Friday, November 15, 2013

An In-Depth Interview With Eduardo Campos

Marina Silva and Eduardo Campos
The Economist has published an extensive interview with Eduardo Campos, governor of Pernambuco and leader of the PSB, the Brazilian Socialist Party. Mr. Campos recently joined forces with former Senator Marina Silva, whose Sustainability Network party failed to get enough signatures in order to be certified for the 2014 elections. 

As of now, there has not been a decision about which of the two, Mr. Campos or Ms. Silva, will be the party's candidate for President. Instead, a party platform will be developed first. 

Ms. Silva typically polls much better against incumbent Dilma Rousseff than does Mr. Campos.

The interview helps to clarify the often confusing alphabet soup of Brazilian political parties, as well as letting the reader get to know Mr. Campos and the positions he supports. 

Recent Poll: Dilma Recovers Her Lead

After suffering a steep decline in her approval rating and support for re-election after last summer's protests, Dilma's numbers are showing significant improvement.

According to an article in the NYTimes, her November approval rating is a very solid 58.8%, up slightly from September, when it was 58%.

The article cites Dilma's program to bring foreign doctors to help improve access to health care, her public works projects, and improvements in public transport as some of the reasons for her improved standing among voters. 

Here's how her electoral prospects look right now:

"If the elections were held today, Rousseff of the Workers' Party would win 43.5 percent of the votes against 19.3 percent for her closest likely candidate, Aecio Neves of the main opposition party PSDB, and 9.5 percent for Eduardo Campos, the little known but popular governor of northern Pernambuco state.

If Rousseff ran against her biggest potential threat, former environment minister Silva, her advantage would drop to 40.6 percent versus 22.6 percent. Silva, who won 20 million votes in a presidential bid in 2010, last month joined Campos' PSB party to keep alive a possible run after electoral authorities barred her from registering her party."

But the article goes on to caution that Brazilian poll results are not considered to  be very meaningful until the onset of TV ads, which won't begin until 3 months before the election.

The poll showed that crime and violence in Brazil are major issues driving voter concerns, with 90% reporting that they are "very worried" about these problems. 

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Speed-talking Professora: You Will Not Be Bored

Professora Motta makes a point and adjusts her hair
Yesterday, I wrote about a set of free video lessons dealing with Brazilian Portuguese grammar and usage, taught by Professora Céu Marques.

As it turns out, this is just the tip of the iceberg, and "Concurso Virtual" offers many other courses taught by a variety of teachers.

I sampled several of them, and even if you're not interested in the subject matter, it's a great chance to practice your Portuguese listening skills.

Professora Rafaela Motta will really give you a run for your money. She talks extremely quickly, slowing down only when she wants to emphasize a specific point. I found it somewhat more difficult to keep up with her than with Professora Marques, and besides the speedy delivery, Professora Motta uses her hands almost non-stop as she speaks. In between her "OKs?" and "Bellezas," she covers quite a bit of ground, and while much of it (as with Professora Marques) is fairly basic, it's a good review for anyone learning Brazilian Portuguese. (Note: in this particular lecture, the video freezes around the 6:00 mark, so you have to fast forward until it sorts itself out again). 

All of this makes for an entertaining virtual class. And with Professora Motta, there is never a dull moment, let alone a moment of silence. 

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Free Course On Portuguese Grammar

There's a free video course, consisting of 26 lessons covering all kinds of topics in Brazilian Portuguese grammar and usage. The course is called "Português Em Questão," and while it seems to have been designed for native speakers, it's accessible to non-native learners as well. 

So far, I've only watched the introductory lesson (very short) and part of the first lesson, which is about 20 minutes long. 

You can access the course by "liking" it on Facebook. Once you have clicked on "Like," you'll see the first couple of lessons. You can also register (for free) to view the rest of the lessons. The only information required to register is your name, an email address, and a password.

The teacher, Céu Marques, is dynamic and the lessons move fast. The teacher speaks rapidly, but even with my rudimentary Portuguese, I am able to follow her. For one thing, she slows down when she's explaining something, and she uses visual aids throughout the lessons. 

This is definitely worth a look for anyone who has reached an intermediate level in their Portuguese studies. 

The videos are also available on YouTube. Here is the first lesson.

Friday, August 2, 2013

July Wrap-Up

Crowds Gather at Copacabana to hear Pope
While not on the same massive scale was seen in the first few weeks, protests continue in Brazil. 

Last week saw allegations that an undercover policeman threw a Molotov cocktail during a demonstration in Rio, apparently in an attempt to discredit the protesters. The story even received detailed coverage in Globo, hardly known for its support of dissenters.

Meanwhile, the Pope's visit made news throughout the last full week of July, starting with his rather chaotic arrival, in which his vehicle was swarmed by eager crowds. 

To his credit, the Pope seemed totally comfortable in spite of this obvious breakdown in security, and smiled as he greeted his fans. He took a well-deserved rest on Tuesday after all the excitement.

Supreme Court President Joaquim Barbosa appeared to snub Dilma during a ceremony in which dignitaries greeted the Pope. A spokesman for Barbosa later said that the judge had already greeted Dilma earlier and saw no reason to do so again.

The Pope abandoned most of the ceremonial trappings favored by his predecessor, wearing a simple white robe and making what appeared to be a genuine effort to connect directly with the people. His trip was seen as a success, and it has led to speculation that it may have helped re-ignite the fortunes of Catholicism in Latin America, where it has lost ground to evangelical Protestantism in recent decades. 

The "Campo da Fé," which was constructed as a special venue for the Pope to say Mass, had to be abandoned because heavy rains turned it into a field of mud. Instead, the Pope said mass to a crowd of several million on the beach at Copacabana. 

Monday, July 8, 2013

Brazilian Government Responds to US Spying

As if Dilma didn't have enough problems,
now she has to deal with fallout from Snowden's leaks.
The Financial Times reports that the Brazilian government has responded to charges that Brazil was the largest target of US spying in the Western Hemisphere, aside from the US itself. A report published in Globo, co-authored by Glenn Greenwald, used information from documents released by Edward Snowden to support its claims. 

The Brazilian government has asked for "clarification" on the allegations from the US Ambassador to Brazil, as well as through the Brazilian embassy in Washington DC. It will also work within the United Nations to impose limits on digital surveillance. 

This all comes on the heels of Dilma's condemnation last week of the manner in which Bolivian President Evo Morales was treated, as he attempted to return to Bolivia from a trip to Russia. Mr. Morales' jet was forced to land in Vienna after several European countries refused to allow it to travel in their airspace. There was some suspicion that Mr. Snowden might have been aboard Mr. Morales' plane.

While no direct evidence has yet surfaced to prove that the European governments were acting at the request of the United States, many have assumed that is what happened. 

The US has an unfortunate history of generations of meddling in Latin American countries. At best, the US has tended to treat its Latin American neighbors in a cavalier and disrespectful manner. At worst, in the past it has become actively involved in domestic politics (Argentina, Brazil, Cuba, Chile, Mexico, Nicaragua, and Venezuela, just to name some particularly infamous cases), with military invasions, propping up repressive regimes, or working to depose democratically elected leaders. 

While US relations with Latin American countries have improved in recent decades, there's a great deal of negative history to overcome, and this latest revelation is a setback. For all of these reasons, it's understandable that Latin American leaders would be angry about the alleged mistreatment of one of their own. Indeed, they have every right to be. 

Public opinion in the US about Mr. Snowden (and Mr. Greenwald) is divided, with some people calling them heroes, while other condemn Mr. Snowden as a traitor, and criticize Mr. Greenwald as a self-promoting publicity hound. 

Regardless of one's opinion, it's a fact that Mr. Snowden has released classified government documents, in one of the largest security breaches in NSA history. It is suspected that he may have additional documents which he has not yet released. 

On June 14, 2013, Snowden was charged by Federal prosecutors with espionage and theft of government property. As of now, he remains stranded in Moscow's Sheremetyevo International Airport. Several countries (including Nicaragua, Venezuela, and Bolivia) have offered him political asylum, but his US passport has been revoked, and without travel documents, it's impossible for him to leave Moscow. 

Russian leaders have made it clear that they are running out of patience and would like to see Mr. Snowden depart from Russian territory, but it remains unclear how that can happen. 

While the Brazilian people and their government are understandably upset by the latest news about massive US spying in their country, most observers believe that it's unlikely that Brazil would offer Snowden asylum. 

Grisly Soccer Atrocity

While recent news from Brazil has focused on the protests, with even the Confederations Cup receiving cursory coverage, a disturbing story reveals that soccer continues to arouse the passions of at least some Brazilians.

According to a story on Huffington Post, a soccer referee got into a fight with a player whom he had kicked out of the game. During the fight, the referee stabbed and killed the player. 

The players' friends retaliated by attacking the referee, stoning him to death, and then quartered his body and impaled his decapitated head on a spike. A story in the Washington Post provides a few additional details. 

The atrocity took place on June 30 in the state of Maranhão. It's important to put such events in context. Soccer hooliganism, often violent, occurs pretty much anywhere that the sport is played, and it's unfair to hold an entire nation responsible for criminal behavior by a handful of its citizens. 

Nevertheless, this is not the sort of publicity that Brazil wants as it prepares for the World Cup, especially coming on the heels of protests which involved picketing, violence, and at least one death outside soccer stadiums during the Confederations Cup. 

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Dilma's Proposals For Change: Will Congress Play Ball?

I want a plebiscite, and I want it NOW!
In an article dated July 2, Folha outlines the five major proposals that Dilma has submitted to Brazil's Congress, to be voted upon in a plebiscite. According to Brazil Portal, the proposals include:

1. Campaign financing (public, private or mixed)

2. The type of electoral system (proportional or district oriented)

3. The end of partisan coalitions

4. The end of the senators substitution process (In Brazil, when a senator is promoted, the runner up to the seat automatically takes power) 

5. The end of the secret vote in Congress

(Source and translation: Brazil Portal)

In an effort to show the people that she has been listening and is working to bring about major reforms, Dilma wanted to hold the plebiscite as soon as possible, so that the changes could be implemented before the 2014 Presidential election.

However, the NYTimes reports that as of Thursday, July 4, the Congress had refused to agree to Dilma's timeline, offering to hold the plebiscite in 2016, instead of this Fall.

Most analysts agree that it's risky for any politician or political party to try to gain political advantage from the protests, which is what some of Dilma's opponents are implying she's trying to do. Regardless of her motives, it will be interesting to see how the Brazilian people respond to Congress' rejection of a speedy plebiscite.


Estadão reports that Dilma has not given up on holding the plebiscite this year, and is still actively seeking support for her plans.

Eike Batista: No Longer the Seventh Richest Man in the World

Eike Batista in happier times
While Dilma has suffered a political loss in recent weeks, it's nothing compared to the financial woes of Brazilian billionaire Eike Batista. Batista, whose son Thor hit and killed a cyclist in a poor suburb of Rio last year, was ranked by Forbes as the seventh richest man in the world. His personal wealth was estimated to be around $30 billion.

He has fallen to 100th place on the Forbes list, and his wealth is now less than $3 billion. The Brazilian government has no plans to offer him financial assistance, a move that would be political suicide after the recent demonstrations. 

Things are so bad (well, relatively speaking) that Batista is selling his private jet. In addition, he has stepped down as chairman of one his most troubled enterprises, MPX, as well as selling his own shares. 

But as this article in the Economist warns, don't count him out yet. Batista, who lacks a college degree and started out as an insurance salesman, has always been ambitious and has survived other financial crises, though none as severe as this one. 

The Anger of Brazil's Middle Class

Even the baby looks angry
This analysis from Reuters outlines the rapid growth of Brazil's middle class in recent years, and goes on to describe the issues which have mobilized protesters in the recent demonstrations. 

As the article explains, the term "middle class" means something very different in Brazil, as compared to the United States and Western Europe:

"the term is used broadly to include almost anyone able to pay rent, put food on the table and perhaps pay a monthly instalment on the refrigerator, microwave or television."

People making as little as $790 a month are considered part of Brazil's middle class, which would put them in the "working poor" category in the US. 

As another article about the same topic from the New Yorker puts it: 

"Brazil is an increasingly middle-class country that still has many of the characteristics of a poorer one."

Since workers with very low incomes rely on public services more than the upper middle class does, it helps us to understand why a rate hike for mass transit was such a rallying point.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Brazil Wins Confederations Cup

Neymar and friends still love soccer
After weeks of demonstrations, many of which included protests against the money spent for the Confederations Cup, World Cup, and Olympics, Brazil defeated Spain to win the Confederations Cup. 

The victory was celebrated with festivities, but there were also some skirmishes between police and protesters on Sunday evening. This article from Reuters gives more details.

As the article points out, Dilma did not attend Sunday's match, having been booed at the opening game. 

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Infographic Tracks Brazil's Protests

This infographic from Estadão shows the dates of the protests, as well as their numbers and locations throughout Brazil. This article includes additional details.

Why Brazilians Hate Their Congress

Too bad Brazil's Congress isn't as
lovely as these buildings
This article from the NYTimes gives an excellent account of why Brazil's Congress has been the target of so much of the anger and frustration of the recent protests.

Even US citizens, who also hold their Congress in extremely low esteem (latest approval figures are below 10%), would be appalled at some of the outrages that are tolerated in Brazil's Congress.

For example:

1. About one-third of the Congress faces charges ranging from corruption to slavery and kidnapping. 

2. Members of Congress have special judicial standing which results in trials that  drag on for years.

3. This is a direct quote from the article which I didn't want to paraphrase because it's so incredible: "In 1963, Senator Arnon de Mello shot dead a fellow legislator on the Senate floor, only to escape imprisonment, since the killing was considered an accident because he was aiming at another senator."

4. De Mello's son, Fernando Collor de Mello, was elected President in 1989, but resigned in disgrace over corruption charges in 1992. But his story doesn't end there. In 2006, he was elected to the Brazilian Senate, where he continues to serve, in spite of an ongoing lawsuit involving corruption that occurred during his Presidency. 

5. Public opinion of Congress is so low, that a professional clown won election to the lower house with more votes than any candidate had ever received in the country's history. 

The article includes more stories of members of Congress who have committed murder, operated death squads, and engaged in various sordid scandals.

To top it all off, members of Brazil's Congress receive large salaries, along with generous fringe benefits and the ability to hire large staffs.

No wonder the Brazilian people have had enough. These crimes and excesses, which are as widespread as they are appalling, are an eye-opener. What surprised me the most is that members of Congress don't even seem to try to hide their offenses, which is usually what happens in the US. 

And as bad as the US Congress may be, no member has ever been accused of overseeing a death squad that disposes of its victims by tossing them into a vat of acid, or dismembering them with a chainsaw. (I did not make that up: read the article). 

I have argued in the past that since Brazil is a democracy, with free and open elections, its citizens can bring about political change by voting. And indeed, Brazilians *do* vote, with a turnout rate near 80%. (This turnout is all the more impressive when one considers the corruption in the system). So I could never understand why Brazilians were so cynical about their political leaders. My feeling was, if they're that bad, why do you keep electing them? 

Well, when the institution of Congress itself is so tainted by systemic corruption and criminal behavior, there are limits to what the voters can do at the ballot box. And that is one reason why the recent protests have brought so many people to the streets.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Detailed Breakdown of Datafolha Poll Results

These graphs provide a detailed breakdown of Datafolha's latest poll, showing the drastic drop in Dilma's approval ratings. The first graph traces her approval over time, beginning with March 2011. She reached a peak in March 2013, just a few months ago, making her rapid decline even more dramatic.

The next set of graphs shows her approval ratings by region, followed by graphs that show approval by income, education, gender, and age. 

There's lots of interesting data here, so feel free to geek out.

Note: In order to make the graph large enough to read, you have a couple of options:

1. Click on the graph, then right click and select "open in another window" in Safari ("open image in new tab" in Chrome). That will allow you to enlarge it enough to be legible in your browser. 

2. Download the PDF to your computer (right click on it and select "save image as"), then open it and enlarge it.

Majority of Brazilians Still Support Hosting the World Cup and Olympics

This graph shows that while the percentage of Brazilians in favor of Brazil hosting the World Cup and the Olympics has declined since 2008, support is still quite high. 

Brazil's Protests From A Global Perspective

Protesters in Bulgaria
An article in the Washington Post focuses on the similarities and connections among recent protests in Turkey, Bulgaria, Brazil, and Spain. In all four cases, the protests have been driven by middle-class citizens who are fed up with ineffective, unresponsive governments. Economic concerns are high on the list of the protesters' complaints. 

Not only do the protesters have similar concerns and grievances, they are also using social media to communicate with each other in English. One observer quoted in the article describes the protesters as "a group of people who are better educated and more connected through technology."

While social networking was a key part of the Arab Spring protests, those protests were more about gaining freedom from repressive regimes than they were about economic issues. The current round of protests have been marked by less violence, though police have used rubber bullets and there have been deaths. 

Dilma's Popularity Plummets 27 Points in Past Three Weeks

In a stunning reversal of political fortune, Dilma's approval ratings have dropped during the past three weeks, according to a poll from Datafolha. 

Prior to the demonstrations, 57% of those questioned gave her a rating of "good" or "excellent." That number has now fallen to 30%, just a little over half what it was before the protests. 

In addition, the number who gave her a rating of "bad" or "worst" has risen from 9% to 25%. 

As the article notes, this is the biggest drop in Presidential approval ratings (as measured by Datafolha) since Fernando Collor in 1990. Collor resigned due to corruption in 1992. 

If her own approval ratings weren't bad enough, approval of the government's management of the economy fell from 49% to 27%, a further indication that public confidence has deteriorated signficantly. 

One positive note for Dilma: 68% approve of her idea for a plebiscite to address political reform. Only 19% disapprove, while 14% had no opinion or did not answer the question. 

While it was expected that Dilma's approval would suffer as a result of the protests, this is a precipitous decline for such a short period of time, especially for someone who has been so popular. In spite of being somewhat slow to respond to the protests in the first place, Dilma's own actions during the protests have been reasonable and conciliatory. It isn't really a question of things that she has done wrong, but rather that she hasn't lived up to the newly articulated expectations of the Brazilian people. 

It's possible that her support wasn't that deep to begin with, or it's possible that she's the victim of the anti-government fervor surrounding the protests. It could be that the public simply wants to put Dilma on notice: do something soon, or we'll vote for someone else. 

Whatever the cause of the drop in approval, the implications for her prospects in the next Presidential election are huge. 

Of course, the elections are still over a year away, and anything can happen. Politicians have risen and fallen in shorter time spans that that, and if the public is withholding support as a form of rebuke or a warning, the number could quickly rebound if people feel that Dilma is acting in good faith to address their concerns. 

But if the PT, her political party, senses that she has been irretrievably damaged by the protests, they don't have a lot of time to waste if they want to find a replacement. 

Dilma is a pragmatist and a realist, and while I don't expect her to simply give up her candidacy based on one poll, neither do I believe that she will drag her party to defeat just to satisfy her own personal pride. If and when she comes to the conclusion that she's no longer a viable candidate, my guess is that she would withdraw in favor of someone else. 

It's far too early to predict Dilma's political demise, but these numbers are quite bad, and it would be dangerous to ignore them. Ignoring the protests in the first place was a mistake that many Brazilian politicians made. 

We'll need to watch future polls, as well as those carried out by other polling groups, in order to see how widespread and long-lasting the disenchantment with Dilma's government has become. But for now, these numbers show that she has a very serious problem. 

Update: Here's a report from Huffington Post on the Datafolha survey results, and here's a report from Reuters

Reuters supplied the sample size as well as the margin of error for the poll:

"The Datafolha poll, which was conducted on June 27-28, surveyed 4,717 people and has a margin of error of plus or minus 2 percentage points." 

Reuters also says that the poll shows that the protests are "a serious threat to her [Dilma's] likely re-election bid next year."

Additional information about the polls, as well as some analysis, can be found in an article on 

Update 2:

Folha has published a graph which shows how Dilma is doing compared to three likely opponents for the Presidency in 2014. While her numbers have dropped, she still holds a narrow lead over her closest competitor.

Brazilian Protests: Giving the Government Some Breathing Room?

In an analysis in Reuters, Anthony Boadle offers a brief history of the Brazilian protests, including the causes, the public backlash against police violence, and the response (or lack of one) from political leaders. He also includes predictions from several Brazilian commentators. 

While the protests continue, they are not as large or widespread as they were during the height of the demonstrations. Could it be that the protesters are waiting to see what the government comes up with in response to their concerns? 

Many commentators have criticized both Congress and Dilma for being slow to respond, and at least in terms of public statements, that accusation is probably justified. It was a week before Dilma issued a brief statement, which was followed the next day with another one, in which she praised the democratic spirit of the protesters. However, it wasn't until almost two weeks had passed before she appeared on TV to speak to the nation.

When response to her TV speech was unenthusiastic, she met with a group of protest leaders the following Monday, and then issued a series of proposals that would allow for public input (first a constituent assembly, a suggestion which was widely criticized and was quickly withdrawn, and then a plebiscite, which appears to have Congressional support).  

Meanwhile, Congress began pushing through a flurry of laws that had been languishing for years, in an effort to show the people that their elected leaders are listening. In addition, a Brazilian federal politician was sent to jail for corruption, the first such jailing in 25 years. 

It's understandable that the protesters and political observers have been critical of the response of the political establishment. However, the government has been faster to respond than governments in almost every other country which has seen massive public protests in the last several years. (As one example, President Obama never held a meeting with leaders of the Occupy Wall Street movement, and the US Federal government passed no legislation in response to those protests). 

Whether all of this will be enough to satisfy the newly mobilized Brazilian electorate remains to be seen, as does their willingness to continue to live with the current political structure, with its alphabet soup of political parties (Dilma's own PT relies on a 16-party coalition to maintain its power in Congress). With such a proliferation of parties, Brazilians should (theoretically) feel well-represented, regardless of their political outlooks, but clearly, that is not the case. 

It also remains to be seen if a new political party will emerge from the protests. So far, that seems unlikely, since the leaders of the protests have been vocal in their insistence that they are *not* a political party, and have shown no indication that they want to become one. But if the existing parties cannot or will not address the concerns that sparked the protests, a new party (or the complete re-branding of an existing party) may be necessary.

So what does this all mean? It looks as if the protesters are giving the political leaders some breathing room, but they are not going to just disappear. If the politicians come up with something that is the basis for meaningful reforms, and if they do it quickly, they may be able to demonstrate enough good faith to win back the support of the people. But it seems clear that political leaders can no longer assume that they will automatically earn that support at the ballot box, regardless of what they do once they are in office. 

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Another Analysis of the Protests

In an article entitled "Brazil, A Crisis of Representation," Arthur Ituassu, a professor at Pontifícia Universidade Católica in Rio de Janeiro, offers a detailed and comprehensive analysis of the protests in Brazil.

Ituassu seeks to put the protests into a broader context, describing the causes, the demographics of those protesting, the response (or lack of one) by political leaders, and implications for the future of the country. 

One of his conclusions is that:

"The protests, however they end, challenge Brazil to break with its antique, centralised social practices and structures, which include corruption, the lack of a genuine public conscience, secretive political institutions and a very concentrated media system."

Dilma Proposes Constitutional Convention For Political Reform

Dilma meets with leaders of the
Free Fare Movement
(Source: NYTimes)
report on BBC offers a brief overview of the protests in Brazil, along with a synopsis of the latest proposals offered by Dilma in response to those protests.

As the report notes, Dilma, along with the rest of the Brazilian political establishment, was caught off-guard by the protests. However, in an effort to regain some control over the situation, Dilma has now proposed a plebiscite to determine whether to convene a constitutional convention that would address political reform. The details are unclear, but the proposal itself has already been criticized as violating the terms of the existing Brazilian Constitution.

Meanwhile, Dilma met on Monday with leaders of the Free Fare Movement, which initiated the protests several weeks ago. 

A short article in the NYTimes includes additional information about recent events. 

While Dilma has been criticized by almost everyone for her slowness to respond to the protests, the BBC item gives her credit for attempting to take positive action. The NYTimes article makes the valid point that unlike leaders in almost every other country which has seen massive public protests in the recent times, Dilma is "aiming for a relatively accommodating response to the protests, in contrast to how leaders elsewhere have reacted to major street mobilizations."

The size and the duration of the protests in Brazil have taken everyone by surprise, including most Brazilians. It's tempting for observers to rush to judgment, maybe because the extent of the protests makes us think that we need to come up with broad, sweeping conclusions about what they mean and how the government should respond. 

Some people, both among the protesters and observers, seem to have already decided that the government is incapable of offering a meaningful response, presumably because it is so tainted or corrupt that it cannot possibly be part of the solution. That strikes me as a simplistic reaction, particularly because the demonstrators have taken great pains to make it clear that they are not a political party. 

Therefore, they can not offer a political solution to the problems against which they are justifiably protesting. While it's possible that candidates for public office may emerge from the movement, it seems unlikely, at least as of today. 

So what are the alternatives? Brazilians may criticize their government, but history shows that they will not tolerate anarchy or chaos. Indeed, the people responded with shock and disgust when they saw images of looting and other criminal activities during protests last week. 

We should have a better idea of the political fallout of the protests after new public opinion polls are taken. It's likely that Dilma's popularity will have declined, just because during times of political unrest, political leaders tend to take some of the brunt. If polls reveal a sharp decline, that could signal trouble for her re-election. But then the question will become, who will voters turn to if they reject Dilma?

Monday, June 24, 2013

Brazilian Protests: A "No" or a "Go"?

In an op-ed in the NYTimes, Roger Cohen writes about the similarities between the Brazilian protests and those that have taken place in other countries around the world in the past year or two:

"Small spark, large conflagration; disoriented leader, leaderless movement; vertical rigid state power, flat nimble protests; harsh authority, impish youth; force of the state, flexibility of Facebook; police crackdowns, agile regroupings; conspiracy charges, humorous ripostes."

He writes about the challenges facing protest movements which lack political leadership, but concludes with this:

"From Tunis to Istanbul, from Cairo to São Paulo, something essential has already happened. Fear has fallen. That in itself is a game-changer."

Brazilian Protests: An Analysis of the Economic Fallout

In an article in Forbes, Kenneth Rapoza writes about possible economic and political fallout from the Brazilian protests.

As Rapoza notes, Brazil's sluggish economic growth had already been a source of concern before the protests began. If the government spends more money on improving public services (one of the complaints made by many protesters), that may provide political relief, but could have a negative impact on the economy.

Rapoza writes that since the middle class is now a majority of the population, "there are more of them to complain." 

This echoes analyses from other observers: the very success of Brazil's previously robust economic growth, along with a massive number of people moving from poverty to the middle class, are contributing to the discontent that we see in the streets. 

Dilma Speaks, But Is Talk Enough?

On Friday, June 21, Dilma finally addressed the Brazilian people in a pre-recorded TV address, whose goal seemed to be to reassure protesters that their voices were being heard, as well as to reiterate that her government would not tolerate violence.

The AP offers an account of the speech, as well as responses from several protesters, none of whom seems to have been swayed by Dilma's words.

While Dilma has enjoyed extremely high approval ratings, the protests could change public sentiment and might make it easier for a challenger to offer her real competition in the 2014 Presidential election. 

As the article points out, even Dilma's critics (which includes most of the Brazilian press, who have never been big fans), acknowledged "the difficult situation facing a government trying to understand a mass movement with no central leaders and a flood of demands."

It seems clear that the protests are not going to die out any time soon, and Brazilian politicians, unaccustomed to such massive demonstrations, are simply not prepared to deal with them. 

Dilma herself waited an unusually long time before issuing any statement at all, and her initial response was brief and non-committal. By last Tuesday, she had acknowledged that the protests were a legitimate part of the democratic process, but the fact that she waited almost two full weeks before speaking to the nation on TV says a lot. 

Paulo Sotero's Op-Ed in The "Financial Times"

Paulo Sotero is the director of the Brazil Institute at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

Last week, he wrote an op-ed about the Brazilian protests which appeared on the Brazil Institute's website. He has written another analysis of the situation which was published by the Financial Times

Mr. Sotero offers a balanced and realistic view of the protests, which he neither romanticizes nor condemns. 

Referring to the protesters, many of whom have been young and middle-class, Sotero writes: 

"Beneficiaries of two decades of democracy with economic stability, they bought the dream of a more prosperous and equitable Brazil drummed up by their leaders and are now saying that it is time to start delivering."

He goes on to detail the challenges that Dilma faces as she attempts to deal with the protests, concluding with this assessment:

"The president’s late and unimpressive response to the protests raises doubts about her own standing. There is no longer a sense of inevitability over Ms Rousseff’s re-election in October 2014."

Saturday, June 22, 2013

"Financial Times" Analysis of Brazilian Protests

As the protests in Brazil continue, with over a million people taking to the streets on Thursday, June 20, the story is gaining wider coverage in the international press. Major news outlets are providing analyses as well as straight news stories. 

One of the most recent comes from the Financial Times. The headline reads: "Brazil: The power of the streets," with a subheading that states "The mass protests have left politicians flat-footed and fearful." The analysis itself touches on familiar themes, and just as interesting are the comments from readers below the article.

What emerges from both the analysis and the comments is a reminder of how difficult it is to properly assess the meaning of events as they are happening. It will be much easier to know how important these protests have been in six months, or a year, or during the next Presidential election, or even farther in the future. 

Of course, future commentators will be relying on reports of the events that will lack the immediacy of the coverage we are receiving right now. Even people who are organizing and participating in the protests will most likely provide different accounts of them as time goes on. It's human nature to emphasize the aspects of our past behaviors that cast us in the most favorable light, and to minimize or ignore those that do not. 

It's impossible for us to know today the long-term impact of the protests, and it's natural for us to feel frustrated as we try to figure out what is really going on, and what might happen next. The protests began as almost a minor news story, with the focus on the rate hike in transit fares. They quickly took on a broader agenda, with protesters complaining about political corruption, and the lack of money spent on education and health care, among a growing list of issues. 

When the police over-reacted with violence against peaceful protesters and innocent bystanders, the protests gained broad-based public support. However, with recent incidents of criminal behavior, some who had expressed optimism and enthusiasm about the protests are understandably disenchanted. 

It may be that this problem is exacerbated by the lack of a unified political structure behind the protests, with no single spokesperson who can provide leadership, speak on behalf of the protesters, and repudiate acts of violence. 

In any case, while we lack the perspective that only time can bring, we do have the benefit of getting direct, first-hand coverage of an event that is unprecedented in recent Brazilian history while it is happening. 

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Another Analysis of the Protests

This analysis, by Rachel Glickhouse of the Christian Science Monitor, offers some thoughtful insights into the ongoing Brazilian protests. 

Ms. Glickhouse asks this very important question: 

"Could it be an end to the usual apathy and complacency, to the shrug and 'vai-fazer-o-que' [what can you do] ... attitude? Are people finally going to take action? Is this the start of something big?"

That, as they say, is the big question, and while it's too early to know the answer as of today, there is reason for cautious optimism. Think about it: it is not easy to maintain people's enthusiasm for political protests. They can be dangerous, they take a lot of time and commitment, and there is no guarantee that you're going to get what you want. 

It's especially difficult to mobilize members of a population that has, as the author points out, something of a tradition of apathy, combined with lots of complaining about the system. 

I do not in any way say that as a criticism of the Brazilian people, since the same words describe the general attitude towards politics among the citizens of the US: we love to complain about how rotten our elected leaders are, but we don't do much about it. Many of us do not even bother to show up and vote. Indeed, Brazil has a much higher voter turn-out than we have in the US, even if one of the reasons may be that there is a small fine for those who choose not to vote. But my guess is that even with a fine, US voter turnout would still be lower than most other western democracies. 

So while those of us in the US are in no position to criticize others for perceived apathy, it is fair to point it out when we see it, at home or abroad. And I believe that many Brazilians would agree that there has been a certain level of political disinterest. 

That's one of the reasons why the current protests are such a big deal. In spite of past apathy, the protests have only grown in size, and they are getting much more coverage now than when they began. Not only that, but even Brazilian newspapers, traditionally conservative and not all that friendly to Dilma or her so-called "leftist" political party, the PT (let alone protesters in the streets) have been providing coverage that is (slightly) more balanced than it was at first. 

Ms. Glickhouse is wise enough not to predict what is going to happen next, or whether the protests really will be a crucial turning point in Brazilian history. However, she does point out some of the factors that *could* cause the protests to be the beginning of a big change in the way things are done in Brazil. 

For those of us who are fascinated by Brazil and its people, and who are aware of the many challenges that the country has faced during its long history, we can only hope that this does indeed mark the beginning of a new era of citizen involvement. 

If it does, Brazil could become a model for other countries, including the US, to emulate. 

Analysis of Brazil Protests by Paulo Sotero, Director of Brazil Institute

Source: NYTimes
Although US news coverage of the protests in Brazil has been underwhelming, the Director of the Brazil Institute of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars has posted a thoughtful analysis of the situation. 

While the rate hike in transit fares may strike some foreign observers as not that big a deal, Sotero puts it into context:

"They (the people) are asking: if Brazil is the sixth or seventh world economy, as the country‘s politicians like to proclaim, why do they still have to endure two to three hours each way of overcrowded public transportation in terrible traffic?"

He also writes about the impact that these protests are having on political leaders, noting that the two immediate past Presidents of Brazil are urging politicians to pay attention to the protesters:

"Cardoso and Lula, the two most competent and accomplished Brazilians politicians of the last quarter century, have cautioned leaders to listen to the protesters and understand what they are saying. President Dilma Rousseff seems to have got the message. On Tuesday, she stated that Brazil woke up stronger because of the protests."

Cardoso and Lula, once political allies, ran against each other twice for the office of President. Cardoso won both times, but Lula won the election which selected Cardoso's successor, and served for two terms. Cardoso has been critical of both Lula and Dilma, at times sounding as if he feels that they have unfairly received credit for things that were actually the result of his terms in office, so it is significant that the two men have issued similar warnings. 

As for Dilma, the comment that Sotero quotes is much more empathetic (and less condescending) than an earlier statement she made, which stated that the protests were "legitimate" and that it's "natural for young people" to protest. Perhaps she has had time to recognize in these protests some of the same fervor that prompted her own involved in fighting against the dictatorship. 

Source: Brazil Portal