President Bashar al-Assad of Syria begins a tour of several Latin American countries today with the goal of extending its diplomatic reach and attracting investment in Syria. Assad is scheduled to arrive in Caracas, Venezuela, on Friday and will visit then Brazil and Venezuela—countries with significant Syrian expat communities. Syrian media also reports that he will be visiting Cuba. The visit reciprocates previous official visits to Damascus by Fidel Castro in 2001, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in 2003 and Hugo Chávez in 2006.
The president’s trip, his first to the region since taking power in 2001, comes as Damascus seeks to continue opening diplomatic channels with the West. This follows their involvement in brokering a deal with Iran to send low-enriched uranium abroad for reactor fuel, in cooperation with Brazil and Turkey. Damascus is also seeking over $40 billion in investments over the next five years, nearly 80 percent of Syria’s annual GDP, to repair and replace Syria’s ageing infrastructure.
The majority of the millions of Syrian-origin émigrés in Brazil, Argentina and Venezuela are businessmen, engineers, doctors, and politicians including former Argentinean president Carlos Menem. President Assad also plans to meet with members of the Arab communities during his visit.
“Bilateral relations and developments in the Middle East and Latin America” will dominate discussions during the trip, according to the official SANA news agency. Brazil plans to sign trade and technology cooperation protocols with Syria, and Argentina is anticipated to sign nine transportation, tourism and cultural agreements.
Dilma Rousseff, the former cabinet chief for President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, accepted the formal nomination on Sunday of Lula’s Partido dos Trabalhadores (PT) for the October presidential election. Among her opponents will be José Serra of the Partido da Social Democracia Brasileira (PSDB) who also received his party’s nomination this past weekend.
In accepting her nomination, Rouseff pledged to continue Lula’s policy of reducing poverty and improve the tax system, but sought to distinguish herself from Lula as well, announcing that she would govern with the “heart and soul of a woman.”
Serra, an economist who has long served in state and federal government, criticized the current administration for turning a blind eye toward corruption and announced his concern for human rights issues. Lula has engaged closely with Cuba and Iran, despite their poor track record on human rights.
An Ibope poll released on June 5 reveals a close race, with each of the leading candidates registering 37 percent approval. It also showed that Rousseff is more popular among female supporters than her counterpart, Serra.
Lula is barred from a third consecutive term by the Brazilian constitution.
President Porfirio Lobo confirmed today that he was invited to the EU-Latin American summit scheduled to be held on May 18 in Madrid, but that he would only attend the EU-Central American meeting. The invitation of Honduran President Lobo to the EU-Latin American summit has riled some leaders of the UNASUR bloc. Several countries are threatening to boycott the meeting if President Lobo’s invitation is not rescinded; their refusal to accept the Lobo government’s legitimacy continues to cause a rift in the South American bloc.
Several governments continue to view the election of President Lobo following the ouster of Manuel Zelaya as illegitimate. “There is unease shared by most of us that will prevent a lot of UNASUR countries attending the summit,” expressed President Rafael Correa of Ecuador. An aide to President Lula da Silva of Brazil, Marco Aurelio Garcia added, “If Honduras attends, then at least ten Latin American presidents will not go to Madrid, starting with the president of Brazil.” President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela has also expressed his intent to boycott the proceedings should President Lobo attend.
For its part, the Spanish foreign minister Miguel Ángel Moratinos announced that “...there will be great participation” in the summit, noting that the enthusiasm to attend was high in many countries in Latin America and the European Union.
“I value the will of the people of Spain and of the European Union, so I will do what is necessary to guarantee that we do not take any action that will generate divisions or conflict,” said President Lobo, noting that the summit will have two separate meetings. It has not yet been determined how President Lobo’s absence from the larger EU-Latin American summit would affect calls for a boycott.
Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva was honored this morning at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland, with the forum’s first-ever Global Statesman award. The president was absent from the ceremony after he cancelled his European trip due to a blood-pressure spike that left him hospitalized earlier this week in Recife, Brazil. Brazilian Minister of Foreign Relations Celso Amorim received the award on the president’s behalf.
In a speech prepared by Lula and read by Mr. Amorin, the president said the, “award increases my responsibility as a leader, and my country’s responsibility as an increasingly active player on the global scene.” On the domestic front, it highlighted achievements in economic growth and poverty relief programs. On the international side, it stressed the need to tackle the global economic crisis and climate change, and called for “the need to establish a new international economic order, one that is more just and democratic.”
Early this week President Lula attended the World Social Forum (WSF), a counter-globalization event that meets annually in Brazil on the same dates as the WEF. There, in front of over 10,000 activists, the president criticized the global financial system saying it “triggered the greatest global crisis in recent history through mere irresponsibility.” In front of cheering crowds Lula declared, "I'm going to Davos just as I did in 2003 proud of what I have to say and demonstrate" and "with the mission of telling the developed world that if they had (taken their own economic advice to heart) we wouldn't have had the crisis."
There is little doubt that President Barack Obama's success in the election was due in great part to his online campaigning and digital media savvy—on top of his political skill, charisma and youthful good looks, of course. President Obama has almost 2 million followers on Twitter, and his blog is read by an estimated 13 million people. These social media tools don't just keep him cool, so to say; they have allowed his administration to engage constituents and fans alike on policy issues like health care reform, even as Obama's popularity has diminished over the past month.
In Brazil, the latest newcomer to the blogosphere is none other than President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. O Blog do Presidente (The President's Blog) was launched in July, but the buzz started earlier this year, when the government announced that it was experimenting with layouts and ideas, and even considering signing up to twitter—although this hasn’t happened yet.
Lula is said to have been impressed with President Obama's and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown's blogs, and with their clear and personal messages. But even before O Blog do Presidente went live, it was received with skepticism by the Brazilian press and, it was flooded with negative feedback from other bloggers.
The death toll from floods in Brazil continued to rise on Wednesday, reaching 32 people and leaving nearly 200,000 displaced or homeless. Ten regions have been affected by several months of heavy rain, with the Atlantic coastal state of Maranhão the hardest hit. The rains have severely damaged northern Brazil’s transportation infrastructure, closing six highways, suspending transport on railways, and stopping the flow of iron ore from Vale’s Carajás mine in Serra dos Carajás (Pará) to its export port in Maranhão. Companhia Vale do Rio Doce SA, said in a statement it was working on repairs and would reopen the railway as soon as possible.
President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva visited the region on Tuesday, bringing relief supplies and meeting with local governments. Rains are expected to continue for at least two more weeks.
On Friday, President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva will be on an oil platform off the Brazilian coast to formally kick-off the start of subsalt oil production from the Tupi field. This marks an important milestone for Brazilian extraction of deep-water oil deposits off the coast of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo states. Discovered in 2007, the Tupi oil field is estimated to have five to eight billion barrels of oil, and is part of a broader oil find in the Santos Basin that could contain between 50 and 80 billion barrels.
Petroleo Brasileiro, the state-run energy company, announced on Tuesday that it is “comfortable” beginning production at its pre-salt oil fields despite the decreasing cost of oil. A company representative confirmed that the extraction and production can be profitable at a price as low as $35 to $40 per barrel.
President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and President Barack Obama met in the Oval Office on Saturday morning.
The White House said Larry Summers, head of the White House's National Economic Council, General Jim Jones, head of the National Security Council (NSC), Deputy Secretary of State Jim Steinberg and Dan Restrepo, the NSC’s director for Western Hemisphere affairs attended the meeting. Among those attending on the Brazilian side, Minister of Foreign Affairs Celso Amorim, Chief of Staff Dilma Rouseff and Finance Minister Guido Mantega.
On the menu: the upcoming G-20 summit, the Summit of the Americas, the global financial crisis, biofuels and, privately, the custody case of David Goldman.
Who’d have guessed it?
When Brazilian President Luis Ignacio Lula da Silva and U.S. President Barack Obama meet on March 14th, one of the top items on their agenda will be free trade—pushed by the former labor leader President Lula. This is the same President that, when elected, roiled markets due to investor fears that he would reverse the sound macroeconomic policies of the past decade. It is the same Lula who, in the WTO negotiations in Cancun, led a group of developing countries to demand market access concessions that led to the acrimonious collapse of the negotiations. Now that same President is preaching the need to avoid protectionism in the midst of the crisis.
Cariocas (Rio locals) and tourists are back to reality now that Brazil’s five-day Carnival has wrapped up for the year. And what a Carnival. The Salguiero Samba School beat out a fierce rival to win the two-day Schools Parade competition—its first title in 16 years. Among the 80,000 spectators packed into the Sambadrome stadium, President Lula da Silva, describing the parade as “marvelous,” could be seen in a white shirt and Panama hat enjoying the festivities until 5:00 a.m.
Tudo bem? Not quite. Beyond the masks and costumes, another issue continues to creep into the headlines coming out of