Brazil's Balancing Act: Panel looks at competing interests

Discussion explored economic development, environmental protection and indigenous rights

During opening remarks for the panel discussion, "Brazil's Balancing Act," moderator Bruce Magid, dean of the International Business School, highlighted the importance of Brazil as an emerging economy, describing it with a well-known Portuguese phrase: a nação de amanhã, “the nation of tomorrow." “The eyes of the world have turned to Brazil, a country in the process of realizing its full potential,” Magid said. “It is a country with many responsibilities to itself, not all of which are complementary.”

The event, held on campus last week, brought together a panel of experts working in diverse fields – including economic development, international business, environmental protection, international law, human rights and indigenous rights – to explore the impact of such competing demands on Brazil's economy.

Brazil faces many of the conundrums faced by other developing economies:
•    Brazil has the largest economy in Latin America – one of the most dynamic economies in the world – yet 21.4 percent of population lives below the poverty line.
•    Brazil is home to world’s largest intact rainforest – but government restrictions that in recent years significantly reduced deforestation have been relaxed. Development of Brazil’s plethora of natural resources can build economic growth and threaten the environment.
•    Brazil is also home to the largest number of uncontacted indigenous tribes. The Brazilian constitution recognizes the rights of indigenous people to live in traditional territories according to traditional lifestyles, and includes various government protections to ensure that right. Yet the government has not provided the funds for education and health care, and indigenous people have low literacy rates and high child mortality rates.

The panelists each used the context of their area of expertise to consider the problems Brazil is facing in protecting its indigenous population against its rapid urbanization and industrialization.

Dr. Daniel Luis Gleizer, parent of a 2010 Brandeis alum, and vice president at Banco Itau BBA, one of Brazil’s largest banks, gave the audience a crash course in the macroeconomic history of Brazil, putting into perspective the country’s recent growth. “There needs to be effective and immediate social policy to address the legacy of poverty within Brazil,” he said.

Fernando Ribeiro Delgado, a lecturer at Harvard Law School and a clinical instructor at the school’s International Human Rights Clinic, voiced concern over human rights violations in Brazil as a consequence of economic development.

Delgado’s work focuses on the Inter-American human rights system and on human rights and criminal justice issues. He has conducted oral arguments in several cases before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and is currently co-counsel in litigation concerning the Brazilian prison system before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

“Old solutions that depend on displacing 20,000 people, and submerging large sections of rainforest without following the regular safeguards won’t actually even be good for the economy, in the long run,” argued Delgado, “… because what the globe needs now is new ways forward that are sustainable in all senses and compliant with human rights law.”

Professor Cristina Espinosa of the Heller School for Social Policy and Management at Brandeis, a social scientist and anthropologist concerned with sustainable development, highlighted the complex issues surrounding sustainable development and the challenges facing indigenous peoples. “Some people say if we give [indigenous people] autonomy, they will separate. What they really want is to be recognized as citizens of Brazil, as they are,” said Espinosa. “If they want to develop, that’s their right, and that is something that is still not recognized.”

Dr. Moises Lino e Silva, a lecturer at Brandeis, is teaching the University’s first course on “The Rise of Brazil,” which “examines how Brazil now wields global influence in energy, South-South politics, culture and environmental affairs.” Recently, he was selected as a World Social Science Fellow by the International Social Science Council of UNESCO. His expertise on notions of indigeneity, and analysis of how such ideas impact the position of indigenous peoples in Brazil, contributed significantly to the proceedings.

Lino e Silva cautioned that there is a tendency to generalize too much about the needs and wants of indigenous peoples – and that there are some common misunderstandings between indigenous and non-indigenous populations, at times a consequence of differing cultural values.

Dr. Biorn Maybury-Lewis, executive director of the Cambridge Institute for Brazilian Studies, an NGO established in 2011 to disseminate objective, non-partisan, research-based information on Brazil and Brazil-U.S. relations, shared his expertise on the complex issues surrounding development and wealth disparity in Brazil. He drew upon his deep knowledge of the challenges facing the less privileged sectors of the Brazilian population, including indigenous people.

“Indigenous people make up less than one percent of the country’s population,” Dr. Maybury-Lewis explained, “yet these are 817,000 people who will suffer if their rights are not protected." According to Dr. Maybury-Lewis, “it is not a matter of if development will affect them, but how it will affect them.”

Brazilian business leader and Brandeis parent Mr. Daniel Feffer, (parent of a member of the class of 2016), also contributed to the conversation during the Q&A with the audience. In addition to his leadership of a family-owned paper company, Feffer is president of the Instituto Ecofuturo and a member of the Council of Economic and Social Development, which was created by former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula Da Silva to facilitate discussion of government policies among trade union confederations, the business sector, intellectuals and religious leaders in Brazil.

Feffer shared his perspective as a businessman deeply engaged with issues of the environment. “I believe there’s a lot to be done between government, entrepreneurship, and NGOs, working on the ‘triple bottom line’ when we speak of sustainability” he said.

The event was organized by the International Center for Ethics, Justice and Public Life and the Brandeis International Business School's Perlmutter Institute for Global Business Leadership. See the event webpage and Facebook page for details and links to resources related to the conversation.

Categories: Business, Humanities and Social Sciences, International Affairs

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