Monthly Archives: February 2014

On the face of it, Thursday brought some sorely-needed good news for Brazil.

The country’s national office of statistics, the IBGE, confirmed the country’s economy had bounced back, if only modestly, with better-than-expected results for the last quarter of 2013 and the year overall, achieving annual GDP growth of 2.3% – more than the US, the UK and other advanced economies.

Brazil Finance Minister Guido Mantega. Photo: Marcello Casal Jr/Agência Brasil

Brazil’s Finance Minister Guido Mantega said the figures were a ‘surprise’ for the government. Photo: Marcello Casal Jr/Agência Brasil

After negative growth in the third quarter of 2013, some economists feared Brazil could be facing a technical recession.

In the end the fourth quarter rebounded with 0.7% growth, buoyed by strong consumer spending, investment and 2.0% growth in the country’s services industry, upon which 70% of the economy relies.

The surprise uptick in the economy is a much-needed boost for the government of President Dilma Rousseff, who is seeking re-election in this October’s general elections, and has been suffering from a compounding of anti-government protests, World Cup concerns, political scandals, and more recently problems with water and power supplies – all of which have seen approval ratings for both Ms Rousseff and her government slide.

Finance Minister Guido Mantega told reporters the positive fourth quarter results had come as a surprise, saying 2013 had seen “quality growth spurred among other things by investments”.

It was certainly better than in 2012, when Brazil grew just 1%; however, the general feeling among analysts surveyed by Anadolu Agency appears to be that the results are mildly encouraging at best, and indeed, nobody is expecting growth to return to the impressive 7.5% seen in 2010 or even to the 4% average seen over much of the last decade, when the economy was boosted by China’s seemingly unstoppable demand for Brazilian commodities.

Over the past decade, Brazil has used available cheap and plentiful external finance options to catalyse a consumption boom, which led to the ‘feel-good factor’ experienced particularly by new middle-class Brazilians in recent years.

But it also led to significant consumer debt and over-target inflation. Now China is no longer buying such vast quantities of commodities, and the global economy is still struggling to recover.

Growth grounded?

Mr Mantega said industry in Brazil was suffering from a “lack of dynamism in the global market”, but was upbeat about the future, defending Brazil as now being in better shape to tackle international instability.

However, once touted as a star among emerging markets, today Brazil’s economic prowess is being described more than ever in shades of ‘fragile’ and ‘vulnerable’, and the IMF recently labelled Brazil as one of the most susceptible emerging economies.

In truth, Brazil has always been a vulnerable economy.

Although international instability, currency volatility, and dwindling demand from China certainly play a role, economists say internal problems – substandard infrastructure, rampant consumer debt and dismal confidence in both the country’s market and policymakers’ decisions at the Central Bank – are also hampering growth and believe Brazil now faces a long period of uninspiring annual growth of around 2%.

I’m sceptical about the economy’s future. We have major issues with infrastructure and the labour market and reforms are sorely needed,” Fernando Chague, professor of economics at the University of São Paulo (FEA-USP), told Anadolu Agency.

According to the USP economist, Brazil failed to implement the necessary fiscal changes in the last decade, while the going was good, and grew largely “in spite of the government”.

“There’s no political strength to do so now, and the uncertainty we are facing is not good for the economy,” Professor Chague warns.

Neil Shearing, chief emerging markets economist at London-based macroeconomic research company Capital Economics says Brazil could in theory get back to annual growth of four percent: “First, economic reform would have to take place to rebuild the supply side of the country’s economy, but politically this would be very difficult at the current time.”

Brazil is now entering the home straight to this year’s general elections, with political campaigns set to start in earnest later this year.

“The much more probable scenario is therefore one of continued weak annual growth of around two percent,” says Mr Shearing.

Boosting confidence

But there have been some positive comments emerging from the situation, and a few economists praised the results and the country’s 6.3-percent increase in investment last year.

That jump in investment should go some way to convincing wary investors that improvements to the economy are occurring and that the government is likely to be more market-friendly should President Rousseff win a second term in office.

Regaining sagging market confidence at home and overseas is also going to be key to getting Brazil back to more impressive results, but investment is still below the level that many investors would like to see and pessimism is said to reign among business leaders – who bemoan the incumbent government’s monetary policy as having been too overbearing.

Businesses also want Brazil to tackle the toxic mixture of suffocating bureaucracy, a poorly educated labour force and infrastructure that is not fit for purpose – all of which increases the price of doing business in Brazil, often referred to as the “Brazil cost”.

Professor Chague cites the example of Brazil’s ports which, despite investment, still experience major backlogs in getting goods in and out of the country.

Investments have been promised in the government’s official acceleration plans (PAC) and in some cases made – but progress is slow and many projects have hit obstacles.

Tough year to come

The overseas market has also not been enamoured by Brazil’s national debts, even though the government has promised to cut US$18.5 billion in public spending this year to show it is tackling the issue.

With extra investments promised for infrastructure, the World Cup and the Olympics to pay for, and more money pledged for cash-strapped public services in response to protesters, few people are expecting Brazil to spend less this year, and ratings agencies have hinted they might put Brazil on a negative outlook if signs of economic improvement fail to appear.

Most market analysts put GDP growth forecasts for 2014 at 1.7 percent and the government’s official prediction has recently been slashed from 3.8 to 2.5 percent.

Despite this Mr Mantega says he believes the Brazilian economy to be “on a trajectory of gradual acceleration [that] will continue in 2014” and described 2013 as a “difficult year”.

But the government is in a Catch 22 situation: they must spend more to appease social unrest and prove they are investing more and improving infrastructure, but also simultaneously cut spending to allay market concerns and bolster confidence.

Several additional issues – including a severe drought in parts of the country affecting harvests, economic chaos in neighbouring Argentina and Venezuela, as well as ongoing protests and the make-or-break of this year’s World Cup – could also collude to stymie economic activity further and make 2014 yet another difficult year.

Extended version of article for Anadolu Agency

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Adidas withdrew the sexualised World Cup Brazil T-shirts after outcry from Brazil's official tourism board, Embratur

Adidas withdrew the shirts after outcry from Brazil’s official tourism board, Embratur.

Adidas says it has withdrawn from sale two Brazil-themed World Cup T-shirts at the centre of a row over the sexualisation of women in Brazil, a statement from the company – one of the FIFA World Cup’s biggest sponsors – issued on Tuesday said.

Brazil’s tourism board, Embratur, said earlier on Tuesday that it “vehemently repudiated the sale of products that link Brazil’s image to sexual appeal”. It later asked the German sporting goods company to stop selling the shirts.

Brazil has recently stepped up its long-running campaign against sex tourism, including through its overseas tourism agencies, in the run-up to Carnival and the World Cup.

One of the Brazil-themed shirts depicts a woman in a bikini on a beach in Rio de Janeiro, with Sugarloaf Mountain in the background and the words “Looking to score”, while the other shows the words “I love Brazil” with the heart shape replacing the word “love” in the shape of a woman’s upside-down buttocks in a thong.

In a statement issued on Tuesday afternoon, Adidas said the sale of the shirts was restricted to the US market:

We always listen carefully to our customers and other stakeholders, so having taken on board their feedback, we have made the decision to withdraw this product line,” Adidas said in a statement.

By Tuesday night the items were no longer visible on the company’s website.

Brazil’s Human rights minister Maria do Rosario tweeted that Adidas had contacted the Brazilian government to confirm it was pulling the shirts, and praised the “very important fast reaction from the government and society in rejecting sexualised items” which she said had been “effective”.

Embratur had said that the Adidas shirts’ “campaign” went directly against the message of “natural and cultural attributes” with which Brazil was trying to promote itself.

Tired clichés

The shirts touched a raw nerve for those in Brazil who have often decried the clichéd sexualised stereotype of Brazilians promoted abroad – often involving bikini-clad women.

The controversy over the Adidas shirts also came on the same day that President Dilma Rousseff took to Twitter to lead a renewed crackdown on sex tourism in Brazil in the build-up to this year’s Carnival – which is beginning across the country – and the FIFA World Cup, which begins on 12 June.

Both events attract a considerable number of tourists.

Brazil is happy to receive tourists coming here for the World Cup, but is also ready to combat sex tourism,” President Rousseff warned.

Brazil has strived to shake off its reputation as a destination for sex tourism, and warning signs in the country’s airports have long discouraged foreigners from using the country – including its children and adolescent – for such purposes.

Militant feminist Maria Fernanda Marcelino, who leads the Brazil wing of the World March of Women, told Anadolu Agency that she rejected in the strongest possible terms Adidas’s decision to sell the shirts in the first place:

We repudiate any action that seeks to profiteer from the sexualization and exploitation of women in Brazil and turn them into mere marketing,” she said.

Ms. Marcelino also called on football’s governing body and World Cup organisers FIFA to work with charities and the Brazilian government to combat sexual tourism in Brazil.

Adidas is one of the World Cup’s biggest sponsors and maker of the official World Cup ball.

Report written for Anadolu Agency

A protest against the World Cup held in the centre of São Paulo has ended in running battles with riot police and at least 260 protesters detained on Saturday evening.

Police say around 1,000 people took to the streets around the central República area of the city. A strong presence by both military and specialist riot police was visible throughout the event.

Police disperse protesters with tear gas and stun grenades. Photo by Ben Tavener.

Police disperse protesters with tear gas and stun grenades. Photo by Ben Tavener.

The protest began peacefully at around 5pm local time, but tensions had been high from the start – with a number of masked individuals in the crowds and a number bearing anarchy symbols.

See photos from the scene

By about 6:40pm a small number of protesters began to throw rubbish bins and glass objects at police, and vandalise a number of banks and other shops – graffitiing anti-World Cup and anti-capitalist slogans.

Streets were strewn with rubbish and some protesters were seen kicking telephone booths and bus stops.

Police responded with rounds of tear gas and stun grenades to disperse the crowds, and also detained around 260 people in a police “kettle” – a holding area where they were then taken to local police stations for processing.

A number of journalists covering the protests were detained in the first wave of kettling – some were released after around half an hour.

Those in the police ring were told to keep their hands behind their backs and were forbidden from during their cell phones.

230 detained at World Cup protests

Police say they detained around 230 people at Saturday’s World Cup protests in São Paulo – including journalists. Photo by Ben Tavener.

After some time, both they and fellow protesters on the other side of police lines began calling for their immediate release.

Police had warned that they would pick out those likely to cause trouble and take them out of the protest in an operation using both martial art techniques and the kettling tactics.

UPDATE: All those arrested have now been released from police custody.

‘No World Cup’

Saturday’s protest, which had been organised on social media and was held under an ‘anti-World Cup’ banner, was in reality a continuation of the wave of mass protests seen in June last year, which saw over a million Brazilians take to the streets.

Protesters still have a long list of various grievances, including an end to what they see as gross public spending on international sporting events being held in Brazil to the benefit of a few, despite officials speaking regularly of the events’ legacy for the ordinary Brazilian.

The 2013 protests were initially sparked by an increase in public transport fares, and then diversifying into protests over the spending on the World Cup and Olympics, police brutality, government corruption and underfunding of public services.

Saturday’s protests, which included representation from a number of radical left-wing parties, saw placards and banners calling for an end to spending on the World Cup and corruption, and for better funding of the country’s public education and health systems.

The protests have been going on since last June, but the media stopped covering them,” 29-year-old student Thiago, from São Paulo, told Anadolu Agency.

We’re not so against the World up happening in Brazil but against the way it’s taking place. So much corruption, shameless corruption in front of our very faces.”

Twenty-four-year-old student Maria Ana, also from the city, told AA: “Things in this country only work for a very small number of élite people and all the other services for the mass are of terrible standard.”

Tonight’s protests was meant to be peaceful – we were just chanting our slogans, but the police were brutal and attacked us,” she continued.

However, despite police’s decisive response to aggression on Saturday night, their overall presence and tactics seemed to be better coordinated and restrained than in past protests covered by Anadolu.

Brazil will stage the World Cup in June and July in twelve cities around the country, all of which have seen protests at some stage since last June’s million-strong protest turnout.

Three of the twelve stadiums have yet to be delivered to FIFA despite a December deadline. Curitiba earned a last-minute reprieve last week after threats it could lose World Cup status altogether.

Story and video made for Anadolu Agency.

Curitiba's Arena da Baixada. Photo by Reuters.

Curitiba’s Arena da Baixada is one of the World Cup’s cheaper stadiums and will seat 41,500 people. (Photo: Reuters)

Brazil’s southern city of Curitiba has been granted a reprieve and will be kept on as a World Cup host city, FIFA Secretary General Jérôme Valcke confirmed on Tuesday.

The news was confirmed on Valcke’s personal Twitter account ahead of appearing before members of the press at the FIFA Workshop in Florianópolis:

Valcke continued that: “It’s a race against a very tight timeline. Collective effort by all the stakeholders involved in Curitiba must continue at highest pace.”

Even before the official FIFA announcement came, Curitiba mayor Gustavo Fruet had confirmed to local media that the city would remain in World Cup, citing an earlier telephone conversation with the FIFA Secretary General to inform the mayor what would be said at the press conference.

Valcke said Curitiba had understood the pressure it faced but had convinced FIFA that it could finish the job on time.

Curitiba is due to host four first-round fixtures, starting on 16 June with Iran v Nigeria, and followed by Honduras v Ecuador on 20 June, Australia v Spain on 23 June, and Alegria v Russia on 26 June.

FIFA’s biggest headache

Valcke told reporters on Tuesday that the Curitiba stadium, known as the Arena da Baixada, would be handed over to FIFA on or around 15 May, a month before holding its first World Cup fixture, and that at least two test matches – one at the end of March, one at the end of April – would be conducted ahead of this.

The decision was made as FIFA’s Charles Botta visited the stadium. Workers reportedly scrambled to cover muddy patches in the stadium entrance just before the official arrived, Folha reported.

This inspection, plus ‘guarantees’ from Curitiba, finally convinced FIFA that the city should be retained as a World Cup host.

The city’s newly-renovated 41,500-seater stadium has been FIFA’s biggest headache in the run-up to the tournament, and even now is only reportedly 90 percent ready and is the country’s most delayed stadium.

Last week some Brazilian media outlets, including Estado de S.Paulo newspaper, said FIFA had started working on contingency plans to move games schedule to be held in Curitiba to nearby stadiums – likely to include Porto Alegre, São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro or Belo Horizonte – but this was denied by FIFA and local officials.

However, most Brazilian commentators said it would have been unthinkable to many for Curitiba to have lost its World Cup venue status: both for a local government that is in an election year and for FIFA itself in effect to admit that it had lost control of one of its tournament’s host cities.

Beset by funding delays

Local officials say one of the main reasons that the Arena da Baixada has been so delayed was that crucial funding was delayed.

After private funding of R$234 million (US$97.5 million) to renovate the 100-year-old stadium ran out, an extra R$90 million of public money was pledged used to get the stadium finished. Local authorities recently released another R$39 million for additional workers.

Even so, it is the cheapest of the twelve World Cup stadium projects, alongside the Beira Rio stadium in Porto Alegre.

It is understood that both private and public sources came up against severe delays securing and receiving funding from the country’s National Development Fund Bank, the BNDES.

However, concerns over safety have also contributed, after work at the stadium was temporarily halted in October 2013 after a slew of reported safety breaches.

Public reaction to the news

A sense of relief now reigns among Curitibanos – people from Curitiba. Among them is 24-year-old student Ricardo Becker, who has tickets for the match on 23 June when Australia take on reigning champions Spain:

I’m thrilled. It would have been a real shame if not, not to mention testament to a city’s incompetence and lack of accountability. Even so, I do resent how overpriced the work on the stadium has been and how public money has gone missing,” he told Anadolu Agency.

Communication corodinator Camila Tremea, 29, said she was also relieved, given the amount of time and money that has already been invested by the city in the project: “With just a few months to go to the World Cup, you couldn’t have taken it away from the city. The city’s businesses have prepared for this.”

Leonardo Bittencourt, a 35-year-old English teacher also from Curitiba, told AA he thought the World Cup would be a “good thing” for both Curitiba and Brazil as a whole, as it should improve its international image in the end, despite the “obscene amounts of money apparently wasted and misappropriated,” he added.

Workshop overshadowed

Coaches of all 32 qualifying FIFA World Cup teams have gathered in Florianópolis, one of Brazil’s top beach resort cities, for a three-day workshop that is traditionally used to thrash out the finer details of World Cup rules and regulations, logistics and the like.

Delegation leaders, team managers, security and medical officials and members of the press from World Cup finalist nations are taking part in the event, which should ideally be held at a time when the finishing touches are being put in place by the World Cup host nation.

However, this time the seminar has been overshadowed by speculation Curitiba would be stripped of its hosting rights, which was in the end proved incorrect.

Edited, extended version of article written for Anadolu Agency

Rhesus monkeys at Butantan Institute, São Paulo, are involved in the development of USP's HIV vaccine.

Rhesus monkeys at the Butantan Institute, São Paulo, are involved in the development of USP’s HIV vaccine. (Photo: Ben Tavener)

Scientists from the University of São Paulo (USP) say that a preliminary test on primates given a experimental anti-HIV vaccine being developed by the university has produced unexpectedly good results.

The study on rhesus monkeys gave three separate doses of the vaccine, prepared by USP scientists at the Faculty of Medicine, at varying intervals since last November at the university’s Butantan Institute, a world leader in pioneering vaccines and anti-venoms.

The immunising component of the vaccine has been developed and patented by the leading Brazilian university.

We tested the immune response of the [monkeys] and the results were excellent,” lead vaccine developer Edécio Cunha Neto was quoted by Folha de S.Paulo newspaper as saying.

The results surprised scientists by how intense the response was in primates, after more muted results from tests on rats. Vaccine responses are usually expected to be lower in primates than in rodents, but in this case the primate responses were up to ten times higher.

HIV vaccine for humans?

The scientists’ goal is to create a safe and effective human vaccine that will immunise people against the virus which, if not kept at bay by antiretroviral drugs, leads to AIDS.

Figures from the World Health Organization says AIDS killed around 1.6 million people worldwide in 2012, and that 35 million people are currently living with HIV/AIDS.

Researchers developing the vaccine since 2002 first looked at human patients whose own immune systems were capable of recognising and fighting HIV, allowing them to work out which peptide components of the virus were triggering a response from the body.

This breakthrough gave rise to a targeted DNA vaccine, which has been tested on rodents modified to replicate human immune responses, and now on primates.

Researchers are looking to put the vaccine technology into a host virus which would be unable to infect the individual with HIV but would give greater immunisation.

The next stage for the vaccine will see it given to 28 of the rhesus monkeys to compare immune responses depending on a set of variables over two years. This development phase on monkeys is expected to last until 2016.

Financial and ethical cost

The first dose of the HIV vaccine was given to the healthy primates at the beginning of November 2013 in conjunctive with a flu-like virus, which scientists say catalyses a greater immune response.

The enclosure housing the monkeys at the Butantan Institute has been subject to tighter security since the beginning of trials due to increased activity by animal rights campaigners, who have questioned why the tests have to be carried out on primates.

However, researchers say that the final human destination for the vaccine means primates must be used in its development, given their genetic closeness to humans, but have stressed that the animals taking part in the experiments are well treated.

Eventually it is hoped to move the study onto a human testing phase, although the university is still looking for private investors as such a phase is expected to cost some R$250 million (US$105 million at today’s rate) to develop.

The study has so far cost around R$1 million (US$419,000), reports say.

Other HIV vaccines are in different phases of development across the world, and hundreds of millions of dollars are being spent annually on this medical holy grail.

(Report written for Anadolu Agency)

Record high temperatures in São Paulo, Brazil’s (and South America’s) biggest city, have stretched well into February 2014, with an impact being felt on both water and power supplies to the wider state.

See how paulistas, paulistanos and city visitors have been coping with the hot weather.

Filmed on location: Avenida Paulista, Parque Ibirapuera and USP Central Campus, São Paulo. All photography © Ben Tavener 2014. (Music: Cruel Summer/Bananarama © London Records 1984)

Brazil’s Sports Minister Aldo Rebelo said on Tuesday that the country would focus efforts on tackling common crime, as opposed to larger-scale terror attacks during this year’s FIFA World Cup, which Brazil is hosting along with the Summer Olympics in 2016.

Rebelo admitted that Brazil knew less serious crime would be a possible issue for the country when it took on the responsibility of hosting the sporting mega-events:

“We [the Brazilian government] knew that we would have to live with being exposed to this risk. Not to the risk of terror attacks of a political of religious nature, which occur throughout the world,” he said, citing the Munich Massacre in which eleven Israeli players were murdered at the 1972 edition of the tournament in Germany.

The sports minister said Brazil was instead at risk of “social violence, common crime, which can be found in Brazil’s largest cities”.

Rebelo added that all football squads would receive support in terms of security, and that “additional preventative measures” would be taken to protect delegations, Brazil’s Agência Brasil news agency reported.

The comments were made as officials met in São Paulo to thrash out operational plans for the city’s hosting of the World Cup.

Officials have been quick to play down concerns of security, particularly in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro where many crimes are on the increase.

In São Paulo, the notorious PCC (First Command of the Capital) criminal gang last year said it would unleash a wave of attacks, directed against police officers, during the World Cup if its members were moved to harsher maximum security prisons – known for their severe overcrowding.

The PCC, which operates from inside Brazil’s prison system, was responsible for a wave of attacks and counterattacks on police in recent years.

At the time, Rebelo said he did not believe that the PCC would disrupt the games or target tourists.

In Rio de Janeiro, a programme of so-called “pacification” has had some success in driving violent drug- and arms-trafficking gangs from slum areas, known as favelas.

Police forces implementing the policy – which has now installed some 36 police stations, known as UPPs, in favela communities – started with favelas close to areas frequented by tourists or located near venues of upcoming sporting events.

The policy was broadly praised, although criminals ended up being flushed from slum to slum, and some pacified areas have reportedly silently fallen back into the control of gangs.

And even where pacification has been largely successful, crime is still common, particularly given the fact that the areas often border more upmarket neighbourhoods, especially in the city’s Zona Sul region.

Crime experts in Brazil say that tourists are very rarely the victims of the worst types of crime, such as murders, and are far more likely to fall foul of pickpockets and muggers.

They underline that more often it is the poorer members of the community that bear the brunt of serious violence. Police have been widely criticised for the number of deaths of innocent residents during operations in favelas.

Police and security officials acknowledge the shortcomings of the pacification policy and certain police operations, but argue they are training police as fast as possible with the resources available.

Sports Minister Aldo Rebelo today admitted that there would inevitably be issues involving some tourists, and that it was a risk Brazil always knew it had to take.

However, in the run-up to last year’s World Cup prélude, the Confederations Cup, concern was expressed not with regard to the level of petty crime in host cities, but because of the wave of mass anti-government protests, which spread across the country taking Brazil’s authorities by surprise.

It culminated in high riot police presence in many of the host cities and tense standoffs with protesters, of which a small minority engaged in criminal activity, such as violence and vandalism.

Given the Confederations Cup was just a small-scale version of what awaits Brazil this June for the World Cup, Brazil is keen not to see similar scene in 2014. Indeed both President Dilma Rousseff and FIFA have repeatedly said that there will be no repeat of the violence seen in 2013 this year.

Edited version of article written for Anadolu Agency

It was a moment that many fans of Globo’s Amor à Vida novela had been urging producers to write for weeks, but whether scriptwriters bowed to public pressure or whether they’d planned it all along, Friday’s finale finally brought viewers a small piece of TV history in Brazil.

Félix and Niko share finally a kiss. Screenshot from Amor à Vida, Globo TV, first aired 31 January 2014.

It wasn’t Brazil’s first gay kiss ever, but Félix and Niko’s romantic embrace was the first on mainstream television and Rede Globo. Photo: TV Globo.

Two of the soap opera’s main characters, Félix and Niko – played by Mateus Solano and Thiago Fragoso – finally shared a much-anticipated kiss in the dying minutes of the novela’s grand finale.

With rumours rife and then apparently confirmed by an anonymous Globo source that said the kiss had been filmed, some Brazilians gathered specially to watch the episode.

Despite much “will they, won’t they” in the lead-up to the moment, Twitter suddenly erupted at the news, with #beijogay #feliko and #amoravida trending within seconds.

It wasn’t Brazil’s first gay kiss ever, but it was the first on primetime mainstream TV and on Rede Globo – Brazil’s biggest producer of novelas. On air since May 2013, Amor à Vida was the channel’s most-watched novela of the season. (Incidentally, the next novela das nove – 9pm soap, Em Família, will also have a central gay storyline.)

Fans praised the network, while rival media groups said the channel had bowed to pressure from viewers, who had been waging a #beijalogo (“kiss soon”) Twitter campaign in favour of the kiss for weeks prior to the event. Some even promised to protest the channel if the final episode did not feature the couple embracing.

LGBT campaigners, including Deputy Jean Wyllys, hailed the moment as ‘historic’, a step in the right direction for ‘equality’, and a victory for a country where homophobic crimes appear to be on the increase.

That said, acceptance for members of the LGBT community in Brazil has grown steadily in recent years, unsurprisingly particularly among younger generations, and the country does have legal provisions allowing both same-sex marriage and adoption by same-sex couples.

Indeed, São Paulo has even hosted the world’s biggest gay parade.

Amor à Vida campaign for gay kiss

“Félix can: throw a baby in the garbage; cause an accident; order a kidnapping; blackmail; steal from his own father; but kiss…” – An earlier online campaign for the couple to kiss appears to hint that Globo wouldn’t allow the scene.

But the presence of hardline religious leaders in senior political positions has seen waves of anti-gay rhetoric splashed across the media, particularly from televangelist Silas Malafaia and the now-infamous Marco Feliciano.

Attempts to bring in laws to criminalise homophobia have also so far proved unsuccessful due to pressure from conservative parliamentarians.

However, many said last night’s kiss was socially important, given the novela’s primetime 9pm slot. The last time viewers were promised such an event on the channel – back in 2005 in a novela called América – the scene eventually ended up on the cutting room floor, although it was leaked online.

Novelas have long proved vital to greater awareness of a range of social issues in Brazil, as in many other countries. But it’s fair to say that in Brazil they are particularly powerful, as many people’s lives revolve around the country’s bewildering array of novelas (you can sit down late in the afternoon and easily watch four or five of the addictive programmes).

The number of LGBT characters in mainstream programming has increased significantly in recent years – but producers have often been criticised for producing characters which are too “stereotypical” or “not normal enough”. And indeed, while other characters are often shown in passionate embraces, if not sizzling love-making, gay characters were often restricted to bland kisses on the cheek or flaccid hugs.

One novela, which featured a gay wedding, left viewers in a state of anticlimax when the big moment came: after pronouncing their vows, all the two men did was hug. It was even more stilted if you consider the many other characters who are allowed to flaunt their bodies and sex lives openly, even when it seemed completely desnecessário and irrelevant to the plot.

Félix and César make amends in the final seconds of Amor à Vida.

Félix and César make amends in the final seconds of Amor à Vida. Photo from Twitter/@AnaaraujoC__.

This was different though. The “Feliko” kiss hit the right note, and despite the hype online, didn’t feel forced or out of place. It was subtle, romantic, and gave a fitting end to the couple’s storyline.

But what was even more touching, in many ways, was the final scene – where Félix’s homophobic elderly father, César, played by Antonio Fagundes, seemingly finally comes round to the idea that love trumps hate.

The halting final frames show father and son holding hands on a beach at sunset, affirming how much they care for each other:

“Eu amo você” (I love you), says Félix.

César responds: “Eu também te amo, meu filho” (I love you too, my son).