Last month, more than 142,000 Brazilians signed a petition on the White House website. They asked President Obama to take a stand against the “Bolivarian Communist expansion in Brazil promoted by the administration of Dilma Rousseff.”
She had just been re-elected president by a narrow margin: 51.4 percent against 48.5 percent for the more conservative candidate, Aécio Neves. The petitioners claim that the election wasn’t fully democratic, since electronic voting machines aren’t reliable. They also say that poor people voted for Ms. Rousseff only because of their heavy dependence on social welfare programs, such as Bolsa Família, a monthly family allowance designed to reduce poverty. Those who demand Mr. Obama’s intervention fear that our country will soon become a new Venezuela and call themselves “the promoters of democracy and freedom in Brazil” though, in a slight contradiction, some of them want the military dictatorship back.
According to a recent poll by Datafolha, more Brazilians identify with right-wing ideas, like looser gun restrictions, than they did last year. Although 58 percent of Brazilians believe that poverty relates to a lack of opportunities, 37 percent insist that laziness is the main cause of it. This was a major point of debate during the election: One side argued for meritocracy and less government aid; the other, for more public spending to reduce inequality.
Earlier this week, many people around the world waited with bated breath for a grand jury’s decision in a case where a police officer shot dead an unarmed young black man on the street. While the 9 August shooting of Michael Brown took place in the US suburb of Ferguson, Missouri, the case has a deep resonance here in Brazil. The tragic course of events leading up to the teenager’s death could just as easily have played out on the streets of our cities orfavelas.
Of the 56,000 homicides in Brazil every year, 30,000 are young people aged 15 to 29. That means that, at this very moment, a young person is most likely being killed in Brazil. By the time you go to bed, 82 will have died today. It’s like a small airplane full of young people crashing every two days, with no survivors. This would be shocking enough by itself, but it’s even more scandalous that 77 per cent of these young people are black.
Since 1980, more than 1 million people have been murdered in Brazil. According to Global Burden of Armed Violence 2008, in the period from 2004 to 2007, more people were killed here than in the 12 main wars worldwide. However the violence doesn’t impact Brazilian society equally. Murders are rampant in poor and marginalized communities. Prejudice and negative stereotypes associated with the favelas and city outskirts have a key role in perpetrating this violence.
Brian Winter and Alonso Soto – Reuters, 10/07/2014
President Dilma Rousseff’s strategy of slamming bankers and playing up class divisions may give her the edge in this month’s election but it further strains relations with business leaders just as Brazil’s stagnant economy badly needs fresh investment.
The leftist incumbent, who led the first round of voting on Sunday and now faces market favorite Aecio Neves in an Oct. 26 runoff, is using heavy government spending and some tough rhetoric to shore up her support among Brazil’s poor.
The ruling Workers’ Party has used a similar approach to win the last three presidential elections in a country with a vast wealth gap, and Rousseff is doubling down on it in Brazil’s closest and most volatile campaign in decades.
To listen to Conceição Maria Viana, a descendant of escaped slaves, is to hear the voice of Brazil’s once silenced past, buried deep in the forest amid the babassu palm trees.
Viana’s grandfather, Benedito Zacarias Serra, was a runaway slave who founded one of thousands of clandestine settlements known as quilombos before slavery was abolished in Brazil in 1888.
Today, 126 years after slavery ended, Serra’s quilombo lives on as a testament to the resilience of Afro-Brazilian culture, with about 100 families celebrating many of the same traditions — and facing many of the same challenges — from when Santo Antônio dos Pretos was founded.
Brazil is, famously, one of the world’s most unequal countries. Income of the richest 10% of the population is 38 times that of the poorest tenth. The ratio in Poland, which has similar income per person, is just eight to one. But at least the left-wing Workers’ Party (PT), in power since 2003, has been able to claim that, unlike in most other places, Brazilian inequality has fallen consistently on its watch. On September 18th it seemed this trend had come to an end. Data from the annual household survey, a mini-census of 150,000 families, showed an uptick in Brazil’s Gini coefficient, from 0.499 in 2012 to 0.500 in 2013 (0 signifies everyone has an identical income and 1 means that a single household takes everything).
If this was unwelcome news for President Dilma Rousseff, who is seeking a second term in an election two weeks from now, the next day offered hope of a respite. The national statistics office (IBGE), which compiles the survey, announced that it contained “extremely serious errors”, caused by applying the wrong weights to some of Brazil’s regions. Revised figures show that the Gini in fact edged down to 0.497.
Other tweaks—not to mention the very public cock-up—offered less for Ms Rousseff to cheer about. Brazil’s median inflation-adjusted household income rose by just 2.3% between 2012 and 2013, not 4% as originally thought. Illiteracy dipped from 8.7% to 8.5%, not to 8.3%.
Remember the Where’s Wally books? They consisted of a series of detailed double-page spread illustrations depicting hundreds of people doing a variety of amusing things. Readers were then challenged to find a character named Wally hidden in the crowd.
Covering the World Cup in Brazil as a journalist, I find myself playing a similar game whenever I enter a packed stadium, only this time the question is a bit more serious. Where are all the black folk? I’ve been to five host cities so far and each time the answer was never easy to come by – I’ve even missed goals while looking through the crowd.
Salvador is the most Afrocentric city in Brazil. At the Germany v Portugal game, however, if I didn’t know any better I would think I was in Kansas.
Mack McLarty and Carl Meacham – Miami Herald, 6/17/2014
Last Thursday, the World Cup kicked off in Brazil, as the host country took on (and beat) Croatia in the opening match. Though Brazilians have not seen a World Cup on home soil since 1950, every four years the country is draped in yellow and green as 200 million people cheer on the national team.
But the past year has seen a changing Brazil — and the Brazilian World Cup experience is changing with it, revealing long-fermenting questions over Brazil’s future.
The coming weeks will see stadiums full of Brazilians singing every word of their national anthem. Traffic jams in São Paulo will look like checkerboards of Brazilian flags, with car hood after car hood draped in the banner. And as you walk past bars in every major host city, you will hear countless play-by-play analyses of the day’s matches.
One often hears that Brazil’s economy is stuck in the “middle-income trap.” Since the debt crisis of the 1980’s, Brazil has failed to revive the structural transformation and per capita income growth that had characterized the previous three decades. But, with the right mix of policies, it could finally change its fortunes.
The prevailing explanation for Brazil’s failure to achieve high-income status lumps the country together with other middle-income economies, all of which transferred unskilled workers from labor-intensive occupations to more modern manufacturing or service industries. While these new jobs did not require significant upgrading of skills, they employed higher levels of embedded technology, imported from wealthier countries and adapted to local conditions. Together with urbanization, this boosted total factor productivity (TFP), leading to GDP growth far beyond what could be explained by the expansion of labor, capital, and other physical factors of production, thereby lifting the economy to the middle-income bracket.
Progressing to the next stage of economic development is more difficult, reflected in the fact that only 13 of 101 middle-income economies in 1960 reached high-income status by 2008. According to the dominant view, success hinges on an economy’s ability to continue raising TFP by moving up the manufacturing, service, or agriculture value chain toward higher-value-added activities that require more sophisticated technologies, higher-quality human capital, and intangible assets like design and organizational capabilities.
Not long after I got back from my recent trip to Brazil, I called some economists to gain a better understanding of where the country stood economically. To me, Rio de Janeiro felt a little like Shanghai: there was plenty of high-end shopping in neighborhoods like Ipanema — and plenty of poverty in the favelas, or slums. There was also a lot in between. What is most striking to a visitor is how many middle-class citizens there seem to be. Cars were everywhere; traffic jams, I’ve come to believe, are a sign of a growing middle class. It means people have enough money to buy automobiles.
Nevertheless, the economists I spoke to were uniformly bearish about the short-term future of the Brazilian economy. They pointed, for starters, to that slowdown in G.D.P., which they didn’t expect to pick up anytime soon. Despite the country’s enormous economic gains since the beginning of this century, there has been very little accompanying productivity gains. Indeed, several economists told me that the main reason unemployment was so low was that the economy was terribly inefficient. Too much of the economy was in the hands of the state, I was told, and, what’s more, it was a consumption-based economy that lacked necessary investment. And on and on. I got the sense that many economists believe that Brazil had been more lucky than good, and now its luck was running out. In a recent article about the Brazilian economy, The Economist put it starkly: “The Deterioration,” read its headline.
For the average young Brazilian professional fresh out of college, the dream job is to work for the government. Last year alone, some 12 million Brazilians applied for 180,000 public sector posts through selective exams. In most cases, no previous experience in the specific fields for which certification is requested is required, and the starting pay can be up to $5,000 a month, not including benefits, which are usually higher than the salary. A 2012 report published in O Globo newspaper, based on the data from the 2010 Census by the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE), showed that public servants in 88% of government-filled posts earn considerably more than employees in the private sector, not to mention that by law public-sector workers cannot be fired nor have their pay cut.
Such ferocious competition even resulted in a phenomenon which in part explains the private sector education boom in Brazil over the 2000s — there are at least 500 companies in the country offering preparation courses for public servant wannabes, a spin-off industry that grows at a rate of 40% annually.