They were teenagers, mainly — bright young things studying medicine or agriculture, out to blow off steam before school started.
But before the night was through, they would die in their hundreds, choked by a toxic yellow fog and crushed by their peers as they groped blindly for an escape.
“It was worse than a scene from a horror movie,” said Murilo de Toledo Tiecher, 26, who survived the blaze that killed 236 people in a nightclub in southern Brazil in the early hours of Sunday morning. “People screaming, crying, lots of injured people without their skin and with burned bodies.”
On a sticky December morning, Justine Arena explains to a student that appropriate small talk for an international conference call must not include “How is Mr. Obama?”
“No politics,” says the 36-year-old English teacher/entrepreneur in her client’s plush office in a wealthy neighborhood.
Her student is no sullen teen, but the Latin America director for a multinational automaker.
Still, it’s clear who’s in charge here.
“What about ‘how is your mother?’” asks the student.
“Nothing personal either,” Arena says somewhat sternly. “Stick to the weather.”
She is one of a growing group of former Brazilian immigrants who have come home, drawn by economic growth and a job market the US and Europe can no longer offer. The 2010 census showed that from 2005 to 2010, 174,000 Brazilians returned to their home country, nearly twice as many as between 1995 and 2000.
From municipal elections to the mensalão, from dams to deforestation, for the slowing economy and the booming middle class, 2012 was big for Brazil. The year began with devastating building collapses in Rio de Janeiro, and ended with a farewell to world-renowned architect Oscar Niemeyer.
In between, Brazil saw Rio+20, gay marriage in São Paulo, a battle over oil royalties and one enormous corruption trial. Murders were up in São Paulo, deforestation was down in the Amazon, and President Dilma Rousseff was declared the world’s third most powerful woman.
Here are five of the year’s biggest political stories:
The numbers are almost too much to take in: 4,100 murdered this year. This figure does not refer to a war-torn country, but to São Paulo state: the biggest driver of Brazil’s economy.
As a report came out last week showing that Brazil had seen as many violent deaths—500,000—over the past 10 years as Somalia’s 20-year civil war, the death toll in São Paulo city continued to rise.
For a decade, violence in São Paulo had been steadily declining. But recent months have seen a bloody wave sweeping South America’s biggest city—driven by what experts says is a war between police and thePrimeiro Comando da Capital (First Command of the Capital—PCC), a criminal gang based out of São Paulo’s prisons.
Protectionism made news again in Brazil recently, when Finance Minister Guido Mantega announced that Brazilian firms could avoid a 30 percent tax increase on the auto industry by improving fuel efficiency, using Brazilian-made parts and investing in Brazilian research and development. Foreign automakers without a manufacturing plant in Brazil will be subject to the tax hike, Vejanoted.
The program is designed to encourage innovation in technology and fuel efficiency, Mantega argued. Any negative effect on foreign imported cars, he said, was merely collateral damage.
It’s no surprise he is feeling a little defensive.
BRASÍLIA, BRAZIL – The mensalão case, dubbed the “trial of the century,” moves into its most politically significant phase this week with the Supreme Court examining the allegations of vote buying by the Partido dos Trabalhadores (Workers’ Party, PT). Now Marcos Valério has claimed in an incendiary interview with Veja magazine that the scheme reached into the highest levels of the government.
After accepting the government’s offer of a 15.8-percent pay raise over three years, some 400,000 public-sector employees ended their month-long strike and returned to work on Monday. While the workers may have gotten what they wanted, popular patience with public sector workers and unions may be wearing thin.
Late last month, the Mercosur alliance met, suspended Paraguay and ushered in Venezuela as a full member in almost as little time as it took the Paraguayan congress to impeach their former president, Fernando Lugo, the preceding week.
With rifts between staunch allies, and political rivals forging unexpected deals, this year’s municipal elections have already taken on national significance. There are over 5,566 municipalities in Brazil where voting will determine mayors, deputy mayors and city councilors – and the race has started.