How did Brazil go from rising BRIC to sinking ship?

By Steven M. Helfand, University of California, Riverside and Antônio Márcio Buainain, Universidade Estadual de Campinas

Most of the headlines in recent weeks have focused on Brazil’s troubling political crisis. But the country is also in the midst of a deep economic recession.

The economy has been shrinking since the second quarter of 2014. It contracted by 3.8 percent in 2015 and is expected to shrink by a similar amount this year. Earlier this month, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) said it sees the recession continuing into 2017.

Yet it was only in 2009 – in the middle of the global financial crisis – that the Economist magazine featured a story entitled “Brazil takes off,” with a photo of the Corcovado – the iconic statue of Christ that overlooks Rio de Janeiro – launching like a rocket. That article emphasized why Brazil deserved to be one of the “BRICs” – the rapidly growing economies including Russia, India and China that now account for nearly 25 percent of global GDP.

How could the outlook for Brazil have changed so rapidly? Is this sort of boom and bust unprecedented or a recurring theme in Brazil’s history?

In this article, we provide a historical perspective on the current economic crisis, relying on our own scholarship and years of analysis of the Brazilian economy.

[Read more…]

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Brazil: ‘Unhappy is the nation that needs heroes’

Bruno Cava writes: The fall of Dilma seems to demand an obvious reading on the part of the left. Again in the history of Latin America, a national-popular government is overthrown by the neocolonial elites. Again, the geopolitical attempt to build an alternative axis to the imperialism of Washington, this time through the BRICs, ends up crushed by a restoration of the conservatives. The history of coups d’etat again returns to the stage in the subcontinent, and an echo is heard of the coups of 1964 (Brazil), 1973 (Chile) and 1976 (Argentina), and the military uprising against Chavez in Venezuela (2002), or again the so-called “soft coups” against Zelaya in Honduras (2009) and Lugo in Paraguay (2012). This time the victims have been the largest mass party in the Americas, the biggest domino piece that now threatens the entire wave of progressive governments. There are more than enough signs to reinforce that interpretation. Taking to the streets in favour of the Partido de Trabalhadores (PT) are Lula, the MST (Movimiento de los Trabajadores Sin-Tierra, Landless Workers’ Movement) and a pantheon of leftist intellectuals, along with stars and red flags, exposing the immediate ramifications of the coup and denouncing it.

The end of the Workers Party’s 2003 to 2016 hold on federal government affects the current situation of those who feel themselves to be directly involved in the project. Regardless of what this “project” may mean, to admit its collapse is interpreted as the end of a worldview. As truncated and full of contradictions as it may be, when the curtain falls to end the petista play, the feeling that manifests is a mixture of melancholy and rage. So great was the hope placed in the PT that the present moment feels like the end of an era, and, shipwrecked with it, the left, progressivism, and every possible horizon of struggle. Future, present and past come together at a point where everything appears to gain depth and everything is put in doubt: not only who occupies the governmental seat will be decided, but also the social gains of the past two decades, the institutional legacy of the 1988 Constitution, and the memory of the struggles against dictatorship.

During the impeachment vote in Congress, parliamentarians repeatedly invoked sacred values and patriotic institutions in dramatic speeches. A deputy praised a torturer colonel of the 1964 regime, another proclaimed the end of the “lulopetista dictatorship” grounded in the Bolsa Familia (Family Allowance programme), described by another deputy as “creating paid vagrants”. Time constraints also impelled the opposing deputies to invoke the martyrs of the resistance, from Zumbi, the insurgent leader of the slaves, to Olga Benário, the communist deported from the Vargas dictatorship to the Third Reich and subsequently gassed. The dramatised scenes of the Brazilian parliamentary representation’s tableau vivant sounded like successive blows of theatre, jumping uncharacteristically from scene to scene.

It should provoke at least curiosity, in those less easily persuaded by histrionics and melodramatic effects, to qualify as a coup the procedure carried out under the country’s presidential constitution, foreseen precisely for the removal of an elected president, when the procedure itself is carried out to the letter and under the supervision of a supreme court composed of eleven members, eight of whom proposed by the PT governments. Or, that the person who will take the place of Dilma, if the impeachment is confirmed in October, will be the vice president who was elected along with her in 2014 and 2010. More than two thirds of MPs in both Brazilian legislative chambers voted to open the impeachment process, with an interval of nearly a month between the first and second deliberation, during which time government forces exercised their defence in forums and media and in the appropriate bodies, before which appeal after appeal were filed, in a microscopic dissection of the ritual. [Continue reading…]

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New political earthquake in Brazil: Is it now time for media outlets to call this a ‘coup’?

The Intercept reports: Brazil today awoke to stunning news of secret, genuinely shocking conversations involving a key minister in Brazil’s newly installed government, which shine a bright light on the actual motives and participants driving the impeachment of the country’s democratically elected president, Dilma Rousseff. The transcripts were published by the country’s largest newspaper, Folha de São Paulo, and reveal secret conversations that took place in March, just weeks before the impeachment vote in the lower house took place. They show explicit plotting between the new planning minister (then-senator), Romero Jucá, and former oil executive Sergio Machado — both of whom are formal targets of the “Car Wash” corruption investigation — as they agree that removing Dilma is the only means for ending the corruption investigation. The conversations also include discussions of the important role played in Dilma’s removal by the most powerful national institutions, including — most importantly — Brazil’s military leaders.

The transcripts are filled with profoundly incriminating statements about the real goals of impeachment and who was behind it. The crux of this plot is what Jucá calls “a national pact” — involving all of Brazil’s most powerful institutions — to leave Michel Temer in place as president (notwithstanding his multiple corruption scandals) and to kill the corruption investigation once Dilma is removed. In the words of Folha, Jucá made clear that impeachment will “end the pressure from the media and other sectors to continue the Car Wash investigation.” It is unclear who is responsible for recording and leaking the 75-minute conversation, but Folha reports that the files are currently in the hand of the prosecutor general. The next few hours and days will likely see new revelations that will shed additional light on the implications and meaning of these transcripts.

The transcripts contain two extraordinary revelations that should lead all media outlets to seriously consider whether they should call what took place in Brazil a “coup”: a term Dilma and her supporters have used for months. When discussing the plot to remove Dilma as a means of ending the Car Wash investigation, Jucá said the Brazilian military is supporting the plot: “I am talking to the generals, the military commanders. They are fine with this, they said they will guarantee it.” He also said the military is “monitoring the Landless Workers Movement” (Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra, or MST), the social movement of rural workers that supports PT’s efforts of land reform and inequality reduction and has led the protests against impeachment. [Continue reading…]

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Brazil rebuffs West Bank settler nominated as Israeli ambassador

Middle East Eye reports: Brazil has apparently rebuffed Israel’s nomination of a settler as its next ambassador in a move Israel says will damage diplomatic relations between the two countries.

Dani Dayan, a 60-year-old who lives in the West Bank settlement of Ma’ale Shomron, was nominated in August as Israel’s new ambassador to Brasilia.

However Brazil has yet to endorse the Argentina-born diplomat’s appointment, following lobbying in Brazil against his nomination and protests to President Dilma Rousseff about Dayan.

Ambassadorial appointments must be endorsed by the host nation – a process known as an agrément. However, if no endorsement is forthcoming within two months, it is understood that the choice has not been accepted.

Dayan was a senior member of the Yesha Council, an umbrella organisation of Jewish settlements in the West Bank, and Brazilian activists are worried that approving his selection would be seen as supporting Israel’s settlements, which are illegal under international law. [Continue reading…]

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Israel warns Brazil faces diplomatic downgrade unless it accepts settler as ambassador

Reuters reports: Brazil’s reluctance to accept an Israeli ambassador who is a West Bank settler has led to a standoff with Israel now warning it could downgrade diplomatic relations.

The appointment four months ago of Dani Dayan, a former head of the Jewish settlement movement, did not go down well with Brazil’s left-leaning government, which has supported Palestinian statehood in recent years.

Most world powers deem the Jewish settlements illegal.

Israel’s previous ambassador, Reda Mansour, left Brasilia last week and the Israeli government said on Sunday Brazil risked degrading bilateral relations if Dayan were not allowed to succeed him. [Continue reading…]

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Half of tree species in the Amazon at risk of extinction, say scientists

The Guardian reports: More than half the myriad tree species in the Amazon could be heading for extinction, according to a study that makes the first comprehensive estimate of threatened species in the world’s largest rainforest. Among the species expected to suffer significant falls in numbers are the Brazil nut, and wild cacao and açai trees, all important food sources.

The world’s most diverse forest has endured decades of deforestation, with loggers, farmers and miners responsible for the removal of 12% of its area. If that continues in the decades ahead, 57% of the 15,000 tree species will be in danger, according to the researchers. [Continue reading…]

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The world has 21 million slaves – and millions of them live in the West

Wagner Moura writes: As a child growing up in one of Brazil’s poorest regions, I was used to seeing well-off families take in girls from poorer ones to come live in their homes and be brought up as one of their own. This was seen as an act of kindness. It was only much later that I came to see it for what it really was: these young girls, who would do all the domestic chores all day long in return only for food and a roof over their heads, were in fact modern slaves.

There are 21 million modern slaves in the world today, most of them women and girls hiding in plain sight in poor and rich countries alike – 7% of today’s slaves live in North America or the European Union. From trafficking and sexual exploitation to work in private homes, agriculture, fishing, construction and manufacturing, modern slavery is not only a crime, it is big business. It generates some $150bn in illegal profits every year, according to an estimate by the International Labour Organization (ILO).

Poverty is at the root of it, as is lack of awareness by both victims and the general public. Forced labor affects the most vulnerable and least protected people, perpetuating a vicious cycle of poverty and dependency. Women, low-skilled migrant workers, children, indigenous peoples and other groups suffering discrimination on different grounds are disproportionately affected. And many victims don’t even consider themselves to be slaves – working to pay off a debt passed down through generations, or being a servant in a private home from dusk to dawn is the only life some have ever known. At the same time, you may be eating food picked by modern slaves, or wearing clothes made with slave labor without realizing it. [Continue reading…]

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The Amazon tribe protecting the forest with bows, arrows, GPS and camera traps

The Guardian reports: With bows, arrows, GPS trackers and camera traps, an indigenous community in northern Brazil is fighting to achieve what the government has long failed to do: halt illegal logging in their corner of the Amazon.

The Ka’apor – a tribe of about 2,200 people in Maranhão state – have organised a militia of “forest guardians” who follow a strategy of nature conservation through aggressive confrontation.

Logging trucks and tractors that encroach upon their territory – the 530,000-hectare Alto Turiaçu Indigenous Land – are intercepted and burned. Drivers and chainsaw operators are warned never to return. Those that fail to heed the advice are stripped and beaten.

It is dangerous work. Since the tribe decided to manage their own protection in 2011, they say the theft of timber has been reduced, but four Ka’apor have been murdered and more than a dozen others have received death threats. [Continue reading…]

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Tribes in peril

Heather Pringle writes: In a spacious, art-filled apartment in Brasília, 75-year-old Sydney Possuelo takes a seat near a large portrait of his younger self. On the canvas, Possuelo stares with calm assurance from the stern of an Amazon riverboat, every bit the famous sertanista, or Amazon frontiersman, that he once was. But on this late February morning, that confidence is nowhere to be seen. Possuelo, now sporting a beard neatly trimmed for city life, seethes with anger over the dangers now threatening the Amazon’s isolated tribespeople. “These are the last few groups of humans who are really free,” he says. “But we will kill them.”

For decades, Possuelo worked for Brazil’s National Indian Foundation (FUNAI), the federal agency responsible for the country’s indigenous peoples. In the 1970s and 1980s, he and other sertanistas made contact with isolated tribespeople so they could be moved off their land and into settlements. But Possuelo and others grew alarmed by the human toll. The newly contacted had no immunity to diseases carried by outsiders, and the flu virus, he recalls, “was like a suicide bomber,” stealing into a village unnoticed. Among some groups, 50% to 90% died (see sidebar, p. 1084). In 1987, Possuelo and fellow sertanistas met to try to stop this devastation.

In Brasília, a futuristic city whose central urban footprint evokes the shape of an airplane, the frontiersmen agreed that contact was inherently damaging to isolated tribespeople. They drew up a new action plan for FUNAI, based solidly on the principle of no contact unless groups faced extinction. They recommended mapping and legally recognizing the territories of isolated groups, and keeping out loggers, miners, and settlers. If contact proved unavoidable, protecting tribespeople’s health should be top priority.

The recommendations became FUNAI policy, and a model for other countries where isolated populations are emerging, such as neighboring Peru (see companion story, p. 1072). In remote regions, FUNAI has designated a dozen “protection fronts” — official front lines in the battle to defend isolated groups, each dotted with one or more frontier bases to track tribes and sound the alarm when outsiders invade. In an interview in February, FUNAI’s interim president, Flávio Chiarelli, told Science that his agency is “doing great” at protecting the country’s isolated tribes.

But some experts say that as the pace of economic activity in the Amazon accelerates, the protection system that was once the envy of South America is falling apart. [Continue reading…]

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Why fresh water shortages will cause the next great global crisis

Robin McKie writes: Water is the driving force of all nature, Leonardo da Vinci claimed. Unfortunately for our planet, supplies are now running dry – at an alarming rate. The world’s population continues to soar but that rise in numbers has not been matched by an accompanying increase in supplies of fresh water.

The consequences are proving to be profound. Across the globe, reports reveal huge areas in crisis today as reservoirs and aquifers dry up. More than a billion individuals – one in seven people on the planet – now lack access to safe drinking water.

Last week in the Brazilian city of São Paulo, home to 20 million people, and once known as the City of Drizzle,drought got so bad that residents began drilling through basement floors and car parks to try to reach groundwater. City officials warned last week that rationing of supplies was likely soon. Citizens might have access to water for only two days a week, they added.

In California, officials have revealed that the state has entered its fourth year of drought with January this year becoming the driest since meteorological records began. At the same time, per capita water use has continued to rise. [Continue reading…]

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Amazon rainforest losing ability to regulate climate, scientist warns

The Guardian reports: The Amazon rainforest has degraded to the point where it is losing its ability to benignly regulate weather systems, according to a stark new warning from one of Brazil’s leading scientists.

In a new report, Antonio Nobre, researcher in the government’s space institute, Earth System Science Centre, says the logging and burning of the world’s greatest forest might be connected to worsening droughts – such as the one currently plaguing São Paulo – and is likely to lead eventually to more extreme weather events.

The study, which is a summary drawing from more than 200 existing papers on Amazonian climate and forest science, is intended as a wake-up call.

“I realised the problem is much more serious than we realised, even in academia and the reason is that science has become so fragmented. Atmospheric scientists don’t look at forests as much as they should and vice versa,” said Nobre, who wrote the report for a lay audience. “It’s not written in academic language. I don’t need to preach to the converted. Our community is already very alarmed at what is going on.”

A draft seen by the Guardian warns that the “vegetation-climate equilibrium is teetering on the brink of the abyss.” If it tips, the Amazon will start to become a much drier savanna, which calamitous consequences. [Continue reading…]

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Brazil plans to lay trans-Atlantic cable free from NSA surveillance and U.S.-made technology

Bloomberg reports: Brazil is planning a $185 million project to lay fiber-optic cable across the Atlantic Ocean, which could entail buying gear from multiple vendors. What it won’t need: U.S.-made technology.

The cable is being overseen by state-owned telecommunications company Telecomunicacoes Brasileiras SA, known as Telebras. Even though Telebras’s suppliers include U.S. companies such as Cisco Systems Inc., Telebras President Francisco Ziober Filho said in an interview that the cable project can be built without any U.S. companies.

The potential to exclude U.S. vendors illustrates the fallout that is starting to unfold from revelations last year that the U.S. National Security Agency spied on international leaders like Brazil’s Dilma Rousseff and Germany’s Angela Merkel to gather intelligence on terror suspects worldwide.

“The issue of data integrity and vulnerability is always a concern for any telecom company,” Ziober said. The NSA leaks last year from contractor Edward Snowden prompted Telebras to step up audits of all foreign-made equipment to check for security vulnerabilities and accelerated the country’s move toward technological self-reliance, he said. [Continue reading…]

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