The US and Brazil: Then and Now

I remember quite well the 31st of March, 1964. I had an early breakfast with the family that included prayer and Bible study. As soon as I could, I hopped on my Bianchi, followed the dirt road for 4 rough blocks to the asphalt turned right and headed for Belo Horizonte. It was pretty close to 25 miles to the capital and the pavement started just beyond the “praca” in Lagoa Santa.  Farther north, we only had dust and ruts. Passing the airbase, there was the usual military checkpoint functioning as it had sporadically for the previous year. However it was when I had gone down the hill to Vespasiano that I noted the difference. The khaki uniformed Minas Gerais Military Police were out in force and had set a roadblock. I rode casually through with no consequence. When I arrived at my friend’s bike shop in BH, the reaction was: “Are you nuts? We have a revolution.”

Little did I know that Ambassador Lincoln Gordon, a nice Kennedy liberal, had been conspiring in support of the military coup. Why do I bring up this ancient history? The only reason is that Dilma is weak like Jango. Her party is in total disarray and hardly supports her. She weaves erratically in her economic policy and winds up pleasing no one and thus further erodes her base. She, like Jango, seems lost and tossed by the events. It is never a good situation where there is a widening perception that the Captain no longer controls the ship.

I am not saying that we are headed for an unscheduled change of government. In fact, the military have little institutional authority and are not prepared to intervene today. We no longer have the Cold War and the threat of communism. Still Brazil’s internal problems have not approached a consensual solution. The political panorama is frayed and the Brazilian Congress is perhaps more venal and self-serving than it was in 1964. Brazil is no longer a domino to be tipped by the Cuban government and isn’t it great to see Raul Castro saying this week that he is going to start praying, while, at the same time, Obama basks in the Pope’s prestige. Who could have thought of a black President and an Argentine Papa? Someone is restless in the grave.

So far the high point of Dilma’s year was her visit to the US. Obama praised her and she got an opportunity to ride in Google’s driverless vehicle (guided by AI-artificial intelligence). The President declared his faith in Dilma’s righteousness and blew the right smoke with regard to Brazil’s international power and projection. No signs of a coup coming from Washington.

Obama only followed George W. who nuzzled up to Lula when he visited Brazil 10 years ago. Then, Lula and Bush agreed that they shared a common outlook on the “defense of democracy, the spread of freedom, and respect for human rights.” (Statement by President Lula on Nov. 6, 2005) At the time, Lula guaranteed he would follow the market friendly policies of his predecessor, was beginning to reap the benefits of the monetary stability and benefited from the substantial entry of dollars at  the beginning of a demand cycle for Brazilian commodities especially iron ore, soybeans, pulp and oil.   China would quickly surpass the US as Brazil’s largest trading partner to the detriment of Brazil’s industrial base and the export of manufactured goods to the US or almost anywhere in the developed world.

So over 50 years after my bike ride, Brazil has more than tripled its population, made some amazing strides in infra-structure and the economy while falling into dictatorship and then emerging with a reinvigorated social society to only wind up in another major political, social and economic crisis that hopefully this time will be solved through elections and the established institutional procedures that will build instead of tearing down.

If Brazil fails in maintaining open elections as scheduled or if the Brazilian Congress in conjunction with the Executive fail to find muddle through and there is a rupture, the blame will rest mainly on the Brazilians and not the imperialists and finance capital as many in the PT would like to believe.

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