We thought it would be informative if those of us blogging on the ground in Latin America would summarise the news and views from our own areas on an approximately weekly basis. Thus, without further ado, the news around Brazil in the past week, from my own perspective. [I'm dispensing with accents / diacriticals - blogger is making too much of a mess of them].
President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva visited Africa last week. His trip included visits to the lusophone countries of Angola, Mozambique and Sao Tome and Principe, followed by visits to Namibia and South Africa. Among the agenda items, Brazil and Mozambique signed an accord to build a factory to produce generic AIDS medicines in Mozambique. Technology will be supplied by Brazil.
"The queen of Brazilian literature has died." Rachel de Queiroz, the first woman elected to Brazil's Academia Brasileira de Letras, died last Tuesday at the age of 92.
As noted here last week, Brazil concluded its first agreement with the IMF to extend its loan facility since the current administration took power. Prior to his election as President, Lula was an ardent opponent of the IMF intervening in Brazil. Brazil can now borrow up to US$14.6 billion. Included in that is US$6 billion of newly-earmarked funds. $2.9 billion of this money is already budgeted for sanitation projects (expected to create up to 300,000 jobs). The current government views this as an interim arrangement and would like nothing better than that the first accord be the last.
Narco-violence flared in Sao Paulo, with the crime syndicate PCC (Primeiro Comando da Capital) launching a wave of organised attacks, principally against police targets. Both policemen and gang-bangers were killed in the wave of attacks. A sweep of SP prisons garnered 114 contraband mobile phones in the hands of prison inmates, as well as drugs and weapons. Separately, six convicts were killed trying to escape from a prison in Sao Paulo when the tunnel they were using collapsed. More than 80 prisoners had already escaped through the tunnel; of those, 43 had been recaptured by Sunday.
The government decided to put a freeze on pension payments for those over the age of 90. They argued that 30% of pension claims for those over 90 are fraudulent, and suggested a payment freeze until it could be confirmed that the claimant was still living. After a wave of protest and some none-too-flattering pictures of old folks being wheeled out to the Social Security offices, the government backed down. Claims must still be verified, but the government will check on each case rather than placing the burden of proof on the claimants. Payments resumed on the 10th of November.
Brazil marked the centenary of Ary Barroso, "o mais brasileiro dos brasileiros", the composer of Aquarela do Brasil, better known in English as just "Brazil". O Globo calls the song "the most emblematic Brazilian song", reflecting the "greatness, worth and opulence of our country, enormous by its own nature."
The chief of the Casa Civil, Jose Dirceu, endorsed military integration of South America, claiming that dealing with regional security issues was essential to preserving sovereignty in the region. He cited the case of Colombia, arguing that if the situation was not controlled, "the United States will occupy Colombia, and if they do, they will never leave."
Talks between Brazil and the USA brought the FTAA (ALCA) closer to reality, although Brazil still wants an opening in US markets, principally in citrus fruits and in sugar, where Brazil could compete favourably if the US market was not subsidised and protected by tariffs. The initial proposals for regional integration look promising, although Brazil's particular concerns are not well-addressed ahead of next week's meetings in Miami, leaving open the possibility that some bilateral or multilateral sub-agreements will complicate the formula for freer trade, with some restrictions preserved intact until 2010 or beyond.
The WTO ruled against the US in maintaining a 30% tariff on steel imports, which opens the way for Brazil's big steel importers, Gerdau and Belgo-Mineira, to increase their exports to the US.
Futebol - Cruzeiro remains at the top of the standings in the Brasileirao, six points clear of defending champion Santos and needing just two more wins to clinch the championship. In the relegation zone, Bahia has the penultimate spot, 3 points ahead of lanterninha, Gremio.