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Brazzil - Economy - July 2004

Brazil: So Big and So Dumb

Why did Argentina decide to impose surtaxes on Brazilian products?
Because a little earlier China had done the same with regard to
soybeans. And Russia also acted like that à propos of beef.
To pay the interest of our debts, the Brazilian elephant is humiliated,
subjects itself to blackmail and, worse of all, it does not react.

Carlos Chagas


Picture Brazil's status in South America was defined in the 70s by Oscar Camilión, Argentina's ambassador in Brasília and one of the most competent Argentinean politicians and diplomats: our country was a docile and asleep elephant, but that could smash its neighbors when moving at night in bed.

Since then nothing changed. We continue to be the loving, conciliatory, conscious-of-its-strength pachyderm. What we cannot do is to become a dumb elephant.

Country Is Humiliated

In spite of everything, of the sociologist (former President Fernando Henrique Cardoso) and of the economic models, we have grown and we experienced progress. Since unemployment and misery are not themes of our foreign policy, they are forgotten. What we need today is to analyze our reactions in face of inadmissible foreign aggressions, even for a pacific pachyderm.

To defend an industry on its last legs Argentina has interrupted the import of Brazilian meat, household appliances and fabrics. There's no denying that they need to care for their interests and avoid that the elephant even slumbering may crush them.

But the fact that they acted unilaterally surpasses the limits of the most primary relationship between our two nations. They then look for understanding or dialogue. They simply barred the entrance of these products in their territory, imposing surtaxes.

Why did Buenos Aires act like that? Because a little earlier China had done the same with regard to the soy. And Russia also acted like that à propos of beef. Nobody tried to dialogue and much less to give notice to the Brazilian government. There was no phone calls exchanged between ministers and authorities. There was not even an email.

In all these cases we simply lowered our head, we resigned to the deleterious axiom that that's the way business is done. We only sent missions to the aggressors with the goal of picking up the pieces. We negotiated in a subaltern position, exactly what those who lost their respect for us had in mind.

Only a foolish person would think about cutting our relations or declaring war on those who act against us, but the elephant has the power to react. Even to retaliate. We are no beggars; neither do we need alms in our commercial relationship.

The problem is in the economic model. In this obstinate struggle to grow our exchange and boost our primary surplus, with the sole intent of paying the interest of our debts.

For that reason, the elephant "swallows toads," is humiliated, subjects itself to blackmail and, worse of all, it does not react. With all due respect, it will soon get to the point in which a retinue will be sent to Bangladesh or Gabon to try to suspend the prohibition of our jaboticabas (Brazilian native grape-like fruit) in their territories.

All for Interest

Has Argentina suspended the import of Brazilian household appliances? Why not finance our industry so that they can supply the domestic market with cheaper refrigerator and television sets?

China does not want our soybeans anymore? Let's invest massively into the production of soy oil, which is today unquestionably superior to diesel oil for moving trucks. We would get less dependent on petroleum.

Is Russia rejecting Brazil's meat? What about finding a way so that workers earning minimum wage would be able to eat at least one beefsteak a week?

At the bottom of this humiliation rests our obscene economic model. Exporting is the solution, of course, as long as we have limits. Never against our interests and our sovereignty, however. We shouldn't export to raise money to pay the abusive interests of our debts, which contribute to speculation.

We talk about the impossibility of alternatives in our economic policy because the world has become globalized. This would be to accept the permanent domination of the stronger over the weaker, based in a lie.

Are we globalized because we can transfer our investment from Switzerland to the Jersey Island in a matter of seconds? Our grandchildren are going to laugh at our arrogance when they start bringing water from Venus or minerals from Mars.

With them yes the world will become globalized. But still the grandchildren of our grandchildren will laugh at them because they will be able to import throwaway brains from Andromeda and the long life elixir from the Big Dipper.

Our troglodyte ancestors believed they were globalized when they learned how to tame the fire and one cave was able to communicate with another one through smoke signals and not through the decibels produced by the throats of our grandparents.

Everything changes but the honor, the sovereignty and the independence of individuals and nations. They want to change the elephant. And to be sure they are succeeding.

Carlos Chagas writes for the Rio's daily Tribuna da Imprensa and is a representative of the Brazilian Press Association, in Brasília. He welcomes your comments at carloschagas@hotmail.com.
Translated from the Portuguese by Arlindo Silva.

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