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When it rains, it pours in Sao Paulo

Heavy flooding brings Sao Paulo to a standstill. Federal District Governor Arruda faces impeachment. Despite Lula's best efforts, corruption in Brazil hasn't improved. But his approval rating sure has. Third quarter GDP growth comes in at a tepid 1.3 percent. And Rudy Giuliani heads to Rio to establish law and order in time for the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics.

Top News: Sao Paulo was brought to a standstill as heavy rains caused several rivers to overflow, including the foul-smelling Tiete, which flooded the adjacent highway — a key commuter route — bringing traffic to a halt on Dec. 8. Even long-distance passenger buses were ordered to turn around and head back to their cities of origin. Some particularly vulnerable neighborhoods in the eastern reaches of the city are still flooded and families there will be relocated.


Developments continue in the scandal involving Federal District Governor Jose Roberto Arruda and his political allies. Arruda allegedly accepted illegal campaign contributions from companies, which then received no-bid contracts for government work after his election. He resigned from the Democratic party just before it met to kick him out, so he is ineligible to run for re-election (or any post) in 2010. Students seeking his impeachment occupied the district legislature for six days. Impeachment proceedings will begin in January.


Meanwhile, BBC Brasil published an article noting that according to certain indicators, corruption in Brazil has worsened (or at least not improved) in the last 10 years. President Lula used International Anti-Corruption Day (Dec. 9) to propose tougher anti-corruption measures. Brazilian politicians never go to jail for corruption, so stories like this one out of New York about a former Upper Manhattan councilman getting five years in prison for stealing $106,000 from his council office and two nonprofits must be shocking.


Lula continues to grow more popular, with an approval rating of 83 percent, according to the latest poll taken in late November. Skeptics often attribute his popularity to his extensive (and expensive) social programs like the Bolsa Familia that provides family stipends for the poorest Brazilians. In the last few days, he’s been in a gift-giving mood. The latest proposals included free cell phones for the poor (quashed) and a cooking gas credit for the poor (still in discussion).


It was not as big news in Brazil as abroad, but a report by Human Rights Watch put numbers to what everyone here knows is a problem: police shootings. Police have killed 11,000 people in Brazil since 2003, and Rio police officers kill one person for every 23 they arrest. (That number was widely compared to the U.S. figure of 1 in every 37,000.) 


Money: These days, Brazil isn’t used to bad economic news, so the government didn’t quite know what to do when third-quarter GDP growth came in at a tepid 1.3 percent. Even before the announcement, economist and NYT columnist Paul Krugman swung through Brazil and waxed skeptical. The headline in Epoca: "'I wouldn’t put my money in Brazil,' says Krugman."


Brazil will need a huge fourth quarter — at least a 5 percent rise in GDP — to avoid zero or negative growth in 2009. Though the general thesis that Brazil performed well through the crisis holds, it may be more difficult to continue attracting international investors with headlines like “Brazil Stagnant in 2009.” That’s what economists are currently predicting, though one government official is more optimistic


A merger made worldwide news in the business press, and front page news in the Brazilian press. Brazil’s biggest supermarket chain, Pao de Acucar, bought Brazil’s biggest electronics and household appliance retailer, Casas Bahia, to gain access to the growing middle class that Casas Bahia serves.


Elsewhere: Former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani has been hired by the state of Rio de Janeiro as a security consultant to help the region prepare for the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics. Security was an issue during the final weekend of the Brazilian national soccer championship games, as fans of Coritiba stormed the field and caused a ruckus and serious injuries after their team was dropped from the A-league to the B-league when it tied with Fluminense. Violence also erupted in Rio de Janeiro after local team Flamengo won the national title on the same day. In other soccer news, the World Cup draw placed Brazil in a group with Portugal, Ivory Coast and North Korea.


Brazilians over age 10 with access to the internet has increased from 21 percent (32 million) to 35 percent (56 million) since 2005, according to a 2008 govenrment study. The 65 percent of the country that has no online access either doesn’t have a computer or doesn’t know how to use one. The same study showed the popularity of cell phones continues to spread: 86 million Brazilians now have their own phones.