Opinion by Jeb Blount

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – I’ve got a lot riding on Brazil.

I moved here in 1991 for a brief four-year stay and ended up staying. I’ve built a family and a career here. Despite Brazil’s recent troubles, deep “saudades” for family and friends in the United States and Canada, and the damage recession is doing to my personal finances, I doubt I’ll leave. Rio de Janeiro is now home.

There is not only greatness in Brazil, but real, and nearly boundless, potential. Its people are generous, resourceful and by international standards, remarkably content.

Brazil is ugly too, cursed with self-inflicted poverty, carelessness and waste. Its civil order is sullied by violence and graft and political discourse stilted and insular.

But when Brazilians express shock that I don’t flee to the order and wealth of North America, I respond with the words of the late, great Brazilian Bossa Nova composer Tom Jobim, who divided his time between New York and Rio.

When asked which was better he said:

“To live in the U.S. is great but it sucks. To live in Brazil sucks but it’s great.”

My feelings exactly, and I’m content with the latter. Besides, Trump has sucked a lot of what I find great out of the United States.

But I don’t buy the idea that Brazil is “the country of the future”, an under-performer just waiting to shake off adolescent mistakes, and with a few smart reforms, faith and capital from local and international investors, seize its undeniable potential.

Brazil’s economic crisis will end, probably later rather than sooner. But even if it learns from the crisis, I doubt Brazil will join the ranks of developed and powerful nations in my lifetime.

In its 128 years as a Republic, Brazil has blown too many chances for that. The current economic crisis, the deepest in at least a century, is the result of the latest wasted opportunity.

When Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva became president in 2003, Brazil was already enjoying a once-in-a-century commodities boom. China’s economic miracle created massive demand for Brazil’s iron ore, soybeans, bauxite, oil, sugar, orange juice poultry, beef and even regional aircraft.

At the same time, Brazil was more economically and politically stable than ever before. As the economy grew and poverty fell, the future seemed at hand.

But instead of building on more than a decade of economic liberalization, Lula and his successor Dilma Rousseff, sought greater government control, driving up costs and slowing, or even stymieing, investment. Their populist and nationalist arguments for the blunder have since been exposed as little more than cover for the world’s largest-ever political graft scheme.

Lula, Rousseff and their allies, embattled, President Michel Temer included, acted as if the boom would never end, but they all do. Now mines, farms and factories in other countries supply China with goods Brazil could have provided. Tens of billions of dollars invested in Brazilian mines, ports, shipyards, ethanol plants, oil refineries and oil fields were lost, along with tens of thousands of jobs, written off along with Brazil’s reputation.

The degree to which Brazil’s situation “sucks” right now, hasn’t killed my love of all that is great. I hope to revel in feijoada, fútbol, samba, bossa nova, the energy of São Paulo, Carnival in Rio and the majesty of the Amazon for some time. But Brazil aspires to something greater, and as much as I’ve got riding on its future, I’m afraid it’s muffed its best chance for a long time.

* Jeb Blount is a journalist in Rio de Janeiro who has covered Brazil for 26 years for such publications and agencies as Reuters, Bloomberg, the Washington Post, Miami Herald and Los Angeles Times.

3 COMMENTS

  1. Having arrived in 1980, I have experienced much of what Jeb is talking about. The one thing different this time around is that now, more than anyplace else, the justice system is going after corruption in a big way, and the military is staying silent. Corrupt politicians arise from the corrupt culture. There are several ethical Brazilians, but corruption is cultural, so the politicians will be too. If Brazilians see their role in the corruption that put the country in the situation it is now, we could see a cultural change over the next few years, with new, young and ethical politicians entering the system. I have seen an improvement already with the caliber of new and young people working in ICMBio, Ibama, SEMAD in MG and other places. In Belo Horizonte, several taxi drivers tell me it has been a long time since a client ask for a receipt for more than they paid.

    I am not ready to write off Brazil, but agree, any change, if it happens, will take a few years to a generation.

  2. I live in Araruama Rio De Janeiro, the city that Rio mayor Eduardo Paz called a “shitty city”. I have lived here since 2009 and now, after 8 years I agree with him. Araruama is a shitty city. When I first bought my home here, I had great hopes, but now, those hopes have faded. I hate this place, but I too don’t think I’ll be going anywhere for a while, I can’t afford to.

  3. The writer passes a judgement on Trump. The word “lib-tard” comes to mind.
    In his first 100 days, President Donald J. Trump has taken bold action to restore prosperity, keep Americans safe and secure, and hold government accountable. At an historic pace, this President has enacted more legislation and signed more executive orders than any other president in over a half century. With a focus on rebuilding the military, ending illegal immigration, and restoring confidence in our economy, the President is keeping his promises to the American people.
    Boosting manufacturing, jobs, growth, US interests, new job creation, the stock market, pension funds.
    Moving away from obsession with homosexuals, transvestites, gender equality and income equality ( communism) Trump may just save the USA from bankruptcy ands self-destruction.

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