Brazil: No Cake for Lula’s Birthday

    
Brazil: No Cake for Lula's Birthday

    Brazilians are worried about the economy’s bad shape. Since
    January, Brazil’s economy is
    practically stagnant; joblessness
    has risen and income of those with a job has declined. A
    national survey
    taken last week shows that unemployment is
    seen as the number one reason for the country’s
    rampant violence.

    by:

    Émerson Luiz

     

    Lula has turned 58 this October 27, the same day he was elected President, one year ago. The Brazilian President
    celebrated the date with relatives and friends on Sunday while in his apartment in São Bernardo do Campo in the Greater
    São Paulo. The country, however, doesn’t seem to be in a celebratory mood. Unemployment in the Greater São Paulo,
    Brazil’s most industrialized region, has reached a record high of 20.6 percent. And the Lula administration got its worst grades
    since the President was inaugurated January
    1st.

    While the personal popularity of Lula is still high, having fallen from 76.7 percent in August to 70.6 percent in the
    latest CNT-Sensus poll, the number of those who call the current government good or excellent shrank from 48.3 percent in
    August to 41.6 percent in October. The economy performance isn’t a pleaser either and the polls show that only 46.7 percent
    approve of the way the economy is being conducted, down from 55.1 percent, in August.

    In a day full of tributes, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva will be at the opening ceremony of the
    22nd Congress of the International Socialist, which is being held in São Paulo, October 26 to 28. The meeting, normally held in Europe or the US, is bringing
    together 146 socialist parties from around the globe. The PT (Partido dos Trabalhadores—Workers’ Party), Lula’s party,
    however, will participate only as an observer since it does not belong to the International Socialist. That should be changing in
    2004, after the municipal elections in Brazil, when the PT intends to join the IS.

    The PT’s delegation to the congress includes Lula’s friend, right-hand man and Chief of Staff, José Dirceu and
    Minister Luiz Dulci, from the General Secretariat. The President is expected to have dinner with some famous international
    socialists who are in Brazil for the IS congress, including former Russian president Mikhail Gorbachev, former president of
    Portugal, Mário Soares and Felipe Gonzalez, ex-prime minister of Spain and Argentina’s president Néstor Kirchner.

    Coincidence or not, Lula’s birthday also marks the day the government will start paying the beneficiaries of Bolsa
    Família (Family Coupon) program, which is being introduced in lieu of the (Fome Zero) Zero Hunger, the much ballyhooed plan
    that never took off. The Bolsa Família scheme is a collection of several social programs of the government, many of them
    inherited from the Fernando Henrique Cardoso years.

    Basically, the program will hand out 50 reais (17 dollars) a month to families who make less than 50
    reais a month.
    Benefits can grow up to 95 reais if the family has 15-year-old or younger children. Families making up to 100
    reais (33 dollars)
    could get as much as 45 reais (15 dollars) from the government if they have children. Each child would get 15
    reais (5 dollars).

    The Bolsa-Família hasn’t started yet, but has already drawn some powerful foes. One of them is entrepreneur
    Antônio Ermírio de Moraes, owner of the Votorantim group, who has accused the program of being alms for the people. Moraes
    harshly criticized the Lula government saying that the President should concentrate its work in generating jobs and creating a
    kind of Desemprego Zero (Zero Unemployment). "Brazilians have a good moral formation and nobody likes to receive
    alms," he said.

    Brazilians are very worried about the bad shape of the economy. Since January the Brazilian economy is practically
    stagnant, joblessness has risen and income of those with a job has declined. The CNT-Sensus survey asked people about the main
    causes for the rampant violence in Brazil. Unemployment was presented as the number one reason (38.7 percent) followed by
    drug trafficking (25.2 percent) and misery (20.3 percent). When asked where the government should invest its education
    budget, the majority, 41.4 percent, said "professionalizing courses." Another 23.4 percent suggested that the priority should be
    basic schooling, 13.9 percent voted for spending in middle school, and 11.3 percent chose colleges to invest the money.

    This Monday, representatives of the International Monetary Fund will be meeting Lula’s economic team to finalize
    the terms of its latest agreement with Brazil. The socialist government of Lula would like to be able to do without the IMF
    money, but pragmatism has won this one, and Finance Minister has already made it clear that he needs at least US$ 10 billion to
    reinforce Brazil’s international reserves.

    Members of Lula’s own party are not happy with the administration’s measures. In a closed-to-the-press,
    seven-hour-long meeting, on the weekend, 200 Workers’ Party leaders criticized what they see as the social apathy of the
    government and the high rate of unemployment. These leaders asked for prompt action from the government while deploring the cuts
    in health programs, the lack of economic growth and the temporary measure of the executive allowing the plantation of
    the transgenic soy.

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