In with the Old


Institutional gymnastics in Brazil deserve a gold medal. Politicians orchestrated a slick maneuver that led to President Dilma’s impeachment but saved her, at least temporarily, from the loss of the right to hold political office in spite what the Constitution mandates. This bit of political chicanery orchestrated by Renan Calheiros, the Workers Party (PT) and Supreme Court Justice Lewandowski, and likely sanctioned by President Temer, amply illustrates the permanence of Brazil’s political culture of accommodation and innovation through the use of the “jeitinho”.  The move further weakens respect for the Constitution, the Supreme Court and the overall political process.  In the end, it means institutional degradation and for anyone looking from the outside in, they can only scratch their head and wonder if Brazil will ever have rules that apply in a universal fashion.  If you are a foreign investor thinking about playing in this trillion-dollar market, what is your impression?

The impeachment (with attenuation) raises basic questions that demand answers: Is Brazil’s culture perverted in such a way that institutions cannot solidify and function? For how long will the Brazilian political body be subject to the whims and wiles of manipulative and astute members of the political elite?  Why do the major economic players condone and acquiesce in such ad-hoc maneuvering?  What is necessary for institutional stability and growth?

The short answer goes back to Brazil’s historical heritage, the weight of slavery and patrimonialism. Brazilians are aware of and frustrated by contemporary anecdotes about the difficulty of encountering the promised future.  Some say that Brazil needs another 500 years to shake off the elitist centralization inherited from the Portuguese crown plus another plus another 500 years to remediate the sins of the world’s most intense slave trade.  In 1800, slaves made up more than half of Brazil’s population and Brazil still has the largest share of African blood in the Western world.  Paradoxically, miscegenation, partially driven by demographics, led both to the myth of racial democracy but also reaffirmed Brazil’s unequal distribution of power and property based on racism.  “White” society prevailed over the many gradations of darker and poorer.  Brazil took its time in abolishing slavery (1888) and even by the end of the Empire (1889), suffrage in the newly proclaimed Republic favored the rural based patrimonial elites who could control “their” people and guide the limited suffrage that would come into place.  Illiterates were barred from voting and education was restricted, thus favoring the status quo.

From the abolition of slavery and the Republic to the present day, the vestiges of the system remain in place.  Even the shift of population from 90% rural in the 19th century to 90% urban in the 21st has only slowly, extremely slowly, begun to reverse this inheritance.  Brazil remains stubbornly unequal in education, income and the distribution of power and participation. This unevenness can be seen along the racial spectrum from white to black, rich to poor, the privileged to the destitute, from those who live in hillside favelas to those with beach-front homes.

Even as Brazil industrialized, urbanized and made great strides in wealth generation and economic opportunity, social advancement remained highly dependent knowing the right people.  Brazilians always have had to value what is called a high IQ or in Portuguese, Quem Indica – Who do you know?  Years ago, young women aspired to marrying a functionary of the Bank of Brazil and today young people are still avid seekers of employment in the public sector and preferentially to a post based on personal referral.

Since the 1930’s and even before, economic development has been state led.  Those with political power and those able to create economic surplus looked to the government for investments, loans, incentives, protection, and the benefits to be derived from positions and sinecures in state run enterprises.

With power and resources, those in government treated society and the population in a paternal and/or populist manner. Look at how members of Congress members of the president’s administration behave. Their policies and favors are for friends and family.  Although society and the economy have grown in sophistication and complexity, the political system remains largely traditional.  It is and always has been the duty of the governing to anticipate, control and genuflect toward popular demands.  In Brazil, the government has a long history of signaling and promoting social and economic benefits.  Thus today’s labor code (CLT) with its roots in the Estado Novo dictatorship provides Brazilian workers with the benefits of European social democracies before these were actually demanded and negotiated in a political struggle.  Cooptation and control prevailed over political mobilization and the winning of rights through active political participation.

While Brazil is a capitalist economy, nothing gets done without the government.  Statist ideology, state capitalism, state control and intervention are all too present.  Brazil needs to decide the role of the state in the 21st century economy.  Dilma was ejected because the state fell down on its ability to perform and coopt.  The new President promises changes and is trying to promote a more traditional style of capitalism with competition, rules, private property and the right to profit.  However, the current system is stacked against this.  And while, the Worker’s Party has expanded the state as an employer since 2003, this tradition started much earlier with entrenched interests in the state with its tentacles in all sectors is difficult to budge.  Politicians don’t want to change as they can allocate resources in the form of jobs and benefits.  Those on the receiving end or even potentially on the verge of power also lack incentive to change.

Economic complexity, a population of 210 million, a GDP that has shrunk to less than 2 trillion, societal diversity and increasing yet still poor levels of education are all factors demanding a new model.  Not much will happen with President Temer.  He has only one bullet and that is to somehow revive the economy and this will be a challenge.  Moreover, his term is too short and if he tries to run for reelection in 2018, that act will trigger another crisis.  Brazil needs to find leadership but the population also needs to decide on a future where the state has a greatly reduced role in collecting and allocating resources.  Because this will involve pension reform, tax reform, privatization, de-bureaucratization, losses of access to easy jobs and privileges, the process can only take place over a long time frame.

It remains to be seen if the old can survive until the future arrives.

Falta de Liderança


Com a aproximação das eleições municipais no Brasil e as eleições presidenciais nos EUA, vale olhar a questão de liderança.  A percepção geral e’ que existe uma crise.   Não há mais lideres.  Nos EUA, tanto Donald Trompa quanto Hilary Clinton demonstram índices inéditos de rejeição pela população.  No Brasil há um grande cansaço com relação a classe politica e não estão aparecendo faces novas que animam o eleitorado.  Dilma esta’ fora e o Temer assume para logo sumir para China.  (Muitos gostariam que não voltasse).


As pessoas, principalmente a classe media, culpam a corrupção e a cultura politica pela ausência da renovação.  Certamente, no Brasil, a Senadora Gleisi expressou algo que políticos não gostam de admitir: ou seja não tem moral para liderar e nem condenar nada.  Tanto a Dilma quanto o Temer, como os candidatos americanos, primam pelo desgosto que provocam.

Falta carisma `a safra atual de lideres tanto no Brasil quanto nos EUA.  Mas o que e’ isso?   Embora um pouco difícil de definir, quando falta o povo nota e ressente.   A origem vem da palavra grega, kharisma, e significa tocado pela mão ou a graça de Deus.  Quer dizer que o líder que possui carisma apresenta características diferenciadas, fáceis de reconhecer.  Nos Estados Unidos, Presidente Obama e’ considerado carismático por suas características de personalidade que ganham expressão através das instituições que as ampliam.  Também e certo que ele tem a capacidade de atrair pessoas e quando presente as pessoas sentem sua postura e seu dom de liderança legitimada pela posição que ocupa.

A liderança politica e os dons carismáticos nos países que praticam a democracia são legitimados pelos votos.  No Brasil, entretanto, apesar da tradição continua de eleições e de um sufrágio amplo, ainda não se construiu, ou talvez melhor, perdeu-se a ideia de como liderar.   Mas, nos EUA, também a desconfiança cresce vertiginosamente.  Hoje em dia o comum e escutar “Fora” quando tratando da classe politica.  Enfim, questiona-se bastante se os políticos e o sistema merecem credito e confiança.  Faltam confiança e credibilidade.

Desde a redemocratização em 1985, foram 5 presidentes eleitos pelo voto direto.  Dois deles sofreram impeachment e Lula que foi o mais carismático de todos acaba de ser indiciado e corre risco de prisão.

Será que Deus esta decepcionado e não oferece mais sua graça ou será que é’ falta mesmo de quem candidata.  Da ótica individual, quando se busca uma liderança há também a expectativa de alguns requisitos ou atributos básicos como: vontade, idoneidade, autenticidade, visão e persuasão.  Essas características sustentam e dão base para a projeção do carisma.


Vontade: quando se fala da esfera publica, o líder deve ter vocação no sentido de fazer politica visando o bem publico e não beneficio próprio.  A ideia e’ que tem que querer por uma forca interior, um moral e não um ganho puramente material.

Idoneidade: Algo que as pessoas devem reconhecer no individuo que inspira confiança no trato do bem publico.

Autenticidade: A possibilidade de transmitir sinceridade mesmo quando incorrem em equívocos, isso e’ admitir os erros.

Visão: ter um gol ou objetivo compartilhado que leva a mobilização de recursos

Persuasão: Poder de comunicação e captação das pessoas para que tornam aliados.

Essas características são individuais e podemos encontra-las em muitos âmbitos e são, felizmente, características de muitas pessoas.  Mas só com a presença de instituições e’ que se permitira a projeção mais ampla dos atributos individuais para a sociedade.

O problema aqui e’a construção de instituições que cerquem e ajudem o individuo.  Do lado negativo, as instituições impedem ou diminuem as ações maléficas já que o individuo sabe que há consequências.  Ao mesmo tempo, quando as instituições funcionam as ações positivas geram resultados.  Obras são construídas, a segurança funciona, escolas ensinam e a rede de saúde funciona sem grande favoritismo.  Quando ocorrem desvios, e’ possível fazer a denuncia e esperar a condenação e correção.  Enfim há mais confiança do que desconfiança na justiça e no sistema e instituições como um todo.

Um dos problemas do Brasil e’ que o Estado e os órgãos públicos são tomados e aparelhados. E’ fato que a diversidade da imprensa, a funcionalidade da justiça e da policia e a historia de solidez das instituições americanas, de forma geral, separa bem o Brasil e os EUA.  A confiança, o respeito e a legitimidade dão mais solidez.  Um exemplo obvio e que a Constituição americana vem de 1789 enquanto o calhamaço de defesa de interesses (A Constituição) do Brasil vem de 1988, ou seja, só aí 200 anos de diferença.   Há, sem duvida, uma historia institucional que ate agora vem favorecendo e modelando lideranças.  E’ obvio que o poder econômico e outras influencias também competem e comprometem, mas o sistema ainda funciona.

Liderança pressupõe também liderados.  E na politica, as pessoas apoiariam o líder através de participação partidária e participação eleitoral.  E o apoio vem com a expectativa de um retorno material e também moral.  O líder deve entregar beneficios reais e ideais para seus seguidores.  Dilma perdeu quando não conseguiu mais fazer a distribuição de benesses e falhou outra vez na total falta de coerência ideológica e programática.

Por mais que a Presidente Dilma proclame sua inocência, ainda há a percepção que ela pode não ter cometido o crime, mas os roubos e desvios acontecerem quando ela tinha responsabilidade e comando.  Não e’ aceitável repetir a exaustão que não sabia ou não via.  Pode se querer acreditar que as pessoas são honestas, mas quando entram na esfera publica e na politica, aí já gera no Brasil a desconfiança. E Dilma que nasceu em Minas, tinha que desconfiar.  Isso porque a historia de manipulação, roubo e atos ilícitos vem de longe.  Poucos políticos conseguiram manter a boa reputação.

Os episódios finais do processo de impeachment no Senado são tristes.  Dilma tentou se defender, mas ainda se tem a impressão de que ela não contou nem a metade do que sabe, e não teve coragem de desafiar, a não ser através da repetição patética de que foi vitimada por um golpe.  Ela não contou por que não sabia das coisas, e se ela realmente não sabia, e’ porque não quis saber, o que a deixa no papel de coitada.

Ela teve a oportunidade de ser uma grande figura, a primeira mulher eleita para a presidência com seus 54 milhões de votos.  Eh triste observar que Dilma não liderou e não comunicou uma visão coerente.  Ela tentou projetar a imagem de pessoa idônea e autentica, mas nunca assumiu nenhuma responsabilidade pelos atos nefastos ocorridos em sua administração, e assim se auto-destruiu como líder.  Em vez de ajudar na construção de instituições e processos, ela as manipulou para ganhar uma eleição, e no segundo mandato foi omissa na sua participação como chefe institucional, justamente quando a situação econômica ruiu, pelo menos em parte, por suas próprias medidas administrativas.

E hoje, ela não e’ mais presidente e perdeu o cargo da liderança para um vice, cujas ações não correspondem as suas palavras.   Assim o impeachment constitui mais um capitulo triste de um pesadelo ainda sem fim.

Light at the End of the Tunnel or Just the Olympic Torch?

vCBzn8YZAs usual, tedious times and interesting events in Brazil.  The stock market (BOVESPA) has gone on a tear and risen well over 30% since the beginning of the year.  But Interim President is still struggling to get a handle on the economy, double digit unemployment, government spending and the long lasting recession.  Some optimists see growth in 2017, but it probably more prudent to sit back and wait until the end of August to see if suspended President Dilma surprises everyone with a comeback. Or perhaps more importantly, if Interim President Temer can gain legitimacy. In the meantime, the Olympic Games officially start on Aug. 5 and most Brazilians are, for the moment, bored or upset.  Even the mayor of Rio seems to have lost his enthusiasm.  Newspapers and thrill seekers are searching every nook and cranny to find the presence of a terrorist with a group of 12 suspects arrested over the weekend.  In the meantime, in Sao Paulo, kidnappers have taken F1 magnate, Bernie Ecclestone’s mother-in-law for ransom.

While it is not likely, a terrorist act is always a possibility in today’s world where just one distraught individual has the capability of creating major havoc.  More likely, are the predictable missteps such as the one that resulted in the death of Juma, the Amazonian jaguar in the picture.


Looking beyond the Games and to the end of the year, here are the majors:

The Legacy:  Rio’s planning for the World Cup and the Olympic Games started well over 10 years ago.  The focus has been on monuments and transportation.  Urban renewal of Praca Maua and adjacent areas shows promise.  This old downtown area had been decadent for years and the new museums, parks, bike ways, light rail and some upscaling of business are positive on the cost benefit side.  Barra da Tijuca and the Olympic Village are more questionable.  The construction in western and most desired part of Rio will benefit the city’s upper and middle classes.  It is true that private developers made tradeoffs to with the mayor to build the village but with the purpose of turning immense profits once the Games are finished.  The public sector financed almost all of the infra-structure (subway, roads, water, sewage and security) for the wealthy while the slums are again left out except for questionable investments such as trams in the place of water and sewage.  Some community mobilization and awareness took place around the removal of Vila Autodromo but it remains to be seen if there will be life after the Olympics for social movements.  The spot light will be gone and it will be back to the day-to-day struggle.

On a larger scale, Brazil, in spite of the crisis, is among the few countries that have successfully hosted both the World Cup and the Olympics and the only nation in the Southern Hemisphere to have done so.  The problems inherent in Third World Brazil are not going away.  Inequality, violence, poverty, poor government management and a mentality that the state should solve everything are not changing.  Still Brazilians will remember the Olympics favorably and will say: “We did it.”

The Economy:  The international press is starting to promote Brazil’s bottoming out.  After at least 3 years of clear economic decline, the cyclical nature of the market is bound to kick in.  However, Brazil is only partially a market economy.  While Temer has recruited his so-called “Dream Team” led by Finance Minister Henrique Meirelles, it remains to be seen if the current stock market rally will hold up if the government fails to rein in spending and the ongoing deficits send everything spiraling down again.  Meirelles has talked a good game for international finance and the market but the government has not achieved any of the promised fiscal reforms.  The question remains if the honeymoon will last beyond September.

The Polity:  Dilma’s ousting now appears a foregone conclusion.  At the same time, venal Eduardo Cunha has been ousted from the presidency of the lower chamber.  Renan Calheiros, the Senate President, continues in spite of also being notoriously corrupt.  Municipal elections will be held in October and it unlikely that there will be much renewal.  Brazilians, at this point, are too cynical and tired.  People don’t believe politicians but still vote for the same old figureheads that seem to offer a personal touch, an immediate promise of a job, running water, or a clean-up of crime and corruption and maybe a place in heaven as the so-called “evangelicals” often do.  The rigid and expensive system favors the incumbents and those who gain a hold through having a large war chest and some form of notoriety.  Reform depends on changing the Constitution and the politicians know that the status quo is probably more beneficial than tinkering.  So nothing happens.

Civil Society: Before the World Cup, the PT government was caught off guard by major street mobilizations and protests.  These continue in a diminished form.  With the economy sinking, it is more important to make sure you keep your job or spend your time hustling than it is to go out to protest or promote.  It may be the case that there will be a backlash against the government, if some sort of carnage occurs during or after the games, but barring this, people are tired and skeptical.  At the same time, Brazil’s still growing access to the internet favors democratic participation and diversity of opinion.  The problem is that just as off the net, Brazil’s low levels of education and paucity of critical thinking lead to the propagation of populist solutions that have immediate attraction but often long term negative implications.  Fighting corruption continues to be a major theme but few make the connection between the need to build institutions, strengthen basic education and expanding and deepening popular participation through the formal political process.

The Olympic torch may be the light at the end of the tunnel.  However, the torch will be moving on and Brazil may still have to face some years in the dark.

images 13.20.51



Rio Olympics

As we get close to the opening of the Games, I am re-posting an edited version of a blog from February.  Overall, things have slipped a bit since then with Dilma’s suspension and Interim President Temer trying to gain traction.  Eduardo Paes, Rio’s mayor and the original “pretty boy” of Olympic success is now somewhat chastened and is speaking of Brazil missing an opportunity.  Violence has spiked, numerous athletes (mainly golfers) have withdrawn and the promised clean up of the Guanabara Bay and Rodrigo Freitas lake have failed to materialized.  Paes and other leaders, like most politicians, cannot find their own “mea culpa”.  Still barring a major terrorist attack by Daesh or its ilk, I am virtually certain the games will be exciting, challenging for athletes and spectators and overall a success for their duration.  The problems for Brazil will come later but that is another topic.

Here is the edited post and I hope some readers find it useful.


Brazil is in the midst of a major political crisis accompanied by an economic depression. By August, when the games start, Brazil will be in its third year of negative growth and rising inflation.   It is also well known that street crime in Brazil is as bad and sometimes worse than New Orleans, Chicago or Baltimore. If you are fearful of nighttime escapades in those downtowns, you might want to think about how you are going calm your nerves in Rio’s urban jungle. Tourists can be prey, especially if you have a tendency to make yourself a mark. My recommendation is to leave the expensive watches, gold jewelry and other portable and more ostentatious valuables at home and go out with a group. Everyone in Brazil has a cell phone or two, so that is not a big deal but if you are careless your iPhone 6 might disappear and “find my phone” will not provide a remedy.

Adding injury to insult, Brazil is also the epicenter of the Zika crisis. This latest epidemic comes as the country finishes preparations for the games. Some sensationalists have proposed cancelling the games but, on the other hand, Carnaval has just ended and millions of revelers in shorts, bustiers, bikinis and flip-flops hit the streets in defiance of the aedes aegyptius mosquito. While real, Zika appears to be another of the many health worries in a shrinking and interconnected world. In the past, we have feared Ebola, chicken-driven influenza, Chikungunya, SARS, and a host of others. Zika creates panic because of its possible association with the occurrence of microcephalia. While the true impacts of the disease are still unfolding, it seems that Zika may be, in reality, less harmful in scale than say dengue fever or malaria, which follow the same transmission path.

So assuming you have tickets or can obtain them and you have gotten past the health, security, economic/social/political tension, you still need to find a place to stay. If you are with an organized tour group, most likely hotel reservations have been secured. If not, you may have trouble. Rio has lots of hotels but accommodations meeting international standards are lacking. All of the hotel rooms will be full and the Rio Olympic Committee has struck a deal with AirBnB in order to make up for the shortage. The issue with AirBnB will of course be location and if the accommodations actually meet the expectations of the traveler. Rio is a big city spread out along hundreds of kilometers of coast and mountains. So if you don’t know the neighborhoods and routes, you could wind up in the wrong place. Last year, drug dealers and bandits fatally shot a couple that accidentally drove into the gang lord’s turf attempting to follow instructions with a GPS application. Aside from possible danger, roads are normally clogged and traffic flows slowly.   Just as an example, from the Windsor Hotel in Copacabana/Leme to the Olympic Village, it is only about 12 miles. This trip could take as little as 25 minutes or as long as a couple of hours.   Also what are you going to do if inhabitants of Rocinha, a favela community that sits abreast of the route, decide to shut down the roadway as has happened in the past?

Getting around physically and maneuvering the cultural challenges of a big Latin American city are important considerations.  Buy hey, it is the Olympics and Rio.  Once you are there, aside from the sports events, Rio has lots and lots of attractions. The physical beauty is spectacular and trips to Corcovado and Pao de Acucar are almost minimum requirements for photo ops. Pedra da Gavea, Tijuca Forest and the Botanical Gardens are also high on the list of places to see and this, of course, goes without mentioning the beaches. But again remember to plan.  During the Games, waiting for the trams that take you up to Corcovado or Sugar Loaf may involve lines of more than 3 to 4 hours. No fun!

Eating, drinking, and hanging out are basic parts of Carioca (residents of Rio) life. But as a gringo, how do you know where to go? Obviously, there are tour guides, Yelp, books, magazines and more information than you can process on the Internet. Still, it is best to find and hang out with locals who can make recommendations and engage in these activities with you. So with 6 months to go, it is time to build your network through social media and see whom you might find compatible.

For people in the know and people with reliable contacts and set ups, the Games are going to be very special and an amazing amount of fun. But if you arrive and you are not well prepared, then the logistics and the confusion of Rio may sap away all your energy and you could come away feeling bad. Plan, be flexible and enjoy the Brazilians, the fun and the Games.

Boa Sorte or Good Luck!!!

Brazil’s Ongoing Quandary



Argentina lost the Copa America on kicks from the mark when Lionel Messi missed his shot. But at that point, Brazil was already long gone.  Even futbol is bad.  The Olympic Games are at the doorstep and the state of Rio declared an economic calamity and does not have funds to pay for hospitals or public security.

Brazil is falling further into the hole just as Rio’s new signature bike path collapsed into the ocean killing two. Mosquitoes and Zika are around and athletes are finding multiple reasons to withdraw from the Games slated for August.   The Rio state and city governments are actually pumping failure and collapse at the Olympics if the national government does not bail them out.

The legal (not political) evidence presented against Dilma Rousseff weakens by the day and, while unlikely, it is possible that Senate will vote to restore her mandate.   Although the economic team put together by the interim President is respected, it so far has shown little progress because the major structural reforms need Congressional approval and/or constitutional reform.  As a result the economy continues to stagnate, jobs are not being created, investments are not made and the foreign community is pretty much paralyzed as they wait to see where Brazil is headed.  Fitch, Moody and S&P all have knocked Brazil further into junk territory and as a result external financing is more difficult and more expensive.  Interim President Temer’s popularity ratings are no better than Dilma’s an as Fellini entitled his film: “E la nave va”


All in all, pretty much everything is in the negative column and things don’t seem to be getting any better.  Making things appear even worse is the fact that both the left and the right continue to throw mud in all directions so the press reports make things seem more dire than they actually are.


But while the overall situation is negative and pessimistic, there are a few saving graces.  The Olympics is an event made for television and for athletes and the Games, strictu sensu, will come off in a successful fashion.  Athletes prepare for years and the drama of competing and winning is always compelling.  NBC has not invested billions for nothing.  Moreover, Rio has done hundreds of big events and, most recently the World Cup, without major catastrophes.  So barring, God forbid, a terrorist act, everything will be fine.  Brazil’s primary sector continues to be productive and successfully exporting.  Agricultural commodities such as coffee, orange juice, meat and cellulose pulp are all up this year on the international market.  With the reduction of imports due to the weakened Real, Brazil has had several months of record surpluses this year.    The foreign reserves are holding up at over 300 billion along with FDI (foreign direct investment) which the Central Bank expects to top 50 billion this year in spite of the “catastophre”.


Indeed, Brazil needs much in the way of corrective action.  But, essentially, there are two fundamental tasks to start: the first is to define the role and the extent of state participation in the economy.  Except for recalcitrant and ideological sectors of the left, the general consensus is that the state is not an effective or productive investor.  The market drive is to privatization but whole entrenched areas resist for both material and ideological reasons. Historically, the state has always conceded social benefits beyond its capacity to deliver.  The 1988 Constitution continued the tradition and today needs deep reform as it defends the idea of “acquired rights” but ignores that the economic system must be able to produce wealth to sustain these “conquests”. Brazil’s ranking in terms of bureaucracy and ease of doing business has worsened instead of improving.  So the challenge is to reform the system but it can hardly be done from within.  Civil society needs to mobilize outside of traditional state controlled channels to achieve this reform.


Second, the way Brazil’s politicians are elected needs drastic remodeling.  Election to Congress needs to be changed to a district system of voting with stricter rules for party formation.  Brazil’s 32 parties in Congress only promote individual opportunism and open the gates to corruption.  These parties are currently nothing more than loose aggregates for gaining state benefits and directing state investment to special interests. The PT has lost its ideological edge and purity.  The PSDB is compromised and though the Rede seemed to offer a chance for reform, Marina Silva does not appear to have the charisma or leadership skills.  The remaining parties fail to offer anything better.


Moving toward liberal democracy should not be that difficult, but Brazil lacks a tradition, leadership, education and perhaps a sufficient density of will to change.  Brazil’s elites have never valued popular education and they only pay lip service to the “will of the people.”  So the real possibilities of change are modest.   Elite accommodation prevails as long as civil society accepts the crumbs and cannot articulate a coherent vision to move forward.  The socially sanctioned hunt for the corrupt may continue and lead to the arrest of hundreds but without better institutions and politics, very little will change in the near future.  If Brazil cannot find its way out of the current state of cynicism, perplexity and despair, the country will face further irrelevance and marginalization.  That would be bad for Brazilians and the world.





Violence, Rape, Mayhem: Ignorance!

brazil-gang-rapeUnderdevelopment’s description parallels that of war: Boredom punctuated by moments of terror and disaster. Brazil’s ongoing drama is tedious and interspersed with tragic events, most man made. Rio’s recent gang rape, for example, brought many to the streets with social media talking about the country’s culture of rape, misogyny, machismo and failure. Many were quick to identify the ongoing weaknesses (lack of security, education, police and on and on). Some are trying to solve the problems through social organizations, marches and postings. Others are just pulling up stakes and, once again, leaving Brazil for supposedly more “advanced” civilizations.

In some ways, Brazil’s problems pale in comparison to the US with its culture of guns and mass murders. The Orlando massacre is only atypical in the number of deaths and wounded. Reportedly, there have been mass murders on a daily basis for over a year. To outsiders, the United States seems at least as dangerous as a stroll through the Morro do Alemao favela (slum) late at night.

Many Americans often deflect criticism by blaming individuals and not the culture. They say Trump’s inflammatory rhetoric or Obama and Hillary are to blame for engaging in wars and covert activities. It’s true that U.S. residents love their guns and it’s become easy and routine to buy lethal weapons such as the assault rifle used in Florida. Brazil has strict legislation seeking to control arms and severely limits the legal carry of guns. Still this does not stop drug traffickers from having their AK-47s and other restricted weapons of intimidation.

We can blame the law, the administrations, the government and whoever for failures and being wrong headed. But the problems, in the US and Brazil, have similar roots. We accept, live with and passively tolerate violence, murder, rape and mayhem and do not want to curtail our individual liberties or take responsibility for changing our cultures. It is complex.   Religion, institutions, social and economic factors also shape culture. And the tension between the individual and his reference groups (family, religion, sport team, etc.) can often lead to individual and even collective pathologies. To live in modern times is to be faced with deep contradictions.   Peace and harmony exist as an ideal. But this ideal breaks down as individuals seek greater liberty, freedom from control and self-expression. Religion and culture intertwine where group membership provides a sense of oneness and belonging. Individual autonomy also lead many to nihilistic actions covered with a veil of religious and collective justification. The shooter in Orlando apparently called at the last minute to vow allegiance to the ideology and actions of the so-called Islamic State, yet there is no evidence as of yet of his affiliation.

The rapists in Rio, in turn, appear to be gang members or friendly associates.   They are young men seeking self-satisfaction and approval of the group. Their motivation ranges from lust, to being power hungry, to being powerless, and having the desperate need for acceptance and affirmation so common in the young. This is especially true for those who come from weak or broken family support structures so common among the poor. In addition, Brazil’s well-known attitudes of machismo, taking advantage and promiscuous male behavior justified in their minds that there was nothing particularly untoward in posting photos of themselves and the young victim.

Throughout history, atrocities are committed and then explained, interpreted and even justified in the name of moral and material ideal or lack thereof. Obama visited Hiroshima and while not apologizing for something that happened well before his birth, regretted that technology allowing us to combat disease and understand the cosmos “also can be turned into ever more efficient killing machines”. He went on to say that technological advance “without an equivalent progress in institutions can doom us.” Certainly, the technology available to the killer in Orlando doomed the victims and increased their number. The rape in Rio was low tech but the posting on the Internet reflected their alienation and need for affirmation.

Brazil has glaring institutional deficiencies as does the US. Those desperately uncomfortable with themselves, their lives and their futures, commit with the help of technology wanton and desperate acts of abuse, rape, death and destruction on great scale and with sickening regularity.

Astounding technological and material improvement has not overcome and may have instead helped a degraded culture of ignorance and destruction.   Manifestations may take different forms. In Brazil, we have massive gang and individual levels of violence leading to a deluge of rapes, assaults and murders. In the US, we have an ongoing rampage of mass violence including rape and murder. In both countries, the result brings anguish and questioning.

Our recognition of these tragic events and our ability to mourn and question hopefully still indicate that our consciences have not been completely seared.

Maybe the best some of us can do is to act according the Hippocratic oath. Though we may not like or want to be together, we still need to believe in our hearts that if we cannot do good, we should at least avoid doing harm