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January 16, 2011

Page: 24/45

Home > 2011 Issues > January 16, 2011

Brazil: A gripping economic recovery that proved the prophets of doom squirm
By Dr R Balashankar

Brazil on the Rise: The Story of a Country Transformed, Larry Rohter, Palgrave Macmillan, Pp 289 (HB), Price $27.00.

BRAZIL is a happening country. It is hosting the soccer World Cup in 2014 and Olympics in 2016. Coming out of the vicious grip of poverty-under development-dictatorship syndrome, the nation, rich in natural and human sources is marking a blazing path of growth. It is the fourth-largest democracy and the eighth-largest economy. Of the developing countries, only China receives more direct foreign investment.

There is more to the country than the gala carnival at Rio, the Amazon and soccer. Larry Rohter who lived in Brazil for several years and loves the country has recounted the stunning story of the nation on rebound, in Brazil on the Rise: The Story of a Country Transformed, which brings out the best of Brazil and yet does not hide the ugly spots.

As a people, Brazilians (a population of 200 million) blend European, African, Amerindian, and Asian backgrounds and values in a way found nowhere else on earth, and their vibrant culture also reflects that intermingling. The largest Japanese population outside Japan and the largest Italian population outside Italy are in Sao Paulo.

Speaking of the routine Brazilian the author says, "One of the basic organizing features of daily life is the jeito, perhaps even more commonly known by its diminutive, the jeitinho." Its most literal meaning is to be adroit at something. The word is used in several contexts, almost akin to Hindi’s jugaad. In yet another picture familiar to us, the book describes how every motorist seems to think he is the only one with a car and drives accordingly and how at queue in theatres, shops and banks, people assume that they are in such hurry that they cannot wait in line and jump and jostle.

The ugly underbelly of Brazil is its racism. "Brazil is seen almost universally as a symbol of tolerance and cordiality. But the reality of race in Brazil is far more complex and ambiguous than it appears to the casual visitor..." Brazil’s more than half the population claims African descent. This black population is at the bottom of literacy, top in crime record and poverty. Says Rohter, "Brazilians with black skin are far more likely to be killed by police than their white countrymen, earn less money, have a shorter life expectancy, and have less educational opportunities than whites... But race and class are inextricably intertwined in Brazil, with the focus on class often being used as a smokescreen to divert attention and criticism."

A country that was a debtor to the international financial agencies in as recent as 1998-99, is today a creditor to IMF. It is also the fourth-largest creditor to the US, with a growing trade surplus. From a nation that was purely agriculture based, today Brazil has emerged as one of the chief exporters of machines, equipment and durable consumer goods. Today, Embraer, a Brazilian company is the third- largest aircraft manufacturer in the world. The author attributes this dramatic turnaround to the policies followed by the far-sighted political leadership.

Brazil has also overcome the problem of auto-fuel by developing a "flex-fuel" engine which runs on gasoline or ethanol or any combination of the two. A lesson India has to learn. The book makes a special mention of Lula and discusses the politico-economic development in Brazil.

The author Larry Rohter was correspondent for Newsweek in Rio de Janeiro for 14 years and bureau chief for The New York Times. He asserts that Brazil "will be a major player on the world stage in the years ahead." It is an absorbing account of Brazil, which reveals the ingenuity of the people, rather their jeitinho!

(Palgrave Macmillan, Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire RG21 6XS)

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