From Brazil

with Vincent Bevins and guests


Vincent Bevins é colaborador do jornal britânico 'Financial Times' e correspondente no Brasil do 'Los Angeles Times'. Escrito em inglês, blog aborda principais acontecimentos do Brasil sob o olhar de um estrangeiro.



Brushing up on Brazil – background reading

Por Vincent Bevins


You may have heard there is a large country called Brazil that will soon have a big soccer tournament. For those that would like to take that opportunity to brush up a bit on Latin America’s largest and most Brazilian country, I’ve compiled a list of links that make for good background reading. Most are from contributors to this blog, some are from other correspondents, and some from Brazilians.

There’s a lot here, so the idea is you could skim it and pick out some items as you wish. Organized by topic.

The Boom

Why did Brazil power forward in the first decade of the 21st century? What did it mean?

The short version is that a Chinese-led commodities boom, combined with moderate social welfare programs and domestic consumer credit expansion led to growth that (briefly) made Brazil the world’s 6th-largest economy. But the country is still squarely in the middle of world wealth rankings and has not overcome a big inequality problem.

Why has Brazil been getting richer? – From Brazil, March 2012. The pieces of the puzzle.
Brazil takes off – The Economist, 2009 (The now infamous cover)
In Brazil, changing times usher in ‘servant problem’ – Los Angeles Times, 2013. Formerly poor women and domestic workers are doing so well, rich Brazilians whine they can’t afford maids and nannies anymore. So very sad.

The slowdown

So, all of Brazil’s growth was an illusion, the bubble burst, and now we have economic disaster, right? Not quite. What happened is that as a result of some poor policy decisions, a worsening global economic situation, and crippling inability to resolve infrastructure bottlenecks, Brazil moved from a high-growth trajectory to a low-growth trajectory. Or that is, back to the path it had been on before the boom. So while this has been bad for some (especially international) investors, Brazil has not gone backwards in any sense, and the government will tell you that wages have continued to rise, and unemployment is still at record lows. Remarkably, they are right.

Brazil’s economic slowdown leaves many unscathed – LA Times, 2012. How can the economy grind to a halt, without many people even feeling it?
Has Brazil blown it? – The Economist, 2013, by Helen Joyce (the other infamous cover)
Brazil’s Rousseff sticks to her guns despite investor pressure – Reuters, Brian Winter, 2014. What does “the market” not like about Dilma Rousseff?
Inflation and the Petrobras problem – From Brazil, Dom Phillips. What happened to Brazil’s most important company?
The Fed and Brazil – a real problem – From Brazil, 2013. Why has Brazil’s currency jumped all over the place? Whose fault is it?


The explosion

When was it that Brazilians decided they aren’t too happy with the ways things are going? That would be June 13, 2013, when a brutal police crackdown turned a country that did not protest into one that was very inclined to protest indeed. Claire Rigby was there, as was I, and we both got our share of tear gas. After all of this burst into flames for a month, the whole country spent the next year trying to understand what it means.

Fear and loathing in São Paulo – From Brazil, Claire Rigby, June 14, 2013. A first-person account of the night that set the country on fire.
Brazil protests – what is going on? – From Brazil, July 2013. This really felt like revolutionary times. They probably were, and the meaning of things were changing daily.
Video – protests in Rio – From Brazil, June 2013, Dom Phillips
In Brazil, labor protests ramp up as World Cup nears – LA Times, 2014. Things have changed radically since last year. Now, we’ve had three distinct groups emerge: the young, dedicated, and now small #nãovaitercopa crowd, labor protestors, and the Homeless Workers movement, who recently won.

Brazilian culture

Forget samba and bossa nova. Brazil these days is all about funk ostentação, rap, and tecno brega. Ok, don’t forget samba. But it looks like this, and involves drinking calmly and singing, not half-naked women. And unfortunately, paying attention to the novelas is still fundamental for understanding Brazilian pop culture.

Brazil’s Hip-hop scene takes the country by storm – LA Times, 2012. São Paulo’s rap is poetic, political, and urgent.
São Paulo’s new spaces – ArtReview, Claire Rigby. Brazil’s art scene, and the urbanista explosion
Brazil’s new supercouple – From Brazil, Dom Phillips. For a while, it looked like Neymar and Bruna would be Brazil’s Posh and Becks
In Brazil, music for the flaunters and the wanters – LA Times, 2014. MC Guimé and Funk Ostentação
Brazil’s gay kiss – From Brazil, 2013, Dom Phillips. Culture wars and Globo’s novelas

Crime and police violence

Brazil remains a country that is roughly 4 times as dangerous as the US. Since June 13, it’s become increasingly clear the police here badly need to be reformed, and that their attempts to ‘pacify’ Brazil’s favelas has been marked by serious tactical errors and misplaced priorities. Instead of arriving with public serves and outreach, the state arrived in the form of heavily armed police.

Rio – it’s a jungle out there – From Brazil, Dom Phillips, 2013. Life on the beach in Rio is not always so calm.
Rio de Janeiro face “image problem” – LA Times, 2014. Why is it that in favelas, police are allowed to torture innocent men to death, then discard their bodies in the woods?
Rio’s police ‘pacification’ program on the defensive – From Brazil, Anna Jean Kaiser, 2014.
Blue murder – São Paulo police accused of massacres – From Brazil, Claire Rigby, 2013.
Terror in Brazil’s prisons – From Brazil, Dom Phillips, 2014

Brazil's education system poor

Public services – schools, hospitals, and transportation

Despite the fact that Brazil has put more money towards schools and hospitals than ever, most residents still complain bitterly about the quality of public services. And paradoxically, transportation issues have worsened with Brazil’s economic growth, as more and more people have been able to afford cards, and throw them on the road. But how bad are things, really? Worse than they need to be, if Brazil wants to continue growing.

Brazil education standards contribute to learning crisis – LA Times, 2012.
Brazil’s love of the car begins to backfire for political leaders – Financial Times, Joe Leahy
Brazil’s president imports Cuban doctors to ease shortage – LA Times, 2013

Class and race

What’s the worst thing about Brazil? In my very personal opinion, it’s probably the elite. If we are to speak nothing of their bizarrely bad taste (think shopping malls, Miami, and oversized labels everywhere), they quite often express opinions that seem almost feudal in their classism and racism. More problematic is that they have insisted on a development model in which all space is private, tax-dodging is OK (because ‘the government is inefficient’ – it is, but so what?), and 2 hours in traffic in an expensive car is preferable to 15 minutes on a public metro. Brazil was the last major country in the world to abolish slavery, and operated for years as little more than an extraction center. Some of the elite still have that mindset – keep the people down, get as rich as possible, and take off to Florida.

Spa treatment for Brazilian corruption – Financial Times, 2013. Some Brazilian people (including soccer officials) just get as rich as possible, and take off.
Brazil’s Dilma Rousseff is popular, but not among news media – LA Times, 2012. All off Brazil’s major media is owned by families that supported the military dictatorship.
Brazilian elite uses the World Cup to show their discomfort in being Brazilian – A Brazilian operating in this area, Mauricio Savarese, 2014. Polemic.
Click here to save the Indians – From Brazil, Claire Rigby, 2012.  When an entire Guarani-Kaoiwá indigenous community asked to be collectively put to death
Brazil may be more racist than Donald Sterling – Vocativ, Mac Margolis, 2014. The culture of master and servant,

Political Samba – Brazil’s strange party system

This issue is so complex that few accessible articles have been written about it. But suffice to say that Brazil’s political system since the fall of the dictatorship is unwieldy, to say the least. I’ll try to summarize here: Brazil has too many parties. The left-leaning Worker’s Party (PT) has ruled since 2003, but to actually pass laws they must assemble a coalition out of over 20 major parties, some of which have little reason to exist other than to extract favors and funding for themselves. So while Rousseff is the obvious target when discussing the government’s shortcomings, many of her supporters blame the coalition system, and say nothing can be improved until a political reform project changes the coalition system and gets corporate money out of campaigns.

Brazil’s love of ‘pork’ explains obesity levels – Financial Times, 2013
Corruption – It’s the private sector – From Brazil, 2013
As Brazil marks 50th anniversary of the coup, more people open up about the dictatorship – Washington Post, Dom Phillips
The World Cup and politics – A love story – From Brazil, Mauricio Savarese, 2013. How did those stadiums get there?
Modern Brazilian politics, as performed by samba dancers – From Brazil, 2012

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