Rapid political changes in Brazil

2 Jul

Wow, it’s been incredible to see the rapid changes that have been occurring in Brazilian politics in the last week, to see democracy in action and a political class in panic, wondering how they can respond to (and pacify?) the anger that has been roused.

Some of the unprecedented changes include:

  • Dilma has proposed a plebiscite on political reform, asking the public to give their opinions on the most pressing changes that are needed to take affect before the elections in 2014. She has also proposed bringing in doctors from abroad to improve the healthcare system, spending R$ 50 bn on metro lines in the major cities and spending 100% of oil royalties on education (the latter measure has already been passed by the Senate and Congress).
  • The Senate and Congress have voted to make corruption a heineous crime, increasing the sentence that can be imposed. This proposal had been waiting to be voted on since 2011!
  • A Deputy of Congress has been arrested under order of the Supreme Court. He is the first person to be convicted by the Supreme Court to actually go to prison since the end of the Military Dictatorship in 1988. He was found guilty of embezzling R$8.4 million in October 2010 and sentenced to 13 years in jail but since then has been dragging out his right of appeal (not in prison) and was reelected to Congress in 2011! The Court decided that he was ‘merely procrastinating’ and therefore should be arrested. He had claimed that as a Deputy he could not go to prison, however, the Court ruled that there was no incompatibility with being a Deputy of Congress and being in prison!! However, none of the people convicted in the Mensalão scandal have yet to be arrested.
  • Following specific protests against PEC 37 (a constitutional amendment that would make all criminal investigations led by the police) last weekend and early this week a mass u-turn in Congress ended with 430 Deputies voting against and just 9 in favour. The 9 people who voted in favour were rounded-on on facebook and twitter.

However, from the initial wide-ranging demands people have moved on to discuss much deeper political changes that are needed to systematically tackle all of the other problems including health, education and corruption. This represents a much bigger challenge to the political class and their power.

For instance, currently local elections work on Party-list Proportional Representation system but without representation for a particular district. In Rio there are 51 seats for the local chamber from across the city, they are not elected as representatives for a particular neighbourhood such as Copacabana or Barra but are elected across the entire city. Last year there were 1741 candidates from many different parties vying for these 50 seats. People have one vote and the number of total votes for all the candidates from each party are added together and the candidates actually chosen from each party are proportional to the total number of votes for that party. This system is used in many countries but it is open to abuse here. The large number of candidates means that there is no possibility to scrutinize each person’s opinions and background. The system assumes that people’s vote preference is based more on the party than a particular candidate. However, this is proved a lie by some of the tactics and party-hopping by candidates. Parties will often choose celebrities or well-known politicians in order to boost their party’s votes and help other candidates to be elected. Politicians have a tendency to change parties frequently depending on their likelihood of being elected (and possibly the sweeteners offered), the current Mayor of Rio has changed his allegiances enough times to back your head spin. Starting with affiliation to the Green Party he switched to the right-wing Democrats, then the centre-right Brazilian Labour Party, the centrist technocrat Brazilian Social Democratic Party (PSDB) and finally to the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party (PMDB) as Mayor. Also, people wanting to be voted in can target a particular area, such as the favela communities, through the drug bosses or through bribes helping them to be elected via high votes from that particular locality.All these issues makes it very difficult to kick out a particular politician as they can piggyback in with someone else.

Other political reforms suggested include reducing the number of Deputies in the Congress and their costs, removing immunity of prosecution for Senators and Deputies (currently they can only be tried by the Supreme Court whose members they also elect), making campaign financing public or through individual donations, banning the forming of coalitions which allows them the combined TV adverting time even if one of the parties is not putting forward any candidates, integrating all elections to happen every 4 years and introducing a political recall allowing voters to vote out a politician who is not following their election promises.

People I talk to are also worried about the eventual outcome of these protests, with the military dictatorship not far in the back of people’s minds. To me Brazil’s democracy appears strong and to be growing stronger through these events, without the same deep societal divisions and antagonism present in other countries that are being rocked by protests, such as Egypt. Everyone I have spoken to from all political sides supports the overall aims of the protests, with 85% of the public supporting them from recent polls. They are further worried about whether there is any underlying manipulation occurring from either the left or right-wing. With the presidential election coming up next year and with Dilma’s popularity falling as a result of these events, she’s even chose not to attend the final football game after being booed so much that she couldn’t speak at the the opening, it could play into the hands of politicians on either side. On the left-wing there have been increasing calls for Lula to stand again for the Workers’ Party next year, indeed the Workers’ Party don’t appear to vocal in their backing of Dilma. On the other-hand these protests are targeted against the Government and the right-wing parties and newspapers would love to see the Workers’ Party lose power. Both could attempt to integrate favoured ideas or policies through the political reforms. The longer term effect on the parties will depend on what happens over the next few months.

Over the past week the protests have reduced, with a few thousand people marching in Rio every night rather than the tens or hundreds of thousands the week before. Larger protests have happened at the locations of the Confederation Cup games, points of symbolism of the corruption in politics and the poor priorities of the government. However, people generally seem to be waiting to find out how the politicians will react and to give them a chance to respond and put changes into effect. If nothing happens, the people will be back and I imagine with a greater roar. The politicians have a year till the World Cup kicks off to prove that they have really listened to the people.

A gigante acordou – The giant has woken

22 Jun

I’ve just arrived back in Rio from a week visiting the baroque towns and isolated splendour of Brazil’s colonial past to the protests, uncertain and rising spirit of the chaotic present. Hints of the movement rippling across the country came from short snippets of news on the TV, people leaving early from work to be able to arrive home and scenes of the giant marches and homemade placards in all of the major cities. However, it was only talking to my Brazilian housemate today, her experience of the protests, reading the news reports and watching the film clips that I really became aware of the scale of this uprise.

The protests started over a week ago, just before we boarded a bus for the interior with small marches of students and members of the Movemento Passe Livre (Free Movement) against rises in bus fares in several major cities including Sao Paulo and Rio. These were small rises, to R$2.95 in Rio (£1), but as I’ve discussed before are a huge cost if you are living on the minimum wage. A large but peaceful march in Sao Paulo was met by riot police with rubber bullets and teargas and huge indignation across the media and the public and were the spark for ever increasing protests across the country. There were giant marches in the centre of Rio every night last week but also smaller scale protests across the city. 500 footballs with red crosses were placed on Copacabana beach these morning, representing the half a million people murdered in Brazil in the past 10 years whilst people have marched and camped outside the Governor of the State of Rio de Janeiro’s residence in Leblon.

Although the politicians have struck a conciliatory note, saying that they need to listen to the demands of the people and that this is a sign of democracy, the police have reacted somewhat differently. Videos abound of teargas and rubber bullets being sprayed towards people, apparently without reason, as they stand on pavements, walk down the street, sit in their cars or film events from their apartment. My housemate told me of walking in the crowd towards the Prefeitura (the seat of Rio’s goverment) as helicopters flew lower and lower overhead, dropping teargas from above as crowds including young people, children and pregnant women fled away. This style of policing may be partly due to the use of the BOPE police, heavily armed shock troops more accustomed to entering and tackling drug gangs in the favelas than policing protests.

And what does this waking giant want? Although the spark was the rise in bus prices the underlying frustrations are multitudinous. The poor infrastructure and investment in health and education, friends constantly declaim the poor wages of teachers and the endless waiting and lack of equipment at public hospitals, any one that can pays for private education and healthcare plans. The cost of hosting the mega events of the World Cup and the Olympics, which appear to serve external international interests such as the International Olympic Committee and Fifa rather than the local population. In Cuíaba, the capital of Mato Grosso, a recently built stadium has been knocked down and a new one built specifically for the World Cup that is hugely outsized for the audience of the local lower tier football team. But overlying all of this is the corruption and self-serving interests that have chipped away at people’s respect, trust and belief in politicians, in their trust that these mega-events are not being used to line the pockets of politicians whilst public services are neglected. The recent mensalão (Big Monthly Payment) scandal where 25 senators, businessmen and PT (Workers’ Party) officials were found guilty of receiving monthly payments to vote with the government, has still not resulted in any of the guilty going to prison. The politicians appeared outraged that the Supreme Court had had the gall to actually prosecute them, let alone find them guilty.

One of the specific complaints of the protesters is the amendment PEC 37 to the constitution which will be voted on this coming week, with today and tomorrow called the ‘Dia do Basta a Corrupção’ (Enough Corruption Day). This amendment would mean that all prosecution investigations would have to be carried out by the Federal or State Police, rather than some being brought by a public prosecutor, as occurs at the moment. People are worried that this concentration of power will give a monopoly to the police to investigate crimes, leaving some uninvestigated, especially those of corruption by politicians or police. Other people have suggested that a change is needed from the status quo, with local police forces needing more independence and better pay to increase their autonomy from State Governors and their ability to investigate corruption. Overall, it indicates the lack of trust in federal institutions.

Whatever the outcome and changes that occur from these protests, the giant has definitely woken. I am proud to see this spirit of change and demand for a better future speak on the streets of these cities, to see a people find its voice after so many talks with my colleagues, hearing their complaints about public services and corruption and their disbelief that any change will happen. Talking to people on our travels around Brazil they have told me how needed these protests are, for politicians to see the anger and frustration of the people and to know that they are watching and that they will demand change. Currently President Dilma hasn’t offered enough to calm this giant, we’ll see what the next week brings.

Rio Carnival 2013!

17 Feb

Carnival crept up on us and gradually gripped us in its swirling embrace. Huge overhead hoardings proclaiming ‘Carnaval da Rua’ appeared along the main roads and giant advertising slogans were attached to the sides of the Sambodromo. We forayed into Saara, a souq-like warren of shops selling every imaginable fantasia and accessory; glitter, V for Vendetta masks, M&M costumes, wigs, fairy wings, fake flowers…the only limit to your costume was your imagination and your wallet! Carnival arrived not so much with a splash, but with little puffs of fairydust leading up to the big weekend.

A Michael Jackson themed bloco (Carnival street party) two weeks before carnival itself…although the preparations amongst the real Carnival afficionados have been going on at least since Christmas…started to get us into the swing. Samba and Michael Jackson go surprisingly really well together, especially if you’ve got an excited crowd, enthusiastic singers with fantastic impressions and uninhibited brazilians willing to show off their moonwalk on-stage!

But our real Carnival experience started the weekend before the ‘official weekend’ when we woke up at 6.30am to go to Cordão do Boitatá, a traditional bloco led by a giant folkloreish snake/dragon and with a huge band of drums and brass instruments.

The giant snake/dragon that leads the Cordao do Boitata bloco

The giant snake/dragon that leads the Cordao do Boitata bloco

The Duracell Bunny never ran out of energy for Carnaval!

The Duracell Bunny never ran out of energy for Carnival!

Carnival music

Cordão do Boitatá is where we first heard the traditional carnival music. For some reason I’d thought that all of the music would be samba…I hadn’t realised that there were special carnaval songs, mostly developed from old marching music, called marchinhas. As with all Brazilian festivals, to really feel part of it you have to know the music and Carnival is no exception. We felt like outsiders on that first bloco as everyone danced around singing their hearts out to the songs that we didn’t know or understand. But gradually over Carnival weekend as we went to more blocos and heard them repeated and danced to them in our house the songs became part of the fabric of our Rio life…and they still haven’t left my head.

To give you a taste of the lyrics see the descriptions below and click on the links to listen…many of them are quite old and not politically correct! You can find many more marchinhas here:

Cachaça‘You think that cachaça is water, but its not. Cachaça comes from the distillery and water comes from the river. I could live without bread, rice and beans…I could live without love..the only thing I don’t want to live without is cachaça!’

Allah-La Ô – this was first written for a bloco with an Arabic theme in the 1930s or 1940s. ‘Allah, the heat. We crossed the Sahara, the sun was hot. We came from Egypt and many times we had to pray…Allah Allah send us water to ioiô and iaiá (terms used by Brazilian slaves to address young masters!). Allah my good Allah.’

Balancê – A young man who wants to dance (balancê) with a morena. ‘I want to dance with you… when you walk past me pretending not to see me my heart almost shatters…time is running out and I will finish in the dance..’

Confete – A man remembers with longing his romance with a woman in a columbine costume at the previous carnival and the confete on her dress. ‘I confess that I cried because I remembered that Columbine who joked with me..ahh confete longing for the love that is gone.’

Ó Abre Alas – I have no real idea what this means but it’s a very popular and catchy marchinha!

Blocos
Before I came to Rio my image of Carnival was the huge colourful sparkling parades and practically naked women on the Sambodromo but the whole of Rio becomes one massive party with over 450 different blocos or street parties travelling all over the city. We were really lucky to live with some carnival afficionados and cariocas who take us to their favourite blocos with the constant refrain ‘but you must come…this is THE best one!’ My favourite were the smaller blocos where it was possible to get close to the band and most people were dressed in fantastia (costumes).

Marcha Nerd/Thriller
Part of the ‘Meu sofa or seu’ bloco (My sofa or yours), organised by couchsurfers, it included two people dressed as a sofa and with the nerd/Michael Jackson theme a plethora of MJ lookalikes mixed with cartoon characters. The zombie costumes went down well and we enjoyed fighting the ninja turtles as well as dancing to the Pokemon theme tune and others in portuguese!

This is what the heat does to you!

This is what the heat does to you!

Ninga turtles vs zombies

Ninga turtles vs zombies

I was minding my own business feasting on the flesh of some carnaval goers when this very rude man used his dragon shout....!

I was minding my own business feasting on the flesh of some carnaval goers when this very rude man used his dragon shout….!

The Marcha Nerd crew

The Marcha Nerd crew

Cute! Not quite sure what to make of the gringa zombie taking a photo of them though!

Cute! Not quite sure what to make of the gringa zombie taking a photo of them though!

Sheldon Cooper!

Sheldon Cooper!

Cinebloco
Samba/film theme tunes. Fantastic. Including the ghostbusters chasing a ghost around the crowd.

Santa Teresa Cinebloco

Santa Teresa Cinebloco

Bruna Surfistinha...Bruna 'the little surfer', a sex worker whose clients thought she looked like a surfer and became famous from a blog she wrote about her experiences!

Bruna Surfistinha…Bruna ‘the little surfer’, a sex worker whose clients thought she looked like a surfer and became famous from a blog she wrote about her experiences!

Fun with the Care Bears! And listening to classic carnival tunes.

Fred Flinstones and 'love-a-lot' care bear!

Fred Flinstones and ‘love-a-lot’ care bear!

Natureza!

Natureza!

Rio Carnival Caixa

Tired Care bears!

Tired Care bears!

The Jamaican Bobsleigh team!

The Jamaican Bobsleigh team!

Os Móveis – Bando Vergonha do Posto 6
Listening to older carnival songs on the beach on Copacabana as the sun sets whilst drinking a beer…it doesn’t get much better.

Os Móveis – Bando Vergonha do Posto 6

Os Móveis – Bando Vergonha do Posto 6

!!

!!

Carnival on Copacabana beach

Carnival on Copacabana beach

Vame ET
‘Let’s go ET’, with a much ruder translation if you say this quickly! Rude and alcohol related puns are definitely a feature of Carnival blocos. This was a lovely small bloco with lots of their own songs, huge amounts of energy and great costumes!

Vame ET!

Vame ET!

Giant ET mascot!

Giant ET mascot!

The ET groupees

The ET groupees

The crowd going wild

The crowd going wild

The bateria

The bateria

Heat, droughts and an Indian Feast

20 Jan

I’ve been neglectful over the past few weeks. I should have had lots of time over to post during the quiet Christmas . I thought that I would be incredibly sad, missing family and friends but it felt like such a different world and such a different experience that it was hard to correlate the hot weather and sunshine with Christmas Day. And Christmas Day was hot…the thermometer hit 43.2 C across Rio, the highest ever recorded temperature. We decided it was the perfect day to cook an Indian curry! We surrounded the table with four fans as an attempt to try and keep cool, it didn’t stop the sweat dripping.

An Indian Feast on Christmas Day in Brazil

An Indian Feast on Christmas Day in Brazil

Its amazing the lethargy that the heat brings on, the imperative to slow down, lie down, rest, sleep early and the difficulty to generate enthusiasm and excitement to think, communicate, do new things. But this heat is not just a personal challenge. The North East of the country has been suffering the worst drought in 30 years, the amount of milk produced in many states has dropped by 40 – 50% with many animals dying. Friends visiting the Chapada Diamantina near Salvador recently walked along dry riverbeds, in the rainy season! Around 90% of the electrical energy used in Brazil is hydroelectricity. The drought has resulted in low levels of the reservoirs, down to 28-30% of normal levels across the country, a decrease in energy production and a tripling of the use of thermal power plants. Attempts to ensure the continuity of electricity supply by opening the floodgates at hydroelectric plants is depleting the reservoirs even faster. At the same time the high temperatures cause an increase in energy consumption as the use of air conditioning rises. Electricity prices will continue to rise, where inflation was already at 7.8% last year, as well as CO2 emissions.

This has coincided with droughts across the world, particularly in North America, resulting in much higher soybean and corn prices. The result of this, lots of farmers in Brazil switching to growing soybean and corn instead of other crops such as cotton, rises in land prices and huge pressure to convert more land to agriculture.

Its a worrying and vicious cycle if the effects of a changing climate, decreasing agricultural yields and rising food prices just results in the conversion of more land for agriculture, increased habitat destruction, emissions from land-use change and the loss of carbon sinks.

Thankfully the rain has now returned to Rio…abnormally so, with temperatures closer to that of the winter. But I’m not complaining. The fans are silent and our energy has returned!

An abundance of mangos

22 Dec

The mango season has arrived and with it the most delicious array of sweet, succulent golden nectar. Mango trees are like apple trees in the UK….abundant. Lining the streets, in gardens, dotting the university park. And now they hang like droplets slowly ripening to yellow, red, pink and purple. Especially delicious are the tiny yellow round Caroltina with a delicious sweet and spicy flavour. They haven’t been cultivated to the extent of the ones that arrive in Europe and North America so the stone is large, they are very fibrous, and bruise easily but the flavour is incredible! We’ve been buying them from a lovely man at our local market who currently is just selling  about ten varieties of mangos. There are also some beautiful rosy heart-shaped mangos which I can’t wait to try when they ripen.

A windfall of Espada mangos

A windfall of Espada mangos

The evening wind and rain we’ve been having recently (a grateful relief from the oppressive humidity) brought me a windfall of Espada mangos at the university (also delicious). I was inspired to make mango chutney as christmas presents, forgetting that nobody here would have any idea what mango chutney is!  Lets hope it tastes good and goes well with feijoada as well as curries.

Mango chutney ready for the jars

Mango chutney ready for the jars

Mango chutney Christmas presents under the tres

Mango chutney Christmas presents under the tres

Christmas is coming…

15 Dec Our gorgeous little christmas tree

Today I have totally embraced Christmas. Despite the weather I am determined to bring some of the customs and traditions that make it so special. So today the house has been wafting in the smells of Christmas and been adorned with treasures. I’m already beginning to feel a warm glow and excitement…though the men around me aren’t helping!

I made mincemeat. I’ve never actually made it before, just helped to stir my mum’s delicious version. Lacking both suet and brandy it was a slight variation on the traditional mincemeat combining a various recipes. I just kind of threw everything together, some dried raisins, sultanas and candied peel, cinnamon, nutmeg, orange and lemon, grated apple, muscovado sugar and a liberal helping of whiskey. Luckily we did have some appropriate alcohol, non-boozy mincemeat just wouldn’t be right. And ahh the smell…. it’s my memory of the start of Christmas, the spices, fruits and juices mingling into a heavenly scent. I have to say it also already tastes pretty good! But we’ll wait for the taste test at the end of the week when I’ll be making mincepies for various Christmas parties. We’ll see what the Brazilians make of it. So far British food has got a thumbs up…lemon posset, shortbread and scones have all been a hit!

I’ve also been decorating the house. We didn’t want to buy anything because we probably won’t be here again next year but it’s amazing what you can do with a little bit of crepe paper, some wire, a few branches from the garden and a bit of ribbon. I borrowed a few ideas of the internet for the wire and watercolour angels but I’m so pleased with the result! Now we just need to plan something special for Christmas Day! But I’m looking forward to carols by candlelight tomorrow night.

Mincemeat

Mincemeat

Our cute christmas wreath

Our cute christmas wreath

Our gorgeous little christmas tree

Our gorgeous little christmas tree

 

 

 

 

Fabulous farewell 2012 picnic on Pao de Acucar

5 Dec

Its very hard to believe its nearly Christmas and the end of the year. With the heat mounting the appearance of fir trees, lights shaped as icicles and fake ivy decorations are so incongruous. But celebrations always help to make the festive season feel closer at hand.

This week I had a delightful walk to the first hill of Pao de Acucar (Sugarloaf mountain) followed by a delicious picnic at the top with a lovely group of Brazilians and Estrangeiros (foreigners) from the Natural Lifestyle Group of Internations to celebrate the end of the year. I don’t think the tourists at the top quite knew what had hit them. They were looking forward to a quiet contemplation of the beautiful scenery and along we came with wine, delicious food and rowdy laughter. It was fantastic…can there be any better way to spend a Sunday afternoon having a picnic with fabulous people, and laughing till your sides hurt with one of the most spectacular views in the world. Despite missing the built up to a northern hemisphere Christmas and family and friends I think this is going to be a great festive season.

 

Our delicious picnic

Our delicious picnic

Our sophisticated set-up

Our sophisticated set-up

The whole group

The whole group

More wine needed

More wine needed

The sun setting on an amazing view

The sun setting on an amazing view

Raising our glasses to the end of a fantastic year

Raising our glasses to the end of a fantastic year

The beautiful meninas

The beautiful meninas

Rio lights up as we head down

Rio lights up as we head down