Lula maintains shaky relationship with Brazilian press

•September 22, 2010 • Leave a Comment

President Lula enjoys widespread support in Brazil, the result of a generally successful 8 years in power. But his relationship with the press has at times been strained; his occasional frustration with the media will no doubt be part of his legacy once he leaves power at the end of this year.

The president spoke out last week against the media’s alleged interference in the presidential election, as a number of scandals emerged late in the election cycle (reported by major magazines and newspapers) which could have been damaging to his chosen candidate, Dilma Rousseff. (Thus far, her polling numbers have not changed despite these reports and a few high-level resignations within the government.)

At an event over the weekend, the president called certain sectors of the media “an embarrassment.” “We will defeat certain newspapers and magazines that behave like political parties, but don’t have the courage to admit they are a political party and support a particular candidate,” he went on to say. “We don’t need creators of opinion. We are the public opinion.”

The National Newspaper Association (ANJ) as well as the Brazilian Lawyer’s Association (OAB) called the president’s statements “regrettable,” and defended the importance of a free press. One of Brazil’s main daily newspapers, O Estado de S. Paulo, was more direct in its criticism, publishing an editorial on Tuesday titled, “The Elite that Lula Can’t Stand.” Excerpts from the column are translated below:

“In the scenarios in which President Lula invariably introduces himself as the protagonist in the creation of the wonderful country we live in today, the role of antagonist is always reserved for the “elite”. For more than 500 years, the elites kept Brazil chained to the shackles of underdevelopment and to the most perverse social injustice. Then came the president, fearless, and in less than eight years everything changed. Simple as that.

“With this Manichean rhetoric, Lula shamelessly nurtures within the electorate of low income and little education – his primary target audience – the widespread feeling that those who have money and/or education are on the “other side,” in the enemy ranks. But the truth is that the champion of the destitute nurtures a genuine dislike for one, and only one, category of elite: the intellectual, formed by people who waste time reading and thus feel they have the right to critically evaluate the performance of rulers. By extension, a huge aversion to the press. With all the other elites His Excellency has solved his problems. With them, he is perfectly composed, refined, an associate, an ally….

“Lula discloses his real target every time he opens his mouth. As he did on the 18th, in Juiz de Fora [a town in Minas Gerais state]: ‘These people do not forgive us. Just look at some of the entities and newspapers in Brazil (…) Because in reality, the opposition in this country is a certain type of press. Oh, how they invent things against Lula. Look, if I depended on them to have an 80% approval in this country I would have zero. Because 90% of the good things this country is not shown [sic].’

“So this is it. Press that speaks ill of the government is worthless, and goes beyond the limits of freedom of information. It is no more than an instrument of domination by the elites….”

This debate over the role of the press is not new to Brazil, and nor will it end with this election cycle. But even in an election in which he is not running, President Lula’s relationship with the media is still managing to make headlines here.


Tiririca, professional clown, set to become second most-voted Congressman in Brazil’s history

•September 21, 2010 • Leave a Comment

If the election were held today, according to this week’s Datafolha public opinion poll, the clown Tiririca would be elected to Congress with more votes (900,000) than any other representative in the country. Such an outcome would make him the second highest-voted representative in the country’s history.

Tiririca, professional clown and candidate for Congress

Tiririca’s Republic Party is betting on his popularity to ensure they receive a high number of votes in the elections – since the number of Congressmen a party can send to the House of Representatives is determined by the total number of votes the party receives, a high vote total for Tiririca would also help to earn the Republic Party more seats in the House.

Tiririca’s campaign slogan reads, “Because it can’t get any worse!” In an interview with Folha de S. Paulo, he admitted he doesn’t know what a Congressman does, couldn’t name a specific proposal he would like to implement if elected, and says he has never voted. Despite his popularity among the electorate, however, not everyone is a fan of the clown’s political involvement. Tiririca is “making a mockery of democracy,” according to Juca Ferreira, Brazil’s Minister of Culture.

Brazil still among world’s top 10 most unequal societies, thanks to poor education levels

•September 16, 2010 • 1 Comment

Despite Brazil’s booming economy and generally bright prospects, the country’s abysmal level of public education has kept it among the world’s 10 most unequal societies.  Though Brazil’s Gini Coefficient, or measure of inequality, has improved in recent years, its society is still, at a measure of 0.5448 (of a maximum level of 1) more unequal than both the United States, (whose coefficient is close to 0.400) and India (0.300). Despite its recent development, in terms of inequality still Brazil resembles poorer countries in Latin American and Sub-Saharan Africa, more than it does emerging economies and developed nations, according to Marcelo Neri, an economist at the Getúlio Vargas Foundation (FGV).

Levels of education in Brazil keep it among the world's most unequal societies.

Though the country has made efforts to improve the level of education and the number of children in school, a recent study by the Brazilian Statistical Institute (IBGE) found that half of people between the ages of 15 and 17 were not enrolled in high school courses.

According to Neri, the economist at FGV, Brazil’s “new middle class,” which has benefited from an increase in income in recent years, is made up of children who stayed in school in the 1990s, once universal access to education was established. Salary levels for those with and without a college education are very different in Brazil. For inequality to decrease, the economist said, education has to improve and kids have to stay in school, so their income levels will rise in the long run.

As leaders debate how to improve public education in the country, a recent University of São Paulo study found that in order to abide by a recent amendment to increase the number of years children spend in school from 9 to 14, the country would have to invest R$8 billion in education. According to the Brazilian Statistical Institute, current time spent in school is about 7.2 years.

While the onus of providing basic education to students in Brazil falls to the states, rather than the federal government, the state governments’ ability to implement the new education goals – which would include an additional 4 million students into the school system – will depend on national political will.

Claws are out in aftermath of government corruption scandal

•September 15, 2010 • 2 Comments

Claws were out on all sides on Tuesday in the wake of allegations that the President’s Chief of Staff’s played a role in a corruption scandal involving her son.

President Lula with his Chief of Staff, Erenice Guerra

The Workers’ Party leadership was in full defense mode on Tuesday, hoping to limit damage to Dilma Rousseff’s presidential campaign. Both Lula and Dilma accused Social Democrat José Serra of being behind the allegations. The president took the lead in shielding his Chief of Staff, calling on the police to perform a speedy investigation of the accusations made against her son. Dilma also showed her support for Erenice Guerra in an interview Tuesday afternoon.

In its airtime during the mandatory political hour, Serra’s campaign did not waste the opportunity to associate Erenice Guerra with her former boss, Dilma Rousseff.

And Erenice, with Lula behind her, sent a note out to the press in which she described José Serra as “unethical,” and a candidate who is “already defeated.”

Meanwhile, additional allegations against the Chief of Staff have begun to surface. A government audit indicated that Erenice Guerra’s brother, José Euricélio de Carvalho, was responsible for diverting USD$3.4 million from a university publisher, through contracts with 529 people who did not exist, according to a report in Folha de S. Paulo.

Another report in O Globo suggests that Erenice Guerra opened companies in 1994, which were in her name until 2007, that exist only on paper. The address listed for one of the companies does not exist; at the address for the other company, a stationery store has stood for ten years.

Influence Peddling Scandal Hits Lula’s Chief of Staff

•September 14, 2010 • Leave a Comment

This week, conservative Brazilian magazine Veja published a report alleging that President Lula’s Chief of Staff, Erenice Guerra – who took over the role after her predecessor, Dilma Rousseff, stepped down to run for President – was involved in a scheme to obtain public works contracts between government agencies and private companies. Her son negotiated these contracts and pushed them through government channels in exchange for a 6% “success fee”.

President Lula with his Chief of Staff, Erenice Guerra

According to the allegations, Israel Guerra, Erenice Guerra’s son, became a lobbyist in Brasilia, negotiating contracts between government agencies and private businesses through his own company. In one specific case, Veja reports, Israel Guerra negotiated a contract between a transportation entrepreneur and the Post Office. The negotiation involved meetings with Erenice, in which the businessman said he had to leave behind pens, his watch, cell phone, anything that could carry a recorder. In exchange for his services moving the project forward through the necessary government levels, he was paid USD$14,500 per month, with an additional 6% “success fee”, should the deal succeed.

The Federal Police is expected to open an investigation this week to determine whether Israel Guerra, Erenice’s son, was involved in influence peddling, and will further determine if accusations can be made against the Chief of Staff herself.

The Chief of Staff’s legal counsel, Vinicius Castro, named in Veja’s report as Israel Guerra’s partner in the case, resigned Monday morning. He allegedly received the 6% “success fee” on deals closed with the federal government.

President Lula is standing by his Chief of Staff for the time being, but he called for a swift response from her, indicating that his decision could change if additional allegations continue to surface.

Meanwhile, Dilma continues to dominate in election polls, with 50.5% of those interviewed saying they plan to vote for her. Erenice Guerra was frequently considered Dilma’s right hand. These allegations hit very close to both Dilma and Lula, and could be a considerable political liability, less than a month away from election day.

Brazil’s rising middle class wields new economic – and political – power

•September 13, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Over the last few years, Brazil’s rising middle class has made headlines, as increased disposable income has driven consumption up and inequality levels have fallen. A new study, by the Getúlio Vargas Institute (FGV), found that the so-called “Class C”, also called the “new middle class,” now has 94.9 million people, making up 50.5% of the country’s population.

Between 2003 and 2009, around 29 million people rose into Class C, according to Marcelo Neri, a professor at FGV. In other words, this economic class alone could decide an election.

According to the study, Class C was responsible for 46.24% of Brazilians’ purchasing power in 2009 – a greater share than Classes A/B, who were responsible for 44.12% of purchasing power in that year.

The Evolution of the Economic Classes (as percentage of the population): Classes A/B represent the upper and upper-middle classes, Class C represents the middle class, and Classes D/E represent the lower classes.

As this stronger economic class grows in influence, the political party that can best cater to this group will have a significant advantage in future elections. One could argue that the strong support Dilma Rousseff is enjoying at the moment is largely the result of successful policies during the Lula administration that significantly improved the income levels of this economic group.

Skipping out on presidential debates: an electoral strategy?

•September 9, 2010 • Leave a Comment
Gazeta/Estadão Debate

Dilma's podium stood empty at Wednesday evening's presidential debate.

Throughout Brazil’s election season, media outlets organize a series of presidential debates, less formal than those in the U.S., but televised and scrutinized nonetheless.

As has become habit among candidates who are winning by large margins, Worker’s Party Candidate Dilma Rousseff did not attend Wednesday, saying she had scheduling conflict. She did appear at another event in Minas Gerais state, but analysts believe it was a tactical move: she likely runs less of a risk letting her opponents attack her in her absence, than she would if she had to defend herself against their attacks in person.

In 2006, Lula employed the same tactic while running for re-election, skipping out on debates and giving only three hours’ notice before missing the last debate before the election. He squandered an early lead, in which he had 47% of voter support, as opposed to only 21% for Geraldo Alckmin, his Social Democratic opponent, and the election went to a second round.

This risk in this strategy is that voters may approach election day feeling that the leading candidate has not addressed some major issues, including alleged Workers’ Party involvement in an ongoing scandal where tax records of people close to Social Democratic Presidential Candidate José Serra were improperly accessed. Still, in all likelihood the absence will not hurt Dilma, especially if, as her campaign has indicated, she does attend the remaining debates.

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