A setback in Brazil

The Editorial Board – The Washington Post, 6/27/2015

Just a couple of years ago, it was widely concluded that Brazil had finally overcome the decades-old gibe about the world’s fifth-largest country: that it would always be “the country of the future.” Exports, particularly to Asia, were booming; a middle class was filling in the once-polarizing gap between the very rich and very poor; and huge offshore oil discoveries appeared to ensure yet another economic acceleration. In seeming confirmation of its new status, Brazil was chosen to host both soccer’s World Cup last year and the 2016 Olympics.

The Rio de Janeiro games are still a year away, but already Brazil’s bubble appears to have burst. The economy is mired in a deepening recession, thanks to the drop in oil and other commodity prices. The state oil company, Petrobras, has triggered the biggest corruption scandal in the country’s history, with dozens of businesspeople and more than 50 members of Congress implicated in some $2 billion in kickbacks. Investments in the vaunted new oil fields have been cut back, even as Brazilians fume over the billions spent on new stadiums.

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Small expectations between two big countries during Brazil’s official trip

Michael D. Mosettig – PBS, 6/26/2015

As official visits go, it has been an inauspicious scene-setting for next week’s trip of Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff to the United States and a Tuesday meeting with President Barack Obama.

First off, the trip is a re-do. Rousseff was supposed to be in Washington two years ago for a full-fledged, bells and whistles state visit. She abruptly cancelled after revelations that the National Security Agency had been tapping her phone. (The scandal was even more painful for the Boeing Company, which had been on the verge of winning a $4 billion contract to re-equip the Brazilian air force. The contract went to a Swedish company.)

In her country of 202 million people, Rousseff’s problems keep mounting. The national joke in Brazil is that her poll ratings (barely 10 percent) are one point ahead of the country’s inflation rate (8.4 percent). Brazil’s signature, state-dominated company, Petrobras, is engulfed in allegations that billions disappeared in kick backs to Rousseff’s Workers Party. Just last week, two of the country’s major industrialists were arrested. Neither Rousseff nor her highly popular predecessor and mentor Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva have been implicated so far, but the country is on edge against the possibility of the scandal spreading.

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The mythology of racial democracy in Brazil

Ana Lucia Araujo – Open Democracy, 6/22/2015

Brazil’s government has taken important steps to combat racial inequalities over the past two decades. Afro-Brazilian populations nevertheless remain socially and economically excluded, continuing patterns that began with legal slavery.

Brazil has been in the news a great deal of late, especially in association with the 2014 FIFA World Cup. The most popular images involve football, carnival, samba, sunny beaches, and tanned women in bikinis. Less well known is the history of slavery and racism, which continues to have a profound impact upon Brazilian society.

Brazil has the dubious distinction of having imported the largest number of enslaved Africans—more than five million—of all countries of the Americas. The slave trade from Africa to Brazil was outlawed in 1831, but an illegal trade continued until 1851 before being outlawed for a second time. In contrast, legal slavery persisted until 1888, making Brazil the last country to abolish slavery in the western hemisphere. Today, 53 percent of the Brazilian population self-identify as black or pardo (brown, or mixed race). These terms as established by the Census refer to colour and not ancestry.

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Brazil President’s approval rating hits record low

Rogerio Jelmayer – The Wall Street Journal, 6/21/2015

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff’s approval rating dropped to a record low, poll results showed Sunday, amid the country’s sluggish economic performance and corruption allegations involving the state-run energy company.

According to a survey by the Datafolha polling institute, 10% of respondents said the Rousseff administration was “excellent or good,” compared with 13% in a poll published in April.

Meanwhile, around 65% of respondents said Ms. Rousseff’s administration was “bad or terrible,” up from 60% in the previous survey. That was the highest level since 1992, when President Fernando Collor de Mello received a 68% rating shortly before he was impeached.

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Why did Brazil’s president change her tune on spying?

Vincent Bevins – Foreign Policy, 6/16/2015

When Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff emerged from a meeting with President Barack Obama on the sidelines of the Summit of the Americas in Panama City in April, she was in surprisingly good spirits. She looked healthier and more energetic than she had in months as she stepped up to the microphone for a press conference. She was all smiles as she described an upcoming trip to Washington, planned for June 30.

Rousseff, who was re-elected in October with only 51.6 percent of the vote, faces a spiraling corruption scandal at home and the lowest approval rating since her party took power in 2003. And her government has been clashing with Washington off-and-on for two years. So her cheery demeanor after meeting Obama was not what the room full of journalists was expecting when she stepped out for the press conference.

“Does this planned visit mean that the NSA spying episode is entirely overcome?” Brazilian journalist Patricia Campos Mello asked Rousseff.

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America must take Brazil seriously

Eric Farnsworth – The National Interest, 6/15/2015

Brazil is on the move. Its economic strength over the past decade has provided the primary means for it to develop long-standing ambitions for a larger global-leadership stake—a path that U.S. policy makers have encouraged for many years, presuming that a stronger, democratic Brazil more actively engaged globally would be a natural ally for the United States.

In so doing, however, it has pursued a foreign policy independent of Washington, leading at times to misunderstandings and dashed hopes. This was in evidence even before the revelations of National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden in 2013 temporarily froze bilateral relations. Over the past two years, growth has slowed in Brazil and in other nations with which Brazil maintains significant economic links, while the U.S. economy has been on a long march to recovery.

With the late 2014 reelection of President Dilma Rousseff on a platform focused on addressing the unmet economic expectations of a rising middle class, a framework now exists to improve relations between the two countries when Rousseff travels to Washington at the end of June. Still, getting relations back on track will require a more realistic understanding of Brazil’s aspirations and worldview. The United States must move beyond the vague notions of partnership and romantic assumptions of shared interests that traditionally frame its thinking.

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Brazil divided by debate over teenage crime and punishment

Dom Phillips – Washington Post, 6/14/2015

Last July, Patricia fatally stabbed a female relative of her then-partner in a confrontation, provoked by what she described as continuous, poisonous innuendo. “I couldn’t stand it anymore,” she said. “I took the life of another person.”

She was just 17.

A heated debate over whether teenagers who commit violent crimes can be rehabilitated, or should be tried as adults and ­incarcerated in the country’s packed and dangerous prisons, has split Brazil. High-profile violent crimes involving adolescents have inflamed the issue and polarized opinion around a controversial measure in Congress to lower the age of criminal responsibility from 18 to 16. A vote is planned this month.

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