elections on October 3
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September 29, 2010
Dilma Rousseff, the likely winner of Brazil’s general election on Sunday, told me that after the reforms of the present president, Luiz Inacio “Lula” da Silva, that “it’s more difficult to make this economy not grow than to make it grow.” She made this rather startling observation in a one hour interview in her office that sits alongside Lula’s.
Five years ago Lula promoted her to his chief of staff from her position as minister of mines and energy where she oversaw the rapid expansion of the off shore oil discoveries which will fill the coffers of the state to the brim, enabling Brazil under her likely incumbency to tackle the problems Lula didn’t sufficiently get hold of- crime, especially in Brazil’s city slums, the education of primary school level children, the corruption of the courts, the police, big business and Congress where many of its members are facing criminal charges, the serious bottlenecks in rail, roads and air services, the state of its prisons where convicted felons form ruthless gangs and, not least, doing more than it has in supporting land reform on behalf of the poor .
She wants to see the petroleum and gas industry “act as an enterprise with a conscience”, which means keeping their prices at a level that doesn’t penalise the poor.
Inflation, despite its sharp drop under the Lula administration, needs to come down further. She says she is not worried about inflation as “only 82% of the economy is being utilized” and she is going to push that figure up. Taxation will be lowered and that will contribute to a lower inflation rate.
Lula’s administration runs a hefty trade surplus, she says, and has managed to repay the International Monetary Fund for an earlier large loan. She claims that Brazil is on a trajectory of high growth in its exports, one superior to China. “No country in the world has such a high rate of growth despite interest rates being so high. So we have space for accelerating growth without inflation”. Indeed, that is what has happened in the last few years.
Brazil has been an enthusiastic supporter of the lobby for lowering carbon in the world’s atmosphere. After decades of wild logging and forest burning in the Amazon it has now been able after years of effort and tough management to significantly slow that down. The native Indian population has found an active friend on their side when challenged by settlers for their land.
Given Ms Rousseff’s closeness to Lula, her ability to articulate in a straightforward manner the economic, social and political needs of the country, it comes at no surprise that she is so far ahead in the polls, carrying the sure vote of the working class and a good part of the middle class, and that this macho society appears to have few qualms about making a woman president.
Her main rival, Jose Serra, the present governor of Brazil’s most powerful state- Sao Paulo- is no novice in politics. He has achieved a lot in Sao Paulo. His policies, as I found in a long face to face meeting, are well thought out and to the point. He is more than competent. Indeed, in terms of a programme it is rather similar to Lula’s and Ms Rouseff’s, but without that potent ingredient at which Lula excels- the charisma. But then no one who doesn’t have the blessing of Lula who, Barack Obama says, is the most popular head of state in the world, could win this election.
Brazil is a member of the so-called BRICs, the insiders’ club of the most powerful Third and Second World nations- Russia, India and China. Together they wield a lot of clout, not least because they are nuclear powers (in Brazil’s case near to it).
Brazil is further ahead than Iran in its uranium enrichment programme and is stepping up the size of its air force at a rather fast rate. (It gets a free ride from Washington on both of these.) One wonders why this should be for a country that hasn’t been to war since 1870 and has no enemies. Its size and economic power give it all the muscle it needs without an over-large military. Still, it does a lot of peacekeeping work for the UN - in Haiti it has led the UN operation.
Brazil remains one of the most unequal societies in the world. Tiffany has more stores in Sao Paulo than anywhere else in the world. It has also tens of millions of the very poor. Lula made significant inroads on this disparity. Ms Rouseff will have her work cut out to do more. That is post-Lula Brazil’s main need and thanks to Lula’s legacy of a booming economy she will have the resources to do it.
Note for editor:
1) See Prospect magazine of October 2006 for my long article “the Rise of Brazil”.
Copyright © 2010 Jonathan
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