From Brazil

with Vincent Bevins and guests

Profile About Vincent Bevins, the blog, and contributors Claire Rigby and Dom Phillips

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The Angry Brigade and the São Paulo Bienal

Por frombrazil
04/12/14 11:55

Political and social engagement has been a dominant theme at this year’s São Paulo Bienal. Claire Rigby on participating British artist John Barker, who was a member of an armed urban guerrilla group in the UK in the 1970s.

By Claire Rigby

As the São Paulo Bienal draws to a close this Sunday, and visitors hurry for a last-chance look at the sprawling exhibition, a series of images comes to mind again and again, foreshadowing some of the artworks that will be most vividly remembered, perhaps, when the 31st Bienal is far away in the distant past.

It’s hard to imagine Éder Oliveira’s immense, haunting portraits being easily forgotten; or the sight of Yael Bartana’s Templo de Salomão, crumbling to dust as São Paulo stands, impassive, around it.

[Esta matéria foi publicada hoje na Folha. Para ler em Português, clique aqui]

Profoundly memorable too, with its surreally powerful images and simmering radical chic, a collection of posters by the Austrian/British duo Ines Doujak and John Barker, part of the installation ‘Loomshuttles/Warpaths’, has lingered in the mind of many a visitor, crystallising, with their insolence and visual impact, many of the 31st Bienal’s most pressing concerns – colonialism and imperialism, rebellion and resistance.

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Discovering Brazil through literature

Por frombrazil
21/11/14 12:42

Nathan Walters asks why so few foreigners recently have chosen to capture Brazil in letters, and takes us through the rare exceptions that open up the country to international readers. Above, the cover of a recently published book by From Brazil contributor James Young.

Nathan Walters

So much of Brazil’s literary treasures remain locked in the Portuguese language, which is a shame for the world. Though some of the country’s iconic authors, like Clarice Lispector, Machado de Assis, Paulo Coelho and Jorge Armado, have been competently translated, so much remains reserved for those at or nearing fluency.

No translation can compare with work in the original language, and that’s most definitely the case with Brazilian Portuguese. Brazilians love wordplay, and their language is full of idiomatic expressions that are largely untranslatable. Brazilian novels that rely heavily on slang might be pure poetry in the native tongue, but tend to fall flat when translated to another (Paulo Lins’ City of God is one example). The situation can be frustrating for foreigners who want to learn more about Brazilian culture.

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A corrupção está no setor privado

Por Vincent Bevins
17/11/14 14:52


Os políticos não são o centro da corrupção. Hoje, ela é protagonizada por grandes empresas que conseguem dominar o Brasil. Acima, veja as consequências da corrupção.

A imagem de corrupção que domina o imaginário do brasileiro é: um político, normalmente um homem acima do peso e de meia-idade, que pega dinheiro dos cofres públicos, enfia em um grande saco e vai ostentar em Miami ou em alguma boate luxuosa e cafona em São Paulo. O político fica rico e a população, pobre.

Mas essa é uma visão extremamente limitada, que só inclui o lado menor do que é, de fato, a corrupção, como aponta esta excelente coluna de Kenneth Maxwell. Ela oculta o importante papel que companhias privadas altamente lucrativas exercem nos esquemas que prejudicam a população brasileira.

[Este texto foi escrito originalmente em inglês em 2013, antes dos mandados de prisão expedidos contra executivos de empreiteiras supostamente envolvidos no escândalo de corrupção da Petrobras. Traduzimos hoje devido a pedidos.]

[To read the original in English, published before executives at major construction companies were jailed in the Petrobras scandal, click here.]

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A visit to Brazil's reddest city

Por frombrazil
11/11/14 09:50

The city that voted most heavily for opposition candidate Aécio Neves in last month’s election is in the United States – Miami, specifically. But the city that would be the darkest Dilma red on Brazil’s electoral map is the poor town of Belágua in Maranhão, where the vast majority of residents rely on government assistance. Anna Jean Kaiser visited last year. 

By Anna Jean Kaiser

I went to Belágua in last year while working with Jonathan Watts for the Guardian. We chose the poorest city in Brazil to take a look at Bolsa Familia, the famous PT welfare program, in action.

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Brazil divided - big surprise

Por frombrazil
05/11/14 12:02


We’ve been told since the end of the election that Brazil has been split in two. But all that really happened last month was that citizens voted largely according to rational self-interest. And for those who have been paying attention – or those who come from the less fortunate half of the rift – the tale of a united Brazil was never much more than a myth in the first place.

By James Young

Brazilians woke up nine days ago to a country that, according to the results of the second round run-off election won by Dilma Rousseff, was far more regionally and socially divided than they had previously believed. The widespread support for Rousseff in Brazil’s poorer North and Northeast regions, coupled with the rancorous nature of the contest and the ease with which social media allows the spread of venom, had seemingly set Brazilian against Brazilian, with much of the unpleasantness directed against voters in the nordeste.

Former national justice secretary and police chief Romeu Tuma Junior was one of many who published an illustration showing a wall dividing the north and the south of Brazil, accompanied by the legend “Let’s respect the PT voters and let Dilma govern just them – a wall now!” A (failed) attempt at humor, no doubt, but the sentiment behind the joke was clear. Mr Tuma went on to write that he wished he could understand the people of the northeast, who “vote PT and then move to São Paulo seeking a better life.”

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Brazil's economy and election, summarized quickly

Por Vincent Bevins
31/10/14 05:55


I’ve left the bitterness of São Paulo on a brief vacation outside of Brazil, but I wanted to share insights into the country’s current situation from two excellent commentators that generally hold the “pro-market” viewpoint.

The first is from Tony Volpon of Nomura Securities:

Structurally, the end of the commodity boom can now be dated to 2011, one year into [Dilma’s] first term, as Brazil’s terms of trade began to deteriorate and the country began to see a marked economic deterioration.

Though the opposition, often with reason, blames Rousseff’s policies for economic underperformance, these policies were, however inadequate, genuine attempts to respond to a much less supportive external environment.

Unfortunately, it is unlikely that the external factors are going to be better over the next four years; it seems that the years in which all Brazilians could improve their lot in life are over, for now. Choices will have to be made and priorities will have to be set.

President Rousseff will now have to look beyond the class struggle rhetoric of her campaign and show whether she can regain the trust of the south and southeast of the country that voted for the opposition by a 2:1 margin, and is responsible for around 70% or more of the country’s GDP. Without their support there is little chance that Brazil will see investment rates – which at a paltry 17% of GDP are the lowest of any of the major emerging market economies – rise.

For me, three eminently reasonable things stand out here that are intentionally excluded from the hyperbolic partisan rhetoric dominating the country on both sides right now. First, just as the economy under Lula was boosted hugely by the Chinese-led commodities boom, the end of the boom explains most of the economic problems since 2011. Dilma’s very real “interventionist” errors are only one part of this.

Secondly, Dilma wanted and wants conventional economic success. Measures taken since 2011 very often misfired, but to paint her administration as dangerously radical or anti-growth is just campaign rhetoric or noise from the radical fringe.

Third, whether Dilma voters like it or not, we need the confidence and participation of international capital as well as local investors to make this economy grow again. If the PT actually had some kind of a plan to fully nationalize Petrobras, create socialist firms, or massively expand public investment, we might take that plan seriously. They most certainly do not. So despite the excitement on the left at Dilma’s guerrilla campaign themes, the short-term hard truth is that investors must be placated, and soon.

The second comment comes from Helen Joyce, International Editor at The Economist, who served as Brazil Correspondent until the end of 2013.

I am absolutely sure Aecio’s economic platform was better – for all Brazilians. But when I see the prejudiced comments about stupid or lazy nordestinos sucking the state dry, I understand why so many didn’t turn to him.

Do these people have no idea that (a) a democratic government must seek to govern for all, and (b) that it’s corporate welfare and the vast privileges of Brazil’s elite that are sucking the country dry, not the very modest handouts for the poor??”

The Bolsa Familia program is only 0.5% of Brazil’s GDP. And the election was not only about policy, but ended up being about cultural, class and regional battles.

So, in the short term, our pressing problem is economic. But the long-term problem is much bigger, and it is social.

Photo above is of street vendors outside a new mall in Minas Gerais. All links inserted by me.

Brazil's campaign finance problem

Por Vincent Bevins
24/10/14 14:32


Brazil’s hugely expensive election campaigns have focused on corruption, as they always do. But the same companies implicated in the Petrobras scandal are paying for the whole thing – as they always do – and the skyrocketing election costs are what put pressure on politicians to practice corruption in the first place.

Some 95% of Brazil’s campaign financing comes directly from corporations – primarily meat producers, construction companies, and banks – and while some politicians and legal bodies are pushing back against a system that badly distorts the world’s fourth-largest democracy, they will likely fail without political pressure.

Over the past few weeks, Brazilians have been subjected to a constant onslaught of campaign materials – slick TV ads, never-ending social media updates, unwelcome music blasts into their homes, quick presidential visits, and candidate flyers covering the streets. For some, it’s terrible. For others, it’s a carnival of democracy.

But for the country, it’s very, very expensive. And the huge companies who pay for it are not giving the money away for fun.

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Note from Amapá - Sarney's last stand?

Por frombrazil
23/10/14 20:16

After giving up his Sente seat and watching his candidate lose in his home state of Maranhão, José Sarney, former President and one of the last political barons from the dictatorship era, needs his man to win to hold on to influence in Brazil’s Guiana. Above, a gallery of photos from around the state.

Gavin Andrews

While most of Brazil has its eyes turned to the presidential runoff between Dilma Rousseff e Aécio Neves, the gubernatorial dispute in the far-flung state of Amapá could be host a desperate effort by one of the country’s last semi-feudal coronels to ensure the political survival of his dynasty.

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Brazil's five election surprises

Por frombrazil
07/10/14 18:43


Sunday was full of surprises, and most of them dispiriting for the groups that thought they’d made gains during last year’s protests. Here’s the five biggest.

By Mauricio Savarese

1 – Marina Silva out of the run-off

From presidential front-runner to the falling star of Brazil’s politics. The former environment minister was a bad player from the start of her campaign. Not all of her demise is her fault, of course. As usually happens with third way candidates, she preached new politics and became an easy target for the left and right. But her defeat doesn’t have to do only with her rivals: she flip-flopped on gay rights, lost many of the staff that were working with her deceased former running mate Eduardo Campos, avoided openly supporting of conservative politicians, played victim too soon, failed in answering criticisms from Dilma Rousseff and Aécio Neves (who are now heading to the run-off), and failed to make Brazilians more confident about what kind of president she would become. In the end, anti-government voters left her when it became clear Aécio Neves might have a better chance of actually taking down Rousseff.

After getting roughly same vote she did in 2010, it’s hard to see her as a presidential contender again. For now, supporting Neves in the run-off is all that is left for her – and if he loses that will show her political leverage is even smaller than many expected.

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São Paulo to Acre, by bus - photos

Por Vincent Bevins
02/10/14 21:45

As is the case in many countries of this size, the citizens of Brazil don’t know their own nation very well. I mean that geographically – someone from the Southeast may have visited the Northeast, but is unlikely to have been to the Center-West or the North, too. Someone from Recife may have visited Rio, but Paraná? Roraima? Amapá?

Brazilians are travelling more than ever, but they often look to visiting the US or Europe as quickly as they do to diving deep into the Amazon jungle. This is understandable – the prices are often almost as high within Brazil – and things are quite similar in the US, for example. But for this reason, and because basically all media in Brazil comes from Rio or São Paulo, perceptions about life in certain regions can be very far from reality.

As a correspondent, I suppose I could say that travelling by bus allows me to escape the trails tread by Brazil’s traditionally over-represented elites, and that’s it a professional duty. But the truth is that I actually just like it. People in Brazil’s small or far-flung towns have a remarkable amount in common, no matter where they are, and the country’s reputation for warmth holds up everywhere. I’ve done most of the country by road – from São Paulo to Salvador, to Recife to Belem, or from Porto Alegre up to Rio. Last year, to do a story on the “Mais Medicos” Cuban doctor program, I went from São Paulo to Acre, and then to the Bolivian border. It was about 100 hours in total, and took me through the major communities of Cuiabá, Ji-Paraná, Rondônia, and Rio Branco. So here’s some pictures with some captions.


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