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A health scare prompts the president to cancel his Davos trip. Four major presidential candidates gear up for campaign season, which begins in July. Former President Cardoso launches a media war with Lula's Workers Party. Lula seems to be on China's side when it comes to sanctioning Iran. Brazil revels in signs that it is a lower-risk investment than Europe's PIIGS. Brazil has the second-highest cell phone rates in the world. Fort-seven days of rain leave Sao Paulo residents flooded and frustrated. And Metallica and Beyonce make waves when they visit.
Top news: President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva had a health scare on January 27, when he was hospitalized for high blood pressure in the northeastern city of Recife. That forced him to cancel a trip to Davos, where he was to receive the Global Statesman award. Celso Amorim, the foreign minister, accepted the prize for him, and read his speech, declaring most notably that “It is time to reinvent the world and its institutions,” which was seen as a little over the top by some.
Lula turned out to be OK, just overworked. He still plans to visit 22 countries in the first half of 2010, but the health scare must have jolted Dilma Rousseff, his chosen successor, who is depending on him to hit the campaign trail hard for her when the official race begins in July.
Ciro Gomes has implied he is likely to stay in the presidential race and not run for governor of Sao Paulo, so the four major candidates seem to be set: Dilma for the Workers Party and Jose Serra for the PSDB (the Brazilian Social Democratic Party) are the frontrunners, Gomes of the Brazilian Socialist Party is in distant third and Green Party candidate Marina Silva is in fourth. Dilma and Serra will likely end up in a runoff in the October election; the latest poll shows Serra still ahead but within the margin of error; both are well under the 50 percent mark needed to avoid a runoff.
Former president Fernando Henrique Cardoso, who led the country for the eight years preceding Lula, sprang back into view with a polemical opinion piece this past Sunday in the Estado de Sao Paulo newspaper, in which he bashed Lula for criticizing the Cardoso era and implied that Lula was authoritarian. The Workers Party responded in force, and the back and forth continues into this week. There is further political controversy over whether the trips around the country Dilma and Lula have been taking together amount to campaigning – which is illegal since the campaign season has not begun. So far the election courts say no. Also popping into the headlines, the Workers Party’s proposed platform is calling for an expanding state role (beyond what Lula has already expanded it to) . The party’s president called it “more to the left of President Lula, but it’s not more leftist.” Parse at your own risk.
Though internal politics dominated the news in the past few weeks, Brazil has begun to cause a stir on the international front, seemingly aligning itself with China in the rejection of sanctions against Iran that the United States and most of Europe favors. Brazil holds a rotating seat on the United Nations Security Council, and Lula’s seemingly close relations with Iran have brought criticism in the past; foreign minister Celso Amorim is calling for continued dialogue with the Iranians.
Money: Brazilians seemed to delight in the news that investors had decided the “PIIGS,” the porcine acronym referring to the newly high-risk economies of Europe (Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece and Spain), were riskier investments than Brazil, at least according to the cost of credit default swaps.
During his trip to Davos for the World Economic Forum, finance minister Guido Mantega said that Brazil’s tax break program for cars, refrigerators and the like had served its purpose and would soon end. The program that was one of Brazil’s primary measures in stimulating the economy during the recent crisis.
To anyone who has overheard the average Brazilian cell phone conversation – 30 seconds, then “gotta go, bye” – and compared it to the hour-long jabberings of Americans, this was no surprise: Brazil has the second-highest cell phone rates in the world, according to a study by Bernstein Research, at about 25 cents a minute on average. That’s 350 percent higher than in the U.S. and second only to South Africa.
Elsewhere: As Rio de Janeiro prepared for Carnaval under scorching heat (festivities kick off this Friday), Sao Paulo residents couldn’t stop talking about the rain. Until a dry day on Monday, it had rained 47 straight days, causing all kinds of mayhem. Rivers overflowed, closing main highways; mudslides killed residents in poorly-constructed houses; neighborhoods were flooded for days; and a tree fell onto a highway and killed one driver. Over the period, 70 deaths across the state were blamed on the weather.
Speaking of Carnaval, Geisy Arruda is not related to embattled Federal District Governor Jose Arruda, but she continues to battle him for space in the media’s “Scandal – Arruda” file. She was the woman who was temporarily expelled from a Sao Paulo university for wearing a short skirt and causing a ruckus last year. She continues to take advantage of her very dubious new fame. Here she is showing the results of her plastic surgery on one of Brazil’s most-watched shows, Fantastico.
Metallica and Beyonce came through Brazil, each causing a great stir. They both stopped in Sao Paulo and several other cities; yesterday Beyonce even participated in the filming of an Alicia Keys video in a Rio favela.
And those with expensive commutes in Rio de Janeiro caught a break, as the state introduced the Bilhete Unico, which allows a day’s commute — in up to two forms of transport each way, for about $2.40. Alas, you have to have a CPF number (like a social security number) so it looks like tourists can’t benefit.