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Prof. Marcos Arruda: Brazil: visions of the future

On Oct. 25, the Herald published an article on the debate between Professor and ex-President of Brazil Fernando Henrique Cardoso and myself. It did not do justice to the debate. The speakers were presented as opposite poles: The realist and the idealist. In this country, the term "ideological" means fundamentalist, dogmatic, doctrinnaire, with utopian overtones. That is not a proper representation of my approach and presentation.

Can the American revolution to free the United States from British colonial rule be called ideological? Brazil is one of the richest countries in the world in resources, population and territory; yet it is profoundly divided by deep social inequalities, the roots of which can be found in high external vulnerability, an unpayable public debt and high income and wealth concentration. Is it ideological to claim that another Brazil is possible? Is it ideological to provide data that substantiate my claim that the current "development" model dominant in Brazil is harmful to the nation and the people, and promises a worsening future for both? Is it ideological to conceive of and implement macroeconomic policies differently?

There was a crucial difference between Professor Cardoso's and my approach to poverty and development. He presented poverty as a fact of life and Brazil as a classless society, whose problems have to be solved by benevolent politicians, who must recognize that they are bound by the realities of today's world. I, in turn, challenged those persons and institutions who talk about ending or eradicating poverty to confront not only the fact of poverty but also the actors and the factors of impoverishment. Just two examples: During President Cardoso's two mandates (1995-2002), despite the fact that Brazil paid $345 billion to foreign creditors in interest and amortization, the foreign debt increased from $148 billion to $210 billion. In that same period, the domestic public debt increased 11 times over. As a result of the IMF-induced fiscal priority of financial debt payments above all other expenditures, more than 50 percent of Union budget expenditures has been interest paid to bankers in the last 10 years, while public investment in infrastructure and social services is severely harmed. President Luis Inacio Lula da Silva has maintained this policy: Total interest payments in the first semester of 2005 were equivalent to US$23 billion, whereas aggregate expenditures in areas like health, education, public safety and housing received only US$16 billion.

Without understanding the dynamics of social classes in Brazil, without identifying actors and factors responsible for policies, structures and processes that generate and perpetuate inequalities, decapitalize Brazil's economy, enrich a few while impoverishing the majority and continuously destroy the environment, one cannot talk about a vision for a better future. Compensatory social programs are simply not enough. Reconnecting Brazil's artificially divorced economic and social realities is a matter of clairvoyance, and political will.

Marcos Arruda is a Visiting Professor at the Center for Latin American Studies and the Department of Portuguese and Brazilian Studies.



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