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Sean Goldman is returned to his father in the U.S. Floods and mudslides result in deaths across the country. Lula attempts a truce over the Third National Human Rights Program. The air force still hasn't decided on who to buy jets from despite a promise to France. The Federal District's governor is investigated for corruption. Consumer confidence reaches its highest level since the 90s. Reports say that in 2009, one million jobs were created and the automotive, publishing industries grew, along with the stock market. A U.S. private-equity firm buys a controlling stake in Brazil's largest tour operator. And Carnaval tickets sell out in Rio.
Top News: In the case of Sean Goldman, the nine year-old boy taken by his mother from New Jersey to Rio de Janeiro five years ago, the Supreme Court’s chief justice, Gilmar Mendes, dismissed the final obstacle, a habeas corpus request by Sean’s maternal grandmother to have the court hear her grandson’s wishes when it returned to session. That led to the chaotic turnover of Sean to his father at the United States embassy shortly before 9 a.m. on Dec. 24. The two flew to Orlando on a jet chartered by NBC.
Natural disasters hit on at least three fronts. The ones that made international news were the mudslides in resort area Angra dos Reis, Rio de Janeiro state, which resulted in dozens of deaths, mostly in the collapse of houses in the central town and the destruction of a beachfront hotel and neighboring buildings on Ilha Grande, a very popular island getaway. In southern Brazil, portions of a bridge collapsed over the Jacui River in Rio Grande do Sul state, and about ten people disappeared. The search for bodies is ongoing. And in Sao Paulo state, the historic town of Sao Luiz do Paraitinga was virtually destroyed by flooding.
And a non-natural disaster: Brazilians carefully followed attacks on about two dozen of their countrymen who worked for gold prospectors in neighboring Surinam. The attacks on the Brazilians (who are assumed to be working illegally in Surinam) were thought to be in reprisal for the killing of a Surinamese man.
After returning from vacation, President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva tried to negotiate a truce in a pitched battle over the Third National Human Rights Program his government is enacting. It includes several controversial items, notably a truth commission to investigate abuses during the military dictatorship that ended in the 1980s, and support for abortion rights. (Abortion is currently only legal in case of rape or threat to the health of the mother.) Among the many complainants: Defense Minister Nelson Jobim, who objected strongly to the truth commission; and church groups, who took on the abortion issue as well as passages on civil-unions and adoption rights for same-sex couples.
The Brazilian Air Force released its long-awaited report expressing preference for the purchase of Swedish Gripen NG fighter jets four months after Lula virtually promised French president Nicholas Sarkozy Brazil would purchase French Rafale jets. The general feeling is that political considerations will lead to the purchase of the French jets, and that the controversy might actually help Brazil negotiate a lower price.
Three commissions were put in place by the Federal District’s legislature to investigate corruption by Governor Jose Roberto Arruda. Not surprisingly, the commissions are dominated by legislators allied with the governor. “What we see here is the beginning of pizza,” an opposition legislator, a reference to the phrase “ending in pizza,” which refers to an investigative process that concludes without punishing anyone.
Money: In December, consumer confidence reached its highest level since the statistical series began in 1994, according to Fecomercio, the powerful Sao Paulo business organization that tracks the number. The Labor Minister, Carlos Lupi, said that despite expected December seasonal layoffs, the Brazilian economy had created more than one million formal jobs in 2009, and should create more than two million in 2010.
The Ibovespa, the index tracking the country’s principal stock market, grew nearly 92 percent in 2009. The unstoppable Brazilian automotive industry saw 11 percent growth, with a total of 3.1 million vehicles, thanks in part to crisis-fighting tax breaks. Even the book publishing sector saw growth of nearly 10 percent. The cost of the basic market basket – rice, beans, sugar, cooking oil and the like – fell in 2009 in 16 of 17 state capitals studied, according to Diesse, an organization tied to unions. But the cost of school supplies went up almost double the rate of inflation (in Sao Paulo), according to an analysis by the Folha de Sao Paulo newspaper.
The Carlyle Group, a Washington-based private equity firm, bought a controlling stake in the mammoth Brazilian tour operator CVC. It’s yet another sign of interest in the purchasing power of the enormous and growing Brazilian middle class; CVC controls 60 percent of the Brazilian travel market.
Elsewhere: Later this month, visitors to Sao Paulo will get a rare chance to see more of one of the city’s principal attractions. Because of a contemporary art exhibition, the Sao Bento Monastery in the city center – a must-stop for its Sunday morning mass featuring Gregorian chants – will open its school chapel and several other areas to the public. The exhibition starts January 25.
Meanwhile, Rio (and many other cities, of course) is gearing up for Carnaval, which runs from Feb. 13 to 17. Tickets to see the parade in the Sambadrome sold out in half an hour, though they can still be purchased through travel agencies.
“Lula, Son of Brazil,” a rare biopic about a sitting president, came out to largely negative reviews, both politically (from those who thought it was inappropriate to launch such a hagiography at the start of an election year) and cinematically (the film is a snooze). Crowds have been small.
And finally, those of us who follow international news from Brazil over the last two weeks have learned how to spell Yemen in Brazilian Portuguese. It’s Iêmen, with a circumflex on the first “e”. Alert for those engaging in current events email exchanges with friends in Lisbon: in the Portuguese of Portugal it’s Iémen.