Archive for August, 2009

Brazilian president under fire from own party, voters

August 21st, 2009

Students protest against-Sarney. Photo: Agencia Brasil

Students protest against Senate President José Sarney. Photo: Agencia Brasil

Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva is facing a backlash, not only from within his own party, but also potentially from voters at next year’s presidential election.

It comes after he pressured members of his own Workers Party (PT) to vote down corruption charges against Senate President José Sarney on a Senate Ethics Commission this week.

After the commission voted 9-6 in favour of dropping charges against Sarney, Aloizio Mercadante, Lula’s party chief announced he was quitting but on Friday agreed to stay on in his job, following talks with the president.

It was claimed Sarney failed to declare millions of dollars in assets and received hidden payments through a foundation, among a string of allegations against him made by a number of newspapers.

Police opened a criminal investigation against Sarney’s businessman son, who it’s alleged abused family connections to win deals with state companies.

The senate also stood accused of having passed ’secret acts’; under which taxpayers’ money was used to fund hidden increases in public servants’ salaries and hire employees without going through the proper channels.

Sarney in combatative mood. Photo: Agencia Brasil

Sarney, 79, who took charge of the senate for the third time in February, said he had no knowledge of any ‘secret acts’, before annulling 663 that were revealed.

He also insisted that a two million-dollar mansion undeclared to electoral authorities belonged to his daughter, and that he had no control over the José Sarney Foundation, which received money from semi state-owned oil company Petrobras.

Many are unhappy about Lula’s continued defence of Sarney, a man seen by his critics as one of the last of a dying breed of Brazilian politicians or families, which have retained a powerful grip on corners or regions of the country, promoting their own interests, while holding up its development in the process.

While Sarney rejects the allegations against him, insisting they are part of a media witch hunt, underlining his 50 years of public service, including five years as Brazil’s president, critics say an opportunity has been missed to start drawing a line under generations of widespread corruption in the country’s politics.

Disillusionment meets popularity

Former environment minister Marina Silva had already announced her intention to leave the party to stand at next year’s poll and has now been joined by Senator Flávio Arns whose comments that the party has abandoned its traditional moral high ground position are reflected by angry voters, leading some to say they will never vote for Lula’s party again.

“These senators have thrown the history of the party in the bin and burnt its main banner, that of ethics,” one reader wrote to the Folha de São Paulo newspaper.

Though Lula has said he doesn’t intend to change the constitution to allow him the possibility of being elected for a third consecutive time, it looks likely his favoured candidate Dilma Rousseff will be standing.

The make-up of Brazil’s political system means the president needs the support of Sarney’s PMDB in congress to ensure a smooth transition for his preferred successor.

Sarney’s party is seen by its detractors as having few ideals, only willing to lend its support to those from whom it can gain most advantage.

If elected, among many other things, Dilma will be charged with seeing through Lula’s pledge to build one million homes to at least partly address Brazil’s chronic housing shortage.

Dilma and the president share a quiet word. Photo: Agencia Brasil

Dilma and Lula share a quiet word. Photo: Agencia Brasil

Lula’s party won power for the first time in 2002 pledging to be squeaky clean, but senior PT figures were caught up in a damaging corruption scandal three years later that led the president to face an uncomfortable run-off for re-election in 2006.

Despite that episode, Lula’s personal approval ratings having remained remarkably high for a second-term president, perhaps even more so for one having to deal with fallout from an almost unprecedented global economic downturn.

It will be interesting to see how harmful these latest developments will prove, not only for the Lula’s Workers Party and its chances of getting Dilma elected at next year’s presidential poll, but also how voters will treat Sarney’s PMDB party.

But even before then, Dilma has other battles to fight, not least a battle with lymphatic cancer, but also now to retain her own credibility, after being accused of urging tax authorities to speed up investigations into Sarney’s affairs, something she rejects.

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Film puts Brazil anti-nazi immigration policy under spotlight

August 14th, 2009

A film about a Polish refugee suspected of being a Nazi fugitive by Brazilian immigration authorities at the end of World War II aims to shed light on a recent period of Brazilian history little known to most people in the country today.

‘Tempos de Paz’ [Peacetime], which opens on Friday, starring Tony Ramos and Dan Stulbach focuses on the encounter between a customs official and former-torturer for President Getulio Vargas’ secret police.

Clauswitz [Stulbach], a former Polish actor who experienced at first hand the full horrors that the war inflicted on his country and people arrives in Brazil in search of a new life but finds himself accused of being a Nazi war criminal by customs official Segismundo [Ramos].

Based on a successful theatre production, the film looks at some of the most important moments in modern Brazilian history, including the Vargas regime and a new influx of immigrants that helped build Brazil into the country it is now.

Vargas, who ordered the detention of political prisoners in the run-up to the Second World War, but was later elected to the Brazilian presidency is said to have hedged his bets in waiting to see which side would likely come out on top before siding with the allies, before eventually sending troops to fight in Italy.

In the film, Segismundo, who fears revenge from former detainees now has the final say on who is allowed to stay in Brazil and has been given the task of preventing Nazis from entering the country as the Getúlio Vargas dictatorship tries to smooth over relations with the United States.

Shot in Rio de Janeiro over ten days at the end of last year, ‘Tempos de Paz’ is directed by Daniel Filho, co-producer of the critically acclaimed and Oscar nominated ‘City of God’, the no-holds-barred portrayal of shantytown life in Rio de Janeiro.

“What interests me particularly is the massive displacement of populations for political reasons something that isn’t specific to the Second World War,” said scriptwriter Bosco Brasil, who adapted his play for the big screen.

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