Why everyone wants to be like Brazil

Across the Americas candidates promise to follow the footsteps of Brazil's former President Lula. But 'Brazil envy' makes it possible to gloss over the country's shortcomings, writes a guest blogger.

• A version of this post ran on the author's blog, Riogringa.com. The views expressed are the author's own.

It seems that in much of Latin America, there's a growing sense of Brazil envy.

Latin American media, like the international media, is increasingly covering Brazil, as people look to Brazil as an enviable success story. But the other interesting trend is an expanding group of Brazilian political consultants selling "the Brazil model" and the "Lula way" to Latin American political candidates.

Brazilian political consultants helped on the campaigns of Peru's President Ollanta Humala, El Salvador's President Mauricio Funes, and President Fernando Lugo, as well as Mr. Lugo's rival candidate. Brazilians are now working on the campaign for Henrique Capriles, the opposition candidate in Venezuela, a self-professed admirer of Lula and Brazilian social programs. Brazilians are also reportedly working for President Hugo Chavez, too. They're even working in the Dominican Republic, on Danilo Medina's campaign.

It makes sense that other countries are hoping to replicate Brazil's successes, particularly its social programs, poverty reduction and middle class expansion, political stability, and economic growth. Selling a market-friendly approach with Brazilian-style social programs is a no-brainer. It's also a given that left-leaning leaders would try to model themselves on Lula, who proved it was not only possible to keep business leaders happy and tackle poverty with cash transfer programs, but also do both with tremendous results and increase GDP at the same time. But Brazilians also offer Brazilian-style political campaigns, which are "more pragmatic, steered directly at voters, and [have] a certain dose of happiness," said a recent report on Brazilian political consultants. Ultimately, other countries hunger for Brazil's power and ascendance on the world stage, craving the newfound respect and clout the country enjoys abroad. There seems to be the impression, "If Brazil can do it, why can't we?"

Perhaps part of Brazilians' success at marketing their political approach is their incredible public relations abilities. After all, it's only recently that more countries are interested in the Brazil model, but Brazilian consultants have been around for over a decade, when they worked local and national political campaigns in Argentina.

Now more than ever, Brazilians in the public eye are excellent at marketing the country's success, able to dazzle both foreign investors and politicians alike. Lula himself, of course, was the master of PR, of branding and rebranding, of befriending everyone and appeasing opposition, of tailoring Brazil's image abroad. For consultants, the overwhelming sense of optimism in Brazil makes it easier to market the county, but nevertheless, it's tempting to gloss over Brazil's shortcomings with plenty of good things to talk about. Plus, Brazilians can make it possible to forget about the country's problems with their awe-inspiring tales of growth and promise.

But I think Al Jazeera journalist Gabriel Elizondo put it best when he [tweeted] this:

Everyone running for president in Latin America wants to follow "the Lula model." Easier said than done. Lula's secret weapon was: Brazil.

— Gabriel Elizondo (@elizondogabriel) February 17, 2012

Consultants can offer a guide for campaigns and policy, but there is no magic formula, not to mention very different economic and political realities and limitations in other countries. Brazil's rise has been inspiring for both Brazilians and people from developing countries, but it was also about time. Brazil is the largest country in Latin America in terms of geographic size and population, with a huge wealth of natural resources as well as large service companies and manufacturers. It was a story of success foretold. The combination of finally coming into its own and achieving its potential – no longer the country of the future – is something other Latin American countries crave, too. It's not as if Latin America as a region hasn't seen positive changes, including lower poverty rates and growing middle classes; there are plenty of success stories throughout the region in terms of economic growth, like Chile and Peru, for example. But there's still the reality that Brazil has become the regional star, and other countries hope to shine, too. (Don't ask the Mexicans about that, though. They may not want to talk about it.)

If anyone can convince other Latin Americans that it's possible to achieve Brazil-style success, regardless of whether it's possible or not, it will definitely be a Brazilian.

Rachel Glickhouse is the author of the blog Riogringa.com.

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