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The Emergence of Brazil on the World Stage

From: Latin American Research Review
Volume 48, Number 3, 2013
pp. 221-230 | 10.1353/lar.2013.0044

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Brazil is no longer condemned to be the “country of the future.” After six presidential elections over the past quarter century, the world’s third-largest democracy and sixth-largest economy now has nearly twenty years’ experience with low inflation and a level of political stability that few countries in the world can match. Although some of the highest inequalities in the world remain, the Brazilian middle class has grown dramatically over the past decade to become the single largest socioeconomic group. Self-sufficient in petroleum and on the verge of exploiting some of the planet’s largest and deepest offshore oil fields, Brazil has also become the world’s greenest large economy, with nearly three-quarters of its energy provided by hydroelectricity and biofuels. In 2014 the country will host the World Cup, and in 2016 Rio de Janeiro will follow up as the site of the Summer Olympics. Although recent economic growth has been disappointing, as most of the world was shaken by the massive recession after 2008, Brazil posted impressive economic growth, in particular with the help of a world commodities boom.

The rediscovery of Brazil has already produced an impressive array of books that attempt to sum up the country for the general public, policy makers, and the business community. As the world’s attention turns to the World Cup and the Olympics over the next four years, we will no doubt see a steady stream of books seeking to explain Brazil. Most of the books reviewed in this essay have been produced by distinguished journalists, economists, or political scientists who have spent much of their professional lives studying and writing about Brazil. Three are by Brazilianists and the other three by Brazilians (with some assistance from their non-Brazilian colleagues). This is a diverse group of books: a general introduction to Brazil by a journalist who lived in Brazil for decades; the latest analysis of the economy by a distinguished Brazilian economist and policy maker; a collection of articles that appeared in print more than a decade ago and has now been translated into English; and no fewer than three books published by the Brookings Institution.

Larry Rohter’s Brazil on the Rise: The Story of a Country Transformed will likely reach the largest audience. Married to a Brazilian and with decades of experience living in Brazil and writing for the New York Times and Time magazine, Rohter has a knowledge and understanding of Brazil that few foreign scholars of Brazil can match. He has traveled across the length and breadth of Brazil interviewing hundreds (if not thousands) of Brazilians—from presidents to the woman on the street. Written in a very accessible journalistic style with many, many anecdotes and stories, Brazil on the Rise will appeal much more to the general reader than any of the other volumes in this collection. With a commercial publisher it also will have much better distribution than the other books under review here. Although it is a very thorough and competent survey, some aspects of the analysis will likely irritate many Brazilianists, in particular Rohter’s sometimes negative attitudes toward race relations, domestic politics, and foreign policy.

Rohter surveys contemporary Brazil in ten chapters covering all facets of society, culture, economics, and politics. After a quick survey of Brazilian history emphasizing a “boom and bust” pattern, he moves into an analysis of the society that highlights Brazil’s “remarkably tolerant society” (33), discussing the jeitinho, malandragem, family, personalism, hierarchy, religion, class structure, gender, and sexuality. The following chapter discusses race, which he describes as “Brazil’s secret, hidden shame” (60). As anyone who has written about race relations knows, it is a minefield; this will no doubt be one of the most dissected and debated sections of the book in Brazil. Rohter compares slavery and race relations in the United States and Brazil, recognizing the complexity of race in the latter. He describes Gilberto Freyre’s “pernicious influence” on the discussion of race in Brazil (71) and spends a good deal of time on the recent debate over affirmative action. He concludes by saying that “until Brazil demonstrates the courage to face its racial problem head on, the...

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