Thursday, 9 July 2009

I Moved My Blog

As of July 01 all new articles are posted on my new blog: "Brazil In Hot Pants",
which you can find here.

Hope to see you there

Anton Steeman

Sunday, 21 June 2009

The Howler

I don’t have to relate here about the events and emotions in Iran. The Pullitzer-Prize-worthy blogging of Andrew Sullivan at The Atlantic and Nico Pitney at HuffPost are appallingly complete and deeply moving. They embody Obama’s words: “We are bearing witness”.

Using Andrew Sullivan’s words: “Did you notice how many times he [Obama] invoked the word "justice" in his message? That's the word that will resonate most deeply with the Iranian resistance. What a relief to have someone with this degree of restraint and prudence and empathy - refusing to be baited by Khamenei or the neocons, and yet taking an eloquent stand, as we all do, in defense of freedom and non-violence.”

In stark contrast to Obama’s eloquent stand and the cautiousness of the European government leaders, Lula, the great world leader, saw fit to defame the standing of Brazil and its people in the world.
As a belligerent child, who sees his beloved toy taken away from him, President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva declared in Geneva, that based on personal experience, the protests currently taking place in Iran are a reaction of losers, and that the controversy surrounding the re-election of Ahmadinejad will not change his intention to travel to Tehran in the near future.

In this hour of desperation, while the Iranian people are demonstrating in the streets for their democratic rights, Lula can only talk about trade between Brazil and Iran.
"I want to go to Iran, I pretend to fix a date and visit Iran because we are interested in building a partnership with Iran, interested in trade with Iran," he said.

At a press conference, to emphasize his understanding of world politics and the definition of democracy, he stated that Iranian’s actual president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has 61 or 62% of the votes. How can you imagine fraud with such an impressive popular support?, he wondered.

"I do not know anyone other than the opposition, who should have disagreed with the Iranian election results. There are no figures available, there is no proof. For now, it's just, you know, something between “flamenguistas and vascaínos," (referring to two rivalling Brazilian football clubs).

Lula, the popular leader of the Brazilian dream, prototype of the common man that reached the highest levels of society, collided head-on with equality, with equal rights and obligations, with the principles of equality and democracy. With his imbecile statements he shook off his carefully built-up image as a reformist and took the cloth of the repressor and anti-libertarian.

The Brazilian president's view on the election in Iran does not make the slightest difference - either in Tehran or anywhere else in the world, but it is revoltingly gross to compare the peaceful demonstrations for justice of the Iranian people to two rivalling Brazilian football clubs.

Seeing his jaunt to Iran going beyond reach, he probably had meant to say to the Iranian people: "Sifu" (fuck you).
Note 1: Lula used this obscene expression (Sifu meaning fuck you) during a meeting with governors. The TV-News outlet ‘Jornal Nacional’ qualified the words as "extravagant", which was very generous of them.
Note 2: With the peaceful demonstrations getting approached with violence by the Iranian authorities and the hospitalized injured arrested by the Basiji, several foreign embassies in Tehran are helping to protect the victims and are taking in injured. Why is the Brazilian Embassy not on the list?


Friday, 12 June 2009

Brazilian Supermarkets Require Deforestation-Free Meat

The major supermarket chains stepped forward to protect the rain forest. A crucial step. WalMart, Carrefour and Pão de Açúcar will work with certificates of origin for beef which they offer on the shelves of their stores. Recently, Greenpeace released a study showing that the biggest slaughterhouses in Brazil, which receive financial funds from the BNDES (Brazilian Development Bank) and other public banks, buy from farmers in illegally deforested areas. The NGO studied the entire distribution chain. (see also my yesterday's post: The Folly of an Economy Going Against the Environment)

Last week in an interview with Míriam Leitão the president of Abras, Sussumu Honda, said that the supermarket chains were taking the denunciations very seriously and would take a decision. Decision taken! The supermarkets published the following statement:

Wal-Mart, Carrefour and Pão de Açúcar suspend purchases from farms involved in the deforestation of the Amazon, and will work with audits and certificates of origin.

In a meeting of the Brazilian Association of Supermarkets (Abras), on June 8, the three largest supermarket chains in the country, Carrefour, Wal-Mart and Pão de Açúcar decided to suspend purchases from farms involved in the deforestation of the Amazon. The action is a repudiation of practices condemned by Greenpeace. The supermarket sector, by means of Abras, can’t associate itself with the denounced wrongdoings and will act vigorously.

The position defined by the supermarkets includes notification of the slaughterhouses, suspension of purchases from farms denounced by the federal public prosecutor of the State of Pará and the requirement of Certificates of Origin attached to the invoice/transport bill. As an additional measure, the three supermarket chains require an independent and internationally recognised
audit to ensure that the products they sell are not from deforested areas of the Amazon.

This is a joint sectorial response to the report published by Greenpeace earlier this month and the subsequently civil action by the federal public prosecutor of Pará, who sent a recommendation to the large supermarket chains and 72 other buyers of animal products so that they should recede buying meat products originating from the destruction of the rainforest. *
end of statement

At least some companies take their ‘social responsibility’ seriously.

Photos from top to bottom: Hypermarché Carrefour Pinheiros - São Paulo - Meatproduct section; WalMart's Nacional store Brazil and Carrefour Bairo Santo Amaro - São Paulo. - Courtesy: WalMart and Carrefour


Thursday, 11 June 2009

The Folly of an Economy Going Against the Environment

From economists it is expected that they are in favour of production at any cost and against environmentalists. But it has to be the opposite. The Brazilian economy will suffer immensely if it continues the deforestation of (among others) the Amazon rainforest.
It is a shot in the foot. Export of Brazilian beef, for example, will face difficulties if the exporters are not guaranteeing the world market that the cattle did not come from deforested areas. The same problem producers will face with supermarkets, as they will require a ‘clean origin’ of the meat. Consumers also are awakening. As a consequence it is irrational, from an economic point of view, to go against the protection of the environment.

The Medida Provisória*) No. 458 (Decree MP 458), which passed Congress is foolish. It permits regularization of the lands for those who illegally invaded the Amazon rainforest. It regularizes illegality.

The confrontation between farmers and environmentalists is completely unreasonable. Even if the matter is discussed only in terms of economy, the environmentalists are right. Farmers celebrate victories that will turn against them in the future. The slaughterhouses will have to prove to supermarkets in Brazil and elsewhere that they did not buy cattle from (illegally) deforested areas.
The world is moving in one direction and Brazil running in the opposite direction with eyes fixed on the past, turning the clock back.

The debate, the proposals in Congress, the approval of MP 458, the mistakes of the government, the complicity of the opposition, show countrywide lack of understanding.
The tragedy is a multi-party action for burning down the Amazon.
Even China starts to change. In the United States, the Bush government is dumped in the trash bin of history. President Barack Obama steers the country in another direction. Presented US Congress with a set of federal parameters for reducing emissions of greenhouse gases. What was once just a Californian dream, is now the outlook for the entire country.
At a time when the environment begins to accelerate attention in the world, Brazil still thinks it can bring down the planet's largest tropical forest, as if it were an obstacle.

MP 458, now only pending presidential sanction, is worse than it appears. It is disastrous. It legalises grileiros, who illegally invaded and burned down a part of the Amazon. He, who stole 1,500 hectares before the first of December 2004 could buy it without bidding and without inspection. He has preference over the land and can pay in the most friendly way: in 30 years with three years of grace. And if at the end of the grace he wants to sell the land, the MP allows it. In three years, the property can be passed on. For up to four hundred ‘stolen’ hectares, the period is ten years. And if the grileiro stool the land and left the daily work to his labourers as he himself lives somewhere else? He has also the right to stay with it, because even if the land is run by a "figurehead" the grileiro can buy it. And if it is a company? No problem at all.

Supporters of MP 458 in the House and the Senate say it is to regularize the situation which was initiated by the Military Regime and later abandoned.
Bullshit. As the deadline to acquire land is set by the first of December 2004.
They said it was to benefit the small settlers. Bullshit. As it does allow the sale of land run by a figurehead, and the sale to corporate entities.

The bill creates indecent loopholes for privatization in the worst way of the patrimony of all Brazilians.

Former Minister for the Environment and presently senator Marina Silva said that the day MP 458 was adopted in Congress, it was her third worst day of her life. She feels as if Brazil has lost all the advances of the recent years.
It is almost impossible to agree with Marina Silva as there hasn’t been much progress shown in the last years. The Lula government has always been ambiguous in relation to the environment, and Fernando Henrique, his predecessor, kept silent. If they had shown some stature, Brazil wouldn’t have lost what it lost.
In just the first two years of the Lula government, 2003 and 2004, 51.000 km2 have been deforested. Compare this to the size of the Netherlands (41.528 km2). And many grileiros who were part of that attack at the rainforest will now be ‘regularized’.

Last week Greenpeace released a devastating report, showing that 80% deforestation of the Amazon is due to livestock. Greenpeace published the names of the perpetrators, of which Bertin, Marfrig, Friboi JBS are the largest. The Brazilian Development Bank (BNDES) is their partner and finances the ‘illegal’ operation. The mentioned companies provide meat to numerous retail chains, among them, large supermarkets as Carrefour, Wal-Mart and Pão de Açúcar.

During the Globonews’ programme ‘Espaço Aberto’, the coordinator of the study, Andrew Muggiatti met with Sussumu Honda, the chairman of ABRAS (Brazilian Association of Supermarkets). The BNDES was also invited, but did not show up.
The good news that came out of this programme was the positioning of the supermarkets. According to Sussumu Honda, they are preoccupied and will use their power to pressure the slaughterhouses to prove the origin of the cattle which meat is put on the supermarket shelves.
Brazilian meat exporters have threatened to sue Greenpeace. They should do the opposite and refuse any supplier linked to deforestation. The world will not buy Brazilian beef at this price. Exporters will face barriers. That's for sure.

The backward steps will not eliminate the external market. But that is of less importance. The tragedy is that Brazil is losing its future.
Ironically Brazil adopted MP 458 during the Week of the Environment.

This is a free translation and interpretation of an article which Míriam Leitão wrote on her blog on 05 June 2009

Medida Provisória In Brazilian constitutional law, a Medida Provisória (presidential decree) is issued by the President of the Republic, at his discretion, without the participation of the legislative branch. The measure has the force of law, albeit not being really a law in the strict technical sense of this term. Only in cases of importance and urgency the Chief Executive may issue decrees, which he should submit later to Congress. The decree stays in force for sixty days, extendable for another 60. After this time, if Congress does not approve it, and convert it into law, the measure will lose its force.

Monday, 8 June 2009

Indians Tembé-Ténêtéhar: The Guardians of the 'Carbon Storage' in the Amazon

The indigenous Tembé-Ténêtéhar people, who live in the north-west of the federal state of Pará ,will sign the first carbon credit contract to preserve their forests.
The Indians living in Terra Indígena Alto Rio Guamá will receive money from a foreign company to keep the forest within their reserve standing as it is.

The contract for the sale of carbon credit was due to be signed last Friday, World Environment Day. Only heavy rain postponed the ceremony, which was planned to take place in Belém. The agreement will bring together the American company C-Trade and the Indians of Terra Indígena Alto Rio Guamá.

C TRADE, is an international developer of Carbon Trade Credits (aka CERS - Certified Emission Reductions) for renewable energy projects that offset the use of fossil fuels, such as solar, wind turbines, energy efficiency, forest carbon sequestration and waste-to-energy power plants.

Ronald Shiflett, C-Trade’s Director, International Utility Efficiency Partnership, is in Belém and will meet his new partners in a traditional business suit, as the Indians will show up in their traditional outfit, with cocares (feather headdress) and body paintings, done based on the jenipapo (black) and annatto (rood) fruit pulps representing their ethnic traditions.

”The C-Trade proposal is beneficial for us,” says Valdeci Tembe, community leader of Susuarana, one of 14 villages in the south of the Terra Indígena Alto Rio Guamá on the banks of the Rio Gurupi, and with Muxi Tembe, leader of the Tekowau village, one of the promoters of the proposal.

Considered one of the poorest Indian people in Pará, according to the National Indian Foundation (Funai), the Tembé-Ténêtéhar live permanently under threat from illegal loggers. Without hardly any source of income, the sale of logs from illegal cutting is one of the only income sources for some of the 216 families. Furthermore (illegal) loggers invade the reserve, and part of the reserve is already taken by marijuana plantings run by drug traffickers.

Conservative calculations of the C-Trade project show that the Indians could have a financial return of BRL 1 million (€ 350.000) annually. The offer stipulates that the Indians will receive 85% of the value of the sales of carbon credit in the international market, while the remaining 15%, will stay with the company. Only one quarter of the reservation will be subject to the contract. For each hectare of preserved forest, it is estimated that four tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) will be avoided in the atmosphere.

In Terra Indígena Alto Rio Guamá some 145.39 tonnes of carbon are stored per hectare. The volume is so large that it turns the Tembé-Ténêtéhar people in real guardians of a huge "carbon storage" of the Amazon rain forest: 40.8 million tonnes of carbon stored in an area of 279 hectares, on the border with Maranhão.

The Tembé-Ténêtéhar with their 281 indigenous lands scattered throughout the Amazon and their more than 61 extractive reserves in the region stock a total of 15 billion tons of carbon. This signifies 30% of the 47 billion tons of carbon stored in trunks, branches, leaves and soil of the Amazon forests, according to calculations of the Instituto de Pesquisa Ambiental da Amazônia (Ipam = Environmental Research Institute of the Amazon). Experts warn that if this volume is released to the atmosphere, the effect would be a further worsening of the climate crisis.

Defining the key target of the negotiations, Juscelino Bessa, the regional administrator of Funai (Fundação Nacional do Índio is the Brazilian National Indian Foundation, or protection agency for Indian interests and their culture) said in Belém: “We are selling the idea of preservation. In addition to profit, the contract may add a social and ethnic content to the products of the forest.”

Felício Pontes, federal prosecutor with the Public Ministry in Pará, who was crucial to the negotiations, concluded: “If Brazil is a signatory of the Kyoto Treaty, nothing more is just then that the Indians receive payment for environmental services rendered to the country.”

The Federal University of Pará, also an important partner in the negotiations, established a management model for the use of the sold resources of carbon credits. The project envisages the creation of a Bolsa Floresta, similar to the Bolsa Familia, which will supply the Indians monthly with money to develop sustainable projects in the reserve.


Saturday, 30 May 2009

The Collapse of Health Care in Pará

In June last year, the deaths of 13 babies in just one weekend in Santa Casa de Misericórdia do Pará in Belém bringing the total at 260 dead babies in just 45 days, shocked Brazil. Since then, finally, it was recognised that the chaos in health care was structural. The historically overcrowded (public) emergency hospitals had reached their peak, due to the large number of people coming from the interior, where emergency care in the municipalities is lacking completely.
The problems reported in the capital are in fact a reflection of a disorganized management system at the three government levels (federal, state, municipal), which afflicts the entire federal state of Pará, historically discriminated with unfairly low federal funds. The Plano Diretor de Regionalização da Saúde (RDP = Master Plan for Regionalization of Health Care), released in March of this year by the state government, is not much more than a piece of paper as long as there is no federal support for the financial resources required.

The RDP designed a network of regional hospital clusters in the interior, but the actual Secretary of Health of Pará, has to admit that the RDP master plan will never leave the drawing board without federal funds.

While the northern region, in its entirety, is hampered by a lack of federal funds, the situation in Pará is more severe, due to its continental size and its epidemiological profile. The federal government pays monthly through the Ministry of Health per capita the amount of BRL 8.29 (€ 2,90), to cover the health care costs of medium and high complexity. The lowest value per capita compared to any other Brazilian state, including the northern region. Tocantins, for example, with about 2 million of inhabitants, (five million less than Pará), receives BRL 12.24 (€ 4,30) monthly per capita, Roraima and Acre, respectively, BRL 14,48 (€ 5,08) and BRL 19,33 (€ 6,78).

The logic of the governmental Unified Health System (SUS) is simple. The system pays for services rendered. Each consultation or examination computed by SUS is paid afterwards. SUS pays materials and also the services of professionals. But without investments to create and structure services, most municipalities, being very poor, are not getting more resources from the SUS, other than for carried-out treatment. So they are condemned to water and bread, just waiting for fixed (federal or state) funds, which are distributed with regard to the number of citizens.

In addition to the scarce resources, small steps in pursuit of improvements are harmed by politics, as a change of government could result in a halt of concrete actions. As happened to the five regional hospitals, of which the construction started in 2003 under the previous governor. Three of the five are completed, Santarém, Marabá and Tucuruí. In Breves, as well as in Redenção, the conclusion of the hospitals is not even forecasted by the sitting governor, our (in)famous Ana Júlia Carepa. Of the hospitals ready to operate, the government is unable or unwilling to operate them at full capacity.

Most municipalities in Pará, most of them very poor, can not even offer the most basic health care of average complexity to their citizens, who as a consequence migrate in cascades to Belém in search for health care. Belém, indeed, has the largest infra-structure for health care with its hospitals, doctors and specialists, but should only treat the serious cases from the interior. But what happens is a reversal of the patient’s profile. The funds under the agreement between the municipalities and Belém should be used for the serious cases, however it is mostly used in treatments of low and medium complexity, and consumed last year BRL 178 million (€ 62,4 million), while the SUS (Unified Health System) paid BRL 175.8 million (€ 61,7 million) leaving Belém with a deficit of BRL 2.2 million (€ 0,7 million).

The emergency rooms of the hospitals in Belém are a reflection of that. Data from the Municipal Secretary of Health (Sesma) show treatment in both hospitals have reached the average of 50% being patients from the interior, and of this volume, 60% are cases of medical practice, i.e. cases without high risk to life according to the medical classification and should be treated at home in the individual municipalities.

Furthermore, the more severe cases, which, in fact, have to come to Belém in search of health service, arrive in the capital in an aggravated state due to poor transport conditions, usually in common ambulances without a doctor, without oxygen facilities for the patient, and in many cases, with only the driver, without a companion. That is, as far as, the health departments in the interior have an ambulance available. It is quite common, however, that patients are transported in vans or kombis without any infra-structure to make the pilgrimage from hospital-door to hospital-door in Belém. No place, no problem, patients are laid down on stretchers which fill the corridors.

In contrast with this, the daily paper O Liberal reported, that last year there was not a shortage of federal funds transferred to the government of the state of Pará for health care. Pará received more than BRL 1.1 billion (€ 386 million) for the 143 municipalities, with almost half of that amount just for the capital of Pará. Belém snapped up BRL 533.4 million (€ 187 million) exclusively for health care. The amount refers to all the money released by the National Health Fund (FNS) to the state of Pará.

The State Health Fund (Fespa) was the body most favoured by the federal money transfers, with BRL 231.4 million (€ 81 million).

What have they done with all that money? Hospitals are falling apart, equipment broke, emergency rooms are not functioning due to a lack of doctors, beds, medicines and equipment. Simple question: Where is all that money?

Remember Ana Júlia Carepa, the (socialist) governor of Pará? Remember her words?
We “..... believe that another world is possible and in the name of this ideal, we have built our government. In the name of this ideal, we work to transform Pará into a constitutional state.

Constitutional state? Not when you are poor. Don’t expect health care at your side, even worse don’t expect the socialist governor at your side. Like to know where Ana Júlia spends the money:
The governor of Pará, Ana Júlia Carepa has launched an "aid" package for some ‘low-division’ football clubs in Pará. The value of the aid is almost BRL 1.5 million (€ 550.000). Among the three clubs is Remo, for which the Ana Júlia’s father is an adviser.

I end this post with some words regarding this item taken from the blog: ‘Movimento da Ordem Vigilia Contra Corrupção’, which crucifies the governor of Pará:

The heinous opportunism of Ana Júlia Carepa
Ana Júlia doesn’t give a damn ....... As a matter of justice, that “petralha”*) woman has to be held liable for this barbaric crime, which resulted in the deaths of nearly 300 Brazilian babies, due to her omission and neglect.

Certainly, she will not lose the opportunity to try to "scrape" a little money with the excuse to build more hospitals in a state, where she (already for two years) criminally maintains the Hospital in Santarém, all finished and equipped, closed, only because it was built by the previous governor. (By Gaúcho/Gabriela)

Next year there are elections, not only for a new president, but also (among others) for a new governor. Let’s hope, that the people in Pará will remember the devastating results of 4 years Ana Júlia Carepa. I doubt it, but I hope, as Pará and its people deserve better.

*) Petralha is the contraction of PT (Brazilian socialist party) and the Irmãos Metralha (The Beagle Boys in English). The word identifies a member of a moralistic political party that when in power, deceives, steals, kills, lies, corrupts, installing a cleptocracia, in other words a state governed by crooks)


Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Brazil’s Economically Active Population

- or - Over 70% never attended a professional qualification course

The professional education, which includes courses aimed at training and professionalizing employees, still leaves much to be desired, according to the Pesquisa Nacional por Amostra de Domicílios (Pnad = National Survey by Household). According to the survey, 72,4% of the economically active population never attended a professional class. Or in absolute numbers, 71,5 million working people. Among the unemployed, 5,3 million people never went to a professional education course (66,4%).

The figures also show that the professional education run by the government has the lowest impact, clearly demonstrating the disinterest of the Lula government in education in general and professional education in particular. Only 22,4% of the total of students enrolled in professional education attended public institutions. Institutions offering private education (NGOs, private schools, trade unions etc.) had 53.1%. Professional education linked to the System "S" (SESI, SENAC, Sebrae, among others) had 20.6%. System S is the collective name of eleven professional categories, established by Brazilian Law.

Among the courses of professional training, also known as free courses, because in general they do not require a certain level of pre-education, computer courses came on top with 41.7%. Then, there are the areas of commerce and management (14%) and industry and maintenance (11.2%).

Students protesting Lula's education policy

To be honest I have to say, that end of December last year as a New Year’s present Lula announced to create 38 federal institutes of education, science and technology in the country. Two of them will be in Rio de Janeiro. The measure, according to the government, increases the number of students in technical courses at secondary level, technology and higher degrees from 215 thousand to half a million. (Tell me, what is, half a million out of a population of some 180 million for an emerging economy, which - according to Lula - has to be one of the economic forces in this world.)

Please don’t laugh at the following: “What is happening today is that the country is experiencing a time of increased investment in science and technology. This year (2009) we will open 100 colleges, in a country that had opened 140 in a century,” Lula said.

This sounds nice and hopeful, but there are two problems with Lula. First Lula always announces plans and uses words as ‘we will’ and at the final end people discover that of all the announced plans almost nothing is really implemented. Second, the announced plan covers mainly investments in higher education, and that’s the problem in this country, there are almost no professionally educated blue-collar craftsmen. If there is money available, all money goes to universities and higher technical institutes, as only half of the new-to-create openings is reserved for the professional education at mid-level. But developing a future and filling the shortage in the industry the country needs many more blue-collar professionals. When confronted with these critical remarks, Lula, after almost seven years of his reign, still blames previous governments or the sitting state or local governments. But as a matter of fact it is Lula’s government that fails in the first place, as ........

In 2008 the Ministry of Education used only 27% of its investment budget. For 2009 the budget for this ministry faced a BRL 1.6 billion (€ 570 million) cut. And to make it worse, among the programs affected by the budget cut, is ‘Brasil Alfabetizado’ (Literate Brazil)

Public school in the township Sabonetinho-Maranhão

Of the 141.5 million people in Brazil older than 15 years, an estimated 14.1 million is illiterate, of which only 547 thousand attend alphabetisation classes (3.8%).
A recent study focussing on the Education of Youth and Adults (EJA), the Alphabetisation for Youth and Adults and the Professional Education shows, that there were (2007) 13.5 million illiterate Brazilians (9.5% of the population older than 15 years) with no prospect of change, as they do not attend classes to learn to read and write.

In absolute numbers, Bahia was the state with the largest number of illiterates who were not enrolled: 1.8 million people. Then comes São Paulo, with 1.4 million. Among the states which are trying to overhaul their backwardness is the Amazonas: 19.3% of the illiterate population over 15 years was attending classes.

Is it any better with the literate population? Another study reveals that 77 million Brazilians (almost 50% of the population) never ever read a book.

Lula’s daily repeated rhetoric, criticising his predecessors sounds hollow. His: “Tell me of any government, in any period of time, in this country, which did 50% of what we are doing for education,” trying to shoot down critics, is laughable. Just drive around and see with your own eyes the devastating status of school buildings, let alone the poor low level of public education and the lack of (even the most basic) educational material.

90527 - 81242

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

A Good Yankee Conquered Latin America

The judgement of the first hundred days of the Obama administration might have had all the attention in the US, it is, as a matter of fact, a global affaire. The foreign policy of the Bush/Cheney administration was ruinous in its approach to and contacts with Latin America. Bush’ few visits to Latin American countries were always characterized with massive, sometimes even violent protests and demonstrations. Neither the Latin American leaders nor the people expected anything positive from Bush/Cheney, and as a consequence any American initiative, commercial or charitable, was met with mistrust and suspicion. Exponents of this disastrous foreign policy were the dubious American interventions in local affairs in Venezuela, Bolivia and Paraguay and the re-instalment of the 5th US Navy Fleet in the Caribbean. The US, personified by George Bush, was “el diablo” as Hugo Chávez stated openly and with which statement many a Latin American government leader silently agreed.

Although the 5th Summit of the Americas, sarcastically called the G-34 (the number of countries attending the meeting of three days in Trinidad and Tobago) as part of a soup of letters and numbers in which leaders dive, was distinguishably unimportant, it was, however, the perfect event for the new president of the USA to meet efficiently with all government leaders of Latin America, notably the Left-Wing leaders with anti-American feelings, among them Hugo Chávez (Venezuela), Evo Morales (Bolivia), Fernando Lugo (Paraguay) and Daniel Ortega (Nicaragua). But it was also crystal clear that the meeting in a country once a haunt for pirates and smugglers had to offer some thrilling bids and a bit of suspense.

The Summit was created in 1994 by the then US President Bill Clinton. The initial objective was to create a single trading system, the FTAA (Free Trade Area of the Americas) for the whole region. After several dead ends, especially between the United States and Mercosur, the initiative was buried after the last meeting in Mar del Plata.

But this time, it was the Latin American and Caribbean debutante ball for prince Barack Obama, and you never could know whether Hugo Chávez would try to spoil the party and steal the show (he anticipated that he might veto the final declaration) and the absence of Cuba was remarkable since the island of the Castro brothers was the predominant theme of this picnic.

Several Latin American leaders agitated as usual against the financial shenanigans perpetrated by Big Brother America, albeit knowing they need to work with Obama. You just had to observe the body language and juggling rhetoric of Lula in relation to Obama. Again, as in the G-20 summit in London, we had the flawless performance of the US president stating that he was here to listen, to recognize flaws and trimming edges, but let's remember the obvious: the US is still the indispensable superpower, maybe weaker, more limited and less arrogant, but still the No. 1 Superpower.

There were also limits to achieve necessary change. Before the trip to Trinidad and Tobago, Washington broke some ice in relations with Havana, allowing more travel and financial remittances from Cuban-Americans to the island. But not enough to make an immediate reversal of the economic embargo, in force for 47 years, the age of the President. This will depend on tortuous negotiations with the anti-Castro lobby in Congress, and positive gestures of the Castro brothers.

Who was to know, that Chavez, supported by his vassals, might lay an ambush, but what fun could there be with "el diablo" George W. Bush not present? It should have been difficult to repeat the waves of protests and bullshit targeting Bush during the 2005 summit in Mar del Plata.
Before the Summit started Itamaraty, the Brazilian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, released a statement: “President Obama is new in office and it makes no sense to create a "negative" situation during the summit”, and continued to say that the Cuban government itself would have no interest in a confrontation with the Obama government, because of its willingness to a "dialogue."
"President Lula goes to Trinidad, aware that neither Obama, nor Cuba are interested in transforming the embargo in a big controversy during the summit.”
For many, the US remains an imperialistic country, but Obama is a good Yankee.

Before the summit started The New York Times published a sombre toned article, emphasising the erosion of the US influence in Latin America and the deeper engagement of China in the hemisphere, but it is ridiculous to imagine that one day the “Emerging Asian Superpower“ will have a hegemonic role in American’s backyard.

The veteran "Brazilian-expert" Abraham Lowenthal, professor of international relations at the University of Southern California, said that Obama’s trip to Latin America during its first 100 days of government is prove of the importance he gives to the region, given the alarming economic crisis and geopolitical challenges in other parts which consume all attention of his administration. Latin America, however, is not a priority of this government. The urgent national issues, like the economic crisis, drugs and immigration, dominate his domestic agenda.

What is the importance of the summit for Brazil? And can somebody tell me how many summits President Lula has already participated in during the four months of this year? Since the summit in Mar del Plata, Brazil is more prominent and influential. For Lula, it is great to be charmed by Obama. But in the words of Rubens Barbosa, former Brazilian ambassador to Washington, the summit is a "non event" because it was originally initiated to stimulate a dead FTAA (Free Trade Area of the Americas), against which Brazil resisted. FTAA is not any longer, but there is Hugo Chávez’ Alba. Leaders can always find a reason for another summit.

Although heavily criticized in the US, Chavez friendly handshake and gesture to present the new US president with the book “Las venas abiertas de América Latina” (or in English: “Open Veins of Latin America”), written by the Uruguayan Eduardo Galeano in the seventies of the last century, was one of the most remarkable public expressions of seeking a rapprochement with the US and at the same a signal to the ‘imperialist’ that the future had to be laid out with mutual respect. Remember, the book - which is arguably Galeano's best-known work, analyzes the history of Latin America as a whole from the time period of European contact with the New World to contemporary Latin America, revealing what he views as European and later US economic exploitation and political dominance over the region - is clearly a signal of the Latin American leaders to Obama, that continuation of this loathed policy can not and will not be accepted any longer.

Whether US policy to Latin America will change dramatically in a positive direction requiring mutual respect, we have to see. But for the time being “A Good Yankee Conquered Latin America”.


Saturday, 18 April 2009

The Pantanal by Train

Beautiful news for those who always wanted to see the beauty of the Pantanal, but were put off to make a trip by a chalana (a boat used to navigate the Pantanal rivers between Brazil and Bolivia) or on horseback, as tickets are on sale for the Pantanal Express, the latest venture of a touristic railway in Brazil.

The Pantanal
The Pantanal is the largest continuously inundated plain of the world, formed mainly by the floods of the river Paraguay and its tributaries. The region of about 250 thousand square kilometres is for 80% situated in the federal states Mato Grosso and Mato Grosso do Sul, while the rest is mainly in Justify FullBolivia and a small part in Paraguay, where it is named Chaco.

It has an impressive diversity of fauna and flora. According to the WWF, there are 1,132 species in the Pantanal of butterflies, 656 birds, 122 mammals, 263 fish and 93 reptile species. In the rainy season, between October and February, the Pantanal is virtually impassable by land. In the remainder of the year, the soil is an excellent pasture for livestock.

The Pantanal Express
The train, operated by Serra Verde Express, parts from Campo Grande and passes by Aquidauana and Miranda on Saturdays and makes its return trip on Sundays. The journey is 220 kilometres long and takes some 7 hours.

The price of an economic class ticket costs BRL 39,00 (€ 13,50), and on-board service is not included. The Tourist class is sold for BRL 77,00 (€ 27,00) and includes lunch, soft drinks and service of a commissioner. The Executive class and cabins go for BRL 126,00 (€ 44,00) and guarantee snacks, mineral water, soft drinks, beer and a bilingual commissioner.

The Pantanal Express begins its adventure on May 8, 2009. Administered by the Serra Verde Express, concessionaire of the tourist trains Paranguá-Curitiba (in the Serra do Mar), the Pantanal Express is designed to meet the international tourist, but will certainly attract the nationals also.
The train will stop at four stations: Campo Grande (departure), Piraputanga (where it makes a short stop), Aquidauana (for lunch) and Miranda (arrival at the end of the day, after seven hours of travel). A future extension of the line will end in Corumbá.

With nine wagons, including restaurant and luggage van, the Pantanal Express has a total capacity of 400 passengers.

The average speed is scheduled to be 35 km/h, not much more slowly for not tiring the passenger, but with the right speed to take photos. With panoramic windows, the trip will give the passenger the opportunity to observe typical Pantanal species such as the araras-azuis (macaws) and others in a variety of shades until the next stop in Aquidauana, passing the rivers Miranda and Aquidauana.

The first stop is in Aquidauana, founded in 1892 by colonels (land owners) and major Teodoro Rondon, it was the most developed town in the former state of Mato Grosso.
The Church of the Immaculate Conception, in Gothic style, standing at the entrance of the town, is worth a visit.

For the lunch the options are between a juicy feijoada de pintado (a dish with brown or black beans and pintado (Pseudoplatystoma corruscans)) a fish very much appreciated in the region) or a dish made of white meat, caught from the fresh waters in the region.

Those who want to extend their stay can choose between boat trips, hiking trips, horseback riding, and observe the nocturnal wildlife.

Back on track, the journey ends in Miranda, where the main activity is fishing, inspiring the local culinary experience. There are also artisan products made by the Kadiwéu Indians. The Indian villages, five kilometres from the town centre, can be visited.

What can you expect to see during this train journey?

* Ariranha ((Pteronura brasiliensis), a species of the otter, very common in the Pantanal. It is a carnivorous mammal and semi-aquatic South American. Lives in groups on the banks of rivers. He feeds mainly on fish.
Onça Pintada (Panthera onca). The jaguar of the Pantanal, threatened with extinction. The largest cat of the Americas is an animal with nocturnal habits, hunting capybaras, deer, fish and birds. An adult can reach two meters in length and weigh 160 kg. It is also found in areas of the Atlantic Rainforest and the Amazon.
Tuiuiús or Jaburu is a migratory bird inhabiting South and Central America, most common in the Pantanal. It can reach a height of more than a meter.

More infomation visit: Pantanal Ecoturismo.


Friday, 3 April 2009

Wrong Choices

This is a (translated and edited) text of the blog of Miriam Leitão, economist and columnist for O Globo
The response of Lula’s government to the financial crisis has serious defects: some market sectors are benefiting but not the entire economy, and incentives are given without something in return. The car, a product for the middle class and the rich got a tax waiver, the employees of the automakers received an employment guarantee, but the sugar-alcohol sector has neither, not even a guarantee of the labour laws.

In the United States, aid to the automakers was given under the condition of environmental Justify Fullimprovements. Here, nothing was requested from the automakers, except to keep labour employed, which creates a distortion in the economy: all Brazilians can be dismissed, except employees of the automotive sector and public officials.

March 30 was the “Day of Cars”, here and in the US. There, the president of General Motors fell in disgrace because the government refused his plan for the adjustment and adaptation to the requirements. I do not want to compare the aid of billions of direct tax-dollars to the coffers of the auto-industry in the US, to the tax waiver here, but insist that this was a great opportunity to induce changes upon the Brazilian auto-manufacturers.

The new president of GM will have 60 days to submit a new plan, but already started to say that the new cars will be different. Frederick Henderson said that the automaker is one or two generations behind in green technology for cars and that the company will have to learn to make money on light cars, and not just SUVs. Another requirement is that of a fiscal adjustment in the company, which will separate good assets and problematic liabilities difficult to digest, such as the employees’ pension fund.

Over in the U.S. it is entirely different, but it is important to see the attitude of governments, in helping the industry. The Obama administration has asked something in return. The Lula government extended the reduction of the IPI-tax for cars and trucks requiring only keeping employment at the same level. It is worth remembering that the manufacturers of trucks did not meet the requirement, from the beginning of 2009, to manufacture only trucks with clean diesel engines. After seven years of delay, they said they were not prepared and needed three more years to deliver here in Brazil, what they deliver in other countries already for years. This, for example, could have been a consideration, a quid pro quo.

The complete absence of concern of the Lula government for the environment is shocking. Yesterday the government reduced the IPI-tax to zero for electric showers, high consumers of energy, and a product which has been abandoned in other countries. Electric showers have had a reduction of the IPI before and have now been set to zero along with other conventional building materials such as cement and brick. The Ministry of the Environment had asked to equalize the tax for the electric shower (which was 5%) with solar panels (which pay 18%). The decision "has not yet been taken” and is still in consideration by the Treasury.

End of March Banco do Brasil got authorized to extend the credit line of the FAT Giro Rural for two years. The credit line is BRL 4 billion (USD 1,8 billion) and the first trance will be paid from April 1. The agribusiness is getting an aid package for the sugar-alcohol sector and the production of meat, two flagrant champions of slave labour. Livestock breeding is directly related to the deforestation of the Amazon. The BNDES (Development Bank) will make a classic rescue operation, supplying BRL 200 million (USD 87 million) for a bankrupt slaughterhouse, which operates in a deforested area. In none of the aid programmes any change in conduct was negotiated, neither in relation to the workers, nor in regard to the environment. This all happens as if the Brazilian government is not of this world.

The vehicle per capita in Brazil, according to Anfavea (Automobile Manufacturers Association), is one vehicle for every eight inhabitants. This is the overall average, taking into account the population and the fleet of 25.5 million cars. Just to compare, the same density in the US. is one vehicle for every 1.2 inhabitants, in Japan it is one vehicle for every 1.7 inhabitants, in Mexico it is one for 4.7 inhabitants, in Argentina it is a car for every 5.2 inhabitants, all data from Anfavea.

The 2000 census said that 54.4 million Brazilians lived in households that had one or more cars, which then represented 32% of the population. Imagining that this percentage has grown a bit, as the sales of vehicles increased - though most new cars have been bought by the same families who had cars before, but some new entered the market - who owns a car belongs to the middle class and from there upwards. The two figures show that the motorized do not reach 40% of the population. The ones who buy a new car are exactly the ones who have a higher income.

The government did something that will benefit only the middle class and the rich, protected only employees of automakers and support the agribusiness without requiring any change of conduct.

Lula is losing the chance to change opened up by the crisis.