Live from Brazil: Bright Days, Dark Nights

Made in Brazil with peace and love

Brazil 2010 is THE place to be. True, they didn’t win their sixth World Cup last month in South Africa, but they don’t have a 21% unemployment rate, which is more than the new world champions can say for themselves.

I’ve been a regular visitor here in Brazil for the past decade, in total immersion mode since day one. My political family does not live in any tourist part of the country (read no beaches) so in a way the Brazil I have come to know and love and despair at is the real McCoy daSilva, if such a thing can be said of any one part of a country with a population of 193 million and larger than all the EU-27 together.

After my first stay in Brazil, back at the turn of the millennium, it took me a while to process the massive input of new experience into something meaningful and coherent. The result of the process was a phrase: in Brazil, the days are very bright and the nights very dark. This phrase is meaningless to your average Brazilian, of course, but to my urban Mediterranean self it summed up all my impressions in a nutshell, both literally and metaphorically.

For those of us born and bred north of the Tropic of Cancer, there is something magic about tropical countries, especially those south of the equator, where New Year’s Eve is a summer affair and August is the dead of winter. Here every rural home has a banana tree in the back yard, and flip flops can be used year-round, if you don’t mind digging exotic parasites out of your toes or suffer an irrational fear of snakes. Fortunately, your average rural Brazilian knows more about parasites than your average Harvard med school graduate, and usually finds the sight of parasite-ridden Euro-American white boys infinitely amusing, in a good-humored way. In the end, foot fleas, bot flies and pinhead ticks are nothing compared to dengue and yellow fever, so it becomes a rather relative issue once the initial gross factor wears off.

But the rural Brazil where I take refuge is but one Brazil. The other Brazil is urban, where modernity coexists with misery. As I write these words, this is the view from the window:

Now, this isn’t the largest city in Brazil, nor the most famous. But like every other Brazilian city, it reflects the riches of the land and their uneven distribution. Tucked among the high rise buildings and hidden in plain sight are the favelas, the shanty-towns where some 50 million Brazilians live in precarious conditions, stunted by misery and subject to the pervasive violence of the “drug lords” (the real drug lords don’t live anywhere near the favelas, of course, but this fact is carefully ignored by the mainstream media). This has been a fact of life here for so long it has become “normal” and even invisible, but make no mistake: these buildings are but gilded cages, every one surrounded by electric fences, with 24-7 doormen, alarm systems and video cameras watching every nook and cranny. Being rich is Brazil is a costly and risky proposition, which is why traditionally the money flows out of the country to places where rich Brazilians can flaunt their wealth with less fear of being kidnapped, assaulted and murdered.

So what makes Brazil 2010 the place to be, then? It is hard to define exactly, but there’s been a subtle shift in the perception that your average Brazilian has of the country. Brazil now seems to believe in itself, which was never really the case before, despite the undeniable potential the country has always had. This has a lot to do with the eight years of the Luiz Inacio da Silva “Lula” presidency, which has managed to do what no Brazilian government had ever done: trickle down wealth to the country’s lowest classes and add 15 million consumers to the economy. While the world’s developed nations watch their economies fall apart like the ponzi schemes they are, in Brazil the economy is booming. Construction is in full swing (believe me, the excavators at the site next door start up at 7:30 AM and are roaring as I write these words, see photo), consumer confidence is at all time highs and the country has reached the top spots in the global production and export of iron and other strategic minerals, meat, soya beans, TV media and more. Unlike the USofA, Brazil is today a country with a powerful manufacturing base in pretty much every sector, with acquired know-how and very little need to import raw materials. It has even become 90% energy-independent, with huge crude and gas reserves having been located in the past few years. Even the rate of deforestation of the Amazon rainforest has dropped, which is unheard of in recent memory.

The nice folks downstairs with their infernal machines

Of course, as any global economist will tell you, being one of the world’s foremost raw material exporters is NOT a safeguard against the crisis, but as long as China and India keep needing to fuel their internal growth, the drop in USofA and EU demand is more than compensated. If, however, Asia begins to falter, Brazil may find itself all dressed up with nowhere to go… but that has yet to happen and is a scenario too abstract for the average Brazilian to lose sleep over. Right now, living is good, money is flowing through the economy and new consumers are entering the game every day.

Sure its not all advantages to having purchasing power extended to millions of Brazilians formerly living in misery. Airports are saturated with new travelers, roads are saturated with new drivers and the infrastructures are not growing at the same rate as the number of people using them. But that is a small price to pay in return for creating employment, consumer confidence and, above all, HOPE in a better future. Hope is a powerful sentiment, strong enough to tackle the impossible and make it is possible.

I for one, being the charred cynic I fancy myself to be, stick to the small details. My new sleeveless tee (above!) is a perfect example of such a detail. One could never find such a garment in an English-speaking market, but here in Brazil one can proudly call for Liberty, Peace and Love, while F*cking Censure. That is enough for me to say Brazil 2010 is the place to be… just try to stay clear of Zé Pequeno (below!) and everything will be just beleza, cara. See y’all on the other side! Valeu!

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