By Fil Lekkas:
The rise of Carnival-hosting, football-loving, and racially diverse Brazil injects rare color into otherwise dismal narratives about the future of global politics. But what are the historical underpinnings of the Brazilian success story, and what does the future look like both for Brazil and beyond? On Tuesday, April 3rd the Ezra Stiles Master Stephan Pitti hosted André Petry, Poynter Journalism Fellow at Yale and veteran journalist for Veja, a Brazilian news magazine, to add his experience and insights to the conversation.
Growing up in a Brazil weighed down with an oppressive military dictatorship plagued by inflation as high as 80 percent, Petry is “amazed” to be able to talk about Brazil as the “first Latin American country that actually has weight in international circles.” After returning to civil rule following 25 years of dictatorship in 1985, Brazil eventually overcame inflation with its Real plan, which privatized and opened up to global competition many state owned companies that now have a “leading role internationally” and rejuvenated its civil society by engaging in large-scale cash transfer program that lifted “over 40 million people” out of poverty and into the ranks of the lower-middle class. Today, Brazil is the world’s sixth-largest economy, surpassing even the United Kingdom, and attracts 65 billion dollars worth of foreign direct investment annually.
Petry gives credit for this political and economic transformation to an active lower-class “grassroots movement” which demanded and received inclusive economic institutions and strong trade unions. From there too came “democracy with pluralism” along with a vociferously independent media to watch over the infant republic, breaking even “traumatic and tragic” stories about political corruption at the highest levels.
These success stories aside, Brazil still faces considerable challenges. With the FIFA World Cup just 4 years away, the quality of infrastructure is “very precarious”, and its historical problems of poverty, unequal distribution of income and widespread urban violence continue to cast disquieting shadows. The vibrant grassroots movement, now successfully enfranchised, is lapsing into “docility” and turning a blind eye to corruption within its own ranks. Education, from primary school up to university, remains low-quality. The evidence? Petry suggests you sit in a restaurant and watch “three friends try and split a check”.
What can we expect of Brazil internationally? 140 years of peace despite 13 neighboring countries, Brazil’s status as the “only BRIC country to have both democracy and a strong national identity”, and its vow to abstain from nuclear weaponry make a strong case for a tranquil future. In addition, Brazil’s unique racial, “anti-imperialist”, and environmental narrative foreshadows the rise of something the world has yet to see: a “soft, green superpower”.
Though Brazil’s ascent has been achieved in near-record time, questions remain about its ability to sustain the upward momentum. Nevertheless, this new civilization on the Amazon seems to be on a good track to realizing its promise to be “the country of the future”.
Fil Lekkas ’14 is in Calhoun College. Contact him at email@example.com.