Saturday, May 20, 2006

HEADLINES: May 20th

The PSDB presidential pre-candidate, Geraldo Alckmin, will propose the unification of the Civil and Military Police as a part of his plan for national security, according to PSDB president Tasso Jereissati. The party leader cited the growth of organized crime and the need to have a unified state response as reasons for the proposal.

After a visit from the Brazilian minister from the Special Secretariat for Human Rights, Uruguayan deputy Daniela Payseé announced the desire of the two countries to create a common policy on human rights. The minister, Paulo de Tarso Vannuchi, also met with the Uruguayan chancellor, the secretary of the Presidency, and the ministers of Defense and Culture.

President Lula will take part in next week's PT radio and TV broadcasts, scheduled to be aired on Thursday. Major subjects are expected to include education — a central platform item for the party — as well as economic gains and public safety issues. This last topic is expected to address the recent clashes between police and the criminal group Primeiro Comando da Capital (PCC) which have left over 100 dead in São Paulo state.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

HEADLINES: May 10th

PMDB activists have staged pro-Garotinho demonstrations outside of the Rio de Janeiro party headquarters, where the former governor has been sequestered since he began his hunger strike ten days ago. Garotinho's doctor has been advising the politician to end the strike since this morning, though so far Garotinho remains determined to continue.

United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice showed support to Lula last Friday in a speech at the Inter-American Development Bank, the text of which was just made public today. Sec. Rice praised Brazil's focus on education in particular. The comments were seen by some to underscore U.S. desire to see the more moderate Lula trump Venezuela's Chávez for unofficial leader of the South American region.

The Bolivian Minister of Hydrocarbons, Andrés Soliz, said today that negotiations on gas supply and prices will be between governments, not the petrochemical companies. He clarified, saying that "the governments will instruct their respective oil companies on the course of the negotiations, so that they do not take on a strictly commercial nature."

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

HEADLINES: May 9th

Brazilian Minister of Foreign Relations Celso Amorim announced today that his Ministry — called Itamaraty, for the building in which it is housed — would create a Department of Energy to provide technical know-how for diplomatic discussions. He cited Brazil's desire to diversify the sources of its energy as a prime reason for the creation of the new agency.

The management of the condominium where the PMDB has its offices in Rio de Janeiro has said that they want to expel Garotinho. Other people who work in the building have complained about the high volume of visitors and even damage to the structure due to such activity.

Itamar Franco, PMDB pre-candidate for the Presidency, has said that for the party not to run a campaign for the nation's highest office would be the organization's death certificate. Itamar suggested that the PMDB has a unique opportunity to find its place on the national scene, though the party is divided over whether or not to pursue the Presidency.

COMMENTARY: Lessons from Oil Nationalization

Without a doubt, the recent nationalization of Bolivia's oilfields is a major event for the country and for the region. While the presence of military personnel in foreign facilities must give the international community pause, and while the sudden nature of the takeover has certainly made some nervous, that Morales should make this decision is neither surprising nor particularly detrimental. In fact, what originally elicited fears of instability, may actually serve as a catalyst for increased regional co-operation in South America.

Last Monday's declaration by Bolivian President Evo Morales sent shockwaves through the Ameicas. The President stated that all natural gas production facilities in the country will be operated by the state-run YPFB for a period of 180 days, during which time new contracts will be drafted with the former owners. In the mean time, only 18% of the profits from production will go to the foreign firms. This is enough, according to the Bolivian government, to cover operating expenses. After the negotiation period has expired, any companies which have not reached an agreement with YPFB and the state will lose their properties in the country.

The reaction from Lula's government was timely but did not suggest panic. The President met with his cabinet ministers on Tuesday morning to discuss a way forward, and then proceeded to a meeting with Morales and the presidents of Argentina and Venezuela on Thursday. In the interim, he received assurances from the Bolivian Vice President that his country would not cut off oil to Brazil, citing past contract obligations.

On Friday morning, reactions to the four presidents' meeting were positive. Newspapers in Bolivia gave Lula credit for averting a potential diplomatic crisis by his earnest, level-headed response to Morales' decision. It is clearly in the interest of both countries for Brazilian investments to remain in Bolivia, and for Bolivian oil to continue to flow to Brazil. To this end, it was in the interest of both countries for conflict to have been averted, and that is just what the four-party meeting has done.

In stark contrast to the official response to Bolivia, Petrobrás lashed out at Morales almost immediately. Though the firm's Director of Gas and Energy, Ildo Sauer, participated in Tuesday's meeting with Lula's cabinet, he expressed dissent, announcing that the corporation will seek international judicial intervention in order to block the nationalization.

To my mind, Petrobrás' reaction is counterproductive. The issue as it now stands is representative of both the great fruits which frank diplomacy can yield and its effective application. The truth is that neither Brazil nor Bolivia can afford a serious break in relations. Bolivia provides a large portion of Brazil's oil, to be sure, but Brazilian investment also sustains a large portion of the Bolivian economy. The two nations' energy interests are inextricably linked, and so any oil agreement between the two will necessarily have to be mutually beneficial.

If Petrobrás does, indeed, seek international intervention — and gets it — such interference may upset the détente which the four-party talks have established. And to what end? While the interests of the gas company may be met by reversing the nationalization process, the state firm would run the risk of pushing Bolivia toward further radicalization, and therefore causing the whole diplomatic discussion to founder.

There is good news on this front. Last Friday, Petrobrás announced that it would wait 45 days for contract negotiations before going to the international judicial community for intervention. This is a step in the right direction. At this point, it seems that the four-party agreement has secured equitable gas prices and a steady supply of fuel. If this turns out to be untrue, the judicial system will still be available in 45 days, and the firm's good-faith effort at negotiation will serve them will in the public sphere. In the meantime, calling for a reversal of Morales' decree is both hypocritical and risky. With things as they are now, international intervention would be a terrible case of Petrobrás cutting off its nose to spite its face.

Sources:
  1. Pernambuco News: Bolivia Nationalizes Oil Production
  2. Para bolivianos, reunião de presidentes desfez tensão com Brasil
  3. Petrobras recorrerá a arbitragem se acordo não sair em 45 dias

Monday, May 08, 2006

HEADLINES: May 8th

Garotinho's doctor has said that he will likely only be able to go two or three more days ingesting only water. The physician, Abdu Neme, pointed to the politican's low glucose levels and the risk of cardiac problems. Garotinho has so far lost 5.7 kg.

The Order of Brazilian Lawyers (OAB) is set to decide today on whether or not to call for Lula's impeachment. Various regional branches of the organization will have a say, casting a total of 36 votes on a proposal which Sérgio Ferraz will bring before the OAB.

The Bolivian government will name new directors today for three foreign firms nationalized last week. Those affected will be Chaco, part of BP; Andina, of Repsol YPF; and Transredes of Shell and Enron.

Lula affirmed today that Brazil's role in the region is to help neighboring countries to grow. "Brazil doesn't want to be an island of development surrounded by poor countries. We want all people to have the chance to grow a little." He went on to say that the best way to resolve issues with Bolivia is negotiation.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

HEADLINES: May 6th

In a meeting yesterday morning, the PSDB leadership, including former President Fernando Henrique Cardoso, party president Tasso Jereissati, governor Aécio Neves, and PSDB presidential pre-candidate Geraldo Alckmin, reiterated their desire for an alliance with the PMDB. If such an agreement does not come to fruition, the PSDB will at least work to prevent a PT-PMDB alliance come October.

The PT has petitioned the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) to declare PSDB pre-candidate Geraldo Alckmin ineligible for the presidency, based on purported mishandling of the party's media campaign. The Workers' Party alleges that the opposition has illegally used party air time exclusively to publicize Alckmin.

Alckmin also suggested the possibility yesterday that Lula had known ahead of time about the nationalization program undertaken this past week in Bolivia's energy sector, citing the calm reaction from Brasília. The former governor asked why there had not been, "explicit condemnation of the unilateral, violent action" which Morales took.

Friday, May 05, 2006

HEADLINES: May 5th

In recent polls commissioned by the PSDB and conducted by the Brasilian Institute of Public Opinion and Statistics — Ibope — Lula was shown to be favored by a healthy 40% of those surveyed. Only 20% said they favored Alckmin, the major opposition candidate.

Contrary to earlier reports, Anthony Garotinho, former governor of Rio de Janeiro, has said that he will not end his five day-old hunger strike today. Regarding his potential candidacy for the presidency, Garotinho has said, "I don't have any more illusions. My candidacy would need a miracle."

Speaking about a possible increase in gas prices in Brazil, due to nationalization of oil production in Bolivia, Lula said that any inflation would be absorbed by the state energy monopoly, Petrobrás, and not by the consumer.

Brazil is preparing a new contingent of 850 members of the army, navy and air force for integration with the UN peacekeeping mission in Haiti. Today, the soldiers will take part in a ceremony to mark the completion of their mission-specific training which has included classes in English, French and Hatian Creole, as well as humanitarian and medical work.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

BRIEF: Lula Positive About Gas Talks

Lula commented today that he was content with the outcome of a meeting with the presidents of Bolivia, Argentina, and Venezuela. The talks focused on the recent nationalization of oil production in Bolivia. The leaders' published decision states that gas price negotiations will be "rational and fair," according to a Reuters report.

HEADLINES: May 4th

Lula, Evo Morales, Chavez, and Kirchner (President of Argentina) met today to dicuss the nationalization of gas in Bolivia, as well as a proposal for a South American gas pipeline.

Anthony Garotinho is still on his hunger strike. Doctors say he is "lucid and oriented," though he has lost 2.6 kg since the strike began on Sunday. Meanwhile, PMDB members called on him to break off the protest.

According to an ILO report released today, Brazil was able to cut child labor by 60.9% between 1992 and 2004. The document holds the country up as an example of the progress being made in this area.