Fiscal Austerity Passes First Test in Brazil’s Congress

Paulo Trevisani and Djania Savoldi – The Wall Street Journal, 5/6/2015

BRASÍLIA—Brazil’s lower house of Congress on Wednesday approved the first of two controversial austerity measures aimed at cutting government spending on worker benefits.

While the measure must still be approved by the Senate, Wednesday’s result was seen as a significant victory for embattled President Dilma Rousseff, who has been advocating fiscal reforms to avoid a potential downgrade of Brazil’s sovereign debt.

The Chamber of Deputies voted 252-to-227 to, among other changes, make it tougher for workers to qualify for unemployment benefits, doubling the minimum time worked to 12 months. The vote comes after weeks of intense negotiations, as lawmakers from Ms. Rousseff’s own labor-backed governing Workers’ Party, or PT, had threatened to kill the bill on fears the measure would alienate their core constituents.

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Fiscal Austerity Passes First Test in Brazil’s Congress

Prosecutors in Brazil investigate Lula for alleged influence peddling

Samantha Pearson and Joe Leahy – Financial Times, 5/4/2015

Brazil’s federal prosecutors have opened a preliminary investigation into the country’s wildly popular former leader Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, putting further pressure on his embattled protégée President Dilma Rousseff.

The probe into illicit influence peddling in Cuba, among other countries, comes as federal police also revealed they are also investigating suspected money laundering in transactions by two companies owned by João Santana, the political mastermind behind the election victories of Mr Lula da Silva and Ms Rousseff, both of the centre-left Workers` Party, or PT.

The prosecutors’ office in Brazil’s capital Brasília confirmed reports by a local magazine that Mr Lula da Silva is being questioned by their anti-corruption unit over claims he helped construction conglomerate Odebrecht win contracts overseas between 2011 and 2014.

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Prosecutors in Brazil investigate Lula for alleged influence peddling

Brazil’s Slumping Economy and Bribery Scandal Eat Away at Dilma Rousseff’s Popularity

Simon Romero – The New York Times, 3/20/2015

President Dilma Rousseff ran for office declaring that she would harness an oil bonanza in Brazil to supercharge the economy while avoiding the corruption and mismanagement that have plagued other oil-rich countries in the developing world.

But less than three months into her second term as president, Ms. Rousseff is fighting for her political survival as Petrobras, the national oil company she oversaw and has championed, reels from a colossal bribery scandal.

Compounding her problems is the prospect that the economy could shrink in 2015 for the second consecutive year, the first such contraction here since the onset of the Great Depression in 1929 and 1930.

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Brazil’s Slumping Economy and Bribery Scandal Eat Away at Dilma Rousseff’s Popularity

Protests in Brazil: The wisdom of crowds

The Economist (print edition), 3/21/2015

DILMA ROUSSEFF, Brazil’s president, expected the anti-government protests on March 15th to be big. She convened a meeting of a crisis group at her official residence to monitor them. But nobody, including the organisers, imagined they would be as massive as they turned out to be. Police in São Paulo put the size of the crowd on Avenida Paulista, the preferred venue for such gatherings, at more than 1m; Datafolha, a pollster, counted 210,000. Either way, it was the biggest political demonstration in the country’s biggest city since the diretas já (“elections now”) movement that helped end military rule in 1985. Overall, police estimated that 2.2m people turned out in dozens of cities across all 27 states. That dwarfs the number who took to the streets on any single day in June 2013, the most recent occasion when Brazilians vented their anger at politicians en masse.

Trade unions, which had organised (much smaller) pro-Dilma demonstrations two days earlier, dismissed the protesters as privileged white people. Many were not. “I am black, poor and want Dilma out,” declared a demonstrator from one of the nine mobile stages along Avenida Paulista. Many wore the national football team’s yellow-and-green jerseys. Opposition politicians wisely stayed away. They realised that their presence would obscure the bottom-up message and reinforce the government’s claim that behind the protests were sore losers of last October’s elections, won by Ms Rousseff and her left-wing Workers’ Party (PT).

The grievances of 2013 were diffuse. Today’s are directed squarely at Ms Rousseff and the PT. Some protesters—about a quarter on Avenida Paulista, according to one poll—want her to be impeached over a multi-billion-dollar bribery scandal at Petrobras, the state-controlled oil giant. Most others simply want to show that they are fed up with sleaze and economic mismanagement, which has pushed up inflation and is likely to trigger a recession this year. A vocal fringe called for military intervention—but was shouted down.

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Protests in Brazil: The wisdom of crowds

The big picture behind Brazil’s protests

Patrick Gillespie – CNN Money, 3/17/2015

Over a million Brazilians protested in the streets Sunday, calling for the impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff.

A massive corruption case involving the president helped spark the protests, but Brazilians also marched out of frustration that Brazil’s economic boom is over.

South America’s largest economy was last decade’s emerging market darling. Now it’s edging toward recession and its currency is losing value quickly. The corruption scandal and economic collapse are creating a perfect storm for public unrest.

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The big picture behind Brazil’s protests

Why is Brazil so angry?

Diogo Costa – The Telegraph, 3/18/2015

Popular dissatisfaction is growing in intensity and scope in Brazil. On Sunday, over one million protesters took to the streets in cities of every Brazilian state in the largest political demonstration since democracy was restored in the country in 1985.

As in the previous wave of protests in 2013, there was no unity in the actual demands. Some signs asked for the punishment of corrupt politicians, others for presidential impeachment.

The more nostalgic even asked for military action. This time, however, the target of discontent seemed clearer than ever before: president Dilma Rousseff and her party, the PT. Dilma Rousseff is experiencing the culmination of two crises that have been building up since she took office in 2011.

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Why is Brazil so angry?

Brazil in crisis mode as ruling party sees public trust rapidly dissolving

Jonathan Watts – The Guardian, 3/17/2015

The bad news just keeps coming for Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff. On Monday, the treasurer of the ruling Workers’ Party was formerly charged with corruption. The day before, enormous anti-government demonstrations filled the streets of more than 160 cities. The economy is faltering, inflation is rising and poverty reduction is at risk of stalling.

Her cabinet are in crisis mode, but they are hamstrung by a fractious legislature and a debilitating scandal at the state-run oil firm Petrobras, which has led to investigations of 34 sitting politicians, including the speakers of both houses of Congress. Just five months into her second term, this is posing difficult questions not just for the president, but for her party — and for Brazil’s 30-year-old democracy.

The latest blow was the formal indictment of João Vaccari, the Workers’ Party treasurer, who is accused of soliciting hundred of millions of donations from Petrobras executives. Prosecutors said they had ample proof that Vaccari knew the money was raised from bribes and kickbacks.

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Brazil in crisis mode as ruling party sees public trust rapidly dissolving