Editorial, by Doug Gray
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – In March 2009, I was among the first reporters to be hired by a local news outfit called The Gringo Times, helping to put together the city’s first weekly online newspaper in English.
Two years previously, FIFA had announced that Brazil would host the 2014 World Cup. Six months later, Rio would win the right to host the 2016 Olympics. Like Brazil, our ambition was enormous. Unlike Brazil, our budget was less so.
In November 2009 the decision was made to change the name to The Rio Times, reflecting the ambitions of a team of contributors reporting from what felt like the most exciting city in the world. Indeed, that very month, the front cover of The Economist featured an image of the iconic statue of Christ lifting off Corcovado Mountain, shuttle-style, with the accompanying title ‘Brazil Takes Off’.
The striking cover was discussed at length and plastered all over Brazilian social media. The nitty-gritty of economic policy and stable growth might not have been as headline grabbing as hosting a World Cup or Olympic Games but the two came hand in hand. Brazil was being offered a golden opportunity that it looked like seizing with both hands, what could possibly stop it?
Being a part of that early news team, the optimism that Brazilians deploy with a surprising degree of caution (the 1950 World Cup, anyone?) was contagious. President Lula was the most popular politician in the world and pre-salt oil was going to bring his country untold riches.
The growing middle class would eagerly gobble up previously unavailable credit and help Brazil consume its way to the kind of economic prowess that, at the time, the U.S. and Europe could only dream of.
So where did it go wrong? The mass protests of June suggested the government was even further out of touch with the population than most dared to consider.
A failure to address the people, brutal repression, Pec-37, the ‘gay cure’ law, the Mensalão retrials and the dismissive comments of those presiding over them all underlined the point and have left a more divided, politically charged country. Like the upper echelons had always feared, if you give more, even the tiny amounts they offered, people will expect more.
When I started at The Rio Times there was no print edition, Obama was greeting Lula like an old college pal at London’s G20 conference and Brazil was tearing towards a bright new future.
As I return to The Rio Times, Dilma has just opened the UN conference with a pointed attack on America’s cyber-spying and The Economist has run another Brazil cover, only this time Christ was heading back to earth under the title ‘Has Brazil Blown It?’
Of course, it hasn’t, and the conditions for further growth and another upward cycle are there, just waiting to be deployed with care and strategy. If, however, Brazil has become a complacent victim of its own hype and fails to address key infrastructure problems, corruption and bureaucratic bottlenecks, the bump back down to earth could be just as spectacular as the take-off.
Either way, back in the seat as editor, I’m looking forward to the journey.