WORLD SOCIAL FORUM: Brazil – Another Power Is Possible

By Fabiana Frayssinet
RIO DE JANEIRO, Jan 22, 2010 (IPS) – The birthplace of the World Social Forum (WSF), conceived as an alternative to international meetings pursuing free-market economics, Brazil is on its way to becoming a major economic power, analysts say. The question is, what kind of model will it adopt to avoid the behaviour it has previously criticised?

President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva is apt to reiterate that Brazil has its own model – one that works – in his speeches at home and abroad. But it is up to his ministers to express it in the shape of programmes and goals, including Tourism Minister Luiz Barretto.

“Brazil is likely to become the world’s fifth largest economy by 2016,” said the minister at the launch of a strategic plan for tourism for the next 10 years.

“Brazil’s present excellent economic condition, as the last economy to enter and the first to recover from the (global financial) crisis, definitively ensures the country will have great importance on the international scene in the next decade,” he said.

Francisco Barone, an economist with the Getulio Vargas Foundation, produced statistics to verify this prediction. One measure of a country’s potential economic growth is its gross domestic product (GDP).

“According to its GDP, Brazil is one of the top 10 economies in the world,” said the economist. And its prospects for further growth mean it will become one of the leaders among the BRIC countries – Brazil, Russia, India and China, all fast-growing developing economies – within five years, he predicted.

Barone attributes these prospects to Brazil’s huge internal market. With a population of 190 million, most of what is produced is consumed domestically.

Brazil has other advantages, too, such as its enormous energy matrix – boosted by new oil reserves recently discovered by state oil giant Petrobrás – and its industrial diversity, economic stability and export sales, ranging from agricultural commodities to airplanes manufactured by Embraer, a state firm.

Cándido Grzybowski, the head of the Brazilian Institute for Social and Economic Analyses (IBASE), which has participated in the organisation of the WSF since its inception, said, quoting the WSF slogan, that just as “Another World is Possible,” so too another kind of world power is possible.

In an interview with IPS before the 10th WSF, which opens Jan. 25-29 in the southern Brazilian city of Porto Alegre, Grzybowski said he would like Brazil to model itself as a “world power” that first and foremost corrects shortcomings in its own society, like its appalling social inequality.

Barone said Brazil has made some progress on this issue, highlighted in official statistics from the Institute of Applied Economic Research (IPEA), which reported that 19.5 million people were lifted out of poverty between 2003 and 2008, and the incomes of the poorest 10 percent of the population grew faster than those of the richest 10 percent, “indicating a reduction in social inequality in the country.”

But there is still much more to be done, said Barone. The scourge of hunger has not yet been overcome: 15 million people still live with food insecurity.

“To become an economic power, social inequality must be reduced,” for humanitarian reasons but also pragmatic ones, Barone said. “When millions of socially excluded people become consumers, there will be more demand for national products, and industry will produce more and will take on workers, creating a virtuous cycle of growth.”

Grzybowski mentioned other problems arising from Brazil’s epic inequality, such as “the right to fair distribution of common goods in this wealthy land.”

In Brazil “it is considered normal to have estates of 3,000, 200,000 or 500,000 hectares.” The owners of huge estates “are less than one percent of all landowners, but they have enormous powers of veto in Congress,” he said.

“Something is wrong with this world power,” he reflected.

The head of IBASE – one of the organisations on the WSF International Committee – is seeking another kind of world power, one that “does not reproduce the imperialist model,” so often criticised at the forum, which is being held in decentralised fashion this year in at least 27 regions worldwide.

Grzybowski would like to see Brazil become a “positive” world power, with a “balanced” international agenda, for instance in the case of Petrobrás’ expansion into neighbouring countries like Bolivia, or Brazilian negotiations with Paraguay over the Itaipú hydroelectric station, shared by the two countries.

In his view, Brazil’s “attitude of respect towards those (smaller) countries” needs to be further reinforced, recognising that “the relationship (with them) is completely asymmetrical.”

“We cannot simply go on treating them like the rest of the world has always done, using the power of our dominant position. We have to turn that relationship upside down,” he said, adding that he fears his country might start to “take advantage of the poverty of others.”

“I would like to see a Brazil that is motivated by solidarity; not a Brazil that competes for membership of exclusive clubs like G8 or G20, but a country that promotes equality between peoples,” and that accepts “that it administers a great natural heritage, and therefore has a responsibility to the planet as a whole,” Grzybowski said.

He said he also wanted his country to take a more “radical stance on human rights.”

“We cannot just go all over the place, making trade agreements to capture markets while ignoring systematic human rights violations in the countries we do business with,” he said, referring to African countries ruled by dictators, with which Brasilia has negotiated agreements.

Grzybowski said he is concerned, for instance, “about what China is doing in Africa,” and hopes that Brazil will not adopt the model of this other emerging power. “China is making the most of underdevelopment to serve its so-called national interest,” he said.

“Is that really a model we want to follow?” he asked.

In his view, the WSF could also contribute to an alternative model of power by promoting, through its social organisations, a “progressive, democratic and egalitarian agenda based on social justice.”

“An agenda that redefines the model of development, an agenda that connects social justice with environmental justice, can only emerge from civil society,” Grzybowski said.