Brazil: The eternal question….What the heck are we doing and where are we going?

January has been an interesting month for Brazil.  Hot, humid summer rains and floods, but so far less devastating than in years past.

2014 is an important year for Brazil not only because it will host the World Soccer Cup but also because of the upcoming presidential elections in the fall.

Brazil already is attracting much more international attention. The spotlight will become brighter once the Winter Olympics end in Russia on Feb. 23.  Dilma and Manteiga have been drilled at Davos and the journalists and curious keep probing.

So where is Brazil headed?

There are a bunch of immediate economic issues and these include the declining balance of payments, a fall for the first time in a decade of Brazil’s international reserves, rising interest rates, slow growth, industrial decline, inflation and the threats of a loss of investment status.  While all these threats are real,  none are new.  The threats are challenging. But they can all be addressed. Since it is an election year and Brazil still needs to finish preparations for the World Cup and the Olympics, it is highly unlikely that the government will be able to reverse any of the negative trends this year.  It is more likely to be “belly pushing” (empurrando com a barriga) until the end of the year.  On Dec. 31, 2014, people will be wishing Happy 2016 as 2015 will be a very tough year of adjustments.

Ok that is a lot the negative and/or challenging stuff.  Let’s look at the other side.

It is highly unlikely that the credit agencies will risk a downgrade of Brazil in an election year with Dilma’s victory almost certain.  The agencies, in my opinion, do not have the grit or chutzpah to make such a move.  Foreign capital continues to look at Brazil in the long term and while the political parties and institutions are weak, the political system, the press and civil society are all vibrant.  The new middle class is finding its way to the shopping centers still and eventually the shopping center owners will recognize that those weird people (a sort pseudo nouveau riche) actually do have some spending power and they will be welcomed in shopping centers once reserved for the old elite.   In the meantime, Brazil’s upper and middle classes will find more and more ways to separate themselves so as to maintain their peculiar need for status.

The constant drumbeat to improve public services and reduce corruption and the need to meet, in some fashion, the demand for basic needs is slowly and gradually leading to some improvement.

Witness Rio. Security in Rio, in spite of recent set backs, has improved significantly from say 2005.  Much needs to be done and Brazil’s annual murder rate still equals the number of U.S. servicemen who lost their lives in Vietnam, i.e 40000 plus violent deaths.

It is well known that the PAC (economic acceleration programs) have not achieved their goals, but some improvements are under way.  It is just how things work in Brazil.  It is unfortunate that the opposition, mainly the PSDB, cannot find a coherent discourse.  The only thing they say is that country needs to be less corrupt and more efficient.  Since the Tucanos have their scandals and their administrations have not been notably more efficient than the PT (Lula’s Workers Party), they don’t stand a chance in the presidential election.  While Dilma has little charisma, neither do the opposition candidates.  So the wait is until 2018, when there will be a real election and maybe even the possible return of Lula.

So basically, people are going to keep working, investors are going to keep investing (especially foreigners with vision) and hopefully the low levels of unemployment will continue, not so much through job creation in manufacturing, but through micro and mini entrepreneurship.  Some manifestation of this is the rapid spread of all type of franchising, numerous beauty salons, the proliferation of massagistas and “personal” services, the rapid spread of lots of information (much of it bad, but some good) through the internet and the inherent optimism (tempered by corresponding pessimism) that drives the Brazilian psyche.

God is a Brazilian, but we are a devil of a people.

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Blog by Friend in Brazil-Crossing the Street

Eric is a friend and fellow blogger who lives in Brazil and a good, experienced writer.  I give him kudos for working with the Rolling Stone when it was an avant garde publication.  Traffic is one of his pet peeves.

Here is his piece:

 

Eric Ehrmann

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Dead Fan Walking… Brazil’s Spotty Crosswalk Laws Put World Cup Tourists At Risk

Posted: 17/01/2014 10:40

 

 
 
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Now that Cristiano Ronaldo has earned a second Balon d’ Or it might be time for FIFA to award the first Golden Crosswalk to Brazil, where the answer to whether World Cup fans or vehicles have the right-of- way at an intersection in the Land of the Samba is as straight as a free kick by David Beckham.

Brazil has launched a $10 million public relations campaign promoting the nation as a safe place to visit during the coming World Cup. But the program doesn’t address what’s most important to fans seeking to broaden their street level experience beyond being hustled on and off buses at tourist traps by friendly security personnel.

How do fans, or anybody in Brazil for that matter, determine whether they have the right-of- way when they cross the street in a crosswalk?

This blogger has learned that the laws governing right-of-way in crosswalks and how those laws are enforced vary in Brazil from city to city.

That means the answer is “it all depends.”

This blogger posed the question on background to a senior official at Brazil’s Ministry of Tourism in Brasilia. That person didn’t have an answer and directed me to another ministry who might be of assistance.

While riding a biodiesel-powered articulated bus the size of three passenger railway cars recently in Goiana, a 2.5 million metropolis 3 hours southwest of Brasilia, I spotted three members of the state military police. I asked them in Brazilian Portuguese whether pedestrians have the right of way over vehicles when crossing the street in crosswalks. One of them replied “which street?” A second officer said “they’re all diferent.”

English fans visiting Brazil face a particularly hazardous situation. In England, for example traffic laws are enforced far more rigorously than they are in Brazil. Then too, traffic in England moves in the opposite direction that it does in Brazil. English fans are accustomed by instinct to look in the opposite direction for oncoming traffic. Forgetting to look the right way could become dangerous.

For fans who plan to watch FIFA World Cup matches played in the Amazon city of Manaus, the combination of spotty right of way laws and crime create an even bigger public safety problem.

In spite of sympathetic travel writers amping up the city’s fine cuisine, architectural and cultural traditions the former rubber capital of the world boasts one of Brazil’s highest crime rates. England and Italy will play a crucial match at the Arena da Amazonia on June 14th.

Outside São Paulo and Rio one sees few “pedestrian has the right-of-way” signs. Scofflaw drivers and motorcyclists turn right into pedestrian crosswalks without abandon regardless of who has the right-of -way. Sometimes there are smash ups when the when a lead car stops at an intersection when the light changes to red and the vehicle behind it wants to speed up and crash the light.

Scofflaw drivers are plentiful in Cuiaba, the capital of Mato Grosso in Brazil’s sprawling interior, and Fortaleza, Recife and Salvador (Bahia) on the coast where FIFA World Cup games are being played.

In these cities football fans should be on the lookout for crosswalks with signals featuring green “walk” and red “don’t walk” icons. Ninja motorcycles seeking to get through the intersection often crash this type of intersection high speeds as pedestrians scramble out of the way, as if it was a game of chicken.

FIFA Brazil World Cup tour promoters have not spoken out on the right-of-way issue. Nor have the local and international fans who can afford to attend what is becoming a very pricey tournament.

On January 12th, the regional Globo TV network in Goias state, a huge agricultural breadbasket in Central Brazil near Brasilia with a population of 10 million that’s roughly the size of Germany aired two segments discussing the threat scofflaw drivers present to pedestrians.

One segment interviewed an irate school mom who compained that motorists don’t respect the pedestrians in crosswalks when she walks her children to school. A second segment interviewed a bicyclist who said that drivers do not respect the special bicycle lanes set up in and around the city of Goiania.

Now that president Dilma Rousseff and defense minister Celso Amorim have agreed to have the armed forces play a greater role in security arrangements for the FIFA 2014 Brazil World Cup it might be time for the federal government to urge cities to address the pedestrian right-of-way issue. It’s a move that will help football tourists have a better and safer experience in Brazil.

 

US National Team in Brazil: Training Starts with a Loss

The US National Soccer Team has been in Brazil for a couple days and is checking out the training sites and letting a group of players get a taste of Brazil and what the team will face when the World Cup begins in June.  The US is in a difficult group with Ghana, Portugal and Germany.

Yesterday, Klinsman’s team played Sao Paulo Football Club at Morumbi stadium in secret.  Gates were closed and the outcome was not suppose to be announced.  Nevertheless, national teams will find it hard to train in secret and the Brazilian press will certainly have more and better spies than the NSA and CIA combined.  Sao Paulo finished an average 9th place out of 20 first division teams in last year’s national championship series but still beat the US team 2 x 1 yesterday.  The US was not up to full strength as Klinsman took pretty much only players from the MSL.  It is a good experience and a taste of the difficulty the US will face in June.  The team’s debut against Ghana is a must win.

Security was tight and, reportedly, helicopters were policing the training site where the United States will prepare for its future games.

Homicide in Brazil

Here is something to think about.  Personally, I recognize prudence in Brazil but have never let this be an invasive/pervasive concern in my day to day activities.  Violence while at times random is also largely predictable.  In that sense, yes you are at a greater risk in Brazil than say in Cape Cod.  Here is the article copied from the Huffington Post.

Robert Muggah

How to End Brazil’s Homicide Epidemic

Posted: 01/07/2014 4:56 pm

Co-authored by Daniel Mack*

As Brazilians hastily prepare for the 2014 World Cup, there is one competition the country has already won by a landslide: homicides. Almost one out of every ten people violently killed each year on the planet were residents of Brazil. With over 47,000 reported homicides in 2012, it is one of the most violent countries on earth. The homicide rate has risen steadily since the 1980s, reaching 21 per 100,000 people in recent years, with some analysts claiming it is likely higher. The latest polls indicate that up to three quarters of Brazilians fear they could be victims of murder in the coming year. Strangely, the government lacks a national strategy to tackle this epidemic.

As disconcerting as they are, national statistics conceal hugely diverging variations in victimization at the state and city levels. A recent seminar on gun homicides found that residents of the northeastern state of Alagoas die in much greater numbers than in the rest of the country – some 110 per 100,000, an increase of 185% over the past few years. If Alagoas were a country, it would surpass Honduras as the most violent nation in the world. Meanwhile, states like São Paulo, while still experiencing severe violence, witnessed dramatic reductions in homicide – over 70% in the last decade.

While the exact proportion varies by state, at least three quarters of all murders are committed with firearms, an overwhelming majority of which involves revolvers and pistols made in Brazil. Other characteristics of homicide and criminal violence remain constant across Brazil. For one, the vast majority of victims – over 90% – are poor young men, the majority of color. And most of the known perpetrators are also males between 18-30 years of age heralding from low-income settings, including favelas.

Disturbingly, in 80% of solved cases, both victims and perpetrators knew one another. Most victims were also killed close to home. Perhaps most disconcerting is the fact that Brazilian (military) police kill more citizens than in virtually any other country in the world. Far from being dispersed and spontaneous, violence is geographically and demographically concentrated – and thus predictable.

The good news is that there are concrete steps that Brazilian decision-makers, business leaders and civil society can take to reverse this violence epidemic. As frightening a scenario as this is, lethal violence is preventable. Just like an illness, it can be diagnosed, treated and cured. What is needed is a comprehensive approach informed by evidence rather than ideology. Such a strategy must incorporate data-driven, law enforcement and preventive strategies. And to be sustainable, they should be accorded genuine political support and resources among federal and local decision-makers. If pursued with seriousness and enthusiasm, they would elevate citizen security as both a means and an end in itself.

A comprehensive approach would include intelligence-led “smarter” policing focused on hot spots where violence concentrates. Strategies would be based on credible information and analysis, including the sources, trafficking routes, and misuse of illicit firearms and ammunition. Preventive and proximity-oriented policing strategies would also need to tackle areas where young people agglomerate, not least nightclubs and bars. While intuitive, smarter interventions cannot emerge out of thin air. They will require a major shift in the organization, management and training of the police.

Just as important, an integrated strategy needs to privilege violence prevention as core priority of public security and safety. Alongside policing, social and economic policies must be developed that targeted young people who make up the largest share of perpetrators and victims of homicide. Preventive interventions should include efforts to manage excessive alcohol consumption and programs to treat and rehabilitate those involved with drugs (rather than incarcerating them as currently the case). They will also require engaging with new information technologies, together with old ones, including improved street lighting and neighborhood watch campaigns.

Homicidal violence is a barometer of the wider health of a society and the commitment of governments to guaranteeing its safety and well-being. By almost every measure, Brazil is a sickly patient and its public authorities are errant doctors. Yet Brazilians can end this tragedy. To do so will require the construction of a comprehensive and forward-looking public security policy in 2014. If Brazilians decide to face-up responsibly to the scale of the problem and start a mature discussion, the healing can begin.

*Robert Muggah is the research director of the Rio de Janeiro-based Igarapé Institute and is also a Fellow of the Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute. Daniel Mack is a senior adviser to the São Paulo-based Instituto Sou da Paz.