Amid Crisis, Rousseff Seeks Closer Ties with the U.S.

April 20, 2015

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Paulo Sotero – The Huffington Post, 4/17/2015

Confronted by calls for her impeachment in street protests fueled by a deteriorating economy and a deepening investigation on massive corruption at state oil giant Petrobras, a weakened President Dilma Rousseff sees improving relations with the United States as part of the solution to Brazil’s and her own mounting challenges.

Following a Saturday April 11 meeting with president Barack Obama at the Summit of the Americas, in Panama, Rousseff said concerns caused by the 2013 revelations of the National Security Agency surveillance activities in Brazil were resolved and confirmed she will visit Washington this year. The announcement of the June 30th gathering at the White House put the Brazil-U.S. dialogue back on track following a period of estrangement that cost the U.S. the loss of a major defense contract and frustrated plans to elevate Brazil-U.S. relations to a new level of engagement.

Praised by Rousseff for his decision to normalize U.S. relations with Cuba, the American leader has scored points by enhancing U.S. ties with its largest regional neighbor at a time when Brazil is experiencing its most severe political and economic crisis in two decades. Rousseff’s official visit to the U.S. will not have the frills of the state visit planned for October 2013, which was derailed by the NSA revelations, but was welcomed by the business communities and economic officials in both countries, who hope it will send a positive reassuring message to markets and help to restore investors’ confidence in Brazil.

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Paulo Sotero is the Director of the Brazil Institute at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.


Protests in Brazil: Tropical tea party

April 17, 2015

The Economist (print edition), 4/18/2015

BY NEARLY any standard, the protests to denounce the president, Dilma Rousseff, and to rail against corruption in Brazil were huge. Some 660,000 people turned out on April 12th, in 152 cities. Yet that is compared with roughly 2m Brazilians who rallied a month ago. The drop in numbers is sobering for a movement that dreams of toppling the president with massive shows of street support. It means the organisers will have to change tactics and refine their muddled message.

The anger has not ebbed, and the movement is not going away. According to Datafolha, a pollster, three-quarters of Brazilians support the protests. Two-thirds want Ms Rousseff to be impeached over a multi-billion-dollar bribery scandal surrounding Petrobras, the state oil company. Members of her Workers’ Party (PT) and others in the governing coalition are under investigation, although the president herself has not been implicated. Her popularity has sunk from 40% at the start of her second term in January to 13%. Even in the PT’s heartland in the poor north-east, a majority thinks she is doing a poor job.

The movement against her resembles insurgencies in Europe and the United States, but with big differences. Unlike Syriza in Greece or Podemos in Spain, the organisers of Brazil’s protests are not left-wing and do not constitute a political party. Some compare the protesters to America’s Tea Party, which agitates for small government within the Republican Party. That is closer to the mark. The protesters lean towards Brazil’s opposition parties and hope to influence them. Renan Hass of the Free Brazil Movement (MBL), a main organiser of the protests, wants the Party of Brazilian Social Democracy to be “more macho”. But the movement is too young, and too fragmented, to have infiltrated Congress, unlike the American Tea Party. Dozens of grassroots organisations called protesters onto the streets.

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The Kickback That Killed Brazil

April 16, 2015

Bruce Douglas – Foreign Policy, 4/15/2015

Underneath the tiled awning of her whitewashed veranda, Cassia Gonçalves Moreira, 46, scoops clumps of damp pastry from a large plastic tub, rolls them between her hands, and methodically lines the bottom of a dozen or so small tins arranged on the table in front of her.

Next comes the filling: cheese, chicken, or hearts of palm. Then, she molds another dollop of pastry for the lid, before placing the completed empadas on a metal tray. A faint smell of rising dough drifts through the open door. Once she has cooked enough, she will put on her Brazil soccer shirt and start her daily trek around Itaboraí, a town a few miles east of Rio de Janeiro, across the Guanabara Bay, selling each empada for 3 real ($1).

“They don’t exactly pay for everything,” she said. “In fact, they don’t even cover the cost of the rent here. Still, they keep us from starving.”

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On Black Women and Feminism in Brazil

April 7, 2015

Bianca Santana – Huffington Post, 4/6/2015

Gender, race and class are all intimately intertwined in Brazil. Using the needs of black women as my starting point, I’ll try to draft an overview, however simplified, of the disparities within Brazilian feminism.

Brazil has over 200 million people, of which 50 percent are women. Though our president is a woman, running for reelection against another woman, we are still underrepresented in politics. In our House of Representatives, less than 9 percent of the deputies are women.

Fifty percent of all Brazilian women are black, which means there are 50 million black women in the country — 10 times the population of Norway.

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Greece Brightens, Brazil Darkens

April 7, 2015

Matthew Winkler – Bloomberg View, 4/7/2015

Greece and Brazil are both synonyms for economic dysfunction. So why do investors think Greece is becoming a respectable bet while Brazil remains a lousy one? Here’s a partial answer: the euro. Greece, a member of the European Monetary Union, works with a solid (if imperfect) currency. Brazil, on its own, doesn’t.

For bondholders, that’s a big deal. Greek government bonds returned 336 percent since May 2012 as Brazilian government bonds gained 24 percent, when measured in local currencies, according to the Bank of America Merrill Lynch index. Brazil’s real has depreciated 14 percent this year against the dollar, making it the worst performer among the 31 most traded currencies.

Investor skepticism also made the real the world’s least predictable currency. Its implied volatility, a measure of traders’ bets on how much its value will change day to day, jumped more than any other currency this year.

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Experts give their prescriptions for Brazil as the commodity boom ends

March 27, 2015

Joe Leahy – Financial Times, 3/25/2015

Brazil’s economy has slowed sharply. The brakes were applied by the end of the commodity supercycle that occurred in the first decade of the 21st century combined with rapid credit growth.

The debate in Brazil has returned to the vexed question of how to make one of the world’s most inward-looking economies more competitive.

The answer lies in improving education, streamlining taxation, simplifying bureaucracy in general, and fixing infrastructure. But beneath these concepts are complex questions that run as deep as Brazilian politics and culture itself.

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Brazil and its president: Dealing with Dilma

March 26, 2015

The Economist (print edition), 3/28/2015

SHE is less than three months into her second term, but already most Brazilians want to see the back of Dilma Rousseff. Grappling with a sickly economy and a hydra-headed corruption scandal at Petrobras, the state-controlled oil giant, she finds herself almost friendless in Brasília. She has already lost control of a Congress where, in theory, her coalition has a comfortable majority. More than 1m Brazilians took to the streets on March 15th to repudiate their president. Her approval rating has fallen by 30 points in six months to 13%, the lowest for a Brazilian president since Fernando Collor in 1992, on the eve of his impeachment for corruption.

Nearly 60% of respondents in one poll believe that Ms Rousseff merits the same fate. It is not hard to see why voters are angry. She chaired Petrobras’s board in 2003-10, when prosecutors believe more than $800m was stolen in kickbacks and funnelled to politicians in the ruling Workers’ Party (PT) and its allies, 47 of whom face criminal investigation. She won last year’s presidential election—albeit by just 3% of the vote—by assuring Brazilians that their living standards, jobs and social benefits were threatened only by her opponents.

In fact, as many voters now realise, Ms Rousseff was peddling a lie. It was the mistakes committed in her first term that have led to the spending cuts and tax and interest-rate rises she is now inflicting (and which have earned her the enmity of her own party). Add the perception that her re-election campaign may have been partly financed by money stolen from Petrobras, and Brazilians have every reason to feel they are the victims of the political equivalent of a confidence trick.

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