September 18, 2012

Brazilian Elections, Political Parties

There are more than 20 (perhaps more than 30) political parties in Brazil, but just some of them are relevant. Most of them were created or recreated when the military rule ended in the 80's.

The largest and most relevant parties are:
1. The Worker's Party, known as PT or Partido dos Trabalhadores. It was created by leftist union leaders from Sao Paulo. It's the Brazilian ruling party since 2003, when it abandoned its far left agenda and adopted a pragmatic approach to the economy.
2. The Brazilian Social Democracy Party, known as PSDB or Partido da Social Democracia Brasileira. It was created by leftist intellectuals from Sao Paulo. It was the Brazilian ruling party from 1995 to 2002, when it adopted a conservative agenda and stabilized the Brazilian currency.
3. The Brazilian Democratic Movement Party, known as PMDB or Partido do Movimento Democatico Brasileiro. It comes from the MDB, the center-left political party that opposed the military rule from 1964 to 1985. It's a large federation of regional politicians and interests, without well defined, nationwide positions or ideology. It was the Brazilian ruling party from 1985 to 1989, when it peacefully conducted the transition to democracy while Brazil was experiencing a hyperinflation crisis. From 1990 until now, it has supported the ruling party, whichever it may be.
4. The Democrats, known as DEM or Democratas. It comes from the UDN, a conservative party from the 50's, and ARENA, the ruling party during the military rule, from 1964 to 1984. It has been a PSDB ally since 1994.

Some curiosities about Brazilian political parties:
1. PPS, formerly known as PCB, the Brazilian Communist Party, changed its name to Popular Socialist Party and now is a conservative party!
2. A new PCB was created some years after the former PCB changed its name.
3. The Sao Paulo mayor has just created his own party, PSD. It seems its faith is to become a tiny party.
4. Many tiny parties have no ideology and it is believed they can be hired for money. This is the essence of the Mensalão scandal, now being tried.
5. There is no equivalent to the GOP in Brazil. Even the most conservative Brazilian party would be labeled as leftist in the US.
6. The president of the federation of industries of Sao Paulo belongs to the Brazilian Socialist Party (PSB).
7. The mainstream media from Sao Paulo and Rio support the PSDB.

And now, several lists of Brazilian political parties. Enjoy!

Some midsize Brazilian parties: PSB, PTB, PPS, PDT.

Some Brazilian left wing parties: PSTU, PCO, PSOL, PCB, PCdoB.

Some Brazilian conservative parties: DEM, PSDB, PPS.

Some Brazilian center left parties: PT, PSB, PDT, PV.

Some Brazilian center or non ideological parties: PMDB, PTB, PP, PSD, PHS, PSC, PMN, PRB, PTdoB, PTN, PRP.

Some Brazilian tiny parties: PSTU, PCO, PSOL, PCB, PCdoB, PP, PSD, PHS, PSC, PMN, PRB, PTdoB, PTN, PRP, PV.

September 17, 2012

Brazilian Elections, Freedom of Speech and Parties

There are three crucial differences between Brazil and the US when it comes to elections and political parties.

The freedom of speech in Brazil is limited. As most politicians fear their opponents, they have passed into law many restrictions on this basic human right:
1. TV and radio stations must be neutral and cannot endorse publicly one candidate, as if it were possible. There are rules governing even the time slice given to each candidate on debates and newscasts.
2. Candidates cannot speak about their beliefs and proposals before the official start of the campaign, few months before the election. They cannot even appear on TV shows to talk about their lives, achievements etc.
3. Any person can complain against any candidate advertisements, speeches and ideas in order to get them censored by an electoral court. Candidates can be fined for defamatory addresses, videos can be removed from the Internet, websites can be shutdown etc.

All the TV and radio broadcasts are supported by the taxpayers! The idea here is to give the same opportunity to all candidates, regardless their economic backgrounds.

The nomination processes are not democratic. Political parties are not required to appoint candidates through primaries. Among the largest parties, only PT holds primary elections regularly. Most parties have leaders (caciques) that control them as little dictators for decades!

September 16, 2012

Brazilian Elections, Part I

IN BRAZIL, Voting is a civic duty and not a right, for citizens from 18 to 69 years old. It's a right for citizens from 16 to 17 and after 70 years old.

The election day is also a national holiday and employers have to free their employees so that they can vote.

The whole idea is to make voting accessible to everyone, not only to the rich.

The elections are setup by a branch of the Judiciary at state and federal levels. The process is completely automated. The voter types his candidate number in a voting machine, it shows his picture and then the voter confirms his choice. The vote is secret and no record of the voter's choice is kept.

Each political party has a number from 10 to 99. For example, PT is 13 and PSDB is 45. One can vote on the party or on the candidate. So that's why there are so many candidates stressing their numbers on TV!

Italy Inspired Dishes in Sao Paulo

Italian flavors are everywhere in Sao Paulo. As New York, Sao Paulo was the destination of thousands of poor Italian immigrants a century ago, most of them from northern Italy (Veneto and Lombardia). As time went by, they opened hundreds of pizzerias and restaurants. However, the Brazilian ingredients were not the same, the new generations blended with the locals and they hired locals as cookers. The result was that the food lost some of its authenticity, but it's still much better than the average American version of Italian food.

Here is my list of Italy inspired dishes in Sao Paulo:
1. Pizza. As in Italy, it is eaten with fork and knife and the dough is usually thin. However, here the pizza has much more topping and the cheese and sausage are different. Italian pizza is usually lighter and cheaper. In Sao Paulo you'll find unique pizza flavors as banana, chocolate and chicken with corn.
2. Pastas in general. Sao Paulo pastas tend to be softer, thicker and to have more sauce than the Italian counterparts.
3. Pasta alla Bolognese. Known in Italy as Tagliateli al ragù di carne. Here in Sao Paulo, this kind of pasta has a sauce made from ground meat and tomato. In Italy, three or more kinds of finely chopped meat are used to enhance the flavor.
4. Beef alla Milanese. You can find this authentic Milanese dish everywhere in Sao Paulo, just as in Milan!
5. Risotto. Risotto is a dish made from a special kind of rice and sauce whose consistency comes from the rice itself. The rice should taste as if it was a little bit under-cooked and the sauce must be quite wet. Most times, risotto in Sao Paulo is badly executed, using common rice and milk cream.
6. Beef Parmesan. I lived in Parma for six months and I never found it in any restaurant. There is a similar dish over there called Baked Eggplant Parmesan, but nothing similar to the coated beef floating in tomato sauce and cheese that you find everywhere in Sao Paulo.

August 20, 2012

Navigating the Brazilian Mammoth Bureaucracy

I've been out of my blog for almost 3 months navigating the Brazilian bureaucracy.
I have a construction and real estate business that had some receivables to be turned into cash.
Well, the process took me 6 months!
First, the bank account manager took 1 month to understand (wrongly) what should be done to get the money.
Then the bank branch took 2 months analyzing my business and processing the paperwork.
After 3 months, the bank credit department realized that the bank branch did everything wrong and restarted the process. I had access to the bank's regulations and the credit department was right.
After 3 months more, I finally was able to turn receivables into cash...
In Brazil, things take the time they take, not the time you hope they will take.
The bank: state owned Caixa Econômica Federal (the best rates in Brazil).

May 23, 2012

Living in a Brazilian Condo

I read almost everyday expats complaining about Brazilian condos and fees. The complains arise from the lack of understanding about how condos are structured in Brazil.

Most people in large Brazilian cities live in condos (condomínios). There are houses, apartments and even country houses condos; upper class, middle class and lower class condos.

Living in a condo is convenient and it is perceived as safer than a house. You don't have to care about gardening, building maintenance, outdoor cleaning, exterior painting and so on. Most of the times, you have a doorman and 24h electronic security, burglary is very rare and you can leave your unit empty of people for days and weeks while keeping your peace of mind.

It's unusual a condo to have just one landlord in Brazil. In most cases, each condo unit is independently owned. For each condo, the owners gather in an association called "Assembleia Geral do Condomínio". Then they meet and approve enhancements and expenses, elect a representative called "síndico", decide how to maintain the condo area, and what services should be provided and shared.

All the shared services and expenses are supported by the residents through a monthly fee called "taxa de condomínio". In most condos, the residents are a mix of owners and tenants. Permanent enhancements to the condo, like a new swimming pool, improve the property value and are supported only by the owners. It's usual to see the "taxa de condomínio" split between investment ("investimento" -- supported only by owners) and expenses ("despesas" -- supported by all residents -- owners or tenants).

Generally, the owners representative (síndico) hires a professional administrator (in most cases, the cheapest company he can find) to keep accounting records, pay employees by the Law, maintain the area and calculate and collect fees.

It's important to stress that the owner is the ultimate responsible for the "taxa de condomínio". If he rents the unit and the tenant does not pay the "taxa de condomínio", the owner will. If the unit is sold and there are outstanding debts ("taxas de condomínio em aberto"), the new owner is responsible for them. In the worst scenario, as the outstanding debts grow, the unit owner can be sued by the owner's association and lose his property.

When I have time, I'll post "Being a Tenant in a Brazilian Condo"! I hope you enjoy...

May 22, 2012

Italian Restaurants in São Paulo

São Paulo houses the largest Italian population in Brazil. There are many Italian restaurants, as you may expect, most of them with Northern Italian accent. What you may not know is that over the years many São Paulo restaurants have hired Northern Brazilians as cookers and with them came their non Italian influences. More important, however, is that some Italian ingredients are not available in Brazil, or their Brazilian counterparts don't taste the same.

Does this mean there aren´t good or even excellent Italian restaurants in São Paulo? Well, it depends on your references... Most of them are more authentic than the ones in the US. Some fulfill any expectations. The two I like most are:
Vinheria Percussi: famous for the extense wine list and the quality and speed of its cuisine.
Restaurante Cosi: "cosi" in Italian means "this way". It's a place where the food is prepared the way it should.

I wouldn't recommend, however, local restaurants that cost up to 6 times more than top Italian restaurants in Italy! I'm talking about Fasano et alli...