In the days leading up to the Brazilian presidential election on Sunday, Al Jazeera's Gabriel Elizondo wonders what the future holds for Brazil. Side stepping politicians and economists, he puts the question to real Brazilians.
Brazil is a country on the rise: A thriving economy. A wealth of natural resources. A new, robust middle class. Declining poverty rates. And a future that includes hosting the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics. This is Brazil of 2010, going into 2011. It’s no wonder why so many people have suddenly found South America’s largest country as the hot, new global fixation.
But most of what is said or written about "the future of Brazil" in the international arena originates from the perspective of the political and economic elite - the World Economic Forum/Economist magazine crowd.
But what do everyday Brazilians think is the future of their country? That is what I was curious about.
So over the past six weeks during my reporting trips that took me from the extreme south of Brazil to the far north to the Amazon, I made a point during free moments to randomly seek-out a cross-section of Brazilians - rich, poor, young, old, black, white.
I asked each person the following: “I am a journalist, and I have one question for you. You can answer it however you would like, the first thing that comes to your mind. The question is this: What is the future of Brazil?”
I jotted down in a notepad the responses. I mostly resisted the urge to ask any follow-up questions. Afterwards, I took their picture.
I don’t pretend that the answers (or even the people I asked) represent all of Brazil’s 193 million people. These are just a small sampling of people - Brazilians - I happen to come across who gave me their initial response to my very open-ended question.
To me, the range of responses was revealing. Some surprising. Some not so much. Take away from it whatever you want.
Here are the answers:
Darce Arnoldo Leske
Occupation: Small cow and chicken farm owner.
City: Arroio do Padre, pop: 2,882; Rio Grande do Sul state.
“Brazil’s future will be providing food for Brazilians and the rest of the world. Here in Brazil we produce meat, milk, rice, chicken. We produce almost everything. I don’t think a lot of people from outside know this. I don’t know all the statistics, but it’s a lot of food. Some things about Brazil might change, but this - providing food - never will change because the world needs to eat. And somebody has to provide it. Brazil is going up, our economy is increasing, but we have not reached our peak. We can grow even more. And a big part of that is providing food to the people of the world. We are proud that we help with this.”
Name: Eliane Barbosa dos Santos
Occupation: Taxi driver
City: Brasilia, pop: 2.6 million; Federal District state
“I don’t think Brazil’s future is that good. We have high taxes in Brazil. Also, there are a lot of people now in Brazil with big loans and access to things like credit cards has been increasing rapidly. It’s out of control. Everyone is talking about how great Brazil is doing because we will host the World Cup and Olympics. But both of those events are going to bring a lot of expenses here. The government has to build a lot of stadiums; and stadiums are expensive. And many of those stadiums will only be used for the events, and then what afterwards? The government is now investing a lot in sports in general. But after the Olympics are over we will have all these stadiums just sitting there, empty. We will still need to pay for them, but they won’t be used by most Brazilians. So the legacy of this will be felt for a long time. So I don’t think Brazil’s economic future is as good as many people think. There are a lot of problems. People just don’t see them right now.”
Occupation: Owner of chocolate-bean export company in the Amazon
City: Uruará, pop: 59,881; Pará state
“I have a negative view of the future of Brazil. This country is going through a transition right now. But not all parts of the country are developing in the same direction as the rest of the country. Here, in this Amazon region, we need better infrastructure in order to have a better future. We need asphalt. Look at the main road, this Trans-Amazon highway, it’s a mess. It needs asphalt. We have no chance to grow and develop with the rest of the country without this. How can we develop economically with only dirt roads? We can’t. Brazil is growing, but up here we sometimes are the forgotten people. Brazil can only truly reach its potential when all of the country is growing and all of the country has access to development, and not just certain areas.”
Maria do Carmo da Silva
Occupation: Housewife and small subsistence farmer
City: Croatá, pop: about 20 families; Pernambuco state
“For me, Brazil is doing more or less good. Things are a lot better than a few years ago. It used to be very hard for me, but my life has gotten better. I started to receive Bolsa Familia [government assistance program money] in 2003 and now I received about $167 reais a month [about $97]. This helps a lot. We also have a school bus in our community now, so kids can get to school. When I was growing up here we didn’t have a school bus. I never went to school in my life. I didn’t have that chance. It was not important back then. These kids now have a lot more opportunity for education than I had. So things have been getting better here. I just live here in this little community and don’t know much about Brazil’s future. We don’t get the newspapers here, but we see the television news. We have a satellite to get news. I don’t know. I think my future is better than it was a few years ago.”
Occupation: Professor of philosophy and conservative syndicated newspaper columnist.
City: Porto Alegre, pop: 1.4 million; Rio Grande do Sul state
“I think Brazil has everything ready to keep growing. Brazil is a rich country; a country with an abundance of things like water, land, rain. It has an economic class that has a lot of entrepreneurship. We have a trained workforce. Brazil has everything in its favor to be one of the biggest powers in the next decade. Or decades. The problem with Brazil is that it can not make a mistake. Brazil sometimes has a history of making mistakes. So it can not make a mistake. We have to have very competent management of the economy. And we have had that in recent years. What was the big difference between Fernando Henrique Cardoso [president from 1995-2003] and the Lula (da Silva) governments with macro economic policy? None. None at all. Inflation goals were maintained. Autonomy of central bank was maintained. Fiscal policy was the same. Interest rates have followed market rates. And if Brazil continues in this direction, Brazil will do right. We also have a great advantage in comparison to other countries in Latin America because Brazil has very strong institutions compared to others in the region. Our institutions are strong and the economy is diversified. We don’t have monocultures, one single product, or one single sector or export. Brazil does not depend only on oil or energy. Brazil depends on everything, we are a country of everything. Our institutions function well. The only institution that doesn’t function very well in Brazil is the National Congress. Corruption, deviation of public funds, stuff like that we have. But the judiciary functions well. The Supreme Court has independence - we are not Venezuela. There is separation of powers, strong elections, freedoms in Brazil which are magnificent. I am optimistic about the future of Brazil.”
Carmen Alves dos Santos
City: São Paulo, pop: 11.1 million; São Paulo state
“Brazil still has a lot of racism, and we need to finish with this. But I am optimistic. My life is better. My daughter and I got our first house thanks to Lula, with the ‘My House My Life’ programme. Lula’s programmes have helped to give a little money to poor people. And a little money helps a lot. Before Lula we never got any help. Lula has helped a lot of poor people like me to have a little better life. Brazil has a good future now. I think the future of our country is good.”
Paulo Jose da Silva and his son Robertlandio da Silva
Ages: Paulo Jose 40; Robertlandio 23
Occupations: Paulo Jose, mechanic; Robertlandio, student and mechanic.
City: Mirandiba, pop: 13,810; Pernambuco state
Paulo Jose: “The future of Brazil? We need better healthcare and education. We need to focus on these things. But I think Brazil has a good future.”
Robertlandio: “Racism still exists in Brazil, and we need to overcome this to have a good future. Education and healthcare have been getting better, but still need to be improved. There is more work here, but we need better jobs. Better quality jobs. Lots of people here receive Bolsa Familia [government assistance program] which has helped a lot of people. But I do not want to depend on the government for money when I get older. It’s better for me and my family if I have an education. But a good education. Even with the problems we still have in Brazil, I think Brazil has a good future.”
Occupation: Professional photographer
City: Belém, pop: 1.4 million; Pará state
“Brazil is a country of the future. Brazil is passing through one of the best economic moments in its history, but we still have in front of us serious structural problems: The bad distribution of wealth, low quality healthcare, and lack of basic water and sanitation services for more than half of the population and a precarious education system where 14 million people are illiterate. Those are the problems we have to combat with persistence to change this picture. And this is why the country needs, above all else, to invest in quality education. This is a powerful tool for change, which will enable the creation of generations of critical thinkers. Without this, our country of Brazil will be doomed to always be a country of the future."
Daniara de Jesus
City: Croatá, pop: about 20 families; Pernambuco state
"I don’t know about Brazil’s future really. I just know I want to be a doctor when I grow up. I would like to work in another part of Brazil. But I am happy here also. But I want to see other parts of Brazil."
City: Altamira, pop: 98,750; Pará state
"I think Brazil has a good future. No, a great future. Lula has helped a lot. He is not perfect, but he has been the best we have had. Things just feel better. I don't know what foreigners say about Brazil, but probably they talk about Rio and the beaches. But here in Altamira, in Para state - this is the Amazon. And I can say life is better here in my view. We have always been out of the mess of Sao Paulo and Rio and Belem. People are looking up to the future, and making money and living in peace. For sure this country has a good future. Because we are Brazilians. And here, in this very river, we have good fish, you know? To eat. Be sure and eat some before you leave."