, in order to learn how to operate the new color copier that has just been installed.  It takes him 5 hours to make a reasonable forgery of the bill, but he manages to do it.  

The next day, he buys a lottery ticket with the forged bill, and with the change he receives, is able to buy the robe.  

This marks the end of the first half of the film, which is almost an exposition that lays the groundwork for the second half.  Some critics have described the rest of the film as a jarring and even unacceptable turn of events, but I strongly disagree.  I can't go into details without spoiling the story, so you'll have to watch the film yourself to find out why there is some controversy, but I can say that the film does change from what seems like an innocent, almost naive story, to one in which a certain amount of criminal activity occurs. 

No, it does not turn into a blood-soaked story of rampant violence, but it gets darker.  However, the characters remain appealing throughout, and the film itself remains essentially a romantic comedy. Some critics complain that the film seems to be saying that money is the only way to find happiness, but I also reject that statement.  As I read some of the critical reviews, it struck me that they were written by people who have certain expectations for what a film, especially a foreign film, should be.  If you accept the movie on its own terms and don't look for deeper hidden meanings, it's thoroughly enjoyable and a lot of fun. It is worth watching just to see the incredible range of facial expressions that Ramos uses as he is involved in increasingly complex events. 

I watched this film twice after receiving it from Netflix, and will watch it again before I return it.  It is officially on my list of top 5 Brazilian films.  

It includes a feature on the making of the movie, which is better than many I have seen.  Subtitles are legible and seem fairly accurate, but they have a sort of fuzzy look, as if you can see pixelated edges to the letters.  No big deal, but is it that much more expensive to do quality, higher-definition subtitles?  

Language note: be prepared to hear the widespread use of "tu" with the third person singular verb form. From what I have read online, this is not uncommon in Porto Alegre. 

Highly recommended.  


  • DVD for sale at Amazon (note: the cover art on Amazon is for another film)
  • DVD rental from Netflix

Friday, September 28, 2012

Shark Attacks Threaten Recife's Beaches

An article from BBC describes problems with an increasing number of shark attacks on Brazil's northeast coast, specifically in the area around Recife.  

According to the article, the increase in shark attacks is believe to be caused by several factors.  One factor is the construction of Port Suape, which disrupted the environment and interfered with the sharks' normal breeding and hunting patterns.  

Another factor is sewage resulting from increased ship traffic in the area.  Sharks are attracted to this sewage, which brings them closer to the coastal area, where they are more likely to encounter swimmers. 

Authorities from Port Suape deny that the port is the cause of the attacks, and claim that there are no studies to support the allegations.

Meanwhile, a group called Committee for Monitoring Sharks Incidents (Cemit), is promoting public education about shark attacks, as well as conducting a catch-and-release program aimed at moving the sharks away from the crowded beaches.   

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

In UN Speech, Dilma Criticizes Rich Countries

In a speech she delivered at the United Nations on September 25, 2012, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff criticized the economic policies of the United States and other wealthy nations.  

Specifically, Dilma said that extreme austerity measures in the US and Europe, along with the devaluing of their currency by printing too much money, are having harmful effects on the economies of developing countries such as Brazil.

She strongly defended Brazil's recent tariff hikes as a "legitimate trade defense," and rejected the notion that such hikes constituted protectionism.  Her comments came less than a week after a sharp exchange between US Trade Representative Ron Kirk and Brazil's Foreign Minister Antonio de Aguiar Patriota over these same tariffs.  

Kirk had warned Patriota that the Brazilian tariff increases could result in retaliation from Brazil's trade partners. Patriota responded that the tariff hikes were necessary because US monetary policies had unleashed "a flood of imported goods at artificially low prices" in Brazil.

During her speech, Dilma went on to say: "We know from our own experience that the sovereign debt of states as well as the bank and financial debt will not be dealt with in the framework of a recession. On the contrary, recession only makes these problems more acute." She said that the choice between austerity and growth is a "false dilemma." 

This echoes an argument made by some US economists and politicians, who point out that austerity measures in certain European countries have failed to improve their economies, and may have made the situation worse. Dilma's statement also highlights a fundamental difference between conservatives and liberals, with conservatives generally favoring a market solution to the economic crisis, and liberals supporting a more active role of government in solving the problem.  

Brazil's economic growth has slowed down significantly in the past year, and Dilma's government is attempting to confront the problem. 

Update: For a longer, more detailed synopsis of Dilma's remarks, including direct quotations (translated into English), check out the UN News Centre article here.  There's also a video of her entire speech on the same page, but unfortunately, it only includes audio of the English translator.  

Update 2: The video of Dilma's entire speech, in Portuguese without the translator, is now available:

Friday, September 21, 2012

More Brazil Travel Tips from the NYTimes "Frugal Traveler"

In a post from last week, I summarized some of the tips that the NYTimes "Frugal Traveler" had included in a post about Brazil.  He published more tips in a post last Friday, this time from three Brazil-based experts.

Here's a partial list:

Avoid traveling to Brazil during the busiest seasons for domestic travel:  school holidays in January and June, Carnival, and national holidays that turn into long weekends.

Wait for January 10, which the author cites as the "magic date that the Brazilian summer stops being so expensive."   

Visit Rio in the Fall, after Easter (remember, seasons in the Southern Hemisphere are the opposite of seasons in the Northern Hemisphere).  
Use the bus to travel between cities.

Fly on Panama's Copa airline for convenience and decent rates.

Save money by eating small, traditional dishes.

Avoid renting a car if possible.

Try visiting Brasília, where hotels offer reasonable weekend rates, bus travel is efficient, and most main attractions are free.

Buy food "por kilo," and in a restaurant, split an entree with one or two travel companions to save money.

Use airport shuttles instead of taxis to get from the airport to the city center.

BBC Article Highlights Dilma

In an article posted today, the BBC presents an overview of Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff.  After giving a brief description of her political career prior to assuming office, the author focuses on her two years as president.

What emerges is a portrait of a leader who is a highly capable administrator, described as "tough," "firm," and "impatient."  Her agriculture minister recounts a story about a meeting in which several people were debating ways to confront the drought that has faced Brazilian farmers.  After listening for a while, Dilma announced that the group had one hour to solve the problem, and then she left the room.  While she extended her deadline, she made it clear that they were expected to find a solution, no matter what.

In spite of Dilma's extremely high approval ratings (59% at the time the article was written), some see her as less politically astute than her predecessors.  The article cites several problems: her "tense" relations with Congress, in spite of the fact that her ruling coalition has solid control; a rash of scandals that required the dismissal of six of her ministers; and her support of the construction of hydro-electric dams in the Amazon rainforest, opposed by environmentalists.  

The author also discusses the slowdown in the growth of Brazil's GDP as another challenge that faces Dilma. But he explains that the country's unemployment rate remains low, at just under 6%, which no doubt explains her continued popularity.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

From NYTimes "Frugal Traveler": 7 Tips To Save On Your Trip To Brazil

Seth Kugel, writing in the NYTimes blog "Frugal Traveler," published a post today called "For a Brazilian Vacation, 7 Rules to Save By."

Once you get past the sticker shock of the cost of a round-trip flight to Brazil (around $1,000...I mean, I knew that flights were not cheap, but $1,000??), the author offers some good ideas about how to keep your other costs down. Even if you follow the author's advice about booking a cheaper flight, the best he could do was around $900, but every dollar or real counts.

Other ideas include not traveling to Rio during Carnival, New Year's, or other busy times, and finding lodging away from high-priced areas like Ipanema or Copacabana. After a limited stay in Rio (too expensive to spend your entire vacation there) the author recommends traveling elsewhere. He rules out an Amazon adventure ("Too far, too pricey, too complicated") and instead, recommends exploring the state of Minas Gerais.  

He offers suggestions on how to keep your restaurant costs under control, basically by not eating at restaurants, but instead buying your food by the kilo, or from a "lanchonete" or a juice stand.  For lodging, he suggests searching out a good pousada.

He recommends learning some Portuguese, warning tourists that "Your Spanish might help, but not as much as you think."

My favorite line was this one: "Rio, São Paulo and the other big cities are not nearly as dangerous as you might think from watching Brazilian movies like … well, like just about all of them." So it wasn't just my imagination that a lot of Brazilian movies deal with crime and violence.

Be sure to read the entire post if you're planning on traveling to Brazil. The author promises more tips in an upcoming post, too, so stay tuned.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Brazilian Professor: Brazil's Policy Toward "Arab Spring" A Failure

Al Jazeera has published an English translation of an opinion piece that originally appeared in Portuguese in Folha de S. Paulo

The op-ed, entitled "Primavera Árabe e inverno no Itamaraty" (Arab Spring: Winter at Brazil's foreign ministry) was written by Marcelo Coutinho. He is a professor of international relations at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro. The article appeared in the August 26, 2012 issue of Folha.  

Professor Coutinho argues that Brazil's foreign ministry made mistake after mistake in the way it dealt with the Arab Spring.  He begins by writing: "Our diplomats were unable to handle the situation, did not support democratic movements, and lost the ground it gained over decades in the Middle East."

Specifically, he criticizes Brazil for siding with dictators, being hesitant in dealing with events in Tunisia and Egypt, opposing UN involvement in Libya, and advocating what he calls a failed policy of non-intervention. He believes that this pattern of poor decisions during an unprecedented time of rapid change in the Middle East has tarnished Brazil's reputation as an advocate for democracy and has dealt a severe blow to its credibility in the area.

He closes with this observation: "The foreign ministry of Brazil stumbled badly. In a hundred years, the history books will speak of events that changed a core part of the world. Brazil will appear in a footnote on the wrong side of these transformations."

Source: "Brazil Portal"

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Meet the 2014 World Cup Mascot

The "tatu-bola," a species of armadillo
Meet the official mascot for the 2014 World Cup. He's a "tatu-bola," an armadillo found in Brazil and several other South American countries.

He hasn't been named yet; according to an item in "Veja," his name will be chosen by online voting.

Another article gives a little more information.   

Source: "Street Smart Brazil"

Friday, September 7, 2012

Happy Independence Day, Brazil!

Dilma leads the Independence Day Parade in Brasilia
September 7, 2012, marks the 190th anniversary of Brazil's independence from Portugal.  Happy Independence Day, Brazil!

In addition to parades and celebrations in Brazil, "Brazilian Day" is celebrated in early September in other cities, including New York, Los Angeles, Miami, Toronto, and London.

The Results Are In: "Ventura" by Los Hermanos Wins Poll for Best Brazilian Album of All Time

An online poll sponsored by Rádio Eldorado FM,, and Caderno C2+Música, asked readers to answer the question, "What is the best Brazilian album of all time?"  

The winner? "Ventura," by Los Hermanos, which also happened to be the newest disc on the list. "Clube da Esquina" by Milton Nascimento and Lô Borges came in second, with "Dois" by Legião Urbana in third place. Full results can be found here.

While the classic disc "Elis & Tom" made it in the top ten, João Gilberto did not, a result that many fans of MPB will find difficult to accept. More than 25,000 people took part in the poll, but that's a relatively small number, and it's likely that many of the voters were younger and either didn't know about the older, more classic albums on the list, or prefer newer music.

My own first choice was "Clube da Esquina," followed closely by "Elis & Tom" and Gilberto's "Chega de Saudade."  

This graphic shows all 30 albums, listed in order, with the number and percent of votes that each received in the poll.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

What Lies Ahead For Brazil's Public Employee Unions?

In an analysis in Americas Quarterly, Lucy Johnson explores the potential fallout from the long-term strikes that just ended in Brazil. She points out that frustration with the inconveniences caused by the strikes have made the public less sympathetic to public employee unions than they have traditionally been in the past.

She writes that many of the strikers had legitimate complaints about salaries that are far lower than their private sector counterparts. On the other hand, some public employees enjoy salaries that are much higher than private sector workers.  The issue is complex.

In addition to the disruptions to public services, the author notes that Brazilians have become even more disenchanted with public employees because of scandals like the "mensalão," involving allegations of corruption and money laundering by public officials.

She concludes by suggesting that the time may be right for Brazil's leaders to examine the country's notoriously inefficient bureaucracy.