The Olympics, the World Cup, a booming economy….only a few years ago Brazil was emerging as a big player on the global market. However, it’s rapid growth decelerated in 2013 and the nation continues to experience political and economic crisis. This South American country is less of a Pacific Puma (a name given to the growing economies of Mexico, Chile, Peru and Columbia), and more an injured Amazonian parrot.
So what went wrong? And how is it affecting the people? Can Christians in Brazil do anything about it?
The rising itself has caused a leap in inflation and a crash in the housing market but I am prepared to suggest the problems largely stem from a deeply embedded web of corruption which permeates each and every aspect of life in this country. Brazil is the 4th most corrupt country in the world (behind Chad, Bolivia and Venezuela) according to the World Economic Forum. The news here is full of stories day in day out day about corruption and fraud. Economists estimate that corruption costs the Brazilian economy 100 billion Brazilian reais (£2.5 billion) every year. The well reported scandal surrounding the public owned petroleum company, Petrobras, was just the tip of the iceberg, yet an uncovering which sparked the economic collapse. An investigation into black market money changers and price-fixing led to the doors of politicians and executives of two dozen engineering firms. Ultimately, President Dilma Rousseff faced impeachment in 2016 and the arrests and the Federal Police’s investigations into all manner of fraud and corruption continue. (The police probably need just as much investigating themselves but that’s an issue for another day). As much of this news came around the time of the Olympics, the world was watching closely and many foreign investors pulled the plug on their ties with Brazil.
It has been proven that corruption reinforces inequality in Brazil.
A massive disparity already exists between the richest and the poorest in Brazil and the rich continue to get richer, while the quality of life for the poor, and their disposable incomes, do not improve at the same rate. We are living and working in the poorest region of the country and here’s a few stats to demonstrate it:
- The poorest municipal in Brazil is in our state, Maranhao.
- 4 of the poorest 5 cities Brazil are in our state, Maranhao.
- Maranhao’s share of the Brazilian economy is 0.9%.
When I consider the state of affairs here in the “flagship” state capital, I can easily believe these stats. It is easy to lay blame with the politicians but, as we were hearing recently during a challenging sermon, some form of corruption is practised normally here by many people, sadly some Christians included. A few examples of common, every day illicit and illegal practices: driving without a licence, using water and electricity for free with homemade installations, parking in disabled spaces unnecessarily, downloading music illegally, claiming benefits when you no longer qualify (while Maria down the road then goes without and gets poorer as you get richer), paying the policeman a bribe to let you off for speeding, the list goes on.
Daniel once worked for a state-run organisation delivering pre-made hot meals to prisons in São Luís. When he started a new route, a colleague informed him of an established operation Daniel; extra hot plates were requested on the sly from the cooks and sold on to a chap on the street, before the correct number of deliveries would be made for the inmates. Daniel was told everyone who drives the route does it. He would just need to collect the money from said chap and drop off his meals. There was decent money to be made and no-one would find out, but fortunately Daniel told his colleague he couldn’t be part of that. This type of practice is everywhere. We can think of a wealthy friend of ours who had all the security measures in his house that you can imagine, and yet he was broken into. His night watchman was thought to be in on it. It can be hard to trust people in this city.
It is very disheartening that so much comes down to money and selfishness. We both managed to go to the church’s monthly prayer meeting last month, which interestingly runs 9-12pm on a Saturday. I was struck by how different the prayer points were, compared to the day to day things we would have been bringing to God back in the UK. One subject was the whole area of safety, both locally and state wide. We were asked to pray for protection for those coming to church, particularly from muggings, which are commonplace. Phones and bags are regularly pinched at knife or gunpoint across the city and can happen at any time of the day. In his lifetime, Daniel has had a bicycle stolen, a motorbike helmet and waterproofs, a decent watch and, as a young teenager, a talking watch, with which he was most enamoured. On each occasion, the thief had a weapon and threatened to use it if Daniel reacted.
I genuinely don’t worry much about safety, and of course, there are obvious things to avoid, but sometimes I am reminded that this can be a dangerous place if you’re not careful. If I drive home alone in the evenings, someone usually insists on following me in their car. I feel it’s a bit extreme, but I guess they wouldn’t insist if they didn’t feel there was risk.
At the prayer meeting, we prayed, too, for the church’s influence with the local prostitutes and the drug users who wash car windscreens for money at a big roundabout beside the church. Moreover, we prayed for politicians to take a stand for what is right and needed in this state. The member sharing these prayer points is a fireman and said that our state is improving at snail’s pace, not because of a lack of advancement projects, because he has seen many excellent plans to improve development here, but because these projects only come to fruition when someone can pocket from it. How tragic.
I like to think there is hope yet for this state but it will take a great upheaval in the political system and the church must lead by example. Christians ought to be above reproach and seeking to live honest lives which please God and not our own selfish desires or even other people. See Romans 8:1-14. Serving others without selfish ambition is such a turnaround from the landscape here and the church is in an excellent position to challenge government and step in where the market and state fail to provide what people need….cue our project. Instituto Engrenar provides practical training and hope to those recovering from substance addictions and the consequences of a lack of opportunity.
Some people believe that the crisis the country has faced is for the best, as an upheaval was truly needed. Time will tell if the government can convince its people and the world that it can be trusted. Meanwhile, there are a lot of needy people in this region who need to see the love of Christ in action.