2003 was a lost year
in Brazil as the country’s Finance Minister and
Central Bank President struggled to gain the confidence of overseas
investors, lenders and speculators. President Lula may be
preparing to cast the IMF as a scapegoat to blame if the government’s
many announced but not implemented measures fail to create jobs.
With 30 percent of Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s
four-year term finished, he has recently been hearing more vocal criticism,
mainly about the economic policy of the PT government. The press and the opposition
political parties have been pointing out the failure of Lula to accomplish
much for some time. Last week, for the first time, businessmen have aggressively
come out publicly.
The Brazilian Association
of Infrastructure and Basic Industries (ABDIB) in quite objective terms made
several positive suggestions as to how the government might encourage investment
and create jobs. Armando Monteiro, president of the National Confederation
of Industry, has pointed out that the government lacks coordination. There
has been no response from Lula’s people so far.
In spite of Lula’s campaign
promise to create 10 million new jobs during his mandate, unemployment is
at record high levels. The only new jobs that are evident are those created
by the government itself bestowed upon PT cronies and politicians who were
defeated in the last elections.
Since the days immediately
before Carnaval, the government has been paralyzed trying to bury the investigation
of improprieties committed by Waldomiro Diniz, who, as a top aide to José
Dirceu, Lula’s Chief of Staff, had been the link between Congress and the
PT run government. 81 percent of people polled by Datafolha feel that a congressional
investigating board should dig into the matter.
The required number of
congressional signatures has been obtained but the government coalition has
found a way to block this and others investigations by not appointing members
to the commission. This makes the government look very bad since if they have
nothing to hide, why not let Congress investigate?
To divert attention from
the Waldomiro Diniz case, Lula signed a decree banning bingo and slot machines
in all of Brazil. This has put a number of people out of work, who have been
staging protests in Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo and elsewhere. Eliminating
this activity is probably a good idea since these establishments are notorious
in tax evasion and provide an easy scheme for money laundering.
Within the PT and the
government itself, there is far from unanimous backing for the economic policies
that have helped Brazil gain credibility with the financial community. The
two biggest labor unions, CUT (Central Única dos TrabalhadoresUnified
Workers Federation) and Força Sindical (Union Force) are calling for
an end to such high interest rates and the primary surplus of 4.5 percent,
which is part of the agreement with the IMF.
At a meeting of top PT
brass in São Paulo a week ago, several members of this party were very
critical of the government’s tight fiscal and monetary posture. They act as
if they were still in the opposition rather than governing the country.
Lula is attempting to
have the IMF change its method of calculation of governmental expenditures
by counting as investments funds spent improving infrastructure by government
owned companies. He has spoken to Bush, Chirac, Schröder, Aznar and Blair
asking them to persuade the IMF to change. This may be counter productive
since things move slowly in this organization and these heads of state are
not apt to use what influence they may have to help Brazil’s well meaning
but sometimes unrealistic leader.
The fact that Horst Köhler
diplomatically told Lula he would study the matter when they had lunch together
in Brasília, February 29, may have given Lula the idea that this change
in criteria would be easy. Less than a week after their encounter, Köhler
resigned to run for President of Germany leaving the IMF temporarily in the
hands of Anne Krueger, who usually speaks favorably about Brazil.
But since the IMF this
week barely escaped a big default of Argentina and is being criticized as
being too lenient with president Kirchner by some and having contributed to
Argentina’s problems by others, any quick decision about changing their accounting
rules is out of the question. Lula may be preparing to cast the IMF as a scapegoat
to blame if the government’s many announced but not implemented measures fail
to create jobs.
Exports and the agricultural
sector continue to provide the economic activity that lessens the impact of
high taxes and interest rates, poor infrastructure and a juridical system
that is archaic. The lack of jobs and the public’s reduced buying power make
any growth in per capita GNP look difficult to attain without huge changes
that this government seems incapable of accomplishing. 2003 was a lost year
as the finance minister and central bank president struggled to gain the confidence
of overseas investors, lenders and speculators.
Due to the government’s
predicament that the recent disclosures have aggravated, it is possible that
less orthodox measures in the economic area may begin as Lula and his people
struggle to make the PT look good in order to gain ground in the municipal
elections in October. It is very difficult to predict the future at this point.
Lula claims to give full support to Antonio Palocci, finance minister, but
he may cede to pressure for less stringent fiscal and monetary policy should
the government’s popularity continue to erode.
Although Brazilians have
traditionally distrusted public figures and politicians in general, a certain
amount of faith that Lula would be different was evident 14 months ago. Even
people, who did not vote for him and in fact would never vote for a PT candidate,
were hopeful that he would do a good job. This illusion no longer exists.
If things do not improve
for the great majority of have nots, then movements to undermine the state
may take place. An institutional crisis could ensue. I have heard no mention
of the military coming back. But one can be certain that they are carefully
observing occurrences such as the strike of the Federal Police that is supposedly
investigating the case of Waldomiro Diniz.
If law and order break
down, the men in uniform may be asked to intervene as happened in 1964. The
population has little respect for the three branches of government leaving
only the fourth-silent force that periodically through history has taken charge
when the civilian politicians prove themselves incapable of running this unruly
country. At present, this seems like a remote possibility.
Hopefully none of this
will happen and the country will soon begin the much talked about period of
sustainable growth that will provide a decent living for the many people who
are willing to work giving them the dignity of providing a better life for
Richard Edward Hayes first came to Brazil in 1964 as an employee of Chase
Manhattan Bank. Since then, Hayes has worked directly and as an advisor
for a number of Brazilian and international banks and companies. Currently
he is a free lance consultant and can be contacted at email@example.com
March 14, 2004