Sunday, 28 December 2008

The Flying Brazilian - A Busy Bee

It is a public secret that President Lula, from the very beginning of his first term in office, indicated his intention to see the world before his second term in 2010 will end. That’s why he bought, immediately after his inauguration as president, a new plane (an Airbus A319CJ ).

In 2008, the President made 33 international trips, almost the same number as in 2007 (36). It is for sure that in 2009 the ‘AeroLula ', as his plane popularly is called, will make many international flight hours.
In the year before the presidential elections and the penultimate year of his second term, president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva packs his bags for many an international flight, to activate his strategy for Brazil as an active participant in the discussions on the measures to be taken to get the world economy off the ground. 2009 will be a year of intensive international discussions regarding the global economic crisis and Lula wants to use this situation to try to fortify his international prestige.
We made a photo-reportage of his most important trips in 2008.
......... continue reading and enjoy the photo reportage of Lula's travels

Friday, 26 December 2008

Economic crisis? What economic crisis?

While worldwide governments design and implement financial stimulus packages, President Lula mainly limits himself to stimulate the Brazilians to continue spending money and to buy goods to support the Brazilian industry. In Brazil apparently payment of the 13th month is seen as stimulus package to rescue the economy and beat the financial crisis. In the month of December, the Brazilian economy will be "enriched", with approximately BRL 78 billion (25 billion euros) due to the payment of the 13th month.

This amount represents about 2.7% of the gross domestic product (GDP), and includes workers in the formal sector, including domestic servants, pensioners and beneficiaries with a state pension.

According to calculations of Dieese (Department of Statistics and Socio-Economic Studies), the BRL 78 billion will be paid to about 68 million people. Dieese didn’t take into account the self-employed and informal workers, who may also receive a kind of compensation at the end of the year, but whose details are impossible to obtain.

According to Dieese the national average paid will be BRL 1,105 (€ 354). The 13th month for Previdência (something like a general old age pension scheme) is BRR 753 (€ 241). Workers in the formal market receive BRL 1,331 (€ 427), while household staff is entitled to an average of BRL 495 (€ 158).

Beneficiaries in the capital Brasilia go home with the biggest share (taking into account all categories) i.e. BRL 2,378 (€ 762), while beneficiaries in the federal state of Piauí have to be content with BRL 662 (€ 212).

According to a survey, the vast majority of consumers (60%) plans to use the 13th month to settle debts, an increase of 3,45% compared with the previous year. According to the study conducted by Anefac during the month of October 2008, among 573 consumers from all social classes, the number of consumers that plans to use the 13th month for the purchase of gifts decreased from 20% to 15%.

In 2008, only a small number of consumers (2%) will set that money aside for the expected costs in the first month of next year. However, according to research from Anefac, the number of consumers who drew a loan in anticipation of the release of the 13th month grew with 28,57%. This quota represents 9% of the total national entitlement to the 13th month payment.

Although (thanks to the idle words of President Lula) the Brazilians believe that Brazil will be little affected by the international financial crisis, the majority of the population reviews the outlook for 2009 negative in terms of inflation, unemployment and personal income. According to a poll by Ibope commissioned by the National Confederation of Industry (CNI), the Justify Fullmajority of the Brazilian population believes that the inflation will rise, however they think the international financial crisis has reached the country, they do noy expect to be affected personally by the unrest, which started in the US market.

According to the CNI/Ibope survey the number of respondents that expect an increased unemployment rate in 2009 stepped up from 40% to 63%, while the number who expect a job increase in 2009 fell from 55% to 35%.
The expectation of people about their income also declined, albeit with lesser intensity. 38% think they have an increase next year, compared with 41% who believe that their income will not change and 13% who believe in a deterioration.

But despite all the fine words of Lula Christmas dinner became significantly more expensive.

Less than a week before Christmas, the demand for food for the traditional Christmas dinner increased substantially. With the high dollar, which made a leap from BRL 1,60 in October to BRL 2,30 in December, and the rise of inflation in the last three months, everything is more expensive, especially imported products such as fruits and vegetables. And clothing prices rose to unprecedented heights while the Brazilian traditionally needs to wear new ones for Christmas.

An analyzes of Dieese shows that products such as turkey, chester ham and cod, in this time of year very popular products, showed a price increase compared with the same period last year.
One of the most consumed products at a Christmas dinner, the frozen chicken is the only one which remained stable. A kilo costs an average of BRL 3,94 (€ 1,26).

In addition to these increases of traditional products, Christmas dinner this year will also be affected by higher prices of fruit. Some increased with more than 30%, such as the chestnut. The fresh plum increased by 31%. The Argentine apple 36% and imported pear increased by 50%. The largest increase however was for dark seedless raisins, with a peak of 67%.

The Christmas shopping did not provide significant results, although retailers are still optimistic. The expectation in Belém is a higher turnover of 10% over the previous year, although during the first two weeks of December, few shoppers could be found.
Finally on Christmas Eve the total results were not disappointing. Striking was that consumers bought and paid with cash, quite unusual in this time of the year when normally credit card companies celebrate their highest output. But with a current interest rate on your credit card of 175% annually you have to disregard that option.

Merry Christmas

Cartoon courtesy J. Bosco/O Liberal

Thursday, 25 December 2008

A Christmas Story - 5-year Deivid Sent a Letter to Papa Noel with his Dearest Wish: Shoes

The Christmas letter from the small Deivid José Pereira da Silva, of only 5 years old, addressed to Papa Noel, differed strongly from the usual Christmas wish list of his classmates in the kindergarten. While other children asked toys, Deivid put a pair of (tennis) shoes on his wish list. The boy's worn shoes, with its see through holes, justified this unusual request of a child of his age.
Deivid used the same tennis shoes for three years. Already second hand when he got them, too big for his feet, acquired at a bazaar organized by the Parish of St. Anthony of Lisbon, they are the only ones the boy has.

Since last Saturday afternoon, after the daily newspaper O Liberal had Deivid's story on its front page showing a photograph of Deivid with his torn shoes, dozens of inhabitants of Belém went personally to the boy's house in the neighbourhood of Cremação presenting him the Christmas gift he had asked Papa Noel for: tennis shoes. Also throughout Sunday Deivid Jose received presents of shoes, toys and food.

"The first Christmas presents were four pairs of new shoes and toys," says the proud father, Luiz Roberto Correa da Silva, 37 years old, a professional handyman, "On Sunday, many more people came to our house to bring shoes and clothes. He has already received 40 pairs of shoes."

Now, with his dearest wish materialized, his next wish moves a little upwards. "A real motorcycle," says the boy, under the curious eyes of his little sister Deise of 4 years, who's scarcely able to grasp all the toys her brother received.

While the O Liberal reporters were visiting Deivid’s (municipal) kindergarten Caripunas the Director of the school received two calls leaving him in tears. The calls came from the municipal Department of Education (Semec), which in fact is responsible for this kindergarten for impoverished children, condemning the action of the supervisor to tell the story of Deivid to the press. To accentuate their incompetence, they prohibited the school management to speak any further with the press and ordered the press to leave the school.
"We just wanted to help the child. Those who actually have a duty to help the child condemn us now", lamented one of the crying teachers.

Anyway, Deivid steps into the New Year with new shoes at his feet.

Thursday, 11 December 2008

Does the future belong to the youth ?

"Literacy and the struggle against hunger are connected, closely interdependent," Nobel literature prize winner Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clezio said Sunday (07/12) in his Nobel lecture to the Swedish Academy. The 68-year-old Frenchman continued with: "One cannot succeed without the other. Both of them require, indeed urge, us to act."

From a president who himself had no chance to follow a proper education, you expect the portfolio of education in his government highly favoured and enjoying all the (financial) support it deserves. Indeed the future belongs to the youth and that’s certainly true for an emerging economy as Brazil. But not so in Lula’s mind. Apparently Lula believes that if he has been able to become president without education, everyone else must be able to reach the top on his own merits. The results are disastrous and will wreck the future development of this country. Shortness of skilled personnel is already the major complaint of businesses and in several cases, foreign investors pulled out, especially in those regions desperately needing investments. Thus the North!

Although elementary education is ‘enjoyed’ by 97.6% of 7-14 year old children, this figure is no synonym for quality. The majority of the Brazilian school children between 8-14 years can neither read nor write. Data from the IBGE (Instituto Brasileiro de Geografia e Estatística - Institute for Statistics) also show that of all the Brazilians who can not read or write 1.7% are 14 years old, although these 58.1 thousand pupils almost finished elementary school. Nearly half of that group (approx 29 thousand youngsters) is illiterate, even though they are going to school.

IBGE also points to inequality in education based on colour or race. In absolute numbers: of the approximately 14 million illiterates aged over 15 years, nearly 9 million are black or mulatto. Of the white population 6.1% can read nor write, of the black and coloured population 14%.
In relation to gender, women show a better result than men. The female population studies on average a year longer than the male part. The female presence dominates also in the higher education, 57.1% of university students are female, compared with 42.9% male. Notwithstanding this, women still occupy only a small part of the management level.

Education in Brazil has everything to do with income. Cross-linking the data shows that the Brazilians up to 17 years are the hardest hit by poverty. In this age group 46% belong to the poorest part of the population (with a monthly income of half the minimum wage (about € 70) per capita). Most children in this situation are living in the northern and north-eastern regions.

But even a higher income and sending your child to a private school is no guarantee for better education. Matheus Aguiar, 17 years, is an exception in the 4 million participants in the Exame Nacional do Ensino Medio (ENEM = National Exam for Secondary Education).
The ENEM is a voluntary test for students of the 3rd year of secondary school. The popularity of ENEM jumped since with the founding of the Programa Universidade para Todos (ProUni = University for Everyone) in 2004, the federal government distributes university scholarships to poor students. Participation in the exam is a prerequisite for anyone who hopes to start a university education. The result of the exam requires a minimum of 45 points on a scale of 100.

And in this nationwide exam Matheus Aguiar ended as fifth and is the best from the federal state of Pará. Matheus is in the third year of the (private and exclusive) College Nazareth in Belém. With 93.65 points in the general section and 100 in 'editorial’ (writing an essay) he reached an average of 96.82 and the fifth place out of four million examinees. Although Matheus studies at a private school, his results of the ENEM exam are important as private colleges and universities use the results as a parameter in the selection. Matheus wants to study 'mecatronica' at the University of Brasilia,

But unfortunately the good performance of Matheus seems to be an exception. The state which yielded the fifth best secondary school pupil in the country, ranked as a whole at the 10th place from the bottom with an average of only 36.9 points. The pupils from Pará scored 4.8 points lower than the national average. Pará belongs to the sad bottom of the northern region, of which all ended up in the 10 lowest places. A region that did not go beyond an average of 36.07 points. The lowest ranking compared with other regions.

But the results of the pupils from other federal states are not much better. At the top, the secondary school students of the Federal District (capital Brasilia) with a poor 45.39 points. Let’s not forget that the minimum requirement is 45, and that all examinees (public and private education) voluntarily participate in the exam, so that they can obtain a place with a university. The nationwide average of the exam was 40.59, which is 4.41 point below the minimum requirement.
What is supposed to be the level of the schoolchildren (the largest group), which do not go for the ENEM exam, but just quit school and try to find a job.

Secondary school students pushing a "Lula-puppet" in protest against the education policies

Of course, the financial situation of students reflects in the performance. The results show that between a public school student and a private school one there is a gap. For Pará the difference is more than 16 points. The average score of students from a public school was 33.37 points (more than 12 points below the minimum requirement), while the students from a private school scored 49.95 (only 5 points above the minimum requirement).

Should a private school guarantee a better education, in Pará (as with so many things) it is a bit different. The examinees of private schools from Pará, compared with the rest of the country, show up on the twentieth place, only seven states are worse. While public schools score the 11th place from below.

The figures from the Ministry of Education unfortunately do not show how many secondary public school students have met the minimum threshold of 45. At an average of 33.37 points, few students will be able to make the (subsidized) step towards a university, I'm afraid.

Photos: Matheus Aguiar and "Lula-protest': O Liberal
Source: O Liberal, Agência Brasil

Saturday, 6 December 2008

Graduate as Santa Claus

All the latest posts had a serious undertone. That’s not quite what "Brazil in Hot Pants" is all about, as it promised to involve a wink to the sometimes lofty Brazilian society with a hint of its beauties.
Hence this post about Papai Noël, as Santa Claus is called here. What have these “dirty old men” to do with Brazilian beauties? Well, Brazil should not be Brazil if Papai Noël did not have assistants, called Noeletes. Is Papai Noël required to be old and fat with a barreled belly, from the Noeletes is expected, that they are 18 years and ........ of course.
Scroll down and see for yourself.

As in several places in Brazil, Tijuca (Rio de Janeiro) is organizing a course that leads to qualified Santa Clauses. In four weeks time, the student is taught how to behave as Santa Claus.

"Ho ho ho, happy Christmas!" is the battle cry, which leaves, during this time of the year, almost certainly a beatific smile on the innocent faces of all children. But the words should sound well and a proper imitation of the famous smile of Santa Claus requires preparation. The course instructs candidates how to become 'the good old man’, to be able to work during the Christmas season in shopping malls and other areas.

The actor Silvio Ribeiro, 59 years, is responsible for one of the courses. In addition to the training for Papai Noël (Santa Claus), Mamãe Noël (Christmas mother) and of course Noeletes (assistants), he also recruits for the casting agency Claus Artistic Productions, which has 60 vacancies this year.

But it is not that simple to become a Santa Claus. There is a number of requirements. "First, he must like children. If the candidate has no patience with children, then he has no chance. He should not be chubby, but quite fat with a protruded belly, as well as lively and communicative (looks like he must be an old dirty male pseudo-pedophile). According to Ribeiro, children talk with Santa Claus as if they were old acquaintances.

During the course, the candidate Santa Claus receives tips how to tackle and circumvent idiotic questions from curious toddlers. The most difficult part of being a good Santa Claus is the hours and hours sitting in a chair, showing a slight smile, taking punches and pushes, a finger in the eye, in the mouth, pulling the beard, etc, etc, etc ... without showing any stress. Because Brazilian children are, as everywhere in the world, bloody nuisances.
Who succeeds and gets his diploma can win a temporary job. Employers offer a salary and expenses. For Papai Noël BRR 900 (USD 400), Mamâe Noël gets BRR 700 (USD 310, difference should exist) and a Noelete goes home with BRR 600 (USD 266), but for both Papai Noël and a Noelete this can rise to about BRR 3,000 (a good USD 1,330). For Mamãe Noel (logically) there is less interest.
The requirements for a Mamãe Noël are identical to Papai, so she should be chubby and lively. For a Noelete it is a bit different, she has to be at least 18 years, attractive and friendly. Many students transform into a Noelete during this month.

It is no surprise that the children are interested in Papai Noel and the fathers thereof prefer to ogle the Noeletes.

My favorite Noelete remains Sabina Sato.