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A little Brazil envy

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Esther Cepeda
March 14, 2011
— Maybe it’s just because I’m desperate for some warm spring weather to go along with the longer, brighter days North America is enjoying. Maybe it’s that this Friday, President Obama is set to depart from Andrews Air Force Base and land in Brasilia for some long-overdue relations-building with Latin America’s largest country.

Whatever it is, I just can’t seem to get my mind off Brazil.


With an economy that grew by 7.5 percent in 2010—the biggest in Latin America and now the seventh-largest in the world—Brazil is a sight to behold. If you squint your eyes a little to ignore challenges emerging because of the volatility of crude oil prices and Brazil’s still-rampant poverty, you see a wonder in the making.


Not only did Brazil elect Dilma Rousseff its first female president last November, but it is speeding up the global power charts. The fifth-largest country in the world has already gotten plenty of attention by being part of the club of up-and-coming superpowers known as the BRICs—Brazil, Russia, India and China. It also holds the distinction of being one of the first countries to emerge from the global recession. Just wait until the world gasps collectively at Brazil’s largesse when it goes on display during the upcoming 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics. Remember how people sat up and took notice of China during Beijing’s unforgettable 2008 Olympic ceremonies?


What really got me thinking about the South American giant was last week’s pre-Lenten festivities, which put the national mood of the foreign- and domestic-policy beleaguered U.S. and that of bustling Brazil into stark contrast. Go ahead and do a quick YouTube search, you’ll find stunning footage of extravagant parades featuring dazzling feather-costumed dancers throbbing to joyous music, multimillion-dollar floats, and hedonistic crowds bursting with revelers young and old. It is simply intoxicating to watch.


Compare that to the more modest parades winding down the still-recuperating streets of New Orleans, which was sucker-punched by the BP oil spill last summer only five years after Hurricane Katrina. The video footage reveals more homemade costumes and less joyous, glittering excess.


I happen to be one of those starry-eyed idealists who believe in an American exceptionalism born of the rebellious spirit of the first colonists and the forward-thinking aspirations of our Founding Fathers. But when I look at the presidential agenda—job creation, education reform, improved relations with foreign nations—every day crushed further on the rocks of shoddy leadership, international discord and bad luck, I give myself a pass for having a little Brazil envy.


Don’t you wish the U.S. were more aggressively pursuing energy independence and investing in more state-of-the-art infrastructure?


I’m not completely disenchanted—I know our economy is still No. 1 and we don’t have nearly a quarter of our poor living in rickety favelas. But, gosh, it sure would be nice to be a country racing ahead toward a brighter future rather than one that presently seems stuck in neutral.
Esther Cepeda is a columnist for the Washington Post Writers Group. Her e-mail address is estherjcepeda@washpost.com.

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