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Floods and mudslide kill hundreds near Rio de Janeiro. Rousseff calls for new bids on jet-fighter contract. Inflation hits 6-year high as currency continues to strengthen. The world’s best female soccer player can’t make a living at it.
More than 600 people died in mudslides caused by heavy rains in towns outside the beach city of Rio de Janeiro. Scenes of devastation and buried bodies in the hardest hit locations — Petrópolis, Teresópolis and Nova Friburgo —led to calls for better preparedness by Brazil’s government. “In a country like Brazil, which is not a poor country, where technological expertise and resources are really not a problem, large numbers of people dying from floods is not a good sign,” Debarati Guha Sapir, a professor at the Catholic University of Louvain in Brussels, told the New York Times.
Some experts blamed global warming for increasing the number of heavy downpours this year. However, the Brazilian practice of allowing construction of informal housing on steep hillsides is the real problem. News reports documented the terrifying moments as houses were swept away and the faithful dog who guarded its owner even after she was placed in a mass grave. This dramatic video shows the power of the floodwaters.
Science Minister Aloizio Mercadante said 5 million Brazilians live in areas at risk of mudslides or flooding and promised to create a disaster alert system. It will take four years to put in place.
On his last day in office as president, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva chose to ignore a prior Brazilian Supreme Court decision and block the extradition of one-time left-wing guerrilla Cesare Battisti, an Italian convicted in Italy for murders committed during the 1970s. The case is controversial because of how Brazil’s governing Worker’s Party has harbored a convicted murderer, apparently for political reasons. Italy’s government forcefully denounced the decision
Dilma Rousseff, herself a former Marxist guerrilla, was sworn in as Brazil’s first female president on Jan. 1. She said she would fix Brazil’s health system, combat drugs and violence, and she called recent oil discoveries Brazil’s “passport to the future.” (Read the full text of her inaugural speech here.)
During the campaign, Rousseff strove to show that she is not a political puppet of da Silva and now must quickly signal new policy directions. Among her first steps was to approve a modest increase in the minimum wage to $326 per month. In a surprise move, Rousseff also announced that Brazil would scrap a preliminary decision to purchase French war planes and “start over” with the bidding process. The decision is a blow to France’s Dassault and reignites hopes by Boeing it will win a major contract to sell jet fighters to Brazil.
The greatest challenges facing Rousseff now are Brazil’s rising inflation rate and its strengthening currency, both of which threaten economic stability. Brazil’s inflation rate for the year was 5.91 percent, the highest in six years. Yet due to worries that Rousseff may be inclined to apply a heavy hand in markets, she “must be strong, but not too strong” in reshaping economic policy, says Reuters.
Government economists say Brazil’s economy will expand by 5 percent next year. Despite the healthy growth rate, the Bovespa stock market made only timid advances in 2010, and many expect the weak returns to continue into 2011. Some short sellers have been targeting Brazilian stocks, saying they are overvalued. For the most part, however, investors continue to put money into Brazil. The stock exchange registered some $4 billion in foreign inflows in 2010.
Brazil’s currency, the real, has risen some 40 percent against the dollar since 2009, causing Brazil to ramp up protectionist rhetoric and blame the U.S., The Globe and Mail reports. Government officials this month also began complaining about Brazilian banks: domestic financial institutions have accumulated $16.8 billion in bets against the U.S. currency. In January, Brazil’s Central Bank took steps to try to limit such speculation and take pressure off the dollar. Meanwhile, Finance Minister Guido Mantega said the government would also try to cool the currency by cutting government spending. New York University Nouriel Roubini, known as “Dr. Doom” for predicting the 2008 economic crisis, panned Brazil’s efforts as unlikely to work.
A Brazilian tradition of hunting and eating crunchy Queen ants (“Tastes like mint,” says a local) is threatened by pesticide use.
Two brothers in Brazil buried their father alive after knocking him out with sleeping pills, saying he didn’t accept their sexual orientation. Somewhat luckier was this woman, who was declared dead but woke up in her coffin while it was still in the funeral home.
A senior environment official resigned, citing pressure to sign off on plans to build the controversial Belo Monte dam in the Brazilian Amazon.
The world’s greatest female soccer player is 24-year-old Marta Vieira da Silva. But according to The New York Times, she can’t make a living playing the sport. By contrast, thousands of Brazilian men make a living from the soccer field. Meanwhile, a midfielder for Rio de Janeiro’s Botafogo club known as Somalia said he missed practice after being kidnapped by bandits at gunpoint. The story wasn’t true. Security cameras taped the player leaving his house after practice had started. Botafogo threatens its players with a 40percentpay cut if they are late to work.