Social Media and Politics in Brazil

The Economist notes that Brazil’s elites received a rude introduction to the power of social media. Protests, many convened via Facebook, saw millions take to the streets to air disaffection with politicians. Those same politicians now want to harness social networks for their election campaigns.

Just before Dilma Rousseff was elected president in 2010, 6m Brazilians used Facebook at least once a month. As they gear up for a presidential poll in October, 83m do. Only the United States and India have bigger Facebook populations. One Brazilian in ten tweets; one in five uses Whatsapp—part messaging service, part social network. Cyberspace is seen as a crucial battleground for the election, even before campaigning officially starts on July 6th.

In September, shortly after the protests petered out, Ms Rousseff reactivated her Twitter account, dormant since the 2010 election. She has also joined Instagram and Vine, two image-sharing sites, and revamped her Facebook profile. Last month Ms Rousseff’s Workers’ Party (PT) held its first workshop for activists on how best to use social networks. It plans 13 more in the coming months.

The opposition is pinning even more hope on social media, in large part because the president is likely to dominate the traditional sort. During the campaign free television time is divvied up using a complex formula which takes into account the size of electoral alliances—and tends to favour the incumbent. Despite threats by the PT’s junior partner to dump Ms Rousseff—and take its airtime with it—most pundits predict the coalition will pull through. That would leave the president with around half of the 25-minute television slots; the other candidates would split the rest.

Small wonder, then, that Ms Rousseff’s likeliest rivals have been busy making Facebook friends. Aécio Neves, a senator from Minas Gerais state and leader of the centre-right Party of Brazilian Social Democracy (PSDB), and Eduardo Campos, governor of Pernambuco and head of the centrist Brazilian Socialist Party (PSB), have so far notched up many more “likes” than the president (see chart). The most popular of all is Marina Silva, a former environment minister and Mr Campos’s probable running mate. All are active on other social networks, too.  Read the whole story at The Economist.

Local Data Storage in Brazil

While Brazilian politicians try to agree on the country’s first set of regulations around data and internet governance, local storage requirements are most likely to be solved first.

ZDnet reports that Brazil’s “internet constitution,” the Marco Cival da Internet, was due to be voted last October by the House of Representatives. However, disagreement between politicians and ISPs – particularly around the point of providers being required to treat all data that goes through their network in the same way – meant that the bill is yet to become law.

Despite all the to-ing and fro-ing between public representatives and companies around net neutrality, requirements that data collected about Brazilian internet users is to be stored locally are pretty much agreed on within the government. This was initially presented as a mechanism to protect citizen data – but the government is now becoming much more aware of the value of information.

During the Mobile World Congress last month, Brazilian communications minister Paulo Bernardo reinforced the point that local storage plans will go ahead and criticized the likes of Google and Facebook.

“Google told us that it could not hand data over to the Federal Police in Brazil because the information was stored in the United States, so the company has to comply with the laws of that country. Then they told us that they store the data in a random-access system – it is not possible to believe in everything they say,” Bernardo told trade publication Convergência Digital.

“What is certain is that data is turning into money and we can’t afford to be out of this business. Data will be the motor of the economy in the next few years. Datacenters of companies like Google and Facebook also have to be in Brazil,” he added.

The requirement to force companies to store data locally has been criticized by businesspeople and activists alike, such as World Wide Web creator Sir Tim Berners-Lee, who said this is an “emotional reaction” to the NSA spying episode and will not have any practical impact in reducing espionage risk.

Brasscom, the Brazilian IT trade body, warned that the local data storage provisions will mean an increase in costs incurred by local IT companies and prompt these firms to move their operations elsewhere.

And small business owners who rely heavily on cloud services to operate their businesses are also not happy about the government’s intentions. That is the case of Bidu, a insurance price comparison start-up, who stores all its data on systems operated by Amazon Web Services and Google.

“[If the government requires local storage], Brazil will take a massive backward step. It would be such a big setback for Brazil that small companies would be a lot less competitive,” says Bidu’s founder, Eldes Mattiuzzo.

U.S. Urges Brazil to assist with Peace in Venezuela

The United States’ long-standing travel and trade embargo against Cuba has left it with an image as a bully across Latin America, in the view of Cuban native Arturo Lopez-Levy, a former policy advisor for the Castro regime who now lives in Denver. Antonio Martinez II, a New York attorney who deals with international sanctions compliance, said the U.S. image was tarnished further by the Pentagon’s role in a 2002 coup attempt against late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

“The fact is that the U.S. influence is not that great in Venezuela,” said Peter Hakim, president emeritus of Inter-American Dialogue, a Washington think tank on Western Hemisphere affairs. “The two countries most suited to shape Venezuela’s actions are Brazil and Cuba.”

Luiz Alberto Figueiredo, Brazilian minister of foreign affairs, has asked that the Venezuelan government and its opposition party begin a dialogue with one another. But Brazil has taken no direct action. Hakim said that’s just what the U.S. should urge.

Venezuela trusts Brazil, Hakim said, and it is in Brazil’s national interest to encourage stability in its neighbor.  Escalating protests and violence could lead to a mass migration of Venezuelans into Brazil, causing instability there and potentially damaging the economy.

Because Brazil has a strong relationship with Cuba, Hakim added, it might persuade Cuban leader Raul Castro to take on the role of peace maker.

Read the story here.

By Reuters

RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) – Brazil’s president will propose a truth commission this month to investigate torture during the country’s 1964-85 military dictatorship.

The move by President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva could mark a rare step by Brazil towards tackling the thorny question of dictatorship-era abuses.

Unlike neighbouring countries such as Argentina and Chile, Brazil has never tried anyone for the murder and widespread torture of dissidents during its dictatorship, which pushed an amnesty law through a weak Congress in 1979.

The human rights minister, Paulo Vannuchi, said in an interview over the weekend that Lula will sign a decree next week to create the truth commission, which must be approved by Congress. A spokesperson for the minister confirmed those details to Reuters on Monday.

Brazil would be unable to tackle its modern-day human rights problems, which include widespread abuses by police, without addressing past abuses, Vannuchi said in the interview with the UOL Noticias Internet news site.

“We believe there is a relationship between torture today and the impunity of all the torture that went before, including during the dictatorship,” he said.

The truth commission proposal would be released next Monday, he said.

Brazil’s Supreme Court is now considering a case that argues that torture is not covered by the amnesty law.

The popular Lula, who by law may not run for a third term next year, has emphasized forgiveness over prosecution. Former union leader Lula and several members of his Cabinet were arrested and tortured during the dictatorship.

A justice ministry commission toured Brazil this year, asking victims and their families for forgiveness and awarding many financial compensation.

But some members of Lula’s government have pushed for trials against former military officers. Brazil’s still-influential military strongly opposes further torture investigations or revising the amnesty law.

Jose Miguel Vivanco, the Americas director for U.S.-based Human Rights Watch, said a truth commission was a welcome step but it remained to be seen what kind of process it would begin. A commission aimed at reconciliation rather than justice could be a means to prematurely draw a line under the past without accountability, he said.

“In general, truth commissions are very much welcome as long as they are understood as the beginning of a process that no one really controls,” he said.

(Editing by Doina Chiacu and Cynthia Osterman)

Honduras former president Manuel Zelaya with members of Carter Center in the Brazil´s embassy, in Tegucigalpa


Brazil, the United States and the Organization of American States deserve a gold medal each for their awful handling of Sunday’s presidential elections in Honduras.

Let’s examine how the main international players behaved in the crisis triggered by the June 28 civilian coup against deposed President Manuel Zelaya, which was the first break of the rule of law in Latin America in nearly two decades.

• The gold medal for political hypocrisy should go to Brazil. Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva is leading the group of nations that is not recognizing the results of the Honduran elections won by leftist-turned-conservative businessman Porfirio Lobo. Lula da Silva says, rightly, that recognizing Lobo’s election would set a bad precedent for Latin America because it would legitimize an election convened by a non-democratic government.

The trouble with that argument is that most of today’s democracies in Latin America were born out of elections called by coup-originated governments, starting with the 1989 victory of late Chilean President Patricio Aylwin in national elections organized by Gen. Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship. Also, the recent Honduran elections were not a concoction of outgoing President Roberto Micheletti’s de facto regime, but had been scheduled before the coup.

But what makes the Brazilian position a showcase of political hypocrisy is that, only days before asking the world not to recognize Lobo’s election in Honduras, Lula da Silva had given a red carpet welcome in the Brazilian capital to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, giving him much-needed international recognition.

In addition to defying United Nations warnings about its nuclear program and repeatedly stating that he wants to wipe Israel off the face of the earth, Ahmadinejad has just proclaimed himself the winner of highly dubious elections. Worse, Ahmadinejad’s regime has condemned eight opposition protesters to death — something the outgoing de facto Honduran government has not even come close to doing.

Besides, how can Lula da Silva call for maintaining international sanctions against Honduras while at the same time urging the world to lift remaining sanctions against Cuba?

Brazil apparently wants to maintain Honduras’ suspension from the OAS while it recently championed the vote that lifted Cuba’s nearly five-decade suspension from the OAS. It’s a curious stand, considering that the Cuban regime has not allowed a free election nor opposition parties in five decades, something that cannot be said about Honduras’ de facto government.

Granted, Brazil may be forced to be louder than others in defense of Zelaya’s position because the ousted Honduran president is holed up at the Brazilian Embassy in Tegucigalpa. But Brazil’s handling of the Honduran crisis has been a joke.

• The gold medal for flip-flopping — and keeping all of us scratching our heads — should go to the United States.

At first, the Obama administration joined Brazil and other Latin American countries in denouncing the coup and cuting off development and anti-drug aid to the Micheletti regime. Then, the U.S. State Department said it would recognize the results of Sunday’s elections, arguing that it would help re-establish full democratic rule in the country.

More recently, it backtracked a little bit, suggesting that Honduras needs to create a government of national unity before the transfer of power to get Washington to lift its sanctions. If you are confused, don’t worry — so am I.

To be sure, the Honduran crisis took place while the job of head of Latin American affairs at the State Department was vacant because Republicans had delayed the nomination of Arturo Valenzuela until his confirmation last month. Still, the U.S. position has at best been confusing.

• The Organization of American States deserves a gold medal for one-sidedness. Instead of condemning the coup and simultaneously casting some criticism at Zelaya for disobeying his country’s Supreme Court rulings, the OAS in the early days of the crisis campaigned almost exclusively to support Zelaya. That made it more difficult for the 34-country group to intervene as an honest broker in the ensuing crisis.

What should all international players have done? Contrary to what right-wingers in Congress say, there should be some sanctions against Honduras for what undoubtedly was a break of the rule of law. No coup should go unpunished.

But there should be a distinction between political sanctions and economic sanctions. Holding Honduras’ president-elect accountable for a coup he did not take part in is unfair.

Furthermore, it makes no sense to call for imposing economic sanctions on Honduras, while demanding lifting them from Cuba.

By John Prideaux: São Paulo bureau chief, The Economist

Whoever wins, Brazil should remain in capable hands after its presidential election


Latin America’s largest economy is enjoying its best moment for a long time. One of the last countries to enter the global downturn started by the financial sector in 2007, Brazil was also one of the first to come out of it. For the first time in its history it has found a combination of economic growth, low inflation and full democracy—and the good fortune looks set to continue.

Much is due to Brazil’s president since 2002, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, a charismatic former metal worker, with hair so curly that he was nicknamed “squid” (lula). The presidential election in October will be the first one that he has not contested since the country reintroduced direct elections in 1990. At the end of his second term he is so popular that it is hard to imagine that he was once a serial loser. He will leave a hole that nobody vying to be his successor will quite be able to fill.

The two best-placed are José Serra, the governor of São Paulo, and Dilma Rousseff, the head of the casa civil, an office analogous to presidential chief-of-staff.

Mr Serra has a head start. His approval ratings in the country’s most populous state are high. He was a good health minister in the government of Fernando Henrique Cardoso, and ran for president against Lula in 2002. As Lula proved, losing elections is no barrier to future success in Brazil.

Ms Rousseff’s chances depend on whether Lula will be able to transfer his popularity to his anointed successor. Much will also hang on whether her appeal is hurt by other candidates on the left, not least Marina Silva, a senator, former minister and long-time star of the environmental movement.

The vote will split the country geographically, particularly if Mr Serra picks a running-mate who is also from the south-east of Brazil. This would line up the poorer north and north-east against the wealthier, more populous south and south-east. That would suit Mr Serra but would exacerbate the contrast between the two nations within Brazil.

The winner in October will inherit a country with a higher international profile and a more successful economy than when Lula came to power. But there will also be problems, despite a golden period in which tax revenue grew faster than GDP. In response to the global crisis, Lula’s government both cut taxes and boosted spending, the kind of policy response that only mature countries can manage without terrifying their creditors.

Rather than the extra spending going on infrastructure, it has been lavished on increases to public-sector wages and benefits. These entitlements will be hard to cut. Revenue from the recently discovered oilfields off Brazil’s coast will not come in quickly enough to rescue the new president from this inherited problem.

The debate about the country’s future will be swamped by private dealmaking

The rules about how oil money is spent—crucial for the country’s development—will be pushed through Congress just as the presidential campaign is getting going. This means that there is a big risk that the debate about the country’s future will be swamped by private dealmaking, preventing Brazil from making the most of its “present from God”, as Lula has described the oil.

Both main candidates are well-suited to the tasks they will face. Mr Serra’s time in the federal government is best remembered for his decision to break the patent on efavirenz, an AIDS drug manufactured by Merck, which has helped Brazil to keep the disease under control. But some fear that Mr Serra, with an economics doctorate from Cornell University, would disturb the institutions of economic policymaking that have contributed towards Brazil’s recent success.

Ms Rousseff is also an economist by training, though not such a distinguished one. She is credited with getting Lula’s presidency functioning again after the mensalão scandal in 2005, when it was revealed that the government had been managing its business in Congress by paying bribes.

The really remarkable thing, from Brazil’s point of view, is that it has two technocrats competing for the top job. The country’s hard-won political and economic stability is set to continue, whoever wins.