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Brazil Buys Food not Fighter Jets

Lula Fan | 04.01.2003 21:11

At last! Brazil's new and democratically elected leader cancels fighter jet order, and none of our 'great leaders' can be bothered to show up to his inauguration ceremony...

Brazil's new president delays buying fighter jets Zero Hunger program for poor has priority

Larry Rohter, New York Times

Brasilia, Brazil -- Brazil's new leftist government on Friday suspended a $760 million purchase of a dozen new jet fighter planes for its air force, saying the money could be better used to relieve hunger.

The announcement was made after President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, the former labor union leader who took office on Wednesday, met officially with his Cabinet for the first time.

Defense Minister Jose Viegas said that the plane purchase, one of the biggest military expenditures in Latin America in the last quarter-century, would be postponed for at least a year and that the government had begun looking for cheaper alternatives, like renting or buying used aircraft.

Da Silva's decision "reflects the urgency of this country focusing its efforts on the question of hunger" and should not be seen as a rejection of the military, the new president's spokesman, Andre Singer, said at a news briefing.

In his inaugural address, da Silva said eliminating hunger would be his administration's top priority. Even before taking office, he announced the creation of a program called Zero Hunger to attack a social problem that affects at least 25 million of the country's 175 million people, mainly children and black people in rural areas.

Five foreign companies have been competing to win the coveted fighter plane contract, among them Lockheed-Martin, maker of the F-16. Two Russian companies,

the makers of MIG and Sukhoi aircraft, have also proffered bids, but the front-runner was thought to be a French-Brazilian joint venture that plans to build Mirage jet fighters in Sao Paulo state.

At present, the Brazilian air force's fleet of fighter planes consists mostly of Mirages that are nearly 30 years old and were scheduled to be phased out by 2005.

Brazil's Inflation Forecast Doubles

Salt Lake Tribune

BRASILIA, Brazil -- Brazil's central bank more than doubled its 2003 inflation forecast to 9.5 percent, signaling it may raise interest rates for a fourth month in January.
The inflation estimate is higher than the 4.5 percent the central bank forecast in the previous quarterly report on Sept. 30 and lower than economists' forecasts of as much as 14 percent for next year. The forecast was based on an exchange rate of 3.55 reals to the dollar and a 25 percent a year base interest rate, the bank said.
President-elect Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who takes office Wednesday, must slow inflation to stem the currency's decline and restore investor confidence, analysts say.

In Lula's Hand

© John Fitzpatrick 2002

No sooner had Fernando Henrique Cardoso handed over the presidential sash to Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva on New Year's Day (knocking his own glasses off in the excitement as he did so) than he headed for the airport and set off for Paris. The haste with which he left Brasília makes one wonder whether he knows something the rest of us don't. Perhaps his abrupt departure after eight years may have been meant to show the Brazilian people that they are on their own now with Lula and his team. Since it is unlikely that Lula would seek any advice from his predecessor it may not matter that Cardoso practically fled, but the manner in which he departed leaves a rather sour taste in the mouth.

We are now in the hands of Lula and for the sake of Brazil let us hope he learns fast because the honeymoon is over. Electors will no longer be satisfied with the ear-to-ear grins and the tearful descriptions of his life and hard times with which he has been regaling them since his victory in October.

Behind the scenes the PT team has been busy assembling a government. This is obviously a complex process and appears to have been handled fairly well. At the same time, failing to win over the PMDB, the largest party in the Congress, was a setback. However, the PMDB is as greedy for power as any other party and this door has not been completely slammed shut. In the months to come we will start seeing shifting political alliances as the familiar mosaic of Brazilian politics shapes and reshapes itself. Despite the grouping of disparate parties in his election coalition, Lula's government is top heavy with PT members.

The key ministers have started outlining their priorities in line with the PT's electoral program. The focus will be on ending social inequality although with no drastic action such as defaulting on international or domestic debt obligations. Finance Minister, Antônio Palocci, has said the right things and pledged to reform the scandalous situation in which millions of former civil servants, some only in their 40s or early 50s, enjoy generous inflation-linked pensions, mainly paid for by those in the private sector who have no such cushion to fall back on.

In the first few days of the new administration we have already seen some changes. For example, the state-owned oil company Petrobras, the largest company in South America, has had its board shaken up. The new chairman is a PT senator from the Northeast and the advisers include Finance Minister Palocci and Lula's chief of staff, José Dirceu. Moves have already been made to reduce the effects of oil price increases on the final consumer by tinkering with taxes. (To be fair here, even the Cardoso government interfered in Petrobras's pricing policy at times, although it left the company in the hands of professionals rather than politicians.)

The new energy minister has spoken against further privatizations in the sector and of the need for more investment and lower prices. The defense minister announced that Lula had suspended for a year a multi-million dollar contract to renew the Air Force's fleet of fighter planes. According to the minister, priority would be given to fighting hunger.

So far so good, but your correspondent is still apprehensive and a bit fearful of what lies ahead. Lula is untried as a national, as opposed to a party, leader and we do not know how he will cope with the constant crises which mark Brazil and the day-to-day political bargaining in Congress. One must hope Lula will stick to the script and let his team, which appears to be fairly competent, get on with things. The problem is that Lula has little patience for the ins and outs of politics and seems incapable of sticking to a script. An example of the Lula style was the casual manner in which he announced the name of his finance minister during a visit to Washington in December. This was the key appointment eagerly awaited in Brazil yet Lula tossed it out to some journalists as though he was making a banal comment on the weather.

The inaugural ceremony itself showed the perils of this informality. By bussing in hundreds of thousands of supporters from all the country, the PT enlivened the dreary avenues and concrete squares of Brasilia but gave the security forces a headache they could have done without. Lula's open-top car was soon swamped by well wishers, one of whom even managed to jump inside and give Lula a hug.

Later, even when the security had been beefed up, a young woman still managed to get through and Lula posed for a picture with her. Presumably one of the bodyguards took the picture. During the inaugural ceremony in the Congress, House representative Severino Cavalcanti, from Pernambuco, whose constitutional role was to wind up the ceremony, started speaking off the cuff and congratulated Lula, who was born in the Northeast, as though they were in a bar.

None of this mattered to Lula, who said at one point, "Vamos quebrar o protocolo, mas nem tanto, hein?" ("We'll break with protocol, but not too much.") Afterwards, Lula allowed every Tom, Dick and Harry congressman to give him a hug and slap on the back and even gave autographs. One wonders what Fernando Henrique Cardoso was thinking as he watched this display, while awaiting the arrival of Lula at the Planalto Palace to receive the sash of office. OK, it was Lula's big day but he will soon have to stop being a man of the people and become the leader of the people.

Finally, it was disappointing to see that no major democratic leader took the pains to turn up at the ceremony. If George Bush was busy planning to invade Iraq then why did he not send his vice-president? In recent years the French, German and British government leaders have all visited Brazil and pledged to support the country's maturing democracy and efforts to get a fairer deal in international trade. But where were they on New Year's Day?

At least the American trade secretary, Robert Zoellick, the man Brazilians love to hate, attended. The result of this pitiful turnout was that two high-profile despots, Fidel Castro of Cuba and Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, were the main "guests of honor." A sorry sight indeed when, for the first day since the return to democracy in Brazil, one elected president passed power over to another elected president.

Lula Fan