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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Development experts’ heads are stuck in the manufacturing sands

By Jean Daudelin

Try to forget industrialization: it’s essentially over and it won’t happen again. The challenge is to grow rich and not too unequal with service economies.

When you have time, check this podcast from Brookings,[1] which features one of their fellows, John Page, a former Chief Economist for Africa at the World Bank. Its hook is that about 85 million of China’s “bottom-end” manufacturing jobs will have migrated away by 2030 and that Africa’s challenge is to capture as many of those jobs as possible. The point is to plug a book by Brookings, UNU-WIDER and the African Development Bank called “Learning to Compete in Industry.”

Now, in 2030, there will be 1.6 bn people in Africa, about half of whom will be older than 15 years old. Among the latter, assuming participation rates similar to todays (70-80%), the region’s labour force will be about 600 million strong. This means that while 85 million jobs look like a lot, if Africa were to capture ALL OF THOSE JOBS–an extremely unlikely outcome–that would still represent only 13% of the region’s labour force. Adding those jobs to the current paltry levels of industrial employment, in other words, would just not make African countries “successful industrializers.” Most likely, in fact, these economies will morph—some already have—from mining and agricultural primary goods producers to service economies, without the historically “standard” industrial episode in the middle.

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Can Brazil’s Olympics survive the Zika emergency?

By Jean Daudelin

Three recent developments are changing the Zika crisis: global media awareness, new possible vectors, and doubts — at the epicentre of the crisis — about Brazil’s capacity and honesty. Together, they threaten the upcoming Rio Olympics.

At the end of November 2015, I peddled a piece about the Zika/microcephaly crisis that was already severe in Recife, the large Northeastern Brazilian city where I am currently working. No one but this site, OpenCanada.org, would have it: not The Globe and Mail, not The Huffington Post, not Foreign Policy, no one else. Worse still, it took a few more weeks for the global media to catch up: The New York Times, measure of “all things fit to print,” published its first piece on Dec. 29.

Today, Zika is front-page news every day the world over. This is mostly good as it keeps prodding governments and the increasingly nimble global infectious disease community. As usual, the danger is that, were the epidemic to be less serious than currently speculated, the overblown coverage could lead to public cynicism and, subsequently, less urgency from politicians, less money for research, and public nonchalance when a truly severe one hits: call this the “swine flu” scenario. Fortunately, public health organizations and experts have become very adept at balancing warnings with caveats. In the face of global infectious diseases, panic is not the default mode any more.

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Is Argentina back on the world’s map?

By Jean Daudelin

Argentina has the second largest economy of South America (after Brazil), its third largest population (after Brazil and Colombia) and, in spite of all the problems of recent years, the region’s second highest GDP (PPP) per capita (after Chile). It’s a huge country whose agricultural potential and agro-business productivity are phenomenal, it has large reserves of gas and, for almost a century and in spite of recent difficulties, it has boasted one of the best-educated population of the continent.

And yet, it has had no significant international or even regional presence or influence for at least 50 years.

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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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Venezuela’s unlikely rescuers: the US and Cuba?

By Jean Daudelin

Given the scale of its problems and the “quality” of its government, Venezuela could have collapsed into a civil war years ago. It did not. The restraint shown by the opposition and especially the fact that most weapons were on the Chavista side kept the lid on the pot.

The crisis is now deeper than ever, with deadly department stores’ looting now joining crippling shortages of basic necessities, increasing unemployment, the world’s highest inflation rate, stratospheric levels of corruption, disintegrating public services, crumbling infrastructure and terrifying levels of criminal violence.

At the same time, the government’s quasi-monopoly of violence is breaking down. President Nicolás Maduro’s control over the military and party militias has always been partial with National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello, in particular, keeping a much-purged and corrupt military for himself. There are rumbles, however, both on the party militia side and within the military. Without surprise, the regimes’ much used but long unruly street gangs’ loyalty is less assured than ever. When it comes, in other words, the violence will start from within Chavista ranks.

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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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Nation-building in the Mideast? What is needed is a Sunni home in Mesopotamia

By Jean Daudelin

In an enthusiastic endorsement of Barrack Obama’s new offensive in Syria, Brookings’ Kenneth Pollack argues that the key to the stability of the region lies in effective nation-building.

In the face of innumerable failures and, over the last 20 years, of the progressive reconfiguration of Germany, Central Europe and the Balkans around newly created — or re-created — ethnic states, Pollack still argues that multi-ethnic or multi-communal nation-building is possible in the Middle-East, from the outside and without rearranging the absurd boundaries of the region.

And yet, if it were successful (a big if), the most likely outcome of the strategy he outlines — arming a “moderate” Syrian opposition and helping it take control of the country against both Assad and IS — would be the rise to power, in Syria, of a Sunni regime that would be a mirror image of Iraq’s Shia one, and under which you wouldn’t want to be a minority: Alawite, Kurdish or Christian, in this case, instead of Kurdish and Sunni in Iraq.

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