Dilma’s soft auto-coup

By Jean Daudlin

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff is handing over effective control of the government to her mentor and former president Luis Inácio Lula da Silva. While on Thursday she formally named him head of the government’s non-military affairs (chefe da Casa Civil) — though a judge attempted to prevent the appointment, even temporarily —  it is clear to all that he is now in charge and has become de facto president of the country. Rousseff, who was re-elected barely 18 months ago, thus becomes a figurehead devoid of real power. Institutionally, this development makes short shrift of the Brazilian Constitution, putting supreme executive power in the hands of a man who holds no elected office whatsoever.

Four developments have produced this astonishing turn of events.

The first is the utter dereliction of Rousseff’s popularity and power. Since her election, and in fact since the large demonstrations of June 2013, she has been unable to effectively govern the country, her utter political weakness in the face of a divided and ever-restive Congress paralyzing the government.

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The cat is out of the bag in Brazil as the PT itself throws Dilma under the bus

By Jean Daudelin

It looks like it is the Worker’s Party (PT) itself that has decided to dump Dilma Rousseff from the presidency.

The presidency had asked PT members on the Ethics Council of the Chamber of Deputies to support the Eduardo Cunha, the President of Chamber. The man is completely rotten and everybody knows it BUT he had the power to accept or refuse a formal request to launch the impeachment process. They voted against Cunha and, predictably, the latter immediately answered by launching the process.

More discussions and negotiations are in the works, but Rousseff’s position is much weaker as a result.

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The mosquito-transmitted virus that is causing alarm in Brazil

By Jean Daudelin

A little-known virus called Zika has led to the declaration on Sunday of a state of emergency in Pernambuco, Brazil’s sixth most populous state. An unusually large number of suspected cases of microcephalia, a neurodevelopmental disorder, has been detected among newborns here over the last few months. The babies affected have an abnormally small cranium, a condition that is often associated with intellectual and developmental handicaps. This past weekend, Brazil’s health ministry has formally established a link between the presence of the virus and that condition, which however may also have a variety of other causes, from syphilis to malnutrition.

Still, the number of suspected cases identified this year so far (more than 1,000 in the country as a whole as of November 30, and around 500 in Pernambuco alone) significantly exceed the normal incidence of cases in Brazil, which have ranged between 139 and 175 per year since 2010. In addition, a small number of infected people have died in recent days, including a few adults, though it is unclear if the virus itself was the cause of death, if it interacted with another disease, or if the person died of an unrelated condition.

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Brazil: The Crash of the Chicken

By Jean Daudelin

Cynics have long described Brazil’s development path as “the flight of the chicken:” brief spurts of growth, sometimes spectacular, followed by more or less brutal declines. After a tad more than a decade of expansion, the country is now going through one of those periodic crashes. And this one is ugly, perhaps because this time the chicken was flying really high, seemingly dreaming that, with all this talk of BRICS and emerging power, it was a chicken no more.

Analysts are predicting between two and four years of recession while inflation has reached its highest level in more than 10 years. Tax revenues are down (minus US$37bn projected for 2015), June’s “primary” deficit—excluding interest payments—is larger than the worst predictions of analysts while the overall deficit of the public sector borders 7 percent of the GDP. The Real is down 40 percent since June 2014 and the index of São Paulo’s stock exchange—the largest in Latin America—has dropped 20 percent in dollar terms since January 1. Exports were down in 2014, especially for manufactured goods (minus 14 percent) and the country saw its first trade deficit in years. The current account shortfall, at US$93bn, reached 4.3 percent of GDP last year, the largest since 2001 and interest-rates stand at a world’s “best” 14 percent. The country has lost more than 300,000 jobs in the first three months of 2015, to the point where the absolute size of the formal labour market has shrunk for the first time in years.

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The stakes in Brazil’s final election vote

By Jean Daudelin

Brazil’s election campaign, marked by a dramatic and unexpected turn, ended with one more surprise this past Sunday, as presidential candidate Aécio Neves finished with a solid 33.5 percent of the vote, 12 points ahead of Marina Silva — expected for much of the campaign to come in second — and only eight behind incumbent Dilma Rousseff. These results pave the way for what will likely be the most savagely disputed and hardest to predict election round since Brazil’s return to democracy in 1985. The run-off vote takes place Oct. 26.

Vote distribution paints a divided country, with the poor North and Northeast coming out massively in support of Rousseff’s Worker’s Party (PT), while the West and Southeast, especially São Paulo, took a strong stand in favour of the opposition.

Two important anomalies are worth noting, especially as they happened in the richest and largest electoral colleges of the country. Rousseff prevailed in Minas Gerais (43.5 to 39.8 percent for Neves) and Fernando Pimentel, the PT candidate for governor, was elected in the first round, with 53 percent of the vote. Minas Gerais is an agricultural and industrial powerhouse but also the state where Neves was elected twice as governor, the state he represents in the Senate, and one where his overwhelming popularity was never in doubt before the campaign.

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Brazilian Elections Monitor (2): The Very Strange Turn of Brazil’s Electoral Contest

By Jean Daudelin

On October 5, Brazilians will head to the polls after one of the most unexpected and tightly contested electoral process their country has seen since the end of the military dictatorship in 1985.

The official campaign had barely begun when, on August 13, it was turned upside down by the tragic death of presidential candidate Eduardo Campos. Young but already experienced and a very clever, capable and ambitious politician, he was bound to become a fixture of the Brazilian political scene and, possibly, at some point, President of the country. To all observers, however, it was clear that, this time at least, he had no chance of winning: running third with about 10% of voting intentions, he could at best ensure that no candidate would gain an absolute majority, forcing a second round in which he could play the kingmaker.

His death, however, opened the way for his running mate, Marina Silva, to make the run that she had planned but could not pull off when the party she tried to set up was unable to get the hundreds of thousands of signatures needed to register on time. Silva was already very well known in Brazil as a moralist firebrand and fierce environmentalist who had resigned from Lula’s cabinet and left his Workers Party (PT) in protest against the government’s decision to allow transgenic soya to be cultivated in the country. In 2010, she was the Presidential candidate for the Brazilian Green Party and received 20% of the votes in the first round, a spectacular performance given the limited resources she had at the time and the tiny following of her party. Born into an extremely poor family from Brazil’s Northeast and working her way up in the Workers’ Party and Chico Mendes’ environmentalist movement in the Amazon, her trajectory is every bit as bracing as Lula’s rise from a similarly poor upbringing to the presidency of the country.

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Brazilian Elections Monitor (1): The Stakes

By Jean Daudelin

This is the first installment of what I intend to make a weekly analysis of the ongoing Brazilian election campaign. Each post will analyze recent events and polls, as well as one or two particular themes (candidate profiles, regional dynamics, congressional elections, as well as state elections in the country’s three largest states: São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Minas Gerais). The series will end roughly a week after the final results are in, i.e. after October 5, if there is only one round, or after October 26, if none of the candidates gets an absolute majority in the first round.

In this post, I will introduce the basic stakes of these elections, along with the most recent polling results, which have been affected by the death of Eduardo Campos, who was running in third place in the presidential race when he died in a plane crash, on August 13.

So, what is at stake?

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The boys in the basement and Brazil-Canada relations

With their Anglosphere friends, a bunch of irresponsible boys playing computer games with their expensive toys have done lots of damage to Canada’s relations with Brazil. After years of childish confrontation around planes, beef and petty criminal affairs and thanks to a large diplomatic effort, the bilateral relationship had become “normal.” Two countries with distinct outlooks and increasingly divergent paths in global arenas (Brazil up, Canada down) were finding ways to work together in a variety of fields, while investments and trade, in both directions, were increasing, sometimes significantly.

The spying scandal matters, but not because that relationship is important for either country. Notwithstanding the hues and cries of the Globe and Mail, trade with Brazil remains marginal for Canada, representing less than 1% of this country’s imports and exports (see the graph below). Don’t get sidetracked by the big numbers: trade with Brazil was worth $6.5bn in 2012 (down 2.7% from 2011, by the way), but in a sea of $916bn, this is nothing. Investment is a similar story. Don’t let the number of companies involved fool you: most of the value is linked to a very small number of investments. Were Vale to sell Inco–which they would do for economic not political reasons–Brazil would disappear from the top ranks of foreign investors in this country.

In fact, it is the very thinness of the relationship that makes this scandal so damaging: with so little at stake, good will and trust become critical, and this is what has been damaged here. From that standpoint, in other words, tapping Paulo Cordeiro’s phone is at least as bad as penetrating the mining ministry’s computers, for he was as good a friend of Canada as you would find in Brazil’s diplomatic service. If he could be treated like this, everybody is fair game.

Manners matter where stakes are low. Obviously, manners have never been the forte of the gaming crowd…

Canada-Brazil trade 2003-2012

Jean Daudelin

Hamster Wheel Diplomacy

As originally published at OpenCanada.org

Over the last eighteen months, Latin America has been one of our ministers’ favorite destinations: Ed Fast spent three days in the region in March 2012, and nine more in April; Diane Ablonczy, on Fast’s behalf, visited for five days in November; John Baird for ten in February 2013; Stephen Harper traveled South for three days in May; and John Baird is just back from another thirteen days trip to the region. Colombia was visited four times, Peru three times, Chile and Mexico twice, and Panama, the Dominican Republic, Cuba, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay, and Brazil once each. Of the hemisphere’s significant countries, only Bolivia, Ecuador, and Venezuela were left out, the latter dropped at the last minute as the scheduled visit overlapped with Hugo Chavez’ death. There is clearly nothing flimsy to this government’s commitment to the region, which it identified as a priority almost as soon as it was elected. That simple fact is no doubt welcome in a region that has seen Canada’s interest flutter wildly over the years. But at some point, both Latin Americans and Canadians will be wondering what all these trips are about. And that point may well have been reached.

The Conservatives’ agenda, like the Liberals’ before them, focused mostly on free trade. But now that agreements have been signed with virtually all the governments interested, there is little of substance left to do. Those who haven’t jumped on the bandwagon won’t do it soon. Indeed, it is hard to see any hint of free trade in the political debates of Brazil and its Mercosur partners, which now include anti-liberal Venezuela, and soon Bolivia and Ecuador. Some would like Canada to join the Pacific Alliance, but with free trade agreements already signed with all its members and support from them for Canada’s Asian/Transpacific Partnership strategy already secure, there simply is nothing substantial to gain without a readiness to liberalize immigration – something this government is not willing to contemplate.

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Brazil’s diplomats and the Canadian model

Canadian International Council head Jennifer Jeffs has an intriguing piece in the August 7 Globe and Mail. She argues that Canada should look to Brazil for lessons on how to engage the world effectively. I am not sure I agree, when I look at the very few hard results that Brazil got from all its efforts of the last decade. Clearly however, Foreign Minister John Baird, who is arriving in Rio for a two-day visit, will not be impressed with his hosts’ “efficiency” when he hears the latest news about Brazil’s diplomatic machinery.

Brazil’s Federal Account Tribunal, best thought of as an auditor general with judicial power, has just told Itamaraty, Brazil’s foreign ministry, that the top salary of his diplomats could not exceed $28,000 Reais per month (about C$14,000 or C$ 182,000 dollars a year as Brazilians are paid on a 13-months European schedule). This will come as a shock to Brazilian diplomats, some of whom currently make up to $60,000 Reais per month, or about C$ 390,000 a year…

Perhaps, reversing Jeff’s advice, Brazil’s rank-and-files diplomats will be keen to “import” the tactics of their much, much poorer Canadian counterparts, who have been delaying the treatment of visa applications and refusing to take phone calls in foreign countries to get better salaries. For his part, and in keeping with his customary modesty, Baird may well try to sell his rigid stance in the face of those demands.

[Thanks to Fabricio Chagas Bastos for the tip on salaries]

Jean Daudelin