If worst comes to worst and Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff is deposed and her widely beloved predecessor, Luiz “Lula” da Silva, is discredited they will long be remembered for the “Bolsa Familia”. This is a government program that has cut Brazil’s once appalling poverty rate by half and reduced the number of poor very sharply to 3% of the population. It reaches 55 million people and 36 million have been lifted out of poverty. It has been such a winner that around sixty countries have sent their experts to study it. Indeed, it has been so successful politically that we shouldn’t be surprised that if Rousseff is felled by the shenanigans of Congress masses will go out on the street and riot.
Before the Bolsa Familia program was put into effect by Lula, Brazil had many welfare and food subsidy programs. Like in most developing countries the benefits didn’t reach the poor in the way that was intended. Middle men, black marketeers, corrupt officials and politicians skimmed and diverted much of them.
Bolsa Familia absorbed these into one direct cash payment. If you were a poor mother of a family- women were more trusted than men- you received an electronic card which you could slip into a bank cash dispenser and immediately get your monthly allowance, often doubling your cash income. There would be no intermediaries and no skims and no scams.
There were some conditions. Her children had to go to school, be immunized and have regular health check ups. She herself, if pregnant again, had to go to the maternity clinic. So not only were incomes being raised above the poverty line but infant and maternal mortality rates fell fast.
The income of the poorest 20% of Brazilians rose by 6.2% between 2002 and 2013, while that of the country’s richest 20% rose by only 2.6%. (In the US in the same time period the income of the richest 10% rose by 2.6% and that of the poorest 10% shrank by 8.6%.)
Innoculations reached 99% of the population. Deaths from malnutrition fell by 58%. Longevity steadily increased. Literacy became almost universal and education gave young people a better chance in life. The number of children forced to work instead of attending school dropped by 14%.
I’ve been out to the villages in the North East and seen with my own eyes the visible and dramatic improvements. I’ve been visiting Read More »
The Brazilians have an elected president. They must keep her. If Dilma Rosseff is pushed to resign democracy has failed.
Two years ago she won re-election handsomely. That is the source of her mandate. From that she derives her legitimacy. The only thing that could topple her is if hard evidence emerges that she is crook- in her case supposedly stole millions of dollars from the Brazilian oil giant, Petrobras, of which she was once head of the board. Then Congress would be within its rights to discuss her impeachment.
But there is no evidence of her personal corruption- although there is evidence aplenty that her party, The Workers’ Party, has received a lot of black money, not just from Petrobras.
Brazil is not a parliamentary democracy. It is not necessary for her to have a majority in parliament to rule, anymore than Barack Obama does in the US Congress. Unlike in, say the UK or Denmark, if members of parliament withdraw support for a head of government he/she does not fall.
Nevertheless, the Economist, a long-time supporter of democracy, argues in its latest issue she should resign, ignoring the rules of democracy, even though it admits impeachment would be wrong and even though her only “crime” is to have mishandled the economy.Read More »
“Brazil has a great future, and always will”, said Charles de Gaulle, the president of France in the 1960s. In truth it is not difficult to be cynical about Brazil. It is a large land of both great potential and many lost opportunities- and yet whenever I visit it, as I have regularly over 40 years, I find the positive changes are immense.
In my time I have seen growth rates year after year of 10% or more. I have seen the transformation of favelas- shanty towns- into solid working class housing. I have seen infant mortality rates plummet. (To capture the flavor of the lives of the poor a must read is the new top prize-winning novel, “Quarenta Dias” (Forty Days), written by Valeria Rezende, a nun.) And under Brazil’s last president, Luiz Inacio “Lula” da Silva, leader of the Workers’ Party I have seen the almost unbelievable- capitalist economic progress and socialist social progress storming ahead hand in hand.
Right now Brazil is in the middle of the kind of economic crisis profligacy, bad economic management, a sudden loss of export markets for its commodities and inflation have brought a number of times before. But this is perhaps the worse fall in economic progress since the 1930s. To compound Brazil’s problems is the Zika virus, which is spreading at a fast rate.Read More »
Monday’s news was that China’s annual growth rate has dropped below the red line of 7%. It is 6.9% and probably falling.
These figures were published shortly after the IMF said that sub-Saharan Africa is experiencing “solid growth”. Last week the World Bank released its new average annual growth estimates for black Africa. It was 4.5% last year but this year it is going up to 4.6% and by 2017 it will be 5.1%. This is less than the 5.3% before the great recession (precipitated by American banks), but considering all its recent knocks, not least China buying less raw materials, Africa is holding up pretty well.
In fact what we used to call the “Third World” is a mixed bag of good and bad news. Which would you like to read about first?
More bad news? Here it is:
Emerging markets for the sixth consecutive year face falling growth rates. Currencies have hit 15-year lows. Stocks, once soaring ahead of developed countries, have been flat for the last 6 years. Private sector debt has been increasing fast. The outflow of funds has accelerated and in the last year was over one trillion US dollars. Stock market and currency turbulence have raised questions about where China is going. The late president of France, Charles de Gaulle, once quipped about Brazil, “Brazil has a great future, and always will”. Maybe he should have said that about China.
In Brazil a big corruption scandal, including allegations that the government has illegally manipulated its fiscal accounts, has helped stall the economy.
In India, despite many campaign promises, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has not succeeded in opening the economic spigot. In fact the present day rise in growth owes itself largely to measures put in place by the previous government of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
Brazil has long lived out its personal fantasy as the archetypal relaxed, tolerant and gregarious country with Copacabana beach, the samba, the carnival and a great deal of sexual freedom. It is now living out in real time its almost forgotten societal dream, an economic-cum-social revolution.
The retired president, Luiz Inacio “Lula” da Silva, bequeathed the nation a vibrant capitalist economy with a human face – an economy that has raised income per head quite substantially (it is now four times that of China), has almost abolished daily hunger and given the large majority of the poor an income supplement in return for families sending their children to school.
Still, after 8 years of Lula and 4 years of his hand-picked successor, Dilma Rousseff, the country struggles to stay ahead of its burgeoning population, the inequities of the feudal land system that cast millions into shanty towns and a murder rate in the slum favelas that is more akin to a war zone than a normal society.
They made it, with constructive alternatives – the New Development Bank and the Contingency Reserve Agreement–to the US-dominated World Bank and International Monetary Fund. Those two parts of Bretton Woods were basic pillars in the economic infra-structure of the US Empire in the hands of the US Congress. Loans were disbursed in return for “structural adjustment” –privatization, budget cuts, devaluation, repatriation of profit, also against BRICS countries. US companies were commissioned for huge jobs serving local elites. Untold damage was done in spite of some recent changes in rhetoric.
The USA used them to export the US economic–and with it the social, political, cultural, military–order through loans, grafting it upon social bodies that after some time rejected the implants as foreign and incompatible. Even a decaying order however brilliant it may have looked to the untrained eye as late as the 1990s.
What remains today of that US “order” is the military part Read More »