The news from Brasil as we head into the holiday break:
Statute of Disarmament - calling it a Christmas present for the millions of Brazilians who fight against violence, President Lula signed into law the Estatuto de Desarmamento, which greatly restricts legal access to firearms, increases penalties for illegal possession or use of them, and mandates the immediate destruction of all seized firearms as soon as they are no longer needed for evidence.
The Central Bank cut interest rates by another percent, to 16.5%, their lowest rate since 2001. This represents a reduction in real interest rates - (rate - inflation) from 15% to 9.25% in the past year. Despite this boost to Brazil's economy, retail interest rates are not keeping pace - credit card interest still hovers around 10% per month.
Brazil's 2004 harvest is expected to exceed 2003's record levels by up to 6%, promising another year of strong foreign exchange earnings from the sale of its soya crop.
Brazil's unemployment rate dropped significantly in November for the first time in a year, dropping from 12.9% down to 12.2% in the past month. The rate had risen from 10.9% last November. However, the average worker's take-home pay has fallen by 13% over the same period, suggesting that the new jobs are lower-paying, possibly seasonal work ahead of Christmas. The weekly research "Focus" shows a final prediction for 2003 GDP growth in Brazil of just 0.13%, although the forecast improves to 3.52% for calendar 2004.
A bus travelling from Sуo Paulo to Fortaleza crashed in Minas Gerais state killing 21 passengers. What makes this case tragic is that the bus company was not certified for inter-city travel and the driver was attempting to flee fiscalizaчуo - monitoring - at the time of the accident. The driver survived the accident.
A dozen armed men dressed as medical workers carried out a daring rescue of a kingpin traficante from his hospital bed in Leblon, one of Rio's poshest neighbourhoods. The traficante had been injured at the weekend in an auto accident, and was guarded by only one MP.
The Staheli case is slipping from the news, although there are some new developments from time to time. Police report they were able to extract DNA from "a man, not the husband" from under Michele Staheli's fingernails. This corroborates the earlier report of her putting up a struggle, and may be the most significant clue yet to the identity of the assailant. The most significant line of enquiry is still with the family's driver. Blood found on his car showed DNA from several persons, consistent with his report that he had helped two women who had suffered domestic accidents in recent weeks. The driver was called to the scene of the incident and was reported to have touched Todd Staheli to check if he was still breathing.
Brazil's Under-20s won their championship match against Spain, giving Brazil simultaneous possession of all three football world titles - the World Cup, the Under-20s and the Under-17s. Brazil's CBD confidently predicts victory in the 2006 World Cup - the "hexa", for Brazil, currently the only country ever to win the Cup five times.