The Oscars wade into Brazil’s war of narratives

. Jan 14, 2020
A scene from The Edge of Democracy oscars A scene from The Edge of Democracy. Image: Netflix

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Good morning! We’re covering today Brazil’s controversial political documentary nominated to the Oscars. The country’s new base in Antarctica. And the possibility of the government raising minimum wages. (This newsletter is for premium subscribers only. Become one now!)

Brazil’s “documentary wars” reaches the Oscars

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has nominated Petra Costa’s film The Edge of Democracy for best documentary feature. 

</p> <p><strong>Why it matters.</strong> <em>The Edge of Democracy</em> is part of the &#8220;<a href="">documentary wars</a>,&#8221; being fought between highly politicized filmmakers trying to shape the &#8220;official&#8221; narrative about Brazil&#8217;s recent past. The Oscar nomination was celebrated by left-wing parties as validation of the impeachment having been a soft coup. Conservatives, predictably, bashed the nomination.</p> <figure class="wp-block-image"><img src="" alt="the edge of democracy oscars" class="wp-image-30198" srcset=" 810w, 300w, 768w, 610w" sizes="(max-width: 810px) 100vw, 810px" /><figcaption>Tweets from the Workers&#8217; Party and the Social Democracy Party</figcaption></figure> <p><strong>Review. </strong>The movie (available on Netflix) is an overtly partisan take of Dilma Rousseff&#8217;s 2016 impeachment which depicts, with almost no nuance, the Workers&#8217; Party as victims of corrupt elites. A more balanced account would not have ignored the fact that the party ascended to power already with an extensive rap sheet of scandals, nor Ms. Rousseff&#8217;s disastrous economic policy that helped drive Brazil to its worst recession on record, or the fiscal crimes committed by her administration. The documentary also inexplicably left out the assassination attempt against Jair Bolsonaro during the 2018 campaign—which helped his candidacy.</p> <p><strong>Cardinal sins. </strong>Despite the cinematographic merits of Ms. Costa&#8217;s film, with its unique backstage footage of the impeachment crisis, <em>The Edge of Democracy</em> came in for criticism due to two instances of doctoring images.</p> <ul><li>Ms. Costa removed weapons from a photo of two left-wing militants killed by the dictatorship&#8217;s political police. She <a href="">told</a> <em>Piauí</em> magazine she was &#8220;hoping the audience would notice,&#8221; and that the police had planted the weapons at the scene;</li><li>In one take of Ms. Rousseff celebrating her electoral victory in the presidential palace, the director blurred the faces of marketing gurus João Santana and Mônica Moura, pivotal characters that helped elect Ms. Rousseff—and were later arrested for corruption.</li></ul> <p><strong>To the right. </strong>In response to Ms. Costa&#8217;s film, the right-wing Free Brazil Movement (MBL)—which emerged as one of the main actors in the pro-impeachment protests of 2015-2016—launched its own film, <em>Não vai ter golpe </em>(&#8220;There won&#8217;t be a coup&#8221;), as its own one-sided take of events.</p> <p><strong>Bottom line.</strong> As a famous phrase from the 1990s goes, &#8220;Brazil&#8217;s past is as uncertain as its future.&#8221;</p> <hr class="wp-block-separator"/> <h2>Brazil inaugurates new Antarctica base</h2> <p>The government is set to inaugurate its new Comandante Ferraz Antarctic Base. Eight years ago, a fire destroyed part of the base and killed two people. The USD 100 million reconstruction project took three years, but the base will only be completely operational within three months—when its trial phase comes to an end.</p> <p><em><strong>UPDATE:</strong> </em>The official inauguration of the base was delayed until tomorrow, due to bad weather.</p> <p><strong>Why it matters.</strong> Having a base in Antarctica allows Brazilian scientists to perform research in extreme conditions—in order to understand more about Brazil&#8217;s own climate, as many of the winds and clouds that hit the country originate in Antarctica. There are 18 ongoing studies in fields such as oceanography, glaciology, meteorology, and microbiology.</p> <p>The base is also important from a geopolitical standpoint, placing Brazil on the continent with the biggest freshwater reserve on the planet—and which doesn&#8217;t have an &#8220;owner&#8221; or governing body. Another 19 countries also have bases in Antarctica.</p> <p><strong>The facilities.</strong> Reporter Iara Lemos, who is in Antarctica for <strong>The Brazilian Report</strong>, describes the base: a 4,500-square-kilometer structure, capable of resisting winds of up to 200 kilometers per hour and temperatures of up to -30 degrees Celsius. There are 17 laboratories, and the base can house up to 64 people at once.</p> <p><strong>From the ashes.</strong> The structure was entirely built in China and transported to Antarctica on ships. The only way to get there is through the <a href="">dangerous Drake Passage</a>—where over 800 ships have sunk. &#8220;We can generate up to 20 percent of our energy supply from wind and solar power,&#8221; Lieutenant Commander Newton Fagundes, one of the engineers responsible for the project, told <strong>The Brazilian Report</strong>.</p> <hr class="wp-block-separator"/> <h2>Government could backpedal on minimum wage</h2> <p>Economy Minister Paulo Guedes is expected to authorize a new minimum wage for 2020, higher than the BRL 1,039 (USD 250) per month initially announced. The government had raised the minimum wage by 4.1 percent, which was not enough to match last year&#8217;s 4.31-percent inflation rate.</p> <p><strong>Why it matters.</strong> The Constitution establishes that the minimum wage must be adjusted to preserve the purchasing power of the population. When people&#8217;s salaries are worth less than they were before, federal administrations&#8217; approval ratings usually take a hit—and Jair Bolsonaro&#8217;s popularity is already low as it is. No president has had such poor numbers after just one year in office.</p> <p><strong>Yes, but …</strong> The government still doesn&#8217;t know <em>how</em> it will establish a new minimum wage. Congress is still to vote on the first provisional decree which determined the salary of BRL 1,039.</p> <p><strong>Not a consensus.</strong> Some members of the economic team are against a new bump, citing that the lower minimum wage would allow for BRL 1.9 billion in savings this year. That&#8217;s because pensions and benefits paid for by the government are all indexed to the minimum wage.</p> <hr class="wp-block-separator"/> <h2>What else you need to know today</h2> <p><strong>Petrobras.</strong> Brazil&#8217;s state-run oil and gas giant Petrobras is expected to announce today that it is shutting down a fertilizer factory in the southern state of Paraná, leading to the layoffs of roughly 1,000 employees. The company has failed to find investors interested in taking over the operation and is unlikely to absorb the workforce. Petrobras said it wouldn&#8217;t comment on the case.</p> <p><strong>2020 election.</strong> The Workers&#8217; Party will decide on its pre-electoral calendar by Friday. Former President Lula is focused on the São Paulo municipal race, and he is working behind the scenes to narrow the decision for the party&#8217;s candidate as much as possible, hoping to find a consensual name. The left-wing leader believes that the sooner a candidate is picked, the better it will be for negotiating alliances with other parties.</p> <p><strong>Energy.</strong> Economy Minister Paulo Guedes has not given up on ending subsidies for individual producers of solar power. Referred to by President Jair Bolsonaro as a &#8220;tax on the sun,&#8221; the benefit to a few households ends up being paid by the rest of consumers—which Mr. Guedes calls a &#8220;benefit for the rich.&#8221;</p> <p><strong>Streaming.</strong> In an attempt to stop hemorrhaging subscribers, Brazil&#8217;s cable TV providers are now including streaming services such as Netflix in their packages. Between September 2018 and September 2019, over 1.6 million people canceled their cable TV plans—a 9.1-percent drop in the client base in just 12 months.&nbsp;</p> <p><strong>Mint.</strong> Workers of the Brazilian Mint have downed tools among growing tensions concerning the potential privatization of the company. In October, the Mint was included in the government&#8217;s privatization program and, a month later, the president signed a decree ending its monopoly over the production of money, passports, and the printing of postal and fiscal stamps.

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