There is a telling quote, sometimes attributed to French general and statesman Charles de Gaulle, but also Brazilian diplomat Carlos Alves de Souza. It goes, “Brazil is the country of the future…and always will be.” Though resource-rich Brazil, a nation of abundant natural assets, a passionate people, and at-times emergent markets, is often referred to as a nation of great potential, it seemingly always finds itself in a cycle of corruption, inter-class violence, and stagnation – if not regression.
South America’s largest geographic nation currently finds itself mired in an ebb tide, with recent anti-corruption scandals having led to upheaval with no apparent recourse. Brazil has been marked by a culture of corruption for so long that both the public and private sectors are nearly impossible to extricate from political favors and cronyism. This was always the threat that loomed over calls to out corruption in the nation – that it would be a rabbit hole with no end, ironically leaving the country in worse disarray than ever before in recent memory.
As it turns out, the elites are fleeing the nation, as the corruption they played a key role in perpetuating has spiraled further into an untenable climate of rampant violence. Being conditioned how to react in the case of an armed robbery is now a prerequisite for life in Brazil – give up what you’ve got, no questions asked – and most of those who can afford to leave are doing just that. The nation perpetually seen as a dust-covered jewel thanks to its natural resources is once again giving way to a grim reality, and its upper class is jumping ship, unwilling to bet their children’s futures and lives on Brazil’s waning promise.
Corruption scandals have decimated the political and private landscapes, with three consecutive presidents being embroiled in accusations that they have taken bribes in return for government contracts. In addition, eight government ministers, two dozen senators and 39 members of Congress’s lower house have all been implicated to varying degrees in corruption scandals. Major players in the private sectors, including executives of baking and television empires and the nation’s largest beef exporter have been arrested, too. While the unprecedented cleaning of house is long overdue, there’s little doubt that the rocking of ages-old systems of accepted corruption have contributed to the nation’s sense of uncertainty.
Violence and the realization that Brazil is apparently no longer a playground for corrupt politicians and businesspeople is causing an exodus of elites that may just exacerbate the nation’s ills, as they are likely to take economic activity and potentially foreign investment as they emigrate.
One couldn’t blame anybody living in Brazil – elite or otherwise – for fleeing the violence. From a macro standpoint, it has gotten so bad that the president ordered the Brazilian army to take over security in Rio de Janeiro in February. Brazil has never had a reputation for safety, but even by Brazilian standards the current climate is completely out of hand.
First-hand accounts of life in the cities illustrate why so many are fleeing. It used to be that daylight was relatively safe in Rio’s mainstream neighborhoods. At night, you’re forgiven for not halting too long at a red light. But these days, even the days are marred by senseless violence.
‘Stray bullets from shootouts between drug gangs and security forces have caused scores of casualties, including a baby who was hit while in his mother’s arms in March inside one of the city’s well-known private schools. In the affluent Urca neighborhood, where locals go to watch the sunset, six dead bodies recently washed up on the rocks.’ (Wall Street Journal)
Brazil is currently experiencing its own form of catch-22. Corruption, which seemingly always held Brazil back from attaining its desired status among the world markets, is now being dealt with in earnest. But exposing the skeletons that have been such an integral, unspoken part of doing business in the nation has resulted in many of the nation’s elites facing trials, and has proven a detriment to a country already plagued by rampant gang violence, which often bleeds into the circles of the elites and middle class.
Those with money are in prime position to help right the Brazilian ship, but their understandable inclination towards self-preservation, of both themselves and their families, is leading them to seek refuge in Europe and the United States. And, it’s not a small number of Brazilians who are giving up on the nation, at least for the immediate future, and possibly for good.
‘About 52% of the richest Brazilians—those with a monthly household income of more than $2,500—want to emigrate, while 56% of college-educated Brazilians want to leave, according to a study published in June by Brazilian polling agency Datafolha. Overall, 43% of Brazilians would emigrate if they could.’ (WSJ)
In addition, emigration applications are up three-hundred percent since 2011, illustrating the seriousness of the recent uptick in violent crime. Unlike in the past, when private security was enough to maintain a bubble around the nation’s moneyed population, there is no hiding in today’s Rio.
‘Violence is a top concern, especially in Rio, where the near-bankrupt state government is struggling to provide the police with basic equipment. Even in luxury gated communities, surrounded by bodyguards, or in bulletproof sports cars, the rich say they no longer feel safe.’ (WSJ)
Who would have thought that Brazil’s reckoning with systematic corruption would have actually made things worse, and driven away those with perhaps the greatest potential for positive change? Some predicted it, but the extent to which it has proven true is startling. Brazil, the nation ever-considered a “nation of the future” is now being done in by its corrupt roots, a reality of the past – and still, to some extent the present – that is yielding its rotten fruits.