The week's news from Brazil
"Lulawrence of Arabia" returned from his Middle Eastern journeys and announced that his travels weren't over, with trips planned next year to China and India. He also announced that Brazil is expecting a visit of Vladimir Putin, as the four cornerstone nations of the G20 work to form a new economic bloc to counter the power of the EU and the US.
Brazil's Senate finally approved the state pension reform legislation. The legislation will take effect immediately, with the first big change being a 30% reduction in all pensions over R$2400 (about US$800). Merry Christmas, middle class Brazil! Lula has been quoted as saying he wasn't thrilled with the structure of the reforms, but satisfied that at least some progress had been made.
Brazil's Minister of the Fazenda, Antonio Palocci, said that for 2004 the economy's priorities must change from a too-close focus on the interest rates to a focus principally on development. Minister of Labour Jaques Wagner said that Brazil will create 2m jobs in 2004.
The PT (Workers' Party) cracked its whip this week and expelled four of its congressional party members, three for voting against the party on pension reform and one for releasing an old recording of Lula criticising one of his present-day allies.
At least 39 PMs (policemen) were arrested on contraband charges, accused of helping cross-border smugglers import large quantities of illegal and contraband items such as alcohol and bootleg CDs. A typical crime was noted - accepting a R$500 payment to allow a bus full of contraband goods to enter Brazil through customs.
O Caso Staheli - police announced yesterday that the results of the blood analyses conducted on both Todd and Michele showed there were no drugs or alcohol in either of their bodies. The Staheli children were allowed to leave Brazil, along with the bodies of their parents. This suggests all suspicion has been removed from that line of enquiry. The family lawyer is still pressing for a further exploration of Todd's business dealings, both in his current work on the Brazil-Bolivia pipeline and on his former dealings (Shell employees are demanding answers, too). Police announced the discovery of a "secret passage" in the house, but gave no further details. They are currently investigating traces of blood found on the family car, although the driver was called to the scene by the neighbours and had a legitimate reason to have blood on his hands, having helped to move the Stahelis before police arrived. Police continue to search the lake behind the house for a weapon. Images from a neighbour's closed-circuit video camera revealed someone moving toward the lake about 2:30AM; police are working to enhance the images.
Futebol - the regular football season came to a close this weekend after a series of matches that decided which teams would be relegated to the Second Division (Segundona). Bahia showed its Second Division potential by losing at home 0-7 to Cruzeiro (the champions) in a match that cannot have been fun for Bahia's goalkeeper (if he even bothered to show up!). Fortaleza fell three slots into the relegation zone by losing to Ponte Preta, who secured their own safety with the win. Fluminense and Grъmio also secured their positions in the First Division for another season. In a sense, it's a shame to see the Premiership lose two Northeast teams, gaining one more from Sampa and one from Rio. The next two years' Brasileirѕes will see four teams relegated each season as the CBN tries to undo the silliness they concocted by expanding the premiership to 24 teams to prevent big-market teams from being relegated. Brazil's Under-20s beat Argentina (sorry, Marcelo) 1-0 and will play Spain for the Under-20 championship.