A Fire and a Spark in South America
1 | BRAZIL
Half of the 234 victims of the horrific fire that swept through a nightclub in the southern Brazilian town of Santa Maria in the early morning of Jan. 27 were science students at a local university. The deaths of so many future agronomists and engineers carries potent symbolism for Brazil--especially for President Dilma Rousseff, who pledged to produce tens of thousands more science and tech grads as the South American giant reaches for a developed future that seems so close but in many ways remains so far off. Rousseff arrived on Santa Maria's coffin-clogged streets in the wake of the fire and called the carnage "a tragedy for all of us."
But it's a tragedy that may mark a turning point for Brazil. Over the past decade, the nation has witnessed a remarkable boom that made it the world's sixth largest economy and helped raise 36 million people to the middle class. That carnaval has stalled: Brazil saw just 1% economic growth last year, and it has to get a lot more serious about structural reforms before it takes its next step toward development. The Santa Maria fire, which injured more than 200 others and is the world's deadliest club blaze in more than a decade, comes at a moment when Brazil is already feeling a little less samba and a little more sober about its future. The disaster could motivate Brazil to take a deeper look at everything from nightclub regulation to official corruption to the need for more high-tech industry.
Four people were arrested a day after the blaze: the two owners of the club--which was overcrowded and had only one exit, which survivors say bouncers blocked to make panicked customers pay their tabs--and two members of the stage band that allegedly shot the flares that sparked the inferno. But few Brazilians trust their legal system, which is under close scrutiny as the country waits to see if powerful politicians convicted last year in a massive corruption trial actually get prison time.
The good news is that Rousseff seems as serious about battling corruption as she is about promoting technology. If the horrifying pictures of science students who died under criminally negligent circumstances move Brazilians to take those matters more seriously, then something positive for Brazil may finally rise out of the ashes of Santa Maria.
Number of crocodiles that escaped from a South African reptile farm after floodwaters from the Limpopo River set them loose
Lessons from the Global Elite
2 | DAVOS
International leaders gathered at the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in the Swiss skiing village to discuss how businesses and countries should address the world's big challenges. Here are the three biggest takeaways.
1. CURRENCY WARS WILL RAGE
Countries like Thailand and Brazil have already enacted capital controls to stop the inflow of currency. If the German economic engine loses out to a cheap yen this year, conditions could worsen in Europe.
2. ONLINE EDUCATION IS GAINING TRACTION
Websites like Udacity and Coursera may one day transform education worldwide, but questions remain over what business models will emerge to ultimately finance these courses.