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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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