Webcast Recap

This event is co-sponsored by the Inter-American Dialogue.

Summary of a Brazil Institute book author with Larry Rohter, Culture Reporter, The New York Times; Peter Hakim, President Emeritus, Inter-American Dialogue; Paulo Sotero, Director, Brazil Institute

Two decades ago Brazil was plagued by inflation, debt and gross inequality. Today, it has the world's eighth largest economy, achieved energy independence and is an agricultural superpower with an optimistic population and a favorable economic outlook in a world mired by crisis. As the host of the 2014 Soccer World Cup and the 2016 Olympics, Brazil seems ready to take its place on the world stage. This is a dramatically different country than the one New York Times culture reporter Larry Rohter encountered when he first visited Brazil in 1972 during the military dictatorship. After covering several countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, Rohter settled in Brazil, where he spent 14 years, first as a correspondent for Newsweek and later as The New York Times bureau chief. For his book "Brazil on the Rise: The Story of a Country Transformed," published by Palgrave Macmillan and launched on Sept. 16 at the Woodrow Wilson International Center, Rohter interviewed Brazil's key political, business, cultural and religious leaders.

In the book, Rohter credits Brazil's new course to the leadership of Fernando Henrique Cardoso, president from 1995 to 2002, who was able to control inflation through a stabilization plan and opened the way to turning formerly impoverished Brazilians into consumers. "This was an enormous boost to domestic consumption and domestic production because you are bringing in millions and millions of people who were falling outside the money economy, and they become consumers and, to a greater degree, citizens," Rohter said, reminding that President Cardoso also invested in education, housing and health.

According to Rohter, President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, since taking office in January 2003, has largely followed the broad outlines of the policies that were established during the Cardoso years, but aggressively expanded many of the social programs such as Bolsa Família. After 16 years marked by political and economic stability, "Brazil today is a vibrant, noisy, tumultuous, flourishing democracy," Rohter said, while not glossing over its ever-present problems related to crime, education, infrastructure and inequality.

Peter Hakim, president emeritus of the Inter-American Dialogue, commended Rohter for the chapters on the Amazon and energy, but observed that at times he felt he was reading a catalog "rather than an interconnected argument," which left him wondering what was left out. He pointed out that the book has only two pages on President Getúlio Vargas, five pages on the military regime, and yet there is a whole chapter on "jeitinho"—the Brazilian way of conducting business. Also, Hakim argued that certain issues such as development and the environment as two choices faced by President Lula were treated in a simplistic manner: "There is no country in the world--maybe a few Scandinavian countries-- that can choose the environment and not worry about development," Hakim argued.

Paulo Sotero, director of the Brazil Institute, praised the chapter on culture but agreed with Hakim that the book lacked context. Sotero mentioned, for example, the Sept. 2008 economic crisis—a moment of change in which Brazil proved to itself and the world that it was able to overcome a challenge. "I think Brazil is not rising, but has risen," he declared, noting that the rise should be considered in relation to the United States, which was little explored in the book. Citing South-South collaborations, Sotero also diverged from Rohter's suggestion that Brazil doesn't have a substantive foreign policy, but concurred that Brazil has failed in some of its declared objectives in foreign policy, and has overreached in the cases of Iran and Honduras.

Rohter emphasized that the book was not meant to be a scholarly or academic publication but was intended for an audience who was curious to find out how Brazil became this country that just bought Burger King. Asked if the recent rise could be one of the boom-and-bust cycles experienced by Brazil throughout the centuries, Rohter replied that Brazil in the past 40 years has diversified its production, which now counts with multiple agricultural and industrial products. This means the risks associated with depending on only one product are avoided. However, whether Brazil will be able to continue to ascend depends on how it will be managed after Lula, Rohter stated. "The next president will really have to focus on the quality of education and infrastructure because, otherwise, Brazil is going to hit a wall on its way to become a prosperous nation," he concluded.

By Renata Johnson
Paulo Sotero, Brazil Institute

For information on the book, visit Palgrave Macmillian.