It had been a little over nine years since I had gone back to my native Brazil – almost a decade. Why so long? There was no good reason to do so. Until early 2016, no one in my immediate family lived in Brazil; therefore money and time were spent going somewhere else. Over the years, I followed what happened in Brazil through online news. My only tie to the country was a bank account I left there, so news about politics and the economy are of some relevance as my savings depend on them. One can get a taste of what is happening in the country through the news, but nothing beats going there and seeing things first hand – the news tend to be biased and exaggerate things.
Nine and something years is a long enough time to notice any major and minor changes. Such an extensive period away gives a clear contrast between the state the country finds itself today compared to how I left it in 2008. It is worth noting this was no ordinary decade. Between then and now, Brazil has gone through the GFC (Global Financial Crisis), the election of its first female president, her re-election and subsequent impeachment, the hosting of a World Cup and Olympics. A lot has taken place in the past nine year – not to mention the biggest corruption scandal in the country’s history, but more about that later.
For those that don’t know Brazil too well, on its flag there is the motto, “Order and Progress”. Given these two words live on the country’s highest symbol, one would assume these are the values the country lives by. After visiting Brazil, my perception was that there is still no order and there was very little progress – especially considering the country hosted the World Cup and Olympics.
As far back as I could remember, around the age of five, I would hear my parents and their friends discussing the same issues they are still talking about today such as corruption, violence, lack of infrastructure, inflation, unemployment and etc. Over thirty years later, these are still the same key problems facing the country today. Sure some improvements have been made such as the control of hyperinflation, but when compared to other developing countries Brazil is moving at snail pace. Don’t believe me? Compare the country’s progress with South Korea. However, this is an internal analysis, so the idea is to look at order and progress in absolute terms rather than compare it to other countries. Otherwise, one can just look at Venezuela, South Africa and Turkey and think Brazil is actually doing all right. However, when more than 50,000 people get murdered every year and over 80% of politicians are involved in the country’s biggest corruption scandal, who cares about what is going on somewhere else?
Regarding ‘Order’, there is no order. The country is chaos. As I mentioned the political class, do as they please with very few being properly punished – many end up in house arrest when convicted. Organised crime gangs run the country by having politicians, police officers, judges and prison guards on their payroll. (Watch the movie Elite Squad 2 to see what I am talking about). To avoid being mugged or shot by criminals, Brazilians now live behind barbed wire and bars and not the other way around. Is that order?
Regarding progress, not much has changed. Because of the World Cup and the Olympics, some investments in transport and infrastructure were made, but it is still far from what is truly needed for a country with a population of over 200K. One thing that Brazil did make progress is the number of stadiums. It now has the most expensive state-of-the-art stadiums in cities that don’t even have football teams. Another thing I noticed is also an exponential increase in speed control radars as if the population already didn’t spend enough on taxes and registration costs.
The most alarming of all trends is how Brazilians have not made much progress on their way of thinking. Nobody hesitates to complain about politicians, but when it comes to committing small acts of corruption and contributing to the lack of order, they can’t see past their noses. If a Brazilian has never lived overseas or travelled extensively, what he or she doesn’t notice is that the political class is just a reflection of the overall population. I bet that many of these people who complain about politicians being corrupt when put in a similar position would do the same things. In my three weeks there, I lost count of how many times I saw people jumping queues, running red lights, driving on the shoulder, standing up from plane seats before the plane stops and throwing rubbish out their window.
In the most blatant example of micro corruption, I was on a Gol Airlines flight, and my family had bought the extra legroom seats that cost more than the normal seats. In this particular flight, there were some empty extra legroom seats. Automatically, upon spotting those empty seats, two passengers tried to sit on those seats without paying the extra cost sneakily. The crew noticed and asked them to return to their seats politely then announced over the PA the policy around those seats. An hour and a half through the flight, the same person came back and did the same thing. This time the crew just pretended that they didn’t see what happened. How is that fair to my family and other people who paid extra for those seats?
Brazilians also complain how almost no government project meets its deadline. Now, have you ever made plans to meet a Brazilian for a meal or coffee? How many actually showed up on time? Brazilians have a notorious habit of being late to everything. Haven’t they realised that it is actually rude as they are wasting someone else’s valuable time? So how can a population expect politicians to finish projects on time when arriving at a social function on time seems to be a major challenge?
Let’s face it; “Order and Progress” are not in the country’s DNA. I went to watch my favourite football team play in their new stadium. Before the match started, we were asked to stand to sing the national anthem; first time I saw that done in a club match. Rather than sing the lyrics to the anthem, the entire stadium was mocking the anthem and resorting to their own renditions. Having lived in the US and Australia where the national anthem is sung with patriotic fervour, it bothered me. It shows that if the population doesn’t even have the basic sense of patriotism to sing the nation’s anthem properly, then how on Earth can we expect them to take the time to choose and vote for good politicians? The worst part was that I saw young kids doing the same. May the generation of Brazilians continue to enjoy living under no order and little progress.