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Itau, run by liars, thieves and cheatsItau made a profit of 14 billion reais (around US $7 billion) last year.

Here’s one of the reasons why.

A couple of weeks ago I spotted an unfamiliar charge on my bank statement. It’s hard to know what Brazil’s banks are charging you for because they deliberately make the statement unintelligible.

For example, instead of writing: Payment for Private Health Plan – 601,94 reais, they write AG. PAG TIT 236431171236362 – 601,94.

After taking a closer look I saw they’d been taking 20 reais out my account every month since the start of the year. I knew it couldn’t be a monthly charge for running my account because I’d last year specifically asked Itau not to charge me the monthly fee and they’d removed it.

(Banks won’t tell you this but you are not obliged to pay a monthly fee. As long as you’re not using a certain number of checks or withdrawals, banking is free.)

So I went to the bank and asked about the mysterious charge. They opened an investigation and promised to call back within a week. They didn’t so I went back and complained again. A few days later I got a phone call.

After half-heartedly trying to shift the blame on me the bank eventually admitted they had illegally reinstated the monthly charge. For seven months I’d been paying them 20 reais a month even thought I had specifically asked them to remove it.

The bank apologised (in their own unapologetic way) and promised me they would reimburse me the 140 reais.

Excellent, I thought and celebrated one of life’s tiny victories.

I told a friend about this triumph and he laughed. They’re still screwing you, he said.

How’s that, I asked.

The answer is this:

When a bank or utility illegally charges you or overcharges you they are obliged not just to pay you back what they owe but pay you back DOUBLE.

I checked. He’s right. Here‘s the Defesa do Consumidor page saying exactly that.

So I went back to Itau and asked them if I was entitled to receive double. They said Yes, and promised to begin the process to pay me the extra 140 reais.

Why didn’t you tell me that under the law I was entitled to receive double, I asked.

We only pay double to those that ask, my bank manager responded.

So even though you know the law says you should pay back double, Itau doesn’t do that unless customers ask specifically for the letter of the law to be applied.

She hummed and hawed and told me that was the culture here and that all banks did it this way.

I told her Itau were nothing short of thieves.

She shrugged her shoulders and looked sheepish.

I will now wait and see if Itau pay me double as they’re supposed to. But I at least established another reason Itau’s profit last year was the second biggest in Brazilian banking history.

By deceiving their customers.

The Economist’s recent Brazil report started a huge debate that in Brazil at least centered on criticism of both the report’s style (the flashy cover) and its substance (impeccable reporting and reasoned analysis that dared to suggest Brazil is far from perfect).

The magazine asked “Has Brazil Blown It?”and over 14 pages wrote about where Brazil is doing things right (agriculture, social policy) and where it is doing things wrong (education, infrastructure, politics).

I’ve lived in Brazil for more than a decade, and written about it for dozens of magazines and newspapers and I long ago realized that if you write 10 nice things about Brazil and one not-so-nice thing Brazilians and Brazil-lovers will seize on the not-so-nice thing and presume you hate their country.

The Economist Brazil covers from 2009 and 2013

The Economist Brazil covers from 2009 and 2013

It’s a sign of Brazil’s immaturity and lack of engagement with the wider world as well as an indication of how passionately people (including expat residents) feel about the place.

For far too many Brazilians and Brazil-lovers, pointing out that there’s too much corruption, or red tape, or that the judicial system only works for the rich, or that the banks are nothing short of thieves means you hate Brazil.

Because in Brazil, if you criticize something it means you’re against it.

I think the opposite is true.

Here’s my question for all those who think there’s a conspiracy against Brazil:

Who loves Brazil more? A corrupt Congressman who siphons off money that should be going to schools and hospitals? A young businessman whose drink driving kills an old age pensioner out walking her dog? A banker charging interest rates of 238% a year?

Or the person who denounces the corrupt Congressman, the young businessman whose drink driving kills and the banking system that allows bankers to rob (and stunt growth and investment) with their criminal bank charges?

To criticize doesn’t mean to hate. Sometimes it means exactly the opposite.

A Brazilian Congressman was found guilty of embezzlement and organized crime earlier this year and sentenced to 13 years in jail, thus becoming the first parliamentarian in almost three decades to be imprisoned while holding elected office.

Last night, his colleagues in the Chamber of Deputies voted that Natan Donadon should not lose his parliamentary perks.

Brazil’s hated political class could not have sent a clearer message to their citizens.

Your protests against corruption, abuse of power and impunity were a waste of time. Their vote last night said, “We don’t care what you think.” It screamed, “Business as usual.”

The mass protests that shook Brazil in June lasted just a few weeks and only a hard core have continued protesting in the weeks and months since. (I explain some of the reasons here.)

But if Brazilians really want change, then this is the time to act. It is at moments like this they must make their voices heard. They must tell their politicians that such decisions are unacceptable.

Impunity is the grease that oils the wheels of corruption. It is time to take to the streets again and say, once again, Enough is Enough.

The protesters who took to the streets of Brazil’s biggest cities last night are to be congratulated on a significant victory.

Few people imagined that after the violent police crackdown on Sao Paulo’s protesters last Thursday an even greater number would come out in sympathy just four days later.

But they did just that and across Brazil hundreds of thousands of people, most of them peacefully, expressed their dissatisfaction with the status quo.

Exactly how many people took part in the protests is impossible to know. But estimates suggest 65,000 people took to the streets of Sao Paulo, almost twice that in Rio and smaller, but still considerable, numbers made their presence felt in Belo Horizonte, Salvador, Porto Alegre and dozens of other towns and cities.

The big question is what happens now. The protesters have the wind at their backs, so what will they do? They have called another march (in SP at least) for Tuesday night. Will they call more? Enter in to talks with authorities? As yet no one knows.

A lot of that depends on exactly what they want.

The unrest was originally sparked by a hike in bus fares and many of the protesters come from the Free Fare Movement, a group that wants free public transport for all. That’s an unreal demand. No serious country provides all its citizens with free public transport.

But since then the demonstration has expanded to include broader issues. One major complaint is the cost of hosting the World Cup and the Confederations Cup, the second of which kicked off in six Brazilian cities on Saturday.

The government is spending more than $3 billion on stadiums, some of them obvious white elephants but it hasn’t carried out many of the essential public transportation projects it promised.

One of the challenges facing the movement’s leaders is articulating a message beyond that of, ‘We want better treatment and more rights.’ And until they do that it will struggle to achieve anything concrete.

Anyone who has spent any time in Brazil knows that people are treated abysmally. As I said here last week, Brazilians pay first world taxes and get third world services. No one respects no one. Complaining is futile and the deck is heavily stacked against anyone who raises their voice in anger. (Which is one of the reasons a more generalized outrage hasn’t taken hold until now.)

Brazil deserves great credit for lifting 40 million people out of poverty over the last decade. But ironically, that class of newly enfranchised people might be a cause of the unrest.

–          More people can afford to buy cars and hundreds of new cars pour onto the streets of Sao Paulo each day. But the government hasn’t invested in infrastructure like roads or highways and public transport is underfunded and inefficient and an unappealing alternative.

–          More people can afford health insurance but the companies selling them not only provide a risible coverage, they fight tooth and nail to stop their clients from getting the treatment they are paying for, sometimes with tragic consequences.

–          More people have cable television but just try calling up and complaining about the service or trying to cancel it. The companies sadistically force their clients to jump through online hoops in order to hold them to costly contracts.

–          More people have cell phones and Brazilians pay some of the highest rates in the world. But calls frequently cut out, the signal is patchy, and after sales service is a joke.

–          More people have banks accounts but banks charge abusive interest rates – 237 % a year for credit cards – and they sneak additional charges onto bills, and treat customers more like waling wallets than valued customers.

–          Education is a joke. A tragic joke.

In short, there are lots of reasons why Brazilians should be angry.

The other big question is how politicians will deal with the crisis. What possible answers can they provide? Not only are they discredited, they cannot hope to provide quick solutions to resolve long-standing infrastructure issues.

They are in bed with the multinationals and conglomerates whose consistent mistreatment of and disdain for their customers is a complaint I hear every single day from Brazilians.

It is hard to see how they can provide quick and satisfactory answers to the questions above.

And last but not least, Are Brazilians going to see this through to the end?

Brazil is not a politicised society nor one where memories are long or protests lasting. In neighbouring Argentina, hundreds of thousands of people take to the streets to protest graft and they do it again and again and again.

Brazil’s media will play up the violence and they will play up the fear. If political parties try to hijack the movement it will lose its credibility. The middle class must get involved and stay involved.

If Brazilians really want to see change they will need stamina and resolve. They may have to shout themselves hoarse over and over and over again. If this is really going to turn into something lasting then Monday night is not the end. It is only the beginning.

Brazil is not a country where people protest. It is not a country of revolutionaries.

As Mauricio Savarese explains in this clear and didactive blog, Brazilians abhor violence and they avoid it all costs. If your cause embraces violence then you’ve lost. The only way to win in Brazil – and that means by getting the larger public behind you – is through peaceful protest and negotiation.

That’s one of the reasons the reaction to last Thursday’s protest and police violence in Sao Paulo are so interesting.

Lots of people are asking whether this wave of protests can really be over a 20 centavo rise in bus fares. (20 centavos is about 10 cents or 7 pence.)

Phillip Vianna in this CNN blog says “it is the uprising of the most intellectualized portion of society.” Marcelo Rubens Paiva in today’s Estado de Sao Paulo says the protests are “a collective revolt against the state that treats individuals as a nuisance, the enemy.” And the RioReal blog suggests that “the twenty centavos could represent a tipping point in Rio’s general panorama, as citizens wake up to authoritarian government and a longtime lack of dialogue.”

I’d love them to be right. Rubens Paiva’s definition of how the state treats its citizens is certainly spot on.

Brazilians pay first world taxes and get third world services in return. Their politicians represent big interests and treat voters with little more than contempt. Corruption is ingrained, a part of the country’s culture and fabric.

No one protests. No one gets angry. Anti-corruption demonstrations rarely unite more than a few thousand people. (Clicking a button on facebook doesn’t count as anger, or protest.)

Brazilians can’t be bothered taking to the streets because they know that unless the protests gain nationwide scope they will be ignored. And they know that won’t happen because most people don’t see the point. It’s a vicious circle. “Why bother demanding change; nothing changes so why bother.”

But there’s an awful lot of wishful thinking going on in some of the analysis. It is way too early to say last week’s protests mark a turning point. They could very easily peter out. If there is more violence then support will erode and the protesters will be marginalised.

Is this the start of something? Are Brazilians waking up? Have they finally decided enough is enough?

I certainly hope so and I do think it is inevitable, sooner or later. As incomes grow, people will start demanding better treatment.

When enough Brazilians can make the trip to Miami and see they can buy a white tshirt in GAP for $8 dollars, rather than pay $30 for the same inferior quality garment in Sao Paulo and Rio they might be shaken into action. Last week’s protests might be the first sign of that.

But I am not convinced that moment has arrived.

A lot will depend on the character of the next week’s protests. If they are hijacked by the same extremists, who often glob onto anything anti- then they will fail. The middle class will take fright and abandon them. And without middle class lending their voice en masse they are doomed.

If they can get lots of people out on the streets, from all sectors of society, and if they can demonstrate peacefully, even in the face of police provocation, then they might be on to something and the optimistic predictions of a paradigm shift might be realised.

Next week is going to be very interesting.

I don’t normally publish emails on my blog but this one is worth sharing, especially after the furor that erupted over this case involving the Atlantic.

This is the sort of insulting thing that occasionally appears in my inbox, cheekily (to put it mildly) asking me to give away my work for free.

William Barns-Graham, the Editor of New York Daily Sun and Content Editor at Allied Newspapers, should be ashamed.

I don’t think he’d ask a plumber to fix his bathroom sink for free and neither would he have the guts to even suggest to a taxi driver that he drive him around gratis.

Does he go to restaurants and ask chefs to whip him up a salad or pasta free of charge?

Does he go to shoe shops and ask for free pairs of shoes?

No. He wouldn’t have the balls.

And yet he feels perfectly at ease asking journalists to give up their time to write ‘original content’ that will help him sell newspapers and online ads.

And people wonder why journalism is in a state….

Hi there,

I’m writing to you from a global network of newspapers called Allied Newspapers – a network of newspapers including ‘New York Daily Sun’, ‘South American Herald’ and ‘Hong Kong Morning Star’. As a network we have already attracted 100,000 views this year despite our relative youth but we’re looking to expand this further.

We are looking for freelance writers to help increase our network via interesting content and word of mouth exposure as well. In return your writing would gain greater exposure as part of our network – we have in the past had articles receive over 10,000 views individually and this is something that will increase as the network becomes bigger.

Judging by your blog, you could be an ideal writer for one of our titles. We only accept original content and cannot at this stage pay for articles, but we can offer you exposure and a string to your writers bow in that you will be writing increasingly respectful titles.

We are interesting in all sorts of articles ranging from world news to sport to academic expertise on specific areas and so on. We are libertarian so we are interested in being a platform for all political motivations and opinions but we do draw a line at anything that may be termed extremist or that may incite hatred of some sort.

If you’re interested, please feel free to respond us at submissions@alliednewspapers.org and check out some of the titles posted in the postscript.

Yours truly,

William Barns-Graham

Editor of New York Daily Sun

Content Editor at Allied Newspaper

(Skype: william.barns.graham)

Wondering why there's a picture of a caipirinha in a story about Rio's Olympic preparations? Because this is what's on the Rio2016 site. There are no photos of any venues.

Wondering why there’s a picture of a caipirinha in a story about Rio’s Olympic preparations? Because this is what’s on the Rio2016 site. There are no photos of any venues.

The catalyst for my story on Time.com today was the closure of Rio’s 2016 Olympic games stadium because it is in danger of collapse.

The Joao Havelange stadium was inaugurated just six years ago but was so poorly done it is already in an advanced state of disrepair.

My editors at Time made tweaks to my story on the grounds it was too opinionated.

What I wanted to say loud and clear, and have been saying in conversation for years, is this: The people who ran Rio’s 2007 Pan American Games and who are organising the next Olympics are guilty of either deceit or bad planning or both.

For the Pan Ams they promised the city of Rio 54km of new metro, a light railway line and a new highway.

They did none of it.

The games were at least six times over budget and the justification was that the venues and facilities were expensive because they were of Olympic standard.

They are not.

The track and field stadium is in danger of collapse. The aquatics park is not big enough to be used for the Olympics and a new one must be built. The brand new cycle track can’t be used because it is not good enough. The Maracana is undergoing its third reform since 2000 at a total cost exceeding 1 billion reais.

Rio’s Pan Am experience is more about how not to prepare for a major sporting event than how to.

It is nothing short of scandalous that the organizers are being given a second chance.

I almost went to a balada this weekend but instead arrived home early having went through one of those small but telling experiences that reinforce my belief Brazil is still a long way from ever fulfilling its true potential.

I arrived at the door to the Trackers club around 1 am with half a dozen friends, both foreign and Brazilian. Voodoo Hop, an otherwise admirable group that seeks to rejuvenate the city centre by running clubs and cultural events in abandoned buildings, were organising another of their successful club nights.

After waiting half an hour to edge up the queue and get in the door, we discovered that there was another queue inside the building to get into the actual club.

My friends – most of whom were a good deal younger than me – took it in their stride. I was outraged. After another 10 minutes waiting in the second queue that snaked up two flights of stairs, I left.

Brazil has problems with lots of things that won’t change overnight. Corruption, antiquated infrastructure, a putrid political system, and the obscene amount of power leveraged by multinationals and construction companies are all ingrained in the culture and will only improve with government intervention or massive pressure from society, neither of which looks like happening any time soon.

But the stupid invention of bureaucracy for simple tasks like getting in a night club is easy to resolve. One queue, fine. Two queues, pointless and self-defeating.

The big worry I have here – and this is the part that reinforce my belief Brazil is still a long way from fulfilling its potential – is that I was the only one who saw anything wrong with this.

Not only were the organizers of this young and hip nightclub happy to carry on with the same old bureaucratic and non-sensical rules imposed on them by an older generation. (If there’s a good reason from this, I’d be happy to hear it, VoodooHop…)

What was worse was that the young kids waiting in line accepted it as normal. There was no outrage at being made to stand passively in two different queues, much less being made to stand passively in two different queues for the right to hand over a 30 real entry fee.

Instead, anyone who complained was “uptight”, “stressed out” or “whining.”

I voted with my feet. Unless more people do the same, the bureaucracy and BS is never going away.

The Brazilian Senate just elected Renan Calheiros as its president, thus making him the third highest ranking politician in the country after the president and vice president.

Calheiros resigned this post in 2007 in order to avoid impeachment after he was accused of using money from a lobby group to pay alimony to a former girlfriend and of using false documents while lying about the scandal.

He currently faces fresh charges, with the country’s top prosecutor accusing him of bribery and using false documents to justify illegal payments he was receiving.

The Senate chose to ignore those accusations – and his dubious past – and this afternoon elected him by a margin of 56 votes to 18.

Innocent until proven guilty is a fundamental principle of democratic societies and Calheiros has the right to defend himself and to run for office.

But if they had rejected his bid for the presidency, Senators would have sent out a positive sign that ethics and morals are important factors when choosing those who will lead the nation.

Instead, they gave Brazilians one more reason to loathe their politicians.

When asked to name their most corrupt institutions last year, Brazilians put ‘Political Parties’ and ‘Parliament and Legislature’ together in a tie for first place. (See the full study here, by Transparency International.)

The election of Calheiros is a perfect example of why.

The Santa Maria disco fire is now officially the worst disaster in Brazil for half a century. But it would be wrong to interpret the tragedy in which 233 people died as just one more example of incompetence.

The mistakes made at the Kiss nightclub are disgustingly common and have been made repeatedly the world over. This list of the 10 deadliest modern nightclub fires includes several from the US, as well as from France and Argentina.

I’ve written and broadcast a lot recently about Brazil’s culture of impunity and how the mensalao trial indicates that this could be ending. (Some of Brazil’s best-known and most powerful politicians were last year found guilt of political corruption and they face considerable jail time.)

What happens in Santa Maria will give us a clear signal as to whether that culture of impunity really is coming to an end.

Many mistakes were made and many questions must be asked.

  •  – Were there enough emergency exits?
  •  – Were they big enough?
  •  – Were staff trained in evacuation and crowd management?
  •  – Why was the band allowed to use fireworks in an enclosed space?
  •  – Why was cheap and flammable acoustic foam used on the roof?
  •  – Why were the windows barred?
  •  – Did the club have the proper safety and fire certificates?
  •  – If they didn’t, who signed the papers that allowed the place to keep opening?

The issue now is addressing those questions and bringing those responsible to justice.

Brazil has made huge strides in recent years but only if those responsible for the deaths are brought to justice can it maintain that progress. Anything else would be a massive travesty and a slap in the face to the families of those who died.

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