Posts Tagged ‘Lula’

Massive new government growth programme announced

March 30th, 2010

Lula's public approval ratings stand at 76%. Photo: Agencia Brasil

Brazil’s government has unveiled a second rapid growth acceleration programme worth $890 billion, aimed at boosting the country’s economy and infrastructure.

The original so-called ‘PAC’ programme to the tune of $280 billion announced in early 2007 targeted 5% growth a year.

Apart from last year when Brazil suffered fallout from the global economic downturn, targets were met,  though the government and opposition dispute how much of the original programme has actually been completed.

The new programme runs between 2011-2014 and beyond. Projects are grouped into in six categories.

Oil and gas exploration projects will get $ 490 billion, two-thirds of the money after 2014, with $76 billion destined for electricity generation and $70 billion going into projects to drill Brazil’s vast untapped oil resources buried deep below the seabed.

Housing initiatives will get $ 154 billion. Last March, the government announced a $15 billion social housing programme, aimed at building one million homes, though it left the timetable open-ended. The new plan envisages the building of another two million homes. Brazil’s housing shortage stretches to seven million.

High stakes game

With Presidential elections in October, there is little doubt that ‘the son of PAC’ as it has been dubbed will be the flagship policy of the ruling Workers Party (PT) and its official candidate, Dilma Rouseff, who is aiming to become Brazil’s first woman president.

She takes on Sầo Paulo state governor José Serra, whose colleagues immediately attacked the new proposals.

The leader of the main opposition party (PSDB) João Almeida said the government should be re-evaluating the original programme, which he said is weak in management terms, with a low rate of projects being carried out.

“The launch of PAC 2 was an act of campaigning complete with crying and emotion,” he said.

But the government hit back saying the opposition is divorced from the Brazilian people and the interests of the country.

“The opposition only speaks about the election, denunciation, criticism, because they have no other plan,” said Cândido Vaccarezza, the ruling party’s leader in Brazil’s lower congress chamber.

The government says 40% of the original programme has been finished, insisting two-thirds of work on housing and sanitation has been completed, though this falls to 28% in the energy and logistics sectors. Opposition parties banding together say only 11% of work has been done, with the number falling to 4% in the northeast of the country, where it is most needed.

But so far any such talk has had little effect.

Recent reports that the president and his preferred candidate had toured the country together inaugurating unfinished infrastructure projects and that he made comments appearing to back Cuba’s oppressive stance towards dissidents have not dented his standing with the Brazilian public.

As the election approaches Dilma will be hoping to be swept along on a tide of approval from the new programme, as much as for outgoing President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who continues to notch up astonishingly high poll ratings for a second-term president with only nine months left in office.

Dilma may have her work cut out though. A Datafolha poll published at the weekend showed Lula’s stardust has yet to rub off on her, with the vote between the main presidential candidates tied among those who would normally vote for the president.

Since declaring his candidacy recently, Serra has opened up a nine point lead over Dilma, having received an expected ‘bounce’ from the announcement.

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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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Controversial Iranian leader in new Brazil visit

November 23rd, 2009

Photo: karimii,flickr

Photo: karimii,flickr

Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva is expected to raise human rights issues with Iranian leader Mahmoud, Ahmadinejad, while outlining his continued support for Iran’s nuclear programme, which has sent alarm bells ringing among western nations.

Ahmadinejad makes a stopover in Brazil on Monday, as part of a five-nation trip, including: Bolivia, Venezuela, Senegal and Gambia, aimed at boosting economic ties.

Last week, Iran appeared to reject plans to send most of its stocks of low-enriched uranium abroad, delivering a heavy blow to UN-brokered efforts to ease Western fears it could use the material to make a nuclear bomb.

So far, Brazil has far backed the Islamic state saying it has the right to peaceful nuclear power. President Lula is opposed to international sanctions on Iran.

On a visit to Brazil two weeks ago, Israeli President Shimon Peres called on Brazil to use its influence to challenge Iranian threats against his country.

Though Iran insists its nuclear energy programme is for peaceful purposes, Ahmadinejad’s previous questioning of neighbouring Israel’s right to exist has provoked understandable nervousness.

For the Brazilian government, the visit is seen as an opportunity to boost trade links, while developing an independent foreign policy, including relations with increasingly influential countries.

In May, Ahmadinejad cancelled a visit to Brazil scheduled, staying at home to concentrate on elections, the results of which later sparked widespread protests by opposition groups, amid allegations of fraud.

Ahmadinejad’s new visit, like first one has angered Jewish and human rights groups, leading to protests in Brazil.

Opponents of the visit argue Brazil should not be rolling out the red carpet to a leader who has repeatedly questioned whether the holocaust took place and openly supports the oppression of women and the persecution of homosexuals.

Protestors, waving placards in Rio de Janeiro on Sunday, compared Ahmadinejad’s denial of the holocaust with denying the shipment of three million slaves from Africa to Brazil from the 16th to the end of the 19th century.

The treatment of women´s rights and the persecution of gays are seen as other reasons why Brazil should not get involved with Iran.

Opponents also say Lula  — a symbol of Brazil´s struggle to free itself from military dictatorship — should not be rolling out the red carpet to a leader who openly promotes oppression.

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‘Lightning strikes’ hit Presidential election race

November 12th, 2009

Getting their heads together. Lula with Dilma

Getting their heads together. Lula with Dilma. Photo: Agencia Brasil

Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva finds himself having to shield his preferred candidate to replace him from criticism, after late night power cuts hit 18 states across Brazil earlier this week.

Before she became Lula’s chief of staff, Dilma Rousseff, who is being treated for lymph cancer, was energy minister, but the president says he won’t be ready to apportion blame until the facts are known.

With Brazil, hosting the FIFA World Cup in 2012 and having last month been awarded the 2016 Olympic Games, the government will be keen to head off any suggestion the country’s ability to do so is in any way compromised by the events of Tuesday night.

Well before the Olympic announcement, the issue of power cuts was a politically sensitive one.

Instances during the previous government of Fernando Henrique Cardoso, who was in office for eight years until the end of 2002, prompted finger pointing and accusations of a lack of planning.

‘Rationing is bungling’

“Today we have an inter-connected Brazilian electricity system,” President Lula said. “In this last seven years we have put in place approximately 30% of what was done in 123 years.”

Claims of progress appeared to be backed by ABDIB, the body representing the infrastructure building sector, which like many others is calling for a far-reaching investigation.

Presidential elections will be held at the end of next year, with Dilma trailing in the polls behind frontrunner José Serra, in a race that has been billed by observers as a contest between two competent administrators lacking in charisma.

Though the government insists the problems do not stem from her watch, Dilma was notified in July of the potential for a blackout.

“A blackout is a thing that no one can say won’t happen. What I promised is that there will not be rationing. Rationing is bungling,” said Dilma, who is aiming to become Brazil’s first female head of state.

Dilma, like others, is citing lightning strikes as the most likely cause, something dismissed by the National Airspace Research Institute, which provides satellite data to meteorologists.

Photo: Agencia Brasil

Until more is known about the incident, Serra, from the PSDB party, was careful not to blame the government, but with close to half the national electricity capacity affected, he said it is vital to get to the bottom of the matter quickly.

“We have to know what happened so measures can be taken,”  Serra, the governor of Sấo Paulo state (pictured right) told reporters.

Political stress

The incident, which left 60 million people without light and also fed through to water supplies, has put increased strains on the relationship between Lula’s Workers Party PT and rival PMDB with which it has forged an often shaky alliance.

Should Dilma win power, her party is expected to remain dependent on PMDB to get legislation through the Senate – a source of anger for her party and those in Brazil, who see PMDB as opportunists from a bygone age doing little promote development and prevent corruption.

The president was heavily criticised from all sides for sticking with the alliance through a corruption scandal, which for a time this year threatened to topple Senate President José Sarney, before charges against him were dropped.

As part of earlier efforts to smooth relations with Sarney and his PMDB party, Edison Lobấo was installed as energy minister, when seats in government were handed out.

How Lula now deals with Lobấo could have a significant impact on that alliance.

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Rio de Janeiro snatches ‘unparalled opportunity’

October 2nd, 2009

President Lula with Pele in background celebrate Rio's Olympic victory

President Lula with world football legend Pele in background celebrate Rio's Olympic Victory. Photo: Agencia Brasil

“If I die now my life will have been worth it,” said a tearful Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva moments after Rio de Janeiro was chosen to host the 2016 Olympic Games. “This is a victory for 190 million souls.”

In Rio itself the party started early with many who were given the day off heading to the beach in hopeful anticipation that the city might snatch the games from bookies favourite Chicago.

Among those celebrating wildly in Rio as International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge pulled the city’s name from the envelope were workers at Brazil’s National Development Bank (BNDES), which will help fund the games that are expected to cost in the region of $10 billion.

“For others it will just be another Olympics, for us it will be an unparalled opportunity,” the Brazilian president told IOC members in an impassioned speech before they cast votes in reference to much needed jobs and improvements to infrastructure the games are likely to bring before, during and after the event.

For Rio there may be an unparalled party especially with a public holiday approaching next weekend.

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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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Political scandal is no joke for Brazilian president

July 21st, 2009

José Sarney is a man under fire. Photo Agencia Brasil

Sarney, a man under fire. Photo Agencia Brasil

A political scandal threatening to bring down the president of Brazil’s Senate is being portrayed by wisecrackers on file-sharing website YouTube, using spoof dialogue dubbed onto scenes from the Oscar-nominated film ‘Downfall’, depicting the final days of Adolf Hitler in his Berlin bunker and Nazi Germany in 1945.

It may be a laughing matter for some, but corruption allegations surrounding José Sarney, a former president of Brazil have put him at the centre of a media storm, with political ramifications, not only for Brazil’s current President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s government, but his hopes of a smooth transition for his chosen successor, if she wins power at next year’s election.

It’s 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, including Folha de São de Paulo and Estado de São Paulo.

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

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

He also insists 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.

Constant scandal

Brazilians can often be heard expressing exasperation and a feeling of helplessness about a seemingly never-ending stream of corruption scandals.

Even before pressure began to mount on Sarney, months of separate revelations flowed from the capital Brasilia, including the misuse of travel expenses meant for official business and overly inflated allowances.

Under Brazil’s proportional representation system, seats in Congress and the Senate are handed out to parties based on how many votes each party receives, rather a than straight fight at the ballot box to decide which candidate will represent a particular area of the country for the next term.

Photo: Antonio Cruz, Agencia Brasil

Photo: Antonio Cruz, Agencia Brasil

Although President Lula (pictured left) has continued to score remarkably high poll ratings for a politician two-thirds the way through a second term, the voting system has left his ruling government short of the majority needed to ensure its policies become law, putting the onus on forming alliances.

In a bid to get his promises adopted, Lula turned to one of Brazil’s largest parties Sarney’s PMDB, which in the words of its detractors, is the ‘whore’ of Brazilian politics, with few ideals, willing to lend its support to those from whom it can gain most advantage.

Many are unhappy about Lula’s gushing 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.

The affair has given Brazil’s president multiple headaches. Not least for being seen to backtrack on critical statements about Sarney made in his earlier days as a radical union leader and politician.

Lula’s support for Sarney has infuriated members of his own Workers Party (PT), with some voters promising to shun PT in future.

Whether true or not, Lula’s backing of Sarney has also led some to say he is willing to turn a blind eye to corruption when it suits him, despite coming in to office promising to be squeaky-clean, prompting one columnist to say it is tantamount to supporting other high-profile discredited politicians.

The president needs the support of Sarney’s PMDB to ensure a smooth transition for his preferred successor Dilma Rousseff, who if elected among many other things will be charged with seeing through his pledge to build one million homes to at least partly address Brazil’s chronic housing shortage.

‘Witch hunt’

For his part, Sarney rejects the allegations against him, insisting he has no intention of stepping down, quoting the words of the philosopher Lucius Aneu Sêneca. “Great injustices can only be combated with three things: silence, patience and time,” he said.

Sarney maintains he is the victim of a media witch hunt against him – something the YouTube clip also underlines.

Portuguese subtitles added to scenes in Hitler’s bunker portray staff fretting over the existence of ‘secret acts’, before loyal associates reluctantly tell Sarney (as Hitler) that the most cited phrase on Twitter during the week was Sarney Out!

In the midst of his own misfortunes, Sarney’s character rants on about how senators should stick together to keep their perks, while angry at an uneducated Lula, who he says armed with a speech defect and an economic stimulus package, breaks wind and belches on every political platform, grabbing all the public adoration, while he himself with 50 years public service can’t make even the smallest indiscretion without the press jumping all over him.

Finally, in a scene that some might argue is a sad, but true reflection of Brazilian politics generally, as he address his staff, a woman in the guise of Eva Braun kisses and reassures the leader telling him: “Don’t worry you’ll get back in at the next election, the Brazilian people are stupid.”

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Brazil confronts chronic housing shortage

March 30th, 2009

A $15 billion social housing programme announced by President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva last week could hardly have been timelier, given the worldwide economic crisis now biting in Brazil, but the plan faces huge challenges and its future may hinge on the political will of Congress and the next government.

Photo: kathiao, flickr

Photo: kathiao, flickr

The programme aims to build one million homes for families with combined incomes of up to ten times the minimum monthly wage R$465 ($203).

The plan has won praise for its focus on providing hefty subsidies to the poorest households, whose income only stretches as far as three times the monthly minimum and for the fact it gives title to the property to the woman of the household – something that is seen as protecting the family.

“This has become more important in this moment of crisis because it generates jobs and the capacity to provide homes for low income people,” says Dr Lílian Fessler Vaz from the Architecture and Urban Development Department at Rio de Janeiro Federal University.

Much of the money is being stumped up by Brazil’s Treasury with contributions from the FGTS social welfare fund paid by employers and the national development bank (BNDES).

Massive job

Brazil’s National Industry Confederation (CNI) welcomes the move as a step in the right direction but warns the programme will require massive coordination

“Judging by the experience of other projects it’s a very difficult task to fulfil,” CNI Executive Director Jose Augusto Coelho Fernandes says.

The scale of the undertaking was underlined in government figures reported in February, showing that only 11% of projects announced under the government’s growth acceleration programme (PAC) launched two years ago have been completed.

The programme’s aim is to enable Brazil to grow at least 5% a year.

Brazil’s economy grew 5.1% last year, but the government been under pressure to take action, after the economy shrank 3.6% in the last quarter of 2008 versus the previous three months.

Economists and industry organisations are forecasting anywhere from zero growth to a 1.5% contraction in Brazil this year.

The government calculates the programme will add to 2% to Brazil’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), the sum of all goods and services a country produces.

Meanwhile, fears have been expressed that progress on the homes building programme could be hampered by environmental issues, the ability to synchronize projects with existing urban development plans, as well as complex issues such as subsidies, insurance, guarantees and land ownership.

Questions have also been raised whether construction companies actually can build homes put at R$40,000 ($17,500) for the lowest income groups.

Though not referring directly to the housing programme and writing in the Folha de São Paulo newspaper on Sunday, Roger Agnelli, President of Brazil’s, Vale the world’s biggest producer of iron ore used to make steel said the government has to cut down on bureaucracy to get the economy moving again.


Brazil’s opposition parties question the timing and motives behind the announcement, insisting Lula is using the programme to try to ensure his preferred candidate and Chief of Staff Dilma Rousseff wins the presidential poll at the end of next year.

Photo: Agencia Brasil

Photo: Agencia Brasil

No deadline has been put on completion of the million houses and Lula (pictured right) concedes it will go beyond the second and final term of his presidency, which has another 21 months to run.

Given the size of the task, by announcing the move now the president must be banking on three things: That his candidate wins the election, the next government either has the political will to continue the programme or will be too afraid to drop it for fear of losing popularity.

Lula will also have to count on cooperation from 26 diverse state governments, municipalities, private companies in the construction sector and perhaps most crucially often self-serving politicians in the country’s capital Brasilia.

One media report suggested in a bid to overcome resistance in Congress, 63% of building work will take place in states where Lula has forged political alliances.

Though the programme has been praised by some in the construction sector as a bold first step,  Brazil still has a long way to go to plug its housing shortage of more than 7 million homes.

Almost 91% of that figure are said to be in the lowest income group.

Economy, News, Politics , ,

Speed dating Brown seeks Brazilian partner for trip abroad

March 26th, 2009

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown shouldn’t have to work too hard to convince Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva of his anti-protectionism message in talks in Brazil this week, ahead of April’s G20 summit.

Gordon Brown: Banging free trade drum Photo: 10 Downing Street, flickr

Gordon Brown: Banging free trade drum Photo: 10 Downing Street, flickr

Brown is investing much time, effort and political capital in hosting next’s month’s summit, and will be encouraged to hear Lula has already been out doing some of his work for him - at least in Washington.

Brazil has already voiced strong opposition to the ‘Buy American’ clause in the U.S. package of measures, aimed at reviving its ailing economy.

The prime minister will also be urging President Lula to back his calls for tighter regulation of the global financial sector to prevent the world getting into the same mess when things pick up.

Brazil hasn’t suffered from the banking crisis to the same extent as some of other the world’s major economies, but even so Brown will see Lula leader of the world’s tenth biggest economy as an important ally at the G20 summit.

But next month Lula may have to avoid getting caught in the crossfire between those in the United States who say the European Union member states are not doing enough to stimulate demand, while Europeans are worried at what they see as a U.S. reluctance to put in place measures to prevent the world sliding back into crisis.

Photo: 10 Downing Street, flickr

Photo: 10 Downing Street, flickr

Rallying cry

By Brown’s side in Brazil will be his Business Secretary Peter Mandelson who will be giving his view on how to solve the global economic crisis to industry leaders in São Paulo on Thursday.

Mandelson, a former EU trade commissioner is likely to echo the rallying cry of Pascal Lamy, Director General of the World Trade Organization  (WTO) for a strong commitment from global leaders to wrap up the stalled Doha round of world trade negotiations that have dragged on for eight years.

Doha aims to boost international commerce by lowering barriers to trade between countries, but despite several attempts to jump-start talks, differences on agricultural subsidies, industrial tariffs and non-tariff barriers, services, and trade remedies have derailed the process.

The biggest bones of contention are between the big beasts of world trade, the European Union and the United States, and major developing countries, such as Brazil, India, China and South Africa.

While Brazil and others want the United States and Europe to tackle the thorny issue of cutting subsidies paid to their farmers, to allow exports to compete on level playing field, wealthier nations want greater access to Brazilian and other countries’ goods and service markets.

It’s not clear who if anyone will give ground to break the deadlock, but the economic crisis has at least added to the sense of urgency to get talks moving again.

Economy, News, Politics , , , ,

Can ‘president’s woman’ negotiate crisis to snatch election win?

March 23rd, 2009

Lula hand Dilma the presidential seal of approval. Photo Agencia Brasil.

Lula hand Dilma the presidential seal of approval. Photo Agencia Brasil.


If Dilma Rousseff wants to become Brazil’s first female president, she will have to win over her own party and a wary middle-class, whilst deciding when to step out of the shadows of current leader Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, whose remarkable approval rating has begun to slip, with the effects of the global economic crisis now biting, political commentators say.

With almost two years to go before he steps down, it’s not as if the Brazilian public has given up on Lula, the former shoe-shine boy and union boss, who made it to the top job, after ditching some of his more radical left-wing ideas.

What would most first, never mind second-term leaders give for approval ratings of 65%, after six years in power?

But the question is; with his government’s rating having dropped 5% recently, according to pollster Datafolha, will the shine also start to wear off for those around him, should the crisis deepen?

Helped by a boom in commodities, Brazil posted 5.1% growth in 2008, but lately it seems with almost every bad news item economists have been trimming their growth forecasts.

Since figures were released showing Brazil’s economy shrank 3.6% in the final quarter of 2008 versus the June to September period, the talk has turned to whether there will be any growth at all or indeed a contraction this year.

Two weeks ago, Brazil’s independent central bank cut interest rates by 1.5% to 11.25%, in response to the crisis, with business leaders and opposition politicians urging more drastic action.

Last month’s employment figures in the formal sector look slightly brighter and the government insists 100,00 jobs will be created in March, but reported employment ministry figures show Brazil lost 797,500 jobs from November to January, while a separate CNI/Ibope poll shows 58% of Brazilians think unemployment will get worse in the next six months.

To deflect the blame from himself or his Workers Party (PT), Lula could continue to maintain Brazilians have become victims of a crisis that began outside their own borders, but such a strategy has its limitations, according to political analyst João Augusto Castro Neves at the CAC consultancy in Brasilia.

“When it starts to hit people in the pocket and they start losing jobs, they wont much care where the crisis started,” he says.

Runners & riders

Though there’s no starting pistol to get Brazil’s presidential race officially underway, campaigning will not be far from the news between January and October next year.

Dilma, Lula’s preferred candidate, lines up alongside the other two main early contenders: current frontrunner José Serra who lost to Lula in 2002 and Aécio Neves, both from the same Social Democratic (PSDB) party.

Press reports say all three have been doing their best to be seen, while denying public appearances have anything to do with campaigning.

Photo: Alexandre Silva (fotoca), flickr

Photo: Alexandre Silva (fotoca), flickr

Serra, 67,  (pictured right) a former health minister from 1998 to 2002, whose AIDS programme  offering  universal access to treatment and free condoms was lauded by the United Nations, has also held office as mayor of São Paulo, South America’s largest city with a population of 17 million people.

After two years, Serra stepped down in 2006 to successfully run for governor of São Paulo state, a motor for around half the country’s wealth.

An outspoken critic of the Central Bank’s interest rate policy, he argues rates should have been cut significantly at the outset of the crisis.

Photo: Henrique Ribas, flickr

Neves, 49, (pictured left) now  in his second term as Minas Gerais state governor, has built a reputation by revitalising his state’s finances, through cost-cutting measures and putting the emphasis on reorganisation and modernisation in his administration.

Serious illness struck down his grandfather Tancredo Neves, who died before he could be sworn-in as the first post-military regime president in 1985.

Dilma, 62, a former resistance member, tortured by the military government in the early seventies, helped found the Democratic Labour Party, before jumping ship to Lula’s party a decade ago. He appointed her as energy minister in 2003, before making her his chief-of-staff in 2005.

Most recently, she has managed 11% in national opinion polls, up from 3% a year ago, after being seen increasingly at the president’s side.

The trio may yet be joined by Ciro Gomes (pictured below right), who has stood twice before, in a French-style contest held over two rounds - unless one candidate can deliver a knockout blow by scoring more than 50% at the first attempt.

Photo: Wikimedia

Photo: Wikimedia

Dilma’s Dilemma

Ahead of trying to convince those in Brazil’s middle-classes, who shunned Lula in three previous elections, before finally putting their trust in him in 2002, Dilma has a more pressing target this year, political analyst João Augusto Castro Neves explains.

She must get the 25% of the electorate that would have automatically voted for Lula on her side. Even having Lula’s seal of approval, Dilma could stumble on a lack of recognition and competition from within her own party, he adds.

For Carlos Lopes, political analyst at Brasilia-based Santafé Idéias, the campaign is in its very early stages and the fact Lula’s approval rating is down should make little difference.

“There any many things to do before going out onto the street to shake hands with the public,” he says.

Not least, these include getting to know the quirks and demands of prominent leaders in Brazil’s 26 states , as well as negotiating often awkward political alliances, under the complex proportional representation system used to elect members to Congress and the Senate.

When campaigning does get eventually get serious, Dilma’s rivals will underscore their leadership experience in two of Brazil’s most influential states.

And having never been tested during times of economic adversity, the worse the crisis gets, the more Dilma will have to raise her public profile, political scientist Murillo de Aragão told Epoca magazine.

“Crisis brings doubt. Everyone is going to want to know what her answers are.  Without the crisis, she would already be in the second round,” Aragão says.

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