May 8, 2015
A proposed government austerity package may keep Brazil from a credit rating downgrade, but could cost President Dilma Rousseff some of her biggest supporters: the country’s labor unions.
Lawmakers in Brazil’s lower house passed a proposed bill this week that would limit thousands of workers’ access to social security benefits. The MP 665 bill was approved by a narrow 252-227 vote during a heated debate late Wednesday.
Finance Minister Joaquim Levy called the legislative decision a “victory” and said it could potentially lower government spending by 18 billion reais ($5.9 billion) this year.
“It’s a victory for all of society,” Levy told journalists in Brasília on Thursday. “We will meet our objectives so that we can start an agenda that goes beyond the fiscal adjustment.”
Earlier this week, representatives from the Central Única dos Trabalhadores (Unified Workers’ Central—CUT) met with the ruling Partido dos Trabalhadores (Workers’ Party—PT) congressional leadership and said they were against the bill.
CUT is considered one of the largest unions in the country and one of the PT’s founding groups, and has been a strong supporter of Rousseff and former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s governments.
April 13, 2015
Anti-government protesters once again took to the streets across Brazil on Sunday, this time in smaller numbers, but with the same demands for President Dilma Rousseff to leave office.
This is the second march in less than a month in which Brazilians have spoken out against Rousseff and the ruling Partido dos Trabalhadores (Workers’ Party—PT). At least 500,000 people gathered in 24 cities throughout the country, chanting slogans like “Out with Dilma” and “Impeachment Now.”
On March 15, nearly two million people participated in one of the largest protests in Brazil’s recent history. Discontent over unpopular austerity measures and a kickback scandal involving state-run oil giant Petrobras and the PT were major catalysts.
“The Workers Party failed Brazil,” Cristiano Jacobs, a Rio de Janeiro businessman, said during the march. “They have left Brazil broke.”
Rousseff is facing historically low approval ratings. In a recent Datafolha poll, 60 percent of Brazilians said they believe she is doing a "bad" or “terrible” job. 2,834 people were interviewed April 9 and 10, with a margin of sampling error of 2 percentage points. The same poll showed that 63 percent of those interviewed support opening the impeachment process against Rousseff.
Monday Memo: Brazil Protests—Colombian Generals Investigation—Obama-Castro Meeting—Puerto Rico Debt—Chilean Mining
April 13, 2015
This week’s likely top stories: Brazilians demonstrate against corruption; Colombian generals investigated; Obama and Castro hold meeting; Puerto Rico seeks debt help; Chilean communities fight mining companies over water.
Hundreds of Thousands Protest Corruption in Brazil: Hundreds of thousands of Brazilians took to the streets on Sunday to protest government corruption. Estimates of participants vary, but police say almost 700,000 citizens protested, while organizers of the demonstrations claim the number was closer to 1.5 million people. The protests, which took place in Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo and across Brazil, were smaller than the ones that took place in mid-March 2015. Demonstrators then and now claim that President Dilma Rousseff was aware of the bribery taking place at Brazil's state oil company, Petrobras, during her tenure there, and yesterday, many called for the president's impeachment. Rousseff’s approval rating sank to just 13 percent following last month’s protests.
Colombian Generals Are Investigated for “False Positives”: The office of the Attorney General of Colombia announced on Sunday that approximately 22 army generals are being investigated for their suspected involvement in the “falsos positivos” (“false positives”) scandal during the term of former President Álvaro Uribe. The case involves thousands of civilians who were promised jobs and then murdered and dressed up as paramilitaries by the armed forces in order to up the military’s kill count. So far, 800 members of the military have been imprisoned and over 5,000 linked to the scheme. Attorney General Eduardo Montealegre Lynett stated that the investigation should conclude by the end of 2015.
Presidents Obama and Castro Meet at Summit of the Americas: At the seventh Summit of the Americas in Panama on Friday and Saturday, a showing of anti-U.S. sentiment by Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and the Venezuelan and Bolivian delegations was overshadowed by a historic meeting between Presidents Barack Obama and Raúl Castro. The face-to-face meeting—which was the first between presidents of the U.S. and Cuba in over 50 years—was mostly symbolic, but demonstrated the two leaders' willingness to work together despite ideological differences. Latin American leaders praised the U.S. for renewing relations with Cuba, and experts are now analyzing how Obama can best leverage the renewed credibility. The leaders did not issue a joint declaration at the end of the summit, as a result of President Nicolás Maduro’s demand to include a denunciation of U.S. sanctions in Venezuela.
Puerto Rico Calls on Former IMF Officials to Help with Debt: Puerto Rico’s government and investors have asked former International Monetary Fund (IMF) officials for help in resolving the island's debt crisis. Puerto Rico has hired Anne Krueger, the IMF’s former first deputy managing director, as a consultant, and hedge funds that own Puerto Rican bonds have reportedly approached Claudio Loser, the former director of the IMF’s Western Hemisphere department. Puerto Rico has over $7 billion in debt, and last month, Fitch Ratings downgraded its debt to a “B” rating. On Wednesday, the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority faces a debt payment deadline, but is currently negotiating with creditors about restructuring.
Chilean Citizens and Mining Company Continue Dispute: Citizens in Caimanes, a small community in the north of Chile, are locked in a dispute with mining company Antofagasta Minerals over water, a precious resource in the arid region. Citizens claim that the Los Pelambres copper mine’s tailings dam is contributing to water scarcity and that the mine’s activity is contaminating water in their community. Juan Olivares, one of the citizens that has criticized Antofagasta Minerals, said this weekend, “They say we are looking for an economic reward. That has never been the goal […] We want the law to be respected in Chile.” A recent court ruling ordered the company to demolish the dam, but the company will appeal the decision, and is also exploring further investment in the area.
March 24, 2015
Brazil’s economy is expected to contract by 0.83 percent this year and inflation to climb to 8.12 percent, according to the Brazilian Central Bank’s weekly survey of financial experts, which was released yesterday. The growth forecast for 2016 was also lowered from 1.3 percent last week to 1.2 percent this week. According to Bruno Rovai, an analyst at Barclays, “[…] incoming data supported our view that Brazil will face a recession this year, and that any strong recovery will be hard to achieve next year.”
Yesterday’s survey marks the 12th consecutive week of worsening forecasts on the Brazilian economy, and come at a tense time for Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, who is dealing with an escalating corruption scandal involving the state-run oil company, Petrobras. Rousseff has also received criticism, including from traditional allies, for austerity measures that her government has introduced to manage Brazil’s deficit and inflation woes.
“We do not discard the possibility that political risks could increase in the next few weeks, given Petrobras’ audit result deadline or corruption investigations escalating further,” said Rovai. Petrobras is due to publish its audited fourth quarter results at the end of the month.
March 20, 2015
March has been a tough month for the Brazilian government. In the past few weeks, millions of people have taken to the streets to protest against President Dilma Rousseff and demand her impeachment, the country’s local currency devalued to its lowest exchange rate in 12 years and state oil giant Petrobras continued to be engulfed in one of the biggest corruption scandals in the country’s history.
To top it off, national unemployment went up and Rousseff’s popularity hit an all-time low. Pollster Datafolha released figures this week showing the president’s approval rating reached 13 percent, the lowest presidential approval level since 1992.
In an effort to rebound from these negative numbers, Rousseff is schedule to announce some changes to her government roster. This comes after Minister of Education Cid Gomes resigned earlier this week.
She also presented an anti-corruption government package before Congress on Wednesday that introduced reforms such as requiring government officials to have no criminal records (known as “Ficha Limpa” or clean slate), making it illegal for unregulated slush funds to be used in the financing of electoral campaigns, and granting the judicial ministry the power to seize goods and properties of those convicted of corruption.
“Prevent and battle,” Rousseff said as she introduced her latest defensive strategy. “This is what we see as the essential strategy in order to deepen Brazil’s commitment with democracy.”
March 11, 2015
Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff signed a new law on Monday that sets harsher penalties for gender-based killings of women and girls. The new legislation gives a legal definition for femicide under Brazil’s criminal code as any murder that involves domestic violence, contempt or discrimination against women. Convicted offenders will now face jail sentences of 12 to 30 years, with even longer jail terms for crimes committed against pregnant women, girls under 14, women over 60, and people with disabilities.
The new legislation expands on a previous domestic violence law known as the Maria da Penha Law, enacted in 2006 by Rousseff’s predecessor, President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. Maria da Penha is a women’s rights activist who became paraplegic after her ex-husband beat her for 14 years and attempted to murder her twice. The 2006 legislation had three main components: it prevented aggressors from being punished with alternative sentences, increased the maximum sentence for domestic violence to three years, and mandated that abusers distance themselves from the women they had attacked.
After Rousseff signed the most recent law, she enumerated statistics about the violence women face in her country—15 women are killed daily in Brazil, many through domestic violence, and an estimated 500,000 Brazilian women and girls are raped annually, but only 10 percent of survivors report the crimes.
On the BBC radio show “World Have Your Say” on Tuesday, women’s rights activists lauded the new law as a victory for women’s rights, but also cautioned the audience not to overestimate the law’s potential to eradicate gender-based violence, due to the difficulty of convicting criminals in the first place. Julia Pá, a filmmaker based in Brasília and a guest on the program, remarked that misogyny “is so ingrained in Brazilian society, and even in the judicial system itself, that you’re going to need to instruct judges and[…] people working with this on women’s issues and the importance of protecting women.”
November 11, 2014
Brazil’s October 26 election was undoubtedly contentious. As incumbent Dilma Rousseff edged out centrist opposition leader Aeció Neves in a runoff with only 51.6 percent of the vote, it was one of the closest elections in Brazilian history.
Ultimately, the Brazilian people opted for another four years with the Partido dos Trabalhadores (Workers’ Party—PT). So what does Rousseff’s re-election mean for the political representation of Brazilian women? In what way do Brazilian women perceive Rousseff to be advancing their calls for progress and opportunity in a society in which “machista” ideals have traditionally disregarded women’s political and social prowess?
Prior to the runoff, Pesquisa Datafolha published research data revealing that women were more inclined to vote for Rousseff than men. Women in the North and Northeast—where poverty is highly concentrated among the predominantly Afro-Brazilian population—and less educated Brazilians were also significantly more likely to vote for Rousseff. Rousseff’s overwhelming support in the North and Northeast led to claims that the PT “bought votes” through the conditional cash transfer program Bolsa Familia and other social programs. Meanwhile, the Ordem dos Advogados do Brasil, Secção Bahia (The Bahian Section of the Brazilian Bar Association—OAB-BA) received numerous human rights complaints about hate crimes against Brazilians from the Northeast after the election.
October 29, 2014
What do the Brooklyn hipster and the Brazilian president have in common? They both think they look good in a pair of oversized, black-framed glasses.
Sometimes called “hipster glasses” in the United States and óculos setentas (70s glasses) in Brazil, these trendy frames have proven to complement both skinny jeans and struggling presidents in need of appearing more accessible to the youth vote. During the final months of the Brazilian presidential race, incumbent Dilma Rousseff’s campaign began circulating a stylized poster depicting Rousseff as a young revolutionary in the 1970s wearing a plaid shirt and sporting the thick-framed glasses.
It’s an outfit you might spot in any number of artsy New York or São Paulo neighborhoods today. The retro glasses have been re-popularized in recent years by sports stars (Lebron James, David Beckham), artists (Justin Timberlake, Jay-Z), and politicians (former U.S. presidential candidate Rick Perry, for one), but Rousseff wore them before they were cool, which makes her that much cooler.
“It was an attempt to bring Dilma closer to youngsters and people who did not relate to her more 'formal' image as president,” said João Marcelo Ehlert Maia, a professor of sociology at Fundação Getúlio Vargas in Rio de Janeiro. “The idea is to present the 'guerrilla look' in a new fashion. 'Hipster Dilma' is, in fact, 'Revolutionary Dilma.’”
October 29, 2014
The re-election of President Dilma Rousseff as president of Brazil was not a foregone conclusion as little as a week ago. While the campaign could not have been dirtier, with charges of corruption, womanizing and wife-beating flying around, Rousseff’s Partido dos Trabalhadores (Workers' Party—PT) now seems set for another four years in office.
The PT is on the verge of having the longest-running rule of one party in Brazil since the end of military rule in 1985.
Watching the Brazilian presidential campaign in Rio in its final days provided a useful window to talk to voters.
If this election reveals anything about the Brazilian electorate, it is that they are not yet ready to give up the socioeconomic gains of the years under the PT’s stewardship of the country.
The 12 years of PT government so far have created expectations for many millions of Brazilians to become part of the middle class. Even though the right-of-center candidate, former Minas Gerais governor Aécio Neves, promised to keep the social programs going, the majority of voters opted for the status quo.
The electorate was closely divided, though. With the final votes counted, Rousseff, with 51.6 percent of the vote to Neves' 48.5 percent, had only a 3 percent—or 3.5 million vote—difference.
That foreshadows a polarization of what some have characterized as two irreconcilable halves—much as is the case now in the United States.
October 27, 2014
This week’s likely top stories: Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff is re-elected; Uruguayan elections move to a second round; Venezuela scraps the sale of Citgo Petroleum; Haitians protest a lack of elections; a Brazilian consortium acquires Chiquita.
Dilma Rousseff Re-elected President of Brazil: Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff was narrowly re-elected on Sunday in a runoff election that will extend the ruling Partido dos Trabalhadores (Workers’ Party—PT) government’s mandate until 2019. Rousseff captured 51.6 percent of the vote, defeating challenger Aécio Neves of the Partido da Social Democracia (Brazilian Social Democracy Party—PSDB), who received 48.4 percent after nearly all ballots were counted. Rousseff’s victory marks the fourth straight presidential victory of the PT, although the party has recently come under public scrutiny due to a kickback scandal involving state oil company Petrobras, and has been criticized for an underperforming economy. In her victory speech, Rousseff acknowledged the challenges ahead, saying, “I want to be a much better president than I have been until now.”
Uruguayan Election Goes to Runoff: After Sunday’s election failed to deliver an outright majority to any presidential candidate, Uruguayans will return to the polls on November 30 to make a final decision between former President Tabaré Vásquez of the ruling Frente Amplio (Broad Front—FA) and Luis Lacalle Pou of the Partido Nacional (National Party). Pedro Bordaberry of the right-wing Partido Colorado (Colorado Party) endorsed Lacalle Pou shortly after the results came in, forming a conservative alliance to challenge Vásquez in the next round of voting. Also at stake in the election is the fate of Uruguay’s historic marijuana legislation, passed by outgoing President José “Pepe” Mujica, which legalizes the production, distribution and sale of marijuana to Uruguayan adults. The FA has governed Uruguay since 2005, with Vázquez serving as president from 2005-2010.
Venezuela Fails to Sell Citgo Petroleum: Venezuela will not sell the state oil company Petroleos de Venezuela SA (PDVSA)’s U.S.-based refining subsidiary Citgo Petroleum Corp, the government announced Sunday. Strapped for cash yet unable to find a buyer for Citgo, PDVSA needed the estimated $8 billion to $10 billion from the sale of Citgo to help offset falling oil prices, scheduled debt payments to China and Russia, and the country’s economic recession. In a memo to its clients this month, Barclays Plc predicted that Venezuela would be forced to adjust its economic policies, and could consider curbing subsidized oil to PetroCaribe members, devaluing the bolivar, and renegotiating loans from China. Another possible reform package could include hiking domestic gasoline prices.
Protestors in Port-au-Prince Demand a Vote: Haitian protestors armed with voting cards marched through the downtown slum of Bel Air in Port-au-Prince on Sunday to demand a chance to vote in legislative and local elections overdue since 2011. Although President Michel Martelly called for elections earlier this year, a stalemate over electoral law between the government and six opposition senators has left voters unable to exercise their basic sovereignty. While Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe accuses opposition politicians of seeking to extend their time in office without election, the opposition candidates say they are defending the Haitian Constitution against an administration seeking to remain in power by decree. One of these candidates, Sen. Moise Jean Charles, led the protesters through the streets of the capital on horseback. As the terms of 10 senators will expire in mid-January, the Haitian government is under pressure to organize a vote on Martelly’s electoral law before Parliament dissolves in early 2015.
Brazil’s Cutrale-Safra Purchases Chiquita Brands: The Brazilian Cutrale-Safra consortium agreed on Monday to acquire U.S. banana behemoth Chiquita Brands International Inc., formerly United Fruit, for about $682 million. The Cutrale Group—owned by “Orange King” Jose Luis Cutrale—and Safra Group—a network of companies controlled by Brazilian banker Joseph Safra—snagged Chiquita for $14.50 per share. The takeover was approved only three days after Chiquita shareholders voted to reject the company’s proposed merger with Irish banana producer Fyffes Plc., which would have created the world’s largest banana seller. Safra, who is seeking to diversify his $16 billion portfolio, and Cutrale, who is looking to expand the family business because of a global decline in orange juice consumption, overcame three previous failed attempts to acquire Chiquita. The transaction is expected to close by early 2015, after regulatory approvals have been made.