Brazil, Paulo Sotero said, is not for beginners.
“Brazil is a video full of motion; it is not a static picture,” he said.
Sotero will deliver the 10:45 a.m. lecture today in the Amphitheater, wrapping up the Week Six examination of Brazil. Sotero will offer a nuanced, clear-eyed, but largely positive view of the South American behemoth whose political, social and economic development has always been complex and unpredictable.
Currently the director of the Brazil Institute at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, D.C., Sotero was previously the long-serving Washington correspondent for a leading Brazilian newspaper and has been an adjunct professor at Georgetown University for more than 10 years. He is a frequent commentator on news programs.
“Brazil was built from the top down — not from the bottom up,” Sotero said. “The struggles in the country over massive poverty and income inequality are an unfortunate legacy of slavery and a stubbornly patrimonial society.”
Recently in the world’s spotlight as it hosted the 2014 FIFA World Cup, Brazil largely confounded skeptics who would not believe the tournament could be well-organized. Most critics now regard this summer’s tournament as successful.
In two years, Rio de Janeiro will host the Olympic Games, and Brazil will again be at the forefront of global scrutiny.
“Brazil has a gift to do what is least expected,” Sotero said. “Brazil welcomed a half-million visitors and fans for the World Cup, and 85 percent said they would return as tourists.”
After World War II, Brazil experienced a “somewhat tumultuous” 20-year democratic period before a United States-assisted “Cold War coup” toppled the regime. Since 1985, Brazil has again seen a “vibrant democracy, with imperfections,” he said.
Sotero believes economic restructuring will be critical to further expanding Brazil’s already large middle class and reducing its high poverty rates.
“For many years after 1985, the Brazilian economy benefitted tremendously from the hunger for our raw materials of emerging powers like China and India,” Sotero said. “The Brazilian economy became based on consumption, but that has now stagnated. In fact, economists forecast at most a 1 percent growth in GDP this year, which would represent the third-lowest growth rate since Brazil became a republic in 1889.”
Sotero said there is now a clear national consensus that Brazil needs to revive growth and restructure parts of its economy, rated as the seventh-largest in the world.
“Despite our large and growing economy, we rank only 25th in exports and participate in less than 2 percent of the world’s trade,” he said. “Brazil obviously needs to better integrate itself into the global economy, and reduce the protectionist view which has permeated government policy-making.”
Over the past four decades, Brazil has recorded profitable successes in aircraft manufacturing, engineering education and agribusiness.
“Brazil needs to urgently explore areas in which it can replicate that success,” Sotero said.
Public health and education are particular areas where he sees potential for building on previous advances.
“The Brazilian response to AIDS in the ’80s and ’90s could serve as a model for other developing nations, and we collaborated with MIT in building a modern school of engineering,” he said.
Impeding the economic progress that could accelerate trade increases and relieve some of the crushing weight of Brazil’s poor underclass, Sotero said, is a tax system that is far too regressive and a governmental proclivity to excessive regulation.
“It can take over 100 days to open a new company in Brazil,” Sotero said. “Here in the U.S., it can be a matter of just a few days.”
He said corruption lingers as a drag on necessary economic development, but he sees the conviction and jailing of some corrupt politicians and labor leaders two years ago as a step in the right direction.
“There is simply no question that Brazil needs to find a new path, to make the kinds of domestic policy decisions that will result in better income distribution,” Sotero said. “Brazil will need to redirect its focus from consumption to investment, with an emphasis on technology and infrastructure development.”
National elections are scheduled for Oct. 5 in Brazil, with federal and local offices to be contested, including the presidency. Incumbent Workers’ Party President Dilma Rousseff is currently favored in her campaign for a second term.
“The upcoming elections will hopefully provide a forum for active debate on the change in course which Brazil needs,” Sotero said.
With the world’s fifth-largest population, Brazil is often suggested for permanent membership in the United Nations Security Council. Hosting the world’s most widely followed sports competitions will keep the country in the center of global attention.
“There are opportunities here,” Sotero said. “Brazil must seize them and move forward.”