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An anti-piracy official is linked to piracy. An Amazon dam proceeds, defying James Cameron’s protests. Interest rates are hiked. The presidential field is confirmed. Brasilia celebrates 50 years. And Ronaldinho doesn’t make the World Cup team.
TOP NEWS: There’s good and bad news in the always-ample annals of Brazilian official misconduct.
First, the good: the lower house of the Brazilian Congress has passed so-called “ficha suja,” or “dirty record”, legislation, forbidding those who have been convicted of most crimes from running for public office. The current law prohibits running only if the potential candidate/criminal has exhausted all appeals available in the deathly slow Brazilian justice system. It is unclear if the bill will pass the Senate, and if so, whether it will be valid for this October elections.
And the bad: Brazil has its latest scandal, courtesy of Estado de Sao Paulo newspaper: Romeo Tuma, Jr., son of a prominent senator and the head of the National Justice Secretariat, has been linked to the top suspect in a piracy investigation. That’s particularly embarrassing considering Tuma is president of the national anti-piracy council. The man, a Chinese-Brazilian known as Paulo Li, a longtime friend who works as a “special advisor” to Tuma, is being targeted for importing cheap cell phones and repackaging them with top name brands. Under growing pressure, Tuma announced he would take a 30-day “vacation” from his post this week.
The presidential race continues to heat up, even though it has not officially started. With the withdrawal of Ciro Gomes, the lines are now drawn: it will be Dilma Rousseff of the governing Workers Party; Jose Serra, governor of Sao Paulo from the opposition Social Democrats; and Marina Silva of the Green Party. Dilma has all but formalized an agreement with Michel Temer, the leader of her party’s main allies, the pragmatic, largely ideology-free PMDB, to be her vice presidential candidate. Green Party candidate Marina Silva continues to have a strong voice despite her small following: in the first joint appearance by the three candidates in Minas Gerais, she got the loudest applause – and the middle seat. Here are the latest poll numbers (in the non-Ciro scenario): From DataFolha: Serra 42 percent, Dilma 30 percent, Marina 12 percent. From Ibope: 40 percent, 32 percent and 9 percent.
In the last update, Avatar director James Cameron had recently visited Brazil as part of an effort to stop the proposed Belo Monte dam, which would flood indigenous lands in the eastern Amazon. Outsiders meddling in the Amazon often rubs Brazilians the wrong way, and despite a few judicial efforts to block it, courts eventually approved it and the licitation process went on.
Sixty years ago, it was just scrubby, sparsely populated ranchland, but on April 21, Brasilia celebrated its 50th anniversary as Brazil’s capital, a role it took from Rio de Janeiro. The publicity that surrounded the celebration was not entirely positive: to critics, Brasilia has become a symbol of the government’s isolation and lack of accountability. And the recent corruption scheme involving Jose Arruda, its disgraced governor, didn’t help either.
MONEY: For the first time after a string of cuts, Brazil’s Central Bank hiked the baseline interest rate to 9.5 percent. The change in direction had long been predicted by the markets and was the result of fears of an overheated economy that could lead to inflation, a Brazilian bugaboo since the hyperinflation of the 1980s and early 1990s.
A proposal to raise pension payments by more than 7.7 percent for retirees receiving more than the minimum wage — approved by the national Chamber of Deputies and likely to pass the Senate — appears headed for a presidential veto. Projections were that the rise would create a crippling debt and is generally considered to be politically motivated in this election year. All three presidential candidates gingerly signaled they would support an eventual veto. For the uninitiated, pensioners who receive minimum wage only (a base required by the Constitution) have gotten regular hikes of their own by the generous rise in the minimum wage under Lula.
And the United States and Brazil have solved, or at least pushed back, their trade dispute. Negotiations after the World Trade Organization ruled in favor of Brazil over a years-old complaint over American protection of domestic cotton led Brazil to hold off, at least for now, on the permitted trade retaliation, which would have involved increased tariffs on about a hundred categories of American imports.
ELSEWHERE: It’s hardly a surprise that the all-but-final roster decisions for Brazil’s World Cup team dominated the news in the last few days. The biggest news: neither longtime veteran and European league millionaire Ronaldinho, nor upstart teenager Neymar from Sao Paulo’s Santos club, were chosen. (Ronaldinho made the seven-player reserve list.) Lula weighed in with approval, and the banner headline in today’s print edition of Folha read: “Sao Paulo Approves Dunga’s Choice, Says Datafolha”. (Yes, Brazil’s biggest paper used its polling affiliate to conduct an instant reaction poll.) The Brazilian squad leapfrogged Spain to become FIFA’s top-ranked national team. But while it’s good news for 2010, it’s bad news for 2014: Brazil took a tongue lashing from FIFA for being so far behind in preparations for the next World Cup.
Finally, those who read Portuguese might want to check out J.R. Guzzo’s May 12 column in Veja on how far Brazil has to go to become a developed country. Even if you’ve heard it all before, he manages to cast a fresh light. A passage: “You just need to spend five minutes pondering certain realities to establish what folly it is to consider Brazil a successful country, when 50 percent of the population, for example, is not served by a sewer system — and, moreover, when a calamity of such degree is treated as utterly normal by the other 50 percent, especially those whose responsibility it is to solve the problem.”