It’s an odd spectacle. Traditionally, Brazilians take to the streets only during Carnival. Now they do it to protest. What has happened?
It all started after the fares for public transportation were raised, but that was just an excuse. There was more to it. The profound truth is that much of society is tired of corruption, impunity, the intricate bureaucracy and the government’s poor performance.
Brazilians pay first-world taxes, but get third-world services. That’s very irritating. Thirty-eight percent of the wealth they create, the famous GNP, ends up in the hands of the government. In Canada, where the state educates, medicates and manages satisfactorily, the percentage is 37.3. In Spain, 35.9. The Swiss have built one of the most prosperous states with only 33.6 percent of their GNP.
From the Brazilian perspective, perhaps the most stinging jab comes from neighboring Uruguay. The Uruguayan public sector consumes barely 28.9 of the GNP, yet the country is a lot better organized and remarkably more habitable than its huge neighbor.
Of course, the Brazilian GNP is small or big depending on how you look at it. Brazil has the world’s sixth-largest labor force: 107 million workers. Size-wise, it is the world’s eighth-largest economy, but when you divide its production ($2.37 trillion) among the population (201 million anguished survivors), the country’s ranking drops to a mediocre 106th.
Not only that, six other Latin American countries have a better income per capita than Brazil, not to mention another half dozen Caribbean islands that also surpass it.
In Brazil, bureaucracy is clumsy to the point of cruelty — and frequently corrupt. Public transportation is bad. Justice is agonizingly slow. Prisons are horrendous. In general, education and public health are mediocre. Safety is a vague illusion belied by the constant harassment of scoundrels and the sound of gunfire in the slums.
There is not a single Brazilian university among the world’s 100 top educational institutions, and we found only two when we looked at 500. Few original scientific research papers are ever published. The country trails all the world’s creative centers.
There are some areas of excellence, of course. Just to mention a few, Petrobrás, in which the government controls 64 percent of the shares, is the largest company in Latin America and one of the most efficient oil producers in the world. Embraer, founded by the government and later privatized, is a good manufacturer of mid-size airplanes. Odebrecht is an excellent civil-engineering company that operates on a worldwide scale.
What’s bad and serious is that the entrepreneurial fabric, in general, isolates itself from foreign competition with tariffs and other protectionist measures that are detrimental to the local consumers.
Simultaneously, in the past decade tens of millions of Brazilians have emerged from poverty and the government has made a notable effort to solve the problem of malnutrition in the neediest sectors of society, but those achievements (which no one challenges) do not make up for the abominable mismanagement.
Demagogically, President Dilma Rousseff has backed the demonstrators, as if the protests were not against her government, but Brazil has been managed by the left for more than a decade, and society is beginning to say that the Workers Party — Lula’s and Dilma’s party — is composed of thieves and crooks who manage to plunder with impunity.
They are seen as perfect hypocrites who, without abandoning the discourse of the vindication of the poor, have been as corrupt as their counterparts on the right and the center but a lot less efficient.
The risk implied in this attitude, if it becomes generalized, is that a fateful cry will be heard throughout the land, destroying the political parties and opening the gates to recklessness and mayhem: “Throw them all out!”
Brazilians should understand that liberal democracy is a system that works and prevails only if the leaders govern well and abide by the laws. Otherwise, the deluge is next.