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7WWHiJ1u_400x400In all the years I’ve been reporting from Brazil there is one subject I regularly tried to avoid writing about.

That subject is politics and the reason is simple: Who gets elected president in Brazil doesn’t matter that much and for that reason Brazilian politics is rarely interesting to outsiders.

Brazil is the world’s seventh biggest economy but it is relatively unimportant when it comes to geo-political matters. No one in Beijing or Washington or Berlin believes their world will change – much less THE world – if Aecio beats Dilma or vice versa. Brazil is more important than outsiders think, but less important that Brazilians want to believe.

There are a lot more journalists and wannabes in Brazil now than there were 12 years ago and that means there is a lot more coverage and a lot more bias.

In addition, elections can be interesting because of the personalities involved and this ballot provoked an unusual amount of interest because of Eduardo Campos’ tragic death, the rise and fall of Marina Silva, and the last-minute comeback by Aecio Neves.

But like most of the elections this century, it doesn’t really matter who wins because both candidates have remarkably similar policies. They both promise continuity, albeit with very different styles. (This BBC guide explains how little difference there really is between the two parties.)

The economy will keep stuttering along – faster if Aecio wins, slower if Dilma does – and inequality will continue to fall – faster if Dilma wins, slower if Aecio does. Public security is largely a state issue, and the big changes necessary in education have to come at state and municipal level. Neither candidate can hope to end endemic corruption and although foreign policy might change slightly who really cares?

The key issues facing Brazil – a modernisation of the justice, health and education systems, along with lower taxes, less corruption, a much-needed reduction in violence and a massive increase in infrastructure spending – are the same ones as one or even two generations ago.

Those changes are not going to happen under the current dysfunctional system in which 28 parties in Congress force laborious negotiations on every little issue.

What Brazil needs is a bold overhaul of its political system and more public participation.

And there’s nothing that a new president can do about that.

dilma4Brazilians voted for a new president on Sunday night, with Dilma Rousseff coming out top in the first round ahead of Aecio Neves and Marina Silva.

Dilma took 42 % and will face Aecio, who got 34 %, in a run off on Oct. 26. (See all results here.)

It was a depressing moment for me, with voters opting for Dilma, in spite of the fact that during her administration the economy has slowed, she’s done nothing to make Brazil more open or more attractive to the outside world, and the incredible changes brought about by her predecessor have slowed noticeably.

Not that voters had much option. Aecio is distant and relatively unknown outside his heartlands of Minas and Rio and he heads a party that has been stagnant for years in terms of leadership and ideas.

Marina was a change candidate, but is riven with contradictions and allows religion to play way too much of a role in her political life.

Most disappointing of all was the fact that the June 2013 protests, where millions took to the streets to demand lower bus fares, better public services and less corruption, were, as I’ve been saying for a year, nothing more than a few days of fun and frolics.

Those demands were forgotten completely and Brazilians were happy to elect the same old tired, questionable, right-wing, anti-progressive candidates who oppose abortion, gay marriage, police reform and other basic issues that are absolutely necessary if Brazil is to become a modern society.

As the results came in, I riffed on twitter with the following 10 unbelievable things I was seeing.

1 – SP reelect Geraldo Alckmin resoundingly after brutal police crack downs and as drought approaches.

2 – Failed mayor Cesar Maia comes second in Rio Senate election.

3 – Rio put Crivella in gubernatorial run off against Pezao. The candidates were bad, but Crivella!?

4 – 41 % of Brazilians still vote for Dilma as growth falls, inflation rises and there’s absolutely no sign things will change in new term.

5 – A third of Brazilians see the PSDB – a party that has gone 8 years with no new leaders and no new ideas – as a viable alternative.

6 – It is frightening that in a major 21st century democracy all of the leading candidates are anti-abortion.

7 – A woman who consults God before making policy decisions may help decide who is Brazil’s next president. Now, that’s worrying.

8 – SP is one of Brazil’s most educated states. The 3 most voted deputies are a former TV salesman, a clown and an outspoken anti-gay pastor.

9 – Many people thought the June protests were a harbinger of a new Brazil. They were nothing more than a big fight/party over bus fares.

10 – And the most unbelievable thing to me about Brazilian elections is…..People take religious leaders seriously.

Bonus 11 – Rio de Janeiro, the “coolest” state, voted as No.1 deputy Jairo Bolsonaro, an unapologetic, right-wing, anti-gay misanthrope. Sigh

My twitter: @adowniebrazil

Sometimes if you repeat a falsehood often enough you actually believe it’s true.

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff told us today the government has “done its part” and that the country will be ready to host the World Cup.

“I want to guarantee to everyone, first and foremost, that we have done our part,” she said. “We have stadiums ready, airports ready, we guarantee security during this period and I am sure that the Brazilian people are generous, happy and will welcome (visitors). Both off the field and on it we will show the power of our country.”

With 48 days to go three stadiums are still not ready and won’t be completely done by the time the games kick off on June 12. There won’t be enough time to properly test all the facilities.

Airports are even worse. The new terminal at Guarulhos might be “finished” but not enough to handle more than one-in-four of the international flights touching down at the airport, Brazil’s biggest. It will receive less than 10 % of all traffic.

The airport at Fortaleza won’t be ready so passengers will be greeted in a makeshift terminal area made out of tarpaulin.

And don’t get me started on public transport, the once much vaunted legacy that is now in tatters. Brazil shelved or cut back on so many projects that it is now spending more on luxurious stadiums for the few than proper roads, bus lanes, tram lines and metros for the many.

No sane person could consider Brazil “ready.”

Is there a silver lining in this? No.

But at least Dilma was right about one thing. Brazilians are generous, happy and welcoming. The Cup should at least be fun.

 

DilmaPresident Dilma Rousseff today once again said Brazil needs to become more competitive, improve its infrastructure and cut down on red tape.

“Our country has to change, and change in the direction of greater competitiveness,” she said, according to this Reuters story. (And more here in Portuguese.)

I’d feel a lot more supportive of Dilma if there seemed to be any real action behind those rousing and sensible words.

Brazilians still pay more taxes than anyone in the developing world and the government hasn’t made any real attempt to cut them. Dilma has at least tried to encourage the private sector to get involved in building infrastructure. It’s still way too little, but it’s something.

And as for cutting bureaucracy, nothing meaningful has been done. Chile, for example, announced this week it would allow people to open a business in one working day. In Brazil it takes 119 days, according to this World Bank report.

Talk is cheap and action speaks louder than words. Brazil needs more of the former and more of the latter.

Brazil’s Supreme Court is in the middle of its Big Brother moment. Everywhere you look there are old people in togas.

The justices are trying 38 people accused in the mensalao trial, the biggest and most gripping trial ever to come before the highest court. It’s live on television every day and what happens is headline news.

In addition, President Dilma Rousseff this week named a new justice, Teori Zavascki, 64, to replace Cezar Peluso who was forced to retire after turning 70 years old.

Here’s the odd thing. Peluso was forced to stand down in the middle of the biggest trial of the century because he reached mandatory retirement age. That could have potentially awkward consequences if the 10 remaining judges are deadlocked.

The other odd things is that Zavascki – if he passes the Senate confirmation – goes straight onto the bench and can vote in the mensalao trial – EVEN THOUGH HE HASN’T HEARD THE EVIDENCE SO FAR.

So here’s a thought. Why not make a provision for judges who reach retirement age to stay on until their ongoing trial ends, or until the current session is over?

And have his replacement take up his role at the start of the next case, not half way through the existing ones.

Wouldn’t that better serve the cause of justice?

(Speaking of Brazilian justice, here’s an excellent piece from Reuters on the same subject.)

Every year Time lists its 100 Most Influential People In The World.

The 2012 list is out today and there are a record three Brazilians on it, entrepreneur Eike Batista, President Dilma Rousseff and Petrobras CEO Maria das Graças Silva Foster.

Everyone can find fault with the list – how is that guy on it and where is so-and-so?!? – but that’s part of its appeal.

Time editors choose who makes the list and there are often heated, last-minute discussions over who makes the final cut and who gets bumped.

But the coolest thing about the list is how famous people write short essays about those chosen.

This year, Barack Obama writes about Warren Buffet, Bill Gates talks on Salman Khan, Mia Hamm lauds Lionel Messi and, ahem, Cristina Kirchner even writes about Dilma Rousseff.

We managed to convince Eduardo Paes to give us his opinions on Eike Batista and the Rio mayor wrote a lovely piece that captures their friendly relationship but most of all, their mutual love for Rio.

The whole list can be found here but here’s Paes’  ode to Eike:

“I have the best job in the world. I wake up every morning energized at the thought of running Rio de Janeiro, the most exciting city on the planet. Our beloved Cidade Maravilhosa(Marvelous City) is going through an extraordinary era of positive change and social development — and as one of its most treasured adopted sons, Eike Batista, 55, has helped us shape the renaissance. He might be Brazil’s richest man and the world’s seventh richest, bringing vital investment to our city from oil and mining, but his most valuable asset is his commitment to Rio’s legacy. In 2009 Eike bolstered our successful bid for the 2016 Olympics, and since then he has partnered with us on municipal projects like the cleanup of the Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoon. His initiatives, besides helping fund a children’s hospital, include the revitalization of the city’s Marina da Glória, which will be home to the Olympic sailing events, and the establishment of Escola Social de Vôlei, a nonprofit organization that promotes social inclusion in the favelas through sports. Eike and I may not agree on which of us has the best job in the world, but one thing we certainly agree on is that Rio de Janeiro is the best place in the world.”

 

The most incredible thing about this whole Jerome Valcke says Brazil “needs a kick up the backside” spat is his apology.

FIFA general secretary Valcke sent a letter to Sports Minister Rebelo apologising for saying Brazil’s World Cup preparations were “not working” and that organisers needed “a kick up the backside”.

The comments caused a huge furor in Brazil, as you can see here in my Reuters story.

Valcke blamed a translator for his lack of diplomacy and said his French should have been translated as something more akin to Brazil “needs a shake.”

Well, I spoke to someone who was there when he made those comments and it turns out HE SPOKE IN ENGLISH!

What kind of man – least of all being recorded by dozens of journalists, radio reporters and cameramen – thinks he can get away with such blatant lying?

And isn’t there someone in the Brazilian government who is going to take him to task about this?

Valcke, of course, has a history of lying, as this great Independent story from 2007 reveals. He was fired from FIFA once before for lying in a court case involving big sponsors.

His boss Blatter tried to smooth over the ruffled feathers yesterday by apologising to the Brazilian government. But I don’t know if it’s enough. The Brazilian government has declared Valcke persona non grata.

We’ll find out next week if they accept the double apology and back down. Valcke is due to visit Brazil March 12.

Sex sells.

My piece on the controversial Gisele Bundchen lingerie campaign is top of the Time’s most read list today.

I’d like to think that’s because of my sparkling writing and astute analysis. But I think it’s probably because it is about Gisele Bundchen in lingerie.

I can only imagine how popular it would be if I included videos of the three ads in my story, featuring the Gaucha goddess pouting away in her bra and panties.

You can find them here.

Here’s the first one for your delectation.

 

Hacking has been in the news recently, with hackers, or crackers, as they supposedly call themselves, taking down a number of Brazilian sites last week, including many run by the federal government.

(See my blog in today’s Christian Science Monitor.)

Adding an extra spice to the issue was a report in yesterday’s Folha de S. Paulo newspaper saying a 21-year old hacker accessed hundreds of Dilma Rousseff’s emails while she was campaigning to become president.

That led the country’s Science and Technology Minister to try and co-opt Brazilian hackers.

Aloizio Mercadante called on hackers to join his ministry’s programmers today and help them solve internal bugs. He dubbed July 1 Hackers Day.

Nice try. But it ain’t going to work.

If Mercadante really wants to get a message across (and this goes for government and private enterprise alike) he could start by concentrating on the basics.

His ministry’s own site didn’t mention his much reported call to hackers.

When I read that headline, Small Earthquake in Brazil’s Planalto, in today’s Financial Times I thought people in the capital were worrying about books falling from shelves and coffee spilling over.

It turns out that the FT editorial was metaphorical rather than literal.

The paper lauded the earlywork of President Dilma Rousseff for making her own mark on government, paticularly in the fields of human rights and the economy.

Rousseff was Lula’s pic and many thought she might be Lula in a skirt. But the FT cheerily noted:

“Ms Rousseff has broken with her predecessor’s policies in a number of encouraging ways. One of the least appealing aspects of Mr Lula da Silva’s presidency was his cosying up to Iran, and his refusal to speak out about human rights abuses there. This posture made cordial relations with the US difficult. Ms Rousseff is reversing his stance. She rightly criticised the refusal of her predecessor’s government to join a UN resolution to condemn stoning in Iran.”

The FT also praised Rousseff for making more spending cuts but it warned these are early days and there is much to do, such as reform Brazil’s ridiculously complex tax code, boost the savings rate and prevent inflation and interest rates spiralling out of control.

The overall verdicton her first month was positive.

“Ms Rousseff has made a sound start,” the paper said. “The panic that greeted Mr Lula da Silva’s inauguration proved largely misplaced. If Ms Rousseff continues as she has started, she will confound the doubters as well.”

Amen to that.

 

 

 

 

 

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