More than Soccer and Wood: Brazil as a Rising Power

As the world descends to Brazil for the World Cup, most people are only imagining two things: Soccer, which was made famous in cities like Menaus and Sao Paolo, and Brazilian Wood, considered some of the finest wood in the world. The men will look to some of the beaches to see beautiful, beach-going women of unique skin complexion, while women watch for strong Brazilian men in parades and soccer fields. The tourists from around the world will admire the great expanse of the Amazon, the beauty of cosmopolitan Rio de Janeiro, and the burgeoning mega-city of Sao Paolo. The eyes of the world are upon this country, the largest democracy in the world, that has endured a past of military dictatorships and state-controlled economic institutions. They will also do the same when athletes come for the Summer Olympics in Rio 2016, marking this decade a remarkable one for this South American nation, tied together by a history rich in cultural conflicts, the struggle of balancing healthy democracy with state interest, and defining the Brazilian identity.

This history was not well known outside the scholars of the Lusophone (Portuguese speaking world) or Brazil itself. But there is reason to take notice. Brazil captures the imagination as the first South American Power, both as a rising economic hegemon and political actor. While the United States is concerned with China, Russia, and the European Union, Brazil has been (as Isoroku Yamamoto called the USA) a sleeping dragon with great potential to shake up the world order created after World War II. A combination of its historical factors, combined with rising global economic trends, makes this decade one for Brazil rather than China, India or the other states of the BRICS Bloc (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa).

One of the crucial factors in developing a rising state has been creating a national identity that is confident. Among the BRICS, only China and Brazil have managed to accomplish this feat. Brazil has a strong national identity, forged first by the existence of the Portuguese and Brazilian monarchy, then by the issue of slavery and racism, and finally by the Age of Vargas. The subsequent dictatorships that followed Getulio Vargas‘ assassination in 1954 further laid groundwork for the economic success in the post Cold War period.  The countries strong roots in positivism has greatly influenced statecraft among intellectuals and the political elite, giving them a belief in the ultimate direction of the country. This led them to strengthen the federal government, organize the economy through policies akin to China’s state capitalism, and create a national identity that accounts for Brazil’s diverse demographics and micro-cultures. Under its banner of “Ordem e Progresso, ” which adorns the Brazilian flag, the political and economic elite have dragged the country slowly upward, making it competitive in the international markets of today.


Data and Photo courtesy Research-Deloitte

Though Brazil lags substantially behind China in real GDP growth, it does remain ahead of its peers in BRICS, including India. This is partially influenced by the careful centralization     of fiscal and monetary policies on the Federal level, and the lack of serious ethnic conflict. In post-Real Economic Plan Brazilian economy, Brazil experienced consistent economic growth,   despite two  major downturns in 1997 and 2007.  It’s economic vitality is captured both by the megacities of Sao Paolo, Rio De Janeiro and Brasilia, as well as the continued and steady public investments  in education, transportation, and cooperation of government and business to achieve national advancement. For examples, the state of Sao Paolo has consistently invested 1% of its GDP  towards education, recognizing that the Brazilian worker is   most competitive when well educated. This has also attracted private investors, which has contributed to the FDI (foreign direct investment) of $64 billion, according to Deloitte (EIU) in 2013.

Ultimately, this increasing strength allows it to exert influence beyond its own borders, which can be military, political, cultural or economic. Brazil has a capacity to play a unique role in the international arena that also challenges the status quo set by the United States, the rising ambitions of China and the balance of power in the South Atlantic regions. As the largest Portuguese speaking country in the Lusophone, it carries a strong weight of legitimacy through its shared history with Portugal via the shared monarchy, and the former colonies in Africa (Angola, Mozambique, Sao Tome, etc.). Its geographical position in the South Atlantic gives it a great ability to exert economic pressure and build trade relations in Africa much like China has done in East Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa. By building increased maritime trade with its cultural counterparts and Portugal, Brazilians would follow the Chinese path (and the US) to developing a trade network with political influence in tow.  This Lusophone connection would increase Brazil’s own legitimacy as a global leader and form a natural bloc for trade and commercial ventures.

The benefits of the Lusophone Connection are linked also to Brazil’s own relationship with the rest of Latin America and, by extension, the United States. Brazil is culturally different from the rest of its neighbors, who come from a largely Spanish heritage. Their political and cultural histories are fundamentally different, as the Latin American states, like Argentina, have long traditions of military dictatorships and a strong Marxist component that was spurred on by the example of Cuba. Yet, Brazil has played well in the last decades, working to resolve disputes through Organization of American States (OAS) and being a counterbalance at times times to US interference. It has been a cultural ambassador to neighboring states through sponsoring university scholarships, providing foreign aid, and participating in Mercosur, the South American Customs Union to promote free trade. Through this delicate balance of priorities, Brazil already exists as a leading regional power with international ambitions.

The Brazilian world twenty years from now looks like a spanning trade network from the Tierra Del Fuego to Caracas, and from Rio to Lusaka, with Brazil in the center. By exploiting the Lusophone Connection and its ties to the Latin American community, Brazil is poised to become the dominant player in the Global South, far ahead of its peers, India and South Africa. Unlike the Sochi Olympics, the Rio Games in 2016 will reflect a country that is eager to challenge a long standing status quo: a Euro-American dominated global market. How? By capitalizing on its strength as a cultural and economic diplomat, and filling this niche in global decision making. We need only watch the television and live broadcast, cheering on our respective teams at the 2014 World Cup. In short, let the games begin!

Art int he Favellas, a testament to Brazilian cultural flourishing. Photo courtesy of the Smithsonian

Art int he Favellas, a testament to Brazilian cultural flourishing. Photo courtesy of the Smithsonian

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