Ex-president’s relationship with Odebrecht scrutinized in Brazil

Blake Schmidt – Bloomberg, 5/2/2015

Brazil’s federal prosecutors have initiated a preliminary inquiry as to whether former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva used his influence to persuade the state development bank to help finance projects of one of Brazil’s biggest industrial conglomerates, according to media reports.

The weekly Epoca magazine was the first to report an inquiry into alleged influence-peddling involving the politician’s speaking engagements abroad. The magazine reported on Friday that Brazil’s development bank, BNDES, had financed Odebrecht SA construction projects in countries whose leaders Lula had met with.

Lula, Odebrecht and BNDES have each denied any wrongdoing.

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Ex-president’s relationship with Odebrecht scrutinized in Brazil

As Petrobras cuts back, Brazil turns to U.S. for Atlantic drilling help

Kenneth Rapoza – Forbes Magazine, 5/3/2015

Call it the shock doctrine, but if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck…well, you get the picture.

Wracked by the biggest corporate scandal in Brazilian history, oil major Petrobras is reducing costs. While it says it is not reducing costs on exploration and production, the state-owned Petrobras is turning to Texas this week to meet with companies that want to help it drill in one of the most lucrative oil finds in the world — Brazil’s deep water, pre-salt oil fields off the coasts of Rio and Sao Paulo states.

As some would have it, this is all part of the plan. Petrobras is in dire straights. Petrobras has too much control over the mega oil fields under rock and sand. And foreign firms want a piece of it without having to give up so much to Petrobras.

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As Petrobras cuts back, Brazil turns to U.S. for Atlantic drilling help

Brazil’s biggest problem isn’t Petrobras

Matt Phillips – Quartz, 4/28/2015

It’s not the scandal, stupid.

Last week the Brazilian oil giant Petrobras wrote down the value of its assets by some $17 billion, including $2.1 billion reflecting the impact of bribes and graft. The scandal—in which company executives allegedly received kickbacks in exchange for awarding contracts at inflated values—has prompted worries that it could creep closer to President Dilma Rousseff, who served as the chairwoman of Petrobras, during the years when much of the alleged bribery took place. So far, she hasn’t been implicated.

But as the nation’s attention continues to be riveted by the scandal, Brazil’s economy is decelerating rapidly. Numbers out this morning show that unemployment rose to 6.2% in March, up from 5.9% in February and the highest since March 2012.

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Brazil’s biggest problem isn’t Petrobras

Why Brazilians are really going to miss supermodel Gisele

Dom Phillips – The Washington Post, 4/27/2015

At first glance, the glittering career of Brazilian supermodel Gisele Bündchen is not very Brazilian. The supermodel, who retired from the catwalks at age 34 on April 15 in a blizzard of publicity, has pursued her profession with a Teutonic single-mindedness and efficiency, as befits her family’s German roots.

Friends, industry professionals and colleagues used terms such as “punctual,” “secure investment” and “well educated” to describe her — terms rarely associated with models, fashion or, indeed, tropical, impulsive Brazil, where she is often described as an über-model, rather than a supermodel.

Nonetheless, Brazilians can claim her as their own. “Gisele is what most represents Brazil abroad. It is Pelé, carnival and Gisele,” said Fernanda Tavares, a New York-based Brazilian model who has been her friend since they started their careers together 20 years ago, at age 14. Tavares was among those who suggested that Bündchen will still do select catwalk shows, as well as her advertising contracts.

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Why Brazilians are really going to miss supermodel Gisele

Brazil’s Power Dynamics Shifting Amid Political Scandals

Simon Romero – The New York Times, 4/28/2015

The head of Brazil’s Senate, Renan Calheiros, has been accused of tax evasion, using a government jet to visit a surgeon who alleviated his baldness with hair implants and allowing a construction company’s lobbyist to pay child support for his daughter from an extramarital affair with a television journalist.

Eduardo Cunha, the conservative speaker of Brazil’s lower house of Congress, has also faced — and successfully battled — a list of corruption accusations, from embezzlement to living in an apartment paid for by a black-market money dealer.

In some democracies, figures facing such situations might find themselves banished from public life even if they were never convicted. But not in Brazil, where the men who command the scandal-plagued Congress are actually increasing their power over the scandal-plagued president, Dilma Rousseff.

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Brazil’s Power Dynamics Shifting Amid Political Scandals

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

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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.

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

Protests in Brazil: Tropical tea party

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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Protests in Brazil: Tropical tea party