Former Brazil president Lula poised for corruption trial, associates fear

Jonathan Watts – The Guardian, 06/15/2016

Family members and associates of former Brazilian president Luiz Ináçio Lula da Silva fear he will soon be put on trial for what is alleged to be a central role in a massive corruption scheme at the state-run oil company Petrobras.

The Workers’ party leader – who is unquestionably the most influential figure in Brazil’s recent history – has been named in plea bargains by former allies and business executives who have been arrested in the Lava Jato investigation into revelations that construction firms secure inflated contracts in return for kickbacks to executives and politicians.

Among them is Delcídio do Amaral, the former Workers’ party leader in the upper house, who has recently testified that Lula – as he is universally known – attempted to impede the inquiry. The former senator, who was stripped of his mandate, told the Guardian he expected judges to make a decision shortly on his deposition.

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Dilma Rousseff, facing impeachment in Brazil, has alienated many allies

Andrew Jacobs – The New York Times, 05/01/2016

BRASÍLIA — They were idealists, united in the struggle against Brazil’s military dictators.

As democracy flourished, so did their careers. One of them, Paulo Ziulkoski, became the leader of an association of Brazilian cities. The other, Dilma Rousseff, rose even higher, becoming the president of Latin America’s largest country.

But their friendship soon fell apart. During a contentious meeting with the nation’s mayors in 2012, Ms. Rousseff rejected pleas for a share of Brazil’s soaring oil revenues. After the room erupted in jeers, Mr. Ziulkoski said, she stormed up to him, poked a finger in his face and humiliated him with a string of expletives.

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Don’t let Brazil become Venezuela

Brian Winter – Americas Quarterly, 03/04/2016

The next 72 hours will be critical to the future of Brazilian democracy. The temporary detention of former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva for questioning related to the Petrobras probe is indeed a sign that no one in Brazil is above the law. But it also brings the risk of extreme polarization and even violence – with the leader of the Workers’ Party in Congress already calling for “war,” trade union leaders denouncing a “coup” and Lula’s supporters and opponentsplanning huge nationwide marches throughout the weekend.

Brazil is not Venezuela – it is a large country with robust and functioning democratic institutions, a strong appreciation for pluralism and little recent history of political violence. But it’s also true that Lula is no ordinary politician. He is, rather, a unique symbol in a way that is often difficult for foreigners (and some Brazilians) to appreciate.

Indeed, Lula was the first working-class president in a country where inequality is still the central fact of daily life. His election in 2002 was so poignant because it marked the first time someone from Brazil’s socioeconomic majority ascended to such a position of power. He left office in 2010 with an approval rating of nearly 90 percent, and the belief that Brazil had taken an important step toward becoming a more equal society. Today, Lula’s image has been greatly tarnished by multiple scandals and the collapse of the economy after he left office. Yet, even now, he remains the only relevant politician in the lives of many Brazilians, especially the poor and those outside major cities. They remember him, rightly or wrongly, as the leader who brought them into the mainstream economy and political life for the first time.

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Brazil’s economy falters, but worse may be to come

Nicolas Bourcier – The Guardian, 6/9/2015

The signs that Brazil’s economy is in trouble have been visible for a while now, but the worst could be still to come. The figures published last month for gross domestic product in the first quarter of 2015 confirmed the absence of growth that has plagued Latin America’s powerhouse for the past five years.

With GDP down by 0.2% since the new year – a fall of 1.6% compared with the same period of 2014 – Brazil has registered its worst result in six years. Even if it has actually fared better than the 0.5% drop forecast by the markets, the outlook for the world’s seventh-largest economy nevertheless looks gloomy. The figures are bad enough to reduce the already limited room for manoeuvre available to the newly appointed and ever so orthodox finance minister, Joaquim Levy. Last month he announced far-reaching austerity measures, with cuts amounting to 69.7bn reals ($22.4bn), prompting an outcry from members of his own party, who want a more flexible line.

The government led by President Dilma Rousseff is expecting a 1.2% fall in GDP, higher than the 1% forecast by the International Monetary Fund. If the first forecast is right, it would be Brazil’s worst performance in the past 25 years. “Everyone was hoping that the economy would bottom out in the first quarter,” says economist Paulo Gala, “but confidence is still deteriorating, [and] the volume of road transport is plummeting, as are car sales. The recession seems to be deepening.”

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A New Entry Is Shaking Up Brazil’s Vote

Simon Romero – The New York Times, 8/20/2014

As the daughter of impoverished rubber tappers in the far reaches of the Brazilian Amazon, Marina Silva learned how to read as a teenager and worked as a maid before entering politics as an icon of the environmental movement. Now, with a trajectory appealing to big parts of Brazil’s electorate, Ms. Silva is stirring an acutely competitive presidential race.

After the plane crash last week that killed Eduardo Campos, the scion of a powerful political clan in northeast Brazil, Ms. Silva was chosen on Wednesday to take his place as the candidate of the Brazilian Socialist Party, challenging the ambitions of the leftist incumbent, President Dilma Rousseff, and Aécio Neves, a top challenger and favorite of the business establishment.

Leaping into the race with poll numbers suggesting she could edge past Ms. Rousseff in a second round of voting, Ms. Silva, 56, is emerging as one of the most disruptive figures in Brazilian politics in a generation, luring coveted support from Brazil’s fast-growing evangelical Christian population, young well-educated voters in big cities and some prominent business executives.

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Return of Lula as Brazil’s president unlikely, but possible

Brian Winter & Anthony Boadle – Reuters, 5/1/2014

It’s the catch phrase of the moment in Brazil’s capital, seen on posters and even a few bumper stickers: “Come back, Lula.”

As President Dilma Rousseff sags in polls ahead of this October’s election, there are growing calls for her popular predecessor and mentor Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva to take her place as the Workers’ Party candidate.

Lula, who presided over an economic boom as president from 2003 to 2010, remains Brazil’s most popular politician by far. His legendary schmoozing ability and pragmatic policies are a source of nostalgia among many investors and others frustrated with Rousseff’s more hermetic personal style and heavy hand in the economy, which has sputtered on her watch.

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Brazil senate to probe Petrobras refinery purchase

Paulo Trevisani – Market Watch Wall Street Journal, 4/30/2014

Brazilian senators decided Tuesday to open an investigation into allegations that managers of Brazil’s energy giant Petróleo Brasileiro SA overpaid for a Texas refinery in 2006.

Such a probe, for which a new poll shows wide public support, comes ahead of general elections in October. President Dilma Rousseff’s was chairwoman of Petrobras, as the government-controlled, publicly traded company is known, at the time of the deal and personally approved it. Members of her Worker’s Party, or PT, headed the energy company’s management at the time.

Current and former officials of Petrobras are being accused by opposition lawmakers of having made a flawed decision to buy the oil refinery in Pasadena, Texas, in 2006. Questions about the deal were first raised in the local press a couple of years ago, and have gained prominence more recently as opposition leaders use the case to pick at Ms. Rousseff’s popularity.

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Dilma’s fragile lead

The Economist, 4/30/2014

FOR a long time Dilma Rousseff looked invincible. Even huge nationwide protests last June, when millions of Brazilians took to the streets to air assorted grievances and disaffection with politicians, were not enough to depress the president’s approval ratings below 45%. Her popularity quickly rebounded; Ms Rousseff seemed poised for a first-round win in a presidential election this October. A new poll, however, confirms what many observers have been saying for months: that Ms Rousseff’s lead is more fragile than she and her Workers’ Party (PT) would care to admit.

The latest figures, published on April 29th by CNT/MDA, a pollster, found that 48% of Brazilians approve of the president, down from 55% in February and in line with other recent polling data. Should this dip below 40%, reckons João Castro Neves of Eurasia Group, a consultancy, her re-election would be in serious doubt.

Defeat is certainly no longer inconceivable. Inflation remains stubbornly high, hitting the poor who struggle to make ends meet and the indebted middle class as interest rates rise. Scandals at Petrobras, a state-controlled oil giant facing an imminent congressional inquiry over irregularities on Ms Rousseff’s watch as head of the company’s administrative council, are tarnishing her claim to being an able manager. A severe drought has stoked fears of power cuts in a country which relies on hydropower to generate 80% of its electricity. Ms Rousseff, a former energy minister, remembers how power rationing in 2001 helped Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, her predecessor and mentor, to oust the centrist Party of Brazilian Social Democracy (PSDB) from the presidency a year later.

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