President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva launched a $878 billion program to upgrade Brazil's infrastructure on Monday that will be a major campaign banner for his chosen candidate in October elections.
Days before Lula's chief of staff, Dilma Rousseff, must step down to be able to campaign for president, the government said spending on the program would be 1.59 trillion reais ($878 billion) in the coming years, with 959 billion reais ($530 billion) earmarked for between 2011 and 2014.
Rousseff is expected to tout the massive investments to voters as evidence that Lula's center-left government is rapidly improving the potholed roads, clogged ports and underfunded health system that dog Latin America's biggest economy despite strong growth in recent years.
The centrist opposition, whose presidential candidate is expected to be Sao Paulo state Governor Jose Serra, has criticized the program as propaganda, pointing to lengthy delays in projects in its first phase, which began in 2007 and totalled about $300 billion in investments.
The hugely popular Lula, who cannot run for a third term, anointed Rousseff the "Mother of the PAC," the acronym of the flagship infrastructure program, making clear he sees it as a key campaign strength for her.
Rousseff is trailing Serra in opinion polls, but has recently narrowed the gap and is seen by many analysts as the favorite because she will benefit from Brazil's rebounding economy and the support of the charismatic Lula.
By 2014, the new phase of the plan will spend an estimated 278 billion reais ($154 billion) on the "My House, My Life" government program to provide low-income families with housing, while 104.5 billion ($57.7 billion) will go to upgrading the often decrepit transport system. The country's energy sector will receive 465.5 billion reais ($257 billion), according to a government document.
Government figures show that only about half of the nearly 2,500 projects mandated under the first phase of the program have been completed.
As well as making Brazilians' lives harder, transport and other infrastructure bottlenecks prevent the country from achieving more lofty economic growth rates comparable to fellow emerging giants like India and China.
Brazil's ability to successfully host the world's biggest sporting events -- the soccer World Cup in 2014 and the Olympic Games in 2016 -- will also depend on ramping up spending on transport and stadiums.
ReutersGüncelleme Tarihi: 29 Mart 2010, 19:52