Brazil: Enigma of a sleeping colossus

It is said that a French politician, asked whether Brazil had a good future, answered with scorn and knowing irony, “Brazil has always had, still has, and will always have a magnificent future.” It would seem that the country has suffered for decades under this sort of stigma.

During the second half of the last century, the United States periodically and systematically discovered Brazil’s potential as a suitable partner or ally for its global strategy. In the rest of the continent it was said, given the ambivalence and frequent changes in foreign policy strategy, that there were only two ‘serious’ states in Latin America in terms of their diplomatic behaviour: Cuba and Brazil. The agendas of the other countries were erratic, untrustworthy, and generally ineffective given their respective interests.

But Brazil never managed to forge a global presence that was consummate with the way it was almost universally perceived. The new world disorder that followed the end of the Cold War has allowed for the rise of certain secondary actors that have placed themselves right at the centre of attention, and not only of the US, the sole survivor of the past ideological faceoff.

However, if it is true that the US can intervene, with varying success, in any situation, especially emergencies, it is uncertain whether it could be successful without the collaboration of partners that are both effective and trustworthy. Brazil has come to occupy this position.

The problem is that other actors trying to raise their profile in this new and uncertain world have the same opinion of Brazil and are trying to win it to their side. Moreover, some of these new actors have the same massive size of Brazil and are in competition for its position as a global protagonist.

Brazil's first shortcoming is that it has too much appeal. What isn't clear is whether Brazil is also capable of responding to expectations and whether its leaders are willing to commit themselves to fulfiling this role responsibly.

There is the will to take on these global and regional challenges, but the country’s leaders and economic strategists, not to mention social experts, are aware of the country’s major deficits on the domestic front. For a start, Brazil is already in recession, with a 0.8 percent decline in GDP for the first trimester of 2009. Its currency is overvalued, which is driving up the cost of living.

Like other Latin American countries, it has an elevated level of social inequality which is morally unacceptable and unsustainable in terms of political-economic stability.
As a result, threats to personal security are no longer just a matter of warnings for tourists but a daily reality for citizens of Rio and other cities. A considerable amount of the country lies outside the reach of the government. There are favelas in cities that the police simply do not enter: "order" is simply and fully "guaranteed" by what are euphemistically called "militias", bands of drug traffickers, extortionists, and killers.
The social resources needed to face this challenge are still lacking. The state of education is alarming not only to perceptive citizens but even to UNICEF. Repeating grades is now the norm. The absenteeism of professors, who are badly paid and badly educated, is scandalous.

The figures for higher education are no better: whereas Germany produces 30 doctorates per 1000 citizens, the figure in Brazil is 0.6.

Nonetheless the comparative advantage in terms of competition with the other so-called BRICs (Brazil, Russia, India, and China), which President Lula met with in Yekaterinaberg, Russia, on June 16, is that Brazil, with all its defects, is a globally-integrated economic system and has been for longer than the rest of this odd four-country bloc. In its region, its preeminence is unquestioned. Neither Mexico, with the permanent advantage of its proximity to the US, nor Argentina can occupy the place in the sun reserved in principle for Brazil.

In Latin America, Brazil is an inescapable point of reference -the opposite of Venezuela, which deliberately stirs up distrust around the world, though it is concealed for tactical reasons.

As the rest of Latin America finds itself in the grip of reelection fever, President Lula, with an enviable public approval rating, will not follow or consider following that dangerous path. And largely as a result of his reasonable approach, Brazil is not only a country with a great future: it is a colossus that can be counted on.


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