Foreign Policy Blogs

Brazil in 2010 – a review


Brazil has long seemed poised to join China, Germany and the US as one of the few nations with influence that stretches far beyond its borders. Years from now, many historians may look back on 2010 as the year that Brazil at last turned the corner in its ascent as a global power. Brazil’s economy continued to grow at a staggering pace, topping 7% for the year, and the country leapfrogged Canada and Spain into eighth place on the list of the world’s largest economies. The South American giant also cemented its role as the undisputed economic leader of Latin America, and today Brazil is responsible for roughly 60% of the region’s industrial output.

The year also marked a watershed for Brazil as a diplomatic power. In a move that alarmed the Obama administration, Brazil played a central role in brokering a nuclear fuel swap between Iran and Turkey. Closer to home, but still outside its traditional zone of influence, Brazil continued to supply the bulk of troops for MINUSTAH, the UN peacekeeping force in Haiti whose role took on greater significance following the massive January earthquake. Lula remained arguably the most influential leader on the continent, taking a hands-on approach in myriad of foreign crises, including the Honduras coup, where the Brazilian president was credited by ousted president Manuel Zelaya with saving his life.

Deep-seated social problems still plague the country. Although the gap between rich and poor has shrunk in recent years, Brazil remains one of the most unequal countries in the world. These divisions were on gruesome display in last month’s raid on Complexo do Alemão. While violent crime overall has declined, particularly in large cities like Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, it is trending upwards in the small but growing towns in the country’s interior.

The most important event of the year was the Brazilian election, which was won by Dilma Rouseff, Lula’s former chief of staff and his hand-picked successor. The election was a key moment in Brazil’s history for numerous reasons, but two milestones stand out. First, Dilma will become the first woman president of the country. Second, her victory will mark the first time since 1985, when democracy was restored in Brazil, that the incumbent party will keep the office of the presidency.

Person of the Year

Could it be anyone but the incomparable Lila? With an approval rating of 80%, Brazil’s outgoing president leaves office as the most popular politician in the country’s history, and is arguably Latin America’s most beloved leader ever.  Dilma, an uninspiring speaker and political neophyte, owes her election to him. His record will be argued over for years to come, and many of the left won’t soon forget the feeling of betrayal over his embrace of free market principles, but the 29 million people were lifted out of poverty under his tenure will largely define his legacy.

What to watch in 2011

For a country that evolves as rapidly as Brazil, it’s difficult to predict what lies ahead. But a few issues will bear watching:

  • Prison reform. The number of incarcerated people is now double what it was in 2000. The system has reached a breaking point, and the administration must tackle the problem. One way to start is to stop locking up non-violent drug offenders
  • Offshore oil. What will Brazil do with its massive offshore deposits, many of which were found not long after the Deepwater Horizon accident?
  • Interest rates. Will the Central Bank raise interest to head off an asset bubble?
  • Lula’s role in the new government. Lula has left open the possibility that he’ll run again in 2014. A more immediate question, though, is how much influence he’ll have over the new government’s decision-making.