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Brazil’s President Bolsonaro Faces First Defeat in Congress

The defeat on the floor of the house came one day after Bolsonaro fired a senior minister amid a scandal.

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Jair Bolsonaro, Brazil
Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro arrives at the inauguration ceremony of the new president of the Parliamentary Front of Agriculture (FPA), at the Clube Naval, in Brasilia, Jan. 19, 2019. VOA

Brazil’s lower chamber handed right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro his first defeat in Congress on Tuesday, the day before his government presents its most important legislative proposal to rein in a gaping budget deficit and spur growth.

The house voted overwhelmingly to suspend an executive order by the Bolsonaro government that altered Brazil’s freedom of information law to broaden the number of officials allowed to designate data and documents as secret or ultra-secret.

Lawmakers voted 367 to 57 to fast-track a bill overturning the secrecy measure and government whips were unable to muster votes to avoid defeat.

The bill must still be voted on by the Senate, but the reversal showed that Bolsonaro, who took office on Jan. 1, has not yet been able to organize a coalition in Congress to back his legislative agenda.

On Wednesday, Bolsonaro will send to Congress his plan to overhaul Brazil’s generous and costly pension system that eats up more than half of federal spending and is the main factor behind an unsustainable budget deficit.

Brazil, Bolsonaro
FILE – Gustavo Bebianno in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Sept. 29, 2018. VOA

Approval of pension reform is vital for the recovery of investor confidence in Latin America’s largest economy.

The defeat on the floor of the house came one day after Bolsonaro fired a senior minister amid a scandal involving campaign financing for some of his party’s congressional candidates in the October elections.

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The ousted minister, Gustavo Bebianno, was instrumental in getting Bolsonaro elected but had a run-in with one of the president’s sons, triggering the weeks-old government’s first cabinet crisis.

In a note to clients, analysts at Eurasia Group said the scandal indicated the administration’s political team was in disarray, but they still expected the pension reform to get passed, albeit in a less ambitious version. (VOA)

Next Story

Here’s Everything you Need to Know about Cocoa Production in Brazil

Brazil Cocoa Follows in Footsteps of Famed Wines, Boosting Prices

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BRAZIL ECONOMY COCOA
Brazilian Altiele Carvalho dos Santos, 32 and Gloria de Jesus Santos, 36, sort cocoa beans at the Altamira farm in Itajuipe, Bahia state, Brazil. VOA

With an attentive eye, Henrique Almeida watches a technician carefully open a hundred cocoa pods, while another worker on the plantation collects samples in bags to check whether the batch conforms to the “South Bahia” geographical indication.

Like famed wines from specific regions in Europe, such as France’s Champagne, the geographical indication (GI) denotes the origin and quality of the cocoa, leading to higher prices that are a boon to farmers who meet the exacting standards.

“The production of fine cocoa and the creation of the geographical indication label make it possible to have a profitable business and pull our region upwards,” Almeida explained.

Brazil COCOA
Brazilian Henrique de Almeida, owner of the Sagarama cocoa farm, poses for a photo in Coaraci, Bahia state, Brazil. VOA

The 63-year-old comes from a cocoa-growing family that has been farming for three generations. In 2006, he acquired the hundred-year-old Sagarana farm, 148 acres (60 hectares) on a hillside in Coaraci, in the Bahia, Brazil.

Farmers had previously been confined to the production of common cocoa, intended for the chocolate industry.

But after the “witches’ broom” disease in 1989 drastically reduced the productivity of Bahia’s cocoa trees — which provide up to 86 percent of national output — Almeida, like other producers in southern Bahia, chose to improve the quality of his crop in order to be able to continue growing.

“When I bought the farm, standard cocoa prices were low, and cocoa farmers were unmotivated, while the chocolate market was doing well,” he told AFP. “I started growing fine cocoa to make my own chocolate and add value to my product.”

Cocoa Brazil
View of cocoa beans during the fermentation process at the Altamira farm in Itajuipe, Bahia state, Brazil. VOA

Higher value cocoa

He then established a production method that was longer and more precise than that for common cocoa. After picking and opening the pods and sorting out the quality seeds, he would put them in wooden tubs to ferment for seven to eight days, stirring them every 24 hours to allow the chocolate aroma to develop.

He would then leave the beans to dry in the sun for several days, covering them in case of strong heat or rain.

It has paid off: on average, GI-labeled cocoa costs between 40 to 160 percent more than common cocoa.

Fine cocoa currently makes up almost half of Almeida’s production, and 40 percent of the high-quality beans comply with the specifications for the “South Bahia” GI.

Cocoa in Bahia Brazil
Brazilian farm workers Jose Carlos, 37, and Daniel Ferreira, 34, cut cocoa fuits and evaluate their quality as Nivaldo Novaes dos Santos (R), 27, collects them at Altamira farm in Itajuipe, Bahia state, Brazil. VOA

This label is the result of a decade of work by Almeida and other fine cocoa producers, as well as cooperatives and researchers, after they created the South Bahia Cocoa Association (ACSB) to define the production rules.

The National Institute of Industrial Property (INPI) registered the GI in 2018.

Quality rules

It is the second GI given to Brazilian cocoa, after the Linhares region in the state of Espirito Santo, which was registered in 2012, and before the Tome-Acu, which was registered at the beginning of 2019.

The South Bahia registration established stricter qualitative criteria.

“We didn’t want a simple certification proving the historical-cultural heritage of cocoa in the region,” said biologist Adriana Reis, a co-founder of the ACSB.

Brazil cocoa economy
Dry cocoa beans are tested at the Sagarama farm in Coaraci, Bahia state, Brazil. VOA

“We wanted to use it to defend the quality of this product and protect the environment and social rights, which would also let us differentiate ourselves.”

In particular, for a batch of cocoa to be a GI candidate, at least 65 percent of the beans must be fully fermented, with a moisture content of less than eight percent and less than three percent of internal defects, such as mold, insects or sprouts.

In order to verify compliance with the rules, farmers send samples to the Center for Cocoa Innovation (CIC), an independent laboratory founded in 2017.

If the results come back positive, the ASCB technicians will run a visual test onsite and send a second sample from the same batch to the lab.

The association also monitors the agro-forestry production system, in order to protect the Atlantic forest in which the cocoa trees grow and to ensure compliance with labor codes.

Since April 2018, 25 farmers have already certified 40 tons of cocoa with the GI, 15 percent of the 300 total tons of cocoa produced in southern Bahia.

And the amount should increase, especially since chocolate made from GI-stamped cocoa will also be able to carry the label.

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“In order to get more farmers interested in the GI, buyers need to pay more for this cocoa,” said Reis. “This year, we created a QR code to improve product traceability, which is increasingly demanded by consumers.” (VOA)