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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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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A less-violent, illicit drug market? It is possible

By Jean Daudelin

The Americas are slowly moving towards the full legalization of cannabis. Uruguay is still alone among national governments to have gone all the way, but for marijuana at least, hard-line prohibition is quickly being replaced by a range of flexible arrangements, from the legalization of ‘personal doses,’ to the decriminalization of possession – as in the ‘ticket’ option being considered by Canada’s Justice Minister, Peter MacKay.

These changes are long overdue, and the fuller the liberalization, the better, in spite of the increase in consumption which should logically follow the drop in price and the lifting of sanctions. The benefits of consumption are most likely limited, but the potential negative health and social consequences of higher cannabis consumption pale when compared to the massive damage inflicted by tobacco, alcohol and prescription opioids. Moreover, much of the harm caused by the criminalization of cannabis is tied to the huge social and economic impact of marijuana-related arrests and convictions in the United States, an issue that would simply vanish with legalization.

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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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Venezuela: Dark Present, Darker Future

By Jean Daudelin

Venezuela is in bad shape. Daily demonstrations, barricades and fights with the police are adding yet more chaos to the country’s economic mess and violent crime wave. But if you assume that things can’t get worse, just wait. Here is a grim, and unfortunately quite likely scenario.

The political dynamics in the country are intractably poisoned. The two sides are deeply entrenched while hatred, not rivalry, rules. Even the start of a dialogue is made difficult by the internal divisions that plague each side, with radicals on both sides ready to denounce compromise as treason. Leopoldo Lopez, the now jailed opposition leader that led the early demonstrations in Caracas, has become the face of the street protests and he wants nothing less than President Maduro’s resignation. This leaves no room at all to manoeuvre for Henrique Capriles, the opposition candidate in last year’s elections. In the government’s aggressive campaign against the “fascist” opposition, the President, Nicolas Maduro, tries not to be outdone by National Assembly, President Diosdado Cabello, who has been keeping some distance since the very night of the Maduro’s disastrous and razor-thin electoral victory.

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