Easter: Take it slow Brazil


Over the weekend, Pope Francis tweeted in Portuguese:

Imprime, Senhor, em nossos corações sentimentos de fe, de esperança, de caridade, de dor pelos nossos pecados.


Jesus Cristo ressuscitou! O amor venceu o ódio, a vida venceu a morte, a luz expulsou as trevas.

Here is my somewhat less than beautiful, but faithful, translation of the tweets:

Impress, Lord, on our hearts feelings of faith, hope and charity and pain for our sins.


Jesus Christ is risen. Love overcomes hate, life overcomes death, and the light has driven away the dark.

The message is of hope. But in Brazil, in spite of Spring in Rome and the northern hemisphere, the feeling is that the end is near, Armageddon approaches, impeachment inevitable with break down, decline, disaster and disease. “Meu Deus”, or OMG looking at Brazil from a distance, things seem bleak. Reading the Brazilian news and social media, you cannot help but being impressed by the enormous and increasing polarization between reds (supporters of the government and yellows (opposition). Millions marched against and perhaps less than a half a million came to the streets in her support. This week the normally sedate The Economist put the President on the cover of the Latin American edition and called for her to resign. According to polls, over two thirds of the population would accept impeachment. But do we really want catastrophe? The government accuses the opposition of thinking worse is better. The market moves up as Dilma weakens and then drops on any sign of her strength.

In this volatile situation, I think the expression should really be“Calma gente” or let’s go slow because we need to be careful of what we want as we may well get it. Everyone can agree on Dilma’s lack of popularity and her decline in competence. But there is little thought and agreement on what comes next. If Dilma is impeached, Vice-President Temer of the PMDB will become President and House Speaker Eduardo Cunha (also PMDB) will be next in line in the succession process. To me, this does not look like an improvement. What if something happens to Temer? Temer is suspect and Cunha is up to his next in the Swiss bank account and illicit spending scandal. What will be the posture of the PMDB, the most opportunistic of Brazil’s political parties, when it is formally in power?

Some of us are old enough to remember our last PMDB President, who took over on President to be Tancredo Neve’s untimely death. Sarney, conniving with the corruption inherited from the military regime, was only tolerated because he was at least a civilian in power. However, Sarney let inflation run totally out of control and we had to live through numerous currencies and multiple economic shocks and plans to no great avail. Corruption grew unabated and Sarney’s cronies in the PMDB were major beneficiaries.  There was a sigh of relief with direct election and then great frustration with President Collor, impeached for corruption.

Now again, with another impeachment looming, we have talk of a “unity government”, but instead of a grand coalition of bringing together the PMDB and Tucanos (PSDB), it is more likely that we will have a power struggle between groups who want to punish the PT while seeking to escape their own malfeasance. It seems clear now amidst all of the revelations and related plea bargains that virtually all the political establishment is tainted and this includes leaders of the opposition such as Aecio Neves (Furnas scandal), Jose Serra (health ministry ambulance scandal) and Geraldo Alckmin (Sao Paulo subway and school lunch scandal). I have to hasten to admit that these accusations have not been proved in Brazilian courts but neither have the accusations against Lula and Dilma.

As it is Easter, and if the Pope were not so busy cleaning up the Vatican, it would be wonderful to call upon his holiness to run Brazil. But, in his absence, it is, frankly, still more productive for Dilma to remain in power. To do so she needs to take the reins and become a leader. In the last few days, she seems to have started reacting, albeit only as her base of support has declined. She made a perhaps fatal mistake in trying to bring Lula into the Cabinet. His situation remains undecided but Dilma vows to hang on in spite of the losses and onslaught.

Here are some things that I would advise her to do:

  • Stop trying to buy off leaders in Congress. It is a hopeless and thankless task.
  • State a program of government with a focus on resolving the immediate economic problem of fiscal control. Dilma must state clearly and show that a pending explosion of inflation will be most harmful to the poor and the new middle class from which she drew most electoral support. Even Lula, as President, recognized the need for being business friendly and somewhat fiscally prudent.
  • Continue to emphasize the social and economic gains of the “new middle class” but also teach the need for responsible economic policy to preserve these advances.
  • Set up a Truth Commission similar to the one that investigated torture and other crimes committed during the military dictatorship and give politicians a chance to open up their past misdeeds. For those who fail to take the opportunity, the risk would be further investigation by the Federal Police and prosecution with judges like Sergio Moro. Such a Commission must have authority and will to investigate both the left and the right. Those found guilty of major crimes should be barred from politics and public administration.
  • A new cabinet shake up is in order but it should aim not at quid pro quo votes against impeachment but rather the new cabinet members should be experts in their areas of administration with little political leaning. We used to call them technocrats.
  • Step away from the groups in the PT that refuse to give her support and put Lula in charge of reining in such fickle supporters. And, if Lula is charged, she must let the Brazilian justice system run its course, just as Lula did in the Mensalao where he put Jose Dirceu into the fire.
  • Prove that the crisis is more political than economic in nature by supporting the measures that Joaquin Levy started and Nelson Barbosa has been forced to continue. In the past, the President’s support has been wavering, indecisive or luke-warm at best, partially out of fear of alienating sectors of the PT.

The current political class both to the left and the right already disdains the President. Only a small group is loyal. However, the impeachment will be a “golpe” or a coup d’état if it fails to prove a serious crime committed by the President. If indeed, she is as honest as claimed, she could step forward and accept some of her past missteps such as lack of oversight when she chaired Petrobras. If she can’t forthrightly take these steps then it is likely that evidence will eventually emerge justifying her removal.

Brazil needs leadership. It also needs as the Pope states: faith, hope and charity along with confessions. It also needs love and solidarity rather than the growing sentiment of hate which is a trap that both the left and right have succumbed to. For now Dilma is the elected President of Brazil and she needs to act with this legitimacy or lose it. And if she loses it, I fear that the days will indeed become darker.

Teotihuacan, Mexico e Brasil


Acabo de chegar do México e como mostra a foto tive a oportunidade de escalar as Pirâmides do Sol e da Lua. São monumentos que testemunham a civilização pré-colombiana e ao mesmo tempo lembram do ocaso e declínio. No topo, onde piso na foto foi local de sacrifícios. Os sacerdotes arrancavam o coração e outra partes do corpo de guerreiros conquistados na tentativa de agradar os deuses.

Pisando no México, não podemos deixar de fazer comparações com o Brasil e o momento brasileiro me parece que tem uma mistura de antropofagia e sacrifício. Ha agora uma espécie de corrida para entregar e sacrificar. As delações tomaram um ritmo próprio e não ha um freio ate que chegue a um fim que ainda falta definir.

Não acreditava no impeachment da Dilma, mas a partir de hoje já temos sua renuncia branca em favor do Lula. Lula, por sua vez, assume um ministério, segundo a oposição para safar da justiça, ou de acordo com sua própria justificativa para defender as conquista sociais que sustentaram sua popularidade durante dois mandatos. Como em tudo uma mistura de justificativas “lógicas”.

Talvez não convém entender o momento no Brasil. Os fatos, as surpresas, e as interpretações estão chegando com uma rapidez que vamos precisar de muito tempo para desenroscar. Só nas últimas 3 semanas, passamos por 3 Ministros de Justiça e parece me que o Nelson Barbosa não vai emplacar nem um semestre como Ministro de Fazenda.

Se Dilma sair ou se Lula for preso, temos que esperar para ver. Sou totalmente contra uma ruptura institucional ou qualquer solução casuística. E’ muitas vezes preferível para as instituições e a nação que cheguemos as eleições de 2018. Entretanto, se houver uma mudança antes, a mudança tem que respeitar o processo legal baseado na Constituição sem as soluções nefastas que os militares e civis golpistas impuseram em 1964. Não enxergo,como o PT, uma nefasta e vasta conspiração de golpista “pero que hay brujas las hay”.  Todo cuidado e’ pouco.

Economicamente e talvez socialmente, o México no momento esta’ conseguindo superar seu passado um pouco melhor do que o Brasil. O Presidente Enrique Pena Nieto não e’ popular mas tem bem mais respaldo do que a Dilma. A economia, embora dependente da economia americana, avança ao poucos mas o México já supera o Brasil em quase todos os indicadores econômicos e sociais.   É’ curioso o vai e vem das duas maiores economias da America Latina. Todavia, `a Pena Neto falta legitimidade e forca da sociedade civil para enfrentar os narcos e crime organizado. Embora a recaptura de El Chapo ajudou um pouco, os cartéis dominam áreas significativas e seus tentáculos afetam muitos locais no interior e ate’ na Cidade do México. Grave também, Pena Nieto não consegue ou não quer desvendar o caso da chacina dos estudantes. Falando em chacina, fiz questão de passar em Tlalteloco para lembrar o massacre de 68 quando na véspera das Olimpíadas o governo Mexicano massacrou dezenas de estudantes e civis e depois tentou, sem êxito, encobrir o evento.

Graças a Deus, o Brasil normalmente não tem tantos assassinatos num só dia igual aos perpetuados pelos soldados mexicanos em 68 mas vejo que o Beltrame esta reforçando o policiamento no Rio diante o aumento de crime na rua. O resultado será a continuidade de fins de semana com invasões nas favelas e o recolhimento de cadáveres e vitimas. Brasil, Rio e São Paulo são geralmente mais violentos do que a Cidade do México embora quando as gangues mexicanas organizadas querem matar não tem receio de usar requintes de tortura e matar em grandes números. Todavia isso não acontece no Brasil. O que dizer: um empate. Esperamos que antes ou durante as Olimpíadas não ocorre nenhum desastre, principalmente provocado pela forcas do Estado. E’ a primeira vez que as Olimpíadas são realizadas na America Latina depois de 1968.   Será que o México estava melhor preparado ha 48 anos atrás? Ou o mundo mudou?

Fora um relativo equilíbrio na violência, México esta com um quadro institucional um pouco mais estável. Ha escândalos mas são menos “calientes” comparado com o Brasil. Talvez porque a justiça brasileira conseguiu gradativamente em algumas áreas um quadro de profissionais respaldados pela lei e pelo respeito aos procedimentos legais. A imprensa também embora dominados pelos grandes monopólios da mídia brasileira e’ ainda mais independente e menos intimidado do que a Mexicana. Matam mais jornalistas no México todo ano do que em 10 anos no Brasil.

America Latina, Brasil e México regiões de tantas aspirações e tanta possibilidade continuam aquém da expectativa. Adianta culpar as elites? Resolve algo culpando o capital e os banqueiros. Deve-se acusar a classe media? E’ a falta de educação e cultura ou herança do passado? São os problemas geopolíticos e o imperialismo? Muito pano para manga e muitas discussões a resolver.  Mas onde esta o quadro para ações coerentes e legitimas.

Vamos conseguir entender o mistério da realidade e do misticismo, do Sebastianismo, do Lulismo? Só os grandes autores tipo Gabo conseguem desvendar? Não sei se e’ possível. O Brasil de hoje demonstra como “gênios políticos” como Lula e muitos assessores inteligentes estão acabando de se enroscar. O triste final que pinta no horizonte, talvez seja uma bela alvorada mas falta tempo e paciência para aqueles que esperam.

Security and Safety at Rio’s Olympics


I’m frequently asked if Rio is dangerous. While understandable, this question always bothers me. I have friends living in Rio who take all sides on the issue of safety. Their positions range from panic to mild paranoia.   Mild is about as good as it gets. It can be thought of as the normal urban dweller’s awareness and caution. People check out their surroundings, do not venture into certain areas, avoid exposing themselves to perceived danger and make sure that everything that might attract a criminal is dealt with in a fairly rational way. For example, people lock their cars and drive with the windows up. Women protect themselves as they see fit given the situation, which might mean not going out alone. On the mild paranoia side, this is standard behavior for any big city.

On the other end of the scale, I know people in Rio (Cariocas) who avoid going out at all costs. When they do go out, they have to engage in very strategic planning to make sure they are safe. This typically involves only using safe transportation, i.e. a personal car (the car may be armored) with a professional driver and advising friends and relatives of their plans and scheduled arrival and departure times in addition to using a cell phone with GPS locations, communication and emergency resources.

What passes for mild paranoia or panic is of course subjective. Some people, especially the young and sometimes the very poorest, have little fear either because they are fool hardy and feel invincible or have absolutely nothing to lose. The rest of us are somewhere in between. Fear often comes from lack of information, information overflow or sensationalism. Here is a link to the sensationalist Daily Mail (UK) that picked up this quite impressive and scary video: http://dailym.ai/1K5IZJu

The video is not staged but it is edited for its sensationalist effect. The reality is that yes there is street crime perpetrated typically by minors or young men and that awareness is needed. While bump, rob and run and theft of valuables are common, it is still the exception.

Here are some crime statistics and recommendations:

First, the good news: Intentional homicides per 100,000 are falling. The graph from Rio’s Institute of Public Safety (Instituto de Seguranca Publica) shows a decline in intentional homicides over the past 7 years. This information is for the state of Rio while the city of Rio de Janeiro shows a fairly constant rate of something over 1200 killings a year for the last 4 years.

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The US Department of State has a division dedicated to “Diplomatic Safety” that produces a summary covering different risks in the city of Rio de Janeiro including public safety, cyber crime and road safety. Here is the link: https://www.osac.gov/pages/ContentReportDetails.aspx?cid=19071

This report describes Rio’s overall crime rate as “Critical” and further states that “Crime is the principal threat to visitors in Brazil” and “ Low-level criminal activity continues to plague visitors and businesses alike. Drug-dealing, petty theft, and vehicle break-ins are common.” It also notes that assaults are common in beaches or parks especially after dark.

While the objective statistics and the US government evaluation do not paint an encouraging situation, the actual victimization of tourists during the Olympics may actually be less serious. There are a couple of reasons.

First, there will be enhanced security. Second people are being warned and often will be in groups. Third, many Brazilians will help tourists avoid trouble and have a good time. Obviously, if you want the excitement, it can be found. Here is a Brazilian App that is similar to Waze for crime. It can be downloaded to track crime: http://www.ondefuiroubado.com.br/rio-de-janeiro/RJ/

There are a couple of other things to take into account. Zika, Dengue and other mosquito-driven diseases are prevalent and one needs to be educated and informed.

The other great unknown is the possibility in today’s world of a terrorist shooting, bombing or assault of some kind. Brazil’s security apparatus has been collaborating with US and international agencies for a long time and are certainly aware of the potential of terrorism at a major event like the Summer Olympics. I trust nothing will happen and that perhaps as the Brazilian jokes goes: there are too many bureaucratic and infrastructure problems that impede business and terror alike.

Safe travels and enjoy the Games!  Hope to see you there.


Photo credit: DelsonSilvaAgnew