Brazil has taken a dive. For the last few years, ‘Brazil’ and ‘boom’ were synonymous. Not any more. The tropical honeymoon is over. Even this year’s World Cup won’t save the country from economic decline. The global crisis has finally hit these shores and the shockwaves are shaking the coconut trees.
This year is election year and the Brazilian Workers’ Party (PT) are hoping their “iron lady” Dilma Rousseff will win the voters’ confidence for a second term. Dilma has impeccable Marxist credentials: she fought as an urban guerilla against the military dictatorships of the 60s and 70s, earning herself a spell in prison where she was allegedly tortured. But comrade Dilma now has big problems. So much so, that I reckon she should listen to some sound advice from a straight-talking Bradford bloke like me. So, for the purposes of this post, I am recasting myself as an old lefty pal of Dilma’s from way back when. So, I have made a list of items she needs to address. Here goes:
IMAGE: Dilma, baby, you look ridiculous. Have you looked in the mirror recently? Your hair looks sculpted. Who are you trying to frighten? Think natural; look natural; be one of us again. And all that power dressing! What happened to the old jeans and jumpers you used to wear? You know, the communist clobber? Stop trying to look like Angela Merkel…you’re Brazilian, for god’s sake! Stop hiding behind a corporate mask, comrade. Ditch the designer wardrobe, get off your cardboard pedestal and come back down to the people – your people. And try to lose some weight: you’re beginning to look suspiciously like a self-satisfied bourgeois.
COMMUNICATION: Have you talked to any ordinary Brazilians recently to find out what they expect from the government? I thought so – hiding in your office again, behind a barrage of empty rhetoric. Stop acting. You are not a two-dimensional technocrat. Get out and meet the people. Every struggling Brazilian would love to tell you about their plight. Remember this is supposed to be a democracy. How can you make policies if you don’t know what the people want at grassroots level? Imagine being able to make an election speech where you can say that you have “spoken to hundreds of families and understand their needs”. Don’t be shy – you know it makes sense.
EDUCATION: Oh dear, what a sad story. You are proud to boast that every Brazilian kid now has a chance to go to school…but what kind of school? Some of them are a disgrace. For this, there is NO EXCUSE. Income and import taxes are ridiculously high, so you’ve had plenty of money to spend, especially in recent years. Education has to be your number one priority from now on. That’s number one, right? Top doggy. Listen to me: illiteracy and ignorance are rife. Are you proud of that? Without a greatly revalued and revamped education system, one which encourages and esteems academic achievement, Brazil will never be able to compete with other major economies and will continue to hang its head in shame.
CORRUPTION: OK, Dilma, you’ve been a tad unlucky. A gang of your own party members – people who claim to be socialists fighting for the rights of the poor – have been caught embezzling on a grand scale, lining their own pockets with tax-payers’ money. It must be so embarrassing for you, I know. But don’t bury your head in the sand. Have the courage to stand up in public and condemn those convicted of fiddling. In fact, go a step further: set up a commission to investigate corruption at all levels of government. Remember, you have nothing to fear but your own safety.
FIFA: Stop boasting that the 2014 World Cup will be the best ever – it’s defensive and plainly not true. The stadiums have already sucked billions in public money and many are doomed to be white elephants. That’s hard-working Brazilians paying for gilded arenas the inside of which they can never afford to see. So the people are angry and have every right to be, don’t you see? So prepare yourself for more protests, baby! What to do? Don’t let FIFA run off with all the profits – that would be silly. You need to redirect some of the money back into the local communities – housing, health and other social programmes. If you really want to make the World Cup “the best ever”, use it as a development tool to empower poor, struggling Brazilians – not FIFA executives.
I could go on, Ms President…I could talk about the dreaded inflation that seems out of control, import taxes that make cars here vastly over-priced, a bloated public sector with its mindless bureaucracy and Russian-style protectionism, an impoverished and shoddy public healthcare system…but I won’t say any more.
Only this: Dilma, you are our sister, fellow-worker, comrade – a mother, a woman. Of course you are proud of Brazil – the country is wonderful in many ways. But rich and poor are staring at each other across an ever-widening abyss. Don’t be an also-ran. Don’t be Brazil’s first woman president who became an irrelevance. Be great. I think you can do it. But you have to be bold…very bold. And you have to be human again.