Brazil: At breaking point

March 24, 2015

Samantha Pearson – Financial Times, 3/20/2015

Emilio Pastore normally spends the weekend visiting his elderly parents or taking a quiet bike ride in the countryside around São Paulo. But last Sunday the 50-year-old systems analyst printed out a banner with the slogan “no more lies” and took to the streets for the first protest of his life.

The multibillion-dollar corruption scandal engulfing state-controlled oil company Petrobras and President Dilma Rousseff’s ruling coalition was too much to bear, he says.

“Corruption has escalated from random cases to a state strategy — it now seems to be the official source of party funds, from the small-town mayor all the way up to the nation’s president,” he says. “We’ve had enough.

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Protests in Brazil: The wisdom of crowds

March 20, 2015

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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São Paulo water crisis is source of wave of Brazilian art activism

March 10, 2015

Frederick Bernas – The Guardian, 3/9/2015

A grey minivan rattled through São Paulo’s hilly suburbs, loaded with spray cans, paint rollers, buckets and a ladder as five street artists drove to the Atibainha river, rap lyrics blaring from their speakers.

On the sweltering afternoon of 26 February, they painted colourful protest murals on the legs of a bridge that crosses one of São Paulo’s most important water sources, nestled in the Serra da Cantareira mountain range.

Months earlier, as fears of drought loomed over the region, Thiago Mundano had tagged the words “Welcome to the Cantareira desert” on to an abandoned car under the same bridge. That image became an icon of crisis as water supplies fell to a historic low and taps ran dry in South America’s largest city.

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Brazil finally gets some rain, but rationing still looms

February 19, 2015

Jeb Blount – Reuters, 2/18/2015

Heavy rains during Brazil’s four-and-a-half-day Carnival holiday offered the first relief in months for the country’s drought-stricken and economically crucial southeast, but was unlikely to end fears of water and electricity shortages.

A cold front along Brazil’s southeastern coast near the two principal cities of Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro brought heavy rains on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday to most of the region and the neighboring center-west, home to much of the country’s farm belt.

The southeast is Brazil’s most populous and economically developed industrial region. The southeast and center-west together produce the bulk of such key Brazilian export crops as soybeans, coffee, sugar and orange juice.

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Sao Paulo water crisis adds to Brazil business woes

February 12, 2015

Ruth Costas – BBC, 2/11/2015

Renato Soares has seen all sorts of problems in the 33 years he has been running a small laundry in a middle-class neighbourhood in Sao Paulo. But with Brazil’s biggest city facing potential water rationing, he thinks his biggest headache may be about to arrive.

“We have survived recession, hyperinflation, arbitrary changes in legislation and a complex bureaucracy and tax system,” Mr Soares says. “We were also robbed twice. So at this point I didn’t think a day would come in which I would seriously think about closing my business.

“But how can I operate a launderette without water?”

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Brazil Dries Up and Blacks Out

February 5, 2015

Mac Margolis – Bloomberg View, 2/4/2015

Water is to Brazilian politicians what oil is to Latin American petrocrats — just a pipeline away, too abundant to fret over. Except when it’s not.

Despite a summer storm over the weekend, Rio de Janeiro is parched, and its reservoirs are depleted. Sao Paulo is worse: the Cantareira System of interconnected lakes that supplies water to 8 million people is dipping into its “dead volume,” roughly the equivalent of the red zone on your car’s gas gauge.

January rains were enough to cause flash floods and craters in the streets, including one that swallowed a motorcycle in Sao Paulo, but not to top up the nation’s depleted reservoirs and hydroelectric dams.

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Sao Paulo Drought Could Benefit Brazil

February 3, 2015

Stratfor, 2/2/2015

The state of Sao Paulo, Brazil’s financial core, remains in a drought of historical proportions, and we expect to continue seeing reports of water shortages in the greater municipal area of the city of Sao Paulo. Further water restrictions and rationing will be necessary if the region does not receive substantial amounts of rain in the next several months. While we may see a small drop in industrial activity, wealthier consumers — residential and industrial — will be able to find and use more expensive alternative sources of water. The shortage may contribute to the slowing of Brazil’s economy, but it will not cause a collapse. Rather, the drought will be a relatively short-term water stressor and has the potential to be a catalyst to solve Sao Paulo’s larger structural problem of inadequate and inefficient water infrastructure. In the long run, it could even benefit the industrial viability of the city and state.

Analysis

The worst drought in nearly a century continues to plague Sao Paulo state and neighboring Rio de Janeiro and Minas Gerais states in southeastern Brazil; the nearly 30 million people living in the extended municipal complex of Sao Paulo have been dealing with extremely low reservoir levels for more than a year. In fact, the water reserves have fallen so low that they are now below the dead level, the point at which the water must be pumped up to reach the pipes connecting the reservoir to the greater distribution system. In late 2014, the Cantareira system authorized the use of its second quota of dead volume. The system is at roughly 5 percent of its capacity and is considering authorizing a third quota. If usage continues and the reservoir is not replenished, projections indicate that it will run dry by September. Other reservoirs supplying the city have also declined over the past year, including the Alto Tiete, which like Cantareira has approved the use of its dead volume.

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