Luz para todos - The Brazilian government announced last Tuesday the launch of a new program designed to bring electricity to the 2.5 million Brazilian homes (5% of all homes) currently without. The ambitious goal is to complete this task by 2008. I say ambitious because the majority of these households are in the very rural Amazon and Northeast regions, with a half million in Bahia state alone. The minister of Mines and Energy, Dilma Rousseff, put some scale to the task by noting that this was bringing electricity to a population the size of Chile.
Pension Fraud - The government put some numbers to its contention of benefit claim fraud amongst the oldest segments of the population (I noted last week the uproar the initial decision to suspend payments pending verification had created). The census estimates 24,579 pensioners over 100, but pays 99,986 claims. From 95-99 the difference is 56,198 in the population and 123,294 pensions paid, and from 90-94, 180,426 citizens and 323,759 claims. It seems like a pretty open secret that if you didn't tell the social security office, they would have no idea that the claimant had died.
Favela Living - An editorial in O Globo condemned the steady rise in the number of people living in favelas throughout Brazil over the period from 1991 to 2001. The article points out that, far from being a "trademark of Rio", where they are more prominent for their location on the city's hillsides, every major city in Brazil has its own favelas or irregular housing units. 23% of all municipalities have favelas, and nationwide there are about 16,000 such neighbourhoods. The number of favela homes increased from 921,000 in 1991 to 2,362,000 in 2001. Rio itself has about 700 favela neighbourhoods, with 149 of these identified within the last four years. Many of these new favelas are sprouting up alongside settled lower-income areas, which already have transport links and some infrastructure. The government's attempt to regularise the favelas, Favela-Bairro targets reaching 550,000 people in 141 communities by the end of 2004.
More Punishment, Please! - Two judges who were convicted of selling reduced sentences for drug dealers were "sentenced to retirement", gaining criticisms from the government and the people over the Brazilian judiciary's soft treatment of their own in matters of corruption. The judges, husband and wife, were compelled to retire with their pensions of R$15000 and R$6800 intact, causing some to wonder what kind of punishment this represents.
Sao Paulo Shorts - Sao Paulo was found by a survey to be more violent than Colombia. In the past year, 20% of paulistanos will have suffered some kind of violence. One in two can expect to be the victim of some violence during their lifetimes. The week's news was dominated by the murder of a teenage couple who had gone camping at a remote sitio in Sao Paulo state without telling their parents. Sao Paulo's archbishop added his name to the growing calls to lower the age of criminal responsibility from 18 to 16.
And in Rio - the chief of the region's Superintendencia Municipal de Transportes Urbanos was gunned down by a pair of assassins on a motorbike. The crime was being blamed on Rio's "transport mafias," understood to be upset with a recent crackdown on illegal transport practices, such as using tourism buses for urban transport. It is estimated that there are 12,000 illegal public transport vehicles (buses, vans) in Rio and that the practice is worth about US$1 million per day in illegal profits.
In the Money - Brazil's biggest companies are having their best financial results since 1998. A study of 181 banks and non-financial institutions conducted by Economatica showed that for the 9 months ending in September, these firms reported net profits of nearly R$30 billion, the best-ever result since the survey started in 1998. The strong performance was credited to a lowering of Brazil's central bank interest rate (which may be lowered further this week), and the recovery of the national currency, the real, versus the dollar. The real, which currently trades at about R$2.9 to the US$, traded as high as 4.0 in the uncertainty leading up to last year's presidential election.
Bureaucracy and business growth - the International Finance Corporation released a study called Doing Business comparing the ease of doing business in many countries around the world. Brazil fared poorly in the results, owing to its complex laws and bureaucracy. Average time to complete a contract was cited as 380 days (the US was cited as 363, which surprised me). To open a business takes 152 days in Brazil (Latin American average was 72 days, USA 4). The only place where Brazil was reported to have shone was in the cost of completing a contract, at 2.4% of per capita income (the article doesn't explain exactly what this means), versus US of 0.4% and a Latin American average of 38%.
Futebol - club football took a break this week while the Brazilian national selection competed in the South American eliminations for the next World Cup. Brazil started the weekend at the top of the league, but after a 1-1 draw with Peru in Lima on Sunday, they now have an identical record with Argentina, who lead the region on goal difference. Brazil's next match is on Thursday versus Uruguay in my former stomping grounds of Curitiba. President Lula criticised the team's performance on Sunday and was respectfully advised by the team's coach to mind his own business.
(note: giving credit where it is due, most of this information is digested from the hardcopy daily O Globo, although I add to it from what I've heard or read elsewhere, including the radio, the BBC Brasil website and Yahoo News).