Category Archives: Politics

Damned Ponys and the environmental officer that couldn’t care less: two talk-of-the-week videos

Pôneis malditos!

You cannot miss these two videos. The first is the stickiest commercial aired in a long time on Brazilian TV. A voice in off asks you if you want a car with horse power…or pony power.

You can also see a version with English subtitles.

The second video shows Australian TV interviewing Curt Trennepohl, new Ibama’s president, about controversial dam Belo Monte, in the Amazon. Ibama is the national Environmental agency, but Trennepohl says his job is not to care for the environment, but to “minimize the impacts”, because the country really needs more energy. His two previous predecessor gave up the job exactly because they felt uneasy about approving Belo Monte’s project. The same happened to former Environment minister and presidential candidate Marina Silva. The huge Belo Monte dam complex, on Xingu river, in the state of Pará, meant to have the third biggest generation capacity – after Three Gorges, in China, and Itaipu, in Brazil – will flood a large forest area and might compromise the life of several indigenous groups. It’s economic viability and efficiency are also questioned. Trennepohl gave the environmental license for its construction in early June.

And, by the way, check this great Washington Post story about the multiple problems that the Chinese are facing thanks to the Three Gorges dam. Read and learn, Trennepohl.

Brazilian economy on 60 minutes

Reputed American TV news magazine 60 minutes aired on Sunday a documentary about Brazil’s economical growth – in fact, a recycled version of a previous program, shown last December, when president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva was still in power. It includes interviews with Lula, Eike Batista (the richest man in the country) and historian Eduardo Bueno. It is pretty balanced and a great summary for those among you that don’t follow closely Brazilian affairs. Unfortunately, the version made available by CBS network is full of ads.

You can also read a print version with similar contents: Brazil: the world’s next economic superpower?

A bunch of new states

The upper half of Brazil may get 11 new states, which are under discussion by  the Congress. The state of Pará, in the Amazon, might be sliced in three: Pará, Tapajós and Carajás. Neighboring Amazonas might lose half of its territory, that could be converted into three territories managed by the federal government due to their military importance (border with Venezuela, Colombia and Peru).  This great graphic by Popular Science magazine Galileu shows how the country might look in the near future.

It wouldn’t be a mere bureaucratic change. New states need capitals and government staff, buildings and salaries. They demand a redistribution of the federal budget, so money will be injected in regions that had little access to financial resources. Of course, it also weakens the states that are divided and creates new opportunities for corruption and bad management. The magazine interviewed Rogério Boueri, an economist with think tank Instituto de Pesquisa Econômica Aplicada (Ipea), that says some of these new states, namely Tapajós and Carajós, might be financially impracticable (due to their small populations or state GDP).

Any thoughts about this?

Big Brother and same sex union reveal a tolerant Brazil

Jean Wyllys, a journalist born in a poor family in the countryside of Bahia, is one of the main leaders of the Brazilian gay movement today. In the last few days he was all over the country’s media, celebrating the unanimous approval  of same sex civil union by the Supreme Court last Thursday. The decision introduced a series of new rights for homosexual couples (the last Census indicates that there are 60,000 such unions in the country, half of them in the Southeast region). Now, gays and lesbians can, for instance, buy a house and pay taxes together, extend to the partner their health plans, obtain a pension in case of separation, adopt the partner’s children and inherit their companions’ assets.

The decision illustrates a subtle, but important change in Brazilian society. Even if violence against gays is still prevalent, the majority of the population seems to be getting more tolerant. These days, coming out is more acceptable and, in some cases, even rewarded. Continue reading Big Brother and same sex union reveal a tolerant Brazil

Getting to know Brazil – a reading tour

By Jim Shattuck*

When I travel I like to do a bit of reading before I leave to give me a little better insight into the country or countries I will be visiting. Not so much history texts or political primers, but rather rich novels written by native authors, since translated into English. Or maybe a sweeping historical novel that lays out a chunk of the country’s history in an interesting and provocative manner.
When it comes to Brazil I have been all over the map. I’ve read novels, histories, biographies and social anthropological texts. The country is so vast and diverse. It’s history is brief, but rich with fantastic tales of discovery, anguish, struggle and triumphs. The culture is an amazing amalgamation of immigrants, natives, slaves, gay, straight, rich and very poor. Brazil is a land of survivors, by hook or by crook.
What follows is a list of books worth considering, if you are looking to understand more about Brazil, it’s history, politics, people and culture. It is not an exhaustive list, of course, but it should serve to get you started. Suggestions for additional reading and why are welcome in the comments section – what would you recommend?

In no particular order:

  • Anything written by Brazil’s native son Jorge Amado. His novels, set in Bahia, are rich in texture, are written in a fun and lush voice and they always have a sexy hue. Consider: “Gabriela, Clove and Cinnamon”, “Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands”, “The War of the Saints”, or “Tent of Miracles”. There are others. Continue reading Getting to know Brazil – a reading tour

Belo Horizonte in 1949

The capital of the state of Minas Gerais, unlike the many colonial sites that represent the best of Brazilian Baroque, was planned in the late 19th century. Today, it has around 2.4 million inhabitants, but in 1949 it had only 200 thousand people, as shown in this interesting American documentary (produced to strengthen Brazil-USA relations). It also presents some images of other cities, such as historic Ouro Preto and Itabira, plus a portrait of “capable and enthusiastic” mayor Juscelino Kubitschek, later the country’s president.

Continue reading Belo Horizonte in 1949

Gaddafi in Bahia

Photo by Abode of Chaos/Flickr

If – let’s make it when – Muammar Gaddafi is finally thrown away of power in Libya, I wouldn’t be surprised if he tried to get a golden exile in the Northeast of Brazil. The Libyan dictator has huge investments in the region of  Vale do Salitre, in the interior of the state of Bahia. He has, according to daily A Tarde,1.2 billion reais (730 million dollars) invested, through Lafico (Libyan Arab Foreign Investiments) in the Salitre Project, a partnership with Brazilian builders Odebrecht and Andrade Gutierrez.  This is a massive irrigation project that is not immune to criticisms for its impact on the life of local communities and small producers.


Presidents in stamps

Any philatelist can tell you that there is much more to stamps than meets the eye.

This week Correios (the state-owned company responsible for the Brazilian postal service) released a stamp depicting former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. It is legal to pay that type of homage to people who are still alive, if they won a Nobel prize or an Olympic golden medal. Or if they are former presidents. Naturally, some complained that Lula was into some sort of self-praising.

Anyways, presidential stamps have some interesting stories behind them. Continue reading Presidents in stamps

Electoral circus


"Vote for Tiririca - It cannot get worse!"

Cacareco, a rhinoceros adopted by the São Paulo zoo, was elected city councilor in 1958 with amazing 100,000 votes. Thirty years later, chimpanzee Macaco Tião repeated the feat in Rio. He received 400,000 votes and came close to becoming the city mayor.

Bizarre candidates are not foreign to Brazilian voters. But every new election they seem to reach an extra level of surrealism. The freak stars of this year’s  campaign are a clown, a fashion designer, the so called “Pear Woman” and a couple of candidates that shout non-stop during their TV spots.

Facing their performances is quite inevitable. During the last 45 days, every broadcast radio or TV channel offered two daily blocks of propaganda, shared by those in the dispute for the Presidency, State governments, Senate and both State and Federal Congresses.

The highlight of this year’s campaign is brought to you by Tiririca, a singer/clown who claims to ignore what a Congressman is supposed to do, but promises: “if you vote for me, I will find out and tell you!”. His motto: “Vote for me – It cannot get worse!”. In his campaign material, it is stated that “senior citizens, who worked so much for the country, won’t be forgotten by Tiririca”. The text is followed by an image of the candidate hugging a couple of elders. In a cartoon speech balloon you can read: “”Essa véia ainda dá um caldo“. (literally, “you can still make a broth out of this old lady flesh”. You guessed: it is not a culinary tip, but a sexual innuendo).

Tiririca is expected to get – believe it or not – almost 1 million votes. So, just relax and check here the musical talents of the future congressman.

Now, if you dig mixing corsets and politics, you might want to vote for the “Pear Woman”. Displaying a phenomenal cleavage, she states that “young people vote for young people” and that “you should forget all the other Fruit-Women. I am different”.

Continue reading Electoral circus

Brazilian cities under the microscope

Downtown Veranópolis, in the Southern Rio Grande do Sul state

People don’t live in countries or states – they live in cities. Ultimately, it’s the local government, infrastructure and cultural services that define one’s quality of life. And quality of life in Brazilian cities is changing quickly, according to a study just released by IBGE (the main national statistics bureau). For the first time in ten years, IBGE raised information from 5,565 local governments to draw the profile the country’s municipalities.

Overall, they seem to be offering more sports and cultural opportunities, but they still have to improve their policies concerning the environment, minorities and human rights.

The report’s main conclusions:

  • Bookstores can be found in only 28% of Brazilian cities (it was 35.5% in 1999). Apparently, book sales remain similar, because readers prefer to acquire them through the internet or in supermarkets. Also, the number of video rental stores is getting smaller, after many years of growth. Today, they can be found in almost 70% of Brazilian cities, but they are losing their costumers to cable TV and the internet.

Continue reading Brazilian cities under the microscope