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Still saying 'no' to Iran sanctions

Hillary Clinton swings through Brazil, but no progress is made on negotiating Iran sanctions. Lula makes a controversial visit to Cuba. A top Workers Party party official is implicated in a contribution scandal, which may affect the upcoming elections. The school system still needs work. Brazil will raise tariffs on U.S. imports if a trade deal is not made soon. Industrial production is up. A celebrated man of letters dies at 95. And traffic in Sao Paulo moves only slightly faster than the top speed of a chicken, about nine miles per hour.

Top News: Hillary Clinton spent 29 hours in Brazil last week during her first swing through South America as Secretary of State, and met with both President Lula and her counterpart, Minister of Foreign Relations Celso Amorim. But it appears she failed to make progress on her primary goal: convincing Brazil to support sanctions against Iran to pressure the country to stop its nuclear weapons program. Brazil, which currently holds a rotating seat on the United Nations Security Council, has supported continued negotiations with the Iranians; Lula believes sanctions could lead to war. The president’s warm relationship with Iranian leadership and his planned visit to Tehran this spring have been controversial, to say the least, but Brazil has strong commercial ties to Iran,  and in recent years Lula has been positioning Brazil as an international peacemaker.

Speaking of warm relationships with controversial regimes, Lula made a visit to Havana last week, where he was photographed smiling with Fidel Castro (though not in this shot with Fidel and his brother Raul, the president) just a day after the death by hunger strike of Cuban dissident Orlando Zapata Tamayo. He also called for an end to the U.S. blockade. The mainstream press, much of which, most notably Veja magazine, is perceived to be anti-Lula, had a field day, but Lula continued to defend his lack of criticism of Cuba’s policies in interviews since his visit.

Veja also broke a new scandal this week which involves the treasurer of Lula’s Workers Party and could affect the election chances of his chosen successor, Dilma Rousseff. Implicated in the scandal is the party’s treasurer, Joao Vaccari, who, until recently, directed the real estate cooperative Bancoop. Prosecutors from Sao Paulo’s independent Public Ministry believe Bancoop defrauded investors out of millions of dollars and passed at least some of that money to Workers Party campaign coffers during past elections.

A study conducted for the Ministry of Education showed that only a third of almost 300 goals set in 2001 for the Brazilian school system have been met, including failures in key areas like grade repetition, pre-school availability and high school attendance. Folha de Sao Paulo obtained the report. A notable success was the universalization of elementary education, which had long been a thorn in Brazil’s side.

Money: Brazil will raise tariffs on 102 items imported from the United States if an agreement is not reached on illegal American subsidies of the domestic cotton industry within the next month. The World Trade Organization had ruled in favor of the Brazilians and permitted the retaliation. The items range from food and personal hygiene products to automobiles. Brazil plans to announce further measures on intellectual property rights, possibly including Hollywood films. U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke is in Brazil this week on a long-planned visit, but so far, no progress has been reported in negotiating a settlement.

Brazilian industrial production reversed its losses from the last two months of 2009 by growing 1.1 percent in January. Despite growth for the first ten months of 2009 and in January, production is still 4.9 percent below pre-crisis levels, although several individual regions have regained pre-crisis levels.

Elsewhere: Jose Mindlin, a well-known bibliophile and intellectual who held Brazil’s most important collection of rare books and was a member of the Brazilian Academy of Letters, died at age 95. His death garnered massive media coverage, somewhat surprising for a country which is generally considered to be more into soap operas than fine literature.

A planned demonstration by university students supporting decriminalization of marijuana use was prohibited by a Sao Paulo court. The protest had been coined “The Oregano March” because students planned to smoke oregano and other substances to simulate pot use. The event occurred anyway, but no oregano-smoking was confirmed.

Brazil’s Supreme Electoral Court has approved the release via internet of records detailing any pending criminal cases against candidates in the 2010 elections. Previously, only instances in which candidates had been convicted were required to be released. Many criminal cases in Brazil extend for years of appeals.

Traffic during the infamous afternoon rush hour in Sao Paulo moves at an average of nine miles an hour, down 16 percent from last year. It was noted that that is only slightly faster than the top speed reached by a chicken.