Brazil’s foreign policy stance leaves it in wings on global stage

April 21, 2014

Joe Leahy – The Financial Times, 4/20/2014

This month, Brazil marks a particularly grim moment in its history. Fifty years ago, the country’s military took power in a coup that ushered in two decades of brutal dictatorship.

President Dilma Rousseff, who as a young leftist guerrilla fighting the generals was jailed and tortured, marked the occasion with a speech at Rio de Janeiro’s Galeão airport earlier this month.

Shedding a quiet tear, she cited a song by the bossa nova artist Tom Jobim, “Samba do Avião”, that recalls the emotions of a Brazilian landing in Rio, saying the lyrics were about exiles returning home with the end of the military regime.

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Democracy and Growth in Brazil

August 1, 2013

Marcos de Barros Lisboa & Zeina Abdel Latif

“Democracy and Growth in Brazil,” written by Marcos Lisboa and Zeina Latif, has generated controversy among academics over its thesis which argues that Brazil’s indiscriminate granting of privileges to different social groups and businesses slows down sustained economic growth.

In the article, Lisboa and Latif propose institutionalized “rent seeking” as a unifying theme in the development of economic and political institutions in Brazil. The problem, defined by the authors as the “democratization of privileges,” is that these policies involve high costs and they tend to go unnoticed due to a lack of transparency and awareness within society. This is due, in part, to the diffuse nature of concession practices to special interest groups. Although these issues arise in all cases where “rent seeking” takes place, Brazil’s case is further aggravated because the extension of benefits is greater and transparency is lower in comparison to other countries.

According to Lisboa and Latif, this combination contributes to the creation of various distortions in the economic landscape that limit Brazil’s capacity for growth.

Summary based on Folha de S. Paulo article

Click here for official publication

Cause and effect in Brazil’s protests

July 1, 2013

Sean Goforth – The National Interest, 07/01/2013

At first, the protests that have rocked Brazil were almost comically misrepresented. “Right now, the same game is being played in Brazil,” said Turkey’s prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, on Saturday. “The symbols are the same, the posters are the same. Same Twitter, same Facebook, same international media. They are being controlled by the same center.”

Who can blame him for being glib? Coincidental protests in Brazil have allowed Erdogan to shirk, if temporarily, more fitting comparisons between the protests in Turkey and the Arab Spring. But if not a game, what has impelled over a million people to swarm the streets of cities across Brazil?

Much of the substantive analysis has focused on the country’s level of corruption. For sure, graft is rampant in Brazilian politics. Last year Brazil’s largest corruption trial began: the “big monthly paycheck” scandal was an elaborate vote-buying scheme that allegedly included thirty-seven former congressmen, judges and a high-level advisor to the president.

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Brazil’s people are crying out for change, so let’s seize the moment

July 1, 2013

Bethania Assy & Bruno Cava – The Guardian, 07/01/2013

Who would have thought that the Latin American spring would blossom in Brazil? In the past 10 years, the country has created a “new middle class” by bringing 40 million people to unprecedented levels of income and consumption, and creating 19 million jobs in the midst of one of the worst global financial crises. Why then do millions of young people feel so politically unrepresented that they have taken to the streets in such numbers?

Brazilian commentators have proffered many partial answers, some of universal import, others specific to Brazil. The low level of confidence in representative institutions which are seen as corrupt and undemocratic is one; the government’s willingness to back various mega sporting events alongside its broken promises on the social state agenda (including health, education and public transport) is another; finally, the depoliticisation of a part of the Brazilian middle and upper-middle class youth. These are people who have reaped the benefits of capitalist growth without experiencing its side-effects of extreme inequality, poverty and despair. They have accepted the rightwing, anti-state ideology and have turned it into the anti-political “no party” slogans constantly heard in the protests. The ejection in the protests of flags or shirts indicating “any” political association is a direct attack on the leftwing parties and social movements who started the campaign. This is a hegemonic struggle for political power. The right has been trying to unite different parts of the population against Dilma’s administration and is now using the protests to this end.

It would be too reductionist, however, to interpret the multitude in the streets as part of a rightwing or neoliberal conspiracy. The colourful multiplicity of protests is not a prelude to a rightwing coup, something from which Brazil has repeatedly suffered. The activists of the social movements as well as the extremist anti-Dilma rightwing groups are only a minority. The majority of protesters are people who have never before taken part in political activism or demonstrations. The protests catalyse a dispersed, even ideologically contradictory, feeling of indignation. The anti-political and anti-party chants of rightwingers, who may be secretly praying for a military coup, cannot be compared with the multitude’s cry “que se vayan todos!” (let them all go). The central meaning of the protests brings them closer to events in Argentina in 2001, and makes them an integral part of the cycle of occupations all over the world since 2011. Diverse grievances, antagonistic hopes and conflicting narratives ground the protests, but they are also part of the new age of resistance. No, we have not seen this film before.

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Brazil: In the throes of reform

June 28, 2013

Astrid Prange de Oliveira – Deutche Wells, 06/28/2013

Protests, pacts, plebiscites: The Brazilian government has reacted to mass demonstrations with landmark promises of reform. But not all of the proposals are actually new.

All of a sudden, Brazilian parliamentarians are brushing the dust off of policy reform proposals that got bogged down in congress 15 years ago. Through citizen referenda, the population is supposed to better participate in political decisions, while corruption is being redefined as a more serious crime. But can the mass demonstrations that have been rocking Brazil really claim victory?

At first glance, this appears to be the case: After many cities reversed the public transport price increase that initially sparked the protests, Brazil’s senate on Wednesday unexpectedly voted in favour of landmark legislative proposals recategorizing corruption, embezzlement and misappropriation as serious crimes punishable by a minimum four-year prison term. The proposal must still however be passed by the lower parliamentary house.

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Fifa’s gleaming edifice in danger of being engulfed by Brazil’s tidal protest

June 25, 2013

The Guardian, 06/25/2013

Earlier this year, the Fifa general secretary Jérôme Valcke said something that gave a telling insight into the mentality of world football’s governing body. “I will say something which is crazy – but less democracy is sometimes better for organising a World Cup,” he said.

In fact, in Fifa’s world, it wasn’t that crazy. The command and control approach that it likes to take to the staging of its flagship event, and main cash cow, is closer to that of a dictatorship than a messy democracy. One look at Fifa’s supposedly democractic Congress, which has always resembled more of a rally for President Blatter than a vigorous debate, will tell you that. And if Valcke, who visibly aged with the challenge of delivering Africa’s first World Cup and has enjoyed a fractious relationship with the Brazilian organisers amid troubled preparations for the summer of 2014, felt that way then he is likely to be even less well disposed to democratic principles now.

The huge protests that have swept Brazil during the Confederations Cup, a dry run for the World Cup 12 months later, are inextricably linked with the World Cup – no matter what Sepp Blatter would like to think. From Rio to São Paulo, from Manaus to Recife and Fortaleza to Salvador, up to two million Brazilians have taken to the streets.

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Brazilian leader Rousseff goes on offensive, proposes action to meet protesters’ demands

June 25, 2013

Associated Press, 06/25/2013

President Dilma Rousseff proposed a wide range of actions to reform Brazil’s political system, fight corruption and improve public services — all demands angrily asked for by the millions of protesters who’ve taken to the streets the past week.

In a meeting Monday with four leaders of a main group behind the protest movement and later with governors and the mayors of 26 capital cities, Rousseff shifted some of the burden for progress onto the back of Brazil’s widely loathed congress — in particular, in calling for a plebiscite on political reform that only lawmakers have the authority to call.

Rousseff told the governors and mayors that the government would allocate $23 billion for new spending on urban public transport, but she didn’t provide details on what the new projects would be. The four leaders of the free-transit activist group that launched the first demonstrations more than a week ago said she also gave them no concrete plans.

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Brazil: 250K protest against government corruption

June 24, 2013

Bradley Brooks – Associated Press, 06/23/2013

A quarter-million Brazilians took to the streets in the latest a wave of sometimes-violent protests that are increasingly focusing on corruption and reforming a government system in which people have lost faith. A new poll shows that 75 percent of citizens support the demonstrations.

The turnout in Saturday’s protests was lower than the 1 million participants seen on Thursday and there was less violence. But in the city of Belo Horizonte police used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse protesters who tried to pass through a barrier and hurled rocks at a car dealership. The city of Salvador also saw demonstrations turn violent.

The protests have become the largest public demonstrations Latin America’s biggest nation has seen in two decades. They began as opposition to transportation fare hikes, then became a laundry list of causes including anger at high taxes, poor services and World Cup spending, before coalescing around the issue of rampant government corruption.

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The revolt of the global middle class

June 24, 2013

David Rohde – The Atlantic, 06/23/2013

Alper, a 26-year-old Turkish corporate lawyer, has benefited enormously from Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s rule. He is one of millions of young Turks who rode the country’s economic boom to a lifestyle his grandparents could scarcely imagine.

Yet he loathes Erdogan, participated in the Taksim Square demonstrations and is taking part in the new ” standing man” protests in Istanbul.

“The prime minister is continuing to blatantly lie about the demonstrations,” said Alper, who asked that his last name not be used because he feared arrest. “People are actually scared that if they stop this momentum, then the government will feel free to exercise more force.”

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