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Questionable Politicians: 1 Ethics: 0

Embattled Senate President Sarney gets a break thanks to his political friends. Lula calls for a meeting with Obama to discuss his displeasure about the U.S. military presence in neighboring countries. The government considers taking control of some oil reserves. The Brazilian stock market has its best July ever since 1998. Plus, it gets harder for smokers just about everywhere.

Top News: Even during Senate recess, cries continued for the resignation of Jose Sarney, the Senate president in the center of a storm of accusations both personal (tax evasion, nepotism) and institutional (secret acts, overblown salaries for Senate staffers).  But when the body reconvened last week, Sarney’s allies were ready. Four of eleven ethics complaints against Sarney were dropped by the Senate’s ethics committee (led by a member of his party), which cited a lack of evidence. Sarney vigorously defended himself on the floor of the Senate in a 50-minute speech. And President Lula Inacio Lula da Silva, a Sarney ally who had begun to backtrack on his support, continued to work behind the scenes for him. In addition to GlobalPost coverage, The New York Times and the Financial Times also ran stories.


It goes without saying that the Senate did not make much progress on what theoretically is its primary purpose: making laws for the nation. An article [in Portuguese] in Estado de Sao Paulo quoted a senator from the anti-Sarney crowd saying the Senate was “completely anesthetized.”


Brazilian officials expressed strong misgivings at news that Colombia would allow increasing American use of its military bases. General Jim Jones, President Obama’s national security adviser, came to Brasilia to soothe the Brazilians. Colombian President Alvaro Uribe was also close by on his swing through Latin America capitals to defend the plan. But as Brazil remains closer to the leftist anti-Yankee regimes than others in South America, President Lula called for a meeting between the members of the Union of South American Nations and President Obama to discuss the issue.


A rapid increase in swine flu deaths in the country’s south and southeast regions — its most populous and richest — prompted most states there to postpone the restart of public schools after the July/August holiday.  Private schools followed suit, generally. More than 200 people have died of the disease, [in Portuguese] the vast majority in the last two weeks. Sao Paulo state has even announced that female public school teachers and public hospital workers in the third trimester of pregnancy (most vulnerable to the disease) will not be allowed to work directly with members of the public (i.e. students and patients). 


Money: The government is considering taking increased control over massive oil reserves known here as “the pre-salt,” since they are buried below a thick layer of salt under the ocean floor. The specifics of the proposal are not yet finalized but could mean that Petrobras, the national oil company, would be the only approved oil operator for the fields, or at least have a favored position over international oil companies. The matter is controversial and comes at a time when Petrobras itself is facing a six-month Congressional inquiry into financial and accounting misdeeds.


The Brazilian stock market, the Bovespa, rose 6.4% last month, making it the best July since 1998, and up more than 50%  [in Portuguese] this year. Bloomberg reported that the recent rise was due to earnings exceeding expectations and good signs from the American economy. Foreign investment in the stock market in July also increased $1.2 billion.The dollar hit its lowest rate against the real since last September, at a measly 1.81 reais.


There are signs that the Brazilian housing market is making a comeback in Brazil, as lower-income families spurred an increase in home purchases during the second quarter. One factor, according to Estado de Sao Paulo,  [in Portuguese] may be a government program that has offered these families loans on good terms.


Elsewhere: Last Friday, a strict new law went into effect in Sao Paulo that forbids smoking in just about any public enclosed area, from bars and restaurants to taxis to office buildings. Sao Paulo’s governor, Jose Serra, talked about the law on the popular national Tonight Show-like Programa do Jo, but other parts of the country had already been paying attention. Major cities like Goiania and Curitiba, are considering similar legislation, and Salvador, in Bahia state, recently implemented a no-smoking law. During the first weekend, the Sao Paulo government agents visited almost 4,000 businesses and gave out 50 fines.


And there was a lot of news in transportation: In Sao Paulo, a new law took effect severely limiting movement of private bus lines  [in Portuguese] that take commuters to the city from the metropolitan region. The traffic calming measure, which allows buses to stop only at specific points near subway or commuter train stations for travelers to continue their trip, had plenty of opposition, and protestors blocked streets during rush hours. 


Lula signed a law legalizing (and regulating) moto-taxis, [in Portuguese] which many expect to dramatically increase the number of such services in smaller cities and towns, and caused consternation in bigger cities like Sao Paulo, whose mayor said he would try to keep a ban in effect. [in Portuguese]


Finally, there was drama in the air: turbulence during a flight from Houston to Rio de Janeiro injured at least 26 people, four seriously.  And Jacqueline Ruas, a 15 year-old teenage girl, died on a flight home to Sao Paulo, [in Portuguese] apparently of pneumonia after a youth trip to Disney World. She had come down with swine flu-like symptoms in Florida, but doctors in Orlando said she did not have the virus. It is common for teenagers to forgo the Brazilian equivalent of a Sweet 16 party and use the money for a trip to Disney World.