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Lula, back in Brasilia, gets down to politics

Photo: Sergio Lima / AFP

| By AFP |

President-elect Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva met the leaders of both houses of Congress Wednesday, calling for “dialogue” in a divided Brazil as he sought support for his agenda after his inauguration on January 1.

The veteran leftist, who narrowly defeated far-right President Jair Bolsonaro in last month’s elections, is scrambling to secure support for his social spending plans ahead of his swearing-in, but is far short of a majority in Congress.

Making his return to the capital, Brasilia, the former president (2003-2010) kicked things off by meeting the speaker of the lower house, Arthur Lira, previously a Bolsonaro ally.

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“The country needs dialogue and normality,” Lula posted on Twitter afterwards, along with a video of he and Lira shaking hands.

He also met Senate president Rodrigo Pacheco.

Brazil was left torn by the October 30 runoff election, which brought a curtain down on four polarizing years under Bolsonaro — who lost by the slimmest margin in the country’s modern history.

Lula, 77, faces the task of healing the nation’s wounds — but also more pragmatic concerns for Latin America’s biggest economy.

That includes finding money for campaign promises such as a minimum-wage increase and continuing a beefed-up welfare program of 600 reais ($115) a month that was introduced by Bolsonaro but not funded in his 2023 budget.

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Lula is racing to find the needed funding, with options such as passing a constitutional amendment allowing the government to break its spending cap next year.

That would likely require support from Lira, who is from a loose coalition of parties known as the “Centrao,” a group known for striking alliances with whoever is in power — in exchange for government pork.

Vice President-elect Geraldo Alckmin, who is heading Lula’s transition team, said Tuesday the incoming administration was still evaluating other options, as well.

Lula also had meetings Wednesday with Supreme Court Chief Justice Rosa Weber and Superior Electoral Tribunal head Alexandre de Moraes.

Anticipation is meanwhile running high for his first cabinet appointments, especially from markets anxious over the key post of finance minister.

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Alckmin named a four-member economic transition team Tuesday, with two market-friendly economists and two close to Lula’s Workers’ Party (PT).

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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