With less than a month into her administration, Dilma has already proven that she's steering the country in a different direction as far as foreign policy is concerned. Today, Folha reported that Obama will travel to Brazil in March for the first time during his administration, which he confirmed during the State of the Union address. Obama's visit comes with "warmer ties" between the US and Brazil, and after several rumored but never realized trips during Lula's administration. Dilma is also slated to travel to the US in March. These are some of the issues Obama is likely to discuss with Dilma apart from trade, which will likely be the focus of bilateral talks.
Jet Fighter Deal
Lula had all but promised to move ahead with a $6 billion deal with France, including the purchase of 36 fighter jets and a technology transfer. Lula and Sarkozy deepened ties between the two countries, increasing trade and the exchange of military technology. But due to budget restraints, Dilma has decided to re-open bidding, putting Sweden's Saab and the US's Boeing back in the game. John McCain recently traveled to Brazil to dicuss the bid, vowing to ask Congress for approval for a technology transfer similar to the French offer. Lobbying for Boeing will be at the top of Obama's to do list during his visit, so it will be interesting to see how it plays out. For more on the deal, here's an excellent summary.
Lula literally left this thorny issue until the last day of his administration, therefore making it Dilma's problem to deal with. Although the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Italian fugitive's extradition a year earlier in December 2009, Lula had purposely put off making a decision, and now it has fallen to Dilma's administration to sort out this diplomatic saia justa. The Italian government is heavily lobbying for Battisti's return, and has threatened to go before an international court if the Brazilian government does not extradite him, gaining the support of other European countries. The Brazilian Supreme Court will reexamine the case after its summer recess, when it may make a definitive decision. In the meantime, it's an opportunity for Dilma to prove how she can deal with a complicated and delicate international case.
UPDATE: Here's an excellent summary of the case from Newsweek that just came out today.
Lula was criticized at home and abroad for his chummy relationship with Iran and his failure to broach human rights issues with Ahmadinejad. Dilma didn't waste any time to change that, criticizing Brazil's past stance on Iran at the UN and speaking out against the threatened execution of accused adulteress Sakineh Ashtiani. Iranian diplomats and leaders were immediately angered, and Western leaders were delighted. Meanwhile, Brazilian leaders were up in arms when they learned Paulo Coelho's books had been banned in Iran, though the Iranian government denies it. Obama will likely push Dilma to take an even harder stance and urge her administration to work more closely with the US and Europe to prevent nuclear proliferation in Iran.
Lula made an effort to expand ties with neighboring countries and to make himself king of the South, not just in Latin America but in other developing countries. Dilma will travel to Uruguay, Paraguay, Peru, and Argentina next week in her first international trip as president, where she plans to discuss trade, energy and mining, social development, and technology, and to presumably assure leaders of diplomatic continuity. In addition, she'll discuss the construction of a hydroelectric plant on the border with Argentina, scheduled to begin construction next year. But even before the trip, the Brazilian government has already taken steps to defend its neighbors. On January 11th, a British warship from the Falklands was denied entry at a Rio de Janeiro port, supposedly a deliberate rebuff of the UK's colonial presence in the contested islands near Argentina and a move of solidarity with Argentina. By currying favor with Brazil, Obama's administration is hoping to also improve relations with the rest of Latin America, since Brazil is considered the region's unofficial leader and has proved itself as an important powerbroker with other countries in the region.
Since TV advertising in Brazil is a huge industry that now has more money than ever to throw around, gringos have been popping up in different commercials in recent years. I recently came across a very funny new one, but here's a quick recap of similar commercials.
First, there was Richard Gere hawking hair products...
Then there was Sylvester Stallone, selling cars...
There was Sarah Jessica Parker and Nicole Kidman in commercials for very upscale malls in Rio and São Paulo...
There was Arnold Schwarzenegger in a CCAA commercial, advertising English and Spanish classes...
And most recently, there was Bruce Willis, also for CCAA, advertising the dangers of not being able to speak English.
I decided to combine all of the ways you can donate to help Rio flood victims into a single post, especially because the Brazil Foundation announced today that they will be accepting online donations on behalf of two Rio organizations working to help victims, including VivaRio and Instituto da Criança. The death toll is currently at 744 and growing, and nearly 14,000 people are temporarily homeless.
Donations - online and goods [national]
Donations - Rio Capital and Rio State
Donations - Rio de Janeiro
Donations - national
The Brazil Foundation - VivoRio and The Children's Institute
Unfortunately, the news coming out of Rio isn't great. For those unfamiliar with local geography, the affected region is in the mountains of Rio state, around an hour outside of the state capital. Despite its proximity to Brazil's second largest city, recovery efforts are difficult.
As of Monday night, the death toll has reached 672 and is expected to climb as rescuers start digging communities out from the mud. Thousands of people lost their homes, and over 200 people are still missing. In one of the worst affected towns, reports were circulating that local vendors had jacked up the prices of basic goods, like charging R$40 for 20 liters of water, R$10 for a package of ramen noodles, and R$20 for a broom. Another report claimed that the local Red Cross in Teresópolis had mobilized staff, volunteers, doctors, and nurses to provide medical aid to victims, but were forbidden to continue operating, since the local government claimed it was in charge of relief efforts in conjunction with a local organization. For an upclose perspective in English, read this post from an American blogger in Nova Friburgo described her harrowing experience with the floods.
While global warming may be at play, flooding happens in Rio every year, though this year was the worst in decades. However, since local politics tend to be reactive, money is promised after the fact and politicians who visit affected areas try to act like the heroes, making for convenient PR opportunities of the concerned, supposedly compassionate leaders bringing aid and comfort to destitute victims. In addition, prevention efforts have been minimal, and people continue to move to and inhabit high-risk areas. As this enlightening TIME article describes:
"State governments have been equally remiss, while federal officials, when they do pay attention to the issue — money allocated to build a disaster-management center has laid untouched for two years, according to Castello Branco — have sometimes used disaster money for political purposes. More than half of last year's federal disaster-prevention funds went to Bahia state, where the minister in charge of distributing cash was running for governor, Castello Branco says."
Already, the federal government is promising a national disaster prevention system involving radar surveillance and meteorological equipment to try to prevent future tragedies. The catch? It won't be ready for at least four years. Plus, the same system was promised six years ago during Lula's administration.
In spite of, or perhaps due to these government failings, there has been a massive mobilization by Brazilians to help flood victims. Thanks to a reader for pointing out the British NGO ShelterBox is helping with relief efforts, and they also accept online donations. If you're in Brazil, here's an exhaustive list of organizations accepting donations and other ways to help. Also, if you're interested in helping abandoned or lost pets, see here. Finally, if you haven't already seen, here's how you can help from abroad.
I had a couple of other things I wanted to write about this week until terrible summer rains devastated parts of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. There's flooding every year, and last year was also a disaster, killing several hundred people in both states. This year's floods, though, are being called one of the worst natural disasters in Brazil, with over 500 mortalities in the mountain region of Rio state alone. It's one thing to see photos; it's another to actually see it for yourself:
So my question was, how can people help? It's a bit easier if you're in Brazil; there are tons of drop off points for donations, and bank deposits can be made to a number of organizations.
But it's a bit more difficult if you're outside of Brazil. Fellow blogger Alex Castro helped set up a site last year to help facilitate information about the floods and how to help. But even there, donations from afar can only be made through bank deposits (a reader pointed out you can make deposits online through Xoom, though at least Americans are more accustomed to direct online donations). Even the local businesses only seem to offer a phone number to call for more information about making donations; only NGOs have pertinent information available online.
Philanthropy is still developing in Brazil,in part because the government is often viewed as the institution responsible for solving the problems of the poor and those who cannot help themselves. But NGOs have also flourished in recent years and have been gaining more clout, despite some distrust due to scandals of embezzlement or fraud. Distrust is another issue that has hampered online banking and finance; Brazilians are especially wary, and are fearful of getting ripped off or having their financial information stolen.
Setting up online donations is theoretically one of the easiest ways to get quick funding, especially during natural disasters. After the Haiti earthquake, people from all over the world were able to help local organizations with a few clicks or even sending text messages, and while things are arguably still a total mess there, it was an easy way to send aid to people on the ground.
So I tried looking at some of the organizations working in the Região Serrana and Rio. The local Red Cross doesn't seem to let you make donations online, nor does Rio NGO Viva Rio. So far, the only local organization I found working in the area that lets you donate online is CARE Brasil.
For those of us in the US, you can donate to Red Cross International or CARE International. Still, I wish there was a more direct way. Any volunteers to set up a website to funnel online donations to Viva Rio and other local organizations?
In case you missed them, here are some stories coming out of Brazil since last week:
Brazil's Credit Boom Could End in Tears, BusinessWeek
"The data in Brazil are troubling: Late payments on credit cards and other consumer loans jumped 23 percent in November from a year earlier, prompting government leaders to begin scaling back their easy-credit policies. "It's time to be a little bit careful about the B in BRIC," says Jim O'Neill, chairman of Goldman Sachs Asset Management (GS) and the man who coined the BRIC acronym for Brazil, Russia, India, and China."
Brazil's raw materials and the Chinese bikini problem, BBC
"And it is not just the bikini industry that is suffering. A recent study found that more than 80% of Brazil's manufactured exports are being adversely affected by competition from China. That is a real danger to the Brazilian economy because mining and commodities are not very labour intensive. The bulk of the Brazilian workforce is employed in manufacturing industries."
Brazilian billionaire battles to keep channels, Variety
"Brazilian billionaire Silvio Santos' media interests are under threat after allegations of fraud in the banking arm of his Grupo Silvio Santos conglom. Accounting errors that allegedly inflated the value of GSS' Banco Panamericano are being probed by the country's central bank after Santos was forced to ask for a 2.5 billion real ($1.5 billion) bailout to keep Panamericano from insolvency in November.
ThyssenKrupp steel plant in Rio fined over environmental damage, Monsters & Critics
"CSA is to pay a fine of 1.66 million dollars and damages of 8.3 million dollars to improve the living standards of locals, Brazilian media reported Thursday, citing Rio de Janeiro state Environment Minister Carlos Minc. The damages are to finance sewage projects, road paving and a health centre. The plant will undergo environmental scrutiny by rival firm Uniminas, and cameras are to be installed on its premises that provide footage directly to the state environmental agency."
100 Tons of Fish Die Near Brazil, Care2
"Since last Thursday, 100 tons of sardines, croaker, and catfish have died near Paraná, Brazil. The 100 ton count came from a survey conducted by the Federation of Fishermen’s Colony of Paraná, Paranaguá. It has been reported by this fishing association that 2,800 fisherman depend on fish caught in the area for their daily incomes."
Brazil Minister Backs Air Workers' Demand for 10% Raise as Strike Looms, Bloomberg
"Brazilian Labor Minister Carlos Lupi said he backs airline workers’ demand for a 10 percent wage increase as carriers Gol Linhas Aereas Inteligentes SA and Tam SA make “a lot of money” from increased traffic by the nation’s growing middle class. Lupi, in an interview in Brasilia yesterday, said that salaries in Latin America’s biggest economy will increase faster than inflation this year as the country reaches full employment by year-end. The pay increases won’t stoke inflation, which is being fueled by speculative capital inflows that have pushed the country’s exchange rate to “worrisome” levels, he said."
Protests over gays-only toilets in Brazil, AFP
"As Brazil gears up for its annual carnival festivities, a row has broken out over toilets for the exclusive use of gays and transvestites in samba schools readying for the event. Protesters claim the recent designation in the premises of Unidos de Tujuca, one of the top Rio de Janeiro samba schools preparing a parade for the March 4-9 carnival, resembles the forced separation of blacks and whites in the past."
Rio de Janeiro
For Rio slum residents and police a mixed blessing, Washington Post
"In Santa Marta, two years of police presence have eased the tension. Conversation and beer flows easily as locals elbow outsiders in packed bars. On a hot summer day, women sitting on their stoops chat with passers-by, with children running up and down the long stairways leading into the slum. Residents lead visitors around the once off-limits Santa Marta as they earn certification through a state program to be official city guides. Since August, when the program was launched, about 200 people a day visit the slum."
To Beat Back Poverty, Pay the Poor, New York Times blog
"Brazil’s conditional cash transfer programs were begun before the government of President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, but he consolidated various programs and expanded it. It now covers about 50 million Brazilians, about a quarter of the country. It pays a monthly stipend of about $13 to poor families for each child 15 or younger who is attending school, up to three children. Families can get additional payments of $19 a month for each child of 16 or 17 still in school, up to two children. Families that live in extreme poverty get a basic benefit of about $40, with no conditions...It has long been clear that Bolsa Familia has reduced poverty in Brazil. But research has only recently revealed its role in enabling Brazil to reduce economic inequality."