- The Washington Times - Monday, August 16, 2004

RIO DE JANEIRO - Unlike Mexico and other nations in Latin America, which encourage their citizens to work in the United States, Brazil is battling to hang on to its would-be migrants by promoting national “self-esteem.”

“Of all the countries in Latin America, Brazilians are the ones with the lowest self-esteem. It’s chronic,” said Mauricio Machado, coordinator of a campaign called “The Best Thing About Brazil is the Brazilians.”

The effort to promote patriotism and self-esteem was inaugurated July 19 with help from President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

The private initiative run by the Brazilian Advertising Association comes at a time when the economy is improving, but an increasing number of Brazilians still are looking for an out. Some analysts differ on the self-esteem issue.

“Self-esteem is not a problem,” said Sergio Abranches, a political analyst in Rio de Janeiro. “Country satisfaction is high. If there is any self-esteem problem, it is due to the direct effect of a prolonged recession that has forced Brazilians to look elsewhere.”

There is opportunity, but it’s paying below the national average.

Seven in 10 workers hired this year at cosmetics company Boticario are earning a maximum of $173 monthly, according to the Inter-Trade Union Department of Statistics and Socio-Economic Studies.

The average Brazilian worker earns about $307 a month.

“I like Brazil, but I’m always disappointed,” said 33-year-old Luciana Genta Cordioli, a middle-class executive secretary at Milenia Agro Sciences.

Miss Cordioli, who is single, is more fortunate than most. Her Italian ancestry enabled her to obtain an Italian passport and the right to work just about anywhere in Western Europe.

Still, the pro-Brazil campaign has the support of corporations such as Microsoft and Boticario.

The local press is giving free airtime to the campaign, designed to showcase success stories of common Brazilians. The goal, Mr. Machado says, is to get Brazilians to value their country and the opportunities it offers.

According to pollsters at Instituto Sensus, 62 percent of those interviewed in July said they were satisfied with life in the country, compared with 73 percent in January 2003.

Heading out

The Brazilian Foreign Ministry said emigration numbers are increasing, but “not exploding.”

An estimated 2 million Brazilians live abroad. Most choose to live in the United States, are between ages 21 and 40, and have little formal education.

Outside the U.S. Consulate on Avenida Presidente Wilson, 25 persons waited recently to be called inside for their visa interviews. No one would talk about their travel plans.

One young man named Eduardo, 21, wearing a light-blue baseball cap with no team logo, said he entered the United States on a tourist visa and later received a student visa through City College of San Francisco.

He now works part time delivering pizza and said he sends $100 home each month, enough to pay for some of his parents’ bills in Rio. He said he earns about $1,800 monthly.

He was waiting outside for his girlfriend to get travel permission and declined to say whether she would follow his example and find work in the United States.

The U.S. Embassy did not provide data on visa applications.

Brazilian immigrants send $5.4 billion home annually, according to the Inter-American Development Bank, which is more than half of the $10 billion in foreign direct investment that the country is estimated to receive this year.

From the late 1940s to the early 1970s, Brazil received immigrants leaving war-torn Europe and Japan. But after 20 years of boom-and-bust cycles, upward mobility has become more difficult.

“Lula was from a poor family when he moved to Sao Paulo and quickly improved his life once he found work as an auto mechanic. It’s very hard to do that today,” said Luiz Gonzaga Belluzo, former secretary of economic policy at the Finance Ministry, referring to the president.

Maricy Schmitz, a single mother of a 2-year-old, said she left Brazil 10 years ago to work in the international education field in Ohio.

“It’s not easy,” she said during a recent trip to Rio with Wright State University students. “It’d be difficult for me to come back and readjust. I miss it here.”

When it comes to pride in culture and lifestyle, Brazilians consider their country one of the best. But a strong disdain for the establishment persists alongside harsh criticism of the government’s economic policies.

Ire over interest

A core grievance lies with the country’s prime interest rate, at 16 percent, about what an American consumer pays on credit cards.

Another problem is the administration’s decision to set aside 4.25 percent of state income in a primary surplus to make interest payments on its $315.6 billion public debt.

“I don’t understand why rich countries, with more resources than us, are allowed to have public deficits of 3 and 4 percent and we have to have a surplus of more than 4 percent,” said Oded Grajew, a former official in Mr. da Silva’s administration and creator of the World Social Forum, an international meeting of organizations critical of globalization.

The surplus is interpreted as a confidence indicator that Brazil can honor its contracts. Reducing it could lower demand for government bonds, which would force Brazil to raise interest rates to make the bonds more attractive. The higher the interest rate, the harder it is for the country to service its debt and the harder it becomes for local companies to expand.

Nonetheless, the International Monetary Fund recommended high interest rates throughout much of the 1990s and suggested a lower surplus target of 3.75 percent.

Brazil went from having a debt burden equal to 28 percent of gross domestic product to nearly 60 percent before Mr. da Silva’s administration took over in January 2003.

“These are the kind of incompetent economic policies we’ve inherited that have put pressure on the job market and sent people packing because they can’t make a living,” Mr. Belluzo said.

The government lowered its debt burden this year from 58.7 percent of the GDP in 2003 to 56 percent.

“I was against the high surplus, but now I’ve seen the light,” said Fernando Ribeiro, an economist at Sobeet, a business think tank in Sao Paulo. “I just hope it’s not the light of an oncoming train.”

Investing outside

Uncertainties lead Brazil’s investor class to save overseas. Bank deposits overseas rose 111.6 percent, from $7.9 billion in 2002 to $16.9 billion in 2003. Even Central Bank president, Henrique Meirelles, had undeclared assets in the United States that he is disputing in the Senate. The bank’s monetary policy director, Luiz Augusto Candiota, stepped down recently after it was discovered that he had $1.29 million in undeclared accounts in the United States.

“The Brazilian elite are not worried about Brazil because they put their money in the U.S., Switzerland and fiscal paradises,” Mr. Ribeiro said.

“If you have pride in the country, then you’ll have interest in investing here,” Mr. Machado said. “Why put it overseas if by keeping it here you are helping your fellow citizens?”

Mr. Machado cited a study by Santiago, Chile-based research firm Latin Barometer, showing that just 22 percent of Brazilians expressed confidence in their peers, compared with 52 percent of Chileans and 55 percent of Colombians.

“I love Brazil,” said Maria Regina Filgueira Reis, whose family is applying for Portuguese citizenship. “It’s the politicians and the establishment. We don’t deserve them.”

“This generation of politicians won’t change the country,” said Alexandre Jose Cardoso, driving a red cab past a calm Botafogo coast, with Pao de Acucar mountain straight ahead.

“This government is still part of the old guard. They think of their pocketbook first. One day, we’ll have a generation that will think of the common good first.”

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