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Brazil can’t be leader in region

September 17th, 2009

AMERICASThe United States isn’t in the slightest interested in continuing to be the power responsible for stability and good governance in Latin America. That was an uncomfortable task in the 20th century. But it’s over. Now that the Soviet Union is gone, American politicians see no potential danger to national security lurking in the region.

They consider Cuba a decrepit dictatorship that will disappear sooner or later, the victim of self-inflicted illness. They view Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez as an offbeat little looney who exports crude oil, capable of inflicting much harm upon the Venezuelans and Venezuela’s neighbors but not on the United States.

It is true that Fidel Castro and Chávez are embarked on a hallucinatory crusade intended to revive the conquest of the planet for the cause of 21st-century socialism, but the consequences of that stupidity affect only (for now) the direct victims of their machinations.

In a conflict like the one in Honduras, Washington doesn’t mind agreeing with the objectives of its enemies, even if the takeover of that country by Chavismo will eventually mean another couple of million illegal Hondurans in the United States, fleeing from hunger, the closing of the Palmerola base (as already happened with the Manta base in Ecuador) and another air strip for the drug traffickers.

Naturally, the United States would prefer it if the Latin American countries were democratic, prosperous and sensible, like those in the European Union, for instance, but Washington no longer feels an urgent need to guide them in that direction. However, Washington would like it if Brazil replaced it in that forsaken leadership and is trying to coax that country’s leaders to assume that role.

That wish is nothing more than a naive and unreal illusion.

Brazil is the size of the United States, with a population of 200 million, and has certain partially developed zones, such as Sao Paulo. But it is far from being a regional power. Brazil’s economy totals barely $2 trillion, and the nation is not the leader or an innovative force in any really important field. More than 30 percent of its population is very poor.

It has one of the world’s most unequal distributions of income, while its annual per-capita income, measured in terms of purchasing power parity, is barely $10,000. Eight Latin American countries surpass it in this regard, and one of them, Chile, does so by 50 percent.

Brazil’s level of corruption — 3.5, according to Transparency International — is shameful and worse than that of several African countries.

It maintains a protected economy that hampers competition and intense international trade. The Index of Economic Freedom assigns it a value of 56.7, which translates into a “nonfree economy” (the Index contains 104 countries that are freer than Brazil). Its bureaucracy is slow and clumsy. Its universities are mediocre, with few excellent learning centers. The number of its original scientific patents is ridiculously low, smaller than that of Israel, whose population is only eight million.

But there is something even more important than all of the above: Brazil hasn’t the slightest vocation for being a regional power.

It has always lived with its back to Spanish America (and vice versa) and — at least since the republic was established in 1889 — has no desire to assume leadership over its neighbors, which hasn’t prevented it from misappropriating border lands from Argentina, Paraguay, Bolivia, Guyana, Peru and Colombia.

To lead costs money, sometimes force is needed, and Brazil — which cannot even impose order in the slums — has spent too much time looking inward to reinvent itself at this time as the United States of South America. It’s not interested in that. Doesn’t wish it. Can’t do it. Doesn’t have the oomph.

It pretends it’s important, yes, but doesn’t assume international responsibilities. None of this means that Brazil is not a pleasant and amusing place to live, a lot nicer than many Spanish-American countries, but it does mean that you can’t get apples from an orange tree.(C)2009 Firmas Press


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