Thursday, June 12, 2008

Brazil for Beginners I - The Phantom Menace

Having lived abroad for a long time, it was always interesting for me to discover how Brazil was seen trough foreigners eyes. It was flagrant how little was written or said about Brazil on European newspapers and television. Mostly, news were about carnival and football, or about some gunshot in a favela in Rio. People were often deceived when they had the chance to see me dancing or playing football, which was an important lesson to them about stereotyping Brazilians. Once I was asked if we had television in Brazil, or cars.
This series of texts doesn’t intend to be a lesson on all Brazilian complexities, but simply to give foreigners another perspective on what is happening in our country. And mainly, but not always, focused on my working field, agribusiness.
It has been a long time since Stefan Zweig wrote that Brazil was the land of the future. Always waiting for that brilliant future that never arrives, most Brazilians have confused sentiments about their own country, mixing sometimes blind patriotism and bitter resentment about their corruption, poverty and all those third world problems.
The future, at least in the agribusiness can show up sooner then we think. The whole world worries now about an imminent food crisis. Commodities prices are soaring. Brazil is already a big exporter of beef, poultry, soybeans, coffee, orange juice, fruits and many other agriculture products. We now want to supply the world with sugarcane ethanol (much more efficient than the American corn based ethanol), an alternative fuel in a moment where oil prices reaches $ 120.
And talking about oil prices, Brazil just discovered it has a huge oil reserve, which will make us a major oil exporter in the near future. Well, all that oil is still 5.000m under sea, but sooner or later it will come up.
Within 40 years we will have 9 billion people on this planet and they will have to get food somewhere. Brazil is the country with most available arable land left in the world. About 11% of our territory still can be used for agriculture and that even without cutting any tree from the precious Amazon rainforest.
After the dark years of military dictatorship, Brazil regained democracy and stabilized its economy during the 90’s. Reforms, mainly conducted by former president Fernando Henrique Cardoso, included the creation of the new currency Real putting an end to inflation, and the privatizations of state owned companies.
Those reforms were crucial to assure the good moment Brazil is living now. Today we see giant Brazilian food companies like Sadia, Perdigão, JBS and others buying foreign companies not only in South America but even in Europe, in the USA and in Australia.
The recent investment grade Standard&Poor’s awarded Brazil was seen as a sign of the country’s reliability.
Is there a problem? Yes there is. It’s the leftist and liberal philosophy that is dominating political life in Brazil and Latin America.
With the notable exception of Alvaro Uribe in Colombia, almost the entire continent has fallen in the hands of socialists, ranging from the moderates Michelle Bachelet in Chile and Tabaré Vasquez in Uruguay, to the populist Kichner couple in Argentina, Alan Garcia in Peru, president Lula and his left-wing party, PT (Partido dos Trabalhadores or Worker’s Party) in Brazil, and the hard liners Evo Morales in Bolivia, Fernando Lugo in Paraguay, Rafael Correa in Ecuador and last but not least, the biggest showman of all, Hugo Chavez from Venezuela.
The leftist movement in Latin America is coordinate by an entity called Foro de São Paulo, where political parties sit side by side with terrorist organizations like the Colombian FARC and senile dictators like Fidel Castro to discuss strategies of regaining in Latin America what was lost in Eastern Europe.
The consequences can already be seen almost everywhere in this continent. In Argentina, Cristina Kichner, elected with the help of Hugo Chavez money, is fighting farmers and the agribusiness industries, preventing commodities exports in a desperate tentative of controlling inflation. The official inflation index is around 9%, but it is manipulated by Argentinean government. Real inflation is closer to 25%. Evo Morales is about to provoke a civil war in Bolivia, where the Santa Cruz department wants to secede from the rest of the country. Ecuador is breaking contracts with international mining companies, like Bolivia did with the gas. And Venezuela, oh Venezuela…It’s really sad to see a land floating in oil plunge into misery. Hugo Chavez managed to transform Caracas in one of the most violent cities in the continent, Venezuela has become a haven for drug traffic and ordinary people can’t get basic food products like milk or eggs. Press and Congress are under Chavez police control. And yes, like the Interpol just confirmed, Venezuela and Ecuador actually were helping the FARC, an organization of drug dealers and kidnappers that cause misery to thousands of families worldwide but it’s seen by leftists as a social movement.
And in Brazil…Well, PT managed to put all their people into key positions in the government, in state owned companies and funds. They bought part of the Congress with dirt money. They financed their campaign with dirt money. They produced faked dossiers against their political rivals. They tried several times to diminish press liberty. They ignore crimes committed in the countryside by the MST (Movimento dos Sem Terra or Landless Workers Movement) for the sake of social justice. They will change the law to get control again of telecommunications companies, privatized by the former government. They deported Cuban dissidents back to Fidel. They created air traffic chaos because their appointed directors for the sector were absolutely incompetent, and about 300 people were dead in two horrible airplane accidents. There is plenty more. Several government officials are still involved in different corruption charges.
Most funny, Brazil is seen by other countries in Latin America as an imperialist power. Evo Morales took by force the Petrobras refineries in Bolivia. Lula and his government gently agreed. Now, Fernando Lugo, the just elected Paraguayan president wants to renegotiate prices of Itaipu power plant, and Paraguayan landless peasants are burning Brazilian flags in protest against the presence of Brazilian farmers in their country. The Brazilian government already announced it will negotiate energy prices with Paraguay. In fact, granting the demands of our neighbors, Brazil is helping to finance leftist governments in the continent.
Despite all the scandals from his two terms as president Lula remains very popular, specially among the lower income Brazilians. First because the economy is doing good. Actually, the best thing about PT government is that they choose to continue the economic policies of the Fernando Henrique Cardoso years. Second because of Bolsa Familia (Family Allowance), his biggest social achievement. Granting a extra income to the poorest families, the purpose of this program was to reduce the huge income gap in Brazilian society. In reality, the middle class tax payer is financing the perpetual misery of the lower class, which is becoming state-dependent to live.
With an oversized public sector and the enormous costs of Bolsa Familia to finance, there is little left to invest in basic education, transports and logistics, infra structure, security and other areas that could really generate richness, employment and a better quality of life.
I don’t believe Brazil can become a Venezuela like state. Not because PT doesn’t want it but because our institutions are solid enough to resist it and our civil society wouldn’t allow it.
But we must keep in mind that the real danger resides in the thought that socialism exists to create a bright and perfectly equal new world, and that in the name of this new world the socialist leaders are allowed to do whatever they want to do. Including getting rich with public money or praising dictators and drugdealers.


Lelec said...

Very good text! Espero que muitos gringos o leiam!



TartanMarine said...

Very interesting reading. I'd like to post on my blog:

and circulate to my e-mail list. Might wake up some of the zombies here in the United States.

Bob Hall

Anonymous said...

signed to your rss