Brazil – country-planet

Image: Silvia Faustino Saes
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By PAULO NOGUEIRA BATISTA JR.*

Brazil has the conditions, size and experience to act decisively, positively and in solidarity on the major issues that concern the world today

Lately, I've been thinking a lot – not only with my head, but also with my heart – about Brazil's planetary role. This may seem strange, when you consider how low we are at home and abroad. I admit it's really weird. But our country, reader, has to think big. You cannot just take care of yourself and your immediate surroundings.

Am I exaggerating? I do not believe. Brazil had, or started to have, in a not too distant time, exactly this planetary role. I myself participated in this, within the scope of the IMF, the G20 and the BRICS, and I know what I am talking about. What I am going to write today is anchored not only in desires or projects, but also in experiences. I invite the reader to ignore our deplorable circumstances and look to the future. You can also miss the future.

Megalomania and Nanomania

I am well aware that every time Brazil tries to live up to its size and potential, a sinister chorus of dissenting, skeptical or defeatist voices arises. The supposed megalomania of Brazilian national projects is denounced, much more inside than outside the country, often aggressively.

Well, well, frankly! Megalomania? On the contrary! Brazilians suffer from nanomania, as noted by Chancellor Celso Amorim. Exactly that: nanomania, mania for being small, a term that may have been coined by the former (and, I hope, future) Minister of Foreign Affairs of Brazil.

Our problem was never a supposed delusion of grandeur. In fact, there's no point in talking about it. Brazil is big – objectively speaking. We don't even need, therefore, to be obsessed with being what we already are.

What we lack, of course, is the subjective dimension of greatness, the self-assurance that transforms objective, factual greatness into a complete reality. But the objective and factual basis is overwhelmingly abundant.

Allow me, reader, to repeat myself a little, before entering the subject of this article. It's just that repetition is often an absolutely essential resource. Nelson Rodrigues already said that everything that is not repeated, insistently, with determination and with impudence, remains rigorously unprecedented. Following this recommendation, I have therefore tirelessly and obsessively pointed to the glaring obvious: Brazil is one of the world's giants. We have the fifth largest territory, the sixth largest population and the eighth largest economy on the planet. Brazil is part of a group of only five countries, along with the United States, China, India and Russia, which make up the lists of the ten largest nations in terms of GDP, geographic extension and inhabitants. It was for no other reason that I named my most recent book “Brazil doesn't fit in anyone's backyard”.

These data are so obvious that they don't even need to be mentioned, much less insistently. Nor would it be necessary for a Brazilian economist to write a book with that title. It is our nanomania that makes insistence inescapable, or at least excusable.

This is all by way of introduction. This is what I really wanted to say: Brazil has a planetary destiny reserved for it and, therefore, we cannot think only of ourselves and our close neighbors. Messianic? Whatever. But I try to explain.

          Europe, United States, China

I start with the world board. There is a scandalous vacuum on the planet. None of the major powers, despite their merits, manage to offer a convincing worldview.

Europe, for example, is a marvel. What a continent! So much culture, history, beauty and variety! And yet it aged. It no longer has the same vigor, nor the same creativity. While in countries like Brazil everything remains to be done, in Europe the weight of the past crushes the present generations. Prejudiced and closed, reply sur soi meme, Europe is not even really interested in the rest of the world. Defensive and clinging to her achievements and privileges, she offers little, invents little for the benefit of others. I myself saw how in the IMF and in the G20, the Europeans, as a block, tenaciously resisted the reform of the international institutions.

The United States is undeniably a great nation, which has already given and will still give much to the development of civilization. Without having a culture and history as old and as rich as those of Europe, Americans share with Europeans values, traditions, principles. And also some fundamental fears. They fear the end of the hard-won hegemony of the 20th century. They deal badly with the gradual loss of economic and demographic expression, in the face of the rise of emerging economy countries, especially China. In my contact with the Americans, at the IMF and at the G20, I noticed how difficult, sometimes impossible, it is to work in cooperation with them. Even when there is agreement on the topics under discussion! An arrogant attitude prevails on the American side and a certain mania for designating itself as a world leader and intending, frequently, to impose its points of view.

Does that change with Biden? He is doing his best to recover the country's internal cohesion, eroded by decades of neoliberal economic and social policies and by the turmoil caused by his immediate predecessor. It is fully aware that attacking the inequalities, injustices and inefficiencies that have accumulated over the last 40 years is a condition sine qua non to meet the challenge posed by China. By making this internal effort, Biden breaks with regressive policies and sends a positive message to the world.

Unfortunately, at that point, it was already clear that its internal policy, innovative and laudable, is one thing, and its foreign policy, marked by the vices and ingrained selfishness of the imperial power, is another. Solidarity, justice and development from within. Imperialism, hostility, or outward indifference. That's right? I don't want to be unfair or prejudiced, but Biden's international policy does not escape the traditional rails for now. Even he wishes he could say otherwise. But how? To cite just one example: so far Biden has not taken a single step to relax the absurd embargo policy towards Cuba, intensified during the Trump period.

And China? Does it have conditions to fill the vacuum left by the traditional powers? To offer a new message to the world? The Chinese, like the Europeans and Americans, have qualities – and they are not few. His discipline, work capacity, dedication, sense of community and patriotism are notable. The Chinese are rightly proud of the country's resounding success over the same four decades in which much of the West got stuck in the neoliberal quagmire. China, by the way, never bought the “Washington Consensus” that was so successful here in Latin America.

The cohesion that the United States lacks China makes up for (perhaps even too much). And please note, reader, that the qualities of the Chinese were strongly felt in the quick, disciplined and effective way in which they faced the challenge of Covid-19 – an impressive contrast with the hesitations, irrationalities and incompetence that were seen, and still see themselves in the West.

And yet, despite some impactful initiatives, notably the Silk Road, how narrow and uncreative China's international agenda is still! Both at the IMF, the G20 and the BRICS, I could observe how the Chinese concentrate their efforts on a few key points, which they consider to be of interest, and leave the rest more or less in the background. That should change, I believe, but not overnight.

In recent years, with Xi Jinping in charge, an aspect that seemed important to me has been lost – a certain care, a certain humility in dealing with other countries. Success has perhaps gone to his head a little. There is now a certain arrogance, a certain chauvinism. China, even more than before, has difficulty in arousing the confidence of other countries and, in particular, its neighbors. It has no assured leadership and hegemony even in East Asia. There is a lot of envy, intrigue and anti-China propaganda, no doubt, but the Chinese also fuel negative reactions to them abroad.

O Brazil's planetary role  

But it was Brazil that I wanted to talk about. So how does our country stand in this international context? Well then, dear reader, prepare yourself for a bombastic statement: Brazil is destined, due to its own history and formation, to play a unique role, to bring a message of hope, generosity and unity to the entire planet.

The text is already getting too long and I need to try to be more direct. Due to circumstances in life, I had to spend most of my time abroad. And I was soon able to perceive the great qualities of the Brazilian in comparison with other peoples – vivacity, joy, cordiality, affection, sweetness, creativity, ability to invent and improvise, among others. Since 2015, and especially since 2019, we have been thrown into denial of all of this. Brazilians don't even recognize themselves anymore. But it is not in a few years that the spirit of a people can be destroyed. And it is precisely this spirit that the planet urgently needs to face its economic, social, climate and public health crises.

Our history prepares us to naturally play a planetary role. Brazil is a universal country in its own origin and formation. The native peoples, from Asia, the Portuguese, the Africans, other European peoples, Italians, Spaniards, Germans, etc., converged here. The largest Japanese population outside of Japan is in Brazil. The Brazilian population of Lebanese origin is greater than the entire population of Lebanon. Salvador is the largest black city outside Africa, surpassed in population by only four or five cities on the other side of the South Atlantic. Brazil, in short, contains the planet within itself.

I would almost say: it's not just that Brazil doesn't fit in anyone's backyard, but it's the world that fits in our backyard. But that would be arrogance, something the Brazilian knows best to avoid. It's not like the world fits in our backyard. He is inside us, in our history, in our formation, in our blood. The world made us.

It goes without saying that Brazil's international role depends on the resumption of a national development project, which begins with the rescue of the Brazilian people themselves, a rescue that needs to be embodied in the generation of jobs and opportunities and in the fight against inequality, poverty and injustice within the country, as I tried to highlight in a recent article in the earth is round. This rescue has to take the form of a true offensive, a movement in forced march, concentrated in time and supported by our successful experiences in the social area.

But the point I wanted to stress today is that our national development project cannot be just national, narrow and selfish. National, yes, but not just national. Brazilian, yes, but not closed and exclusive. The Brazilian project will have to be national and universal at the same time. It's our destiny.

I'm using the word destiny here Cum grain salis. Brazil can perfectly remain unfaithful to this destiny. And thus leave a huge gap on the planet.

our experience

To anyone who doubts all of this and wants to disqualify what I am saying as mere delirium, utopia or daydream, I have only the following to say: Brazil has already shown, in practice, I insist, that it is able to move in that direction. This is what we saw a short time ago, during the Lula government and, to a lesser extent, during the Dilma government. Brazil was once, as Chico Buarque said at the time, a country that didn't speak harshly with Bolivia and didn't even chit with the United States. He treated everyone with care and consideration. More than that: it began to act in all corners of the world, always bringing a word of peace, justice and reconciliation. I lived abroad for most of that time and can testify to Brazil's growing influence and the respect and sympathy we elicited.

More than a witness, I was, in certain areas, an active participant in this Brazilian ascent, within the scope of the IMF, the G20 and the BRICS. We had the energy, dear reader, to be concerned even with themes remotely connected to the country's immediate interests. For example: Was Iceland being wronged by other Europeans? There we were to help Icelanders defend themselves at the IMF. Was Greece massacred by Germany and other Europeans? We were there to denounce and criticize, in detail, the absurdities of the economic adjustment imposed on the Greeks. Did small and fragile countries need special attention? There we were to build initiatives and action mechanisms in defense of these countries within the IMF. Were Portuguese-speaking countries in Africa and Asia abandoned and neglected? We were there to try to help them and, if possible, bring them into our group at the IMF.

In the major issues at that time, of immediate and strategic interest to Brazil, Brazilian action rose to the highest levels of government, to the Minister of Finance, the Minister of Foreign Affairs and the President or President of the Republic. For example: was the G7, composed only of the main developed countries, too narrow to face the challenges of the international crisis? We were there to help and, at times, lead the movement to transform the G20 into a forum for leaders and replace the G7 as the main forum for international cooperation. Were the World Bank and other multilateral banks intrusive, slow and outdated? There we were, together with the other BRICS, to create a multilateral bank, the New Development Bank, designed to inaugurate a new pattern of financing for development, focused on social and environmental sustainability and founded on respect for developing countries and their national strategies. Did the IMF resist governance reforms? There we were, again with the BRICS, to create our own monetary fund capable of acting independently.

I have mentioned only examples from my immediate sphere of activity. Brazil has done much more in the international field. Many of our initiatives have not yet borne fruit or fell by the wayside after Brazil plunged into its political and economic crisis. We were just getting started and we certainly made a lot of mistakes. But no one was surprised that Brazil was present and active in almost all major international issues. That's what you expect from a giant country like ours.

It is also true that the sudden rise of Brazil has thwarted interests and aroused disquiet and jealousy in some parts of the developed world, notably in the United States, even if this was not always clearly manifested. And these concerns gave rise to external actions that explain, in part, our current misfortunes – as was clear in the information that has surfaced in the most recent past. We have to protect our flanks and rear better next time.

To resume Brazil's planetary role is to resume a project of previous generations of Brazilians who knew how to think big. Celso Furtado, for example, the patron of the chair I am leading at UFRJ, ended a conference given at USP in 2000, with the following appeal to young Brazilians: “We have to prepare the new generation to face great challenges, because it is a matter of, for on the one hand, to preserve the historical heritage of national unity, and, on the other hand, to continue building a democratic society open to foreign relations. (…) In a word, we can say that Brazil will only survive as a nation if it transforms itself into a fairer society and preserves its political independence. Thus, the dream of building a country capable of influencing the destiny of humanity will not have faded”.

We survived!

I'm going to finish this text that came out too long. I hope the reader has made it this far. Despite all the arguments and explanations, the article was perhaps even a little delusional. Patience. Isn't it, after all, through delirium that one gets to the bottom of things? And it doesn't even seem so delusional to me to recognize that Brazil has the conditions, size and experience to act decisively, positively and in solidarity on the major issues that concern the world today - in the environmental crisis, in the fight against poverty and hunger, in the fight against present and future pandemics.

I fully understand that statements like the ones I made can arouse distrust and skepticism. We suffered and are suffering a lot, I know. The destruction was great – and it continues. But, as Nietzsche said, what doesn't kill us makes us stronger. We survived and are preparing to turn around. In retrospect, our recent and current torments will be remembered, I believe, as the ordeal we had to go through to prepare ourselves better and more deeply for the planetary role we are destined for.

I reread what I wrote. It's very emotional. Did I load too much on the paints? I don't think so. But we'll see.

*Paulo Nogueira Batista Jr. he holds the Celso Furtado Chair at the College of High Studies at UFRJ. He was vice-president of the New Development Bank, established by the BRICS in Shanghai. Author, among other books, of Brazil doesn't fit in anyone's backyard: backstage of the life of a Brazilian economist in the IMF and the BRICS and other texts on nationalism and our mongrel complex (LeYa).

Extended version of article published in the journal Capital letteron July 23, 2021.

 

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