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Why Lula's Big Green Promises Are Such A Long Shot

As Brazil's President Lula da Silva wields limited power over parliament and his multi-party cabinet, he may be unable to fulfil many of this campaign promises, including protecting the environment.

Photo of people protesting in Brazil demanding urgent action against global warming

People stage a protest demanding urgent action to tackle global warming in Sao Paulo

Marcelo Cantelmi


BUENOS AIRES -- Brazil has an institutional flaw that is difficult – if not impossible – to fix.

This flaw may explain the weaknesses seen in the first semester of this third government led by socialist President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva — particularly on his promises to defend the environment. While the country has a presidential regime, the power of Congress, especially the lower legislative chamber, has expanded to unusual levels, and now seeks to share the president's powers.

Parliamentary powers grew under the previous president, right-wing Jair Bolsonaro, who conceded certain executive branch prerogatives in an ongoing bid to avoid impeachment. It wasn't unlike having a gun to his head, as journalist and academic Vinicius Torres Freire observed in the paper Folha de São Paulo. Because Lula won with the slightest of majorities, he lacks enough of his own lawmakers to alter this arrangement and rob the so-called centrão (or big center) — a conservative, calculating mass of MPs that has always been there, but is now throwing its weight around — of their new-found legislative powers.

This legislative block represents the 'three Bs' — Bible, Bullets and Beef — associated with evangelical Protestants, gun supporters and big farming. The same institutional flaw prevents Lula from resolving another disagreement between the two branches of government: namely, the "secret chapter," which is the part of the state budget that legislators can allocate at their own discretion, without outside scrutiny. In his campaign, Lula had promised to end this mechanism, which was another of Bolsonaro's gifts to Parliament.

The added power is the work of the Speaker of the Chamber of Deputies or lower legislature, Arthur Lira. He likes to remind the president no legislation passes in the Chamber without the centrão's consent, as it includes about half its 513 members against the 120 backing the president.

The block, which includes ex-president Jair Bolsonaro's Liberal Party, has already shown its clout by voting to restrict the prerogatives of the environment ministry headed by the activist Marina Silva, and of the Indigenous People's ministry headed by Sonia Guajajara, which was assigned to handle the issue of delineating and protecting ancestral lands.

An eye for a hand

The anti-environment moves are part of Parliament's price for allowing the government to function, with a cabinet of 37 ministers that includes right-wing politicians — who are in turn part of its give-and-take with a conservative Parliament. Journalist Torres Freire called this losing a hand to keep an eye. Losing a hand includes, so far, stripping the environment ministry of the rural land registration mechanism (CAR), which monitors land use by farmers, and stripping the Indigenous ministry of powers to mark out and protect Indigenous land. The justice ministry will now do that. Even before curbing some of the environment ministries' powers, Parliament had also restricted this demarcation to those lands registered as occupied by Indigenous tribes at the proclamation of the Brazilian constitution in 1988. This is restrictive, as some Indigenous territories had not yet been registered as such at the time.

The government has said little so far to challenge Petrobras's plans.

Furthermore, the oil firm Petrobras wants to drill in the offshore Block 59, which is not far from the Amazon estuary in northern Brazil, which has angered Marina Silva and raised suspicions that it is a prelude to more drilling and exploration. Suely Araújo, an academic and policy expert at Brazil's Climate Observatory, has warned these could mean oil spills down the line, immediately next to the rainforest. In spite of Lula's much-heralded promises to save the environment, the government has said little so far to challenge Petrobras's plans, especially when the area may be a repository of more than 30 billion barrels of crude oil.

That would be a boon for Lula's social policies, and a big lever to turn the country's economic fortunes around. Lula said at the G7 summit in Hiroshima in May that any extraction would be 530 kilometers offshore, and thus less likely to pollute the rainforest around the estuary. Silva has dismissed such optimism, but Lula needs the money. Macroeconomic success consolidates power and may even assure him a bit of the untouchability he enjoyed when he first became president. The economy is one good reason for his extreme pragmatism.

Finance Minister Fernando Haddad may agree as he devises fiscal adjustments in response to the economy slowing down in the short-to-medium term. Brazil may grow 1% this year (or 1.2%, says the World Bank), compared with the 5% or 2.89% growth rates of 2021 and 2022. Meanwhile, as inflation persists, the Central Bank will keep interest rates over 13%, cooling credit demand and economic activity.

Photo of \u200bBrazilian President Lula da Silva

Brazilian President Lula da Silva


Maduro, the democrat

The economy may even explain Lula's strange conduct on foreign policy. Perhaps to compensate for the slim pickings and petty humiliations of domestic politics, he has sought to boost his profile as a progressive or leftist leader worldwide, puffing himself up abroad — in case he may have to make more concessions to parliament. Speaker Lira recently told GloboNews that the president might have to distribute more ministries to other forces, including some inside the Centrão that are effectively the nemesis of the Lula presidency.

Confused support of Russia have destroyed any mediating ambitions Brazil might have in the Ukraine war.

Was it in response to this ongoing sabotage that Lula received Venezuela's Nicolás Maduro for a regional summit in late May, hugging him ostentatiously and putting aside concerns on the state of rights in Venezuela? You can appreciate the motives, but is it an effective strategy? Inside the country, such gestures will frighten the middle class voter — the same people who helped to elect him last October.

Outside, they will undermine Brazil's reputation and soft power. And his confused positions in favor of a warmongering Russia, the fruit of the counsels of his radical adviser, Celso Amorim, have pulverized any mediating ambitions Brazil might have in the Ukraine war. Mediation might have helped its bid to win a permanent seat at the UN Security Council. But - not unlike Bolsonaro's own antics - a big hug for Maduro and Lula's assertion that criticizing Venezuela's rights record is just part of a hostile "narrative," have merely eroded his standing. The recent summit of regional presidents in fact may have scuppered Lula's aspirations to revive the leftist Unasur association, supposedly a counterweight to the Organization of American States.

The fleeting nature of Lula's regional discourse is further confirmed by Brazil's inability at present to aid Argentina's economy beyond words. Along these lines, the BRICS club of 'alternative' economies promised to consider Argentina's membership alongside those of Iran, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia and the Comores, at a summit scheduled for August, though this too seems a tall order.

As the Brazilian business daily Valor Económico observed in early June, while China is interested in expanding the club, two states are reluctant — India and, curiously, Brazil.

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How Parenthood Reinvented My Sex Life — Confessions Of A Swinging Mom

Between breastfeeding, playdates, postpartum fatigue, birthday fatigues and the countless other aspects of mother- and fatherhood, a Cuban couple tries to find new ways to explore something that is often lost in the middle of the parenting storm: sex.

red tinted photo of feet on a bed

Parenting v. intimacy, a delicate balance

Silvana Heredia

HAVANA — It was Summer, 2015. Nine months later, our daughter would be born. It wasn't planned, but I was sure I wouldn't end my first pregnancy. I was 22 years old, had a degree, my dream job and my own house — something unthinkable at that age in Cuba — plus a three-year relationship, and the summer heat.

I remember those months as the most fun, crazy and experimental of my pre-motherhood life. It was the time of my first kiss with a girl, and our first threesome.

Every weekend, we went to the Cuban art factory and ended up at the CornerCafé until 7:00 a.m. That September morning, we were very drunk, and in that second-floor room of my house, it was unbearably hot. The sex was otherworldly. A few days later, the symptoms began.

She arrived when and how she wished. That's how rebellious she is.

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