Categories
Power

Bolsonaro pushes for control in Rio de Janeiro

Though born in the state of São Paulo, it was in Rio de Janeiro that Jair Bolsonaro became a politician. Following his expulsion from the Army due to insubordination, Mr. Bolsonaro ran (and won) in eight consecutive races, one for Rio’s city council, and the rest for a seat in Congress, representing the southeastern state. It was also there that he ushered his ex-wife and three children into politics.

But Mr. Bolsonaro has never been a part of the Rio political establishment, which, in retrospect, worked to his advantage — Rio’s political elite has been ravaged by anti-corruption investigations, with every former state governor having been jailed at some point.[restricted]

Not even after winning the presidency with massive support in Rio de Janeiro did the president manage to wrestle control of the state. Instead, he saw Governor Wilson Witzel — who was elected on his coattails — break with the Bolsonaro family and present himself as a possible presidential challenger. At the municipal level, Rio Mayor Marcelo Crivella, an ally, is as unpopular as an incumbent can be. Moreover, his eldest son, Senator Flávio Bolsonaro, saw himself being investigated for running money-laundering while serving as a state lawmaker.

But, with the twists and turns Brazilian politics is known for, the Bolsonaros now seem in position to plant their family flag over Rio de Janeiro and control the state.

In August, the Superior Court of Justice suspended Mr. Witzel from office, following embezzlement and money laundering accusations. Since then, the president has made multiple public gestures to acting Governor Cláudio Castro, who is also under investigation, and has intensely worked behind-the-scenes deals to put allies in key positions in the Rio de Janeiro establishment.

After the Rio State Congress decided to open impeachment proceedings against Mr. Witzel in a 69-0 vote, his ousting seems all but certain. And Mr. Castro, who should soon become the governor full-time, will take over a state that is on the cusp of a full-scale financial collapse and in need of federal support — giving the president tremendous leverage to get the best out of his relationship with the state administration.

The beginning of a beautiful friendship

After being trusted with the state government in the most adverse of situations, Cláudio Castro spent six of his first 14 days as acting governor far away in federal capital Brasília, officially negotiating a renewal of Rio’s Fiscal Recovery Regime — a settlement with the federal government signed in 2017 to avoid Rio’s complete financial ruin. At one point, he posted on Twitter: “I’ve just gotten a call from Senator Flávio Bolsonaro, who put himself at our disposal to help the state of Rio.”

Days later, Mr. Castro flew on the presidential jet to attend the inauguration of the new Supreme Court Chief Justice, Luiz Fux.

“Alongside the [Rio] State Congress and our young governor, we will seek a way to bring Rio back from this dire situation. God willing, this way of doing politics will be left behind and a new era of politics will rise,” declared President Bolsonaro, two weeks ago.

If 21 months of Jair Bolsonaro as president have taught us anything, it is that his goodwill doesn’t come for free. The president demands unwavering loyalty from allies — and doesn’t take no for an answer when he wants to handpick names for public positions. And if Cláudio Castro wants to stay in Mr. Bolsonaro’s good graces, he better play ball.

Setting up the chessboard in Rio de Janeiro

The Bolsonaros have had their eyes on Rio’s law enforcement agencies ever since the family rose to national prominence. The president’s willingness to control the Federal Police state superintendency there led to a fallout with former Justice Minister Sérgio Moro. Late in March, Mr. Bolsonaro told Mr. Moro, via a text message: “You already have 27 superintendencies. I only need one [Rio].”

Now, the family has its sights set on the State Prosecution Office. Eduardo Gussem, the current head of the department — and responsible for presenting criminal charges against two of Jair Bolsonaro’s children — ends his current term in December. And it will be up to the acting governor to choose a replacement. 

The name of the Bolsonaros’ favorite for the job, ultra-conservative prosecutor Marcelo Monteiro, has made its way to Mr. Castro.

Indeed, one consequential change to cater to the First Family has already taken place. In mid-September, Allan Turnowski was named chief of the Rio de Janeiro Civil Police after Senator Flávio Bolsonaro personally endorsed him to the acting governor, as sources told The Brazilian Report.

Since taking office, Mr. Turnowski has already swapped out the heads of 70 police divisions and precincts. When asked, he claims none of these changes were politically motivated.

Since Claudio Castro was named Rio’s acting governor and got closer to the Bolsonaros, a series of personnel changes have been made in the state’s security apparatus, with all of the new faces linked to the Bolsonaro family.

Among aides, President Jair Bolsonaro is described as having a persecution complex, made worse by the stabbing he suffered during the 2018 presidential campaign — as well as reports (later debunked) tying him to the murder of City Councilor Marielle Franco.

Officials who are aware of the president’s maneuvers to take control of Rio de Janeiro’s politics mention another reason for his moves: a willingness to control and contain investigations into his two eldest sons, who are accused of running rudimentary money-laundering schemes within their public offices in the state.

For a family who was once made out of bottom-feeders in Rio de Janeiro’s shady political scene, the Bolsonaros are now the most popular political figures in the country. However, President Bolsonaro’s goals in power have always seemed provincial — targeting his home state and making life easier for his family and allies, thus his full-blown assault on the political structures in Rio de Janeiro.[/restricted]

Categories
Power

2020 Election: What is at stake in São Paulo and Rio

Brazil’s mid-term municipal elections are often seen by parties as a dress rehearsal for national races. History suggests that local disputes often anticipate trends that we will observe two years later, when presidential and gubernatorial candidates square off. In 2020, the municipal election will be as national as ever, with all the main presidential hopefuls using the November 15 vote to set up alliances that could carry them over the finish line in 2022.

In this game, São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro are disproportionately important, as the country’s two most-populated and wealthiest cities — with a combined GDP of nearly BRL 1 trillion (USD 190 billion), or 10 percent of the Brazilian economy. These two cities alone, account for over 9 percent of the Brazilian electorate.

Both races, however, are up in the air, less than two months before Election Day. We explain what is at stake in each of them.[restricted]

Key points in the 2020 election

  • While reelection rates are extremely high in state and national races, the same doesn’t happen for municipal disputes. The percentage of mayors who were granted a second term has continually decreased since 2008 to an all-time low of 21 percent in 2016.
  • The Brazilian Social Democracy Party (PSDB) will try to preserve its dominance in major urban centers. Of Brazil’s biggest 96 cities, the PSDB is the ruling party in 30 of them. That is thanks to its continuous shift towards a “hard right” after leaving power in 2002 (especially on crime-related issues) and consolidating itself as the main opposition force against the Workers’ Party until Jair Bolsonaro emerged on the national scene. It remains to be seen how the rise of  Mr. Bolsonaro will disrupt PSDB’s prestige among conservative voters.
  • Meanwhile, the Workers’ Party is toothless and its power resides in smaller, poorer cities. Back in 2008, when then-President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva had 80-percentish approval ratings, the party snatched up 25 of the country’s 96 biggest cities — more than any other political group. But in the 2020 election it held none of these cities. Both in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, however, the party has picked veteran candidates who lack the capacity to galvanize its own militants, let alone disillusioned voters in two cities where the Workers’ Party has become a bogeyman for large parts of the electorate.
  • We also must keep an eye on what role President Jair Bolsonaro will play in the election. As we anticipated in September 15 Daily Briefing, the president has refrained itself from publicly endorsing any candidate before the runoff stage, but is engaged in backstage negotiations with the goal to hurt his political enemies — i.e. the Workers’ Party and former Health Minister Luiz Henrique Mandetta. However, as a Bolsonaro aid told The Brazilian Report, “the president is unpredictable, and could decide to do a photo op with a candidate of his choice out of the blue.”

São Paulo’s mayoral race

The São Paulo mayoral race still has no clear-cut favorite, according to consultancy Atlas Político. The first major poll of this electoral cycle shows incumbent Mayor Bruno Covas polling at 16 percent — with left candidate Guilherme Boulos and Congressman Celso Russomano tied in second place, with 12 percent each. Meanwhile, 13 percent of voters in Brazil’s largest city still don’t know who they will vote for in November. 

Mr. Covas apparently has the inside lane, but it remains too early to slap him with the favorite tag. With the pandemic, the election has remained as a background subject — and early polls usually reflect more name recognition rather than popularity. He is backed by Governor João Doria — who has been quite open about his own presidential ambitions. A display of strength in São Paulo could help enhance his profile with voters outside of his home state.

Meanwhile, Mr. Russomano has tried all sorts of alliances over the past few weeks, but has come out still empty-handed. Still, he enjoys Mr. Bolsonaro’s sympathy — and could have his support should he reach the runoff stage, which is far from a certain thing. “Celso Russomano usually has strong polling numbers at the start of the mayoral race, but then his candidacy loses steam,” says Cristiano Noronha, a political scientist at consultancy Arko Advice. 

“However, support from Jair Bolsonaro could change his fortunes.” In 2018, the president won 60 percent of São Paulo votes in the runoff election.

The race in Rio de Janeiro

It is no overstatement to say that Rio de Janeiro is facing a municipal election while it descends further and further into a true political hell. Mayor Marcelo Crivella has just escaped his fifth impeachment, amid investigations that he ran a mafia-like scheme within City Hall to embezzle public funds — and launder money through evangelical churches.

But corruption allegations are not even the biggest obstacle in Mr. Crivella’s way. His administration has been rated as “disastrous” by most observers, and only 14 percent of voters approved of his job, according to a March 2020 poll. The city is nearly bankrupt, and most basic services are subpar at best. For 68 percent of voters, the municipal healthcare system is the city’s biggest problem — topping by far concerns about urban violence. 

Don’t expect any push for renewal in Rio, as the race’s head-and-shoulders favorite is Eduardo Paes, Mr. Crivella’s predecessor, who is vying for a third term as mayor. However, he has been recently accused by state prosecutors of pocketing BRL 10.8 million from construction group Odebrecht during his 2012 re-election campaign. He dismissed the probe as an attempt to interfere with the upcoming municipal elections.

But even Mr. Paes has not been able to excite voters. His leading 19-percent polling is below the 22 percent of voters who intend to spoil their ballots on November 15.[/restricted]

Categories
Brazil Daily

Food insecurity hit 10.2 million Brazilians before the pandemic

Today, we talk about the food insecurity problem in Brazil — which inflicts a major human and economic toll on the country. The issues with vacancies in regulatory agencies. And the multiple impeachment cases across Brazil. 

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Brazil back on the Hunger Map

Brazil has made its unwelcome return to the [restricted]world’s Hunger Map — the list of countries in which over 5 percent of the population is food insecure. New data from the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics shows that, in 2018, 4.6 percent of households face severe food insecurity. In just five years, over 3 million Brazilians moved into the category of those who have nothing to eat on a regular basis, the total number in the country in this category stands at 10.2 million.

Why it matters. The data refers to 2018 — meaning that the post-pandemic situation might be even worse. “In 2020, people who were already in informal, precarious jobs have now lost their income,” says economist Marcos Andrade, a professor at São Paulo’s Mackenzie University.

  • Due to budgetary constraints, the government has halved the coronavirus emergency salary to vulnerable populations, now valued at BRL 300 (USD 57). For the country’s poorest 10 percent, the cut resulted in an immediate 44-percent loss in purchasing power.
  • Moreover, access to food products has been reduced due to recent price hikes. Back in February, BRL 100 (USD 19) could buy 21 kilos of brown beans; now, it is only enough for 14 kilos. The same amount bought 35 kilos of rice in February–– buys only 26 kilos now.

Inequality. Food security data offers a clear picture of Brazil’s deep-rooted inequalities. Hunger is more prevalent in rural areas, among blacks and multiracial people, and in single-parent homes. 

Compromised future. Half of Brazil’s children under five years old live in food-insecure households. Besides the immense human impact, Brazil’s inability to protect its population from malnutrition will have major effects. According to the Global Panel on Agriculture and Food Systems for Nutrition, nutrition problems incur costs through impaired learning, poor school performance, compromised adult labour productivity, and increased health care costs.

  • Adult earnings are reduced by 2.4 percent for every 1-percent loss in potential height. 

The problem with Brazil’s regulatory agencies

The General Data Protection Law comes into effect today, but without a regulatory body to monitor how to implement the new rules on how to handle customers’ personal information. Despite an August 26 decree detailing the structure and responsibilities of the National Data Protection Agency (ANPD), the government has yet to appoint any of its five board members. Who in turn will need to be confirmed by the Senate.

  • A total of 43 business associations urged the government to take swift action, warning that the lack of a regulatory body would incur unnecessary litigation and insecurity about how the new law will be interpreted.

Big picture. The ongoing woes with the ANPD are part of a bigger issue: it has been 14 months since the government last appointed anyone to the country’s 11 regulatory agencies. Currently, interim members occupy 40 percent of board seats.

Who’s to blame. While the government’s incompetence is certainly to blame, the Senate also bears some responsibility for this situation. Senate President Davi Alcolumbre has held off confirmation hearings when the names put forward by the administration did not suit his interests. The same scenario happened with antitrust watchdog Cade and the National Civil Aviation Agency (Anac) as well.

Why it matters. Seen as the “fourth level” of governance in Brazil, the decisions of regulatory agencies can have a huge impact on the daily lives of the population, establishing rules and standards in a number of key sectors


How impeachment day went

Thursday was an eventful and unusual day — even by the standards of Brazilian politics. A total of three impeachment cases were heard before local legislatures, concerning two state governors and the mayor of Brazil’s most famous city. Here is what happened:

  • Rio de Janeiro (state). In a whopping 24-0 vote, a special committee authorized the State Congress to hold an impeachment trial against suspended Governor Wilson Witzel. He is accused of embezzling funds earmarked for the fight against Covid-19. The unprecedented unanimous vote suggests that Mr. Witzel’s case is beyond salvation.
  • Rio de Janeiro (city). Meanwhile, the state capital’s City Council decided — in a 24-20 vote — not to open impeachment proceedings against Mayor Marcelo Crivella. He is under criminal investigation for allegedly siphoning public money and laundering it through evangelical churches. This marked the fifth time Mr. Crivella escaped impeachment proceedings.
  • Santa Catarina. Governor Carlos Moisés is accused of fiscal irresponsibility, for granting wage bumps to state prosecutors without authorization from lawmakers. In a 33-6 vote, lawmakers decided to move forward with the impeachment process. Now, a committee formed by five lawmakers, five state judges, and the president of the Santa Catarina Court of Justice will have five days to weigh on the accusations and issue a recommendation to the State Congress floor — who will then vote on whether or not to impeach Mr. Moisés.

What else you need to know today

  • Business. The services sector is the backbone of the Brazilian economy. But a recent study by think tank Fundação Getulio Vargas shows that, once government aid programs to businesses finish, 25 percent of companies in the services sector will layoff employees or permanently close. Among businesses which plan to fire staff members, 10 percent say layoffs could affect up to 20 percent of their employees.
  • Diplomacy. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arrives today in Boa Vista, in Brazil’s northernmost state of Roraima, to discuss the migration of Venezuelan citizens. Mr. Pompeo will meet with Foreign Minister Ernesto Araújo before heading to Colombia for a meeting with President Ivan Duque.
  • Environment. Next week, the Supreme Court will hold a public hearing to discuss how the government is managing a fund to promote environmental protection programs. In the days leading up to the hearing, the Environment Ministrytried to unfreeze funds which have been left untouched for the past year and a half — approving BRL 530 million (USD 101 million) for actions meant to combat climate change.
  • Justice. Supreme Court Justice Marco Aurélio Mello has suspended a deposition President Jair Bolsonaro was set to give next week — as part of an investigation into whether or not he illegally interfered with the Federal Police. Another justice had ordered Mr. Bolsonaro to give an in-person testimony (instead of a written one), but Justice Mello delayed the process until the full Supreme Court bench weighs in on the issue. A trial date must be set by Supreme Court Chief Justice Luiz Fux.
  • Reforms. The government’s whip in the House, Congressman Ricardo Barros, said on Thursday that the administration believes it is possible to approve two major reforms — an overhaul of the federative pact, which sets new responsibilities for states, municipalities and the federal government, and the civil service reform —  before the end of 2020. However, as we showed earlier this week, the median time frame for lawmakers to pass constitutional amendments is no less than 246 days. It takes even longer during election years such as 2020–– 327 days.[/restricted]
Categories
Power

It’s impeachment season in Brazil

It has become a cliché to say that the pandemic has precipitated processes that already existed. For Richard N. Haass, president of the Council of Foreign Relations, “Covid-19 will not so much change the basic direction of world history as accelerate it.” In the case of Brazilian politics, this accelerated history means a faster process of political degradation. On September 17, a grand total of three separate impeachment proceedings will be voted on by legislators — which could result in the ousting of two state governors and one mayor.

To borrow from Tolstoi, every administration close to impeachment is crumbling in its own way. So we break down what is at stake here.[restricted]

impeachment crivella witzel moises
From left to right: Wilson Witzel, Carlos Moisés, Marcelo Crivella

Suspended Rio Governor Wilson Witzel

Of all high-profile politicians facing impeachment, none looks more doomed than Rio de Janeiro’s suspended Governor Wilson Witzel. He is accused of siphoning funds from the state’s Covid-19 emergency budget and launder kickbacks through his wife’s law firm.

Back in June, lawmakers opened impeachment proceedings in an unprecedented 69-0 vote against Mr. Witzel, showing how politically weak the Governor has become. His suspension also deprives him of his ability to distribute patronage which can be so persuasive in such situations.

At this point, a committee of 25 state lawmakers will decide whether or not to start an impeachment trial against Mr. Witzel — and anything other than a green light would be a shocker.


UPDATE: The committee unanimously voted for the impeachment process to continue, in yet another sign of Mr. Witzel’s lack of political support.


Mr. Witzel’s downfall is set to be as meteoric as his rise. In Rio’s 2018 gubernatorial race, he went from unknown candidate to winner in a matter of days, riding the conservative wave headed by Jair Bolsonaro. But after presenting himself as a possible challenger in the 2022 presidential election, relations between the two soured.

Rio de Janeiro Mayor Marcelo Crivella

Marcello Crivella has proven to have many political lives. Despite overseeing an administration deemed as “catastrophic” by almost everyone, he has escaped four impeachment requests — the last of which was voted down just two weeks ago.

This time around, Mr. Crivella is accused of running a corruption ring inside City Hall, using evangelical churches (he is a preacher ) to launder the embezzled money. 

City councilors will vote on whether or not to kick-off an impeachment process, but despite the ongoing criminal investigation against the mayor, he is set to dodge impeachment yet again. Mr. Crivella is likely to limp his way into the November election, when he will ask for a new four-year term.


UPDATE: In a 24-20 vote, city councilors rejected the impeachment request, with six abstentions.


Santa Catarina Governor Carlos Moisés

Conservative Governor Carlos Moisés is accused of fiscal irresponsibility, for granting wage bumps to state prosecutors without authorization from lawmakers.

The impeachment process against him, as a matter of fact, is at a later stage than those of Messrs. Witzel and Crivella. A report recommending his ousting has been approved by a special committee, and now a roll call vote will seal his fate.

It will take 27 of the State Congress’ 40 members to remove Mr. Moisés.


UPDATE: Santa Catarina lawmakers voted in favor of opening impeachment proceedings against Carlos Moisés. Now, a committee formed by five lawmakers, five state judges, and the president of the Santa Catarina Court of Justice will have five days to analyze the accusations against the governor.


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Categories
Power

Brazilian Feds target big law firms accused of corruption

One of the most common legal strategies in Brazil is not taught in any law school and left out of the textbooks. It is known in Portuguese as “embargos auriculares,” something that could be translated as “close-to-ear appeal.” The expression is a derogatory way of describing a common practice in courts — when lawyers visit judges’ chambers and sweet-talk them into a favorable ruling. It implies that counselors use more than their words to get their way, offering some sort of under-the-table deal.

This week, Operation Car Wash launched a new set of charges against big law firms, suggesting that the hidden meaning of the expression “close-to-ear appeals” might be less of an urban legend and more of a common strategy. [restricted]

Investigators launched Operation S $cheme (yes, with a dollar sign), targeting 15 big law firms accused of embezzling funds from the so-called “Sistema S” — a group of non-profit organizations run by the private sector (yet financed with public money), which promote educational and cultural activities across the country. According to prosecutors, law firms have become fronts for money-laundering schemes or for paying kickbacks to judges.

The list of high-profile names targeted by the Feds includes the likes of Cristiano Zanin, Roberto Teixeira — both of whom represent former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva —, Frederick Wassef — a shady lawyer who runs errands for the Bolsonaro family —, and relatives of members of high courts and even the Federal Accounts Court (TCU) — a sort of audit tribunal that monitors public spending and is supposed to act as a deterrent to corruption.

Among the relatives of the judges being targeted is the son of Justice Humberto Martins, who presides over Brazil’s second-highest judicial body, the Superior Court of Justice (STJ).

Why the Feds are targeting big law firms

Part of the investigation was based on a plea bargain agreement made with Orlando Diniz, who for 20 years headed three branches of Sistema-S organizations in Rio de Janeiro. Mr. Diniz was arrested as part of the corruption ring run by former Rio Governor Sérgio Cabral — who has already racked up dozens of corruption convictions.

According to investigators, at least BRL 151 million (USD 28.5 million) of the BRL 355 million paid by Mr. Diniz’s organizations to law firms was siphoned off as part of the scheme. So far, prosecutors have presented charges against 25 people — 24 of whom are lawyers — for criminal association, embezzlement and influence peddling.

Prosecutors are claiming that Lula’s lawyers formed the “core” of the criminal ring, representing Mr. Diniz since 2012.

Cristiano Zanin denies any wrongdoing and says the accusations are a ruse to divert his attention from the former president’s case. Mr. Zanin represents the leftist leader at the Supreme Court, trying to overturn past convictions by claiming the case against Lula was biased against him.

The criminal group would also include Caio Rocha, son of former STJ Presiding Justice César Asfor Rocha, Tiago Cedraz, son of TCU member Aroldo Cedraz, and Eduardo Martins, son of incumbent STJ Presiding Justice Humberto Martins. The latter allegedly received BRL 77 million from Mr. Diniz’s organizations due to his political connections, in return for guarantees of favorable verdicts in cases of interest.

Prosecutors claim the amounts paid for council were unreasonably high — suggesting they were actually payments for influence peddling. However, investigators add that there is no evidence that any of the justices associated with those lawyers were ever bribed.

Questionable behind-the-scenes relations

Some of the most exclusive law firms in Brazil are headed by former members of higher courts — or by their relatives. More than expertise of the law, they offer access to the chambers of pretty much any judge in the country. While having private conversations with members of the bench isn’t, in itself, illegal, Operation S $cheme shows that this spirit of camaraderie among judges can easily cross the line into criminal territory.

Former Supreme Court Chief Justice Joaquim Barbosa was one of the few judges ever to criticize that practice. “There are many [judges] who should be tossed from the bench. The collusion between lawyers and judges is pernicious and damaging to the rule of law. We all know that many decisions are based on friendships and absolutely out of bounds,” he said during a 2013 trial that convicted a judge for ruling in favor of his friends.

Former Justice Eliana Calmon, who served as the ombudsman of the National Justice Council, went as far as talking about “criminals with gavels.” She said in an interview: “These are still boys — and all are millionaires! This is an old issue that has grown more problematic in recent years. This includes not only judges’ sons and daughters, but also their spouses.”

A couple of examples of this practice come from Rio. Disgraced former Governor Sérgio Cabral received kickbacks from government contractors and laundered money through his wife’s law firm — a scheme allegedly copied by current Governor Wilson Witzel (who has recently been suspended from office and faces impeachment proceedings).

This umbilical relationship between big firms and members of the bench are one of the most deleterious features of Brazil’s legal system — leading 60 percent of Brazilians to distrust judges

And we all know, the legitimacy of the courts depends on the people’s trust.[/restricted]

Categories
Podcast

Explaining Brazil #124: Rio’s descent into political hell

This week’s episode, Rio de Janeiro’s descent into political hell, was supported by AMEC, the Brazilian Association of Investors in Capital Markets. AMEC brings together around 60 institutional investors from Brazil and abroad — with a combined portfolio of over USD 130 billion.

It was also supported by AirYourVoice.com, a platform that offers a SEO Mastery course which will help make your company’s website the top-ranked in your field, in no time at all. 


Rio de Janeiro was the center of the world in 2014 and 2016, when Brazil hosted the football World Cup and the Olympics. It seemed like a turning point for the City, with Brazil’s soft power reaching a historic high. 

Four years later, everything seems to have gone downhill. Every single living former governor of Rio has been jailed at some point, and the incumbent governor could face the same destiny. Apart from its political troubles, Rio continues to battle the Covid-19 outbreak, violent crime, police brutality, and an economic collapse that has no end in sight.

This week, we discuss Rio’s endemic corruption problem.

Listen and subscribe to our podcast from your mobile device:

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On this episode:

  • Mauricio Santoro holds a Ph.D. in Political Science. He is currently an Assistant Professor and Head of the Department of International Relations at the State University of Rio de Janeiro. He also writes op-eds for The Brazilian Report.
  • Benjamin Fogel is a regular contributor to The Brazilian Report, he also writes for Jacobin magazine and Africa is a Country. He is working on a Ph.D. on the history of Brazilian corruption politics at New York University.

Background reading:

Do you have a suggestion for our next Explaining Brazil podcast? Drop us a line at podcast@brazilian.report

Don’t forget to follow us on Twitter and Facebook.

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Categories
Society

Numbers of the week: Sep. 5, 2020

This is Brazil by the Numbers, a weekly digest of the most interesting figures tucked inside the latest news about Brazil. A selection of numbers that help explain what is going on in Brazil. This week: the latest coronavirus figures, Brazilians looking forward to a vaccine, earthquakes in the Northeast, Rio Governor Wilson Witzel loses in court, the Q2 economic drop, a new chapter for the emergency salary 

Send any suggestions to contribute@brazilian.report

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4 million coronavirus cases

Brazil became just the second country[restricted] in the world to hit the 4-million-case mark on Thursday evening. Still, there is some room for optimism, as data suggests that the spread could be slowing down. It took Brazil 25 days to go from 3 to 4 million cases — two days longer than its transition from 2 to 3 million. Moreover, new deaths and infections saw a slight drop in August. While experts celebrate the positive numbers, they warn that the curves are still plateauing at a high level.

Meanwhile, President Jair Bolsonaro continued his campaign of gaslighting the Brazilian population. He patted himself on the back once more, saying his response to the pandemic was “unparalleled.” Moreover, he declared that “no-one can force anyone to take a Covid-19 vaccine,” raising fears of a potential anti-vax wave in the country. But as it turns out, coercing patients is unlikely to be necessary. An Ipsos-Mori poll in 27 countries ranked Brazilians as the second-most eager population to receive a coronavirus vaccine once it is available, with 88 percent saying they would take it.


Coronavirus emergency salary

President Jair Bolsonaro confirmed the extension of the emergency salary program until the end of the year — but the benefit will be halved to BRL 300 (USD 55) due to budgetary constraints. But the move already faces some opposition in Congress. Since the pandemic started, Mr. Bolsonaro has been heavily criticized for his Covid-19 denialism. However, as The Brazilian Report showed, the financial aid improved the lives of millions of people — and boosted the president’s approval ratings among lower classes.


14 tremors in Bahia

A 4.6-magnitude earthquake was felt in several regions of the northeastern state of Bahia, including cities in the Recôncavo Baiano region and state capital Salvador. No-one was injured but several homes were damaged. From August 30 to September 1, Bahia recorded 14 tremors, all of them in the city of Amargosa, according to the Brazilian Seismographic Network (RSBR). Experts say these zones are seismogenic, which increases the propensity of the phenomenon. Though these regions — and Brazil as a whole — do not suffer from violent earthquakes like other countries, this recent small “clusters” of tremors are quite common.


-9.7 percent in Q2 2020

The Brazilian economy shrank 9.7 percent during Q2 2020 — during which social isolation was more strictly enforced in Brazil. This was the second-straight quarter of negative growth, putting the country in a technical recession

Q2 2020 data was the biggest quarterly drop on record. Still, the drop was already priced into Brazilian market performance. Brazil’s benchmark stock index Ibovespa rose 2.2 percent after the GDP announcement. Moreover, economists say the data is a look into the rearview mirror, showing what they believe was rock bottom for the country during the coronavirus crisis — and many expect a “Nike swoosh-shaped recovery,” implying the sharp fall followed by a slower, steady recuperation. However, this is conditioned to the approval of structural reforms, as the latest episode of the Explaining Brazil podcast informed.


15-1 loss for Witzel

A panel of 15 members of the Superior Court of Justice, Brazil’s second-highest judicial body, confirmed Rio de Janeiro Governor Wilson Witzel’s 180-day suspension from office. He is suspected of leading a corruption ring to embezzle state funds originally earmarked for the coronavirus fight. Interim Governor Cláudio Castro is planning a cabinet overhaul — using that reshuffling as an olive branch to State Congress, which is set to vote on Mr. Witzel’s impeachment. Go deeper.


125 years (yes, years) for a verdict

The Brazilian Supreme Court has finally closed a case that had been going on for 125 years. It concerned the possession of the Guanabara Palace in Rio de Janeiro, a neoclassical residence built in the 1850s and subject to a tiff between Brazil’s old royal family and the federal government. The case in question, a possessory action, was actually filed by Princess Isabel herself, daughter of Emperor Pedro II and one of the most important figures in Brazil’s history, being responsible for signing the so-called Golden Law in 1888 which abolished slavery in the country.

Almost a century after the original plaintiff had died, the Supreme Court dismissed the case and ruled in favor of the government.[/restricted]

Categories
Brazil Daily

Brazilian companies say worst is behind them

Today we’re looking at growing optimism among Brazilian companies, the government’s attempt at a ‘patriotic Black Friday,’ and a new public service reform will be submitted.

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The worst could be behind most Brazilian companies. But don’t pop the champagne just yet

By the end of July, 37 percent of Brazil’s 3 million-plus companies still felt the negative effects of the pandemic. [restricted]But for most of them, the worst has already passed. As a matter of fact, one-quarter of firms report that they perceive the coronavirus’ impact as positive on their business, according to the latest study on the matter by the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE). 

Why it matters. There has been a major improvement from late in June, when 62 percent of companies still felt the negative effects of the crisis. IBGE’s Alessandro Pinheiro, however, tempers his optimism: “The numbers show stability within a scenario of great difficulty.”

  • The Brazilian economy is fueled by family consumption, which fell considerably in Q2). But consumption decisions are based on sentiment, and the survey suggests Brazilians are now less fearful about the economic outlook. 

By the numbers. Data journalist Aline Gatto Boueri breaks down the results:

  • The services sector — the backbone of the Brazilian economy — was hit the hardest. After five months of the coronavirus in the country, 43 percent of companies still felt the blow.
  • The North region, the first to experience a collapse in local healthcare networks, has the highest rate of companies reporting positive effects from the current scenario (41 percent).
  • Most companies (55 percent) say there was no impact whatsoever on their ability to produce goods or serve customers.

Disparity. But the numbers also show how much tougher life can be for small companies. Bigger, better-structured businesses have less difficulty to access loans or even benefit from government programs to delay tax payments. Meanwhile, 19 percent of big companies laid off staff — against less than 8 percent of small firms.

  • Small companies account for 99 percent of all businesses in Brazil, making up one-quarter of the Brazilian GDP and employing 52 percent of the registered workforce.

Government tries to boost consumer spending with “patriotic Black Friday”

From now until September 12, retailers will be offering major discounts to celebrate the second installment of the so-called “Brazil Week” — a campaign created by the federal government in 2019 to increase consumption and help retailers. The discount frenzy will start as Brazil surpasses the mark of 4 million coronavirus cases, bearing the motto “Moving forward, with care and confidence.”

Why it matters. Last year, the initiative helped boost online transactions by 41 percent, according to Ebit/Nielsen, and saw sales rise 11.3 percent in brick and mortar stores.

  • Finance reporter Natália Scalzaretto writes that neither the government nor retail associations have made any predictions for this year, though.

Sanitary measures. Sector representatives have provided stores with suggested guidelines for safe reopening. They want to avoid the scenes of mayhem witnessed during the opening of a home appliance store in Rio two weeks ago.

shopping frenzy brazil
  • The Colombian government planned tax-free days to boost consumption earlier in the year. In June, sales went up by 30 percent — thanks, however, to massive amounts of shoppers flocking to stores. At the same time, the country’s infection rates rose, leading President Iván Duque to postpone a second edition of the event.
  • Retail giant Via Varejo told The Brazilian Report that teams are instructed to let consumers inside stores “gradually.”

Trends. Holding a Black Friday-like campaign amid a pandemic seems like a health hazard, but data shows it makes sense on the economic side of things, as consumption picks up steam in Brazil. For instance, purchases of flagship smartphones — which cost at least three times the minimum wage — had a 175-percent uptick in August, after dropping 41 percent at the beginning of the pandemic. Experts say it is a normal trend: a “panic” phase, succeeded by a period of “indulgence.”

  • Meanwhile, another piece of data shows just how crucial the BRL 600 (USD 112) emergency salary has been to families. A study by the Central Bank based on debit card transactions shows that consumption is around 40 percent above pre-pandemic levels in poorer areas, despite the job market crisis. “This extra income is not coming from labor, but from the benefit,” said Marcelo Neri, one of Brazil’s biggest experts in socioeconomic research.

Debit-card transactions


Government to submit public service reform

The federal government will present Congress with its plans for administrative reform. But the project will not be as bold as Economy Minister Paulo Guedes initially wanted — and is expected to only concern future civil servants, not affecting the rights of current public employees.

Why it matters. Spending on salaries and pensions gobble up a sizable portion of the public budget — especially in cities and states. 

  • The strength of the civil servants’ lobby has also led to pay raises that many administrations simply cannot afford. State-level employees have seen their salaries increase by an average of 80 percent between 2004 and 2018.

Placebo. Usually, governments present radical reforms knowing they will be diluted in Congress. But this proposal begins life in a weaker position, choosing not to include a number of sensitive issues. The reform will be less of a cure for Brazil’s oversized public payroll and more like a placebo.


What else you need to know today

  • Rio 1. A panel of 15 members of the Superior Court of Justice, Brazil’s second-highest judicial body, confirmed Rio de Janeiro Governor Wilson Witzel’s 180-day suspension from office. He is suspected of leading a corruption ring to embezzle state funds originally earmarked for the coronavirus fight. Interim Governor Cláudio Castro is planning a cabinet overhaul — using that reshuffling as an olive branch to State Congress, which is set to vote on Mr. Witzel’s impeachment.
  • Rio 2. Meanwhile, Rio de Janeiro City Council is set to vote on whether to open impeachment proceedings against Mayor Marcelo Crivella. He is accused of using municipal employees to prevent journalists from reporting on the city’s subpar health network. Mr. Crivella has already dodged another three attempts of ousting, thanks to a heavy dose of horse-trading. 
  • Deforestation. According to Reuters, data from August on the number of fires in Brazil’s Amazon requires correction and will likely show an increase in comparison to last year, taking the number of blazes to a decade high. Brazil has recently felt the pressure from international investors who threaten to pull their money from the country unless the government enforces environmental controls.
  • Payments. Central Bank Chairman Roberto Campos Neto said the Facebook-owned instant payment platform WhatsApp Pay will get the go-ahead from regulators, as concerns about market concentration and data protection were alleviated. “It will be approved,” Mr. Campos Neto said during an online event. WhatsApp Messenger is installed on 99 percent of Brazilian smartphones and it is used by over 120 million people — which worried the Central Bank about possible market disruptions.
  • Dams. The Senate passed a bill altering the National Dam Safety Plan (PNSB). The new framework aims at making controls stricter in order to avoid tragedies such as the ruptures in Mariana (2015) and Brumadinho (2019). In the case of a collapse, however, the new rules create more agile ways to compensate victims and punish culprits. A report by the National Water Agency (ANA) shows that 1,124 dams in Brazil are “high-risk structures.” And nearly 3,000 present a high potential of causing a catastrophe due to their proximity to municipalities and the nature of the waste being stored.[/restricted]
Categories
Brazil Daily

Breaking down Brazil’s 2021 Budget

Today, we break down the government’s budget proposal for 2021. A curious coronavirus case could change how we understand the pandemic. And the battle for Rio de Janeiro.

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Amid pandemic, Brazil slashes health budget

Judging by the Economy Ministry’s wishful budget proposal for 2021,[restricted] Covid-19 will no longer be an issue in Brazil as of December 31. Not only did the government not factor in a potential extension of the state of public calamity approved by Congress in March, but it also slashed the Health Ministry’s budget for next year to BRL 136.7 billion (USD 24.9 billion) — even less than the BRL 138.9 billion expected before Covid-19 kicked off. Reporter Natália Scalzaretto breaks the proposal down:

Restraints. The Health Ministry is not the only one to face cuts in 2021, being accompanied by Environment, Infrastructure, and Mines and Energy. On the flip side, other departments — such as Education, Defense, Economy, and Communications — saw their budget rise.

  • In the case of the Economy Ministry, the increase is explained by a bump in payments of pensions and benefits. As we showed in the last Weekly Report, nearly 45 percent of the population is receiving some form of financial assistance from the government.
  • The budget for investments in 2021 is slated to be BRL 28.6 billion — 56 percent more than what was expected for 2020.

Primary deficit. Next year will be the eighth in a row in which Brazil’s public accounts remain in the red. The central government’s primary deficit is expected to reach 3 percent of GDP — that is, BRL 233.6 billion.

GDP. The Economy Ministry cut GDP estimates for 2021 from +3.3 to +3.2 percent. That is a conservative approach, below markets’ expectations of 3.5 percent growth.

Minimum wage. The government proposed a 2.1-percent minimum wage raise, to BRL 1,067 (USD 194) — just enough to cover inflation. The previous budgetary draft foresaw a higher value (BRL 1,079). That change reflects a smaller inflation rate, but it is also the result of a cost-cutting approach, as spending BRL 12 less per worker saves the government BRL 4.26 billion, as pensions and benefits are pegged to the minimum wage.

No room to spare. There is only BRL 96 billion left for the administration’s discretionary expenses, which include stipends for researchers and athletes, G&A expenses, and environmental initiatives. That could increase to BRL 108 billion thanks to congressional budgetary grants — an instrument to give lawmakers a say in public spending — but it remains below the estimated BRL 120 billion minimum to avoid a government shutdown.

Cash transfer. The budget proposal made no mention of Renda Brasil, the beefed-up version of the Bolsa Família cash-transfer program promised by President Jair Bolsonaro and Economy Minister Paulo Guedes. That has led economists to call Monday’s announcement a “mere formality, a long way from the final draft.” Sources told our Brasília correspondent Débora Álvares that the idea is to keep Renda Brasil off the federal budget, instead increasing the allowance for Bolsa Família, which will subsequently be reformulated.

Golden Rule. The government will need Congress to approve an extra BRL 453-billion credit in 2021 in order to respect the so-called ‘golden rule,’ which stipulates that the government cannot create new public debt to pay for mandatory expenses.

Bottom line. The 2021 budget proposal suggests Brazil will be in for a rough year with little wiggle room for spending. Investors may take heart in indications that the country will not see its debt balloon, nor will it breach the public spending cap. Still, many are skeptical about Brazil’s ability to fund itself — which is forcing the Treasury Department to borrow money for much shorter periods, reducing the average maturity of the country’s debt profile and raising the need for refinancing on a more regular basis.


Five months infected with the coronavirus

There is still plenty we don’t know about the coronavirus and Covid-19. One pioneer study headed by the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro added to that uncertainty, documenting the case of a woman who remained infected with the virus for 152 days — the longest ever recorded in the world. The woman, identified as “Patient #3,” showed mild symptoms for only three weeks, but the virus stayed in her body for five whole months, being able to multiply and contaminate others.

Why it matters. The study could help researchers understand the role of asymptomatic patients in the spread of Covid-19.

Research. The finding is part of a task force that tested over 3,000 people, most of them health workers in Rio de Janeiro. Around 40 percent of people continued to test positive over 14 days after showing symptoms — the period after which the Health Ministry says people can no longer transmit the virus and can leave confinement.

  • The World Health Organization and U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stipulate an even smaller isolation period of just 10 days, providing patients have been asymptomatic for at least three straight days.

Transmission. Scientists believe that the coronavirus can hide in unknown parts of the body and return to the mouth and nose after time — which would make a patient contagious again. 


Bolsonaro moves to control Rio

On Friday, Rio de Janeiro Governor Wilson Witzel was suspended from office for alleged links to a crime ring that embezzled funds from the state’s coronavirus budget. Lieutenant Governor Cláudio Castro — a low-profile political operator known for being a fervent Catholic — is now in charge on an interim basis. And his first move as governor consisted of sending a political message to Mr. Witzel. On social media, Mr. Castro celebrated his rapprochement with Senator Flávio Bolsonaro — a sworn enemy of the suspended governor.

Why it matters. The state of Rio de Janeiro is close to bankruptcy and whoever is in charge will inevitably require federal aid. But as the Bolsonaros have shown on multiple occasions, their support comes with many strings attached.

  • Later this year, the sitting governor will appoint the heads of the local prosecution office and the Civil Police — institutions that are currently investigating Senator Flávio for allegedly operating a money-laundering scheme.

Legal battle. The Superior Court of Justice (STJ) will decide tomorrow on whether to confirm Mr. Witzel’s suspension — and the president’s office is reportedly working behind the scenes to make sure it will. Meanwhile, however, Mr. Witzel has asked the Supreme Court to step in. Chief Justice Dias Toffoli ordered the STJ to explain the reasons behind its Friday decision.

Bottom line. While there seems to be robust evidence of Mr. Witzel’s alleged wrongdoings, the way the case has been handled has caused suspicion that the case’s judges and prosecutors are acting politically.


What else you need to know today

  • Emergency salary. Later today, the government is expected to announce the new value for the emergency coronavirus benefit, which currently consists of monthly BRL 600 payments. Economy Minister Paulo Guedes and President Jair Bolsonaro have reportedly agreed upon four installments of BRL 300 — which would give the government time to develop a flagship cash-transfer policy before the end of the year. However, with the benefit reaching 65 million people, slashing it by half will not be an easy sell in Congress. Many lawmakers are already saying they will not support the reduction. Regardless, the current terms of the aid come with a price tag of BRL 50 billion a month — which the government cannot afford.
  • Bolsonaro. According to CNN Brasil, President Jair Bolsonaro will undergo surgery to remove a small kidney stone in September. His health has been cause for concern since the 2018 campaign, when he suffered a life-threatening stab wound in the abdomen. In July, he tested positive for Covid-19.
  • Trade. In another gesture to please the U.S., Foreign Minister Ernesto Araújo has lobbied for a 90-day renewal of Brazil’s tax-free quota for foreign ethanol. According to newspaper Folha de S.Paulo, the president has been convinced to go along with the change — without it, all U.S. ethanol sold to Brazil would be taxed.
  • São Paulo. Brazil’s largest city already has 17 pre-candidates for its mayoral election scheduled for November. A survey published on Monday places incumbent Mayor Bruno Covas and lawmaker Celso Russomano — who will be running for City Hall for the third time in a row — lead the race with voting intentions of around 20 to 24 percent, depending on the list of candidates voters are presented with.[/restricted]
Categories
Brazil Weekly

Justice oversteps bounds in Rio Governor suspension case

This week, a look into how the Justice system has become excessively political. And a massive police operation against Brazil’s most powerful criminal organization.

Important: Next Monday is a federal holiday, Brazil’s Independence Day. Therefore, next week’s Weekly Report will be sent out on Tuesday, September 8.

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What Rio governor suspension says about Brazil’s Justice system

On Wednesday, the Superior Court of Justice decides [restricted]on whether to uphold a Friday decision by one of its justices, which suspended Rio de Janeiro Governor Wilson Witzel from office due to his alleged involvement in a corruption scheme to embezzle part of the state’s coronavirus budget. The individual decision was highly controversial, raising suspicions of being politically-driven — it also is a good example of how the Justice system operates in Brazil, writes reporter José Roberto Castro.

Exception becomes the rule. Brazilian high courts are designed to work as collegiate boards, with the intention of reaching fairer decisions. The Supreme Court has 11 justices, while the Superior Court of Justice (STJ), the second-highest judicial body in the land, has 33 members. Individual decisions should only occur in exceptional cases — and never in consequential decisions such as suspending a governor from office.

  • In 2010, the Superior Court of Justice authorized the Federal Police to arrest a sitting governor — but did so only after the entire court voted on the decision.

Overt politicization of Justice. Both Brazilian courts and the Federal Prosecution Office have become excessively politicized. And, as President Jair Bolsonaro has openly used his power to name two Supreme Court justices in the next two years as a carrot, it leads to suspicions that judges are using their courts to audition for the top job in Brazilian law. The fact that prosecutors and judges often praise Mr. Bolsonaro and bash his opponents on social media only adds to the suspicions.

  • The STJ’s former presiding justice granted house arrest benefits to Fabrício Queiroz, a longtime friend of the president who is believed to have run a money-laundering scheme within the office of Senator Flávio Bolsonaro — the president’s son. He remained at large for over one year — which would disqualify him from receiving said benefits under normal circumstances.
  • Just two days before Mr. Witzel was suspended, Brazil’s top prosecutor issued a recommendation that Senator Flávio Bolsonaro should be granted parliamentary immunity in the money-laundering probe, despite the case not meeting the criteria to do so.

Witzel v. Bolsonaro. Elected on Mr. Bolsonaro’s coattails, Mr. Witzel quickly became a sworn enemy of the president’s, openly vying for the top job himself in 2022. One accuses the other of using their power to direct law enforcement against adversaries. Speaking on Friday about the judicial decision, Mr. Witzel said he is being suspended because Mr. Bolsonaro reportedly wants to influence the appointment of the next Rio top prosecutor — a decision typically made by the sitting governor.

Flipside. Judges and prosecutors are not the only ones to blame for the political contamination of the court system. Political parties also have become trigger-happy in filing lawsuits to settle disputes that should remain in congressional spheres.


BREAKING: A mega operation against Brazil’s most powerful drug gang

pcc federal police operation
Photo: Justice and Security Secretary of Minas/SSP-MG

Brazil’s Federal Police has launched a mega operation this morning against the First Command of the Capital (PCC), a drug gang that emerged in São Paulo in the early 1990s and became the country’s best-structured organized crime group.

  • Courts have frozen around BRL 252 million (USD 47 million) in assets and have issued over 600 arrest and search and seizure warrants against people linked to the group. The operation is being carried out in 20 of Brazil’s 27 states and over 1,000 law enforcement agents have been mobilized.
  • According to the police, 210 people currently incarcerated continuously received monthly stipends from the group for having occupied high-ranking positions within the criminal organization. The payments were made through individuals not connected to the PCC, in order to make them difficult to trace.

Why it matters. Today’s operation is one in a series of moves by law enforcement against the PCC.

The PCC. Brazil’s best-organized criminal group began as a prisoners’ union in the aftermath of the 1992 Carandiru massacre, when 111 inmates were slaughtered in just 30 minutes by police after a riot.

  • Few Brazilians knew about the group’s existence until May 12, 2006, when the PCC staged a series of attacks against police forces. This violence came in response to the state government’s transfer of 765 inmates – including the PCC’s alleged leader – to a maximum-security prison. On the following day, violent attacks were carried out outside of prisons, as 59 police officers were murdered in a total of 293 attacks.
  • Twenty-five years after its creation, the organization now has over 30,000 members spread across nearly every Brazilian state. According to some estimates, the PCC has an annual turnover of between BRL 400 million (USD 106 million) and BRL 800 million. The lower estimate is double what the gang was believed to have earned in 2015. If the PCC were a corporation, it would be among the wealthiest 500 companies in the country.

How the group manages its finances. PCC members who are not in prison must pay a BRL 950 monthly membership fee, nicknamed a “cebola” (onion). Inmates must pay “union dues” ranging from BRL 100 to 600. If a prisoner is unable to pay, he goes into debt and must repay the organization once he is released from jail – usually by committing crimes.

  • The group has yet to make the full transition to a mafia-like organization, with a series of legitimate businesses to operate as a front for illegal operations. Today, though, most of the group’s transactions remain in cash.

Markets

The deadline for Gol Airlines to pay a USD 300-million loan guaranteed by Delta Air Lines expires today. Ratings agencies, however, say default is likely. “Gol is facing constant cash burn without refinancing possibilities,” said Amalia Bulacios, of S&P, which rates Gol’s debt as CCC-. According to calculations by Reuters based on Gol’s cash flow, cash equivalents, and liquid investments, Brazil’s biggest airline could have just USD 285 million left in the bank.


Government benefits: the pandemic effect

The number of Brazilians in vulnerable situations and depending on government-issued benefits has quadrupled in 2020 — from 20.5 to 85.3 million from last year. In 2019, 10.8 percent of the population got money from the government, a rate that jumped to nearly 45 percent after the pandemic struck. In 25 of 27 states, there are more people getting the coronavirus emergency salary than there are formally employed workers.


Looking ahead

  • 2021 budget. The government must present its proposal for next year’s budget by the end of today. With the need for beefed-up aid programs, ministries are battling not to have their funds cut and reallocated. On Friday, Environment Minister Ricardo Salles pulled a bold move, announcing he was halting all actions against deforestation in the Amazon and Pantanal due to a lack of funds — which naturally generated an image crisis, and prompted Vice President Hamilton Mourão to publicly state that the money wouldn’t be cut. But not all other cabinet members will be able to pull such maneuvers.
  • GDP. Brazil is set to publish its official Q2 GDP figures on September 1. We already know that the drop will be significant, as economic activity was halted for much of the quarter. According to most financial institutions’ projections, the quarterly drop will be somewhere between 8 and 10 percent. If projections are confirmed, it means that the Brazilian economy will regress to levels recorded in Q3 2009 — meaning that the pandemic has scrapped 11 years of (feeble) growth.
  • Emergency salary. President Jair Bolsonaro is expected to officially announce the extension of the coronavirus emergency salary on Tuesday. The BRL 600 (USD 111) payments were set to expire this month, but the president said he wants to maintain the program at least until the end of the year to help voters cope with the economic crisis. The value of future handouts is unknown — the current monthly price tag (BRL 50 million) is untenable, but Mr. Bolsonaro said the Economy Ministry’s BRL 200-per-person proposal is not good enough.
  • Elections. Starting today, parties are allowed to hold their conventions and choose their candidates for the November municipal elections. Due to the pandemic, campaigns will predominantly happen on social media and by way of TV and radio ads. This year brings a completely different context from the 2016 race, with a weakened Workers’ Party not well-placed in any of the biggest stages, namely São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro.

In case you missed it

  • Coronavirus. Brazil has so far registered 3.8 million coronavirus cases and 120,828 deaths. However, the 7-day rolling average of new daily deaths is now at 875 — still one of the highest in the world, but the lowest for the country since May 21. However, as The Brazilian Report showed on multiple occasions, the pandemic has progressed unevenly in a country that is as large and unequal as Brazil. 
  • Trade. The Mercosur-EU trade deal has lost its main advocate on the European side, with the resignation of Ireland’s Phil Hogan as the EU trade commissioner. Mr. Hogan stepped down after being accused of breaching Covid-19 guidelines during a trip to his home country Ireland. Climate Action Network (CAN) Europe said the Mercosur deal could be ‘put on ice’ by the European Commission.
  • 5G. According to estimates from Ericsson, the implementation of 5G networks in Brazil will generate investments of around BRL 9.2 billion from telecom companies until 2025. The company also discusses the creation of 205,000 direct jobs and an increase of up to 2.4 percent in the Brazilian GDP. Of course, Ericsson is not an unbiased observer, being a 5G provider itself.
  • Argentina. After almost six months of lockdown due to the coronavirus, bars and restaurants in Buenos Aires are reopening today, though with heavy restrictions such as no indoor seating and no more than four people per table. President Alberto Fernández announced last week that the quarantine would be extended until September 20 but groups of up to ten people would be allowed to meet outdoors in Argentina.[/restricted]
Categories
Coronavirus

BREAKING: Court suspends Rio governor for suspected corruption

Rio de Janeiro Governor Wilson Witzel has been temporarily stripped of his job after a decision from the Superior Court of Justice. Mr. Witzel is accused of leading a corruption scheme involving the embezzlement of state funds allocated to combating the coronavirus pandemic.

“I want to voice my outrage. These search and seizure operations are ‘search and get disappointed’ stunts. They haven’t found [anything against me]. Federal prosecutors are specializing in destabilizing state administrations with shallow investigations — and show the political use of the Federal Prosecution Office,” said Mr. Witzel.

Read more in this morning’s Daily Briefing.

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Brazil Daily

Rio Governor suspended in coronavirus corruption probe

Today, another major political crisis in Rio de Janeiro. The risks for the Mercosur-EU trade deal. And the first Brazilian carbon-neutral meat product line.

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? Court suspends Rio governor for suspected corruption  

Early this morning, Brazil’s Superior Court of Justice — the country’s second-highest judicial body — has temporarily stripped Rio de Janeiro Governor Wilson Witzel of his office. [restricted]Prosecutors accuse Mr. Witzel of heading a corruption scheme to embezzle funds earmarked for the state’s coronavirus efforts, involving the receipt of kickbacks from contractors and laundering money through a law firm belonging to his wife, Helena Witzel. The corruption scheme is suspected of siphoning around BRL 1 billion (USD 180 million) from pandemic-related procurement processes.

  • Also today, the Federal Police launched an operation to carry out several search and seizure warrants — also targeting Lieutenant Governor Cláudio Castro and the speaker of Rio de Janeiro’s State Congress, André Ceciliano. Multiple politicians have been subject to arrest warrants, including Rio’s former Economic Development Secretary Lucas Tristão and Pastor Everaldo, chairman of Mr. Witzel’s Social Christian Party.
  • Mr. Witzel was initially targeted by investigators in May, when federal marshals held a search and seizure operation at the Laranjeiras Palace, the official residence of the governor.
  • Last month, former Rio Health Secretary Edmar Santos was arrested as part of the same probe, and signed a plea deal agreement with investigators.

Why it matters. Mr. Witzel already faces impeachment proceedings — and today’s decision could damage his political situation beyond repair.

Rio history. All living former Rio de Janeiro governors have been arrested at some point, highlighting just how ingrained corruption is in the state’s public life.

Rapid rise, rapid fall. Wilson Witzel came to politics as a completely unknown gubernatorial candidate in 2018. Just days before the election, he was polling at a mere 4 percent — but he leapfrogged all candidates to pull off an upset thanks to attaching his name to Jair Bolsonaro in the final televised debate. But soon after taking office, Mr. Witzel became a bitter rival of the Bolsonaros, as he hoped to run for the presidency himself in 2022.

  • Mr. Witzel and the presidential clan have traded accusations of tampering with investigations. The Bolsonaros say the governor used local police to target Senator Flávio Bolsonaro (accused of money laundering), while Mr. Witzel says the president is using the Federal Police to persecute his political foes.
  • Today’s decision is not without controversy. It was issued by a single justice, instead of a panel of judges. Moreover, it was penned by Justice Benedito Gonçalves, who was briefly under investigation due to alleged links to corrupt construction firm OAS.
  • Political scientist Ricardo Ismael, a professor at Rio’s Pontifical Catholic University, believes the governor is fighting on too many fronts. “He has neither the political support nor the popular support he had when he was elected,” he told reporter José Roberto Castro.

Who is Pastor Everaldo? More than just a party chairman, Pastor Everaldo (one of the operation’s targets) is a relevant political figure. He is a preacher at the Assembly of God church, one of the leading Evangelical segments in Brazil. Pastor Everaldo ran for president in 2014 but won less than 1 percent of votes. He was accused of getting kickbacks to use his candidacy to support center-right candidate Aécio Neves.

  • In 2016, the preacher performed a baptism ceremony at the Jordan River for Jair Bolsonaro. The event marked the identification of the then-congressman with Evangelical voters — a constituency that became key to his successful presidential bid.

UPDATE: “I want to voice my outrage. These search and seizure operations are ‘search and get disappointed’ stunts. They haven’t found [anything against me]. Federal prosecutors are specializing in destabilizing state administrations with shallow investigations — and show the political use of the Federal Prosecution Office,” said Mr. Witzel.


Resignation of EU trade chief a blow to Mercosur deal

Phil Hogan resigned as the European Union trade commissioner, after he was accused of breaching Covid-19 guidelines during a trip to his home country Ireland.

Why it matters. Mr. Hogan was the main advocate for the long-awaited free trade agreement between the EU and Mercosur — the trade alliance made up of Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, and Paraguay — which has taken over 20 years of negotiations.

Trade. Announced in June 2019, the deal is set to create one of the biggest free-trade zones in the world — and could generate an extra USD 87.5 billion for Brazil’s GDP over the next 15 years. Among its main points, the deal would allow Mercosur countries to ship 99,000 tons of beef annually to the EU.

Yes, but … European countries with strong agricultural lobbies — such as France — have opposed the deal, saying South American agribusiness is reliant on deforestation. Mr. Hogan, however, has rejected this argument, saying critics exploit environmental concerns to favor their own trading interests.

Risks. With Mr. Hogan stepping down, many say that his replacement should reopen negotiations with Mercosur. Ends Europe reports that “Climate Action Network (CAN) Europe said the European Commission could now ‘put on ice’ the Mercosur deal, which would liberalise trade in commodities linked to deforestation, particularly after German Chancellor Angela Merkel recently expressed concern around ratifying it in its current form.”

  • “Instead of rewarding climate disruptors, the EU needs to make it much harder for non-EU actors to cut corners so they can outcompete EU industry and sell their carbon-heavy products in the EU,” said Nick Meynen, a policy officer at the European Environmental Bureau (EEB).

Brazil’s first carbon-neutral meat?

On Thursday, the Agriculture Ministry launched Brazil’s first carbon-neutral certification for meat products. This is a BRL 10-million (USD 1.8 million) project developed by sector giant Marfrig and the state-owned Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation (Embrapa). In order to obtain the certification, producers must plant trees on their pastures.

  • Studies suggest that around 200 trees per hectare would be enough to offset methane emissions by 11 adult bovines over one year. In Brazil, cattle herd density is 1.2 heads per hectare. Certification would be issued and verified by independent auditors.

Why it matters. The initiative comes as Brazil’s agriculture faces a severe image crisis due to growing international concerns around the industry’s links to Amazon deforestation. 

  • Back in July, Europe’s Nordea Asset Management dropped JBS — the world’s biggest meat-processing firm — from its portfolio.
  • Embrapa researchers hope that the certification will be adopted by companies as a way to add value to Brazil’s meat products — especially to rebrand them in key markets such as the U.S. and Europe. 

What else you need to know today

  • Sanitation. After Congress passed new rules for the basic sanitation sector, the National Water Agency (ANA) has begun drafting a regulatory framework of its own. The agency plans to submit proposals to public debate in H1 2021, electing three priorities: governance of local regulators, calculating compensation for assets (in cases of contract terminations), and the adaptation of binding agreements to the sector’s new rules.
  • Oil and gas. With the government’s timetable of privatizations disrupted by the pandemic, Petrobras sees the sale of its remaining 37.5-percent share in fuel distribution company BR Distribuidora as the main money-making deal to fulfill its divestment plan. The company hopes to raise over BRL 9.2 billion (USD 1.7 billion).
  • Amazon fires. Without finding any culprits, the Federal Police ended its investigation into coordinated efforts to ignite fires in the Amazon rainforest. Last year, several fires erupted in forest areas, attracting global attention and criticism. Vice President Hamilton Mourão played down the destruction of Amazon vegetation yesterday, saying that the roughly 24,000 fires in the region today is “a needle in a haystack” compared to the size of the Amazon. There are fears the fire crisis may scupper the Mercosur-EU trade deal (see above).
  • Profits. Brazilian bank Bradesco was the Latin American company to post the highest profits in H1 2020 — with net profits reaching USD 1.257 billion. Another bank, Itaú, came second, with USD 1.246 billion.
  • Violence/racism. According to the Violence Atlas, an annual report by the Brazilian Public Security Forum, black and multiracial individuals are the victims of three out of four murders in the country. Murder rates among these ethnic groups rose 11.5 percent over the past decade. Meanwhile, the murder rate among the rest of the population went down 12.9 percent.[/restricted]
Categories
Coronavirus

Problems with Health Ministry’s data system undermine struggle against Covid-19

States and cities across Brazil are encountering problems in accounting for the number of cases throughout the month of July. Anyone who has been paying attention to the official Covid-19 numbers in Brazil will be familiar with the instability and random variation in the numbers on the Health Ministry’s official platforms.

In recent weeks, six states saw random explosions in the numbers of new cases and deaths, reportedly because the Health Ministry’s data collection system was going through a phase of “normalization.” The result of all of this is random and unexplainable variations in the official numbers that no statistical model can account for. These fluctuations in the official numbers undermine all state analyses of the pandemic in Brazil.

In the city of São Paulo, for instance, between July 15 and 21, fewer than 700 new cases were recorded daily, giving the impression that the curve had been tamed. However, on July 22, 18,600 new cases were registered. In the days that followed, the number of new cases varied between 0 and 7,000. This was not due to a sudden explosion in cases, but was caused by problems with the Health Ministry’s system. If the platform for recording case and death numbers is prone to such irregularities, it makes it almost impossible for analysts to work out whether the infection curve has risen, plateaued, or declined. 

To make matters worse, states such as Rio de Janeiro, Rio Grande do Norte, Alagoas, Bahia, and Piauí are all facing the same problems with the Health Ministry’s platform. The ministry, which still lacks a full-time Health Minister, redesigned its portal in order to conceal key data in June. As The Brazilian Report has covered, the country’s fight against the pandemic has faced problems from the beginning with the Health Ministry’s data collection systems. The question is whether this is deliberate, sheer incompetence, or a combination of both.

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Coronavirus

Rio de Janeiro to suspend return to classes until August 20

Rio de Janeiro Governor Wilson Witzel decided on Wednesday to push back the return to in-person classes in the state for another 15 days, until August 20. The official decision, published on today’s edition of the State Gazette, says the measure was taken to “safeguard the public interest in preventing the spread of Covid-19.”

Rio de Janeiro was originally scheduled to reopen schools today, a decision that was met with heavy criticism from the outset on the behalf of education workers and health experts, who argued that a premature return to action would pose unnecessary risks to students and teachers.

Despite Mr. Witzel’s decision, private schools in the city of Rio de Janeiro were cleared to return to in-person activities on August 3, sparking a strike by 500 teachers from the Private School Teachers Union in Rio de Janeiro (Sinpro).

The debate over when to return to in-person classes is raging nationwide, with state administrations struggling to find a consensus on when would be the right time to get students back in the classroom. The Rio de Janeiro administration’s decision to backtrack on its original plans is the latest example of a reopening process that has been clouded with fear and uncertainty, as recently reported by The Brazilian Report.

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Coronavirus

Rio could see 3,000-plus deaths if schools reopen in August

The Oswaldo Cruz Foundation, a biological research center, estimates that the state of Rio de Janeiro could see a surge in coronavirus deaths if schools reopen in August as planned. Over 3,000 deaths could result from the move. 

Researchers say that 9.3 million Brazilians in at-risk groups would be overly exposed to infection if classes resume — as they live with schoolchildren. Over 600,000 of these at-risk potential patients live in the state of Rio.

Mayor Marcelo Crivella gave schools the option to restart classes for elementary school children from August 3 onward. Governor Wilson Witzel decreed that state-administered facilities may resume in-person classes on August 5. Teachers in private institutions threaten to go on strike as they fear for their health.

Across the country, private schools have pushed for a reopening — and asked authorities for special rules, as they claim they have better conditions (and would need less time) to implement new sanitary measures and periodic testing to reduce the risks of the coronavirus spreading between students.

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Coronavirus

Former Rio Health Secretary arrested

Edmar Santos, former Health Secretary of Rio de Janeiro, was arrested this Friday morning for alleged misuse of funds. He is under investigation for irregularities in state government contracts intended to combat the Covid-19 pandemic, according to G1. 

The arrest was carried out by the State Prosecution Service as part of a sting entitled Operation Merchants of Chaos. The operation, which began in May, is attempting to take down a criminal organization that has looted more than BRL 18 million from Rio’s coffers.

The Brazilian Report has reported on this case previously: the money was earmarked for the purchase of ventilators, but more than two months after the original delivery date, most of the ventilators have yet to arrive and the money has not been returned to the public coffers, according to state prosecutors. 

To make things worse, the ventilators that were delivered were unsuitable for Covid-19 patients. Rio de Janeiro Governor, Wilson Witzel, is also under investigation as part of the case.

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Brazil Daily

Rio judges bend the rules for Flávio Bolsonaro

We’re covering the latest legal win for Senator Flávio Bolsonaro. How the coronavirus exposes states’ incompetence. And Brazil’s new Education Minister.

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Flávio Bolsonaro gets a win in Rio appeals court

A three-judge panel at a Rio appeals court granted[restricted] “parliamentary immunity” to Senator Flávio Bolsonaro in the investigation into alleged money-laundering operations carried out within his office, during his stint as a Rio state lawmaker. In practical terms, the case now leaves the trial courts and moves up to the appellate court, and will be conducted by the politically-appointed State Prosecutor General.

  • The privilege, known as “jurisdictional prerogative,” means that federal elected officials may only be prosecuted and tried by the Supreme Court. For state-level officials, the venue is the state court.
  • Those venues are highly politicized and have served as safe harbors for corrupt politicians. In the Supreme Court, for instance, one-third of all cases against politicians stall and are dismissed after reaching the statute of limitations.

In a nutshell. Flávio Bolsonaro, the president’s eldest son, is accused of running a criminal organization within his office, forcing staffers to surrender part of their salaries back to him — and laundering money through dummy businesses such as chocolate stores or shady real estate deals.

Legal maneuvers. The judges’ decision goes against a 2018 Supreme Court ruling that changed the rules over parliamentary immunity. Justices decided that the privilege is only valid in cases where alleged crimes happened during the politician’s current term and which have a connection to their political activity. A case of domestic violence, for instance, would not fit the bill. 

  • “There is no doubt that the state court disrespected the Supreme Court’s opinion. That’s Brazil. It’s make-believe. ‘The Supreme Court ruled one way, but I see things differently so I’ll go in another direction,'” complained Justice Marco Aurélio Mello.

Bottom line. The Flávio Bolsonaro case encapsulates one of the biggest problems with Brazil’s justice system: inconsistency. Judges do not respect precedents, sometimes not even their own. And the issue is not limited to state judges — Supreme Court justices are also to blame, shifting their interpretation on cases depending on the political climate.


Covid-19 exposes public procurement problems in Brazil

Brazilian states have purchased 7,000 ventilators during the pandemic — but only 3,000 of them were actually delivered, according to a survey by news website G1 with data obtained through the Access to Information Act.

  • One ventilator can cost between BRL 40,000 and 226,000 (USD 7,400 and 42,000), depending on the state.
  • In most states, administrations are being investigated for possible fraudulent purchases. In Rio de Janeiro and Santa Catarina, officials have even been arrested for their alleged involvement in overpricing schemes.

Why it matters. The data reveals a sheer lack of strategy — something that could have been minimized with coordination from the federal government. But a lack of trust between governors and the president — not to mention Jair Bolsonaro’s denialism towards the coronavirus — made any joint effort impossible.

Willfully under-testing? Data obtained from the Health Ministry by freedom of information NGO Fiquem Sabendo reveals that only 36 percent of Covid-19 tests purchased by the government have been distributed to states and municipalities. Around 5.6 million tests remain in stock. Brazil has a lower testing rate per 1 million people than almost all countries among the top 10 in infections (India is the exception, but the Southeast Asian country has a population of 1.3 billion).

Outbreak. Despite under-testing, no single state has shown signs of a slowdown of coronavirus cases, according to an analysis by the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation, one of Brazil’s top biological centers. Scientists say Brazil has reached a plateau — that is, a consistently high level of transmission which could be prolonged indefinitely.

By the numbers. Officially, Brazil has 1.2 million infections and 55,000 deaths. The real numbers are possibly much higher, as The Brazilian Report has shown. Data journalist Aline Gatto Boueri revealed that in some cities, deaths in 2020 increased eightfold when compared to the average of the four previous years.

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Brazil’s new Education Minister

President Jair Bolsonaro with new Education Minister Carlos Alberto Decotelli. Photo: PR
President Jair Bolsonaro with new Education Minister Carlos Alberto Decotelli. Photo: PR

President Jair Bolsonaro picked a new Education Minister: Carlos Alberto Decotelli, a former Navy officer who presided over the National Education Development Fund (FNDE) in 2019. He will also be the first black cabinet member of the current administration.

Profile. Unlike his predecessors, Mr. Decotelli is not identified with the cultural wars the Bolsonaro camp has engaged in over the past year and a half. 

Why it matters. The new minister is a bona fide conservative who has a more respected résumé than his predecessors. His nomination should serve to decrease the political pressure on the president — after the Education Ministry became a source of political crisis under Abraham Weintraub, who left last week.

Controversy. Mr. Decotelli, however, is not totally immune to scandal. During his 169-day stint in charge of the FNDE, he was reportedly absent 38 times — with an average of one trip made every four days. Moreover, under his leadership, the fund signed a BRL 3-billion contract that was suspended by the Comptroller-General’s Office under suspicion of fraud.

Perspective. It took a week for Mr. Bolsonaro to choose a new Education Minister. Meanwhile, the Health Ministry continues without a permanent cabinet minister for 40 days — despite the pandemic.


What else you need to know today

  • Say what? During a live Facebook broadcast on Thursday, President Jair Bolsonaro said he might have contracted the novel coronavirus — despite having disclosed three negative tests in May.
  • Interests. In its latest inflation report, the Central Bank projected a 6.4-percent drop in the Brazilian GDP this year — considered an optimistic forecast. It means, at least in theory, that the bank’s appetite for more cuts in the benchmark interest rate has become smaller. The Selic rate is already at an all-time low of 2.25 percent. 
  • Inflation. The IPCA-15 price index, considered to be a predictor of the official inflation rate, came in at +0.02 percent in June, after a 0.59-percent drop in May. The result was above the median projection by analysts. Food and beverages drove the inflation index up, compensating for price drops in fuel and transportation. According to the official statistics bureau, Rio de Janeiro was the only state capital in which the cost of living actually went up during the pandemic — overall prices increased 0.49 percent.
  • Supreme Court. In a symbolic vote, Justice Luiz Fux was chosen by his peers to become the Chief Justice for a two-year term starting on September 10. In theory, any justice would be eligible, but the court traditionally picks the longest-tenured member among those who have never had the top job. With the title comes the power to decide on the court’s agenda.
  • Foreigners. The Supreme Court ruled on Thursday that the government cannot deport foreign nationals who have a Brazilian-born child. The court said allowing that would expose the child to “rupture and abandon, with terrible future consequences.”[/restricted]
Categories
Coronavirus Society

Rio de Janeiro sees eight times more deaths in 2020

While the coronavirus epidemic has already been recognized as the deadliest event in Brazilian history (barring colonization and slavery, which lasted for centuries), there is a consensus that official data doesn’t come close to defining the full extent of the crisis. Underreporting has been denounced in several states and municipalities, as The Brazilian Report has illustrated recently. One of the persistent inconsistencies with Brazil’s pandemic data regards deaths as a result of Covid-19 being recorded with different causes. In that vein, properly identifying the scale of the crisis may be achieved by analyzing the absolute number of deaths around the country. And in many of Brazil’s major state capitals, mortality has gone through the roof in March, April, and May of this year.[restricted]

In the case of Rio de Janeiro, the city has recorded eight times more deaths than the average for the past four years in the same period. The Brazilian Report analyzed data from Civil Registry transparency platforms and found that in May, 16,356 people died in Rio de Janeiro — the average number for the month in the last four years is just 2,007.

This explosion of deaths indicates gross underreporting of Covid-19 victims. Data compiled by Brasil.io with information from the local health authorities show that the city of Rio de Janeiro has registered around 6,000 coronavirus deaths since the beginning of the pandemic — whereas there were over 14,000 more deaths above average in the city in May alone.

Earlier this month, The Brazilian Report showed that in cities with relatively low Covid-19 death tolls, the number of victims of severe acute respiratory syndrome (ARDS) — which can be caused by the coronavirus — hit an unprecedented spike. While these comparisons are crucial to shed light on discrepancies, the full reality of deaths in Brazil this year remains opaque.

Crisis in Rio de Janeiro

The mayor of Rio de Janeiro, right-wing neo-charismatic Evangelical bishop Marcelo Crivella, announced the beginning of looser social isolation measures in the city at the beginning of June. Last week, the local football championship restarted, with the legendary Maracanã stadium hosting a dull match between Flamengo and Bangu. While the game was being played, one patient died in the Covid-19 field hospital set up in the stadium’s car park. 

On Tuesday, the state government appointed its third new Health Secretary since the beginning of the pandemic, bringing in Alex Bousquet, a colonel of the state’s Military Firefighters Corps. Edmar Santos was sacked from the post in May after allegations of fraud in the procurement of respirators for field hospitals. His replacement, doctor Fernando Ferry, resigned on Monday after just over a month in charge.

In an interview to newspaper O Globo, Mr. Ferry said he left the job out of fear of being held criminally liable for what he called errors in the prior administration of the department.

Deaths spike in other state capitals

Like the city of Rio de Janeiro, another nine state capitals with populations of over 1 million people showed significant increases in deaths during the pandemic. In northern and northeastern cities Belém, Manaus, and São Luís, Civil Registry data showed around four times more deaths in May 2020 than the month’s average for the past four years. In São Paulo, the country’s biggest and wealthiest city, the total number of deaths recorded in May was just over three times the historical average. 

The data obtained from these transparency platforms include information about births, weddings, and deaths around the whole country. These figures are sent by registry offices and are not updated in real-time, hence our decision to analyze data from May, allowing sufficient time for the information to be submitted.

Regardless, it is important to note that the data used has shown inconsistencies in the past. During research for this article, for example, The Brazilian Report found that the city of São Luís recorded only six, one, and three deaths for the months of March, April, and May of 2017. For a city of over 1 million people, this is statistically impossible. The following year, the numbers jumped to 316, 461, and 412 deaths, respectively.[/restricted]

Categories
Coronavirus

Rio de Janeiro announces new health secretary amid federal investigation

Colonel Alex Bousquet, of Rio de Janeiro’s fire department, is the state’s new health secretary, making him the third person to occupy the position since the Covid-19 pandemic started. Earlier today, former Secretary Fernando Ferry resigned, as we informed in our Weekly Report (for premium and standard subscribers).

Mr. Ferry remained in office for just over a month, having been announced as Rio’s top health official on May 17. He complained about being forced to pay for “problematic contracts.” 

The Federal Police is currently investigating Rio de Janeiro Governor Wilson Witzel, suspected of taking kickbacks from companies that siphoned part of the state’s coronavirus budget through overpriced deals.

The new health secretary, Col. Bousquet, holds a medical degree from the Rio de Janeiro State University and is specialized in intensive therapy. He also has a graduate degree in Operational Management of Health Institutions.  

Col. Bousquet previously worked as an offshore rescue doctor for state-controlled oil and gas company Petrobras between 2008 and 2012, and has been a member of the Rio de Janeiro Fire Department for 20 years.

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