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May 05, 2009



I fail to see how corruption can make a State less democratic. Washington is rotten to its very bones, with the incestuous relations between Wall St. and the Capitol leaving their mark everywhere. Brazilians elect their President amongst a pool of three/four big parties (PSDB/PT/DEM/PMDB), with PSDB/DEM usually forming an alliance. Elections in Brazil are free and fair (SCOTUS Bush v. Gore, anyone?), according to all NGOs such as Freedom House and the Carter Foundation.

And considering that we haven't have a coup since.. 1964 and all major institutions (Congress, Supreme Court, the Presidency) remained intact even in periods of democratic exception. So, yeah, I guess that compared to the rest of South America, the country's pretty stable.

The Newsweek article is an hyperbole, of course. But I'm ever suspicious of stereotypes or pure naiveté. Brazil is certainly not as poor as most people think and definitively not as promising as those Third World enthusiasts proclaim.

BTW, your blog is awesome even though I do have some problems with certain stereotypes drawn here.


And before I'm misunderstood: In spite of all its shortcomings, I consider America an example of democracy. Yet, as all democracies, it's not inoculated against corruption and corporate incestuousness,


From the perspective of a foreigner having lived in Brazil, it's often amusing (and frustrating) to see how the country is portrayed in the Western media. Either it's a land of violence, baile funk and big asses or it's an economic heavyweight with a growing consumer class that will own the US in years to come.

One example that still makes me laugh is a comment from the American CEO of a company creating a new video-game console aimed at the BRIC market. This was his rationale for why the console will succeed in Brazil: "Instead of the consumer having to take a bus and go to a favela to buy pirated software, they can sit on their couch, turn on the [console] and buy directly from home."

Yes, it's astounding how even middle-class Brazilians must dodge glue-sniffing, favela-dwelling children and gun-toting drug dealers in order to buy a R$10 pirated copy of Tekken 4. It's like the Wild West down there. Totally.

Thaddeus Blanchette

Rachel there you go again with Brazil's corruption and supposed lack of democracy. It wouldn't be such a bad thing if you weren't constantly comparing the place to the U.S. which you definitely DO think is a democracy and relatively clean cut.

I mean, hello?

I'm really beginning to wonder what definition of "democracy" you carry around inside your head that allows you to see the U.S. as democratic and Brazil as not. That is very strange to me.

Maybe you could take the time to explain it to us some day?

Because from where I'm sitting, it sure looks a lot like prejudice.

As for rule of law...

You're now back in NYC, right? Do this: go down to any public court over inner city Newark and sit in the felonies court room for one day. One day, Rachel. Hell, spend three hours there if you can't do a day. (I actually did this on several occasions). Watch underpaid, unprepared public defenders railroad their mostly illiterate and non-white clients into years - sometimes decades - in prison on plea-bargains over minute quantities of drugs.

Then go home and watch the excellent Brazilian film "Justiça".

Then write us a piece as to why why you think the U.S. operates according to the strictures of democracy and rule of law as compared to Brazil.

Luiz Felipe

I think I disagree with almost the whole of your post! I think you might be taking too narrow a view in terms of time.

First of all, In the last few decades Brazil's social and political progress is much more impressive than its economic development. Remember that our first democratically elected president since the 1960's only took office in 1990. Literacy, life expectancy and poverty levels have been steadily improving. Per capita income, on the other hand, has made very little progress since the 1980.

Economically, we were actually outpaced by most of our peers. In fact, we really don't have a free market: the WSJ/Heritage index of economic freedom http://www.heritage.org/Index/Ranking.aspx puts Brazil squarely in 105th, in the "mostly unfree" category. If you had tried to open a business here, you'd probably agree with me.

But yes, despite our failings, we are a democracy, one in which leaders are chosen in fair elections and the outcome is respected, whatever it is. Basic democratic freedoms are mostly respected (speech, assembly, habeas corpus, etc.)

And we are MUCH more stable, in any terms, than most of our neighbours. Think violence in Rio is bad? Try Caracas. Think politics here are rotten? Try Bolivia. Think Brazilian authorities are corrupt? Try Paraguay.

I agree with you, however, in spirit - newsweek be crazy. We are not a crafty superpower. We are just slightly more normal than our neighbours, torn between populist saviours and wannabe dictators.

R. Melo Franco

Nice post, Rachel Glickhouse!

It takes time to notice every aspect of progress. The following links probably tell us something:


10% of our population in 2 years! I assure you that the last 5 years worked miracles of change and hope. If that doesn't mean social development, what more can I say?

Our army has little to no political power; the head of state is a working class nordestino. Doesn't it indicate political progress?

The article lacks accuracy. Sure thing! Still, it seems to me that Brazil is in a hurry indeed...

Best regards


Oh boy... here we go again.

I am with Thaddeus here: what is so debatable about Brazilian democracy?

As for the Brazilian troops off in the Caribbean - are you referring to Haiti? Oh yeah. A couple of thousand soldiers can definitely take care of the entire Amazon. Easy task.

Violence - yeah, go spend sometime in Newark, Camden or Wilmington. Then we talk. It's easy to think it is a beautiful world out there while you are just sitting at home, in a wealthy suburb.


Agree! most of the brazilians will be very anger with your post.

Like, some comments are trying to make a parallel between Brazil and Paraguay or Venezuela. The truth is, brazilians can speak bad about their own country, but try a foregner (even a adoptive) do the same, poor he or she. This strange nationalism can twist trues.

This messianism over Lula it´s very lousy (same thing on Obama, nevertheless i like him).

Crafty Superpower? try Wannabe First World.


As a Brazilian Law student I wholeheartedly agree with you. Despite having advanced much in the fight for Human Rights with the promulgation of our new Constitution, Brazil is a country that still has serious problem guaranteeing the law is upheld and that basic fundamental rights are respected. Someone mentioned the movie Justiça. Well, that's pretty much my point.

Several of the comments point out that we have lived in a Democracy for the past twenty years, and that the military are powerless nowadays. I'd ask that person to name one member of the military that was held responsible for what happened during the Dictatorship. I'm sorry, but as someone who has worked directly on the Araguaia case, I can say that the military lobby in the Executive, Legislative and Judicial branches is extreme to the point of having managed to reinterpret the Amnesty Law in their favour, and convince our Supreme Court to still accept that interpretation thirty years after the bill was passed!

The people of Chile, Peru and Argentina (and, more recently, Uruguay) have managed to persecute the peope responsible for the massive human rights violations in their countries, while we refuse to accept prosecution is even an option!

I also agree that the fact we have a Democracy is still debatable. Sure, we have a formal one. However, take freedom of speech for example. A huge part of the media is not only controlled but actually owned by corrupt politicians, and the way the people receive information is pretty much a cruel joke.

Now, I'm not saying Brazil is worst country in the region, neither that it is a bad country at all. I'm just saying we Brazilians can't stop being critical of our government and of the actual situation of the country in general. After all, that is one of the best things about living in a democracy.


I hesitate a bit to jump into the fray here, but I don't think that Rachel is holding up the U.S. as a paragon of truth, justice, and the... ah... American Way. Nor is she trying to say that the rule of law works for everybody. It's just that these things exist on a continuum. I understand that things are very bad in some parts of the US, particularly in minority/poorer neighborhoods, but I think it would be hard to argue that there is _less_ corruption or rule of law in the US than there is here in Brazil. Not wanting to oversimplify the issue, but just as an example, let's ask the question "How many city buses were robbed at gunpoint today?" When the answer is "several" for Newark or "none" for Salvador, then the two countries will be on, or closer to, the same page.

Marcio Goncalves

"Free-market? Definitely"

Definitely? No way. That's VERY VERY debatable.

Brazil is veeeeery far from the top in terms of Economical Freedom.


Brazil has advanced in leaps and bounds since i first moved there in 1996. It is a fact that the US is wanting to cozy up to Brazil, simply because Brazil has an abundance of natural resources,amazing conditions for agriculture, not to mention over 40% of the world's fresh water.
Not all in Brazil is perfect, and yes there is corruption and injustice.But you know what? Back home in Canada ,there is injustice and corruption too, the only difference is that it is veiled as 'lobbying'.
No one country is perfect, but you can be sure that with this worldwide recession that was caused by the US and its banking system, Brazil has a very strong chance of moving up the ladder from being known as a 'Third World country' which conjures up images of poverty and despair.
Brazilians are hardy and have suffered for decades, but you will never find a people that are so generous and warm like they are considering the constant battles they have to endure on a daily basis.
The most important thing in the Newsweek article is that out of the BRIC countries, Brazil has the best potential. It is just the tip of the iceberg.
Lula is a figurehead and the decsions are made by his team of advisors.

Marcelo Gonçalves

I completely disagree with you. But Thaddeus already said almost everything that I would like to tell you.

But I have one more question. Have you read the article?
The article is basicaly about the crafty of the Brazilian diplomacy and how Brazil uses this ruse to become a regional superpower. I do not saw anything about that in your post. In my opinion your comments regarding the journalist that wrote that story and regarding Brazil are very aggressive and misappropriated since you take a small phrase out of the context just to have something to criticize.


Rachel is so right. Brazilian people should actually be thanking her for speaking what every Brazilian knows and complain about every single day. Don´t you think that the more someone speaks about it and compares it to a better country (yes USA) the bigger are the chances of somebody listening to it?
Yes, Brazilian democracy is a joke: 4 years for congressman? No referendums, ever? No congressman listening to voters opinion once they are elected? People don`t have the right to vote for or against even a simple park construction?
Impunity: do I have to even say how many criminals, including politics, that not only don`t get their deserved jail time, but also go back to steal public money all over again ? People who kill and are sentenced (when they are) to 30 years and are out after half a decade (and those are murderers).
Are we comparing it to Paraguay? Really? Are your expectations that low?
It’s very sad to think that one is doing well just because another is worse off.
We should compare Brazil with the USA, with Germany, with Japan, not with Bolivia.


Rachel is so right. Brazilian people should actually be thanking her for speaking what every Brazilian knows and complains about every single day. Don´t you think that the more someone speaks about it and compares it to a better country (yes USA) the bigger are the chances of somebody listening to it?
Yes, Brazilian democracy is a joke: 4 years for congressman? No referendums or plebiscites, ever? No congressman listening to voters opinion once they are elected? People don`t have the right to vote for or against even a simple park construction?
Impunity: do I have to even say how many criminals, including politics, that not only don`t get their deserved jail time, but also go back to steal public money all over again ? People who kill and are sentenced (when they are) to 30 years and are out after half a decade (and those are murderers).
Are we comparing it to Paraguay? Really? Are your expectations that low?
It’s very sad to think that one is doing well just because another is worse off.
We should compare Brazil with the USA, with Germany, with Japan, not with Bolivia.


Dear Rachel

I'm a brazilian (carioca) living in Chicago. Not to say it's only Brazil's fault, I'm disgusted with the fact that people in the US LOVE brazilian hard wood floors. Beautifull, fashionable. Where do you think it comes from? Think of that next time you're in NY and step on a brazilian hardwood floor. The hypocrisy here in America makes me feel as disgusted as you feel about Brazil. Where do you think all those guns from the drugdealers in Brazil comes from? Which country supported every single dictator in south america, in decades of oppression and tyranny? GOD BLESS AMERICA...
Just like you, I love and hate America.


Oh, next time you come to Chicago, do not limit your visit to the magnificent mile. Go to the south side, where gun shots are frequent, gang activities everywhere and kids get shot playing outside their homes and then see that there is a lot morte similarities between Brazil and US. In Rio, because of the landscape, you can't hide poverty. I feel very sorry for those people in Chicago, must be awfull being poor in the winter. GOD BLESS AMERICA again.

Newton Almeida

O fato é que o Brasil passou décadas de estagnação econômica e começo a apresentar crescimento econômico a partir do Governo de Fernando Henrique Cardoso. Fernando Henrique organizou a economia , mas fortaleceu em demasia o setor financeiro, crinado numa dependência de juros altos para manter investimentos. Nas privatizações realizadas apenas a das telefonias foi boa para todos, empresários e consumidores. Não preciso lembrar de que a privatização da Vale do Rio Doce, entre outras , juntamente com o programa de ajuda aos bancos ( " PROER " ) foi dos maiores escândalos da história do Brasil.
Lula vence as eleições e todos acreditavam que não conseguiria manter-se no governo. Ampliou o antigo Programa Bolsa Escola, atual Bolsa Família, que dizem ser o maior programa no mundo em distribuição de renda, e é uma das causas da ampliação do mercado interno, o que possibilitou enfrentar a crise " olhos azuis " . Lula, com o ex-ministro Palocci manteve o arranjo econômico de altos juros, e iniciou a divulgação do potencial brasileiro em todo o mundo, inclusive na África. O novo avião, que substituiu o antigo "sucatão ", levava comitivas de empresários e as exportações foram aumentando. Recordes repetidos das safras de grãos, principalmente soja, dinamizaram a agricultura .
A indústria desenvolveu em qualidade e finalmente vemos no país uma economia de mercado de fato: maior produtividade possibilitando barateamento dos preços ( eletrodomésticos como principal exemplo ) . Em fevereiro desse ano o Brasil foi o país que mais vendeu automóveis zero quilômetro do mundo . As universidades estão recebendo cada mais estudantes e as pesquisas fervilham, como exemplo temos a invenção brasileira do " carro flex " . Os biocombustíveis são um cartão de visita que alia nossa criatividade, potencial agrícola e maturidade institucional político / administrativa.
O fato é que o Brasil está caminhando a passos cada vez mais velozes para a diminuição da desigualdade social, enfrentamento das mazelas urbanas . Possui reservas econômicas, profissionais gabaritados em todos ramos do saber, garantia de potencial energético, e finalmente um Presidente que fala para os mais humildes, que solicita aos países ricos um fundo de combate à pobreza mundial . Ele fala errado, comete gafes, como aquela da crise " de olhos azuis " , mas consegue colocar o estado pesado brasileiro em movimento.
Corrupção existe no mundo todo. O poder é corrompedor, todos sabem. Não só para políticos, mas também o poder da esfera empresarial e até mesmo em esferas religiosas.
Deixe que falem bem, precisamos de motivação, precisamos de líderes mesmo que seja o Lula, precisamos. Todos nós sabemos que valores éticos e a união familiar estão em crise em nosso país, mas lembrem-se do Betinho : " Quem tem fome tem pressa ! " . Para a grande massa todos são corruptos, políticos e policiais, para o povo o poder enriquece e não é através de muito suor, para o povo o importante é que hoje estão construindo uma casinha, e alimentando melhor a família. Isso é um fato ! Tenho como fato ao conversar com gente do povo . Só o povo para falar dele mesmo, de suas necessidades e esperanças.
Adoro seu blog e peço desculpas por escrever em português. Entendi tudo o que você escreveu e concordo com você . Parabéns pelo presidente Obama, homem de caráter e sensível.
A vez do Brasil chegou ! E olha que o carnaval é só em fevereiro do ano que vem ! Forte abraço e mande lembranças para o Eli .

lena mg

funny thing is that Brazilians can't take criticism...

Great Post Rachel!

R. Melo Franco

Karine, the world's not that simple. How can you suppose that a specific country is simply plain better than another one? That's absurd. By the way, can't you be a little more polite when writing about our hermanos?

marzuka, your "Not wanting to oversimplify the issue" is such a good alarm, thank you for telling me where your observation lost its strictness. What's worse: Iraq war, Guantámano, the embargo against Cuba, or Brazilian urban violence? Watergate scandal or mensalões? All those items are awful. In my opinion, each tortured war prisoner is a MAJOR infraction concerning both law and - more especially - democracy. Light-years from Brazilian corruption and violence.
Moreover, I think the embargo against Cuba is a quite hipocritic practice conceived by a so-called free market society.

I love to discuss. Please, don't take it personally.
Sorry for my poor English.


Thaddeus Blanchette

Now that we've heard from the reactionary nazi right... [roll eyes]

The amount of muddy thinking being displayed out there absolutely boggles my mind.

Especially by you, Luiza. You're a law student?

God help us.

Let's break it down reeeeeal simple like for the hard of thinking.

I do not disagree with the absolute critique of Brazilian democracy. That Brazil is FAR from the democratic ideal is unquestionable to me.

The problem is that Rachel believes - and has repeatedly stated - that she thinks that Brazil's democracy doesn't work IN COMPARISION TO THAT OF THE UNITED STATES.

Are we all on the same page here now? I hope so.

So all the fine sentiments expressed by Luiza and Karine regarding their disapointment with Brazil's deficiencies is so much pissing straight into the wind with regards to what we're talking about here. The United States is ALSO incredibly deficient as a democracy. Rachel, however, seems to think that it is a paragon in comparison to Brazil.

THAT'S the problem here folks, not Rachel's criticism of Brazil. I'd wholeheartedly agree with a post that says "Look, Brazil has these problems." I think it is the peak of jingoistic ignorant arrogance, however, to say "Oh, Brazil's undemocratic and corrupt. Different from the United States where a functioning democracy prevails and government is relatively clean."

That second statement, which Rachel has now made a couple of times, is arrogant and provocative. It's also demonstrates abysmal ignorance, given the news regarding U.S. government corruption, mismanagement and the general perversion of that country's democratic process which has filled our screens and pages over the last 8 months.

I think it is very irresponsible for Rachel to repeatedly make that statement and not follow it up with any explanation whatsoever.

Thaddeus Blanchette

Watergate scandal, Melo?

Why do you need to reach back 37 years?

See, this is the problem here. Most of the folks writing here simply don't pay attention to U.S. politics and thus don't know much about the corruption that's going on up there. What they don't know about, they believe doesn't occur.

Ignorance thus becomes "proof" that the U.S. has less corruption than Brazil.

I mean, has NO ONE here heard of the attempt by Hizzoner the Guv'ner of Illinois to seel Obama's Senate seat...?

I believe that it did cause something of a splash, even in the Brazilian press.


For some reason Rachel has become a "bitter person" and now make her website POLITICAL instead funny like before, where she only make lots of BAD comments about Brazil and talk about favela all the time. Maybe she has to go no to far from NYC where have places(NEWARK NJ, PATERSON NJ, MOUNT VERNON NY, LOT PLACES IN BROXS) so disgusting or maybe worse than there in Brazil.
I guess she returned in great time, this is because she unhappy and make clear when she write in her blog.



Best lucky in NY


R. Melo Franco

OK, Blanchette, you're right. Yet, I'm sufficiently haunted by daily tasks, then don't try to make me feel guilty for not knowing about U.S. politics and especially about northern corruption. If it DOES bother you, think of Watergate as a metonymical symbol meaning American corruption.

I agree with you generally speaking. But I'd not say Rachel's text could be attached to "abysmal ignorance". In my opinion, since you're into sociology/critical sciences/anthropology, you think everybody should be constantly in touch with political issues. I know you from your colaboration with Pagu and I feel you're quite an expert, but I believe you should inform us, rather than criticize us for not knowing something. I mean, according to your behavior, you're obviously "abysmally ignorant" about certain topics as well.


Thaddeus Blanchette

Y'know how I know about this stuff, Melo? I mean, it doesn't take great amounts of effort. I simply listen to public radio out of Pacifica's vast web of alternative stations in the U.S. I get it on my computer. All the critical, progressive news from the U.S. one could ever want. Most of it comes from the BBC, in fact. This ain't wild, radical hippy shit I'm talking about here.

Here're a couple of neat corruption scandals that're currently rocking Congress which EVERY American should know about, but I'll lay dollars to donuts doesn't:

1) The Bush admin's illegal firing of 9 justices because they wouldn't toe the party line.

2) The arrest and impeachment of the Governor of Alabama (IIRC) for appointing a crony to public office (which is not illegal and which, of course, the Bush government did all the time).

The Bush admin did its best to rip the heart out of the U.S.' democratic institutions, politiizing the judiciary, giving legal cover to torture, giving hundreds of billions in contractual kickbacks to companies like Enron which were its main campaign supporters. I mean, the list of corrupt activities is just enormous.

The Obama government is refusing to prosecute because its afraid of political backlash.

Now, I made the point before and Karine (IIRC) proves it above: when BRAZIL refuses to prosecute torturers and lets them be on their merry, that's ipso facto proof that we are a corrupt and anti-democratic country. When the U.S. does it, however, well... I guess they must have their reasons, because they are a democracy, after all, and democracies don't do that sort of thing, do they? Bless their little hearts, I bet that Karine and Luiza don't even know about the Gitmo scandals, the CIA torture flights, the privatization of the war in Iraq, even though ALL of these things have routinely shown up in newspapers in Brazil.

I mean, c'mon, Melo. I'm not asking people to do independent research projects here. I'm just saying you should PAY ATTENTION to what's in every Brazilian newspaper's "International" section. Surely that's not too difficult a task? Surely you're not so "sufficiently haunted by daily tasks" that you can't give those two pages a quick once over every now and then after you finish reading football scores?

This isn't graduate-level coursework in political science I'm talking about here.

Like I tell my students, it's not a question of "we don't have access to this information". The problem is that you don't pay attention to it when it's right before your eyes, in black and white. And you know why I think that's the case? I think it's because, deep down, you've basically bought the Mickey Mouse, Disneyland view of America that the U.S. tries so hard to cultivate. Any information that goes against the grain of that image has to fight hard to get past the filters of prejudice that have been built up inside of you through years of exposure to Hollywood and the like. In the case of Brazil, it's the opposite. People will believe absolutely ANYTHING about Brazil, as long as it's horrible enough.

In fact, I bet you that I could put together a blog that could actually hoax the American media - or at least parts of it - with something like, say, trafficking of women or the sexual abuse of children. I bet you I could just make shit straight up - pull it right out of the air - and, if I did it in an authoritative and professional tone - I'd see it repeated by at least one straight American media source.

It's prejudice that's the problem here and Brazilians are certainly not immune to it.

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