Brazil’s Gas Station Blues

October 3, 2014

by Stephen Kurczy

The result was conclusive from Brazil’s fifth and final presidential debate last night, which started at 11 pm so as not to conflict with the soap opera “Imperio”: Sunday’s election is too close to call. (And also, candidates’ plans for Brazil’s future are less important to Brazilian telenovela fans than the fictional future of Rio de Janeiro’s rich and famous.)

So to get a sense of what voters are thinking ahead of Sunday’s vote, I ambushed a few Brazilians filling up their vehicles at the gas stations here in Curitiba. In any democracy, the choice at the ballot box often reflects which candidate is best for a voter's wallet, and many of Brazil’s 143 million voters will be directly affected by what the next president does to the price of government-regulated gasoline and oil.

The number of cars in Brazil grew by 123 percent over the past decade to 80 million, meaning that the price at the pump increasingly influences Brazilians’ choice on the ballot. Drivers can directly attribute today’s pump price to President Dilma Rousseff, who in 2011 set an artificially low sales price for gasoline that cost state oil company Petroleo Brasileiro SA (Petrobras) tens of billions of dollars a year, but kept many of her constituents happy.

That includes Aminadabe Marcante, an attendant at Presidente gas station in central Curitiba, who told me that he’ll be voting for Rousseff because he doesn’t want change in this election. “I don’t have time to watch TV or debates,” Marcante said. “I’m voting for Dilma because she’s been good for the poor.”

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Tags: Brazilian elections, Dilma Rousseff, Marina Silva

Dilma, Dilma, Dilma

September 25, 2014

by Stephen Kurczy

Dilma, Dilma, Dilma, Neves, Sil-.

The letters in this sentence roughly represent the proportion of free TV airtime that each of Brazil’s three major presidential candidates—President Dilma Rousseff and challengers Aécio Neves and Marina Silva—receives to advertise, based on their party’s representation in government.

Because Silva’s Partido Socialista Brasileiro (Brazilian Socialist Party—PSB) has minimal representation in the lower house of Congress, she only gets a two-minute window in the 25-minute block of free campaign advertising that’s broadcast on TV twice a day every day. President Dilma Rousseff gets nearly six times as much, thanks to the popularity of her Partido dos Trabalhadores (Workers’ Party—PT). Partido da Social Democracia Brasileira (Brazilian Social Democratic Party—PSDB) candidate Aécio Neves, the other top challenger, gets about four and a half minutes.

Yet while Brazilian electoral rules for political TV advertising give Rousseff a clear advantage in her bid for re-election on October 5, the latest polls show Rousseff in a statistical tie against Silva, whose political rise has drawn parallels to the 2008 candidacy of Barack Obama.

By many comparisons, however, Obama had it easy. He was not battling an incumbent, and he had plenty of time to build up the largest campaign war chest in history, with few barriers on how to spend it. Silva, who would also be her country’s first black president, has the least campaign funding of any major candidate and a major disadvantage in advertising on TV, which is how most Brazilians consume their news.

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Tags: Brazilian elections, Dilma Rousseff, Marina Silva

World Cup Unifies Brazil in Joy, Despair

July 10, 2014

by Stephen Kurczy

In 1945, the Brazilian football clubs Remo and Paysandu took the pitch here in Belém, gateway to the Amazon in the northeastern state of Pará. One of many face-offs of their famous century-old rivalry, the match became significant for more than just the 7-0 drubbing that Paysandu inflicted. It would leave a deep scar on Remo’s psyche. 

The score still haunts Remo supporters such as Fabrico Bessa, even though his team has since bested Paysandu many times, including this year in the annual Clássico Rei da Amazônia (King of the Amazon Classic). 

“We won the local championship this year, but anytime I try to talk about it to someone from Paysandu they just look at me and say ‘7-0’,” said Bessa, a 34-year-old optometrist with a practice here. “We will always have to swallow that, because we don’t know how to explain how we lost 7-0.” 

In a small way, Bessa told me, that’s how this entire nation feels after the World Cup host lost 7-1 to Germany in the semifinal of the planet’s most-watched sporting event. Local newspapers reflected the agony on their front pages: “Massacre,” “Humiliation,” “An embarrassment for eternity.” Brazil had been the runaway favorite to win it all, with pre-tournament analytical models giving the seleção at least a 50 percent chance of claiming the trophy.

“It’s too sad to be real,” Bessa said. 

Brazil is now in mourning. But in that is something to be noted: Brazil is also unified.

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Tags: Brazil World Cup, Dilma Rousseff, World Cup 2014

Monday Memo: Dilma Rousseff – Strike in Puerto Rico – Argentine Debt – Claudia Paz y Paz – Soccer Violence

June 23, 2014

by AQ Online

This week's likely top stories: Dilma Rousseff confirms she will run for re-election; workers go on strike in Puerto Rico; Argentina says it will negotiate with hedge funds; Chilean bus drivers fear soccer violence; Claudia Paz y Paz will receive an award.

Rousseff’s candidacy is official: Brazil’s ruling Partido dos Trabalhadores (Workers Party—PT) confirmed on Saturday that Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff will be the party’s candidate for the country’s October presidential elections. Despite declining popularity, protests surrounding the World Cup and Olympics, and meager economic growth rates, Rousseff still leads the field of presidential candidates in the polls. However, the Partido Trabalhista Brasileiro (Brazilian Labor Party—PTB) announced this weekend that it will support Rousseff’s competitor, Aécio Neves from the Partido da Social Democracia Brasileira (Brazilian Social Democracy Party—PSDB), and end its alliance with the PT. Rousseff will campaign alongside current Vice President Michel Temer, who will also run for re-election on the ballot with Rousseff.

Workers strike in Puerto Rico: Medical services employees began a 24-hour strike Sunday in front of the Centro Médico de Río Piedras to protest measures by the government to confront the island’s fiscal crisis. The workers join other sectors across Puerto Rico, including metropolitan transit workers and bank employees, in opposing the Ley 66 de Sostenibilidad, which the Puerto Rican Senate passed on June 16 to declare a fiscal state of emergency.  The law intends to stabilize the Puerto Rican economy within three years, but it will also freeze bonuses and benefits for public employees. Last Thursday, an assembly of public workers agreed to hold a general strike sometime this week.

Argentine government denounces court ruling: Following the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision last week to let a $1.3 billion ruling against Argentina stand, the Argentine government published full-page advertisements in major U.S. newspapers this weekend, arguing that “paying the vulture funds is a path leading to default.” However, Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner said on Friday that she was willing to negotiate with the hedge funds. Argentine Cabinet Chief Jorge Capitanich said that Argentina will make a formal proposal on Monday to U.S. Federal Judge Thomas Griesa to pay back "100 percent of bondholders."

Chilean transit workers fear soccer riots: Chilean transit workers said they will suspend bus services in anticipation of riots and violence from soccer fans after Chile takes on the Netherlands in the World Cup today. After Chile’s victory over Spain last Wednesday, bus drivers were attacked and buses were taken over by out-of-control fans. Meanwhile, Chilean security forces have put a special traffic plan in place in the capital to avoid major congestion and keep order. So far, Chile’s transportation minister, Andrés Gómez-Lobo, has reported that bus services have been operating as scheduled.

Claudia Paz y Paz receives human rights prize: The Washington Office on Latin America announced today that it has awarded former Guatemalan Attorney General Claudia Paz y Paz a Human Rights Award for her work combatting organized crime and corruption. Paz y Paz presided over the trial of former Guatemalan President Efraín Ríos Montt and convicted him of genocide and crimes against humanity before the verdict was overturned on a technicality. Paz y Paz’ tenure was cut short last month, and she was replaced by former Supreme Court judge Thelma Esperanza Aldana Hernández, who took office on May 17 and has close ties to Ríos Montt’s party.

Tags: Dilma Rousseff, Puerto Rico, Claudia Paz y Paz

Dilma Defends Brazil’s World Cup Preparations

June 4, 2014

by AQ Online

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff said on Wednesday that the host nation’s trouble with World Cup preparations are normal. “Everywhere in the world these big engineering projects always go down to the wire,” she told reporters at the presidential palace. Responding to criticism about unfinished stadiums and delayed infrastructure projects, including transport systems in Cuiabá, Salvador and Recife, Dilma said the delays reflected “the cost of our democracy.”

With eight days before the World Cup kicks off in São Paulo, the threat of a new round of anti-government protests loom over the tournament. More than a million Brazilians took to the streets during last summer’s Confederations Cup—a prelude to the World Cup—to protest corruption, fare hikes for public transport, and excessive public spending.

Anticipating renewed unrest that may once again turn violent, Dilma said that the government “fully guarantees people’s security,” and said that thousands of extra police and military forces would be deployed to ensure that protests do not affect World Cup matches.

Other members of Dilma’s administration do not share her optimism. Brazilian Public Minister Rodrigo Janot announced earlier this week that the government would create a “Crisis Cabinet” to monitor any future protests during the World Cup and address “excesses” on the part of either protesters or security forces during public protests.

For a debate on whether mega sports events like the World Cup contribute to the economic development of the countries that host them, click here.

Tags: Brazil, 2014 World Cup, Dilma Rousseff, Brazil Protests.

Brazil's Diplomatic Retreat

February 11, 2014

by Oliver Stuenkel

When world leaders recently gathered in Switzerland to discuss the future of Syria last week, Brazil's foreign minister, Luiz Alberto Figueiredo, was in the northeastern city of Natal to participate in the inauguration ceremony of a soccer stadium. He had rejected an invitation to join the peace conference.

A day later, one of Brazil's major newspapers asked Figueiredo for an extensive interview focusing exclusively on the crisis in Syria, which would have allowed the new foreign minister to lay out Brazil's vision to the public. Once again, the minister declined the offer.

At the Munich Security Conference a week later, Brazil was the only large economy without a single participant. Figueiredo, who replaced the brilliant but hapless Antonio Patriota after a diplomatic crisis last year, has been strikingly invisible in the public debate.

President Dilma Rousseff is the main culprit. Obsessive in her drive to centralize decision-making, the president regards foreign policy as a minefield of little use in her bid for re-election. She has surrounded herself by uninspiring yes-men, at least one of whom—Education Minister Aloízio Mercadante—may actively undermine Itamaraty's standing in Brasília.

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Tags: Brazil, Brazil Foreign Policy, Dilma Rousseff, Aloizio Mercadante

Snubbing the U.S., Brazil Turns its Foreign Policy to the Global South

October 24, 2013

by Laura Tulchin

Brazil’s postponement of its White House state dinner–seen as a long-awaited wedding ceremony for the two countries after a very drawn out courtship–may signal more than just President Rousseff’s anger with revelations that the U.S. National Security Agency  (NSA) had been spying on her personal life and Petrobrás, the state oil company. Since the postponement (which some have understood to mean cancellation), Rousseff has carved  out a new niche for Brazil’s international identity, seizing the opportunity to make a bold and public statement about the direction of its foreign policy, away from the United States and its allies.  

Brazil’s newfound enthusiasm for the issue of  Internet privacy comes after a half-decade of an ambivalent foreign policy strategy. The predictions of a major shift in international political influence following the 2008 financial crisis, when the G-20 rose in importance to become the premier forum of global governance, signaled a potential new role for Brazil. However, this was problematic for Brazil since the G-20 represented everything that the country had long criticized: a private club of global power players.

Yet, predictions of a seismic change in global power did not come to fruition. Brazil has not made the transition to global player, and is instead juggling conflicting identities. It is a member of an elite club of global power players, but it’s also a committed proponent of global governance reform. Thus, Rousseff’s refusal to accept Obama’s explanation of spying and her recent championing of the right to privacy signal a turn away from the shaky middle ground and toward a more vocal role as a critic of the forums of global governance.

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Tags: Brazil-U.S. relations, NSA, Dilma Rousseff

Brazil-U.S. Relations: What Happened?

September 18, 2013

by Stephen Kurczy

RIO DE JANEIRO—How quickly it all unraveled. 

Less than four months ago, U.S. President Barack Obama sent his vice president to Brazil to personally deliver an invitation for President Dilma Rousseff to visit Washington this October. It was the only such invitation extended to any foreign leader in 2013, and the first for a Brazilian president since 1995. 

To be sure, Rousseff had already met with Obama in Washington in 2012—following Obama’s visit to Brasília in 2011—but this official state visit was to include a welcome ceremony, 21-gun salute, dinner at the White House, and meetings on trade. In delivering the invite in May, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden called 2013 “the beginning of a new era of relations between Brazil and the United States.”

This year has indeed turned out to be the beginning of a new era, but now for all the wrong reasons. 

On September 17, Rousseff canceled her October 23 visit, a decision forced by two months of drip-drip revelations in local media O Globo that the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) has been monitoring millions of phone calls and emails sent by citizens across Brazil, including those of Rousseff herself and the state-owned oil giant Petrobras. Not even an 11th-hour phone call from Obama to Rousseff on Monday night could salvage the trip.

Who bears the responsibility? 

Roberto Izurieta, head of the Latin America Department at George Washington University's Graduate School of Political Management, places the fault at the feet of Rousseff for allowing the spying allegations to drive a wedge. 

“In any kind of relations, you can focus on what unifies us all, or on the problems that divide us,” he said. “In my opinion, the president of Brazil chose the second.”

Brazilian media, meanwhile, praised Rousseff’s response to the White House’s reported failure to adequately investigate the allegations of espionage. In an official statement, Rousseff cited “the absence of timely investigation of the incident” as a reason for canceling. The White House said yesterday that an ongoing review of its intelligence posture “will take several months to complete.”

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Tags: Brazil-U.S. relations, Dilma Rousseff, NSA

Brazil Looks to Increase Cyber Security Following NSA Leak

September 18, 2013

by AQ Online

In the wake of Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff officially postponing her October state visit to Washington on Tuesday, Brazil is planning to increase its online independence and bolster its cyber security in the coming months. The decision comes in response to leaked evidence that the U.S.  National Security Agency (NSA) had spied on the Brazilian government and the Brazilian national oil company, Petrobras.

To lessen Brazilian’s vulnerability to spying, Dilma intends to store more online data domestically and rout web traffic away from U.S. servers. However, some experts warn that the new measures could lead to a balkanization of the Internet, threatening its current open, interconnected structure. Critics fear that Brazil’s cyber-isolationism could also embolden repressive regimes to control their citizens’ online access.  

Ironically, Brazil is in the midst of scaling up its own surveillance system ahead of the 2014 World Cup. Launched in April, the Integrated Command and Control Center (CICC) will not spy on personal communications like the NSA did, but it will monitor all roads and public spaces through 560 camera across Rio de Janeiro. The CICC is also requesting permission from the federal aviation body to use drones for surveillance during the World Cup as they were used during the Confederations Cup in June.

Tags: NSA, Petrobras, Dilma Rousseff

Monday Memo: Dilma’s U.S. Visit – Hurricane Ingrid – Biden in Mexico – Capriles in Miami – Civil Unions in Peru

September 16, 2013

by AQ Online

Likely top stories this week: Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff’s U.S. visit remains pending; Hurricane Ingrid and Tropical Storm Manuel hit Mexico; U.S. Vice President Joe Biden cancels Panama trip but will still go to Mexico; Venezuelan opposition leader Henrique Capriles visits Miami; Peruvian congressman files a bill to approve same-sex civil unions.

Dilma Still Weighing State Visit to United States: Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff's office said in a statement on Sunday that the president has not yet decided whether she will cancel a visit to the United States that was scheduled for October 23. A spokesperson said Sunday that Rousseff is awaiting a report from Brazilian Foreign Minister Luiz Alberto Figuereido, who traveled to Washington DC last week to seek an explanation for alleged U.S. spying on the Brazilian government by the U.S. National Security Agency. Figuereido is expected to meet with Rousseff on Tuesday to discuss the visit.

Hurricane, Tropical Storm Batter Mexico: Hurricane Ingrid and Tropical Storm Manuel have killed at least 21 people in Mexico as thousands of people were evacuated, starting on Friday, to avoid flooding and mudslides. While Manuel hit Mexico's Pacific coast, Hurricane Ingrid battered the Gulf Coast and is expected to make landfall on Monday in the State of Taumaulipas. The Mexican government said Sunday that the State of Guerrero has been hardest-hit, with 14 confirmed deaths. A number of Mexican towns and cities have cancelled Monday’s Independence Day celebrations in light of the dangerous weather conditions.

Biden Cancels Trip to Panama, but not Mexico: U.S. Vice President Joe Biden will make a planned trip to Mexico at the end of the week but has cancelled a visit to Panama, where he was expected to visit the Panama Canal expansion project and meet with Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli. Instead, Biden will return to Washington DC mid-week to focus on Syria, and then travel to Mexico as scheduled on September 19 and 20 for a meeting with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto. This will be Biden’s fifth trip to Latin America since he became vice president.

Capriles Visits Miami: Venezuelan opposition leader and former presidential candidate Henrique Capriles addressed thousands of Venezuelans living in the U.S. during a speech at Miami Dade College on Sunday. He was also presented with a key to the city of Doral, Florida, which has the largest population of Venezuelan citizens outside of Venezuela. The local Venezuelan population overwhelmingly supported Capriles in the April 14 presidential election. Meanwhile, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro accused Capriles of conspiring against his government from abroad.

Peru’s Congress May Consider Civil Unions: After Peruvian lawmaker Carlos Bruce presented a bill to legalize same-sex civil unions last Thursday, Peru’s Comisión de Justicia (Justice Commission) must decide whether to approve the bill for a vote in Peru’s Congress. Bruce says that the bill will not consider same-sex marriage, and is intended to grant same-sex couples the same inheritance, pension and social security rights granted to heterosexual couples. Peruvian President Ollanta Humala, whose approval rating has hit the lowest point in his two-year presidency at 27 percent in September, has so far declined to comment on the proposed bill.

Tags: Dilma Rousseff, Henrique Capriles, Hurricane Ingrid, Joe Biden



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