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Opinion, by Samantha Barthelemy

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Moving to the United States seemed an obvious path to many of my generation. If you were among the lucky ones with the opportunity to study and work abroad – where higher salaries and a better quality of life were a certainty – why not take it? I did.

Samantha Barthelemy, Carioca specializing in education and public security policies.
Samantha Barthelemy, Carioca specializing in education and public security policies.

Now thousands of compatriots once in search of the American dream are coming back to be a part of the new Brazilian reality. And we are not alone, as foreign investors and residents follow suit.

The logic is simple: over here is growth and over there is a crisis. Unemployment in Brazil stood at 6.4 percent in April, the lowest level on record – compared with 9.1 percent in the United States. Airline ticket sales to Brazil increased 54 percent in the early months of 2011, compared to the same period one year earlier.

And the real rises against the dollar.

Companies from JetBlue to The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf seek to establish their businesses in Brazil and partake in the growth of  Class C. Portuguese lessons are filling up as Americans proudly recite Brazil’s national anthem.

Foreigners’ interest in Brazil is growing faster than the Latin American giant’s economy. Opportunities flourish as billions of dollars are poured in civil construction, petrochemistry, biotechnology and telecommunications projects.

In three years we host the World Cup and, two years later, the Summer Olympics. Rio de Janeiro alone is expected to receive US$102 billion over the next three years – one of the largest investments ever made in a single region of the world.

A once “macroeconomically incompetent” country is now perceived as a hub of stability and guaranteed profitable returns.

Brazil is on the rise, there are so many reasons to celebrate! But is it really a country transformed? Can it sustain this boom?

We have a long way before forming a qualified workforce capable of competing fairly against newcomers, and ensuring that these same newcomers want and can afford to stay in Brazil.

In 2011 the country slipped three places to 124th out of 183 nations surveyed in the World Bank’s “Doing Business” index – which compares how economies fare on factors such as opening, running and closing a firm.

Rules are executed excruciatingly slowly and in many cases having an ally in government is the only way to speed up processes. Or one can use despachantes who have their own allies and get official documents pushed through rather quickly – for a “fee” of course.

All is not perfect. We grow and grow, but it becomes increasingly difficult to see where the money is going other than to the “white elephants” and politicians’ pockets.

Add to that the fact that Brazil’s economy (and society) could be more fragile than it appears to be.

Inflation is at 6.5 percent and rising; real estate costs are exploding; the society is one of the most unequal in the world; labor markets are exceedingly rigid; Rio has (unjustifiably) become the hemisphere’s most expensive city; and deeper political reforms and tighter macroeconomic policies are needed for long-term growth and fiscal stability.

I could not be prouder of my country. Brazil has taken off and I want to be a part of making it better, and fairer, for all.

But unless the right political decisions are taken to prepare Brazil and Brazilians to face the future, we could easily switch from being the joke “eternal country of tomorrow” to that of yesterday.


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A Belgian-Brazilian native of Rio de Janeiro and former United Nations journalist, Samantha Barthelemy is a dual degree Masters of International Affairs with Columbia University and the Paris Institute of Political Studies living in Rio and specializing in advocacy, education and public security policies.  http://samanthabarthelemy.blogspot.com

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