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Brazil’s Bolsonaro still silent on election loss to Lula

Photo: Evaristo Sa / AFP

| By AFP | Fran Blandy and Joshua Howat Berger |

Brazil’s far-right President Jair Bolsonaro maintained an increasingly loud silence Monday after his election defeat, failing to acknowledge his loss to veteran leftist Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva — who faces a tough to-do list.

Twenty-four hours after the close of voting in Sunday’s deeply polarizing runoff election, Bolsonaro had still not recognized the outcome — raising fears he could try to challenge it, with potentially turbulent results for the country.

Charismatic but tarnished ex-president Lula defeated Bolsonaro by the narrowest margin in Brazil’s modern history — 50.9 percent to 49.1 percent — to return for an unprecedented third term at the helm of Latin America’s biggest economy from January 1.

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After a dirty, divisive campaign that left the country of 215 million people split in two, the 77-year-old leftist icon now faces a laundry list of challenges, including a struggling economy, rampant destruction of the Amazon rainforest, and a powerful and angry far-right.

But first, there is the giant question mark over whether Bolsonaro will accept defeat.

The far-right president has not spoken publicly or on his beloved social media accounts since the result was announced, after months of alleging fraud in the electoral system and a conspiracy against him.

The transition period got off to a tense start as pro-Bolsonaro truckers and protesters blocked highways in at least 11 states across the country Monday, burning tires and parking vehicles in the middle of the road to halt traffic.

Wearing the yellow and green of the Brazilian flag — which the outgoing president has adopted as his own — the protesters wielded pro-Bolsonaro signs and sang the national anthem, before gradually being broken up by the authorities.

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Markets were volatile, but reacted favorably overall to the election: after dipping slightly, stocks were up 1.3 percent in afternoon trading in Sao Paulo, and the Brazilian real gained more than two percent against the dollar.

Hope for climate fight

Lula, who vowed in his victory speech to restore Brazil’s damaged image on the international stage, started with phone calls with US President Joe Biden, France’s Emmanuel Macron, Germany’s Olaf Scholz, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres and others, plus a meeting with Argentine President Alberto Fernandez in Sao Paulo, advisers said.

Biden and Lula “committed to continue working as partners to address common challenges, including combatting climate change, safeguarding food security, promoting inclusion and democracy, and managing regional migration,” the White House said.

There was meanwhile radio silence from Bolsonaro, whose absence sparked jokes online.

One meme that went viral earlier Monday featured a picture of a vaguely disoriented-looking Bolsonaro, with the caption, “Missing: elderly man, very talkative, has not been heard from in 12 hours.”

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First Lady Michelle Bolsonaro meanwhile denied swirling rumors of a post-election marital crisis, after she and her husband reportedly stopped following each other on social media.

AFP journalists said Bolsonaro left his official residence without comment Monday morning for the presidential offices, where he was photographed walking down a corridor with a grim face.

Officials there said the former army captain was meeting with cabinet ministers.

There are fears Bolsonaro, 67, could attempt a Brazilian version of the US Capitol riots which rocked that country after his political role model, former US president Donald Trump, refused to accept his election defeat in 2020.

But the Brazilian leader may find himself isolated.

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Some key Bolsonaro allies have publicly recognized his loss, including the powerful speaker of the lower house of Congress, Arthur Lira.

And international congratulations for Lula poured in from the US, China, India, France, Britain, South Africa and numerous others.

The European Union’s leadership voiced hope the result would lead to ratification of a trade deal with South American bloc Mercosur, long stalled over concerns about rampant deforestation in the Amazon under Bolsonaro.

Norway announced it would resume paying nearly $500 million in aid for protecting the world’s biggest rainforest, which it halted in 2019 over Bolsonaro’s policies.

“We had a head-on collision with Bolsonaro, whose approach was diametrically opposed (to Lula’s) when it came to deforestation,” Norwegian Environment Minister Espen Barth Eide told AFP.

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Deep divisions

Lula, who previously led Brazil from 2003 to 2010, criticized his nemesis Sunday night for not acknowledging the result.

“Anyplace else in the world, the defeated president would have called me to recognize his defeat,” he said in his victory speech to a euphoric sea of red-clad supporters in Sao Paulo.

The ex-metalworker, making his return from controversial, since-quashed corruption charges that sent him to prison for 18 months, vowed to work for “peace and unity” in the divided nation.

Easier said than done, according to political analysts.

“It was a very narrow victory (that left) half the population unhappy,” said political scientist Leandro Consentino of Insper university in Sao Paulo.

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“Lula will have to show a lot of political skill to pacify the country.”

International

Food prices send hunger soaring in Latin America: UN agencies

Photo: AP News

| By AFP |

Rising food prices in Latin America and the Caribbean caused the number of people going hungry in the region to rise by more than 13 million between 2019 and 2021, a United Nations report said Tuesday.

The report by three UN agencies said the region was particularly vulnerable to the global food crisis caused by Russia’s war in Ukraine due to a high reliance on wheat, maize and fertilizer imports.

“The number of people in the region suffering from hunger increased by 13.2 million to 56.5 million,” read the report, released at a press conference in Santiago, Chile.

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In addition, moderate or severe food insecurity affected 267.7 million people — 40.6 percent of the region’s population — in 2021. 

This is “far above the world average” of 29.3 percent, said the report.

“The rise in food inflation and extreme poverty is one of the factors behind the increase in food insecurity and hunger,” said the report by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Food Programme (WFP).

According to the FAO, food insecurity refers to a lack of regular access to healthy and nutritious food.

“The heavy reliance on imported fertilizers, and fluctuating food prices, have an unavoidable negative impact on livelihoods — mainly of the rural population — and access to healthy food,” said Mario Lubetkin, FAO Assistant Director-General.

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International

Colombia landslide kills 34

Photo: AFP

| By AFP |

Heavy rains in northwest Colombia sent a wall of earth crashing onto a winding road, swallowing up a bus and other vehicles and killing 34 people, emergency services said Monday.

The landslide Sunday evening prompted a large rescue effort, with dozens of people in hard hats using backhoes and excavators to dig through the earth looking for victims.

The National Unit for Disaster Risk Management said the fatalities included eight minors and that nine other people were injured in the disaster in the remote town of Pueblo Rico.

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The bus had set out from the city of Cali with 25 passengers, and traveled 270 kilometers (170 miles) before being hit by the landslide as it passed through the Andes mountain region, civil defense officials said.

Colombian media reported that a child had survived and was pulled from the arms of its mother, who did not make it.

One survivor said the bus driver had at first managed to dodge the worst of the landslide.

“Part of it was coming down and the bus was a little bit back from that. The bus driver was backing up when it all came crashing down,” Andres Ibarguen told radio station Lloro Stereo.

The rainy season that began in August is Colombia’s worst in 40 years, according to the government, causing accidents that have left more than 270 people dead.

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The country has declared a national disaster over the rains linked to the exceptionally long La Nina weather phenomenon, which cools surface temperatures and is currently causing drought and flooding around the globe.

Today, the landslide “puts this town in mourning, tomorrow it could be in another area, because we really have many unstable areas in the country, and the rainy season has not ended,” said Javier Pava of the UNGRD.

The UN’s World Meteorological Organization said last week the La Nina conditions could last until February or March 2023.

In Colombia, the phenomenon has also caused crop damage, compromising food supplies and leading to soaring prices.

In July, three children were killed in northwestern Colombia when a landslide buried a rural school. In February, 14 people died in a mudslide triggered by heavy rains in central-western Risaralda province.

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International

At least 27 killed in Colombia landslide: president

Photo: AFP

| By AFP |

At least 27 people were killed when a landslide engulfed a road in northwest Colombia, trapping people in a bus and other vehicles, said President Gustavo Petro on Monday.

“It is with sadness that I must announce that, so far, 27 people, including three minors, have lost their lives in the tragedy” that struck on Sunday in a remote area of the Pueblo Rico municipality, Petro wrote on Twitter.

On Sunday evening, the president reported three dead, as dozens of rescue workers searched for survivors.

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One survivor said the driver of the bus managed to dodge the worst of the landslide.

“Part of it was coming down and the bus was a little bit back from that. The bus driver was backing up when it all came crashing down,” Andres Ibarguen told radio station Lloro Stereo.

The bus had set out from the city of Cali with 25 passengers, civil defense officials said.

The rainy season that began in August is Colombia’s worst in 40 years, according to the government, causing accidents that have left more than 270 people dead.

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