May 24, 2005


Is Brazil Ready to Lead? (Carlos Alberto Montaner, Firmas Press)

The government of Brazil wants the country to become an internationally respected power. It already heads the Mercosur trade bloc and now wishes to become the head of South America. It hopes to gain a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council, and a few days ago brought together in Brasilia representatives of about 20 Arab countries and all South American countries. That was its debut as the leading actor in the grave matters that afflict the planet.

The ceremony didn't turn out very well, but that's of little importance when it comes to these roles. It is convenient -- or fair -- that someday some Latin American country should assume that leading role, and Brazil is best suited for it. [...]

[E]conomic power, size and population are not the only decisive factors that explain the weight of some nations in the international arena. The ancient histories of Holland and Portugal demonstrate almost the opposite.

There are other key elements: the vocation for leadership of a ruling class that has come together in the pursuit of a national program and the existence of a society that is willing to pay the high price that effort usually demands.

To be a leading nation costs money, resources and human lives sometimes, and citizens must be willing to resort to force when the other peaceful mechanisms devised to settle conflicts at the negotiating table fail.

Do Brazilians feel that urgency to lead and exert influence outside their boundaries? I don't think so. How is President Luiz InĂ¡cio Lula da Silva going to forge a state policy if his Workers Party nurtures Marxists, who see the market as an abomination, have nothing but contempt for the so-called ''formal freedoms'' and cannot even reach a clear consensus on how that state should function?

Britain can be led by either Laborites or Conservatives, and the United States by either Democrats or Republicans, without a break in the basic consensus over the shape of the state and the values and interests that must be formulated and defended beyond the borders. Is there in Brazil, throughout the political spectrum, a consensus about the state and a national program that everyone would like to build in the medium or long run? I don't think so, either.

No, but Lula has moved them a long way toward that point with his drift towards the Right on issues like trade.

Posted by Orrin Judd at May 24, 2005 12:00 AM

They can't fix it so you can cross the street at Copacabana and expect to live and they want to lead the world?

A friend of mine just got back from a research trip of several months to Brazil. He was really spooked.

Very enthusiastic about the quality of the young professionals, who put the fear of God (he's Catholic) into him about the lower classes.

It's a strange country where they have a university so deep in the boondocks you need a Jeep to get there. No bicycles for them.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at May 24, 2005 6:24 PM

Brazilians are, by and large, not go-getters.

The average American would consider the average Brazilian to be a slacker. Some of it is certainly a response to a society in which it's more difficult to get ahead, but some is just a cultural bias towards passiveness.

Posted by: Michael Herdegen at May 25, 2005 8:00 AM

Michael, my friend (who is Portuguese-American, though with no Brazilian ties) was extremely impressed with the go-getterness and entrepreneurial spirit of the young Brazilian biologists he met.

(His mission will, if successful, again prove that Darwin was right, but that's another story.)

For one thing, they get zilch money, so they have to support themselves by doing field work for American scientists. You can buy a lot of research in Brazil for very few dollars.

It looks to me as if there is a certain trickling down of modernism in Brazilian society, which would indeed be something new.

On the other hand, if you compare the situation in the favelas 50 years ago (as chronicled in 'Children of the Dark') with today, the situation has gotten very, very much worse.

Perhaps not morally, but the firepower of the Brazilian underclass is now formidable.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at May 25, 2005 2:22 PM