A Danger in Brazil: Splitting into Two Races

School in BrazilHidden behind accounts in the press and the government’s Diário Oficial, the real Brazil is being built.  The country is on the road towards an ever more participatory, responsible democracy. 

The economy is growing, and in a short time we will be competitive in high-tech industries; agriculture is turning us into a world granary, tourism will contribute increasingly to the national revenue. 


But it will be difficult for our per-capita income to meet that of the First World countries, or that of the new rich that form a New Second World. 


Brazil will continue as the champion of income concentration.  We are not undergoing a tragedy like Africa’s, but neither are we distributing income in a rational, sustainable manner.


Education—the only instrument capable of changing the income distribution pattern—will show improvement in the number of students enrolled, the number completing high school, the number of college-admission candidates. 


But those improvements are insufficient to reduce the distance between rich and poor, or the growing gap between our education level and that of countries making a serious investment in educating their people.


By maintaining the present course, we will not be exporters of science and technology, except for isolated sectors; we will not be great producers of art; nor will we win more Olympic medals. 


Healthcare will certainly undergo improvements in quality and universalization of delivery, but housing conditions will not make great progress.  The cities, above all, tend towards urban chaos, and crime—both organized and petty— is becoming uncontrollable.


Surprisingly, two sectors are advancing and give signs of growth:  solidarity and organizing.  The last few years have shown an increase in the organization of society and in socially responsible actions on the part of the wealthiest Brazilians. 


But social responsibility does not necessarily evolve from mere assistance into transformation.  And the social organizing can increase corporativism, each group fighting for its own interests and ignoring—even tearing—the social fabric.


Despite this greater organizing and solidarity, the growing distance between the extremes can be foreseen:  the 10% richest, families with an average monthly salary of 5,600 reais (US$ 1982), and the 50% poorest, families that receive an average of 272 reais (US $96) a month. 


Even graver, is the growing distance in access to, and quality of essential services according to social class. 


If urgent changes are not made, that will be the most serious tendency for the future:  an inequality so great that it will consolidate the rupture of the Brazilian species into two groups that will not recognize each other. 


More than unequal, they will be distinct; they will form different races in culture and in interests. 


This tendency has been evident for years, and for years we have insisted in maintaining that course, despite the illusion of the political rituals, the economic data, and the timid advances in education and healthcare.


But even if we are ever more distant from the countries forming the New Second World, we have the resources to reorient our destiny and all the conditions are present to do so. 


We will not catch up to the countries that changed course in the twentieth century, but we can reorient our own twenty-first century.


It is a shame that the superficiality of politics impedes us from making the change that Brazil needs.  Despite his pledge and the hope that it inspired in us, in August the President of the Republic vetoed a modest Social Shock contained in the federal budget for 2005. 


He refused to indicate a new course, leaving us tragic projections as to where we are going and weighed down by pessimism about the reality they seem to portend.


Cristovam Buarque  has a Ph.D. in economics. He is a PT senator for the Federal District and was Governor of the Federal District (1995-98) and Minister of Education (2003-04). You can visit his homepage –  www.cristovam.com.br – and write to him at cristovam@senador.gov.br


Translated from the Portuguese by Linda Jerome – LinJerome@cs.com.

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