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Jorge Heine holds the CIGI Chair in Global Governance at the Balsillie School of International Affairs, Wilfrid Laurier University. His book (with Andrew Cooper) Which Way Latin America? Hemispheric Politics Meets Globalization, is published by United Nations University Press.
For those who arrive by ship to what some describe as the most beautiful city in the world, landfall can be disappointing. The first thing one is confronted with after setting foot in Rio de Janeiro and going through customs, is an elevated highway running along the coast, blocking views both ways. But there is good news.
That highway, an urban monstrosity if there ever was one, will be one of the first things to go as Rio gets a facelift for the 2014 FIFA World Cup and the 2016 Olympics. The underground burial of this monument to the “cult of the car” in 20th century cities, is part and parcel of Brazil’s massive infrastructure spending program as it gears up for hosting the world’s two leading sports events.
The multi-billion dollar price tag for this major engineering project is only a fraction of the hundreds of billions of dollars the government of President Dilma Rousseff is spending and planning to spend on upgrading Brazil’s infrastructure, including a high-speed rail service between Sao Paulo and Rio. Welcome to the new Brazil, an emerging heavyweight in world affairs and one of the key countries to watch in the 21st century.
In some ways this should not be surprising. With the fifth largest land mass in the world (8.5 million square kilometres), the fifth largest population (200 million plus) and the eighth largest economy (more than $2 trillion), Brazil should be a natural at the high table of world politics. Yet that has by no means been the case until now. Until a few years ago, the standard phrase about Brazil was that it was the country of the future . . . and always would be.
What happened? What produced this turnaround in what Brazilians, with only slight exaggeration describe as “o pais maps grande do mundo” (“the biggest country in the world”)? What made it possible to switch from its past chronic condition as an economic basket case, plagued by hyperinflation and low growth, to its present situation, in which the IMF’s Christine Lagarde comes begging for Brazilian support to bail out Europe? As recently as 2002, the election of president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva provoked jitters in financial markets and a run on the real. The 2010 election of President Dilma Rousseff, a former urban guerrilla, on the other hand, was greeted by an even greater FDI flow into the country and steady appreciation of the real, to such a degree that Rio is today the most expensive city in the Americas. How come?
The answer is straightforward: presidential leadership.
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