A select group of business leaders, financial analysts, economists, and academicians attended yesterday, in New York, a special program organized by The Brazilian-American Chamber of Commerce, Inc. to address the Current Developments in Brazil. Moderated by Albert Fishlow, Professor Emeritus at the University of California-Berkeley and Columbia University, the distinguished panel of speakers featured Peter Hakim, President Emeritus of the Inter-American Dialogue; Vivianne Rodrigues, Markets Correspondent at the Financial Times; and Marcos Troyjo, Director of the BRICLab/Columbia University.
Mr. Hakim began his presentation emphasizing the surprise in the inability to predict the outbreak of such a massive protest, with over 1 million people in more than 100 cities around the country. “Dilma had a higher approval rating than any other president in Latin America at the time of the protests. Even with slight slippage due to the slowdown of the economy, she was the most popular president in Latin America, more popular than our president in the US and any country in Europe. The fact is that not a single political party, not a single non-governmental organization, and not a single analyst really predicted this,” he stated.
Comparing the protests in Brazil with others around the world, Mr. Hakim pointed out at least two main differences: first, a long list of grievances and complaints, but without any sort of central focus regarding measures to be taken; and second, the position of the government in embracing the agenda of the protesters but with a very populist response, with no sense of direction or real content to it. “In my sense, this is a kind of protest in which people really want a more efficient government. It is not a partisan protest or an anti-government protest. It is not a protest with high level of demands in any given area. The protesters are saying ‘you guys get to do better, you have to be less wasteful, you have to be less corrupt, you have to be more efficient,’” he said. “And that does not require a populist response. It requires a very serious, longer-term response of how to move the country forward,” he completed.
Next, commenting on the effects of protests, Ms. Rodrigues highlighted two important changes that have been evidenced in Brazil: a shift in connection and a shift in perception. According to her, the Brazilian population is now able, for the first time, to make a connection between the taxes they pay, their earnings, and public spending. With more access to information than ever before, looking at other countries around the world, they are also making the connection that protests generate responses. Regarding a change in perception about Brazil outside the country, she noted that Brazil has a big problem – a somewhat promiscuous relationship between the government and public enterprises and the perception that the government changes the rules of the game frequently, complicating the decision-making process to allocate money in and out of the country.
As opposed to what the Brazilian population and the world would like to see regarding a reaction from the government, Ms. Rodrigues does not expect much more than populism and marketing. “It is up to the president – up to the administration – to start sending a couple of very strong messages to the world and to Brazilians that this administration is really accountable and really serious, and that it is, in a certain way, what the world is waiting for,” she stated.
Mr. Troyjo then provided an assessment of the current situation and what had caused the ongoing protests. In his opinion, there was a very loud cry against efficiencies and deficiencies of Brazil’s political regime. “The protests are the phenomenon, the social networks are the media, but the urges, even if they are not clear for most of the protesters, have to do with dissatisfactions toward Brazil’s state capitalism. I think that it is going to be translated into a very exciting political campaign in the next 14 months,” he stated. “Unlike any other campaign in the past where charisma and marketing played a determinant role, this will perhaps be Brazil’s most politicized presidential run in history, where people will actually be looking and analyzing ideas, which will be very good for Brazil,” he predicted. According to Mr. Troyjo’s assumption, the protests are leading Brazil to one of the most important moments in its recent history, which may be a changing phase toward a more market-friendly country.
Before closing the panel, Professor Fishlow added a few important observations. He related the will of the protesters to a generalized dissatisfaction about the Brazilian economic slowdown over the last couple of years; he stressed a deepening in regional differences emerging within the country as a consequence of the way government expenditures have been made; and he lamented the tragic inability of political reform occurring before the election, which will lead to a repetition of what has happened in prior years. “What we have, in a way – and I am not giving up my optimism about the situation in Brazil at the moment – is a real need for positions to become clearer, for parties to become fewer, and for the political efforts that are now required,” he concluded.