Back from Brazil: A Few Impressions Before Year’s End

I recently returned from a little less than 3 weeks in Brazil.   I visited Brasilia, Belo Horizonte, Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro while there.  Most of my travel was by air but I also traveled by bus. I noticed that in the last 10 years  Sao Paulo’s Tiete bus station, which handles more passengers than Sao Paulo’s international airport, is also cleaner, better organized and seems to have more resources.  We will see if this changes as some airports move from Infraero to private administration.  Created in 1972, Infraero is a government agency responsible for administering Brazil’s biggest commercial airports.

With the dollar buying about 2.3 reais, I found pricing in Brazil somewhat improved over a year earlier.  A 20 km (12 mile) taxi ride comes out to about 35 to 40 reais.  Cheaper than in the US.  For example a short ride from the Las Vegas Airport to Caesars Palace on the Strip is 17 dollars and less than half the distance.  Restaurants in Rio and Sao Paulo were about the same as those of equivalent quality in the US, although I think the sushi I had in Zona Sul Rio was a bit more expensive than sushi here in California.

The airports were busy but certainly working and all of my flights were on time.  The detail is that there are not enough gates so you wind up bussed to the plane on the tarmac.  And the baggage claim areas are undersized so there are people standing 3 to 4 deep on a normal flight and a normal day trying to get their bags. The baggage is transferred even more slowly than say here in San Diego.  So the conclusion is: Imagina na Copa:  Just imagine how it will be during the World Cup. The Confins Airport (Belo Horizonte) is undergoing a cosmetic remodel of the arrival areas for cars, buses and pedestrians but I did not see any addition to the total of only 9 gates.  Congonhas in Sao Paulo always seems to require 2 to 4 gate changes for a departure so you need to pay some attention.  Santos Dumont Airport in Rio seemed functional enough, except for the baggage claim (again) and the long taxi lines.

I did not witness any arrastoes (robbery sweeps on beaches or in restaurants), any protests, or acts of anarchy.  Public transportation on both the  subway and buses was normal (meaning overcrowded during rush hour, adequate off peak).  There is a lot of construction going on in Ipanema and Leblon (both in Rio) for subway expansion and this is causing some traffic issues but generally there is decent (for Brazil) segregation of the work sites from the public thoroughfares.

For me, this means Brazil will run a fun and successful World Cup.  However, media seeking groups will attempt to capitalize on the event for promoting specific agendas.  The construction projects or urban improvements, especially in Rio for the  Cup and the Olympics, are controversial but overall something is happening which in the end I think is good for both the old downtown around Praca Maua and the west side of the city in Barra.  Certainly, the developers and real estate people are having a hay day.

Brazil is certainly open for business. All of the dynamism and activity going on there is quite exciting.  Having said that, President Dilma faces a tough 2014.  Brazil’s base line interest rate just went up to double digits again today because of major concerns about inflation by the central bank.  The interest rate increase means the public sector has to allocate more resources to debt service and therefore has less for investment.  As a result, Brazil continues to seek foreign investment. There have been some cosmetic improvements to attract more investors. Still, many basic and cumbersome bureaucratic inhibitors remain in place.