Opinion, by Michael Royster
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Thomas Mann’s mammoth novel is set in a sanatorium in a small town called Davos, nestled in the Swiss Alps. It claims to be the highest city in Switzerland at 1,560 meters altitude. Since 1971, it has hosted the annual winter meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF), where the great and the near-great gather to look down upon the not-so-great.
Last year, to the surprise of many, Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff attended the event, and she was invited to return again this year. It was widely expected that she would use the occasion to present her new economic team, Finance Minister Levy and Central Bank President Tombini, to the assembled public and private bigwigs.
The mountain, however, didn’t work its magic on Dilma. This week, attracted by Bolivarian magnetism, she begged off Davos, preferring to attend the inauguration of Bolivia’s re-elected President Evo Morales and, following that, the summit meeting of CELAC, an organization set up in 2011 to rival the OAS by excluding the U.S. and Canada.
Messrs. Levy and Tombini will attend Davos this year, accompanied by Dilma’s Strategic Affairs Secretary Marcelo Neri, a respected economist with degrees from PUC and Princeton. They will surely encounter Armínio Fraga, another PUC/Princeton economist, who would have been there as Finance Minister had Aécio won election for President.
Another notable Davos absentee will be Graça Foster, (as this is written) the President of Petrobras. Petrobras, (as this is written) one of the corporate sponsors of WEF, has regularly sent officers and directors to Davos. This year, unsurprisingly, no one from the beleaguered behemoth will be present.
Dilma’s predecessor Lula used to attend Davos with regularity, starting in 2003 after his inauguration. This was fitting, as in order to win the 2002 elections, Lula convinced PT to abandon most of its traditional leftist rhetoric and, once in office, appointed a mainstream finance team. Indeed, in 2010, Lula received the initial “Global Statesman” award from WEF.
Dilma’s retreat to the Bolivian Altiplano is hardly surprising. Back in 2003, she was one of the PT boffins protesting against Lula’s trip to the den of the arch-conservative lions of industry and commerce. Last year, she successfully resisted being dumped by Lula and his supporters in PT. Her ministerial appointments (39 of them!) so far share only one characteristic—they were not proposed by Lula.
Unlike Lula, Dilma has never been a capitalist. She finds herself much more at home with fellow “bolivarian” socialists like Evo Morales, Rafael Correa, Nicolas Maduro and Cristina Kirchner. She will also feel right at home at the CELAC summit where, one can be sure, the U.S. and Canada will be loudly excoriated for causing all the economic woes suffered by Latin American and Caribbean countries.
Back up on the mountain, one big question most of the Davos attendees will have for Minister Levy will be “how long can you weave your magic, knowing your boss hates your ‘Chicago Boy’ economic policies?” The Curmudgeon is betting he won’t last twelve months — but the Curmudgeon’s predictions haven’t been very good lately.
Michael Royster, aka THE CURMUDGEON, fetched up on Carioca shores some 37 years ago and still loves them; his favorite spectator sport is politics, viewed from a WASP-like perspective.