Brazil 101

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It seems everything in Brazil is larger than life: land mass, population, amount and variety of natural resources, even cultural traditions and music. This country boasts vast natural resources and enticing cultural traditions that draw both business and tourism alike. The country has seemingly unending potential to grow and develop; it is currently the world’s top exporter of beef, chicken, ethanol, iron ore, sugar, coffee, and orange juice and still has massive amounts of land and natural resources that remain untapped.

 

Most recently, the country boasted the largest offshore-oil-field find in the world since 2000, positioning it to become a potential oil and natural gas exporter capable of energy self-sufficiency in an otherwise volatile market.

With this profile, it seems natural that Brazil would be a global leader, yet the country has struggled to firmly cement itself on the list of established emerging international players. Barriers to global leadership include a long history of political volatility with only a short tenure of democratic rule coupled with unstable and often slow economic growth and high levels of poverty, inequality, and crime. Still, it is clear that Brazil is already playing a very influential role in international affairs, and it has a place among major global players if it can overcome its obstacles to growth and keep itself on a path toward stable development.

In large part because of its vast supply of natural resources, the centerpiece of Brazilian foreign policy is trade. Brazilian leaders cite cooperation on energy and biofuels, development, science and technology, open markets, and other steps that will strengthen the Brazilian economy as the country’s primary foreign policy goals. In early 2008 Brazil replaced China at the top of a key financial index that measures emerging markets. The country plays an important role in international affairs, in part through its membership in various multilateral organizations.

Its international affiliations include the United Nations, including UNESCO and the UN Refugee Agency; Community of Portugese-Speaking Countries (CPLP); Organization of American States; India, Brazil, and South Africa Dialogue Forum; International Monetary Fund (IMF); Mercosur; Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance (treaty of common hemispheric defense); Latin American Association of Integration; Ibero-American Summit; Rio Group; Amazon Cooperation Treaty; the G20 industrial nations; and the Group of 20 developing nations, among many others.

The Brazilian government is committed to the support of human rights, the development and cooperation of nations, and the principle of nonintervention in the affairs of other nations. Brazil has demonstrated its commitment to global peacekeeping through its support of a number of UN operations, including its continued leadership role in the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti. Despite its admission that it was seeking to develop nuclear weapons under its military government in the 1980s, the country joined the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in 1998 and has taken strides to participate in international nonproliferation efforts and to increase cooperation with International Atomic Energy Association (IAEA) inspections.

Brazilian-US relations are generally described as fairly warm and cooperative. Some do feel that Brazil sees US global dominance as a threat to its own interests and seeks to increase regional integration and its own profile in order to balance US power. Many others see a less dire situation in which the two countries, while often in disagreement, have made strides in recent years to improve their collaboration, especially in trade.

As two of the greatest agricultural powers in the world, the United States and Brazil have many agricultural and business ties, both privately, through companies like John Deere and Garst-Pioneer, and in the public sector, through extensive dialogues and agreements between leaders of the two countries. Ethanol production and trade is at the forefront of this relationship. Brazilian producers enjoying significant success in the conversion of sugar cane to ethanol are both collaborating and competing with the less efficient but heavily subsidized production of corn-based ethanol in the United States. Despite the US refusal to lift its heavy tariff on Brazilian ethanol imports, the two countries, which together produce approximately 70 percent of the world’s ethanol supplies, have agreed to work together toward significantly increasing ethanol production, standardization, and distribution in the near future. Brazil has reaffirmed its commitment to the development of alternative fuels even after reporting its major oil find in the fall of 2007.

Brazil’s domestic goals also focus largely on its economy and development. Despite strong growth and stabilizing reforms in recent years, the economy has not grown as quickly as many would like, and much of the country still lives in dire poverty. Inequality is the primary source of instability in Latin American countries, and while improvements in income distribution have been made, many Brazilians suffer due to persistent, extreme levels of inequality. The government of President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (Lula) has implemented wide-reaching social programs to fight poverty, but the task is admittedly an enormous one. Public security is also a major concern in the country; high levels of inequality, deplorable prison conditions, and well-organized, brutal gangs have contributed to a culture of violence in many parts of the country. Many see these two problems—inequality and lack of public security—as major limitations to Brazil’s rise as a global power, especially as these problems drain major resources from public and private sector development.

Yet despite these problems, Brazil is a vibrant and beautiful country that draws business and tourism alike. Businesses are drawn to the incredible variety and supply of resources, along with a serious-minded indigenous workforce and both public and private sectors that prioritize growth and development through trade and investment. Tourists are drawn for an equally large variety of reasons; whether exploring the Amazon, lounging on clear beaches, or partaking in the most vibrant Carnival celebration in the world, the exotic and romantic sites appeal to a breadth of travelers. With all this in mind, it seems clear that Brazil has the resources, population, and will to become a great power, but its future ultimately will lie in its ability to both navigate and grow international and regional relationships and to effectively deal with its serious problems at home.

The Brazilian military, like so many in Latin America, has a long history of involvement in politics. From their role in founding the Brazilian Republic in 1889 through extended periods of direct military rule, the military was a key player in political life until the country’s return to democracy in 1985. The last extended stretch of military rule in Brazil began in 1964, when the military successfully launched a US-backed coup against President Joao Goulart as part of an international campaign to fight perceived threats of communism. The country’s process of consolidating democracy since 1985 has greatly reduced the influence of the Brazilian military, prompting it both to reconcile its history and pursue a new future.

With so many years of influence, the Brazilian military has a lot in its past. In 1990 civilian President Fernando Collor de Mello revealed and ended the military’s secret plan to develop an atomic bomb (the Parallel Program) and took significant steps toward nonproliferation in the country, including a renunciation of nuclear weapons. Since that point, Brazil has entered a number of nonproliferation agreements, including the Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Arms (Treaty of Tlatelolco) in 1994, the NPT, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty in 1998, and perhaps most significantly, a series of bilateral agreements with Argentina, culminating in the Agreement for the Use of Nuclear Energy Exclusively for Peaceful Purposes in 1991, which was followed by the establishment of the Brazilian-Argentinean Agency for Control and Accountability of Nuclear Weapons (ABACC). This agreement ended the twenty years of secrecy surrounding Brazil’s military-led nuclear programs and established a “bilateral experience in the promotion of mutual confidence and transparency,” according to the Brazilian government, an experience that Brazil and Argentina have offered to share with other countries in similar situations, such as India and Pakistan. The country’s nuclear programs now focus on the development of nuclear energy, and while the country has had its share of disagreements with IAEA inspectors over privacy and transparency issues, many agree that the resolutions it has reached both with Argentina and the international community serve as powerful examples for other countries with nuclear ambitions.

President Lula’s government has taken further steps toward reconciling the mistakes of the military’s past by acknowledging massive human rights violations committed by the military government in its last period of rule, from 1964 to 1985. In August 2007 the Brazilian government released a book entitled The Right to Memory and to the Truth that lists the cases of 475 people who were killed or disappeared during the military government. The current administration has paid compensation to over 300 families and has called for a deadline to be set to find out what really happened in hundreds of unsolved cases. Still, a blanket amnesty granted to military officials in 1979 protects any of the perpetrators of this violence from prosecution or punishment; this, together with continued protection of the military’s secret files from that period, makes it difficult to determine when or how these murders and disappearances will be solved or punished.

Despite these issues, the Brazilian military has demonstrated growth and development in recent years. An article in Disarmament Diplomacy in 2002 noted that some feel that Brazil is “seriously involved in using space assets for military purposes.” Brazil has stressed that its extensive space program is intended only for peaceful purposes, but others argue that the military’s continued control over certain aspects of the program, including its rocket development, brings its intentions into question. While some of Brazil’s space programs demonstrate desirable outcomes, such as environmental monitoring, some in the United States are concerned with Brazil’s choices in major partners in space program development, including China and Russia. Still, Brazil’s history in space programs is marred by difficulty, including a 2003 rocket-test explosion that killed 21 people, so it is clear that there is much room for development in the country’s programs.

The Brazilian military has also expanded in other areas as its political influence has decreased. One of the largest jobs it has taken on is policing the Amazon rain forest through the development of the Amazon Surveillance and Vigilance System. The military essentially was tasked to find a way to protect the hugely valuable resources of the massive rain forest while also tracking its plants and animals, both through military and civilian means. Covering over 20 million square miles, the Amazon, which now makes up more than one-third of all rain forests left in the world, is not an easy area to protect and inventory. Yet the military has been involved both in trying to slow deforestation and in fighting other illegal activity that is common in such a vast area, such as drug and weapons smuggling and human trafficking. These problems still pose serious threats, but there is some evidence of progress and signs of deforestation being reversed.

These expanded missions and increased pursuit of technology are possible for the Brazilian military in large part due to the fact that the country really does not face any serious external threats. A powerhouse in its region, the country does not have issues with any of its neighbors that could threaten its physical security, nor does it face threats from more distant neighbors or even from organized terrorist or extremist groups. Thus the military often finds itself in a position that is both positive and challenging; while it does not need to focus its resources on hedging against major external security threats, the country faces so many internal threats that it really does not make sense for the military to stay out of them altogether, yet the line between civilian rule and military interference remains a difficult point in Brazil’s legacy. Thus the military’s challenge is not only to expand and develop cutting-edge technologies but also to balance its internal role in the country in a way that both aids the security of its people and promotes democracy.

Economic issues are at the forefront of nearly every issue in Brazil right now, since its international relationships hinge largely upon trade and development and its internal stability is contingent upon growth, elimination of poverty, and more equal distribution of opportunities and resources. On the international scene, Brazil plays a huge role in regional and international trade and development, as the combination of its massive size and resources and difficulties in development places it in a position of leadership between developed and developing countries. Nowhere is this clearer than in the fact that Brazil is a leader in both the G20 industrial nations and the Group of 20 developing nations. While confusingly similar in name, the two groups represent the opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of profiles and goals. The G20 industrial nations, a bloc of the 19 largest economies in the world plus the European Union (EU), seek international financial cooperation that benefits their positions of power.

The Group of 20 developing nations, on the other hand, are nations that have joined together to seek to promote their unique interests as developing countries, which mainly focus on agriculture and trade equity. This group’s membership fluctuates, but it is always led by the G4 bloc, which consists of Brazil, China, India, and South Africa. While Brazil is not the only country on both lists (all G4 members sit on both), its unique position as simultaneous leader in both groups gives it a powerful voice in trade negotiations.

This influence has been most obvious in Brazil’s role in the Doha Development Round of trade negotiations through the World Trade Organization (WTO). The Doha talks, which began in 2001, have been a challenging series of negotiations that have continually collapsed after reaching impasses between the demands of developed blocs, such as the United States and the EU, and those of developing nations, such as Brazil and Mexico. These talks are intended to address issues in agriculture, industrial tariffs and nonindustrial barriers, services, and trade remedies. In the midst of disagreements over access to markets, export subsidies, and protectionist policies, developing nations have found a strong voice, much through the leadership of Brazil, which has allowed them to stand their ground on issues important to them, even when it has forced dissolution of talks. Doha negotiations have resumed since their most recent collapse in the summer of 2007, and WTO officials are hopeful that they may find some agreement soon. Through its role in these talks, Brazil has demonstrated its leadership and negotiating power, but the challenges to finding agreement also demonstrate weaknesses and reinforce its desire to expand its influence.

Domestically, Brazil faces both advantages and serious challenges to growth and stability. The country is truly a wealth of natural resources and has also made many wise choices in developing sustainable systems, such as investment in alternative fuel development and a commitment to non-genetically modified crops. The recent major offshore-oil find has huge implications for Brazil’s future, both as an energy consumer and as an energy exporter. The Brazilian currency, the real, gained 17 percent against the dollar and 7 percent against the euro in 2007, a boom that has made it easier for middle- and lower-income citizens to gain credit. Increased access to credit has boosted consumer spending as many Brazilians are able to afford a car, home, or other big-ticket items for the first time in their lives, which has only strengthened the cycle of growth in the country. The government has announced plans to invest some of its profits in much-needed infrastructure improvements, a promise that must be fulfilled if the country is to sustain any long-term growth.

President Lula’s government has implemented various programs intended to fight poverty and bolster the economy. The Bolsa Família Program, part of the Brazilian government’s Fome Zero (Zero Hunger) plan, has aided more than 46 million people by providing compensation to families who ensure that their children attend school and receive regular health checks. The World Bank, which lends it support to the program, has expressed strong approval of Bolsa Família, as have many others around the world who see the program as a way to improve income distribution in one of the world’s most unequal countries and promote sustainable development by both improving the lives of the poor now and guaranteeing investment and support for the educational and physical development of their children. Lula's poverty reduction programs overall have strong critics in the Brazilian legislature. In 2007 the senate failed to renew a tax on financial transactions which funded a significant portion of the relief efforts.

As part of his bid for reelection in 2006, Lula promoted a Plan for Growth Acceleration (PAC) intended to hasten growth in the country by promoting private sector investment in infrastructure development and improvement. Lula predicted that the PAC would help the country move beyond its growth rate of only 3 percent in the last two years before his reelection, a low level of growth in comparison to other similar developing powers such as China and India.

Yet it is this lack of accelerated growth and concerns over President Lula’s plans to bolster development that lead many to concern over the country’s future. An oft-cited joke in Brazil is that “Brazil is the country of the future, and always will be,” and while a hyperbole, this joke echoes the fears of many in the country who believe that Lula’s economic plan is little more than a continuation of the unsuccessful and ultimately unsustainable economic plans of the military government. Despite the country’s improvement on the international economic scene, including its early repayment of its IMF debts, many argue that high interest rates and slow government reforms have left the country at depressed levels of growth that are unacceptable for a country with such resources and capacity.

In the midst of this are equally serious concerns over the continually high levels of inequality and poverty in the country. Despite the gains made through Bolsa Família, Brazil remains one of the most inequitable countries in the world, not only in the gap between rich and poor overall but also in the income disparities between blacks and whites. United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) surveys in recent years have shown that if Brazil’s black population was considered as a separate country, it would have ranked 102nd in inequality out of 177 countries, placing it in the range of countries such as Vietnam and El Salvador. Many believe this level of disparity is unacceptable for a country aspiring to be a major power, and critics of President Lula’s economic plan argue that his goals have shifted in his second term from his original platform of fighting social inequality to his new goals of developing infrastructure through the PAC. Critics contend that the PAC is not a viable plan and will not gain the private sector support it needs to succeed and instead only diverts desperately needed resources away from fighting poverty and inequality. Still, others point out that the PAC is not a change in policy, since Lula has consistently maintained conservative fiscal policies throughout his tenure despite his otherwise leftist tendencies, a point that has set him apart from his leftist counterparts in the region.

These issues only scratch the surface of the economic agenda facing Brazil as it seeks to develop into a global power. While it is clear that the country has abundant resources and seemingly unending capacity to grow and influence the global market, it is also clear that it faces significant challenges both in consolidating its role in international trade relationships and also in fighting economic challenges at home. Examples throughout history have shown that a country that cannot provide for most or even many of its people ultimately will face grave challenges to its security and stability beyond what any impasse in an external trade negotiation could provide. Thus, the Brazilian government and citizenry face a critical task as they seek to grow and develop their influence abroad in a way that connects that success directly to its people in meaningful, sustainable ways.

The Federative Republic of Brazil, as it is formally known, is separated into three autonomous, independent decision-making categories: the federal district, states, and municipalities. The country is split into the federal district and 26 states, and each state is further divided into municipalities. Political power is split among the executive, legislative, and judicial branches that provide checks and balances to each other, in many ways similar to the US system. The country is led by President Lula, a founding member of Brazil’s Workers Party (PT), who took office in January 2003. Lula’s humble beginnings growing up in a peasant family, receiving little formal education, and joining the work force at a young age fueled his early career as an important labor union leader in the country. His work organizing union strikes and fighting police repression of union activity under the military dictatorship led to his arrest in 1980. After a short time in prison, Lula poured his energy into the Workers' Party and began his career in politics, running for president multiple times before finally being elected in October 2002.

Lula’s biography is important to Brazil’s political profile because he is a dynamic leader who plays a large role in defining Brazilian politics and outside perceptions. Lula is the first working-class president of the country, a crucial point in light of the issues of poverty and inequality facing the country. He also espouses a unique mix of leftist ideologies and conservative economic policies that both endear him to some constituents and allies, such as the United States, and simultaneously frustrate others. Criticism of Lula comes from all sides; many in business blame his government’s slow pace of reforms for stifling economic growth in the country, leaving them with the relatively low level of only 3 percent growth per year in the past few years. Leftist groups argue that Lula used a populist platform to ascend to power but has followed with conservative neoliberal policies that have little in common with his populist statements and don’t do enough to help the poor. Lula’s government has also not been exempt from scandal, as recent corruption charges against allies and members of his government have led some to question his ethics and competence. Despite these charges, Lula was overwhelmingly reelected in 2006, receiving widespread support from impoverished citizens who have benefited from the Bolsa Família and Fome Zero programs.

Regional relationships also hold an important position in Brazilian politics. Many South American countries—including Brazil, Venezuela, Argentina, and Bolivia—have prioritized regional integration as a means of providing several benefits: increasing trade on terms that are fair to everyone, easing access to energy supplies, developing and strengthening their political and economic systems independently of some of the most dominant world powers, etc. Although President Lula claims that his goal is only to govern his own country well, many argue that Brazil would like to see itself emerge as the clear regional leader in Latin America. Analysts cite regional integration as the key to Brazil’s emergence as a strong industrialized nation, claiming that Brazil’s competitiveness in the international market will largely hinge on the success of South American integration. By this argument, though, the integration has two tiers: integrating first the continent, with Brazil on top, and then emerging to integrate with the global marketplace. Brazil already controls many of the businesses developing infrastructure in South America as well as the Brazilian Development Bank, one of the principal financiers in the region. Its interests are more often at stake than those of its neighbors in regional integration projects because of the vast amount of resources Brazil has to trade. In many respects, Brazilian businesses have more to gain economically from regional integration than perhaps any other South American country.

However, despite the respect and negotiating power that its size and resources lend it, Brazil is not without its weaknesses. Polls show that many Brazilians are more concerned with their lack of personal security than with the country’s strategic international position. According to BBC News, Brazil is statistically one of the most violent places in the world, with more gun deaths in 2004 (36,000) than any other country in the world. Statistics in 2005 showed that one person was being killed with a gun every 15 minutes in Brazil. Violence involving drugs, gangs, disputes over land, and dismal prison conditions are common. Many citizens are even fearful of the police, who are involved in an exceptionally high number of killings in the country. The police claim that this statistic is merely evidence of the violence in the country, while many citizens argue that some police forces will execute innocent citizens in a style reminiscent of the military’s death squads. When key institutions are viewed with suspicion or fear, a country could face serious obstacles to its stability and subsequently the amount of confidence it can build with regional and international partners.

Persistent violence and inequality can overwhelm a country’s resources and goals over time. As pointed out in the Foreign Policy:The Failed States Index, a country that is devoting many resources to controlling its population and trying to fight high levels of violence or unrest must use up many resources to these ends that could otherwise be used for development and international leverage. These indicators were also reflected in Brazil's relatively poor ranking in the Index of State Weakness produced by the Brookings Institution and Center for Global Development. Thus, despite Brazil’s influence and huge potential, it seems evident that the country will have to continue to search for more effective ways to fight poverty, inequality, crime, and violence if they expect to fully consolidate their democracy and move forward as a viable and stable international partner.

Energy remains a key variable in much of Brazil’s decision making and relationship-building, both regionally and on a broader international scale. Energy is a hot issue across South America, because many countries have faced shortages in supplies in recent years, increasing tensions among countries as they struggle to agree upon terms of trade. Otherwise strong countries like Argentina, Chile, and Brazil have struggled in recent years to access sufficient, affordable supplies of natural gas, and Bolivia’s nationalization of its industry in recent years did nothing to ease concerns. Even Brazil, with its leadership in ethanol development for fuel, has shown major signs of strain and concern that energy shortages will unravel other gains made in the country. However, many feel that the recent huge offshore-oil find by Brazilian company Petrobas will turn the country’s energy crisis around, affording it the time and export resources to continue to develop a more stable, sustainable system that will alleviate shortage concerns in the future. Still, others worry that the country will continue to face energy concerns in the short term, as the oil that has been discovered is in a location that is difficult to access and will not be able to be processed and used for several more years.

Whatever the outcome of Petrobas’ find, the Brazilian government has reiterated its commitment to the development of alternative fuels, especially ethanol. Brazil has been at the forefront of developing ethanol for fuel in the world, since its method of converting sugar cane into usable fuel is drastically more efficient and cost-effective than the methods used by the United States and others to convert corn into ethanol. President Lula, a major proponent of the ethanol industry, has developed major trading relationships with countries like India, China, and countries in sub-Saharan Africa, all largely contingent upon trade of ethanol and energy supplies. Ethanol policy has also been at the forefront of talks between the United States and Brazil; the world’s largest producers of ethanol, the two countries have struggled to find agreement on everything from best practices and development of technology to fair trade policies—namely, the US refusal to eliminate high tariffs it places on its Brazilian ethanol imports to protect its domestic market.

Brazil’s ethanol program began in the 1970s, when the military government committed to reducing its dependence on unreliable Middle East oil partners by developing alternative sources of energy. This commitment, the lack of which has led to so many other countries’ failure to produce alternative fuels, has led Brazil to develop an infrastructure in which more than 50 percent of all new cars are flex-fuel vehicles, capable of running on gas, ethanol, or a combination of the two. Sugar cane producers’ ability to provide ethanol relatively cheaply and efficiently, together with the government’s commitment to developing the proper infrastructure in the country, has created this situation that many now point to as an example for future development of alternative energy supplies. Critics, however, point to environmental dangers posed by ethanol, including deforestation and agrarian conflicts.

As energy supplies are on the agenda of nearly every country in South America, the issue of increasing energy trade through regional integration has been at the forefront of that discussion. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has led many efforts to build pipelines and other infrastructure that would ease transport of energy supplies, often offering to foot large portions of the bill with earnings from his country’s vast oil supplies. These construction plans, both vast and elaborately planned, face opposition from multiple fronts, ranging from the US desire to see Chavez’s influence diminished to environmental groups’ concerns over deforestation and damage to the natural environment that would result from such massive, long-reaching construction projects. One of the biggest of these projects is a proposed pipeline that would run throughout the Amazon and into the southern part of the continent, transporting Venezuelan oil to the rest of the continent. However, the future of this and other plans seems unclear, both in terms of resolving differences among countries and all of the various issues at play, and in light of Brazil’s recent oil find and potential regional integration.

Perhaps one of Brazil’s best known qualities is its vibrant cultural scene. The music and dance, sights and scenes, food, religion, and language are all spread through the beaches, sprawling urban areas, and even out to the vast natural wonders of the country, creating an exciting and appealing array of experiences. The country has long had a romantic reputation that has boosted tourism and perpetuated an image of the country as one to enjoy and celebrate. Indeed, the country’s cultural reach and influence on the international community is significant, though it still does face its share of cultural challenges as well.

One of Brazil’s best known cultural exports is samba, an exciting dance form set to samba music. Samba has spread across the globe, prompting enthusiasts in countries—from Italy to Israel to Japan—to connect and promote the spread of samba dance and music. Brazil is also famous for Bossa-Nova and jazz music and has produced a wealth of talented musicians.

Brazilian music also plays a crucial role in Carnival, the annual celebration of indulgence and decadence that precedes the Christian observance of Lent (similar to Mardi Gras in the United States). Carnival is actually a blend of African traditions brought by slaves to Brazil and Italian traditions of festivals preceding the Catholic observance of Lent, which have morphed together into the current-day celebration in Brazil. Carnival is famous around the world, and many world travelers place a Carnival celebration on their list of must-dos, as it is truly a wild and vibrant cultural experience unrivaled elsewhere in the world.

Brazil’s language is just another element that sets it apart from the rest of Latin America. As the only Latin American country colonized long-term by Portugal, Brazil continues to speak its own unique version of Portuguese that is both similar to the language spoken in Portugal and recognizable to many Spanish speakers, yet uniquely Brazilian. Brazil places importance on its membership in the Community of Portuguese-Speaking Countries (CPLP), a coalition that includes Angola, Brazil, Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique, São Tomé and Príncipe, East Timor, and Portugal. Equatorial Guinea and Mauritius hold associate observer status in the organization. The CPLP supports stability and development in its member countries and promotes proficiency in the Portuguese language in the citizenry of its member countries. The organization feels these language skills are especially crucial for the smaller, less-developed members of the coalition who rely upon knowledge of a world language to travel and do business outside of their own countries. For its part, Brazil maintains pride in its language; and though Spanish and English are widely understood in the country, most citizens prefer Portuguese.

Despite these encouraging points of cultural integration and pride, Brazil struggles intensely with race relations and equality in the country. Like other countries in the hemisphere, Brazil has struggled to reconcile its history of slavery and to promote reconciliation and development in ways that grant accessible and fair opportunities to all citizens. Even as the African cultural influence remains powerful in the country through traditions like samba and Carnival, traditions in which most of the population takes ownership, the reality of daily life for many citizens of African descent is bleak. According to BBC News, “No other country outside Africa has such a large black population, about half the total of 160 million, yet blacks are almost totally absent from positions of power—from all levels of government, from congress, senate, the judiciary, the higher ranks of the civil service and the armed forces.” According to a recent UNDP survey on inequality, Brazil ranked 73rd out of 177 countries for levels of inequality; yet, if the black population was considered as a separate country, they would rank 102nd out of 177, a rank similar to countries like Vietnam and El Salvador. In contrast, if the white population were considered as a separate country, it would place 44th. Clearly, inequality in the country is not just a rift between rich and poor, but also is a devastating gap between black and white. Furthermore, an ingrained preference for “whiteness” in the country means that many feel discouraged from recognizing or discussing race while still quietly discriminating, leading some to believe that the country is truly racially integrated, despite its obvious disparities. For its part, the Brazilian government has taken steps to fight racism in the country, including the initiation of the Inter-American Convention Against Racism and all Forms of Racial Discrimination, a human rights mechanism that is intended to improve race relations at home and in the region. Brazil is also one of the first countries in Latin America to institute quotas with the goal of supporting blacks in government and education. The Brazilian government will have to continue to make strides in its fight against racism, discrimination, and inequality if it hopes to improve the lives of so many of its most disadvantaged citizens.

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Sources: Brazilian Ministry of Foreign Relations, Brazilian Government Web Portal, Brazil Institute at the Woodrow Wilson Center, Brazzil Magazine, BBC News, and others.

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