From Brazil

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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.


The northeast and Brazil’s internal divide

Por frombrazil
23/09/14 19:07


Brazil is divided economically, socially and politically between its two major population centers, the wealthier Southeast and the historically richer Northeast, so much so that prejudice still exists. Far too few appreciate the ways in which the fiercely proud, culturally rich Northeast revels in its uniqueness. 

by James Young

A week after Brazilian football was rocked by the racist abuse of Santos goalkeeper Aranha by Grêmio fans during a game in the south of Brazil, veteran Ceará midfielder Souza wanted to talk about a different type of prejudice after his team were knocked out of the Copa do Brasil by Rio side Botafogo.

I don’t want to play the victim, but I’m nordestino, [from Brazil's poor Northeast]. I’ve seen this happen plenty of times. When it comes to the crunch, they always favor the other side and hurt teams from the nordeste. How can I go home and explain this to my kid?” he said, in protest at a number of controversial refereeing decisions made during the game.

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In politics, is Brazil less sexist than the US?

Por frombrazil
18/09/14 17:04


If Brazil is such a macho, backwards country, how has it managed to put on a major presidential race between two progressive women*, with barely a sexist protest in the national media? It may take decades before something like that could happen in the United States.

By Anna Jean Kaiser

On the heels of Chile’s Presidential election last year, Marina Silva and Dilma Rousseff’s battle in Brazil is the only other presidential election I can find where the two principal candidates are women. This milestone for gender equality seems to comes from an unlikely place, as Brazil and Latin America are infamously “machista” and sexist. But Dilma’s gender barely made ripples when she was first elected in 2010, and the topic has gone practically unmentioned as Marina and Dilma go at each other a month before the first round of this year’s elections.

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How did Brazil's protests change the 2014 elections?

Por frombrazil
12/09/14 15:43


If there is anyone who has benefited directly from the energy that exploded in Brazil last year, it is likely wildcard environmentalist candidate Marina Silva, who was seen as an outsider. But the complicated ‘protest movement’ changed much more than that, even as it remains to be seen whether any of its slogans can be transformed into concrete political outcomes.

Mauricio Savarese
São Paulo

How much did the protests of 2013 affect one of the most exciting presidential races of Brazil’s young democracy? It may take decades to really understand what happened last June.

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O pior aspecto do Brasil

Por Vincent Bevins
20/08/14 13:31


A brutal desigualdade brasileira é tão onipresente que os que vivem aqui simplesmente param de notá-la. Uma mensagem inesperada do exterior serve como lembrete de um tema tão pouco discutido tanto na sociedade quanto na mídia e na eleição atual.

[to read the original post in English, click here]*

Moro no Brasil há mais de quatro anos, o que tem sido incrível em quase todos os aspectos, incluindo as formas que arrumei para me adaptar à cultura local. Por outro lado, há partes do país e do meu processo de adaptação que não gosto. Odeio sobretudo a forma como me tornei insensível a níveis chocantes, brutais e ridículos de desigualdade, que minam o avanço do país. Me acostumei a eles, passei a vê-los como algo de certo modo aceitável.

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The worst thing about Brazil

Por Vincent Bevins
11/08/14 17:04


Brazil’s brutal inequality is so ubiquitous that those who live here simply stop noticing it. An unexpected message from abroad serves as a reminder of the topic that is so rarely discussed here, in society, the media, or the current election.

I’ve been living in Brazil for over four years now, which has been incredible in almost every way, including the ways in which I’ve adapted to the local culture. But there’s the bits I don’t like, too. More than anything else, I hate the way I’ve become desensitized to shocking, brutal, and stultifying levels of inequality. I’ve become accustomed to it, as if it were or ever should be normal.

[para ler o texto em Português, clique aqui]

This, most foreigners in Brazil learn quickly enough, is actually one of the required characteristics of being authentically “Brazilian.” True locals understand that extreme inequality is just a fact of life here, and it is bad taste to bring it up or transgress established class boundaries, so much so that an extreme preoccupation with the topic, or wanting to get to know Brazil outside elite circles, are sometimes considered “gringo” things to do. The more I find myself  becoming “local” in this sense (and in this sense only), the more uncomfortable I become.

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