In “Brazil Rising,” released in June 2008, veteran public radio journalist David Brown takes listeners on a personal journey across the country, exploring Brazil’s view of itself, its neighbors, and the world.
(“Girl from Ipanema” music)
(Film reel clip: “One of the amazing things about Brazil, is the Amazon river.”)
David Brown: Forget what you thought you knew about Brazil, because that Brazil…
(News clip: “Troops had to be called out in Brasilia to quell the bitter protest of thousands…”)
Brown: …doesn’t exist anymore. In its place there is a new Brazil.
Charles Tang: Brazil could very quickly become a super tiger.
Brown: Its ports are among the world’s busiest; its markets bustling.
Felix Schouchana: The agriculture sector in Brazil, it’s very strong.
Brown: It’s a Brazil flush with new money, but facing old challenges. A Brazil rapidly rethinking its role on the world’s stage.
Horacio Forjaz: We would like to compete on a so-called level playing field.
Brown: I’m David Brown, and you’re about to hear the story of a 21st-Century superpower fast in the making.
This is the story of Brazil Rising. From the Stanley Foundation, KQED Public Radio, and KUT-Austin.
More after this.
David Brown: From the Stanley Foundation, KQED Public Radio and KUT Austin your listening to “Brazil Rising.”
I’m David Brown.
And we’re on a boat in the Atlantic approaching Port Santos, the busiest port in the biggest nation in Latin America.
By big, I mean about as big as the continental US. And by busy, there are ships coming in from all over the world, their hulls being loaded with coffee, sugar, beef, orange juice…Brazil’s become the number exporter of all that and much more.
Incoming are new consumer goods catering to a growing Brazilian middle class. In fact, if you just spent a day here at this port, you’d learn a lot.
(Pilot speaking Portuguese.)
But this is just our jumping off point. Over the next hour, we’ll be taking you into the fields of central Brazil where an agricultural revolution is underway. To the factories, where alternative fuels are being processed for sale to the world; to street corners shops, where entrepreneurs are trying to strike it rich; to the favelas, where persistent illiteracy, crime, and poverty threaten Brazil’s boom; and to the capitol where Brazil is thinking big about its new place in the world.
After years of political and financial instability, people used to joke that Brazil is the country of the future, and always will be. Well now, there’s every indication that that future has arrived.
This is Brazil Rising. And the implications for all of us are potentially enormous.
Correspondent Simon Marks is here with us, and Simon, you’ve seen first-hand how Brazil’s taking off, literally.
Simon Marks: David, there’s no doubt about it. And to see that up close I traveled about 120 miles North East of here, to the headquarters of one of Brazil’s most successful businesses.
(Airplane manufacturing sound)
Marks: You may not realize it, I certainly didn’t, but the next time you clamber aboard an airplane and fly, say from New York to Phoenix, there is a chance that the airplane whisking you up to 37 thousand feet was made in Brazil.
Made here in Sao Jose dos Campos, to be more precise, an industrial city on the lip of Sao Paolo that is home to Embraer. Now the world’s third-largest manufacturer of aircraft, right behind Boeing and Airbus, a vivid symbol of the new Brazil rising on the world stage.
Lauro Yasunaga: “Starting 1997 we have almost four thousand people working, and now we have more than twenty-three thousand people. That’s a big change”.
Marks: Lauro Yasunaga is not exaggerating. For 16 years he’s been a manufacturing engineer at Embraer. Today he oversees 12 enormous hangars, each one larger than a football field, where Embraer’s jets are literally bolted and riveted together.
Embraer Worker: Today you can see… (counting aircraft) …eight aircraft at this moment, at this stage.
Marks: They cannot work fast enough to meet demand. Fifteen completed jets roll off the production line every month here, that’s over three a week, and the factory already has enough back-orders to work around the clock for the next six years. US Airways, Air Canada, Virgin Australia, Jet Blue and Delta are just some of Embraer’s global clients. And Embraer has opened a production plant in China to meet the demand from airlines there. It’s a remarkable achievement, made even more remarkable by the fact that it was not always like this here.
Horacio Forjaz: Embraer faced itself in a very disadvantageous position because we lacked credibility, we lacked financial support, and we didn’t have a new product.
Marks: That was back in 1994 when Horacio Forjaz witnessed the state-owned company’s re-birth as a private enterprise. He’s worked here for 33 years, today he’s Embraer’s Executive Vice-President. He’s also a walking, talking history of the company.
Marks: Was the company’s survival in question?
Forjaz: The situation was so adverse, so difficult, that not few of us had these type of thoughts in front of them. Those years were quite difficult for Embraer.
This is the forward fusel lodge produced by Embraer…
Marks: Embraer was saved by one big idea, the realization that there was a gap in the aviation market for regional jets seating between 50 and 130 passengers. As the price of jet fuel rose, along with passenger demands for more comfort – Embraer planes have no middle seat – order books began to fill. The rise of low-cost, budget airlines in Europe and Asia also helped the company greatly.
Forjaz: We are strategically very well positioned with products, some of them without a direct competitor, and new generation products with extremely good acceptance.
Marks: And yet at Sao Paolo’s Congonhas Airport, the only Embraer jets landing on the run-way are flown by foreign carriers. Journeys on Brazilian airlines do not take place on Embraer jets. The company still makes no commercial sales to Brazilian airlines, though hopes to now that new budget carriers are being licensed to operate in the country.
And while Embraer is a Brazilian success story, the country’s domestic aviation infrastructure has been dogged by disaster.
Marks: Last year alone, a string of deadly air crashes highlighted shortcomings that include runways that aren’t long enough, air traffic control systems that are unreliable, and inadequate safety procedures that shattered public confidence in air travel.
Marks: Even today, months later, that confidence has been slow to return. Passengers like businessman Eduardo Schaneider, checking in at Congonhas Airport, express anxiety about the journey ahead.
Eduardo Schaneider: You have to go on a US airline to feel safe, preferably flying outside Brazilian air space.
Marks: Horacio Forjaz, Embraer’s Executive Vice President, says Embraer’s future is overwhelmingly tied to Brazil’s growth on the world stage. He says the company is now sufficiently strong to with-stand competition from other aircraft manufacturers, provided fair rules of global trade are applied.
Horacio Forjaz: We would like to compete on a so-called level playing field. This is an industry which is seen as strategic by many, many nations in the world, so it is objective of attention and priorities by governments. Well, we understand that, but this level of attention and support cannot go beyond rules which are established and accepted internationally.
Marks: It’s a battle that Embraer once couldn’t dream of waging. Today, like many others in Brazil, its executives are confident enough to assert their role as pivotal players in the international marketplace.
For Brazil Rising, I’m Simon Marks at the headquarters of Embraer.
David Brown: The roar of the surf in Rio, the waters of the Atlantic washing up on the golden shores of Leblon Beach as sunbathers soak up the rays. An iconic image of Brazil? Maybe. But one that also creates dreams for some young Brazilians.
Carlos Tavares is one of them. Just steps from the beach he manages a surf-shop, selling boards, the wax to polish them, waterproof clothing to wear on them, and all the other accoutrements used by the surfing fraternity.
Carlos Tavares: I did it because I wanted to.
Brown: He’s talking about opening a small business, which in Brazil can be tricky.
Bureaucracy is so overwhelming and taxes so overbearing that Brazilian entrepreneurs have a phrase: the “cost of Brazil,” essentially they think it’s an enormous drag on their economic freedoms.
Tavares: I know many people who wanted to open businesses, thinking it would be ‘Disneyland’, but they couldn’t continue because they didn’t know how hard it was going to be.
Brown: And it is hard. On average it takes 17 procedures and 152 days to open a business in Brazil making the country one of the toughest places in the world to bring entrepreneurial dreams to life. And once they’re open for business, payroll taxes can reach 60 per cent and take thousands of hours to process. The government promises tax reform and access to credit, according to surf store owner Carlos Tavares, all of that is key if Brazil is to achieve its potential.
Tavares: Everybody dreams of having a business and it’s good, because it generates more jobs, you’re helping the government which can then help poor people. It’s a philosophy I agree with.
Brown: That last remark hints at a much bigger story about how economic changes are being felt here. Now it’s true, Brazilians have embraced capitalism in a big way, but the entrepreneurial dream of starting out with nothing and bootstrapping your way to the top, that’s far from a reality for most here. Many are not yet convinced that anything but government largesse can lift millions of Brazilians out of crushing poverty. Of course, attitudes may change as now that massive capital is flowing into Brazil as it becomes one of the world’s top exporters.
From farms in the central plains to fuel pumps in Rio, that’s next as we travel across the biggest country in Latin America to explore “Brazil Rising.” Stay with us.
(Gas station sounds)
David Brown: From the Stanley Foundation, KQED Public Radio and KUT-Austin, you’re listening to “Brazil Rising.”
I’m David Brown.
This gas station in Rio de Janeiro reveals another slice of Brazil’s global evolution. This gas pump sells gasoline for roughly $5.00 a gallon. Now we that know petroleum products like this have helped to shape the current global power structure. But Brazilians are hoping to shake up that old order with something for sale in this very next pump. This one is marked “Alcool” and the stuff sells for half the price of gasoline. In the states its better known as Ethanol and it’s available at every gas station we’ve seen here in Brazil.
Correspondent Keith Porter is here with me. He’s been looking into Brazil’s ethanol story. Back home, you’ve got the issues of government subsidies, whether or not it’s actually greener than gasoline. But Keith you’ve found a much different story about ethanol here in Brazil.
Keith Porter: That’s right David.
I live in Iowa where ethanol is made mainly from corn. But here in Brazil, they start the process with sugar cane, and that makes a world of difference.
Porter: There are 35,000 gas stations like this selling ethanol in Brazil. Five million cars here, including 90 percent of all new cars run on pure ethanol. Even the gasoline they sell here is a blend of 25 percent ethanol.
Two hours from Sao Paulo, tall, green, leafy sugar cane fields stretch as far as the eye can see.
(Cutting and peeling sound)
Porter: Here a worker with giant sugar company COSAN, hacks down a sugar cane stalk and peels back its outer shell revealing the meat inside.
COSAN Employee (explaining process): And after this fiber, the sugar cane goes through crushing…
Porter: This is the first step in ethanol production. The sweet sugar juice inside is squeezed out, leaving behind only hard fibers known here as “bagausse.”
COSAN Employee: You can see the bagausse there, that’s mountain bagausse.
Porter: Many of the producers here burn this “bagausse,” the left over portion of the cane, to generate the electricity used to run ethanol plants. In fact, that process generates so much electricity; they sell the surplus back to the power grid.
Marcos Jank is president of the Brazilian Sugarcane Industry Association.
Marcos Jank: I like to say that the plant called sugar cane is becoming the “ethanol cane” and the “electricity cane” in the future.
Porter: In fact, experts across Brazil told us their ethanol is far more productive and far more friendly to the environment than ethanol made from corn or anything else. They say corn based ethanol give 1.3 units of energy for every unit of corn. But every unit of sugar cane gives 8 or 9 units of energy. For a reality check on these claims, I contacted one of America’s oldest and largest environmental groups, The National Wildlife Federation.
Barbara Bramble: I think you can feel confident that Brazil’s telling you a pretty good story. It holds up pretty well. Brazilian ethanol from sugarcane is just about the best we have right now.
Porter: Barbara Bramble is the National Wildlife Federation’s senior adviser on international affairs. And she also addressed another concern sometimes raised about sugar cane production in Brazil.
Bramble: There’s no way to blame even a majority – not even close to a majority of the deforestation in the Amazon directly on sugarcane growing. Even if the displacement was one for one, if every single cow that had been growing in São Paulo was actually walked up to the Amazon personally that would not account for the vast expansion of soy and cattle in the Amazon.
(Noise from trading pits at Mercantile and Futures Exchange.)
Porter: Raw energy and pure capitalism are on display in the trading pits of the Mercantile and Futures Exchange in Sao Paulo. These traders know there is a huge demand for Brazilian ethanol. After some false starts in the 1970’s, Brazil’s ethanol production is skyrocketing. Its annual production is already about four and a half billion gallons. Twenty-two new distilleries will open just this year. And now, a new appetite for alternative fuels, including ethanol, is awakening in the world’s largest market.
President George W. Bush: We must also change how we power our automobiles.
Porter: Brazil was listening when President Bush delivered his 2006 State of the Union address.
President Bush: We’ll also fund additional research in cutting-edge methods of producing ethanol. By applying the talent and technology of America, this country can dramatically improve our environment, move beyond a petroleum-based economy, and make our dependence on Middle Eastern oil a thing of the past.
Jose Luis Oliverio: When President Bush introduced in his annual speech the ethanol as an important subject. And after that, the world start to look at Brazil differently.
Porter: Jose Luis Oliverio is head of technology and development at Dedini Industries, makers of the equipment which produces sugar and ethanol.
Oliverio: Nowadays Brazil and the United States are together in bio-energy and bio-fuels.
Porter: But the “togetherness” of the United States and Brazil on this issue is strained by a 54 cent a gallon American tariff on all Brazilian ethanol.
Clifford Sobel, the U.S. Ambassador to Brazil, won’t directly address this thorn in the side of US – Brazilian relations.
Ambassador Clifford Sobel: In regards to your question on tariffs, those are legislatively determined. Our Congress determines that, and it’ll be up to Congress to make changes to that if they so desire.
Porter: In the long run, the American tariff may mean little to Brazil’s rise as an energy powerhouse. An enormous oil discovery in the Rio Basin off Brazil’s coast made headlines last year. Experts say Brazil could also become the second or third largest source of uranium in the world. On an energy hungry planet, Brazil seems incredibly well positioned for the 21st century.
Again, US Ambassador Sobel.
Sobel: But Brazil’s prominence and growing international engagement started well before the discoveries in the Rio Basin. It’s predicated on their leadership in peacekeeping. It’s predicated on their growing multinationals in the energy sector, but also not only in the energy sectors.
Porter: Back at this busy Rio beachside fuel station, Brazil’s energy prosperity feels more and more like a natural part of the country’s destiny.
Motorists waiting for fuel here, like Jose Carlos Cavalcante, take obvious pride in Brazil’s strong and growing role in global energy.
Jose Carlos Cavalcante: This “Green Gas,” as we call it, is special in these days where we worry about the environment. And I think is very important that Brazil started this.
Porter: For “Brazil Rising,” I’m Keith Porter in Rio de Janeiro.
(Sounds of walking through crop fields.)
David Brown: You’re listening to Brazil Rising, I’m David Brown. And right now we’re walking among fields of corn and soybeans, but what’s really being cultivated in these fields, is Brazil’s future. Only three decades ago, nothing grew here. This was mostly unsettled land, unusable for agriculture. But today, soybeans are being grown and harvested at record levels to satisfy demand in China.
(News program: John Chancellor speaking – “An immediate stop to all exports of soybeans, cotton seed and products made from them was imposed today by the administration…..”)
Brown: The date was June 27th, 1973….NBC anchorman John Chancellor announcing that President Richard Nixon was imposing an embargo on the sale of US soybeans overseas in a bid to control food prices at home. Earl Butz was the US Agriculture Secretary at the time.
Earl Butz: The situation requires drastic action. We’re all quite concerned about inflation in this country, we’re concerned about the price of food stuffs but as Secretary of Agriculture, I want to make as sure as we can make it that we have adequate supplies of meat and milk and eggs the rest of this year and into 1974.
Brown: Chances are President Nixon wasn’t thinking about Brazil when he ordered the embargo, not least because on the very same day, former White House counsel John Dean was in his third day of testimony at the Watergate hearings on Capitol Hill, helping to set loose the political tidal wave wave that would sink Nixon’s Presidency. But that soybean embargo had an enormous impact here. Brazil saw that the US export ban had created a gap in the market. So, Brazil moved quickly to fill it.
(Harvesting equipment sound)
Brown: You know, from this vantage point, if you didn’t know any better, you’d think you were on a farm in the United States. There’s a John Deere combine harvester that’s taken to the field on the 5000 acre Maringa farm outside Brasilia. It’s been reaping a bumper crop of soy, but might never have been here if it hadn’t been for the US embargo so many years ago. Marcelino Sato has farmed this land for the past quarter-century, his family moved here from southern Brazil because of a government farm extension program aimed at expanding the country’s agricultural sector.
Marcelino Sato: Brazilian agriculture has been very important for the country’s progress, and also for the world in terms of food production.
Brown: Vast brown fields of soybeans seem to disappear under the combine’s blades….
Brown: And then all these beans are then loaded onto trucks that drive into the dusty fields to collect their valuable cargo. It’s the first step on a journey that will take Brazilian soy all the way to the other side of the world. Fifteen thousand miles from the Maringa farm, Chinese families are now reliant on these beans for their nutrition. Brazilian soy is turned into tofu, a staple for China, but not what this land was originally tilled to produce.
This farm, like the rest as far as the eye can see, was developed back when Brasilia was being built as the capital city from the ground up 50 years ago. The idea was that these farms would grow fruit and vegetables and feed the newly developed capital. But today, this farm, and the others all around, feed not just Brasilia, but the rest of Brazil, and the world beyond.
And that means new excitement about agriculture. Just up the road they’re setting up an agricultural trade fair.
Brown: The signs of change are literally all around you. Just look at these logos: Monsanto, DuPont, New Holland, Pioneer. Tractors, ploughs and other equipment from some of the world’s largest manufacturers are on display for young local farmers like Rodrigo Varsoto, who speak the language not just of local farming technology and but of global trade.
Rodrigo Varsoto: We cannot afford to make mistakes. We have to be precise in everything that we do today. Brazil has been investing strongly to compete in the external market. We’ve got land, we have room to grow, we have available territory. We know the US doesn’t have that, nor does China. But we do.
Brown: Felix Schouchana analyzes agriculture for something called the BM&F, the country’s mercantile exchange.
Felix Schouchana: The agricultural sector is very strong because we have land, we have people, we have a very competitive price.
Brown: Now he argues that the revolution taking on Brazil’s farms, well, it’s not just giving China a chance to feed its people but it’s also giving Brazilians an economic opportunity to escape the violent social decay of their country’s inner cities and get back to the land.
Schouchana: We have to balance our development, and this is one key point, to avoid all the troubles that we have in big cities like Sao Paulo or Rio de Janeiro. So this is one way to try to solve this kind of troubles, and to try to develop the countryside is very important for the country.
Brown: Brazil’s major export crops are key to this country’s development. Soybeans and other grains now account for more than a third of the country’s gross national product. Brazil’s beef exports have tripled since 1998, making it the world’s top exporter. With demand, rising along with prices and profits, farmers and ranchers are looking for more land, and to an increasing extent, that means moving northwest into the forested areas of the Amazon.
For decades, clearing crops for fields and pasture has been considered important to economic development, and for many Brazilians, the first step toward land ownership. But Brazil’s agricultural boom has put the nation’s development philosophy squarely into conflict with growing international concerns about global warming and the impact of deforestation on the environment.
Scott Paul studies the issue for Greenpeace.
Scott Paul: There is a time and a place when an area needs to be preserved. Realize that the vast majority of species, plants and animals in the Amazon have not been cataloged, the biodiversity is immense. Since the second half of 2007 when the most recent statistics came in, deforestation has been on the rise significantly.
Brown: These sorts of concerns, especially from the outside world, are seen with a degree of contempt and suspicion by some here. In fact, there’s a popular refrain “the Amazon belongs to Brazil,” that says a lot about the mindset.
One Brazilian official offered an eye-opening personal perspective when he told us, not without a small degree of frustration and these were his words, “There’s a kind of fixation about the Amazon that borders on fetishism, and it comes from outsiders, people whose only contact is from TV or the movies or foreign newspapers.” But that’s not entirely true. In May 2008, for example, Brazil’s environment minister abruptly resigned citing frustration with what she described as “a growing resistance from important sectors of the government and society.” These tensions between development and environmental considerations at home and abroad are very real and they raise important questions about what positions Brazil will take as its profile in international affairs becomes more prominent, and more assertive.
President Luis Inacio da Silva: I have often said that our foreign policy is not just a way of projecting Brazil into the rest of the world. It is also a fundamental element for our nation’s project of development.
Brown: That’s Brazilian President Luis Inacio da Silva, better known as “President Lula.” It was during a joint news conference with President Bush when he visited Brasilia back in 2005.
President Lula’s election three years earlier was a watershed moment for this country. Lula was a former shoe-shine boy and metal worker with who had no formal education, but he went on to lead the left-wing Brazilian Workers’ Party to power and he immediately set about trying to deliver economic stability and a fairer shake for the country’s poor. How big was that task? Well, try this, try asking any Brazilian over the age of about 40 how many currencies the country has had in their lifetime. In fact, we put that very question to Brazil’s Foreign Minister, Celso Amorim.
Celso Amorim: Well, I don’t think I can count them, but at least five or six I would say, because you had crusedo, new crusedo, then you had cruzado, then you had real. Well, so you had at least five or six. I mean in my lifetime, inflation was daily life.
(Shopping mall sound)
Brown: It is tough to imagine today when you visit Rio Sul, this was the first western-style shopping mall to open in Rio back in 1981. Back then, it was mostly the preserve of the city’s wealthy elites. But today, a wide range of Brazilians shop in its boutiques, electronics stores, and eat in its restaurants including members of the new middle class, and also some Brazilians who come here from the city’s favelas, those shanty-towns that are home to the country’s poor. Noemias Dos Santos manages a store here in the mall.
Noemias Dos Santos: I have almost everything. I have my house, my computer, only my car is missing. But I will buy it.
Brown: His friend Debora Ribeiro is a store clerk here.
Debora Ribeiro: I remember when I was a kid we had many problems. Now we don’t. I know the economy has grown. My mother is better off, and poverty isn’t as widespread as it used to be.
Brown: Foreign Minister Amorim credits his boss, President Lula, with prioritizing the redistribution of wealth. It’s something he says Brazil could have done much earlier, but didn’t.
Amorim: The fact that we have a metal worker who became President – the fact that democracy has consolidated in Brazil, And the fact also that now we have a very stable economy but with growth, and very importantly with income distribution, which never happened at least at this pace before. I think these things combined, allowed us to have a more pro-active foreign policy.
Brown: And that new foreign policy has led Brazil to confront the United States and Europe, particularly on the issue of trade.
Brazil was in the vanguard of moves at the conference to block progress in the so-called “Doha Round” of negotiations until governments in the US and Europe stopped protecting their farmers with generous subsidies.
Roberto Mangaberia Unger: It’s great, but it’s not enough.
Brown: That is the voice of another Brazilian government minister, Roberto Mangaberia Unger, a social theorist and philosopher who spent much of his childhood in the United States. He’s been on the faculty of Harvard Law School for 35 years. And today, he can be found in his spacious, yet spartan, government office in Brazil’s ultra-modern capital, Brasilia.
Unger’s mere presence here is yet another indication that Brazil is thinking strategically about its growing power. In fact, his title is Minister of Strategic Affairs, some call him the “Minister of Ideas.”
Unger: We are one of the most unequal countries in the history of the modern world. We seethe with energy, but we lack opportunity. What the nation now wants is a model of development based on a broadening of economic and educational opportunity. That requires us to do something we have never learned to do, to re-imagine and reconstruct our institutions.
Brown: Listening to Minister Unger speak, you get a sense that senior government figures view the Lula presidency as a chance to experiment politically, economically, even socially, with Brazil’s approach to itself and the wider world.
Unger: We have to rebel. We have to innovate. We have to defy. We have to smash the idols. We have not yet presented systemic alternatives to the world, a different way of organizing the political and economic institutions in the world, so that the world becomes more hospitable to economic, political and cultural pluralism than it now is.
Brown: That means fighting for a seat on the UN Security Council, working to reform the world’s international financial institutions, and bringing together developing countries that seek to challenge the existing world order.
Charles Tang: I think Brazil’s priority must be to transform Brazil into a modern economy and a strong economy.
Brown: Charles Tang wonders whether the Brazilian government is sufficiently focused on that goal. He heads the Brazil-China Chamber of Commerce. It opened its doors in 1986 when, as he puts it, “nobody in Brazil was really interested in China.” Today, the Chamber has 450 members, eleven offices in Brazil and six in China. And the man who runs it, thinks the Brazilians should experiment a little less, and embrace wealth a little more.
Tang: If Brazil could, let’s say, change its economic model from what I call an economic model of poverty to an economic model of wealth, Brazil could very quickly become a super tiger.
Roberto Unger: Our basic problem is that we have not yet found the road to socially-inclusive economic growth. The most important social fact about Brazil in the last half-century is that we now have a new middle class.
Brown: Strategic Affairs Minister Roberto Unger.
Unger: The great Brazilian revolution today would be for the government to give these people instruments and opportunities, and to allow the majority to follow the example of this vanguard of emergent self-help entrepreneurs.
Brown: And how long does Minister Unger think this revolution will take?
Unger: I don’t care how long it takes. I care when it begins.
Brown: The great revolution Unger dreams about is not a cultural transformation of self-help and enterprise as we think of it in the US. What Unger sees, is the need for something that is uniquely Brazilian in character, a vision tailored to an overwhelming challenge of bridging a growing wealth gap.
As we travel this country, we are seeing signs of tremendous economic growth, booming prosperity, and yet for all its dynamism, this place remains remain home to millions of profoundly poor people, living in tumbledown tin shacks on some of the toughest streets anywhere in the world.
We’re going there next, as we continue to explore “Brazil Rising.” Stay with us.
David Brown: From the Stanley Foundation, KQED Public radio and KUT Austin, you’re listening to “Brazil Rising.”
I’m David Brown.
And our journey through Latin America’s most populous country has taken us to one of the most extraordinary capital cities in the world—a city that wouldn’t exist were it not for an explicit vision to transform Brazil into the country of the future.
As part of a massive undertaking to settle western Brazil in the 1950’s, this federal district, called Brasilia, as carved out of nothing. Principle architect Oscar Niemeyer applied a once avant-garde international style, and the result is a capital that looks like yesterday’s “Tomorrowland.” White concrete domes with orbiting walkways—marble and glass offices built on concrete stems—sweeping cantilevered entranceways that look lifted from the Jetsons.
And on both sides of the plaza are towering U.N.-style buildings that together house Brazil’s government, like long rows of solemn monuments top what has become one of the world’s most notorious bureaucracies. In these buildings, officials are still busy planning a greater role for Brazil on the world stage.
But what all this futurism belies is the harsh reality of real city life, every day city life, with issues of poverty, illiteracy, and high crime.
Correspondent Kristin McHugh has witness this up close, in some of the poorest neighborhoods in Sao Paulo. Kristin, what did you see?
Kristin McHugh: David, favelas or shanty towns, are easy to see as they dot the hillsides throughout Sao Paulo. Brazil may be the 10th largest economy in the world, but the United Nations most recent Human Development Index says roughly one-out-of five people Brazilians live on less than two dollars a day. In Sao Paulo, kidnapping, armed assault, and homicide have become a routine part of daily life for many of the city’s 19 million residents.
Despite these challenges, Brazil’s government has developed some creative solutions to fight crime and poverty and the people I visited with are now full of pride and hope.
(Hair salon sound, street sound)
McHugh: A concrete garage along a rutted, dirt road in Vila Marcelo, a poor neighborhood in Sao Paulo’s Parelheiros district embodies this hope. It’s the location of a new hair salon.
Deise Duarte da Silva: Nothing better than a mother and a daughter working together. As a matter of fact, my clients say this is the beauty salon “of the mother and daughter.”
McHugh: 32 year-old Deise Duarte da Silva owns this, yet to be named, hair salon along with her oldest daughter, 17-year old Silvia. Deise is a recipient of a Sao Paulo state government cash transfer program. She receives 60 real a month or roughly 35 dollars.
Deise Duarte da Silva: It helps a lot. They buy school material for the children. The government helps, but there is always something missing, so they help a lot.
McHugh: Deise’s younger daughters have access to reduced or free medical care and a variety of children’s activities. Deise and Silvia were also given the opportunity to take a hairdresser course for free.
McHugh: Deise, a former house cleaner, jumped at the chance to open her own business with Silvia. The salon is simple: two barber-style chairs, two mirrors hanging on freshly painted peach-colored walls, a wooden payment counter, and a portable sink.
Deise Duarte da Silva: I am secure. It’s a dream come true. I thought one day I could, but I didn’t know it would happen this fast.
McHugh: Wearing black boots, stylish jeans and a coordinating denim jacket, Deise commands the salon with confidence while still attending clients with grace.
McHugh: Today she is coloring and cutting the long, dark locks of Fabrecia. The 26 year old new mom brought her own hair color, and couldn’t wait to spend the roughly six dollar fee to transform her look.
(Hair cutting sound)
Patrus Ananias de Souza: Brazil is growing exactly because it is fighting the battle against poverty.
McHugh: Patrus Ananias de Souza is Brazil’s Minister of Social Development and the Fight Against Hunger. He oversees the country’s popular Bolsa Familia program, a conditional cash transfer that puts money directly into the hands of Brazil’s poorest residents as long as their children remain enrolled in school.
de Souza: The families that received Bolsa Familia were more willing to look for a job than those who did not receive it.
McHugh: Nearly one-quarter of Brazil’s population or more than 46 million people living in households earning less than 70 dollars a month, are covered under Bolsa Familia. The program is one of the largest of its kind in the world, and political analysts say Bolsa Familia is one of the main reasons President Lula enjoys widespread popular support. But does the program really work? The World Bank praises the program. And the Human Development Index says Bolsa Familia accounts for 16-percent of Brazil’s recent decline in extreme poverty. But the program has its critics.
Rodrigo Maia: In Brazil, unfortunately, we celebrate the increase of people who receive Bolsa Familia, and not the possibility of fewer families needing it.
McHugh: Rodrigo Maia leads Brazil’s main opposition party, the Democratic Party. He applauds President Lula for consolidating a hodgepodge of social programs under the Bolsa Familia umbrella. But Maia says the program doesn’t go far enough.
Maia: You have to invest in education. In the poorest communities, the majority of mothers are the head of the house, which proves that there is a need to increase the child’s education between birth and five years of age.
McHugh: Minster de Souza strongly says Bolsa Familia strikes at the very roots of the opposition’s concerns.
de Souza: We intend to preserve family bonds, we know that a poor families may fall apart, the children instead of going to school like we want, they will go to the streets, with the predictable consequences that we know.
McHugh: Residents of Jardim Raineri, a tough neighborhood south of Sao Paulo city know the consequences of poverty and violence all too well. The neighborhood, roughly 1.5 square miles, is home to 51,000 people. They live in cement and brick houses stacked upon one another that hug the hillsides.
Police Captain Gilberto da Silva: In 1999, we had the biggest number of homicides and it was considered, by research done by the United Nations, as the most dangerous place in the world, more homicides than countries with wars.
(Police station sound)
McHugh: Captain Gilberto da Silva and his crew work out of a substation located along one of Jardim Raineri’s busiest intersections. The substation opened in 1999 after residents asked for help in tackling the neighborhood’s seemingly endless violent crime.
Luis da Silva: When I came to live here it was very dangerous.
McHugh: Driver Luis Jorge da Silva, no relation to the police captain, has lived in this neighborhood for 14 years.
Luis da Silva: People got mugged with guns, homicides, fights at the bars at night. It really improved when the police base was installed.
McHugh: Sao Paulo’s state police provided the law enforcement manpower, but it was the neighbors that donated the materials to build the police substation.
(Driving sound/street sound)
McHugh: Captain da Silva and nearly a dozen of his officers were anxious to take us out on patrol. As our convoy snaked through the narrow streets of Jardim Raineri, officers stopped a series of what they termed “suspicious” men on motorcycles.
McHugh: Guns drawn, the officers were taking no chances.
Suspects are ordered to spread their feet and place their hands on the wall. They are frisked for guns and are then ordered to remove their shirts so officers can check for gang tattoos.
(Police radio sound)
McHugh: Crowds of onlookers gather as officers verify identification papers with the main police base. After several minutes, the suspects are allowed to leave.
Captain da Silva: We look for drugs and guns, to take the guns away from the people who are not allowed to carry guns.
McHugh: This show of force is clearly working. Captain da Silva says the neighborhood’s homicide rate has dropped an astounding 80-percent since the police base opened. But the tough police approach is not without controversy. Local human rights groups and the UN’s Special Rapporteur on Torture have been critical of the Jardim Raineri substation’s tough tactics.
Captain da Silva even acknowledges his department will do what it takes to stamp out crime. Neighborhood residents we talked to, don’t seem to mind. Again, resident Luis da Silva.
Luis da Silva: The action of the police is very important to the region. At night, the cars circulating on the roads, it brings security to the people.
McHugh: Back at Deise and Silvia’s new beauty salon, business is booming. Deise hopes to invest her returns and expand the salon in the future. Her daughter Silvia has even bigger ambitions.
Silvia: I intend to open my own beauty salon, to have my own house, to get married, and I want to continue working with my mom. I love my job. I want to be a hairdresser for the rest of my life.
McHugh: For Brazil Rising, I’m Kristin McHugh in Sao Paulo
David Brown: 6:30 in the morning, and the view is world class.
There it is, that famous beach. All that’s missing is the girl.
(“Girl from Ipanema” music)
Brown: There really was a girl from Ipanema. She used to stroll by this very café on her way to the beach. In 1962, in this café, two young composers, Vinicius de Moraes and Antonio Carlos Jobim, wrote the song that would become, far and away, Brazil’s most famous musical signature, the archetype of the bossa nova sound that put Brazil on the world’s musical map.
Brown: But there’s what the world thinks Brazil sounds like, and there’s what it really sounds like.
(Music by Ana Carolina)
Brown: Multi-instrumentalist Ana Carolina is a huge star here. She has an explosive stage show, an arsenal of radio-friendly and provocative pop-songs. And ambition.
Ana Carolina: I would like to sell like the Beatles. I would love to be recognized by everyone. I would like to show my music for the largest number of people. I can’t lie.
Brown: But if Ana Carolina is to make it big outside of Brazil, she knows have to make a choice. She can keep doing sold out shows at home or she can move abroad and start over in hopes of going global, but she can’t have it both ways.
Carolina: I would have to put my career on hold here. And in a short time, I will be mature enough to do that. It is going to be difficult, but it is going to happen. I’m having English classes, who knows?
(Ana Carolina performing “Fever” in English)
Brown: But here’s the rub: as Brazil becomes more tied in to the rest of the world, it raises the bar for musicians like Ana Carolina.
Bernardo Araujo: Why should somebody, say in Switzerland, like Ana Carolina more than Damien Rice or more than Sheryl Crow? Why? What makes her different than those guys?
Brown: Bernardo Araujo writes about music for Rio’s leading newspaper, O Globo.
Araujo: You have to lose some money. And then you go one summer, play five festivals and then people get to know you. And in the case of Ana Carolina, you have a strong physical image that’s going to help you stick in people’s heads. And then if you invest, you might be rewarded for it in a couple of years.
Brown: You might.
(Music by Teresa Christina)
Brown: But the stakes are so high, the investment so great, the odds so long, why bother? Take Teresa Christina, she’s got the talent, the strong reputation, has lots of invitations to perform abroad. But here at home, she’s selling out shows, without having to sell out in other ways. At least that’s the way Christina sees it.
Teresa Christina: What happens is that it’s very expensive to hire a band like mine, with so many musicians. It’s very expensive to travel. Most of the time they don’t offer much money, because there’s no sponsor, and they want us to come there with just two or three musicians and do a Brazilian music show. But it is very difficult without compromising the musicality or the arrangements. I think to be known internationally, I don’t have to be an international musician. I can still be a Brazilian artist.
(Music by Theresa Christina)
Brown: These days, for Brazilian musicians, the price of going global may be just a bit too steep. When you think about the fact that once upon a time music was considered Brazil’s greatest export, an interesting subtext emerges. As Brazil has evolved into a nation increasingly adept at selling itself to the world, one now senses a reluctance to commoditize what is arguably its most precious resource—its culture.
(Music by Teresa Christina)
David Brown: I was sitting in the terminal lounge at Rio’s Galeao airport as we wrapped up our journey through Brazil, trying to piece together the fragments of what we’d seen and heard. The state of the art jet factory churning out planes, the trucks hauling harvests out of the fields, the woman in the favela who’d launched a business in her garage.
But the images that remain most persistent were those small things that individually don’t mean much, but together leave you with impressions and emotions. Little things, like the comment of the farmer who told me his biggest problem was that John Deere couldn’t make enough tractors. Like the Chinese businessman who casually predicted Brazil would be the next economic tiger.
I remember being astonished at the skyscrapers of Sao Paulo, how they seemed to stretch forever along the horizon. I remember the cars in the cities, how new they looked…the roads, how modern. I just wasn’t expecting the proliferation of convenience stores, upscale shopping centers, the easy availability of wireless broadband. And the astonishingly narrow distance between so much material prosperity, and so much poverty.
I thought about a conversation I had with a Brazilian government minister a few days earlier. We have so much in common, he said, referring to our respective countries. We’re both vast places with tremendous opportunity, with a sense of destiny, a history of slavery, and a massive discrepancy between the rich and poor.
Henry Luce famously called the 20th century the American century, a period when the U.S. emerged from isolationism and asserted its growing economic and political influence on every corner of the planet. And these days, it’s become fashionable to talk about the end of that era. A transformation from a unipolar to a multipolar world. China. India. South Africa. A resurgent Russia. A robust Europe.
Brown: That’s all front page stuff. But while everyone’s been focused on those changes, Latin America’s biggest country has positioned itself much as the US did a hundred years earlier.
What we’ve seen as we’ve toured this enormous land is a place bursting at the seams with growth, fueled by massive amounts of foreign investment and, a worldwide hunger for its natural resources. A Brazil that’s embraced market economies, and is actively rethinking its institutions to exploit its growing wealth. It’s a Brazil that’s literally feeding the rest of world. You put it all together and it’s a Brazil that the rest of the world is becoming increasingly dependent upon, too.
Brazil is going to reach critical mass very fast, the financial world is already betting on it. Imagine Sao Paulo as a banking center rivaling London, New York or Tokyo. It’s easy to do. Picture this place as a regional power broker, settling squabbles, serving as peacekeeper-in-chief for Latin America. Providing a political model for neighboring countries. A wealthy nation with a sense of its moment, commanding a bigger place at multinational conference tables. All this is within Brazil’s reach. In fact, you don’t have to squint very hard at all to imagine that the 21st century belongs to Brazil, even though they’ll probably have to share it with others.
As our plane finally took off bound for Miami, the wing dipped over Rio for one more long look. That’s when it struck me that there was something incredibly absurd about the fact that these changes are taking place with so little comment back in the United States. Most of my friends back home have no sense of a multicultural American superpower emerging south of the equator.
At the moment, the story of Brazil rising almost certainly represents one of the best kept secrets about the direction of the world. Of course, it won’t be a secret much longer.
Brown: “Brazil Rising,” was produced by Simon Marks, Kristin McHugh, and Keith Porter for the Stanley Foundation, KQED Public Radio, and KUT Austin. On the Web at kqed.org, kut.org, and stanleyfoundation.org
Our sound engineer was Rima Snyder of Red Wagon Audio. Special thanks to Ken Mills, Renata Araujo, Katia Cruz, Marcel Andrade, Wellington Goncalves, Christopher McCalley, Frederico Kopittke, Cliff Brockman, Steve Mort, and the staff of Feature Story News. For more information about “Brazil Rising,” or to share your thoughts about this program, visit us online at stanleyfoundation.org.
I’m David Brown. Thanks for joining us.