Top News: Seemingly out of nowhere, China has become the largest foreign direct investor in Brazil as the Asian giant buys up mines and land to secure raw materials to feed its booming economy. Look for growing backlash from Brazil against the Chinese invasion. Billionaire Brazilian steel magnate Benjamin Steinbruch said Brazil should limit Chinese ownership of key resources to maintain "national sovereignty."
The chosen successor of Brazil’s popular two-term president, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, appears to have the Oct. 3 presidential election in the bag. In a survey by DataFolha at the end of August, one-time leftist radical turned bureaucrat Dilma Rousseff led by 49 to 29 percent over struggling opponent Jose Serra. Some analysts say Rousseff could surpass 50 percent of votes in the three-way race, avoiding a runoff.
Everything seems to be falling in place for “Dilma” who got a clean bill of health by Sao Paulo doctors after a cancer surgery last year. So strong is support that Rousseff now says she doesn’t plan on cutting government spending, ignoring advice from economists. Meanwhile, the Associated Press calls Serra an academic elitist lacking charismawhose foundering campaign is making desperate attempts to woo Brazil’s masses. Serra broadcast TV spots featuring images of himself with president Lula prompting a complaint to the electoral commission from Lula’s Worker’s Party.
As the election nears, look for glowing coverage of Brazil’s surprising digital prowess when it comes to polling its populace. While the U.S. still operates mechanical voting machines, Brazil’s elections are 100 percent electronic and the country this year held its first online presidential debate (see analysis here and here). After 10 years, it is again census time in Brazil, and the government has cracked out the smart-phones and GPS devices for what is being praised as “the world’s first fully digital national census.”
Lest anyone forget that Brazil’s politicians are a thin-skinned bunch, comedians are in uproar over enforcement of the “anti-joking law,” a holdover from Brazil’s dictatorship years that prohibits satire of candidates in the three months before the election. “"Do you know of any other democracy in the world with rules like this?" asked TV host and comedian Marcelo Tas.
And is there any other major democracy with daylight gunfights like this? An attempt by police to intercept a group of armed drug traffickers from driving home from an all-night party in Rio de Janeiro led to a Wild West style shootout that left one dead and a hostage drama at the swanky Intercontinental Hotel. Violence is a threat to the city’s extensive plans to reinvent itself in advance of the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics with new infrastructure and security projects. Even the crew of the popular vampire movies Twilight was scared enough to cancel filming in the city.
Money: The upcoming run of major sporting events has international advertising giants in a “mad scramble” for footholds in the cozy Brazilian advertising world, the FT reports. After ad giant McCann merged its Brazilian operations with a local player in April, now the FT says that Publicis Groupe is mulling a $200 million takeover of local agency Talent. The deal underlines interest in the fast-growing Latin American media market.“We believe this will be the decade of Latin America, driven by the Olympics and the World Cup,” said Sir Martin Sorrell, chief executive of WPP, adding that all the BRICs – Brazil, Russia, India and China – are having a “disproportionate influence on client thinking.”
Oil giant Shell and Brazilian ethanol leader Cosan closed their agreement to merge and said they planned more acquisitions. The oil-ethanol combo was enthusiastically received by venture capitalists, who have pumped billions into biofuel start-up companies and need to sell them to cash-rich oil majors. U.S. companies are ahead in the technology race, which explains why Brazil’s Petrobras plowed $11 million into KL Energy, a Rapid City, S.D., company trying to develop second-generation technology for converting plant waste into ethanol.
Debate continues over Petrobras’ planned $25 billion share offering, which is likely to be further delayed. The massive offering is part of a deal in which Petrobras would also give Brazil’s government $60 billion in shares in exchange for oil reserves. But how much is the oil worth? Investors don’t like the deal because it could enrich the government at their expense. According to regulatory filings, mega-investor George Soros sold his entire Petrobras stake.
Elsewhere: Brazil’s neighbors think of the country as loud, flashy and rich. Sound familiar? The Economist publishes a useful essay comparing Brazil to the U.S. that explains why the two countries are so similar.
Even in basketball, Brazil isn’t far behind. The squad from the tropics almost beat Team U.S.A. at the basketball world championships. In soccer, a “new look” Brazilian national squad dominated during a 2-0 win over America in an exhibition match played in New Jersey. The game gave U.S. fans their first direct look at Neymar, the rail-thin 18-year-old sensation who plays for the Santos club. The U.K.’s Chelsea has been trying to sign the skinny striker, but Santos says it won’t give him up for anything short of £28.75 million.
Brazil’s Air Force will now catalog and make public possible UFO sightings, but says it doesn’t have the resources to investigate them. More news of the weird: an amateur Brazilian videographer filmed a rare fire tornado; a 6’9” tall Brazilian teen says she wants to become the world’s tallest model; Brazil’s wealthiest man, entrepreneur Eike Batista, Lula’s inauguration suit for $285,000.