Im­prov­ing econ­omy, elec­tions give Brazil a glim­mer of hope

The Washington Times Weekly - - Geopolitics - BY FRED­ERIC PUGLIE

BELO HOR­I­ZONTE, BRAZIL | The head­lines here still scream of scan­dal and malaise, drift and de­cline, but for the first time in years, at least some Brazil­ians are feel­ing a tiny sliver of op­ti­mism as they look ahead to next year’s pres­i­den­tial elec­tions.

Once touted as one of the de­vel­op­ing world’s emerg­ing pow­ers, South Amer­ica’s most pop­u­lous na­tion has long been in a po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic free fall, a cri­sis of na­tional con­fi­dence that cul­mi­nated in last year’s im­peach­ment and re­moval of Pres­i­dent Dilma Rouss­eff. And amid ever-widen­ing cor­rup­tion probes and the bit­ter eco­nomic hang­over from last year’s Olympic Games, her suc­ces­sor, Michel Te­mer, may get ousted him­self on cor­rup­tion charges.

But talk to res­i­dents of this heart­land state cap­i­tal strolling around Belo Hor­i­zonte’s tra­di­tional Cen­tral Mar­ket on Fri­day, and you get the sense that the slight eco­nomic uptick gives them hope that the worst might be over.

“In 2014, at the height of the coun­try’s po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic cri­sis, many stores had to close,” said 29-year-old Rafael Igino, who owns a cod­fish stand in the mar­ket. “Be­tween 2014 and now, there has been a re­ac­tion, al­beit a small one. Things are bet­ter; the clien­tele has a lit­tle more con­fi­dence.”

If they hope to con­sol­i­date that trend, then ci­ti­zens at the bal­lot box must re­mem­ber the lessons of Brazil’s spec­tac­u­lar cor­rup­tion in­quiries, said Fran­cis­ley Martins, one of Mr. Igino’s em­ploy­ees.

“Brazil­ians have a short mem­ory. There are many peo­ple who did bad things and can run — and be elected — once again,” said Mr. Martins, 45. “We have to be very re­spon­si­ble when we vote for a can­di­date, look at his back­ground [to find out] if he did some­thing bad.”

He made the com­ments as judges were con­sid­er­ing the fate of Belo Hor­i­zonte na­tive Ae­cio Neves, a for­mer Mi­nas Gerais gov­er­nor and run­ner-up in the last pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, now caught up in the lat­est of count­less cases that have tainted much of Brasilia’s po­lit­i­cal class.

Painful as that con­stant drib­ble of scan­dal may be, it speaks to the strength of Brazil­ian in­sti­tu­tions tak­ing on the coun­try’s most pow­er­ful fig­ures, said po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tist Mar­cus Melo, co-au­thor of the Prince­ton Univer­sity Press book “Brazil in Tran­si­tion.” As painful as it has been to the na­tional psy­che, Brazil is prov­ing able to deal with its own fail­ings.

“In the short term, we are ex­pe­ri­enc­ing tur­bu­lence, but with a sil­ver lin­ing: Author­i­ties in Brazil have shown them­selves to be ef­fec­tive in the fight against cor­rup­tion,” Mr. Melo said.

Ef­forts such as the anti-cor­rup­tion Op­er­a­tion Car Wash, which has yielded some 1,400 years of com­bined prison terms and more than $3 bil­lion in seized funds, have few, if any, equals in history, he said. The reach of the scan­dal has shaken gov­ern­ments across Cen­tral and South Amer­ica.

“It’s a level of pun­ish­ment of the po­lit­i­cal elite you don’t find in any other coun­try,” Mr. Melo said, “other than Italy’s Mani pulite,” a 1990s probe that led to 1,300 plea bar­gains and con­vic­tions. “In the case of Brazil, we can say the glass is half-full,” he said.

Growth, fi­nally

While not good, the eco­nomic pic­ture is no longer one of un­re­lieved gloom.

In­fla­tion has fallen be­low gov­ern­ment tar­gets, and a grind­ing two-year re­ces­sion came to an end when the Brazil­ian econ­omy eked out a small gain in the first quar­ter of 2017. De­spite his po­lit­i­cal trou­bles, Mr. Te­mer this month said he is com­mit­ted to push­ing through la­bor and pen­sion re­form bills de­signed to give greater flex­i­bil­ity to busi­ness own­ers.

While the na­tional job­less rate hit a record 13.6 per­cent this spring and economists are not rul­ing out a dou­ble-dip re­ces­sion if world food and com­mod­ity prices turn south again, the gov­ern­ment last week re­ported an ad­di­tion of 34,253 pay­roll jobs in May, the sec­ond straight month of pos­i­tive em­ploy­ment mo­men­tum and well above economists’ ex­pec­ta­tions. Brazil’s econ­omy is pro­jected to reg­is­ter a 0.4 per­cent growth rate for all of 2017 — af­ter con­tract­ing 3 per­cent in 2015 and 2016.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.