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.