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July 15, 2013

In Brazil, Tragicomedies Happen in Threes

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Superstition tells us that tragedies happen in threes. The same rule applies to tragicomedies, as well.

Tragicomedy #1. In June, Brazilians took to the streets to protest against their corrupt and wasteful government. They were particularly upset with how much money the government was willing to spend on the World Cup, while simultaneously raising transit fares and leaving basic public services in a complete shambles. The irony is that restaurants and retailers -- the honest, hardworking people who could use an economic boost -- lost about $665 million in sales because of the protests.

Tragicomedy #2. As in most of South America, soccer is a religion in Brazil; they take the sport perhaps a little more seriously than they ought to. During an amateur game in the northeastern part of the country, a player and a referee got into a dispute, so the referee pulled a knife and stabbed the player to death. The unhappy crowd stoned, beheaded and quartered the referee, then put his head on a stake ... in a move that would definitely impress Vlad the Impaler.

Tragicomedy #3. Imagine that you're asleep in bed, when a cow comes crashing through the roof and crushes you to death. That's what happened to a man in Brazil, when his neighbor's cow accidentally stepped onto his roof. The man's wife (who was next to him in bed) and the cow were both unharmed. Perhaps the wife's brother spoke for all of us when he said, "being crushed by a cow in your bed is the last way you expect to leave this earth."

(AP photo)

February 8, 2013

Brazil Wants to Count Every Tree in the Amazon

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Brazil is going to undertake a massive inventory of the Amazon in an effort to monitor and protect it, according to the AFP. How long does it take to count every tree in the world's largest tropical forest? Brazil estimates that it will take about four years. As Michael Coren notes, Brazil is now a conservation rock star:

Brazil, once one of the world’s largest deforesters, is now among conservation’s greatest turnaround stories. Last year, Brazil reported the lowest level of deforestation in decades: 1,797 square miles of Amazon. That’s almost 80 percent lower than in 2004, reports Mongabay.

And the government plans to go lower still. The country has publicly committed to reducing deforestation by 80 percent below 2004 levels by 2020. It’s well on its way: the environment ministry said deforestation was down 76.27 percent compared to its baseline, well ahead of schedule.

(AP Photo)

July 25, 2012

In Brazil, Prisoners Turned Into Power Plants

In Brazil, they've found a novel way to generate "alternative" energy:

Since the oil shocks of the ‘70s, Brazil has been home to a carnival of renewable energy initiatives that now generate a whopping 85 percent of the country’s power. At Santa Rita do Sapucaí prison, inmates are contributing to the effort by riding stationary bikes which charge batteries that fuel lights at a nearby park that previously didn’t have electricity. That makes the park safer and shaves a little off the city’s carbon footprint, while giving the inmates a chance to get buff – and reduce their sentences.

July 22, 2011

Brazil Holding $200B in U.S. Treasuries

Brazil is the fourth largest sovereign creditor of the US, holding more than $200 billion in Treasuries, which is good news for Brazil, since its economy has been growing enough that the country can do so:

Brazil, the region's economic powerhouse, which just a decade ago had to come to Washington to ask the International Monetary Fund for a bailout, is now the United States' fourth-biggest sovereign creditor -- holding about $211 billion in U.S. Treasury securities, according to U.S. data from May.

As you may recall, a little over two years ago, Lula, then-president of Brazil, was lecturing President Obama about the dangers of protectionism and the benefits of free trade. Unfortunately Obama didn't listen:
These days, Latin America's economy as a whole is expected to expand about 4.7 percent in 2011 -- almost twice the expected rate in the United States -- thanks to strong demand for the region's commodities and a decade of mostly prudent fiscal management, itself the product of many hard-learned lessons of the past.

Hence, we have a chorus of clowns mocking the U.S. economy:
"When did the American dream become a nightmare?" gloated Argentina's President Cristina Fernandez, whose own country defaulted on about $100 billion in debt a decade ago.

In a speech at the Buenos Aires Stock Exchange on Monday, she contended that Argentina had prospered since then by focusing on exports and controlling financial speculation -- a lesson that Washington has yet to learn, she said.


Cristina forgot to mention that she raided private pensions a few years ago (2008) to avoid default.

Continue reading "Brazil Holding $200B in U.S. Treasuries" »

June 12, 2011

Brazil: Battisti Released from Prison

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Two years ago I wrote about Cesare Battisti, a former left-wing militant who was convicted in absentia by Italy for murders committed in the 1970s.

Battisti, who escaped from an Italian prison in 1981 while awaiting trial on four counts of murder when he was a member of the Armed Proletarians for Communism (Proletari Armati per il Comunismo – PAC), had lived in France writing crime novels until 2004, when he failed to appear to his scheduled parole visit after Paris agreed to hand him over to the Italian authorities.

From there he fled to Brazil, where he was arrested in 2007. In 2009, then-President Lula da Silva granted him political refugee status while still in prison.

Battisti was released from prison last Wednesday:

Cesare Battisti was released from a Brazil prison Wednesday after the Supreme Court rejected the extradition request—a decision that sparked outrage and indignation among Italian government officials, who had been pushing for years that Mr. Battisti be sent back to Italy to serve a lifetime prison sentence. The Italian government said Thursday that it was planning to appeal the decision with the International Court of Justice in The Hague.

The court's decision "wounds our sense of justice and also those who have suffered in those cases," Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi told reporters.

He was released from prison on June 9 by order of the Brazilian Supreme Court.

Cross-posted at Fausta's blog.

(AP Photo)

March 16, 2011

Obama to Brazil: What Can You Do for Me?

The Washington Post's headline reads:
In Brazil, Obama will ask what S. American economy can do for U.S.:

When top American officials have visited Brazil in the past, they often have asked what the United States can do to help Brazil’s economy, which has been buffetted by periodic financial crises.

But when President Obama visits this weekend, he’ll be asking what Brazil can do for the U.S. economy.

White House officials said Tuesday that Obama’s trip this weekend — the centerpiece of which will be a series of economic talks in Brazil — would focus on ways that rapid growth in Latin America’s largest economy can pay off for U.S. businesses.

“This trip fundamentally is about the U.S. recovery, U.S. exports and the critical relationship that Latin America plays in our economic future and jobs here in the United States,” said Michael Froman, national security adviser for international economic affairs.

Let's hope the administration at least attempts to couch that in better terms, because you can bet the Brazilians are focused on what's in their national interest.

The trip is supposed to be about trade:

President Obama will be heading to the region at a time of growing trade between U.S. and Central and South America. U.S. exports to the region grew 86% between 2004 and 2009 and are on track to double in the next five years, the White House said. Exports to the region are estimated at about $161 billion in 2010, supporting nearly 900,000 U.S. jobs, the White House said.

Obama's scrupulously avoiding Colombia and Peru, two countries which have been waiting for their own Free Trade Agreements to be finalized:

Brazil is the first stop on the trip, which will include a visit with the country's new president, Dilma Rousseff. He will also be visiting El Salvador and Chile.

I can't wait to see if former Marxist Dilma will be lecturing Obama on free trade and business, and against protectionism, as Lula did almost exactly two years ago during Lula's White House visit.

Continue reading "Obama to Brazil: What Can You Do for Me?" »

March 10, 2011

Which Country Has the Most Billionaires?

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Forbes has released their list of the world's billionaires (full disclosure: I didn't make the cut). Mexico's Carlos Slim takes top honors with an estimated net worth of $74 billion. But according to Keren Blankfeld, Brazil claims the largest number of billionaires, adding 12 to the list just this year. Moscow, however, is the city with the most billionaires.

UPDATE: Correction, Brazil has the most billionaires in the Americas. America is still the land of the most billionaires globally.

(AP Photo)

March 7, 2011

Brazil on the Rise

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According to a new BBC poll, the world has a more positive view of Brazil and, in fact, an improved outlook toward a lot of countries:

Positive views of Brazil's influence jumped from 40 to 49 per cent on average over the previous year, with negative views dropping to just 20 per cent. Views of Brazil are now predominantly positive in all but two of the countries polled. The poll, conducted by GlobeScan/PIPA, asked a total of 28,619 people to rate the influence in the world of 16 major nations, plus the European Union.

In the year when South Africa hosted the World Cup, the proportion positively rating its influence in the world rose significantly, from 35 to 42 per cent. Germany was again the most positively viewed nation, with 62 per cent rating its influence as positive (up 3 points).

Overall, positive ratings increased of 13 of the 16 nations rated. These include the USA--positive views of American influence rose an average of four points to 49 per cent, with 31 per cent negative. The United Kingdom's positive ratings rose five points to 58 per cent, making it, for the first time, the second most positively rated country. This upwards movement for many countries counters a downward movement found in 2010, but also, in most cases, surpasses the levels found in earlier years.

In marked contrast, the three most negatively viewed countries saw their average ratings go from bad to worse, including Iran (59% negative, up 3 points since 2010), North Korea (55%, up 6 points), and Pakistan (56%, up 5 points). There was a significant increase in negative views of Iran in key Western countries including the United Kingdom (up 20 points), Canada (up 19 points), the USA (up 18 points), and Australia (up 15 points). However, Israel, for many years among the least positively viewed nations, bucked this trend, keeping its negative ratings at 49 per cent and showing a slight lift in positive ratings from 19 to 21 per cent.

(AP Photo)

September 29, 2010

Happy Brazil

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According to Pew Research, Brazil is (mostly) all smiles about its position in the world:

...half of Brazilians say they are satisfied with national conditions, and 62% say their nation's economy is in good shape. Of the 21 other publics included in the 2010 Pew Global Attitudes survey, only the Chinese are more upbeat about their country's overall direction and economic conditions....

Brazilians also hold favorable opinions of the U.S. and China, the country's two biggest trading partners. About 62 percent of Brazilians give the U.S. a favorable rating, while 52 percent give China one. Interestingly, while Pew found that Brazilians give outgoing President da Silva high marks, they disagree with his handling of Iran:

The president has opposed additional international economic sanctions against the Islamic Republic. Yet, of the 85% of Brazilians who oppose Iran acquiring nuclear weapons, nearly two-thirds approve of tighter sanctions to try to prevent it from developing such weapons; 31% oppose tougher economic sanctions against Iran.1 Majorities of those who oppose a nuclear-armed Tehran in 18 of the other 21 countries surveyed also endorse such a measure.

In addition, most (54%) Brazilians who do not want to see a nuclear-armed Iran are willing to consider the use of military force to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons; a third say avoiding a military conflict with Iran, even if it means it may develop these weapons, should be the priority.

Overall, Brazilian views of Iran are among the most negative of the 22 publics included in the 2010 Pew Global Attitudes survey.

(AP Photo)

September 24, 2010

A Brazil Backlash?

Judah Grunstein wonders:

Everyone loves a soft, cuddly Middle Power with a domestic track record of poverty reduction and a global image of multilateral, if not servile, diplomacy. But things tend to change when hard power gets deployed in defense of national interests. In mathematical terms, the question facing Brazil and the world is, Brazil:South Atlantic = China:South China Sea?

September 7, 2010

Brazil Eying Russian Competitor to Humvee

According to Russian media, in the next few days, Russian GAZ-2330 "Tiger" armored car will be transferred for testing by the Rio de Janeiro police, which will use the vehicles to patrol the city suburbs.

According to Oleg Strunin, official JSC Rosoboronexport representative to the Brazilian state arms export agency, several Brazilian states expressed an interest in the Russian armored vehicle. Negotiations are also taking place on assembling "Tigers" in Brazil. "We believe that 'Tigers' have very good prospects in Brazil, and hope to soon conclude a contract for delivery of such machines to the country," added Strunin.

Bottom line: "Tiger" was conceived, designed and tested as a competitor to the American Humvee armored car. And while the American vehicle served with distinction for the past three decades in huge numbers virtually everywhere around the world in numerous conflicts, saving countless lives, the "Tiger" on the other hand is a new vehicle which hasn't undergone the same rigorous battlefield testing. Even as Hummers are being phased out from Iraq and Afghanistan in favor of a new breed of vehicles, it certainly can hold its own as a police patrol car.

So why did Brazil choose the untried and untested Russian car? Good question ...

May 25, 2010

The Vote for Lula's Successor

Angus Reid passes on polling data on the forthcoming election in Brazil:

This year’s presidential election in Brazil could require a run-off, according to a poll by Instituto Sensus. 35.7 per cent of respondents would vote for Dilma Rousseff of the ruling Workers’ Party (PT) in the ballot, up 3.3 points since April.

Jose Serra of the Brazilian Party of Social Democracy (PSDB) is a close second with 33.2 per cent, followed by Marina Silva of the Green Party (PV) with 7.3 per cent.

In a run-off scenario, the race could also be tight with Rousseff getting 41.8 per cent of the vote, and Serra 40.5 per cent.

May 21, 2010

Peripheral Foreign Policy

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Roger Cohen is frustrated by the Obama administration's reaction to the Turkish-Brazilian nuclear fuel deal with Iran:

Brazil and Turkey represent the emergent post-Western world. It will continue to emerge; Secretary of State Hillary Clinton should therefore be less trigger-happy in killing with faint praise the “sincere efforts” of Brasilia and Ankara.

The West’s ability to impose solutions to global issues like Iran’s nuclear program has unraveled. America, engaged in two inconclusive wars in Muslim countries, cannot afford a third. The first decade of the 21st century has delineated the limits of U.S. power: It is great but no longer determinative.

Lots of Americans, including the Tea Party diehards busy baying at wolves, are angry about this. They will learn that facts are facts.

This strikes me as somewhat contradictory. Cohen laments the Obama administration's rejection of the fuel swap deal - which he concedes is an insufficient deal that fails to meet the Western demands put forth last year - because 1. You don't want to hurt feelings in Ankara and Brasilia, because they are emerging powers whom you might need down the road, and 2. this deal, while well short of the October arrangement, may have served as a "tenuous bridge between "mendacious" Iranians and “bullying” Americans."

First, the latter point: Spinning a deal for the sake of public perception and reaching a substantive deal are obviously two different things. Cohen asserts that this deal would've been a huge P.R. victory which, I suppose, it could have been. But if the administration is serious about nonproliferation it was necessary to knock this deal down right out the gate - which it apparently did.

And spin spins both ways. While Washington and the West certainly could have spun this deal to their advantage, so too could have the Iranians - as they already have. The whole point of this deal was not only to build trust between Tehran and Washington, but to assuage Western and regional concerns about Iranian enrichment. This week's trilateral deal fails to do that, and thus it fails to actually take time off the so-called Doomsday Clock.

In other words, accept this deal and you basically gave Iran seven months to set the terms of negotiation while rebuffing your own immediate concerns. Clenched fist, check.

As for Brazil and Turkey, what exactly was Obama to do? Accept the deal, and you accept the Turkish-Iranian argument that the deal represents the death knell of sanctions, which the U.S. never agreed to and never will. Cohen may view this deal as a beginning, but Tehran and Ankara are spinning it differently. And as Greg noted yesterday, China and Russia simply matter more than Brazil and Turkey do, especially on the matter of Iranian proliferation.

Will this hurt U.S. efforts down the road when, at some unforeseen moment, Washington needs Ankara or Brasilia? Perhaps. But that's the point: A multi-polar world doesn't guarantee a less divisive one where everyone gets along and hugs out their problems. Quite the contrary.

For much of the 20th century - and the first few years of the 21st - American power was rather easy: Either you're with us, or you're with the evildoer behind door #1. Make your choice. There was a kind of cold clarity in this arrangement, and in some ways the U.S. excelled at it. But as other powers emerge, they also come to the table with years - decades, even - of experience at playing a weaker hand inside global institutions like the UN. They know how to check the maneuverings and desires of other states, just as they too have been checked.

Washington isn't very good at this game, and it's going to take some time for the United States to rebuild capital and use its still preponderantly stronger military and economy to its advantage. This may require a more prudent, interests-based foreign policy designed to keep larger powers in your corner - which, in turn, will mean less peripheral meddling in said powers' backyards.

So will Ankara and Brasilia remember this? Probably. Welcome to the new world order.

UPDATE: Larison offers his thoughts on the matter.

(AP Photo)

May 19, 2010

The Ugly End of Exceptionalism?

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Richard Cohen writes:

American conservatives look at the defeats and disappointments, and they fulminate about Obama. They call him weak and inept -- and surely in some areas he has been both. But they are wrong in thinking that another person would make much of a difference. Times have changed. America's power is diminished -- relatively, for sure, but absolutely as well.

I think this is the important takeaway from this week's tripartite nuclear deal between Brazil, Turkey and Iran. While the nuclear alarmists are predictably ringing the bells of Armageddon, they do so, unbeknownst to themselves, from a position of increasing weakness. The Wall Street Journal leads the charge, insisting that President Obama do something, because, well, that's what the American president does. Absent, however, from their editorial panic attack is a feasible policy proposal for making Iran halt its enrichment, disclose all its nuclear wrongdoing and ultimately hug it out with the West.

They believe, as they so wrongly did back in 2002, that American military might alone is enough to compel global behavior and police the world's evildoers - and perhaps it was, during the Cold War. But the United States has yet to articulate a rationale for its role as global superpower in a world with multiple levers and venues for global governance, and the world's emerging powers simply aren't buying it any longer.

And this clearly flummoxes Iran hawks, who can only view American power through the lens of the presidency; they, like some of our allies in Israel, insist that the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran is the most pressing crisis facing the world, and should the American president but will it, he (or she) can give a compelling speech, pound his (or her) fist on a table or two, and the world - as it so often has in the past - will bend.

One problem: faith in American power is no longer unanimous. By pegging Iranian engagement to the nonproliferation regime, and in turn Israeli security, the Obama administration opened up a Pandora's box of nuclear populism. The plan, I'll admit, seemed a viable one at first: engage Tehran on the most commonly agreed upon and demonstrated dilemma - namely, its rogue nuclear program - and reach some kind of a deal on LEU in order to give the West breathing room for negotiation; alleviate Israeli concerns of an imminent nuclear arms race in the region; address the nuclear weapons program, and then move on to other longstanding issues in need of redress between Washington and the Islamic Republic.

But Iran has always insisted that the nonproliferation tactic was always a pretext - a multilateral cover - for compelling Iranian behavior and, perhaps, even changing the Iranian regime entirely. And normally, this complaint would fall on (mostly) deaf ears around the globe. But Iran, to its diplomatic credit, cleverly morphed a dispute between a handful of countries into a global debate between the nuclear haves and have-nots. What started as a reasonable discussion about Iranian intransigence became a debate over the legitimacy of the NPT.

The haves versus the have-nots; the emerging world versus the entrenched - this has played out exactly as Iran had hoped.

So what now? I think the best option remaining for the Obama administration is to table the nuclear question and go down the admittedly murky and unpleasant path of grand bargain engagement. Nonproliferation and the future of global nuclear enrichment is far too important to be left in the hands of the Iranians, and the only way the revolutionary regime will play serious ball on the nuclear question is if Washington is willing to address - and redress - Iran's laundry list of grievances and gripes.

Even Israel - which would no doubt protest such a sea change - has more pressing security concerns regarding the Iranians, as the potential threat of a Tehran-fueled arms buildup in the Levant makes confrontation between Israel and Hezbollah appear more and more likely. Setting the nuclear matter aside for the time being would behoove them as well.

But this is all rather unlikely. Iran, for its own part, has a long record of diplomatic gamesmanship and deception, and Obama simply doesn't have the political cover at home to make such a gesture (and the atmosphere may only worsen come November). Obama - after months of nuclear bell-ringing - will be held solely accountable at home for failing to slay the Iranian monster, and Washington will likely creep back into its comfort zone of exceptionalism and saber-rattling toward Tehran. Iran will embed itself even deeper into its own comfort zone of anti-Westernism and global defiance, as the U.S.-Iran status quo keeps trucking along.

How this ends, I'm not sure. Perhaps multilateral sanctions will hasten a breakthrough before the midterm elections, but that's doubtful. I don't believe we're witnessing the buildup to war, but I do believe Obama's window for engagement has likely closed.

(AP Photo)

May 18, 2010

Brazil's Lula Remains Popular

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Fresh off something of a diplomatic triumph, Brazil's President is riding high:

Public support for Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva continues to grow as he heads to the final days of his tenure, according to a poll by Instituto Sensus. 83.7 per cent of respondents approve of Lula’s performance as president, up two points since January.

(AP Photo)

March 11, 2010

A Multipolar Mess?

Nikolas Gvosdev writes:

Two years ago, Washington was abuzz once again with the prospects for a “League of Democracies” that would support U.S. global leadership. But in the aftermath of Cyclone Nargis, which devastated Burma/Myanmar, a very clear rift opened up between the democracies of the advanced north and west, which advocated an intervention on humanitarian grounds, and the democracies of the south and east, which proved to be far more receptive to China’s call for defending state sovereignty. In the Doha round of trade talks and in the ongoing climate change negotiations, the leading democracies of the south and east—Brazil, Mexico, South Africa, India and Indonesia among them—have tended to line up with Beijing instead of joining Washington’s banner.

The entire National Interest piece is worth a read, but regarding this snippet I would argue that if it's a "League of Pliancy" Washington had hoped for, then perhaps it should start viewing the world the way Vladimir Putin does. A key tenet of President Bush's so-called freedom agenda was that a more democratic world meant a safer world. I'm sure that's true. But it also means a more pluralistic world; one with many voices, and many interests.

This world could be a great place to live, if there were actually an international system to help guide and support emerging democracies alongside the already ensconced ones. But this is one of the freedom agenda's key failings: more democracy means more interests, which of course makes it harder for countries, such as the United States, that are used to dealing with more pliant actors.

Interests and emerging democrats will continue to overlap and conflict in the coming years, which is why it's imperative that our public officials learn how to lead in an increasingly multipolar tug of war around the globe. From what we've seen so far, I wouldn't hold your breath for such nuanced understanding in 2010 or 2012.

UPDATE:

Larison adds his own thoughts to the multipolarity vs. exceptionalism debate, and calls a bluff on Obama's neoconservative critics:

To take their criticism seriously, we would have to believe that his critics accept the reality and inevitability of multipolarity, and we would have to believe that they also accept the relative decline in American power that this entails. Of course, they don’t really accept either of these things. For the most part, they do not acknowledge the structural political reasons for resistance to Obama’s initiatives, and they recoil from any suggestion that America needs to adjust to a changing world. They locate the fault for any American decline entirely with Obama, because he fails to be sufficiently strong in championing U.S. interests. “Decline is a choice,” Krauthammer says, and he accuses Obama of having chosen it.

November 24, 2009

If I Were Lula's Political Rivals

I would remind Brazilians that their President believes Iran and Brazil share "identical development models."

Which part, the soaring inflation, or the astronomical unemployment? Maybe the sanctions levied for nuclear proliferation? Maybe the misuse and embezzlement of oil revenue?

I suppose I take his point--Brazil is working toward becoming a net oil exporter again, and Iran would like to get on a similar path regarding gas and oil production--but it seems somewhat illogical to compare Brazil's development model to that of a regime in violation of multiple UN Security Council resolutions. Intransigence and extortion aren't very sturdy development models.

Fodder for next year's general election, one would think.

October 27, 2009

Picking on Brazil

Josh Keating takes Charles Krauthammer to task.