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BRAZIL: Born to be Empire

By Gino Pepi

There is no doubt Brazil is an emerging imperialist power. It dominates the Latin America economy, exports capital, is a major factor in markets around the world, is expanding its military capacity and intervenes politically to assert its growing influence, gaining on the decaying US Empire.

In terms of gross domestic product (GDP), Brazil’s economy is the largest in Latin American and the second largest in the continental Americas, after the USA. In relation to the world’s few growing economic powers, Brazil is among the top four. Brazil economically and politically dominates South America and is the main competitor of the USA in the Americas. It is clear that President Obama’s March, 2011 visit to Brazil was not to take post Carnival samba lessons, but to open discussions with an equal to preserve the economic and political position of the USA. Obama was late on both counts.

Only the Brazilian ruling class – no other is in a similar position – can take the initiative to resist the growing tendency of the US, through its present military/political offensive, to undermine the last vestiges of relative independence of the other national bourgeoisies on the North and South American continents.

Brazil has one of the fastest-growing economies in the world. Its economy is growing at a time when most other global capitalists are in decline and crisis. Brazil has had an average annual GDP growth rate of over 5 percent since the early 2000s. Brazil’s GDP was estimated as at least US $800 billion in 2009 and has increased since then. It will soon move from being the eighth to fifth largest national economy in the world, even though this would give only a distorted and diminished picture of its overall power.

The Miami Herald of October 7, 2010 says, “The IMF (International Monetary Fund) forecast(s) … Brazil’s economy is expected to chug along at 7.5 percent this year (2010) before slowing to 4.1 percent growth in 2011 … Meanwhile, the IMF predicts 2.6 percent growth this year for the United States — a weak performance coming after a recession — and 2.3 percent growth in 2011 … Growth is expected to be even slower in the Euro Zone where the IMF forecasts the average economic growth among the 16 nations that use the Euro as their currency will be 1.7 percent this year and 1.5 percent next year.”

Brazil is the largest and fastest growing producer and distributor of most of the important market commodities in the world. These include iron ore, several important industrial minerals and industrial diamonds, soybeans, corn, chicken, beef, orange juice, coffee, sugar and tobacco.

Brazil is the first country to bring together the ten largest car assembly companies inside its national borders. Brazil also has the world’s third largest aircraft manufacturer, Embraer, which supplies most of US regional airlines with mid-size air transport – on that line is not third, but first in the world – and is expanding rapidly into military aircraft production. It ranks fourth in terms of world military weapons and vehicle production.

Brazil has an increasing capacity for space exploration, internal based missile launch sites and has been part of the construction team of the International Space Station. Part of Obama’s visit to Brazil was to discuss US use of its missile launch sites.

With its huge bio-fuels (ethanol) industry, Brazil has the “greenest” economy in the world; while at the same time it is the source of the rise of agricultural commodities in the world’s markets.

Its offshore petroleum industry is so large, that it has to hire most of its oil platform welders from other countries like the United States. Petrobras (the nationalized oil company) has a recent gross product of US $67 billion. 150 miles off the Brazilian coast, Petrobras has plans to build offshore platforms that will reach 20,000 feet down to the sea floor just to start drilling.

Anywhere in South America you stop for gasoline or natural gas fuel, you’ll most likely be at a Petrobras station. Soon, Petrobras will unify the oil production capacity of Argentina, Uruguay and Venezuela with that of Brazil to become a major oil conglomerate – totaling ~11% of US oil imports, almost as much as Saudi Arabia. Brazil plays a leading role in natural gas extraction and distribution in Bolivia and Ecuador. It plays a similar role in the hydroelectric industry of Paraguay.  It is also a major partner with Venezuela in the exploitation of the natural resources potential of the Orinoco river basin.

Most of its iron ore exports go to China. North of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil is building a huge shipping port complex, with Chinese financing, to speed delivery of this commodity to China. In February of 2011, US National Public Radio reported that Brazil is building a cross-country railroad system, to cross to Columbia’s Pacific coast to further increase its shipping capacity to China.

Brazilian exports have tripled since 2003 on rising world demand for everything it produces. Brazil, once the world’s largest emerging-market debtor, became a net foreign creditor for the first time in 2011 as international reserves swelled to a record $171.6 billion from $37.6 billion at the start of 2003. Brazil is the sole capital exporter in Latin America.

Brazil expanded into all this, in part, by building Mercosur in the early 1990s with partners Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay. Brazil created this trading block before the USA created NAFTA. The New York Times, The Washington Post and the McClatchy newspaper group have reported that in every year since the founding of Mercosur, Brazil has lead serious attempts to expand it.  However its development as an imperialist power comes from long history of military conquests and treaty deals.

Brazil has made Venezuela a soon to be full Mercosur partner, most other countries in South and Central America to be associate partners, attempted to expand the trading block to include South Africa and almost concluded a deal to ally the European Union (EU) in a joint Mercosur trade block.

Mercosur is now the third largest trade block in the world behind the EU and NAFTA and has played the major role in stopping the USA in its attempt to fulfill its goals for completing a trade block in South and Central America, the Free Trade of the Americas Act.

Brazil is an outspoken critic of US foreign policy, mostly in preserving its own influence in other Latin America countries and thus “defending” its pawns against the US pac-man geopolitical game. For example it opposed the US policy in relation to the 2009 coup in Honduras, defends Argentina’s claim to the Malvinas, collaborated with Turkey on attempting to negotiate a deal with Iran on its nuclear program and is fighting to become the next permanent member to the UN Security Council. Everything it does is to consolidate its dominant role in the region and expand elsewhere.

Brazil is a major military force in the Americas. The Brazilian military, a longtime a participant in UN “peacekeeping” forces, lead the UN forces into Haiti, in August of 2003. As of 2010 there are about 11,000 US troops and 11,000 other foreign troops and police in Haiti of which Brazil supplies about half and Brazilian generals command all of those forces. Brazil has major capacity for the manufacture of land, air and naval vehicles and weaponry and last but not least, it is also building its own nuclear submarine fleet, in co-operation with France who is also trading Brazil the technology and engineering know how to continue to expand this nuclear fleet on its own.


The total sum of all the above leaves no doubt that the Brazilian ruling class has already become an imperialist force in the world and gets stronger every day. However this spectacle of economic might exists side by side with wealth for a few and poverty for many. Is an imperialist martial power, stomping through the world on feet of clay.

In 2008, 22.6% or 34.9 million Brazilians lived below the official national poverty line. Brazil has one of the highest disparity rates of poverty versus wealth in the world. The richest 10% of Brazilians control 42.7% of the nation’s income, while the poorest 10% have less than 1.2%. Brazil’s poverty rate is clearly displayed by the urban slums surrounding its cities, the favelas, where one half of Brazil’s poor live.

In the favelas the poverty rate increases with the number of dependents in the household, 52% of the populace is not connected to potable water distribution, 68% have no garbage collection and 78% are not connected to sanitary sewage disposal or septic tanks.

Add to that 25% do not have electricity and 74% live in households where the head of the household has less than four years of schooling. These appalling conditions are the subtext for high rates of criminal activity, inequality and the frustrating inability of the poor to develop their human potential. For women this all goes double. Brazilian military is now stamping out criminal control of these areas and the government is planning to urbanize and integrate the favelas.

For the rural poor the conditions are the same or worse. In the countryside they struggle for land, particularly under utilized but arable and potentially productive land, which leads to the murder of organizers of all sectors of the landless and at times reaches the level of small civil wars. Add these conditions to the racial discrimination against the indigenous populace and against the descendents of the four million slaves brought to Brazil from Africa. Although slavery was abolished in Brazil over a hundred years ago, access to education, land, health care, rights to their land titles and employment are still problems for slave descendents. Racism is a big part of the Brazilian economic miracle.

The working class and its union organizations are active in all sectors and parts of the Brazilian economy and politics. The Central Única dos Trabalhadores (Unified Workers’ Central, known by the acronym CUT), is the main union confederation in Brazil. The CUT was formed in 1983 based on the auto and metal workers unions organized in the manufacturing suburbs around Sao Paulo. It is the main base of the Workers’ Party (PT).

The CUT is the largest and most powerful trade union federation in Brazil and Latin America, representing over 7.4 million workers in all sectors of the Brazilian economy. It is the fifth largest trade union confederation in the world. It faces ongoing obstacles to union organizing because of Brazilian laws curtailing workers’ rights to organize.

It is from the CUT and the PT from which Inácio Lula da Silva (Lula), a former metal workers union leader and leader of the CUT, rose from impoverished shoeshine boy to be an extremely popular prime minister and world figure. The workers that formed the CUT paid with their blood, sweat and tears to be a large component of the forces that overthrew the Brazilian military dictatorship.

Lula and the PT however lead a government of class conciliation designed to introduce just enough reforms to win the critical loyalty of the Brazilian working class for the imperialist project of the ruling class. In this way the working class of Brazil advances its own living standard at the cost of the workers and oppressed of all the other countries Brazil already or will in the future dominate.

It is the same process by which the trade unions in the USA and the British Labour Party for example won their roles in their national political systems as labor aristocrats or privileged workers. The PT and the CUT are following the same or similar paths in Brazil.

It was with the consent of the Brazilian bourgeoisie that Lula led the government and chose his successor, the first woman prime minister of Brazil, Dilma Roussef. Lula held office from 2003 to 2010, leading a government that made some small steps to solve the poverty problems of Brazil. As Lula was formally leaving his elected office he established a research institute to facilitate Brazilian investments in Africa.