Brazil on the Rise
American journalist Larry Rohter analyzes the dramatic transformation of Brazil over the course of the past four decades.
When Larry Rohter, then an aspiring China scholar, first dropped into Brazil in 1972, he saw a country on a path that few envied. It was in the middle of a 21-year military dictatorship and “wanted” posters of young, long-haired “terrorists” hung on the walls of the airport he entered. The press was censored. Brazilian debt to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and other international lenders was spiraling. Inflation was the untamable “dragon,” as it was called in Portuguese slang, and totaled an approximate quadrillion percent cumulatively in the 20th century.Skip to next paragraph
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Now? The fertile and massive nation, whose Amazon region alone is bigger than all of Europe, is each day more seriously fulfilling its potential – though not without serious drawbacks. Rohter, a 14-year Newsweek and New York Times correspondent, traces the course of Brazil’s ascendancy in the alternately lively and hard-hitting Brazil on the Rise: The Story of a Country Transformed.
“In purely historical terms, 40 years is barely the blink of an eye,” Rohter writes. “Yet over the last four decades, Brazil has arguably experienced deeper and more profound changes than it did during some of the centuries when it was a Portuguese colony.”
Two popular presidents have together carried out four terms since the return to stable, civilian rule. Among today’s developing countries, only China receives more foreign direct investment than Brazil. The country is immensely proud to be hosting the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Summer Olympics. It is now a creditor to the IMF with a new, strong currency. And to boot, its trade surplus, largely held in US Treasury notes, now makes it the fourth-largest creditor of the United States.
Rohter’s very contemporary narrative of the past four decades of Brazilian history is peppered with supporting tales and interviews from his reporting, which give texture to his monograph. The book is accessible to a first-time tourist but also balanced and analytical enough for any Brazilian (or Brazilianist).
In Rohter’s most uniquely thoughtful chapter – on the Amazon and Brazil’s forceful tugs to preserve it, use it, or guard it from a perceived threat of foreign takeover (“The Amazon is ours!” is the refrain drilled into Brazilians) – he recounts what he calls “development gone awry, Amazon-style.” He traveled with a young census taker along the Solimões River. She had taken the job because she couldn’t find teaching work. As they visited a small island with 100 children, none of whom attended school because one had never been built, she told him: “I’d give anything to be able to be the teacher here.... But the money never gets where it’s supposed to go. It always ends up in the pockets of the politicians and their friends.”