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Shady scandals galore

The politically corrupt go relatively unpunished. Senate President Jose Sarney is reported to have a secret overseas account. A bill dies that would have let Lula run for a third term. Brazil's economy continues to grow as an economic giant in Latin America. And did Sarkozy and Obama check out a Brazilian girl's bum? Let's go to the videotape.


Top News: Corruption scandals come and go in Brazil, the politicians involved in them only occasionally lose their jobs, very rarely go to jail and almost never lose their public-coffer-enriched fortunes.  So it pains me to begin yet another news update from Brazil with the scandals involving the Brazilian Senate, but it that’s still what everyone is talking about. (And, after near silence from the foreign press, even the Economist has now weighed in on it.)


On Monday, Senate president José Sarney, the target of many of the investigations and accusations, declared that the 663-plus “secret acts” passed by the Senate over the last 14 years would be invalidated.  That would theoretically leave people without jobs and Senate offices with less money, but it appears the reversal won’t go into effect immediately.


This past weekend, Veja magazine, Brazil’s most important newsweekly, reported that Sarney had a secret offshore bank account with close to a million dollars. That is not necessarily illegal (if the money there was declared), but shady circumstances surround the account.


In other political news, the act that would have legalized a third term for the president, governors and mayors officially died. Lula had always officially rejected the possibility of a third term, and now it appears he was serious. Still, there must have been a lot of disappointed second term mayors out there.


Lula continued his travels these last two weeks, heading to Libya for the African Union summit, then over to France where he received a the Houphouet-Boigny Peace Prize, mostly, it seems, for his poverty reduction efforts in Brazil.  From there it was to Italy for the G8 and G5 plus 1 summit, where he presented President Obama with a Brazilian national soccer team jersey signed by players. Read about it in this AP article, but note that it does not mention what several Brazilian press outlets were quick to point out: that the signatures were not from current members of the national team.


Finally, the parliamentary investigative commission (a.k.a. CPI) which is supposed to investigate the state oil company Petrobras was finally installed this week, and will meet officially for the first time on August 6, after the Congressional winter recess.


Money: Several notes in GDP news: Brazil’s total tax revenue for 2008 equaled 35.8% of GDP, the highest that figure has ever been. That was due in large part to the economic boom that lasted for about three-quarters of 2008. The figure is often used to determine the size of a country’s public sector. And Brazil’s share of Latin American GDP has risen over the last several years: from 2000 to 2008, it jumped from 30.9% to 35.3%. The financial paper Valor Economico reported on Monday (in an article not available online) that BNP Paribas and JP Morgan analysts believe it will go up again this year by 0.6 or 0.7% and then again in 2010.


Numbers continued to show that foreign investors are bullish on post-crisis Brazil: direct foreign investment in factories, agriculture, services and the like was $11.2 billion in the first five months of 2009, which, if it keeps up, will make 2009 the sixth-biggest year since statistics started being collected in 1947. And lending by the BNDES, the state development bank, disbursed 43 billion reais (about $22 billion) in loans in the first half of 2008, 11% up from the year before.  Loans are still primarily to large businesses, but some reports show the proportion going to medium-sized and small businesses on the increase.


Elsewhere: Along with the rest of the world, Brazil mourned the loss of Michael Jackson. But they didn’t just talk the talk, they moonwalked the moonwalk. The Eternal Moonwalk website, which encouraged people to send in clips of themselves, was full of Brazilian entries, as TV commentators were quick to point out. Very impressive showing, guys.


Vice President Jose Alencar, whom the press always called the “Acting President” here when Lula is out of the country, had yet another surgery to treat his intestinal cancer. That is no longer news, but his good humor continues to make headlines. According to a senator who visited him in the hospital, Alencar told surgeons to keep him alive because he was about to have his first two great-grandchildren. You want to go to their baptism, the doctors (allegedly) asked? “No, I want to go to their graduation,” he (allegedly) said.


Finally, it would be impossible not to mention the teenager whose posterior attracted the attention of Nicolas Sarkozy — and, depending on who you talk to, Barack Obama — during the G-8 summit was, yes, Brazilian. Mayara Alves, whose father is a community leader in a poor section of Rio de Janeiro, was at the summit as a representative of Unicef. RJTV had interviewed her prior to her trip; the video is embedded in this report. She had never before left Rio de Janeiro.


Finally, the Financial Times did a package of stories on Brazil that is worth reading.