Natal Brazil

Information about the city of Natal, in Brazil.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Rio Grande do Norte talks to Austrian investors

Austria ambassador
Austria Ambassador visits the
Governor of Rio Grande do Norte
Photo: Jaime Paulino

Rio Grande do Norte will send representatives to the Summit of Latin American, Caribbean and European Union countries which will happen in Vienna, capital of Austria, from 11th to 13th of May.
Along with the Summit, there will be a workshop called "Going to Brazil", where Austrian investors will be informed about how, where and in what invest in Brazil.
Rio Grande do Norte will send the Secretary of Tourism, Renato Garcia, who will show the potential and opportunities of the State, particulartly in the sectors of tourism and real estate.

The invitation to participate of the event came from the Austrian Ambassador to Brazil, Werner Brandstetter, who paid a courtesy visit to Governor Wilma de Faria.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Scandal in Government of Rio Grande do Norte

Fundação José Augusto is a foundation mantained by the State of Rio Grande do Norte with the purpose of supporting cultural events in the State. The support includes providing space for presentations (the Foundation has a mid-sized, comfortable theater in the district of Tirol), passing knowledge and expertize to smaller towns and, of course, providing financial assistance.

Last February, members of the Public Prosecution found strange the existance of many contracts (all public contracts must be published on the Public Gazette), without bidding, which supposedly should hire singers and bands for presentations in small cities of the State during Carnival.
Upon investigation, it was found out that most of the shows were not realized; some singers and bands were contacted, and denied to even know anything about the contracts.

Investigations revealed that an illegal scheme was being operated inside the Government. Shows and contracts were forged, but the funds were released; the documentation which should demonstrate that the shows were realized were also forged.
Latest report indicated that a total of R$ 1.2 million (nearly US$ 600,000) were stolen. The money was paid to a man called Fabiano César, who, supposedly, was the manager of all the singers; the Prosecutors are now investigating with whom Fabiano shared the money.

The more the invesgations continue, the higher in the State hierarchy they move.
The first version was that some middle-level managers of Fundação José Augusto would have forged the documents. A few days later, however, the signature of the President of the Foundation was found in official documents authorizing the contracts; the President resigned.
Later, it was revealed that Italo Gurge, Chief of Staff of the Governor Wilma de Farias, would be the mentor of the scheme; Italo would have used his powers to release the funds to FJA.
A few days ago, it was demonstrated that Governor Wilma de Farias signed herself papers authorizing the releasing of funds for FJA. Mrs. Farias alleges that she routinely signs authorizations for several other Secretaries (the law says that, above a certain level, all contracting must be allowed by the Governor), but can't thoroughly check out all of them.

Investigations will tell who is involved.

Free service bus within University to cease

For nearly ten years now, there has been a bus service (known as "Circular") which runs around the main campus of the Federal University of Rio Grande do Norte, for free. Students take the bus to move inside the campus, or to get to the external boundaries and take another bus.

Passengers don't pay because the service is fully subsidized. Now, the Secretary of Transportation is considering to stop the service. The idea is to include all the paid lines which cross the campus (and possibly add other lines) into the system of Transfer Stations; by this system, passengers can take several buses with only one ticket (as long as they change buses inside the Transfer Stations).

Of course, students are against the measure; public manifestations are expected. Students say that, by obliging them to pay for transportation, the Government is against Education.

It is estimated that nearly 50% of passengers of buses in Natal has some kind of subsidy. For example, by force of law, people over 60 years old are exempted from paying. Students, both from public and private schools, pay half fare. Certain categories like police and mailmen also travel for free.
The consequence is that the cost of transportation must be paid by those who don't have subsidies; this includes the majority of the working class.
With the low salaries paid in Brazil (minimum wage is R$ 350), the cost of transportation (a bus ride costs R$ 1.45, with an increase due soon) may be a significant share of the income.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Making a living on the beach

Tribuna do Norte published a report today about people who make a living by selling stuff on the beach.
working on the beaches
The newspaper interviewed several workers, and found out that most live in the outskirts of Natal, have little or no education, and resort to working on beaches for lack of other options.
Tribuna talked to authorities, and found out that there is no planning to change the situation by giving more assistance to the workers.

A few example of people working on beaches:
Wilson Dias, aged 60, came from Martins, a small city in the interior of Rio Grande do Norte, to make a treatment of stroke in Natal; after the treatment, he and his family decided to stay in the capital. He complements his retiring benefits by selling peanuts and cashew nuts in Ponta Negra; according to him, competition is growing, selling is harder and harder.
Anderson Felipe, aged 18, quit school when taking the first year in highschool. He sells coconuts in Ponta Negra, to help his mother and two younger sisters. His words: "It's been two years I've worked here. I arrive in the morning, go home at evening; I've been assaulted several times on my way back home. I push the cart about 20 km, covering Ponta Negra five times. Business is better during the high season and the weekends, but currently I've been making about R$ 10 a day."

Tribuna also mention cases of people who succeeded working on beaches.
Josefina Lima, aged 47, has been selling bikinis and beachware for 15 years; she says she built a small house and educated her kids.
In Redinha, Antônio Cruz, aged 30, sold sunglasses for ten years; now, he purchased a kiosk on the Mercado da Redinha (the public market space), and is proud to be an entrepreneur.

Read the original article by Tribuna do Norte (check out the link to photos gallery at the bottom of page).

Read more about things to buy on Ponta Negra beach.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

April 21st: Brazil National Holiday

April 21st is one of Brazil National Holidays.
This date, Brazilians remember Tiradentes, the Martyr of Independence.
In 1792, when Brazil was still a colony of Portugal, a group of rebels organized an Independence movement in Minas Gerais. The group had participation of State staff, entrepreneurs, intelectuals; Tiradentes was the poorest of all, but he assumed responsibility, and was the only one sentenced to death (by hanging).
Tiradentes means "tooth puller" and is the nickname of Joaquim José da Silva Xavier; he is one of the few Brazilian heroes.
Read more about Tiradentes.

In National Holidays, the public service stops, corporations also take a break, most shops open late. Many Brazilians take short trips; it's common to find people from Recife and Fortaleza in hotels and restaurants, as well as in the major touristic spots (particularly the buggy rides).

Monday, April 17, 2006

Weather report

As predicted by the weather forecast institutions, April is being a wet month.
March was much drier than anticipated, with only a few rainy days.
Since the second week of April, there have been showers nearly every day. The forecast until the end of the month is of frequent raining.
Rains in Natal follow certain patterns. First: rains almost always come from the sea towards the continent. Rains are short lasting (the time it takes for the cloud to travel across the city); sometimes, it rains in Ponta Negra, but it doesn't in Praia do Meio (and vice-versa). Rains come in bursts: instead of a continuous rain, there are a few short rains with dry intervals.

Temperature is still pleasant. Tourists still wear t-shirts, shorts and slippers, no need to wear coats.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Football : Baraúnas is Rio Grande do Norte champion

The State of Rio Grande do Norte doesn't have much presence in Brazilian football. The two main teams are America and ABC, both from Natal; the former is disputing the second division of the Brazilian championship, and the latter is in the third division.

Now, the teams in Natal are losing even the predominance within the State.
Yesterday, the teams of Baraúnas and Potiguar, both from Mossoró, played the final match. For the first time ever, Baraúnas was State champion (Potiguar was champion in 2004, beating America in the finals). Baraúnas is now entitled to play the third division of Brazilian championship, and also to participate of Copa do Brasil, the same tournament which brought Flamengo to play against ABC a few weeks ago (see note on this blog).

There are positive and negative points in the State having a small role in Brazilian football.
Negative: it is very unlikely that Natal will see Ronaldinho or any other Brazilian star playing here.
Positive: football in Natal is for fun; in other Brazilian States (e.g., Pernambuco), the rivalry between fans sometimes turns into violence. Going to Machadão or to recently opened Frasqueirão may be a good option for tourists.

Read more about football in Natal.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Be careful with your bank cards.

Tribuna do Norte reported today that two men were arrested for attempt of stealing money using bank cards.

The men acted like that: they spotted foreigners having trouble using bank cards in the ATMs (Automatic Telling Machines) of busy Shopping Centers (in this case, the Praia Shopping, in Ponta Negra); they offer help; one of the men pretends to clean the card by, for example, rubbing it with a handkerchief; the other man distracts the victim; the man holding the card uses a small device to get a copy of the information registered in the magnetic band of the card; later on, they use this information to generate another card, and use the card to make purchases.

Never let anyone take your card.

The ATMs which operate international credit cards normally display messages in Portuguese and English.
A common problem, however, is that the card reader can't recognize the magnetic information on the card; in such cases, a message is shown in Portuguese only: "Problemas na Leitura do Cartão. Tente novamente.", which means "Problems in reading the card. Try again". This is usually caused because the card is old or damaged. To make it worse, the card must be used twice: once to start the transaction, and once to complete it; after three attempts, the machine aborts the transaction.

Most times, the best action is: clean the card; remove the card carefully from the reader; don't pull it neither too fast nor too slow; don't apply lateral or vertical forces on the card as you pull it.
If there is one, ask assistance to the bank employee (they wear uniforms and have a badge).
It may be a good idea to ask a new card to your bank, before coming to Brazil.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

It's jabuticaba season in Natal.

Jabuticaba (scientific name Myrciaria cauliflora) is said to be a fruit which exists only in Brazil. It is originary from the Atlantic Forest, in Brazil; as it is fragile, it is unlike it will be exported. If you want to taste a fruit you won't find in any other country, try jabuticaba.

It is more commonly found in the Southern States, but I saw some people selling them in the street cross between Hiper and Nordestão, in Ponta Negra. By the way, these guys who sell fruits on streets are one of the best options to buy fruits in Natal: first, because they sell cheaper than supermarkets (they don't pay taxes, rent, advertising, etc); besides, to sell cheaper, they have to sell the fruits which are at harvest time, and this usually means the fruits which are sweeter and of better quality.

Back to jabuticaba: it is one of the sweetest fruits I've ever tasted; each jabuticaba looks like a grape, but with a thicker skin.
To eat a jabuticaba, put it between your front teeth, bite it and let the pulp splash into your mouth (seeds are small); throw the skin out.

See some photos of a jabuticaba tree.

Below, a photo of a jabuticaba (fork and knife only to give an idea of size). Price: starting price for a bag with about 500 g was R$ 2; final price was R$ 5 for 3 bags; it could have been lower, but those guys are usually honest hard workers, no need to exploit them.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Price of essential food in Natal

In Brazil, there is something called "cesta básica" (essential basket), which is a theoretical basket containing all the essential food that a typical family (parents and two kids) needs to live during one month.
The contents of the basket are defined by DIEESE, an institution in São Paulo which studies prices, employment and other macro-economic variables; DIEESE surveys the variation of the cost of an essential basket as a means to assess inflation.

The complete list of essential food is here. Translation: beef (6 kg), milk (7.5 liters), beans (4.5 kg), rice (3 kg), flour (1.5 kg), potato (6 kg), tomato (9 kg), bread (6 kg), coffee (600 g), banana (7.5 dozens), sugar (3 kg), cooking oil (900 ml), butter (750 g). And just that!

DIEESE published the results of the April survey; check here.
In Natal, in April 2006, the price of the basket was R$ 132.26; at the current course of US$ 1 = R$ 2.20 or 1 Euro = R$ 2.70, the basket costs 60 dollars or 49 euros.
The most expensive basket among the capital cities in Brazil is in São Paulo, R$ 177.28; next come Brasilia (R$ 173.29) and Rio de Janeiro (R$ 168.68). The cheapest basket is in Fortaleza (R$ 125.03), next comes Natal.

Notice that this basket includes only food. DIEESE also calculates every month what the minimum salary should be to satisfy the essential needs of a typical family, including food, health, clothes, transportation, leisure, education and so on.
For April, DIEESE said that the minimum salary should be R$ 1,489.33. The actual minimum salary was, until March, R$ 300; in April, there will be an adjustment to R$ 350.

Read more about cost of living in Brazil.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Fortress of Wise Kings is refurbished

The Government of Rio Grande do Norte invested R$ 650,000 (about US$ 300,000) to refurbish the Fortress of the Wise Kings (Forte dos Reis Magos).

The hydraulic and electric systems were renewed; the tiles of the roof were changed; the fortress was painted; the walkway which gives access to the fort was rebuilt; special access for people with disabilites is now available.
Also, in the outside, the parking loot was expanded; the handicrafters, who had to expose their work on rustic tables, now will have kioskes to sell their production.

The most serious problem with the Fortress, however, was the lack of information; last time we visited it, the few signs were in Portuguese only, and guides spoke only Portuguese and basic Spanish. We will pay another visit soon.

Read more about the Fort of Wise Kings.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Federal Police raids nightclub in Ponta Negra

Around 2 am of this April 1st, Federal agents started a blitz in the nightclub Hollywood, in Ponta Negra beach.
There were 110 foreigners without their passports; they were all taken to the Federal Police office. According to the Federal Police, all foreigners must carry their passports all the time while in Brazil; the foreigners taken to the Police who could ask someone to bring their passports were only fined in R$ 166.55 (about US$ 80); those who could not produce the passport were given three days to do it, under risk of deportation.
There were more than 200 girls in the nightclub (all over 18 years of age); as prostitut*on is not a crime in Brazil, they were all released.

According to the Police, these raids (there was another one a few weeks ago in Pipa) will be more and more frequent. They intent to combat sexual tourism and commerce of drugs.