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Lula's shoulder chip

Ahmadinejad's visit upsets many, including Obama. The presidents of Israel and Palestine also make stops in Brazil. The Federal District's governor is accused of bribing legislators for votes. At a summit of Amazon nations, Lula calls for help from developed countries. Unemployment rates drop significantly. Several automotive companies announce plans to invest in Brazil. And cigarettes are banned in three states in the last few weeks.

Top News: Who should stroll into Brazil last week but Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, President of Iran. The visit made many people unhappy, including Brazil’s Jewish community, opposition presidential candidate Jose Serra, and Barack Obama. The latter sent a letter to Lula with a message stating support for the proposal by the International Atomic Energy Agency to curtail Iran’s development of nuclear technology.


The editor of Foreign Affairs magazine told the Wall Street Journal that Brazil was “behaving like an immature developing country with a chip on its shoulder.” But Lula defended the visit — which had been cancelled once previously — as an opportunity to engage Iran. Lula had previously been criticized for dismissing complaints about Ahmadinejad’s June re-election. Ahmadinejad’s visit came on the heels of Brazilian stops by presidents Shimon Peres of Israel and Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority. Peres’s visit was seen as a pre-emptive strike against Ahmadinejad’s visit; when Abbas came later, Lula declared opposition to continued Israeli settlements in the West Bank.


Obama’s letter didn’t do much good, apparently; Brazil was one of ten countries that did not vote to condemn Iran’s nuclear program on Nov. 27.


Jose Roberto Arruda, governor of the Federal District, was accused of paying off district legislators to vote with his government. Video and audio tapes seem to document the charges, but Arruda denies wrongdoing and has said he will not resign his post. The scandal has obvious parallels to the infamous “Mensalao” scandal of 2005, in which Lula’s administration purportedly paid monthly stipends to federal legislators. A short summary (in Portuguese) of the Arruda case is on Folha Online, and a longer one is on the site of the top Brasilia paper, Correio Braziliense.


Those Googling for scandal updates in English — and there isn't much — should be sure to type in the governor’s entire name. Another Arruda, Geisy, has had much more success in getting worldwide attention: she is the Brazilian college student who vaulted to fame recently when she was accosted by fellow students and then expelled (and later reinstated) by her university for wearing a mini-dress. An update: she will now apparently be marching in several Carnaval parades this February.


Prior to a summit meeting of Amazon nations Brazil hosted in Manaus last week, Lula called upon developed countries — or in his words, “gringos” — to provide financial help to prevent deforestation, without forcing millions who live in the Amazon to forego their livelihoods. But the comments were overshadowed by the absence of most heads of state in the region, including Alvaro Uribe of Colombia.


Money: There seems to be no end to the moderately good post-crisis news. Last week the government announced the October unemployment rate was down to 7.5 percent, the same rate it was one year ago, pre-crisis. (The unemployment rate is calculated via surveys in Brazil’s six major metropolitan areas.) Previously, Brazil had hit the one million mark in net official-sector jobs created in 2009; on Nov. 20 Lula said that Brazil created 1.3 million new jobs in 2009, either a misstatement or an optimistic prediction for the final six weeks of the year.


Several companies in the automotive sector announced plans for future investments in Brazil. Michelin will  invest hundreds of millions of dollars to build a new tire factory in the state of Rio de Janeiro, which will open in 2013, according to its president. Volkswagen announced plans to invest $3.5 billion in Brazil between 2010 and 2014 and said it hoped to become the leading automaker in Brazil; Ford is also planning to invest over $2 billion.


Elsewhere: In geriatric news, Brazil’s most famous centenarian (and most famous architect of any age), was reported to have made a quick recovery from gallstone surgery, and hopped back to work on a project in Niteroi, the city outside Rio de Janeiro that already houses his famously UFO-like Museum of Contemporary Art. Oscar Niemeyer is 101, and his magnum opus, the city of Brasilia, turns 50 this year.


Cigarrettes are getting harder to smoke in public enclosed places as a wave of no-smoking laws sweeps Brazil. Sao Paulo state already instituted a vigorously enforced ban in August, and on Sunday, neighboring Parana — home to progressive capital city Curitiba — went smoke-free. Salvador, in Bahia, did the same on Tuesday. And last week, the legislature of Mato Grosso state overturned its governor’s veto of a similar law.


On the heels of the massive, nearly-nationwide blackout earlier this month, some minor outages in Rio de Janeiro made news, especially the one that lasted four hours in the tourist-packed neighborhoods of Copacabana and Ipanema, as well as ritzy Leblon; and another, days later, in both the city of Rio and the poor region of Rio state known as the Baixada Fluminense.


The New York Times Styles section chimed in with an article about Brazilian model Jesus Luz, famous only for dating pop icon Madonna. The article details how he has taken advantage of his newfound fame to make big bucks with some top-rate modeling gigs and as a celebrity DJ. But the article’s most valuable contribution was a guide to pronouncing his name correctly in Portuguese.  All together, now: “Zhay-ZOOSE. Loose.”