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Violent protests spark U-turn on transport fares

June 19th, 2013

Protestors in Brasilia: Photo: Agencia Brasil

Rises in public transport fares in São Paulo and Rio de Janiero that sparked nationwide protests have been cancelled following talks between city and state governments.

The scope of the protests that at times have been marked by violence and looting has widened to include the cost of the the Confederations Cup and next year’s World Cup football tournaments, as well a lack of investment in health, education, basic sanitation and other infrastructure.

Corruption among public officials such as judges and congressmen, who regularly vote themselves hefty pay increases on top of salaries beyond the wildest dreams of poor and even well-paid middle class Brazilians has also become a target for protestors’ anger.

Social media sites have been crackling with chatter and the exchange of information about the demonstrations.

One graphic shared on Facebook showed a congressman picks up more than 25 times the monthly salary of a fireman. Another listed the names of 200 congressmen said to be in favour of a constitutional amendment aimed at limiting their immunity from prosecution.

Brazilian football great Ronaldo, a World Cup winner in 2002, became a target for satirists and cartoonists, after reportedly saying “you can’t have a World Cup with hospitals” during a recorded broadcast.

Some Brazilian fans risked the wrath of FIFA President Sepp Blatter holding up placards protesting at corruption at the Confederations Cup match between Brazil and Mexico on Wednesday in Fortaleza in the northeast of the country, where Brazil ran out 2-0 winners. Political protests at matches are against FIFA rules.

Demonstrations started last week after the price of a single journey ticket in São Paulo was increased on June 2 from R$3 ($1.38) to R$3.20 ($1.47).

Though São Paulo and Rio have now followed the lead of other cities in cancelling the rises, demonstrations have continued with main highways leading in and out of São Paulo and a bridge connecting Rio de Janeiro with Niteroi among the routes being blocked by protestors.

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Brazilian Spring? Transport, World Cup cost protests gather momentum

June 18th, 2013

Protestors occupy the rooftops of Congress in Brasilia. Photos: Agencia Brasil

A wave of protests sweeping across Brazil over increased transport fares and the cost of the Confederations Cup and next year’s World Cup tournaments has reached the rooftops of Congress in the capital Brasilia.

On Monday, police reportedly fired tear gas as they tried to disperse protestors in the south east city of Belo Horizonte. Demonstrations also took place in Brasilia, Rio de Janeiro and Belem.

While police pledged to refrain from using tear gas and rubber bullets in a protest involving a reported 65,000 people in São Paulo, unless property was being threatened, social media sites have been full of images and cartoons critical of their use by police in previous demonstrations.

Some images have even depicted calls for a general strike.

Though football is close to a religion in Brazil - a country that has won the World Cup five times - many people are unhappy that billions of dollars have been spent on building or modernising new stadiums, while swathes of the population go without infrastructure, access to medical treatment or basic sanitation.

Protestors express their anger in English in Brasilia

Protestors express their anger in English.

One municipality close to Belem in northern Brazil saw a record 1,210 admissions per 100,000 people for diarrhea in 2012,  figures from an NGO that monitors basic sanitation in Brazil show. It compares with a low of 1.4 cases per 100,000 people in Taubaté, São Paulo state a year earlier.

For some people the fare increases appear to be the last straw.

One taxi driver in Salvador, northeast Brazil previously took me by surprise, saying that he wouldn’t go to matches at next year’s World Cup even if he were able to get tickets in disgust at the amount of money that should be used to help the public being diverted to fund the tournament.

Though previously said quietly by people through gritted teeth it’s an attitude that now appears to be being expressed more openly and vociferously. Protesters are just as angry about grinding inequality and rampant corruption among officials.

Judges and politicians frequently vote to award themselves enormous pay increases on top of salaries already beyond the wildest dreams of most poor and even well-paid middle class people in Brazil.

At the weekend, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and FIFA boss Sepp Blatter were both booed by the crowd at the Mané Garrincha stadium in Brasilia as they declared the dress rehearsal tournament for next year’s World Cup open.

A protestor is dragged away in Brasilia

On Monday, President Dilma, who herself was imprisoned and tortured during Brazil’s dictatorship, said peaceful protest is a legitimate part of democracy.

Demonstrations started last week after the price of a single journey ticket in São Paulo was increased on June 2 from R$3 ($1.38) to R$3.20 ($1.47).

The protests, which turned violent, started to take in the cost of the Confederations Cup currently taking place in Brazil and the World Cup tournament, which kicks off in just under a year from now.

A number of journalists were among those injured. Earlier pictures showed one young woman reporter, after being hit around the eye by a rubber bullet and another a TV cameraman being sprayed with police pepper gas.

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Volkswagen swells Brazil foreign investment legion

November 27th, 2009

The announcement of a $3.5 billion investment by Volkswagen on Thursday is the just the latest in a string of recent moves by foreign companies in Brazil.

VW intends to spend the money by 2014, when it will also sponsor the country’s national football team as it hosts the FIFA World Cup for the second time.

VW’s investment comes hot on the heels of Ford, which last week said it will plough $2.3 billion into an expansion programme until 2015.

Brazil’s car makers are expecting record sales this year after temporary cuts in taxes paid by producers were passed onto buyers

Michelin too is getting in on the act, investing ‘hundreds of millions of dollars’ in a new factory in Rio de Janeiro state, aimed at doubling its tyre making capacity in Brazil.

If that were not enough, October saw foreigners line up to invest $17.1 billion into Brazil’s financial markets - a record since the country’s Central Bank began calculating figures in 1947.

Whereas Brazil’s economy would have been devastated by such a global economic downturn downturn in the past, the relative lack of exposure of its banks to toxic US mortgage debts that fuelled the crisis have helped the country pull through largely unscathed.

Having been one of the last countries around the world into recession, Brazil was one of the first out, after economy returned to growth in the second quarter of this year.

While his precedessor Fernando Henrique Cardoso can quite rightly claim much of the credit for the groundwork laid for Brazil’s current stability, those who previously mocked Brazilian President Inácio Lula da Silva’s comments that the crisis would prove to be a small wave rather a tsunami, may be entitled to feel just a little foolish.

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Rise of militias boost security policy calls for Rio shantytowns

November 10th, 2009

Photo: Gang'Star, flickr

The growth of militias in Rio de Janiero’s shantytowns is cited as the most alarming aspect of a study into serious levels of violence released by Rio de Janeiro State University.

“The army, federal, state and city police must unite around a security policy capable of meeting this threat,” Alba Zaluar, a sociologist, who worked on the study in conjunction with the university’s applied statistics department said, according to government news agency Agencia Brasil.

By last year, militias had taken control of 400 slums of the 965 included in the study versus 108 four years ago, researchers found.

In some cases, where there is no official police presence, militias have succeeded in forcing out drug traffickers and criminal gangs, taking over areas previously under their control.

It has led to turf wars between criminal gangs, leading to fears the situation is spiralling out of control.

Militias have not only increasingly taken control of the supply of gas canisters used by slum dwellers to fuel ovens in places that are among the most unlikely to be attended by utility companies, but also the selling and letting of properties in such areas.

“It’s a big business that can bring in even more than drug trafficking,” Zaluar underlined.

Having in place so called ‘police peace keeping units’ (UPPs) are just as important as promoting a spirit of trust between the police and the local communities, which fear ‘the shoot first, ask questions later’ approach adopted in many previous operations, Zaluar said.

“The way police see slum dwellers and how they see the police has to change. There has to be a relationship built on trust,” he added.

The report comes on the day police mount a massive search operation for those linked to militias operating in the western Campo Grande part of the city.

Last month, two weeks after the city was awarded the 2016 Olympic Games, two Brazilian policemen were killed after their helicopter crashed, having been shot at in clashes between Rio de Janeiro police and drug gangs.

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Brazil stamps World Cup passport

September 6th, 2009

Brazil’s World Cup carnaval can start early this week, with a game against Chile in Salvador, after the country’s national team sealed a place in next year’s finals competition with a 3-1 away victory against Argentina in Rosario on Saturday night.

In a plodding match, punctuated by two excellent goals, Brazil turned in a workmanlike performance against a misfiring Argentina side, whose coach Diego Maradona wore a worried frown for most of the match.

Argentina looked the more dangerous in the first few minutes, but once Luisão was left in oceans of space to nod in a downward header on 23 minutes, Brazil hardly looked troubled.

Seven minutes later, Argentine goalkeeper Anjúdar could only parry a shot to the feet of Luis Fabiano, who made no mistake.

After the interval, the game appeared to be petering out in Brazil’s favour, until on 65 minutes, Dátatolo unleashed a left-foot exocet into the top right hand corner from nigh-on 30 yards, leaving the normally very solid Brazilian keeper Júlio César with no chance.

Argentina’s response briefly lifted the atmoshere to boiling point, but this was extinguished two minutes later when Kaká threaded the ball through the Argentine defence to Luis Fabiano, who, as he fell away to the right, chipped the ball diagonally over the rapidly advancing Anjúdar into an empty net.

The finish was reminiscent of Michael Owen’s ‘wonder goal’ for England in the 1998 World Cup second round, also against Argentina.

In a league of ten-teams from which four qualify and a fifth faces a play-off, the result leaves fourth-placed Argentina on 22 points, sweating on their qualification with Ecuador and Colombia breathing down their necks 2 points behind.

Tricky away matches follow against third-placed Paraguay (27pts) and Uruguay (18pts) in seventh spot, who could still snatch a place in South Africa next year by winning their last three games.

Brazilian media were quick to celebrate the victory against their team’s fiercist rival. “Good to win, even better to win in Argentina,” said one TV presenter. “As a player Maradona was god, as a coach he’s mortal,” cried the Folha de São Paulo newspaper.

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Brazilians still shopping as going gets tougher

May 14th, 2009

Brazil’s worst set of industrial employment figures in eight years are reflected in latest official numbers and though shoppers haven’t stopped filling their baskets, what they are buying may point to a subtle change in habits.

The number of workers employed in the industrial sector fell by 5% in March compared with the same month last year, with analysts saying if they weren’t already, all sectors of industry are now being affected.

Nowhere more so than automobile sector. After four straight months of rising sales, inspired by cuts in production taxes, the recent recovery shuddered to a halt in April.

Tell-tale signs are also in the steel industry, which relies on the auto sector for orders.

Producers have been running at half their normal capacity with no one in the industry prepared to make forecasts for the rest of the year.

And if that weren’t confirmation enough that the economy is spluttering, Development, Industry and Foreign Trade minister Miguel Jorge conceded Brazil is in technical recession - the first government figure to do so.

Since the onset of the global economic downturn last September sparked by the international credit crisis, economists have been whittling down their growth forecasts for Brazil from an initial 5% for 2009 to as low as a 1.4% contraction.

Photo: monkey magic, flickr

Photo: monkey magic, flickr

The forecast contraction failed to hit home in the household consumption of food, drink, health, beauty and cleaning products in the first three months of the year, as sales rose among all socio-economic classes.

Spending among the lowest income groups increased 15% in cash terms and 9% by volume, according to figures from retail analysts LatinPanel .

That word household may be a pointer to what is actually happening economists say, as people prefer to dye their hair at home rather than paying the hairdresser.

Spending on food to eat at the dinner table is also rising faster than on eating out.

“The consumer is changing habits and this should continue to the end of the year,” one economist was quoted as saying.

Not everyone is doing badly.

Given the still massive disparity between the wealthy and poor in Brazil, it’s perhaps not surprising to find upscale supermarket chain Pão de Açúcar doing well.

So well in fact, the chain tripled its profits to R$94.9 million ($44.8 million) in the first three months of this year versus the same period in 2008 on the back of cost cutting and increased sales.

Brazil’s government will hope some of that feelgood factor will be transmitted to makers of white goods such as fridges, freezers and washing machines, after it cut production taxes in a bid to boost demand.

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Passengers leaving from Brazil get cheaper airfares boost

April 23rd, 2009

Photo: J & J, flickr

Photo: J & J, flickr

Greater competition between airlines flying from Brazil is on the way, after the country’s civil aviation authority (ANAC) approved a move to ditch minimum airfares.

Until now the cost of tickets for passengers leaving Brazil had to meet minimum price criteria, but this will be phased out gradually within 12 months.

From this week, airlines should be able to cut prices by 20%.

After three months the discount allowed will be 50%, another three months later, this will rise to 80% and at the end of twelve months minimum prices will disappear.

Last year, ANAC adopted a similar move for flights from Brazil to South America, which was completed on September 1 last year.

Prices of domestic flights were deregulated in 2005.

Although airlines are not obliged to cut prices, officials expect consumers will benefit from promotions, especially in periods of low demand.

Before the new rules came into force, the minimum cost of a flight to the United States was $708, the United Kingdom $869, Bahrain $1,267 and Japan $2,046.

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