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Bye Bye Brazil: Why The Country Of The Future Is Still ... Just The Country Of The Future

Nelson Antoine
AP via Miami Herald
An angry Brazilian woman shouts during a protest in Sao Paulo this week against new President Michel Temer.


If you needed another reminder that the new Brazil is really just the old Brazil, here’s some handy news:

Yet another epic public fraud scheme has emerged this week – a $2.5 billion scandal involving the pension funds of Brazil’s largest state-run companies.

This latest financial atrocity adds one more fetid float to Brazil’s long samba parade of corruption – including the $3 billion bribery horror at the state-run Petrobras oil firm.

And did we mention last week’s impeachment ouster of President DilmaRousseff, whose leftist Workers Party (PT) is at the heart of all the rot?

RELATED: As Rousseff Faces Impeachment in Brazil, the U.S. Follows a New Logic in Latin America

Rousseff’s removal from office was not, as she claims, a “coup.” She is in fact guilty of cooking her government’s books to make spiraling budget deficits vanish during her 2014 re-election campaign. But then again, Brazil’s Congress most likely nailed her for refusing to halt the Petrobras probe – which has dozens of legislators in its crosshairs.

Even Rousseff’s replacement, new President Michel Temer, is implicated in the Petrobras graft. (He denies it.)

But for many Brazilians, what’s worse is the scary sense that the 75-year-old Temer is poised to haul Brazil back to its dark ages of gaping wealth inequality, racial discrimination and gender cluelessness. Critics point to his cabinet, which consists solely of old, white conservative males like himself.

It's hard to believe this is the nation where, less than a decade ago, then President Lula could boast that God is Brazilian and bring the first Olympics to South America.

And lest we forget, while mired in this sordid swamp Brazil has to find a way out of its worst recession in 80 years – a crisis born from the country’s smug failure to make its economy more modern, competitive and less reliant on raw material exports.

It’s hard to believe this is the nation where, less than a decade ago, then President LuizInácio Lula da Silva could boast, “God is Brazilian,” and bring the first Olympics to South America.

That its economy briefly became the world’s sixth largest, added 40 million people to the middle class – and sent newly minted millionaire expats to Miami to save our condo market.

That its booming diplomatic stature briefly counterbalanced America’s hegemony in the Western Hemisphere.

That its Facebook status was just as briefly upgraded from developing to developed.

To all of that you can now say: Bye Bye Brazil.


Not to the country – but to the pretentions of Brazilian grandeur we’ve indulged in this century.

To all the hype about BRIC – the premier emerging-nations club of Brazil, Russia, India and China, which should now be RIC. (Or IC?)

And to all the hope about a Third Way – what we thought was the PT’s savvy synthesis of capitalism and socialism, but which ended up a self-destructive festa of corruption, inefficiency and most of all arrogant left-wing statism. Now perhaps supplanted by arrogant right-wing neglect.

The PT’s 14-year-long run did leave its positive legacies. Lula’s robust social programs helped enfranchise Brazil’s teeming favelas, or slums – showing the world once and for all the vast civic and entrepreneurial potential behind the City of God’s squalor and violence.

Credit Eraldo Peres / AP via Miami Herald
AP via Miami Herald
New Brazilian President Michel Temer (center) waves after being sworn in last week.

And Rousseff’s willingness to let corruption investigations play out – under her watch top officials and executives heard jail-cell doors close behind them for the first time ever – raised expectations that institutional rule of law can take root in Brazil.

But Brazil was much too self-impressed by what it did and far less self-aware of the enormous amount it left undone, from infrastructure to bureaucracy to education.

Especially education. You don’t build a 21st-century economy by selling soybeans and steel to Asia. You have to challenge Asia on the high-tech court. Rousseff made an ambitious effort to send students to some of the world's best engineering schools; but Brazil's R&D deficit remains Amazon-sized.

This isn't the first time a developing giant has fooled us into thinking it’s arrived. Mexico did the same thing 23 years ago when it forged NAFTA – then only a year later became the scene of guerrilla uprising, political murder and currency collapse.

Maybe we wanted to believe Brazil had arrived because we were tired of the tired line that it's the country of the future…and always will be. But unfortunately the new line about Brazil is really just the old line.

Tim Padgett is the Americas Editor for WLRN, covering Latin America, the Caribbean and their key relationship with South Florida. Contact Tim at tpadgett@wlrnnews.org
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