Bye bye Brazil
It’s with great sadness that I leave Brazil yet again, after almost a month here. This is an amazing country that begs to be loved for all its superlative attributes, but I’m afraid it’s becoming harder and harder for everyone to do it.
Having lived almost half of my life abroad and having lastly left Brazil at the height of our world-cup-infused optimist, I now leave the country, unlike so many times before, quite shocked.
It’s sad to come to the realisation that we are indeed the country of the future that still hasn’t come.
We are marred in a perpetual vortex of populism, kleptocracy, clientelism, social violence and weak institutions, wrapped in a false sense of progress fuelled by our commodities exports and our panem-et-circenses way of enjoying life.
No matter how bad it gets, the sun is still shining. Carnaval is always around the corner. There are plenty of half-naked people ready to jump into the sack with. The TV is still pumping the lowest-common-denominator-type shows and a myriad of new pop bands are distilling grotesque values through their catchy lyrics and rhythmic tunes.
I’ve met a newly-emmerged middle class who - in one generation - have managed to bridge the income gap meanwhile developing a rude, spoiled and entitled demeanour. A generation ago their parents were in the unfortunate position of making ends meet by serving the rich. Now, they are being served, and in an obvious struggle to make clear they have ascended socially, they very blatantly mistreat the people who now serve them.
Our middle-class is now, as expected, mesmerised by their newly discovered consuming power. In a time where the developing world is questioning the model of economic development based on pure growth, unlimited extraction and consumerism and trying to head into a more sustainable model that prioritises quality of life, our thirst for money, status and accumulating “things” feels all the more empty and backwards.
The Girl from Ipanema is but a distant memory. She now takes steroids, implants fake boobs and prefers to tan in Miami in between breaks from her outlet-mall shopping spree.
I’ve seen our tropicality quickly giving way to a stream of condos, marinas, undescriptive restaurants and sea pollution. Though this seems to be the path of every developing nation on the planet, it clearly chips away from what has always been our biggest asset.
You would be surprised at how many small pockets of prosperity exist in the country. It’s just too bad the wealth/good life is too concentrated on the hands of a few. We usually enlighten tourists by saying that 2% of the country lives in a tropical version of Stockholm while the rest makes do with a tropical version of Gaza.
Despite my bleak outlook, I am forced to acknowledge the steady march of progress in many sectors of government and society along the last decades. Any progress in a country that is this populous, immensely vast - therefore difficult to control and regulate - and with a culture of short-term rewards needs to be acknowledged and lauded gracefully. We’ve come a long, long way.
The question still remains: will the future ever come to us? If it comes, will it come in the shape of a massive popular uprising or an elected hero that will save us from ourselves? I tend to believe that this is what everyone desires because we Brazilians love the magic-bullet solution; it would be so impossibly marvellous if our soap operas turned into reality just this one time.
Unfortunately for us, steady progress will only come in the shape of painful structural reforms that we’ve been shying away from for so many decades. We need to implement a new development model that is particular to our realities, prioritise education and modernize the state. It will take time, it will hurt, there will be no heroes to glorify or demons to burn on the cross.
Can we go towards building the only plausible story for our country going forward? I certainly hope so.