Brazil, a Land of Plenty for the Few

A mansion in BrazilWhen he arrived in Brazil with Pedro Álvares Cabral in 1500, Pero Vaz de Caminha wrote a letter to the King of Portugal saying that, when planted, this land yielded everything. He forgot to add that it yields everything, but not for everyone.

Since then, Brazilian history has been that of the demographic group that appropriates all the product of their land.

In the beginning, only free whites could appropriate the Brazilian production, which was denied to the excluded slaves and indigenous peoples. This would change, it was imagined, with the end of slavery. We waited 400 years, until 1888, to put an end to the society of exclusion.

But, after the abolition law was signed, there was no distribution of a part of the production, or land, or schools, or housing to the ex-slaves. Brazil maintained the cycle of product appropriation by only part of the population.

Many thought that this was a problem of the imperial regime. They believed that the Republic, a regime for everyone, would bring an end to the cycle of exclusion.

We proclaimed the Republic, imagining that the resulting society would distribute the product in a more egalitarian manner. The old cycle of Caminha’s letter nevertheless continued.

The argument became the lack of economic growth: The economy was producing little. Before we could distribute slices of it, the pie needed to be made.

And, after the proclamation of the Republic, forty more years had to pass before Brazil would make a leap in economic development. Nonetheless, the economy continued producing for the few.

Even after the so-called “Revolution of 1930,” Brazil remained a land that produced everything, but for the few.

In 1955, we inaugurated the so-called “Fifty Years in Five” slogan.

Beginning in 1964, we lived through the economy miracle.

In the 1970s, we became the eighth-largest economy in the world. Even so, our people still lacked access to the benefits of progress. We continued to be a country of concentration instead of distribution.

In the year 2000, Brazil marked 500 years of the same cycle: concentrated appropriation of its product for the few.

Finally, in 2002, we had the chance to break this cycle, electing to the presidency of the Republic a representative of the working class who came from a party of the Left with a distributive and transformative program.

The dream that Brazil would inaugurate a new cycle of inclusion was about to be realized. Finally, the land, in addition to yielding everything, would yield for everyone.

It is still too early to evaluate our Workers Party government. But these two years have shown us that Brazil has still not successfully eliminated the historic cycle of exclusion of the many and appropriation by the few.

The cause is not a lack of desire or commitment by those who arrived in power; rather, it comes from a mistaken mentality, the belief that with economic growth comes automatic distribution of the product.

Because this mentality did not change, concentration was not replaced by distribution. We continue thinking as Caminha did: that planting will yield everything and that this is enough.

The government does not appear to perceive that, beyond administering the country well, it needs a new orientation to create the new cycle.

For the land to yield for everyone, what is fundamental is a revolution of the priorities in the use of public resources.

Not to distribute them as alms, which, although they can even improve the recipients’ life a little, do not change their destiny. But to invest in sectors that prepare the population to change their own destiny.

That investment is the education of all Brazilians. An education that changes the Caminha mentality, which condemns us to the eternal historical cycle of a people who walk upon a land that yields everything, but not for everyone.

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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