Thursday, January 12, 2012

A Look at Brazil Today

Brazil, the future site of the 2014 FIFA World Cup and host of the 2016 Summer Olympics, has the largest economy in Latin America and one of the fastest-growing economies in the world. But is some of the country's population being left behind in the push to continue such dramatic economic growth? John J. Crocitti explores the issue in this excerpt from the recently published title Brazil Today: An Encyclopedia of Life in the Republic.

Brazil, South America’s largest and most populated nation, belongs to an informal ranking of the world’s emerging economic powerhouses known as BRIC that includes Russia, India, and China. Subcontinental in area, richly endowed in natural resources and home to a hardy, inventive population, Brazil has long promised to join the ranks of prosperous, technologically advanced, egalitarian nations. Yet fulfillment of that promise has never been fully realized, thereby producing a land of stark contrasts. The casual observer immediately recognizes that abject poverty mingles with great wealth in Brazil’s major cities. World Bank statistics confirm such disparity, ranking income distribution among the nearly 200 million Brazilians, the world’s fifth-largest national population, as one of the world’s most uneven. As one scratches more deeply beneath the surface, other contrasts become apparent. Brazilian industry produces aircraft, automobiles and appliances, but neighborhoods frequently lack sanitary drinking water, electricity, and paved roads. Urban Brazil, densely populated and cosmopolitan, sometimes appears ages apart from its rural counterpart that often features cowboys, rainforests, and folk culture. Perhaps most intriguing, Brazilians exude a warmth and congeniality that belies the violence plaguing their daily lives. Indeed, Brazil is a complex country that defies easy categorization.

The many reasons for tempering optimism about Brazil’s future should not blind observers to the great strides made by the country in the last two decades. Although the annual inflation rate recently exceeded the government’s target of 6.5 percent, it cannot compare to the quadruple-digit inflation rates of the early 1990s that wiped out household purchasing power. Urban blight and crime remain unsolved, but Rio de Janeiro’s main streets have nothing of the destitute hoards of homeless people who until recently lingered near restaurants begging for scraps from customers’ plates. In big and small cities throughout Brazil, municipal governments and private investors are confidently renovating historic buildings and building new ones. The process of rejuvenating cities is slow, but the experienced visitor cannot fail to recognize that progress has occurred and that a sense of optimism prevails about future improvements. Progress also is visible in rural areas. Where once the best possible future for children whose parents were agricultural workers was to follow in their parents’ footsteps, those same children today might attend college, a possibility that this writer has confirmed with his own eyes. That such a change has occurred in less than two decades is nothing less than astounding.
Regardless of its short-term economic and political future, Brazil’s history of weathering difficult times assures that foreign interest in Brazil will remain strong.

Brazilians have a “can-do” attitude, known as jeito, that has always enabled the people individually and the nation collectively to turn meager resources into admirable achievements. In part, Brazil’s success owes much to an elite that is among the world’s best educated and most pragmatic. Just as important, Brazilians in general embrace new ideas no matter their place of origin, just as they welcome foreigners with a sincerity that is often missing in the United States. Although they are hard working, pragmatic, and continually making do with limited resources, Brazilians retain a deep spirituality while never forgetting to celebrate life and act with courtesy and friendliness. It is this complexity of Brazilian culture, which of course includes Brazilians’ social values, that intrigues people worldwide and attracts foreigners to the country and all things Brazilian. Even in the event that its economy stalls and its political system abandons social reforms, Brazil’s rich and inspiring culture will continue to draw admiration and interest in the discernible future.

About the Editors
John J. Crocitti, Editor, is professor of history and assistant chair of social sciences at San Diego Mesa College. He earned his MA in Latin American history from Tulane University and his PhD from the University of Miami. He has taught as an adjunct at San Diego State University as well as at several private institutions. He is also the author of a number of publications in the field of Brazilian studies.

Monique M. Vallance, Contributing Editor, earned her PhD at the University of California, Santa Barbara, in the history of Portugal, but her scholastic and research interests also focus on Brazil, particularly in the early modern period. She is the author of D. Luisa de Gusmão (Circulo de Leitores, 2011) and is an assistant editor for World History Encyclopedia (ABC-CLIO, 2011).

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