BY VISHAKHA NEGI
As Deputy General Consul at the Consulate General of Brazil in Hartford, Connecticut, he has taught at the University Center of Brasilia (Uniceub), and has written for many publications, including the academic journal “Revista Brasileira de Política Internacional”.On Wednesday evening, Mr. Paulo Roberto de Almeida took a fine-toothed comb through the historical issues and state of affairs in Brazil during his talk “Contemporary Brazil: Politics and Economy in an Emerging Country”.
Mr. Almeida began with an overview of the history: Brazil is “perfectly prepared” in economics, but certainly not “perfectly” democratic. This conflict he referred to throughout the presentation.
Despite its legacy of tumultuous relationships with a national army that often took unconstitutional measures, and with dynamic tax and inflation rates, Brazil transitioned from authoritarianism into democracy in the last half-century. However, while placing the newly participatory system of democracy in context of the protests against the government and the FIFA cup, Mr. Almeida stated that matters are never what they seem: “bottom up” movements are in reality “top down”.
“The government has bought the protesting college students,” he said.
The economic issue in the nation, Mr. Almeida cites, is Brazil’s inability to compete with industrial powerhouses like China. The commoditization and de-industrialization of Brazil are fueled by the low worker productivity (about half that of the United States), which in turn is caused in part by the subpar education. Though the enrollment rate in schools is high, the education being provided is not substantial, as is shown by the dearth of patents in the nation.
He notes that another problem is that the “redistribution of wealth” program has ensured that “one-third of the nation relies on welfare [such as conditional cash transfers for the poor].” On the other hand, at the top of the pyramid, more than thirty political parties swell the system with their fierce competitiveness and corruption. He decried public officials as a “coalition of profiteers” displaying “patrimonialism” and “nepotism”, and especially cited the left-wing Working Party as one that wished to “control and maintain the monopoly of resources.”
Some fixes for the nation, he stated, include utilizing the natural resources to the fullest extent possible (but with wariness of dependence on the lucrative pre-salt oil reserves.) Equally important would be ridding of the “protectionist policies” that make trade in Brazil less free than trade in China.
Later, Mr. Thomaz Pereira, a J.S.D. candidate at the Law School, who was moderating the discussion, disagreed with the negative representation of the Working Party, adding that by rejecting its most Socialist elements and transforming from a party of laborers into a true, structured political party, it has gained credibility and has even centered itself. He added that conditional cash transfers may be “buying votes”. Nonetheless, in his eyes, they are not very different from the rich “voting for the tax breaks.”
During the time allotted for discussion and questions, a member of the audience challenged Mr. Almeida’s views on Brazil’s education being judged in terms of the dearth of patents, by pointing out that Brazil has stricter patent laws – for example, software is not patentable.
“Don’t you think you are providing a pessimist view?” She asked.
“Perhaps,” he conceded. As he concluded his presentation, he maintained a casual yet integral sense of hope as he compared Brazil to England or Argentina, stating that it is headed towards “a slow decadence.”
Vishakha Negi is a freshman in Morse college. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.