Brazil grants special visas to facilitate entry for Syrians fleeing conflict

Syrians who want to leave their conflict-wracked nation and travel to Brazil will be granted special visas to travel to Latin America’s biggest country, the government said Tuesday.The government says it will grant special visas to Syrians who want to leave their conflict-wracked nation and travel to Brazil.

The government’s official gazette says Tuesday that the foreign ministry has been authorized to issue the visas for “humanitarian reasons,” allowing Syrians affected by the conflict and the “deterioration of living conditions” to enter the South American country.

Brazil has a Syrian immigrant community estimated at about 3 million.The National Committee for Refugees said the number of Syrians who have arrived in Brazil since the conflict began of the conflict rose from 17 in 2011 to 261 in August of this year.

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Building a World Cup Stadium in the Amazon

The most challenging aspect of building a World Cup soccer stadium in the middle of the Amazon is debatable. Some might say it is figuring out how to get oversize cranes and hundreds of tons of stainless steel and concrete into a city surrounded by a rain forest that stretches for about 2.1 million square miles. Others might mention the need to put most of those materials together before the rainy season floods the entire construction site. Then, of course, there are those who might point to the need to install the special chairs.

Yes, the chairs. It may seem like a small concern — at least compared with the whole everything-being-flooded possibility — but one of the less obvious issues that comes with building a stadium in the jungle is what the searing equatorial sunlight here can do to plastic.

The World Cup has never staged games in a rain forest, much less in the middle of the Amazon. But that is the plan for next summer, an ambition that invites plenty of hurdles. What other major stadium project had to drain an “unwelcome tributary of the French River,” as Neto put it, that ran through its foundation? What other builder has to spend multiple days on each joint that is soldered because the stifling humidity can cause steel to buckle? What other job has to accommodate one of the most ecologically sensitive regions in the world?

Then, of course, there are the concerns about how many more millions will be spent on cost overruns, not to mention what will happen to the stadium once the four World Cup games scheduled to be played here next year are completed. (One recent proposal suggested that the stadium could be converted to a prison.)

Eric Gamboa, an official with the local organizing committee, said the best comparison for the construction of the Arena Amazonia may be to that of the opera house that opened here in 1896.

That construction took place over about 15 years and was financed by the government during a time of booming growth in the rubber industry. The finished product, the Teatro Amazonas, is a gorgeous Renaissance design that, in many ways, looks out of place in its location not far from the city’s more rugged port area.

The stadium project has a similar opulence, and it, too, relies on imported supplies because of a distinct lack of truck-accessible roads to Manaus. Most materials for the stadium have been sent from the port of Aveiro, in Portugal. Three ships were filled with steel and a fourth brought the membrane, or sheath, that serves as the stadium’s partial roof. Each of the ships needed roughly 17 to 20 days to cross the Atlantic Ocean, then navigate the Amazon River and its tributaries to arrive in Manaus.

Given that reality, a concrete prefabrication facility was built next to the stadium site in an attempt to speed construction. Despite having as many as 1,400 employees, the project has been bogged down by the delays, cost increases and design changes that come with seemingly every significant piece of Brazilian infrastructure. In a polite but pointed statement, Hubert Nienhoff, the chief executive of gmp-Architekten, the German firm that designed the stadium, said that although the “precise planning and implementation that Germans are credited with” might be respected in Brazil, they are “not always compatible with the existing pragmatic day-to-day business” in the country.

His point was unmistakable. Left unsaid was this: The progress in Manaus was so sluggish that at one point late last year, Jérôme Valcke, the secretary general of soccer’s governing body, FIFA, said it was possible that games would not be played in the city if the stadium’s deadlines were not met.

That threat, according to local officials, prompted a construction surge, and with it a ballooning budget. The stadium was supposed to cost about 500 million reais (about $227 million) and be completed by July; now it will cost at least 600 million reais and is scheduled to be finished by December, Neto said. As of the end of August, about 78 percent of the stadium was complete, according to FIFA, making the target date at least theoretically feasible.

He was not joking; from December through March, this city generally receives as much as 45 inches of rain, almost twice as much as what Johannesburg, which hosted games during the 2010 World Cup, receives all year.

Of course, there are some who believe the four World Cup games set for Manaus should not be played here anyway. Critics of the stadium in Manaus, as well as similar projects in Brasilia and in Cuiaba, note the lack of top-division soccer teams in those cities and call the expensive stadiums white elephants. This is not uncommon. Similar questions were raised about stadiums in South Africa; some sites at the 2012 London Olympics left questionable legacies, too.

But in Brazil, where economic issues are so divisive, recent estimates that about 6.4 billion reais of public money will be used to finance the World Cup have made the white elephant discussions more heated. In Manaus, for example, most of the pro teams are in the fourth division of Brazil’s national league. A game last month involving one of the teams, Nacional, drew a little more than 1,000 fans to a tiny stadium in the eastern part of the city. With capacity at the World Cup stadium set to be about 42,000, concerns linger over how necessary the project is.

Organizers challenge that thinking, highlighting the stadium’s multipurpose design and saying there are a number of options for post-World Cup events. Environmentally friendly features like harvesting rainwater to use in the stadium’s toilets make the stadium sustainable, the designers said, and concerts and other exhibitions are among the possibilities raised for future use.

Local officials are also quick to note the exposure the World Cup will bring to the Amazon region, as Manaus is often used by tourists solely as a starting (or returning) point for forays into the rain forest. While certainly isolated, Manaus is hardly antiquated; the city has a population of about two million and a growing economy that includes electronics, chemical and oil companies. The Free Economic Zone of Manaus is also a significant industrial hub.

From a helicopter, this Amazonian city is a parade of stunning sights. Out in the river, there is the famous Meeting of the Waters, the phenomenon where the Rio Negro and the Rio Solimões rub up against each other but do not mix. Along the banks, jungle lodges are carved snug against the forest. In the port, ships hauling sugar, fish, bananas and watermelons weave in and out of the docks.

First, though, the stadium will have its moment in the spotlight. Assuming the construction is completed in December, the World Cup draw will take place shortly thereafter, and the locals will finally know which teams and fans will travel to Manaus.

Once here, the visitors will find a sharp juxtaposition. The stadium, which is designed to look like an indigenous straw basket, will surely gleam while the city around it offers a mix of areas: the upscale Ponta Negra, for example, contrasted with a slew of gritty slums.

The glamour of Rio de Janeiro and the bustle of São Paulo are about 1,700 miles to the south. This is the Amazon. There are jungle lodges and electrical storms in this city. But if the flooding is avoided — and the special chairs arrive on time — there will be soccer here next summer, too.

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For Brazilians, President Rousseff made the right decision about visit to the U.S.

Brazilians tuning into the Globo Network’s Fantástico news show on successive Sunday nights this month were taken aback by allegations that the United States not only spied on their president but also was monitoring Petrobras, the state-run oil company.

The charges that the National Security Agency carried out cyber-espionage in President Dilma Rousseff’s office and kept track of her conversations with cabinet members raised nationalistic hackles in Brazil.

While Rousseff’s response — the postponement of a state visit to Washington scheduled for late October — was a setback in diplomatic relations between the hemisphere’s two largest democracies, the decision played well in Brazil.

Even before the postponement was announced last Tuesday, the perceived attacks may have helped Rousseff in the polls. After a difficult summer marked by massive domestic protests and a lackluster economy, Rousseff’s approval rating fell 24.4 points to 49.3 percent from June to July in a poll conducted by MDA Research for the National Transport Confederation.

But the latest MDA poll taken mostly in early September — after Glenn Greenwald, a Guardian correspondent living in Rio de Janeiro, appeared on the popular Fantástico program and made the espionage allegations based on documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden — showed Rousseff’s approval rating had climbed to 58 percent.

President Barack Obama called Rousseff last Monday night trying to convince her to make the trip, which would have been the first state visit by a Brazilian president in 18 years, but in the end analysts say her calculation was there was little upside to traveling to Washington.

The statement issued by the White House on the postponement echoed that theme. The relationship between the largest economy in South America and the United States “should not be overshadowed by a single bilateral issue, no matter how important or challenging the issue may be,’’ it said.

Another factor may have been the risk of more revelations coming out in the media during the visit, resulting in a “double embarrassment” for both presidents, said Rubens Barbosa, a former Brazilian ambassador to Washington and now a business consultant in São Paulo.

Some in Rousseff’s cabinet urged her to cancel the trip outright and members of her leftist Workers Party were pushing for the recall of the Brazilian ambassador to Washington, but her decision to simply postpone the trip allows some room for diplomatic finesse.

But analysts said if she doesn’t make the trip by early next year, it might not happen because in 2014 Brazil will be in full-fledged campaign mode leading up to the October 5 presidential election.

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Brazil’s Chocolate Demand Heats Up

Cocoa prices are trading near a one-year high, as supplies are forecast to fall short of demand for the first time since 2010. That’s just as chocolate demand is climbing in Europe and the U.S. But appetites are also heating up farther south.

Brazilian per capita chocolate consumption is growing three times faster than in the U.S., estimates Max Rangel, senior vice president of global chocolate at Hershey Co.HSY -0.59%

Brazilians’ consumption of chocolate hit a record 717,000 metric tons last year, up 54% from 2007, according to the Brazilian Chocolate, Cocoa & Peanut Candies Association, a trade group. That’s roughly the weight of 16.7 billion Hershey chocolate bars.

But Brazil – the sixth-largest producer of cocoa beans – can’t keep up with demand. Imports of chocolate more than doubled in that period.

It is partly the result of one of Brazil’s worst agricultural blights, a fungus known as witches’ broom that swept through Brazil more than two decades ago. It more than halved Brazil’s cocoa output between 1990 and 2010.

The country’s rising demand is helping support prices and will continue to buoy the market, says Hector Galvan, a senior broker at R.J. O’Brien. In the long run, he said, it will “put a line in the sand for how low the price can go.”

It’s not just Brazilians’ demand that will drive the market up. It’s the kind of chocolate they crave. As The Wall Street Journal reported, dark chocolate – the variety made without milk – has been gaining market share in Europe and the U.S. Consumers are becoming more health conscious and eager to shell out more for a chocolate fix that can contain less sugar. That variety of chocolate has greater cocoa content than milk chocolate, meaning more beans are needed to produce it.

Brazilian consumers are starting to follow suit.

Dark chocolate purchases are gaining market share from milk chocolate, according to market-research firm Euromonitor. Dark chocolate last year comprised 8.7% of the Brazilian retail chocolate market last year, up from 8.1% in 2008. Milk chocolate’s market share was 63.7%, falling every year since 2008, when its share was 64.3%.

She says she buys chocolate once a week and makes snacks like chocolate cookies with protein powder with less sugar than regular cookies.

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Tim Sale Decision Seen Roiling Brazil’s Wireless Market

The financial troubles of Telecom Italia SpA (TIT) are prompting Barclays Plc and BTIG LLC to predict the company will sell Tim Participacoes SA (TIMP3) in Brazil, altering the balance of power in the fifth-largest wireless market.

A breakup of the nation’s second-biggest carrier, spreading its assets and subscribers among its rivals, is the most viable option because Brazilian regulator Anatel is unlikely to approve an outright merger of Tim with a single large competitor, said a team of Barclays analysts led by Jonathan Dann. An outsider such as as Vodafone Group Plc (VOD) could also buy a stake or all of Tim, said Walt Piecyk, an analyst at BTIG in New York.

Tim is the fastest-growing mobile phone operator in Brazil with a 27 percent share as of July, behind only Telefonica Brasil’s Vivo brand with 29 percent, according to data compiled by consulting group Teleco. Photographer: Lianne Milton/Bloomberg

Divvying up Tim would be a boon for Brazil’s three other major mobile-phone providers — Telefonica Brasil SA, America MovilSAB and Oi SA — since removing a competitor would ease pressure on price competition. The government would also find that scenario more palatable than allowing one Brazilian operator to acquire all of Tim’s 73 million customers, said Richard Dineen, an analyst at HSBC Holdings Plc.

“Anatel has to look at the implications structurally — is this going to serve consumer interests better? Will investments improve?” Dineen said. “Consolidation could be good if stronger players are made and are more able to invest in the sector.”

Tim’s press office at its Rio de Janeiro headquarters referred all questions to Telecom Italia, where a spokesman in Milan declined to comment.

Telecom Italia’s biggest shareholders, including Telefonica, have resumed negotiations over their six-year investor accord that can be revoked this month, people familiar with the matter said today. The investor pact can be dissolved by the end of this week — or else it will be extended through February 2015, with another exit window in August 2014.

Tim rose 3.4 percent to 10.11 reais at the close in Sao Paulo, valuing the company at 24.4 billion reais ($11.1 billion).

Tim’s success in subscriber gains has made it the best option for its Italian parent company to raise money, said Robin Bienenstock, a London-based analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. The carrier is the top Brazilian telecommunications pick among analysts, with 13 buys, seven holds and no sells. That’s because of its aggressive pricing and push to be the first to offer data and text messaging to a wider audience, said Renato Pasquini, manager of Latin American telecommunications at Frost & Sullivan in Sao Paulo.

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Brazil’s Bid to Infrastructure Privatization Has Bumpy Start

Brazil kicked off its multibillion-dollar infrastructure privatization plan Wednesday with mixed results, reviving doubts about the how successful the effort will be to engage the private sector in upgrading the country’s inadequate infrastructure and jump-start tepid growth.

Consórcio Planalto, a group of Brazilian construction companies, on Wednesday won a 30-year concession to manage a 437-kilometer (271-mile) stretch of highway in Goiás and Minas Gerais states, the first of 7,500 kilometers (4,650 miles) that the government wants to hand over to private operators over the next five years. The group will have to invest 3 billion Brazilian reais ($1.3 billion), according to government estimates, which will be recouped through tolls.

In a setback for the government, no one presented bids for a second stretch of highway in Espírito Santo and Minas Gerais states. Investors blamed the low toll prices that the government insisted on, despite heavy investments needed to repair a decaying roadbed. It was also unclear whether the government would deliver on some commitments to upgrade parts of the highway.

President Dilma Rousseff said a delicate balance needs to be found between company profit and the country’s need for low tolls. “When it’s practical to unite the two, we will. When it’s not, we’ll carry out public works” to build the roads, she said.

Brazil’s limited transportation network is seen as a drag on the country’s economic growth. While some emerging markets such as China spend more than 10% of their gross domestic product on infrastructure each year, Brazil’s investment barely reaches 2% of GDP, just enough to keep the existing network from deteriorating further.

Along with roads, the government plans to hand over 10,000 kilometers (6,200 miles) of railways, at least two airports, and several maritime terminals to private operators. State and city governments, meanwhile, are allowing private investment in their subways, railways, and roads, and bidding rounds are awaited for new deep-water oil-exploration blocks.

It’s all part of a plan announced last year to generate investment of more than 400 billion reais in infrastructure over the next decade.

While few question the need for the investments, or the long-term benefits for Brazil once the concessions get off the ground, there is skepticism that the auctions will come off smoothly.

Previous government interventions, such as forcing utilities to lower electricity prices last year in order to renew their contracts, also led to reluctance on the part of investors already discouraged by Brazil’s history of capital controls, protective tariffs, and high tax burden.

Despite this week’s setback, investors are optimistic most of the concessions will go forward, although probably at a slower pace. Indeed, Finance Minister Guido Mantega said Wednesday that the government would have to go back to the drawing board on several road concessions.

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