Geopolitics

Business Is Business: Why Bolsonaro's Days May Be Numbered

Business sectors fear the now less popular President Jair Bolsonaro's bid to retain power will pave the way for another "red" government under Lula da Silva.

Photo of a hand holding a sign with Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro's face, with the slogan "Out Bolsonaro!!!"

"Out Bolsonaro"

Marcelo Cantelmi

-Analysis-

BUENOS AIRES — Brazil is presently like a candle burning at both ends. The populist government of President Jair Bolsonaro is increasingly rejected by poorer voters and the middle class amid an economic crisis. This is hurting his popularity rates and thus, reelection chances ahead of next year's race. Markets are also signaling that they have lost some of their confidence in a supposedly business-friendly government.

Most recently, they reacted badly to a decision by Bolsonaro and his economy minister, Paulo Guedes, to discard limits on public spending and boost social allocations to restore the president's battered electoral profile. The final headache, for now, is the Brazilian Senate's harsh report on Bolsonaro's handling of a pandemic that has killed 600,000 Brazilians. Its inquiry was the work of a multiparty commission led by the conservative Senator Renan Calheiros of the Brazilian Democratic Movement. This is an old and powerful party once allied with the Workers' Party (PT) before crucially voting in 2016 to impeach the socialist President Dilma Rousseff, paving the way for Bolsonaro's presidency.


The most grievous part of the 1,200-page report is what may be termed the most convincing arguments made yet for impeaching Bolsonaro, over and above dozens of previous motions tabled in parliament. The commission has in this instance accused the president of crimes against humanity, incitement to crime, perversion of justice, misuse of public money and deceit among a total of nine offenses. It also calls for 77 others to be charged including the president's three sons, a senator, a member of the lower legislature and a municipal councilor. Its conclusions were damning to former and current public health officials.

Lula free to run

The report is political, and thus is not a court order. But it will circulate throughout the judicial apparatus, including in the Supreme Court, which in March reversed the corruption conviction of former President Luis Inacio Lula da Silva. Lula left jail and is now free to run again for the presidency in 2022.

These amount to an onslaught that Bolsonaro has sought to dismiss with smiles, jokes and disdain. He termed the Senate report a "comedy." The past has in fact caught up with him in two ways.

During the peak of the pandemic in 2020, the president had already floated the idea of state aid for Brazilians worst hit by the subsequent economic crisis, especially in north-eastern Brazil. Some 60 million Brazilians came to receive aid, paid promptly every month, which made up for jobs lost and businesses closed in the pandemic. But the government ordered those payments halted in January 2021.

He termed the Senate report a "comedy."

Throughout 2020, Bolsonaro managed to garner support levels exceeding 40%, though these have fallen to 30% today, with a 65% rejection rate. The Senate's report will likely make that worse, though this does mean automatic gains for Lula.
The reasons for Bolsonaro's troubles are entirely real.

Annual inflation is well above 10%, while 14% of the workforce is now jobless. In addition, the country's biggest private bank, Banco Itaú, expects a recession for 2022, with the economy shrinking by 0.5%. The worst part is it all confounds the government's cheery promises of 2.5% growth for that period — precisely in the run-up to the elections set for October 2022.

Photo of a man sitting on a concrete bench in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Brazil's economy may shrink next year, heralding a recession

Mauro Lima

Pandemic price

The government's turnabouts are unnerving the country's top tier of political power. Until recently, markets considered Guedes an impeccably orthodox economist, yet he is the one who decided to ditch the constitutional cap on public spending and finance a social program costing an extra five billion dollars. He wasn't deceiving anyone. He said that in an electoral year "obviously everyone wants to spend," adding that this was intended to help Bolsonaro keep the presidency. In his plan, politics trumps balancing the books.

But that immediately raised the dollar price in Brazil, with the Sao Paulo securities index falling over 7% in a week. Four senior economy ministry officials resigned in protest. Disruptions in business and finance will have repercussions in politics. Important economic players are worried that Bolsonaro's antics with the pandemic and a whiplash spending policy will pave the way for Lula's return. They do not like his erratic positions, which they feel have wasted the golden opportunity of Lula's jail time and absence of a substitute.

This business sector fears in Lula, perhaps exaggeratedly, the return of the interventionist and spendthrift left. Stock markets indices fell and the dollar rose when he was freed from jail and when certain polls suggest his support is growing.

Center decides

Observers are wondering: Is this sector in parliament and corporations working to overthrow Bolsonaro to block Lula's return? It's not a simple maneuver, as there's no parliamentary majority for it, but reveals the doubts at the apex of the Brazilian power structure on whether or not Bolsonaro's reelection makes sense.

A conservative movement rejecting both Lula and Bolsonaro may have fizzled out, allowing the president to base a strategy on the absence of alternatives. The only possible contender — the former justice minister and anti-corruption judge Sergio Moro — is far behind the two main candidates as of now.

Bolsonaro has another chance too, in that Lula lacks the overwhelming support he enjoyed a decade back. He is also unable to shake off the burden of corruption that sank his party under his successor, Dilma Rousseff. This might explain why polls have shown Lula's shrinking lead in recent months, though he still precedes Bolsonaro in voting intentions.

Cardoso's blessing

A factor being overlooked is that Lula has some support in the business sectors now turning on Bolsonaro. The Banco Itaú gave Lula its backing ahead of his first victory in 2002. And it wasn't a foolish move, as the first Lula government surprised all: Sundry with its careful economics, this period ensured record profits for the private banking sector.

That presidency was also able to manage debts inherited from the preceding, center-right government led by Henrique Cardoso. But those were booming years for commodities and the Chinese market boosted Brazil's economy. Today, Lula would have to be far more creative amid diminished revenues and volatile prospects for the world economy.

It may precisely be faith in his creativity and sensible pragmatism that recently led the veteran Cardoso to give his blessing to Lula's presidential run. That may give Lula crucial support from the political center, and might even help him form a competent government.

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January 22-23

  • Navalny saga & Putin’s intentions
  • COVID’s toll on teenage girls
  • A 50-year-old book fee finally gets paid
  • … and much more!

🎲 BUT FIRST, A NEWS QUIZ!

What do you remember from the news this week?

1. Which two words did U.S. President Joe Biden use about possible scenarios in the Russia-Ukraine standoff that upset authorities in Kyiv?

2. What started to mysteriously appear on signs, statues and monuments across Adelaide, Australia?

3. What cult movie did U.S. rocker Meat Loaf, who died Friday at age 74, star in?

4. What news story have we summed up here in emoji form? 🇬🇧 👱 💬 💼 ❌ 🥳 🦠

[Answers at the bottom of this newsletter]

⬇️  STARTER

Toxic geopolitics: More than ever, we need more women world leaders

The world is watching the Russian-Ukrainian border. Russian President Vladimir Putin threatening an invasion finds an ally in Iran’s Ebrahim Raisi, united against their common enemy: the United States. Back in Washington, U.S. President Joe Biden — marking his first year in power with painfully low approval rates (higher only than Donald Trump’s) — sends his Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, to Kyiv to reassure President Volodymyr Zelensky who worries that France’s Emmanuel Macron might undermine Ukraine. And we haven’t even mentioned Xi Jinping!

It’s an endless theater of world leaders beating their respective chests — and they have exactly one thing in common: they’re all men. It’s by now a decades-old question, but worth asking again: What would happen if women, and not men, were running the world? Would there be less conflict, more prosperity? More humanity?

In 2018, the World Economic Forum released a study that showed that “only 4% of signatories to peace agreements between 1992 and 2011 were women, and only 9% of the negotiators.” The report shows that in several conflict zones in the world in recent decades, citing Liberia, Northern Ireland and Colombia, women have been instrumental in achieving peace.

In Colombia, where 20% of peace negotiators for the 2016 peace treaty were women, Ingrid Betancourt, herself a victim of the 50-year conflict, has announced her candidacy for the May presidential elections. Differently from previous bids, where she focused on fighting environmental abuses and corruption, Betancourt now is putting gender issues at the center of her political agenda. Bogota daily El Espectador questions whether the former hostage will be able to ride this important political wave, with feminist movements flexing their muscle around the region demanding more rights.

In Italy, next week’s elections for the head of state are monopolized by infamously misogynous former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who is hoping to be elected for the seven-year, honorary function. There is no official candidacy, but Berlusconi’s name and that of current Prime Minister Mario Draghi are the two getting the most attention. Italian feminist writer and intellectual Dacia Maraini writes in La Stampa that, yes, the very fact of electing a female president will be progress for the country — and by the way, there are plenty of women qualifed for the job.

There was also a woman politician making the news this week for actually getting elected: Maltese conservative politician Roberta Metsola, became the new European Parliament President after the death of Italy’s David Sassoli. And yet the election of the first female president of the EU’s legislature since Nicole Fontaine in 2001 has been widely criticized by female politicians — primarily for Metsola’s stance against abortion rights. "I think it is a terrible sign for women's rights everywhere in Europe," French left-wing member of the European Parliament Manon Aubry told Deutsche Welle.

The women who have risen to power in history (Margaret Thatcher, anyone?) don’t necessarily make the case that gender is the silver bullet to fix politics. Still, after watching all the toxic masculinity on the world stage this past week, we can rightfully demand fewer men.

Irene Caselli

🎭  5 CULTURE THINGS TO KNOW

• Record-breaking online concert of Mahler’s “Symphony of a Thousand”: More than 100 musicians from around the world will take part today in a performance of Mahler’s epic 8th symphony consisting of 1,200 elements, including a double chorus, children’s choir, a full orchestra and an organ. The event is a culmination of a year of work; all artists recorded their parts in isolation besides the children’s choir. Tickets can be purchased here.

Yearly Japanese festival will set a mountain on fire: Today, the grassy hillside of Mount Wakakusayama in Japan will go up in flames as fireworks go off in the background as part of celebrations for Wakakusa Yamayak. The origin of the festival isn’t totally clear, but might relate to border conflicts between the great temples in the region or to ward off wild boars.

• New insights into antiquities taken by the Nazis: Scholars are looking into how German forces during World War II looted artifacts such as on the Greek island of Crete. Nazi officials pillaged these valuables for their own personal gain, but many were also destroyed, which is why researchers around the world are hoping to gain greater insight into this often overlooked aspect of German occupation.

Exhibition of Beirut’s restored artwork: The Beirut Museum of Art has inaugurated the exhibition “Lift” featuring 17 paintings by Lebanese artists that had been damaged by the port explosion in 2020, and have since been restored as a result of a UNESCO initiative.

The world’s first vegan violin tunes up: Berries, pears and spring water are just some of the natural ingredients relied on for the construction of the instrument by English violin-maker Padraig O'Dubhlaoidh. Traditionally, animal parts like horsehair, hooves, horns and bones are used, especially to glue pieces together. The £8,000 instrument is sure to be music to some animal lover’s ears.

🇷🇺  NAVALNY SAGA & PUTIN’S INTENTIONS


One year ago anti-corruption lawyer and politician Alexei Navalny was detained in Russia, marking the effective end of domestic opposition to Russian president Vladimir Putin. In the time since, more than half of the former coordinators of Navalny's headquarters fled Russia. Even Navalny's name is forbidden: Putin never says his name, calling him "this citizen."

At the same time, Navalny’s imprisonment and the de facto end of the opposition have changed Russia. The fear of persecution, the lack of alternatives and the total censorship and propaganda have caused Putin's ratings consistently downward.

An aging leader with no successors, no enemies and dwindling popular support is finding it increasingly difficult to explain why he must continue to rule forever. In such a situation, there’s nothing quite like an external threat to fuel the raison d’être of the authoritarian regime. In Putin’s eyes, the perfect threat right now is NATO expansion, and the perfect enemy is its neighbor Ukraine and its attempts to join the military alliance. Whether Russia's president is ready to engage in a real war is the great unknown, but its aggressive and uncompromising foreign policy — like his disposing of Alexei Navalny — is the latest legitimization of his increasingly absolutist rule now into its third decade.

Read the full story: What The Alexei Navalny Saga Tells Us About Putin’s Intentions On Ukraine

🇨🇴  FROM HOSTAGE TO POTENTIAL HEAD OF STATE


Íngrid Betancourt spent more than six years as a prisoner of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) terror group in Colombia, an experience that is sure to play a role in her recently announced presidential campaign. Betancourt, who is 60, is running as part of the Verde Oxígeno and is the only woman in the Centro Esperanza Coalition (CCE), a centrist alliance.

Betancourt could be a boost for the coalition and embody its goals of transforming, overcoming polarization and, as its name indicates, giving hope to Colombia. In particular, the centrist candidate who in the past has been largely focused on anti-corruption and environmental protection, has said she will make women’s rights a cornerstone of her campaign.

Read the full story: Ingrid Betancourt, A Hostage Heroine Reinvented As Feminist For President

♀️ 😔  YOUNG WOMEN FACE THE BRUNT OF THE COVID-19 MENTAL HEALTH CRISIS


A growing number of studies around the world show that COVID-19 and lockdown restrictions have prompted a disproportionate increase in mental health illness among teen girls. These include rising suicide rates among adolescent females in the United States, Germany and Spain and a higher prevalence of anxiety and eating disorders in Israel. But why are women being disproportionately impacted?

There’s a range of reasons. In India, for example, young women had increased difficulty accessing education resources when schools went online and shared a disproportionate burden of household tasks as opposed to their male peers. Around the world, social media also played a significant role; without access to in-person socialization and hobbies, young people spent more time online, often comparing themselves to others, impacting feelings of self-worth. The situation is particularly dire given the challenges of accessing mental health support resources during the pandemic.

Read the full story: Why The COVID-19 Mental Health Crisis Is Hitting Teenage Girls The Hardest

💡  BRIGHT IDEA


Norwegian mobility company Podbike has announced that Frikar, its four-wheeled enclosed electric bike, will soon hit bike lanes on home turf. The futuristic-looking vehicle does require the user to pedal, which powers a generator and drive-by-wire system that keep the Frikar running — with a speed limited to 25 km/h.

#️⃣ TRENDING

“Mãe De Bolsonaro” is the top query on Twitter in Brazil, after news that Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s mother Olinda Bonturi Bolsonaro had died at age 94.

😄📚 SMILE OF THE WEEK

Photo of the new President of the European Parliament Roberta Metsola

New President of the European Parliament Roberta Metsola

Philipp Von Ditfurth/ZUMA


London’s legendary bookshop Waterstones Gower Street tweeted a photo of a letter from an anonymous user confessing to having forgotten to pay for their books some 48 years ago. Owing approximately £100 ($136), adjusted for inflation, they had sent through £120 ($163) to make up for their tardiness. Touched by the kind gesture, the bookshop reciprocated by donating the money to the largest children’s reading charity in the United Kingdom.

👉   OTHERWISE ...

Dottoré! is a weekly column on Worldcrunch.com by Mariateresa Fichele, a psychiatrist and writer based in Naples, Italy. Read more about the series here.

Bucket of tears

I’ve been thinking and thinking about a patient of mine since yesterday. His name is Giovanni.

Psychiatrists, you might not know, are quite often asked the same unanswerable question: "Why does one become insane?”

When I was younger, I searched and searched for an answer, losing myself in scientific explanations about synapses, neurons and neurotransmitters.

By the end of my studies, I’d realized that the only thing that was clear was that I’d been clutching at straws to justify my work and give it a semblance of scientific dignity. In the years since, I’ve forced myself, in defiance of the authority of my position, to reply with a laconic but honest: "Sorry, but I don't know."

So when Giovanni asked me that same question, he was not happy at all with my answer. “Dottoré, how’s it possible that you don't understand why I became crazy?”

When he tried to ask me again one day, I tried a different response:

"Giová, do you cry?"

"No. Why?"

"Imagine that the tears that you don't shed, that you force yourself not to shed, because that's what you've been taught to do, all end up inside your heart. The heart is an organ that pumps blood, which brings nourishment and oxygen to the whole body. But over time those diverted tears accumulate to the point that the heart begins to pump them instead of your blood. Slowly your body becomes sick, but the part that suffers the most is your brain. Because tears don't contain oxygen and nourishment, just sadness."

I expected a reaction to this fanciful explanation, but instead Giovanni kept quiet and eventually left.

The next time I saw him, he said: "Dottoré, I've thought about it. I know you told me about the tears to make me feel better, but maybe you’re right. Because sometimes I feel that I have a lake, more than a heart. But it takes a very powerful pump to pump out all that water, and my heart alone cannot do it. And now that you've explained to me how I became crazy, can you also tell me if I'll ever get better?"

"Do you want another story or do you want the truth?”

"This time, I’d rather have the truth!”

"The answer is always the same then. I'm sorry, Giová, but I don't know this either. But I can tell you one thing for sure. I'll help you slowly, slowly with just a bucket. Because the truth is, not even I have that pump."

⏩  LOOKING AHEAD

• Italy's parliament will convene Monday to begin the process of voting for a new president to succeed Sergio Mattarella for a seven-year term.

• Qualification games for the 2022 FIFA World Cup will be held from Jan. 27 to Feb. 2 for South, North and Central America as well as Asia. Argentina’s national team will not be able to rely on superstar Lionel Messi, still recovering from COVID-19.

• Next Thursday will mark 100 years since Nellie Bly died. The American journalist is known for her record-breaking 72-day trip around the world in 1889, inspired by Jules Vernes’ book Around the World in Eighty Days


Keep reading... Show less
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