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Presidential candidates promise "no change"

The campaign for Lula’s job heats up, with Dilma Rousseff in the lead. Brazil launches a Twitter prank against the US. Lula blasts “Gringo” meddling over a controversial Amazon dam. And a soccer star is accused of having his girlfriend tortured and killed.


Top News: Now that the World Cup in South Africa is over, look for Brazil’s presidential race to begin heating up. Governing party presidential candidate Dilma Rousseff leads former Sao Paulo governor Jose Serra by as much as five points in recent opinion polls, with 40 percent of voters saying they’d like to see the former leftist radical wearing the green and yellow presidential sash.

So far, the candidates are offering nearly identical economic plans. The Guardian published a review of Brazil’s presidential campaign, calling it difficult to “squeeze a credit card” between the politics of the opponents. Deutsche Bank looked at potential policy differences that could affect the country’s financial standing, as didReuters, which callexd the election “less risky to investors than any other in the last 25 years.”

In June, Brazilian web-surfers pulled off the first cyber-prank by one nation on another. The lark began after the phrase “Cala Boca Galvão” (“Shut Up Galvão”) appeared among the top hits on Twitter, a social network. What began as a local Brazilian campaign against Globo TV personality Galvão Bueno quickly mutated into a faux campaign to save the fictional Galvãobird, as Brazilians conspired to trick confused U.S. users. The episode warranted cover-treatment by Veja, Brazil’s most widely read news weekly, and shows Brazil’s substantial influence in social networking trends.

Previously, Brazilians took over Google’s Orkut network, eventually leading to declining popularity among English speakers. 

Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, visiting Brasilia in June, invited Brasil to get involved in the Middle East peace process. Brazil is a “credible” country “that can help” the Syrian President was quoted as saying.

A plan to restrict land ownership by “foreign” companies appears to be getting a new look by Brasilia. Predictions of largeincreases in future food prices mean agricultural land is a strategic asset.

Are Brazilians xenophobes? They are when it comes to the vast, unguarded Amazon. When international groups criticized plans for the new Belo Monte hydroelectric dam, Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva told them to get lost. No "gringo should stick their nose in where it does not belong," he said.

Over 40 were killed and 100,000 left homeless in floods in the country’s poor northeast. Brazil’s government promised $100 million in aid, and President da Silva cancelled his trip to the G-20 economic meeting in Toronto.

Money: Brazil’s plans to re-jigger its oil sector are faltering. A bill that would take oil revenue away from producer states is causing tension in Brasilia. Petrobras shares sank after the company was forced to postpone a massive $25 billion share offering. Government meddling in the company is a growing concern to investors.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton praised Brazil’s high tax burden (about 35 percent of GDP) and fast economic growth, saying rich countries should tax their citizens more. The controversial comments drew critical responses from billionaire Steve Forbes.

Brazil has seven companies on Fortune Magazine’s Global 500 listof the world’s largest companies. They are Petrobras (54th), Itaú (117th),  Bradesco (135th), Banco do Brasil (148th), iron-miner Vale (363th), fuel company Ultrapar (471th) and JBS (496th).  No Brazilian company made the top 10, but three Chinese companies did.

The International Monetary fund raised its estimate for Brazil’s 2010 GDP growth to 7.1 percent from 5.5 percent. No surprise then that Brazil is turning into a profit center for some major multinationals, like General Motors, which said it expectssales in Brazil to grow by 68 percentto one million vehicles by 2014.

Rapid economic growth continues to worry Brazil’s Central Bank. In late July the bank is widely expected to raise interest rates to 11 percent from the current rate of 10.25 percent, in an effort to control inflation. So who is to blame for rising prices? Intense domestic demandis villain number one, but Central Bank chief Henrique Meirelles also put some blameon state development bank BNDES, saying its low interest loans to companies made monetary policy less effective. Luciano Coutinho, head of Brazilian development bank, BNDES, defended the bank’s lending, up by 41 percent in the first part of 2010.

Elsewhere: Brazil made an early exit from the soccer World Cup after being defeated, 2-1, by the Netherlands. The next cup will be held in Brazil, also host to the summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro in 2016. The two mega-events are expected to drive investment in housing and transportation. Plans are moving ahead for a bullet train linking Rio and Sao Paulo.

Bruno Souza, star goalkeeper of the celebrated Flamengo soccer club, is accused of arranging for the killing of former lover Eliza Samudio, a Brazilian model and mother to his child. “You don't know what I am capable of – I'm from the favela," he is alleged to have told her. According to the police, she was beaten and murdered by a former police officer, before parts of her were fed to dogs.  The case has gripped Brazilian TV viewers, and is the latest in a series of troubling links between soccer stars and criminal organizations in Rio’s notorious favela slums.