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Brazzil - Nation - May 2004

Brazil Is Bleeding Money and Ideas

Anyone can see now that Brazil's Workers' Party (PT)
administration had no alternatives, never had a development
plan and deliberately frustrated the electorate. The Brazilian
people themselves will soon conclude that there is no
way to overcome our hardships. No democratic way, at least.

Carlos Chagas


Picture It's the point of no return: both inside and outside the government, everyone is talking about the need to transform our economic model. The transformation should not be traumatic; on the contrary, it should be an acceptance of change as a consequence, with no criticism or condemnation of the authors of the current model. Most people even agree with keeping Palocci and his team in place, as long as they are able to bring the desired changes.

Time to change

Most of the ministers agree with what has been done so far as necessary measures, in spite of their bitter taste. Recession, contingencies, wage freezing, growing unemployment, an inordinate increase in utility fees, the lack of investments in infrastructure, the priority given to the payment of the interest in our foreign and public debts and the privileges granted to the financial sector—all this was necessary in the initial phases, just as it was necessary during the FHC administration, for the country's survival.

It is now fashionable to say that, had we not accepted those things as necessary, inflation would have reached catastrophic proportions, the dollar would have reached the stratosphere and the `Brazil risk' would have been multiplied and stopped the flow of foreign investments. At least these threats were threats from abroad.

The time for change has arrived. It is time to curb the permanent exodus of ideas and money that marked the first year of the Lula administration. We don't even need to remind anyone that Brazil has religiously met its deadlines on debt interest payments—US$ 137 billion on our public debt and US$ 97 billion on our foreign debt.

Our technocrats started exporting models that used to be imported. Failure to recognize that the time has arrived is more than a crime: it is true stupidity. Our problem is not our inability to change the model, but our fear of the kind of change that will lead us to an even worse situation brought on by international forces.

Anyone can see now that the PT administration had no alternatives, never had a development plan and deliberately frustrated the electorate.

Even more serious is the fact that the Brazilian people themselves will soon conclude that there is no way to overcome our hardships. No democratic way, at least. This opens a huge interrogation mark about what to do next.

Should we definitively submit to the cruel model that leaves the nation in tatters? Or should we start adopting measures to prevent the frustration (the result of our brief hope) turning into indignation?

Scratched Authority

The government resorts to its same clumsy way of explaining its failures: the press is to blame. Luiz Gushiken, Social Communications minister, has attributed to newspapers the attack launched by the Agriculture minister on the Planning minister.

He declared himself willing to "eliminate errors posted in the press". Okay, maybe Roberto Rodrigues called Guido Mantega "vaga-lume" (firefly) instead of "vagabundo" (a bum), or will someone tell me that "PQP" now means "ponte que o partiu"?

Likewise, Minister José Dirceu rose up against a reporter who had asked him if he had met or known one of these vile wretches accused of theft. Who is the bad guy here—the journalist who asked the question or the advisor who committed betrayal?

Every week the government announces: from now on everything will be different. No more personal attacks among ministers and no more public criticism of economic policy. But the situation never changes.

President Lula must regret having refused minister Dirceu's request to be removed soon after the eruption of the Waldomiro Diniz scandal. He is probably also sorry he didn't follow the example of Itamar Franco, who fired ministers in big trouble.

The head of the government must have his reasons for not messing up the team who has, in his own view, behaved very well so far. However, he will not be able to undo the impression that he lacks the authority to handle episodes such as these. At the end of the day, he is the loser.

A Million a Day

Testifying before the Senate, the president of Caixa Econômica Federal said that the country pays R$ 1 million (US$ 322 thousand) per day to Gtech, a U.S. company hired to manage our lotteries. He also mentioned the contract, which is valid for 25 months. What very few people remember is that those services, until the FHC administration, were performed by Caixa itself, and very efficiently.

Then they decided to privatize it and the scandal erupted. Add the shady business of all the privatizations, mix it with the outsourcing mania and you have the recipe for some of the worst damages ever suffered by the government.

Even worse: nobody went and nobody will go to jail. Poorly explained agreements between successive administrations and predator groups, both domestic and foreign, are responsible for our transformation into a "Casa da Mãe Joana" (a free-for-all state of affairs), a paradise for predators and malandros (crafty loafers).

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 by Tereza Braga. Braga is a freelance Portuguese translator and interpreter based in Dallas. She is an accredited member of the American Translators Association. Contact: terezab@sbcglobal.net.

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