Keynes famously said: “In the long run, we are all dead”. Some say he did not really mean that but he is indeed dead. So does it make sense to look at Brazil in the long run? Given the casuistry, manipulations and world events of unknown impact, looking at the long term has to be more heartening than trying to keep up with the day-to-day scandals, breakdowns and institutional crises afflicting the country.
It is clear that Brazil is in crisis. The problems have international, political, economic, social and moral impact. The decline in growth and outright recession are heading into year 7. Since a peak in growth in 2010, all indicators have been negative. So far just in economic terms, Brazil has regressed to 2005. There are some 12 to 15 million unemployed and another 20 to 30 million underemployed. The GNP has dropped below the US$2 trillion and Brazil risks falling out of the 10 largest economies on this measure. Interest rates are among the highest in the world and even at double digits, investors do not have confidence to invest or park their funds in Brazil. Inflation while declining due to lack of demand is still almost twice the target annual rate of 4.5%.
Levels of frustration are rising and become manifest in street demonstrations against corruption, crime and poor governance. The Olympics and related malfeasance contributed to bankrupting both the city and state governments in Rio. Rio Grande do Sul and Minas Gerais states have also formally declared “calamity”. Public servants are getting paid late if at all.
President Dilma, while totally incompetent as a manager and politician, in spite of the image “Gerentona” (super-manager) was impeached on a fiscal technicality. Having said that, it has to be clear that her mismanagement of the government spending plus a blind eye to corruption still justified her ouster. The cost, nevertheless, has been institutional degradation. Her defenestration has created in Congress the type of solidarity one finds in a gang of thieves. Each politician seeks position behind someone who can be pushed off the cliff or fed to the lions as a sacrifice before he or she goes down the same path. Thus the once all-powerful (such as former House of Representatives President Eduardo Cunha) now sit behind bars.
Arresting politicians is happening essentially for the first time in Brazil, but the business elite took the first fall. Marcelo Odebrecht of the eponymous company has been in jail for a year and half, as have other formally untouchable business people. The arrests have also had their dampening effect on the economy and although there are plea bargains and leniency agreements in the works, Brazil economy has been driven backwards as a partial result of the ongoing investigations into Petrobras and virtually every major public works endeavor. While corruption has long been endemic in Brazil, it gained unprecedented dimensions just in the last 10 to 15 years. The whole state apparatus and those businesses tied to the state (something like 40% of the economy) have been corrupted. The toll of this on business confidence and the increase of cynicism in society have led to almost total despair and frustration. Those who can leave the country are trying to leave and those that have to stay can only attempt to look inward to family and friends trying to survive within a more or less predictable yet convoluted context.
The middle class has been excited with Sergio Moro, a somewhat heroic figure. But his actions are increasingly becoming tarnished by the perception of his one sided judgments and especially his failure to distance himself from the Tucanos. His latest photo op laughing and jesting with the PSDB president is a credibility killer in the Brazilian context. Sad. It is not to say that battling corruption is unimportant but it has to be done in an even handed and fair manner. In Brazil, like most other places, the story is more important than the truth.
In the short run, Brazil continues to dig a hole and President Temer can’t seem to find a way. There is now speculation that he will be gone in 2017 and so the political crisis will deepen even as the economy begins to slow and eventually reverse its decline as part of a natural cycle. The trouble is that not even 85-year-old former President Fernando Henrique Cardoso will be able to turn things around politically and socially if he is returned to the Presidency. Given the extent of Brazil’s fall and disorganization many protesters are clamoring for a military intervention, with no knowledge or recollection of the darkness of the dictatorship.
The US election, Putin’s popularity, the rise of “strong men/women” all over Europe and other places (Duterte in the Philippines) all show that we are tempted by facile solutions proffered in simplistic, jingoistic, nationalistic or chauvinistic appeals.
Many on the left still blame capitalism and are mourning Fidel’s passing while those on the right appeal to market based solutions, which today frustrate across the board. President-elect Trump exploited this vein but now faces the nearly impossible challenge of delivering to the white working middle class in mid America. His appointees are inward looking, anti-intellectual, if not anti science, and promise to shake the administration but will achieve probably very little of Trump’s populist promises in the face of active and passive resistance of the bureaucracy and the entrenched elite economic structure.
Dysfunctionality is ascendant worldwide. The Euro may collapse; the Chinese will falter in developing a more overtly capitalist economy unless they can achieve change in the rigid political structure. The Middle East continues to tear itself apart and cannot find a religious reform commensurate with its material needs. Aleppo becomes last year’s tragedy as Assad; with the help of the Russians, mindlessly sacrifices more Syrian people in the name of what?
Things don’t look that great in Brazil but compared with the rest of the world; maybe it is not far from the mean. My generation that came of age in 60’s and fought for the return of democracy in Brazil is beginning to die off. What have we left for our children and grandchildren? Time will tell. In the long run, Brazil is Brazil with its continental dimensions and a vibrant population. It has vast abundance of the resources of the future in people, land and water. The challenge will be to develop its poorly utilized human capital and gain some self awareness to rise above its Calheiros and Cunhas and Cabrals and to go beyond its Lulopetistas and isolated “heroes” such as Sergio Moro to develop a model that can bring some degree of social justice commensurate with its latent human, political and economic potential. The long run starts now and already a new generation is ready to leave the 20th century and its outdated ideas to perhaps develop individually and collectively something to delimit both the state and the market so to permit both self-actualization and more collective good.
Foto publicado em Exame