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.  

Chevron Says It's Not Leaving Brazil

Chevron has had a rough time in Brazil the past year. First there was a large oil spill in November of 2011, then another smaller one in March, 2012.  The spills resulted in millions of dollars of fines. On top of that, charges were brought against Chevron executives in Brazil, and they were ordered not to leave the country.

Then, on August 1, a Brazilian court issued an order directing that Chevron and its drilling partner, Transocean, cease all drilling in Brazil. 

In spite of these setbacks, Chevron announced today that it has no plans to leave the country.  

In a report on Fox News Latino, confirmed in a shorter item on Forbes, Don Stelling, chief of Chevron's Latin American operations, said that the company will appeal the decision and will move forward on three other projects in Brazil.

Source: "Brazil Portal"

Brazil Increases Import Tariffs

Finance Minister Guido Mantega
Forbes reports that Brazil's Finance Minister Guido Mantega announced on Tuesday that there will be an increase of import tariffs on about 100 items. While the hikes must be approved by the other Mercosur countries, such an increase is allowed under Mercosur's rules.

Sectors that would benefit from the tariffs include steel, petrochemicals, pharmaceuticals, and capital goods.

The article says that given the weak global economy, the government feels that it must take this measure in an attempt to protect Brazil's domestic industry.

Source: "Brazil Portal"

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

22 Murders Associated With Local Brazilian Campaigns

According to an ABC News report, there have been 22 murders in the past 60 days that are connected with local elections that will occur in Brazil this October.  Five percent of the candidates running for election have been the victims of threats or violence.   

410 towns have asked for help from the Brazilian Federal Police to combat the violence. The article says that most of the violence has occurred in the north and northeastern parts of the country, where disputes over land rights have been a recurring problem.

The following passage from the article gives more background about the problem:

"Ricardo Ismael of Rio de Janeiro's Catholic University agrees local elections in Brazil tend to be more violent than those for state or federal level office. 'Municipal elections introduce that local element, small towns with few police officers, where there are old political bosses who won't admit losing, and that go about defending their turf in an old fashioned way,' Ismael said."

In another story about elections in Brazil, there's a report that in more than 300 Brazilian towns, the number of voters exceeds the number of inhabitants. Apparently, this may be because a voter can be registered in a town in which he or she works or has some other strong bond, even if he or she does not live there.  

Monday, September 3, 2012

Dilma and FHC: War Of Words

FHC and Dilma:
Are they getting ready to shake, or arm wrestle?
In an article published on September 3, "O Globo" reports that President Dilma Rousseff wrote a response to an op-ed by ex-President Fernando Henrique Cardoso (FHC) that appeared in the September 2 issue of  "O Globo" and "O Estado de S. Paulo."  

Entitled "Herança Pesada," (Heavy Legacy) FHC's editorial says that Lula left Dilma a "legacy as heavy as lead." He includes a litany of charges that range from a "moral crisis" to alleged failures in fiscal and pension reform, and misguided energy policies.  

He opens by reminding readers of the eight ministers who left Dilma's government during the first year, seven of them for suspected corruption. He goes on to discuss the "mensalão" scandal, and while he makes no claim that either Lula or Dilma were directly involved, he clearly finds Lula to have been remiss in his handling of the scandal.

He then moves on to economic policies, accusing Lula of making decisions based on popular approval rather than fiscal responsibility.  Other issues that are mentioned are a failure to implement meaningful pension reform, as well as public works projects that were more costly than predicted. He ends with a critique of Lula's energy policies, which he says resulted in Brazil having to import ethanol from the United States.

Dilma, never one to sit by quietly, quickly replied to FHC's attack on her predecessor and mentor.  

The story was picked up by "O Globo" and "Folha de S. Paulo," among others.

Dilma opens her response this way: "Citada de modo incorreto pelo ex-presidente Fernando Henrique Cardoso, em artigo publicado neste domingo, nos jornais O Globo e O Estado de S. Paulo, creio ser necessário recolocar os fatos em seus devidos lugares." (My inexpert translation: "Incorrectly cited by former President Fernando Henrique Cardoso in an article published Sunday in the newspapers 'O Globo' and 'O Estado de S. Paulo,' I believe it is necessary to put the facts in their proper place").

Dilma continues by saying that she received from Lula "a blessed inheritance." She writes that Lula left her a country that did not require intervention from the International Monetary Fund, and was not under threat of a blackout, thus making thinly veiled references to the IMF monetary restrictions placed on Brazil during FHC's administration, and an energy crisis that occurred during his second term.

She calls Lula a "statesman" and "Um democrata que não caiu na tentação de uma mudança constitucional que o beneficiasse" ("a democrat who didn't fall under the temptation of a constitutional change that would have benefited him").  This is an obvious reference to the amendment to the Brazilian constitution allowing two consecutive presidential terms, an amendment which was supported by FHC, was passed during his first term, and which allowed him to run for a second term.  

Dilma writes about the 40 million people who were lifted from poverty into the middle class during Lula's time in office, she states that the country is more just, with less inequality, and that Brazil is more respected abroad as a result of his time in office.

She concludes by saying that the past should serve as a lesson, not a source of resentment.  She states that while she has learned both from the errors and successes of her predecessors, she governs with her eyes on the future.

I find this sort of open exchange between an ex-President and the current President fascinating and revealing. Based on my limited knowledge of modern Brazilian history and politics, the relationship between FHC, Lula, and by extension, Dilma, is complex to say the least.  

FHC and Lula began as political allies during the military dictatorship, but then went on to run against each other in two successive elections for President, with Cardoso winning both times. FHC, along with many impartial observers, believes that he laid the groundwork during his own administration for many of the successes that occurred during Lula's administration.  FHC's "plano real," which was implemented when he was Brazil's Finance Minister, was responsible for finally bringing Brazil's rampant inflation under control. As a victim of the military regime, FHC was also a strong advocate for human rights and social justice.

FHC has been reported to be resentful that he has not received sufficient credit from Lula for the work that he did as President.  Still, in a recent interview, FHC said that he and Lula continue to stay in contact by phone. It will be interesting to see if his editorial, which was so critical of Lula, will affect their relationship.  

It would be highly unusual for a former US President to publish an editorial in which he openly criticizes his successors. They generally reserve such commentaries for their memoirs, which are usually published after their immediate successor is no longer in office.  Former US Vice-Presidents have also observed this unwritten rule, with the notable exception of former Vice-President Dick Cheney, who has spoken openly and often in strong opposition to the policies of President Barack Obama.  

It's Official: "Brazuca" Is the Name of the 2014 World Cup Ball

An article in "O Globo" reports that "Brazuca" was the choice of 70% of Brazilians who took part in an online election to choose the name for the 2014 World Cup ball.  

More than a million fans took part in the voting, which was the first time that the public was directly involved in the choice.

The other two options were "Bossa Nova" and "Carnavalesca."  

According to an AP article on Sports Illustrated.Com, Brazuca "likely will be the first World Cup ball equipped with goal-line technology."  

Initial comments about the choice of "Brazuca" below the Facebook link to the "O Globo" article were largely negative, with several people saying that at the very least, the word should be spelled "Brasuca," with an "s" instead of a "z."  It's soccer, it's Brazil, so some controversy is normal.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Brazil's Strikes As Seen By "The World Socialist Web Site"

The World Socialist Web Site published a report on August 31, 2012, that confirms that most of the public employees on strike in Brazil have reached agreement with the government and will return to work.

The article offers a very different perspective on the strikes compared to what has appeared in most of the media coverage.  

The author sees the strikers' demands as reasonable and is critical of Dilma's response to the strikes.  He refers to the settlement by the unions as a "capitulation," and characterizes media coverage as attempting to "demonize" the strikers.

As an example of strike coverage by what the author calls the "big business media," he includes an excerpt from an editorial published in "Estadão" which praises Dilma's hard line in dealing with the strikers. 

The author reminds readers that Brazil's military dictatorship came about in part as a crack-down on labor unions, and goes on to say that "the PT (Partido dos Trabalhadores, or Workers Party) itself emerged largely on the back of a strike wave launched in defiance of military rule in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Given this history, Rousseff’s turn toward such measures has unmistakable significance."

He ends with this commentary: "The intensification of the world capitalist economic crisis is finding its expression in Brazil in the growth of class tensions that are exposing before ever larger sections of the working class the role played by the Workers Party and the unions that support it in defending capitalism." 

In spite of the author's sometimes polemical style, the article offers an interesting view that we don't often see.

Bloomberg News: Brazilian Stimulus Helping Its Economy

A recent story from Bloomberg News credits various stimulus measures taken by Dilma's government with helping the economy to come out of its slowdown. 

While growth has been gradual and not particularly strong, analysts are cautiously optimistic.

Industrial output and investment have continued to decline, but economists cite growth in agriculture, services, and consumer consumption.  

Stimulus measures that are mentioned in the story include reducing payroll taxes, cutting taxes on cars and appliances, implementing policies that have weakened the real, and a reduction in interest rates. 

Meanwhile, the consumer loan default rate is increasing, an indication that consumer spending alone can not sustain long-term economic growth.  

Source: "Brazil Portal