Only connect How best to connect with the masses? How best to make your voice heard by those you want to reach? I’m writing this as one million Brazilians take to the streets on consecutive nights to protest against the government. What began as opposition to public transport cost increases has come to represent strong dissatisfaction with public spending ahead of the 2014 World Cup and, moreover, general tensions about the cost of life in Brazil. In his article ‘Brazilian Spring? Probably not’1, Forbes.com contributor Kenneth Rapoza discusses the growing disaffection in Brazil, where citizens pay inflated bus fares for the same poor service: “This past week’s protest over the bus fare shows one thing in my mind: Brazilians are finally fed up with paying money for nothing. Every Brazilian I know, every Brazilian you will ever meet, ask them what they think about all the taxes they pay for simple things, like service charges on phone bills; or income taxes, or school fees, and all of them will say they are paying big money for lacklustre services.”
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These protests are about social issues: poor healthcare, corruption, lack of public infrastructure, things that are not working, things that are not good enough. Life in Brazil is more expensive than ever. Inflation is high, as are taxes. Cost of living goes up all the time. Among the BRIC countries, Brazil is the worst performing of the emerging markets in terms of economic growth.
The government is actually quite popular – Dilma Rousseff was the people’s beloved President Lula da Silva’s chosen candidate for the role, and she is outspoken on the necessity of social amelioration – but these protests are not about overthrowing the government, they are about being heard. The biggest uprising in 20 years is happening because things could be so much better. In his article on Latin America’s elites2, Tim Padgett looks at the protestors like this: “Don’t these people know that Brazil added 40 million of them to the middle class over the past decade, at one point creating almost 20 local currency millionaires a week? Sure they do, and they’re most appreciative. But here’s what else they know – and what their new economic clout has made them a lot bolder about challenging – their political and economic systems remain in too many ways as corrupt, indifferent and dysfunctional as they were when Brazil had only two classes, the very rich and very poor.”
As I’ve written about in previous issues, social reform is a key part of President Rousseff’s oil and gas policy, and her government has always earmarked production revenues to spend on education and social projects throughout the country. The recent pre-salt discoveries were held up as a beacon of hope for the people of Brazil: ‘look, we have this huge abundant wealth of natural resources, it’s all going to be ok’. Poverty reduction via the distribution of revenues is the aim; what Lula dubbed as Brazil’s ‘passport’ out of poverty and inequality.
There has certainly been progress in reaching the poorest of Brazilians – in February, Rousseff announced a measure to lift 2.5 million people out of extreme poverty by increasing supplementary family incomes through the country’s Bolsa Família social programme. Whether or not efforts to translate resource wealth into raised standards of living for the middle classes have yet been seen, or appreciated, is unclear. Certainly, the protests would suggest there is a long way to go before the masses feel connected to Brazil’s burgeoning oil and gas riches.
For your own way to feel connected, please visit our website www.energyglobal.com for daily pipeline news updates and articles. I’d also love to see you participate in our LinkedIn group (World Pipelines), keep tabs on us on Twitter (Energy_Global) and/or join in on Facebook (facebook.com/energyglobal), depending on your connection method of choice.
1. Rapoza, K., ‘‘Brazilian Spring’? Probably Not.’, Forbes.com, http://www.forbes.com/sites/kenrapoza/2013/06/16/brazilian-spring-probably-not/ (Accessed 24th June 2013).
2. Padgett, T., ‘What Brazil’s Protests Say About Latin America’s Fumbling Elites’, Time Magazine, http://world.time.com/2013/06/19/what-brazils-protests-say-about-latin-americas-fumbling-elites/ (Accessed 24th June 2013).