Brazil, a political minnow punching well below its weight

Listening to crime writer Mischa Glenny on CBC’s The Current, I didn’t expect to get such a comprehensive look into what Brazil is today. Here’s his take on contemporary Brazil:

“Brazil to some extent is imprisoned by stereotypes more than any other country that I know, and on the surface those stereotypes are Copacabana, a certain licentiousness, Samba, football, etc. etc. and this obscures so much about Brazil. First of all it’s a vast country, it’s absolutely huge. Secondly, it is an extraordinary economy. It’s the seventh largest economy in the world, which means it’s bigger than Canada, it’s bigger than India, it’s bigger than Russia. It’s resource base is unbelievable in terms of it’s agricultural resources. It’s the biggest exporter of beef, of coffee, of orange juice, of soya, in the world. It has known iron ore reserves which can supply the entire world for 500 years, it’s got uranium, it’s got oil. It’s got everythingΒ and it’s got the amazon, which for all of us is incredibly important, and yet it is a political minnow relative to it’s potential economic power which has never been properly realized. And this question of inequality, for me, is at the very heart of why Brazil has not succeeded internationally, and that inequality is a consequence…well it’s a very complicated issue, but I would like to highlight two things about inequality. One is the nature of Portugese colonialism, which saw Brazil basically as a resource centre to be raped for 500 years of it’s natural resources. Secondly, slavery. We understand slavery through the prism refracted by Hollywood, by the history of slavery in the Caribbean and so on. 500,000 slaves were transported from West Africa, roughly, to North America over the period of slavery. During the same period, 5 million slaves were transported to Brazil by the Portuguese. This is an experience out of all proportion of anything else we know of world history, and yet, even Brazilians don’t know much about this. And one of the things this means is that you have a tremendous diversity of the population, ethnically, and so there is a certain social tolerance between all races in Brazil which you don’t see elsewhere. But the economic divisions have never been overcome, and generally this is reflected in race. And until you see the emergence of a strong middle class which embraces a middle in Brazil, it’s going to be very difficult to see how they are going to be a powerful, flexible, independent world force, and one which is at peace with themselves internally. Because this split between rich and poor creates immense tensions in the country, not the least of which the creation of these very powerful drug cartels, which of course are a consequence of the, if I may say so, ludicrous Western policy of the “war on drugs”.

It is a very interesting moment in Canada because of Trudeau coming in and talking about legalization of marijuana. Of course this will have a very significant impact on social relations inside Canada. Same debate is going on in the US, the UK and so on. But what people have to remember is the war on drugs in producer countries and distribution countries like Colombia, Mexico and Brazil, means that tens of thousands of people are killed every year. We are talking about deaths on an unimaginable scale. All because nobody has got the guts to engage in drug law reform. And Antonio (the leader of a drug cartel in Rio’s largest favela) is as much a victim as a perpetrator of crime that results from narcotics.”

What are your thoughts about Brazil’s past and it’s place in the world today? Do you agree with Mischa Glenny on the challenge of inequality in Brazil and it’s effect on it’s standing in the world?

Photo courtesy of Brazil Ecotravel.

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