João Pedro Ensina
Throughout its history, Brazil has had everything to become a world superpower. It has a land area comparable to that of the United States, a population of over 200 million people, and is one of the largest economies in the world. However, unlike the USA, it was never able to become a global superpower, despite being a regional one. Why? Here are the reasons:
Unlike the USA, around 40% of Brazil’s land area is covered by rainforest, mostly by the Amazon. Rainforests are one of the harshest places to live, as it is impossible to farm food without cutting down a massive amount of trees, as well as containing mosquitoes with deadly diseases. This is even more relevant nowadays, as environmental activists are completely against the deforestation of the Amazon for agriculture, so it becomes increasingly harder to farm enough food and provide enough living space for the growing population.
While it may be justifiable to preserve the world’s forests from deforestation for economic growth, it is important to note that more than half of Europe’s and the United States’ forests have been cleared for agriculture, so it could be said that they have an unfair advantage when it comes to economic development, as developing economies are not allowed to make full use of their resources due to environmental concerns.
US forest area in millions of acres. (https://forests.org/so-how-much-forest-is-there-in-the-us-and-canada/#:~:text=Canada%20has%209%20percent%20of,percent%20of%20the%20world's%20forests.)
Another factor of Brazil’s geography that affects its development is its tropical climate. A hot and humid environment is not the greatest for some materials such as concrete and asphalt, as they have to be dry in order to set. This means that the quality of infrastructure, especially roads, is greatly affected, which affects the cost of travel and transportation for people and goods.
The main reason for Brazil’s extremely high inequality and struggle to become a global influence was the way it was colonized. During the colonial period, Portugal sent millions of Africans to work as slaves in the American colony, since there was no way Portugal would fit their tiny population into a country with such large territory. However, unlike the British who sent their poor to work in the USA, Portugal sent their rich to administer it, in what is known as the “capitanias hereditarias”. As a consequence, the rich were able to expand their wealth off of the labor of slaves, which was inherited by their children, meaning the inequality still exists to this day (Brazil has the 9th highest inequality rate in the world in 2023 at 53.4%, just behind Mozambique at 54.0%).
The discovery of sugar cane was also a key factor in the inequality Brazil still suffers. Around 8 million slaves were brought to Brazil, which is 24 times more than what was brought to the USA. Such absurd numbers of slaves caused a myriad of problems. The already mentioned high inequality, but also a dependence on agriculture and lack of investment on infrastructure, as private farm-owners would rather invest their money in more production.
This brings us to the third topic, the economy. With agriculture as such an important part of its development and history, it is not unexpected that Brazil would become a powerhouse of raw materials. Brazil has the 12th largest economy in the world and the largest in Latin America, with a GDP of $1.61 trillion. The abundance of land allowed agriculture, forestry, and mining to have a significant contribution to those numbers. It also has one of the largest labor forces in the world, with a total of 108 million people in 2022. However, the majority of these workers work manual labor on the extraction of natural resources, but manufacturing and services do play an important part in the country’s GDP.
The main resources Brazil produces are coffee, soy, beef, chicken, milk, sugar, oranges, cotton, corn, gold, iron, copper, tin, and steel. Brazil is one of the main producers of each of these products on the planet.
During the past few centuries, Brazil received millions of immigrants into its cities, both domestically and internationally. Today, around 85% of Brazil's population lives in cities, notably São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. As you may know, these cities are rampant with crime. Brazil has one of the highest homicide rates on Earth, but this is not limited to these two cities. The cities in the northeast, where the inequality is the highest, have the highest homicide rates in the country as well. Gangs and drug trafficking are common problems throughout the country.
Corruption is also extremely common in the country, due to a history of decentralized and disconnected settlements that acted with self-rule. It is estimated that around $40 billion is lost every year due to corruption, including clientelism, cronyism, nepotism, and bribery of policemen.
Brazil could have become a global superpower if only a few things changed. If its original settlement was more similar to that of the USA or Australia, with low class or prisoners working their way up in society, instead of rich slaveowners administering labor. Its geography, such as its long coastline and tropical climate also made it so that the majority of the population had to live near the coast, and the majority of Brazil's economy is based on agriculture.
The sharp class divide between the rich portuguese settlers and the slaves still echoes today, with rampant crime and corruption hindering progress in the country to stop these issued.
This is why Brazil is the country of the future, and always has been and always will be. If these issues are not solved, and the country does not progress, we may be stuck in this limbo state as a developing nation forever.