New Internationalist


February 1981

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Map of Brazil

Leader: President Joao Baptista de Oliveira Figueiredo

Economy: GNP is: 51,570 per person per year
Debt service payments overseas as % of exports: 28.4%
Main exports: sugar, soybeans, coffee
Rate of inflation (average 1970-78): 30.3%

People: 119.5 million/town dwellers: 65%

Health: Child mortality (1-4 years): 0.9% (Sweden 01%)
Daily calorie availability: 107% Access to clean water: 77%

Culture: Religion: Roman Catholicism; about 1 million Protestants and other religions Ethnic groups: White, black and American Indian though there has been wide intermixing over a long period
Language: Portuguese
Previous colonizing power: Portugal independence: '1822

Sources: All figures from World Development Report, 1980.

[image, unknown] TOURIST brochure poetically introduces the fifth largest country in the world by following the progress of the morning sun as it rises - over the easternmost islands of Trinidad and Martim Vas. An hour later it reaches the mainland and starts its long journey across time zones, over 8,500,000 square kilometres of plains, jungle, and river valleys, to the mountains in the west. `When it finally reaches the Contamana mountains' the writer concludes, `it is high morning on the oceanic islands. The entire country is bathed in light... '

Even though the sun shines equally on hopeless poverty, savage exploitation and a booming economy, no-one can fail to be excited by Brazil. Its vastness, its diversity, its richness in resources and culture, its unshakeable sense of nation-hood - even the cold determination of its rulers to make their country a world power by the year 2000, are stimulating.

Four years after the generals took control in 1964 a surge of economic expansion reached 10 per cent annually and maintained this phenomenal rate until the mid '70s. Now it is somewhere around five per cent - a figure most industrialised nations would be delighted with. Brazilian shoes, textiles and industrial machinery are sold in large and increasing quantities abroad, and over a million cars are produced annually. At the same time half the population receives less than one-tenth of the total income.

The human expression of this injustice is found in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro, the squatter villages of Amazonia, the polluted shanties of Sao Paulo and the peasant farms in the north east. Rio's favelas tumble down the hillside above the magnificent city. Their views over towering skyscrapers and the white, ocean-lapped curve of Copacabana beach are splendid. But the hand-to-mouth life they shelter is as precarious as that in the Amazon region where whole villages of squatters can be evicted when land changes hands among Brazilian businessmen and foreign investors.

The resettlement of peasant farmers from the north east along the Trans-Amazon highway failed during the '60s. Now the government lures local and foreign capital to the region by tax incentives aimed at large-scale agricultural projects and some secondary industry. It believes a high rate of return will eventually ease inflation and help feed the people. But this belief in the `trickle down' theory is being paid for by the toil of millions of peasants and the rape of the region's seemingly infinite forests.

Yet Brazil has more than this. There is Carnival, football, gaiety, humour, music and the faith which encourages passivity in the face of scandalous injustice and corruption. `That's the way God wanted it,' most people say as they go about the business of trying to live.

Penny Sanger

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Richest 20% get 66.6% of income, poorest 20% only 2%. Two-thirds of land owned by 3% of landholders.
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Country faces heavy debt repayments while 10 million still landless.
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Feminism struggles for a foothold in a heavily male-orientated society.
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[image, unknown] President and military yet to fulfill promise of democracy.
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76% are literate; but secondary schooling inadequate in Amazon, north-east and city slums.
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Torture, political arrest and censorship continue despite recent reforms. Amnesty reported 70 political prisoners last year.

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‘Is 62 years. Public health suffers due to poverty, especially in remote areas.

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Front cover of New Internationalist magazine, issue 096 This feature was published in the February 1981 issue of New Internationalist. To read more, buy this issue or subscribe.

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