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Trust: Lessons from my Brazilian driver

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Trust takes years to build, seconds to break, and forever to repair– Anonymous

Be safe. That’s what we’re always told when we travel. It could be a short drive to another city or a flight to another state. Just be safe.

It’s usually said with about the same emotion as, “good morning”. It’s almost obligatory and carries little meaning. A courtesy. It’s said with a little more sincerity when you’re traveling overseas. The unknown could be dangerous – pay attention, be aware…be safe.

I nod and smile, because what else do you say? What does it really mean to “be safe”? Of course, some things are obvious – don’t go running down the street naked waving a flaming Molotov cocktail in your hand. Check. Keeping your clothes on in public is probably always a good idea. You’re pretty much always safer with clothes.

Don’t hitchhike drunk. Check. Although I did do that once with a friend in Nanjing, China and the friendly (and confused) garbage truck driver picked us up and dropped us off at the foreign student dorms, per our request in broken Chinese. But still, in general, not a good idea.

I generally stifle a giggle at the well-meaning “be safe” when I’m traveling to Asia. For sure, there are incidents against foreigners in Asia; the Abu Sayyaf terrorist incident in the Philippines was shocking. But typically, Americans are much safer in Asia than many large American cities (I’m looking at you Detroit, Chicago and New Orleans). If you accidentally leave your wallet on the table, or your cell phone in the bathroom, most likely a “good samaritan” is not going to turn it into a manager. Being safe means being aware of your belongings, not your actual being.

The urgency to “be safe” was greatly intensified when I told my family, I’m going to Brazil. Be really safe. Like, this time, I mean it.

My dad is a test pilot. When he gets nervous on a plane, I freak: not safe, not safe my brain screams. My husband is in law enforcement, with quite a bit of international experience. Contrary to what you may think, he infrequently tells me to be safe. When he worries, I pay attention. Brazil worried him.

Despite a lifetime of traveling and living abroad, namely in Asia, this is my first time to Brazil. Brazil, more than anywhere I’ve been, including Europe, “looks” like America. Like America, Brazil is an immigrant country. A Multicultural Mecca.

In my attempt to “be safe” I hired a car and a bilingual driver to take me around São Paulo. I hit the jackpot. Before turning 10 years old, Ricardo picked up an English dictionary and taught himself the language. And he didn’t stop there. Given that his Protestant family didn’t believe in TVs he became a voracious reader and spent hours in the library reading political philosophers such as John Locke and Antonio Gramsci. And so it happens that my driver was also a political philosopher of sorts, with a view from the streets (literally) of the Brazilian socio-political landscape.

Everything I learned from my Brazilian driver shed light on the challenges not only in Brazil but also in America and around the world: we have a trust deficit.

There are many similarities between Brazil and the United States, especially in their multicultural heritage, but its geography and history put it on a completely different trajectory.

Brazil’s rugged terrain and lack of viable ports make economic development difficult. As a result, the development necessary to take advantage of Brazil’s agriculture and commodity opportunities needs massive capital expenditures. This higher cost of development meant only the wealthy were involved in setting up towns and plantations. Low-skilled labor was imperative for working plantations, and slavery was the norm.

When slavery was abolished (Brazil was the last country in the Western Hemisphere to abolish slavery in 1888), low-skilled immigration was encouraged and flourished. Brazil’s Gino Coefficient highlights the income inequality and stark division between the rich and poor that continues to define Brazilian demographics, even into the modern era. It is also visible in its high crime rate, giving Brazil the title of Murder Capital of the World. Brazil has the most cities (17) in the top 50 dangerous cities in the world.

Brazil’s geography shaped its economy and in turn, its politics. The wealth disparity and need to develop the interior were components that eventually led to the rise of a military regime in the 1960s. The regime kept order and was able to command the resources for development through force, if necessary. As the interior developed, there were more opportunities for smaller landholders and a rise in the middle-class – the classic underpinnings for political liberalization.

Under these circumstances, in 1985 the military handed over control to the people in an election. In 1988 a new constitution was written. Thirty years of democratically elected governments later, and many of Brazil’s problems remain. The oligarchs – the powerful and wealthy – prevail. Justice usually reflects who you know and is unevenly applied. A string of politicians, including the current President Temer and past Presidents Lula and Rousseff, among others, have recently been implicated in the huge “car wash” scandal.

People are fed up with the corruption. And now, many are looking for a political “outsider” to shake up the establishment.

In this fraught landscape emerged Jair Bolsonaro. Bolsonaro started his career in the military while the military still held power. He is neither a land-owner nor a peasant, and to many, is seen as a “vote for change”, outside of the elite power structure. Sound familiar?

He is the Brazilian Trump.

His fame is growing, and people show up en masse to hear him speak. His focus is a return to law and order in a country that seems out of control. Bolsonaro’s message resonates at a time when there are an increasing number of people nostalgic for the order under the former military government.

Rounding out the similarities, Bolsonaro, like Trump, has been called out for scandalous behavior, which hasn’t dampened his support. In 2014 he told a Congresswoman that he wouldn’t rape her because “she didn’t deserve it”. This is the little quip seen here in the anti-Bolsonaro propaganda picture. Note the cartoonish Hitler‘s tache too.

The allure of more right-wing traditionalists, nationalists and populists is a global trend in a world rapidly changing. Whether due to the growing individualism leading to the breakdown of social cohesion in the United States, the growing anti-immigrant sentiment and the resulting Brexit in England, or the ubiquitous corruption in Brazil, wistful notions of stability and order are endemic.

As these and other like forces continue to restructure the global order–politically, economically and socially – no one gets out unscathed. Perhaps the United States is best able to weather the storm, given its unique mix of geography, strong institutions and resources. The Brazilian economy, however, is largely dependent on high commodity prices and Chinese demand. As structural demand trends downward, and the Chinese face their own internal and external struggles, a variety of crises threaten multiple countries, like Brazil.

Further, a Brazilian characteristic – lack of trust – creates its own challenges. The lack of trust in American institutions is also at an all-time low, but as Ricardo reminds me, the American government was formed by the people to serve the people. In contrast, in the Brazilian system, the people are there to serve the state.

In the current climate, despite disparate trajectories, America and Brazil now share some of the same trust issues. As we explored this idea of trust and our distinct cultural experiences further, we came up with a rough theory. America’s free market capitalist economy generates trust. Although there are many currently disillusioned with capitalism and growing income inequalities, which in part is what is generating momentum in the more “right-wing” camps worldwide, consider the aspect of competition. When there is competition, the markets hold corporations accountable. If a company makes a poor product, it loses market share. In an economy like Brazil, based more on elite relationships than competition for gaining market share, this built-in accountability is lost. Trust never has a chance to develop.

By contrast, trust in America did develop, but to a certain degree, has been lost. However, there is a foundation for trust. The question is, can it be regained?

Despite many factors portending some rough patches ahead, Ricardo is hopeful. He doesn’t have any affection for Bolsonaro, but believes corrective measures are necessary to address inherent corruption – after all, the pendulum must swing in the opposite direction before slowing its cadence to a more sustainable groove in the middle.

The “Trump Trend” (and its European predecessors) is not an isolated event, but rather a reaction to global disorder, similarly affecting countries with diverse geopolitical histories; it is a symptom of our trust deficit and truth decay. Further, different political parties worldwide hold their own claims on the truth, making trust more elusive. Confusing the issue, in an internet era replete with fake news, truth and trust alike have become valuable commodities. Hold onto them.

Finally, levels of trust are generally inversely correlated to crime statistics, so… be safe!

Jennifer is an Ambassador for the Greater Austin Asian Chamber of Commerce, an Associate Member of the Independent Educational Consultants Association (IECA) and NAFSA (Association of International Educators), and a member of Rotary International.

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Americas

Flames of Globalization in the Temple of Democracy

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Authors: Alex Viryasov and Hunter Cawood

On the eve of Orthodox Christmas, an angry mob stormed the “temple of democracy” on Capitol Hill. It’s hard to imagine that such a feat could be deemed possible. The American Parliament resembles an impregnable fortress, girdled by a litany of security checks and metal detectors at every conceivable point of entry. And yet, supporters of Donald Trump somehow found a way.

In the liberal media, there has been an effort to portray them as internal terrorists. President-elect Joe Biden called his fellow citizens who did not vote for him “a raging mob.” The current president, addressing his supporters, calls to avoid violence: “We love you. You are special. I can feel your pain. Go home.”

That said, what will we see when we look into the faces of these protesters? A blend of anger and outrage. But what is behind that indignation? Perhaps it’s pain and frustration. These are the people who elected Trump president in 2016. He promised to save their jobs, to stand up for them in the face of multinational corporations. He appealed to their patriotism, promised to make America great again. Arguably, Donald Trump has challenged the giant we call globalization.

Today, the United States is experiencing a crisis like no other. American society hasn’t been this deeply divided since the Vietnam War. The class struggle has only escalated. America’s heartland with its legions of blue-collar workers is now rebelling against the power of corporate and financial elites. While Wall Street bankers or Silicon Valley programmers fly from New York to London on private jets, an Alabama farmer is filling up his old red pickup truck with his last Abraham Lincoln.

The New York banker has no empathy for the poor residing in the southern states, nothing in common with the coal miners of West Virginia. He invests in the economies of China and India, while his savings sit quietly in Swiss banks. In spirit, he is closer not to his compatriots, but to fellow brokers and bankers from London and Brussels. This profiteer is no longer an American. He is a representative of the global elite.

In the 2020 elections, the globalists took revenge. And yet, more than 70 million Americans still voted for Trump. That represents half of the voting population and more votes than any other Republican has ever received. A staggering majority of them believe that they have been deceived and that Democrats have allegedly rigged this election.

Democrats, meanwhile, are launching another impeachment procedure against the 45th president based on a belief that it has been Donald Trump himself who has provoked this spiral of violence. Indeed, there is merit to this. The protesters proceeded from the White House to storm Congress, after Trump urged them on with his words, “We will never give up, we will never concede.”

As a result, blood was shed in the temple of American democracy. The last time the Capital was captured happened in 1814 when British troops breached it. However, this latest episode, unlike the last, cannot be called a foreign invasion. This time Washington was stormed by protestors waving American flags.

Nonetheless, it is not an exaggeration to say that the poor and downtrodden laborers of America’s Rust Belt currently feel like foreigners in their own country. The United States is not unique in this sense. The poor and downtrodden represent a significant part of the electorate in nearly every country that has been affected by globalization. As a result, a wave of populism is sweeping democratic countries. Politicians around the world are appealing to a sense of national identity. Is it possible to understand the frustrated feelings of people who have failed to integrate into the new global economic order? Absolutely. It’s not too dissimilar from the grief felt by a seamstress who was left without work upon the invention of the sewing machine.

Is it worth trying to resist globalization as did the Luddites of the 19th century, who fought tooth and nail to reverse the inevitability of the industrial revolution? The jury is still out.

The world is becoming more complex and stratified. Economic and political interdependence between countries is growing each and every day. In this sense, globalization is progress and progress is but an irreversible process.

Yet, like the inhumane capitalism of the 19th century so vividly described in Dickens’ novels, globalization carries many hidden threats. We must recognize and address these threats. The emphasis should be on the person, his dignity, needs, and requirements. Global elites in the pursuit of power and superprofits will continue to drive forward the process of globalization. Our task is not to stop or slow them down, but to correct global megatrends so that the flywheel of time does not grind ordinary people to the ground or simply throw nation-states to the sidelines of history.

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Deliberate efforts were made to give a tough time to President Joe Biden

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Image credit: Todd Jacobucci/ flickr

President Trump-Administration is over-engaged in creating mess for in-coming President Joe Biden. The recent deliberate efforts are made to give a tough time are:  naming Cuba a state sponsor of terrorism, designating Yemen’s Houthi rebels as a foreign terrorist organization, Terming Iran as a new home to al-Qaida, and lifting restrictions on contacts between American officials and representatives from Taiwan.

The consequence may turn into dire situations, like a return to cold war era tension. Efforts were made to resume Cuba-US relations to normal for decades and were expected to sustain a peaceful co-existence. Any setback to relations with Cuba may destabilize the whole region. Pompeo’s redesignation of Cuba as a sponsor of state terror will possibly have the least material impact, but it signifies a personal loss to Biden and a momentous political win for Trumpism. In doing so, Trump is hitting the final nail in the coffin of Barack Obama’s efforts to normalize relations with Cuba.

Yemen issue was a creation of Arab spring sponsored by the CIA, and after realizing the wrongdoings, the US was trying to cool down the tension between Saudi Arabia and Yemen, but with the recent move to name Yemen’s Houthi rebels as a foreign terrorist organization, may open new hostilities and bloodshed. It has been designated by UNICEF as the “largest humanitarian crisis in the world, with more than 24 million people — some 80 percent of the population — in need of humanitarian assistance, including more than 12 million children.” Such statements may halt humanitarian assistance and may result in a big disaster.

The history of rivalries with Iran goes back to 1953 when the UK and the US jointly overthrew the legitimate government of Prime Minister Mossadeq. But the real tension heightened in 2018 When President Trump withdrew from JCPOA. But the recent allegation that Iran as a new home of al-Qaida may take a new turn and give a tough time to Joe Biden–Administration. Although there is no evidence, however, Secretary of State Pompeo made such an allegation out of his personal grudge against Iran. It can complicate the situation further deteriorate and even may engulf the whole middle-east.

Lifting constraints on contacts between American officials and representatives from Taiwan, is open violation of “One-China Policy.” Since Washington established formal diplomatic relations with Beijing in 1979, it has resisted having official diplomatic associations with Taipei in order to avoid a confrontation with the PR China, which still comprehends the island — home to around 24 million people — as part of China. Chinese are very sensitive to the Taiwan issue and struggling for peaceful unification. However, China posses the capabilities to take over by force, yet, have not done so far. Secretary of State Mr. Pompeo’s statement may be aiming to instigate China and forcing toward military re-unification. It might leave a challenging concern for Joe Biden-Administration.

Raffaello Pantucci, a senior fellow at Singapore’s S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, said, “The Trump administration is locking in place a series of conflicts that change the starting point for Biden walking into the office on the world stage.”

Even Mr. Pompeo had a plan to travel to Europe to create further hurdles for in-coming administration, but fortunately, some of the European countries refused to entertain him, and desperately he has to cancel his trip at the eleventh hours.

It is just like a losing army, which destroys all ammunition, weapons, bridges, infrastructures, etc., before surrendering. Although President Trump’s days in office are numbered, his administration is over-engaged in destruction and creating hurdles for the next administration. He is deliberately creating hurdles and difficulties for President-Elect Joe Biden.

President Joe Biden has many challenges to face like Pandemic, unrest in the society, a falling economy, losing reputation, etc. Some of them might be natural, but few are specially created!

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Latin America and the challenges for true political and economic independence

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Latin America – and its core countries, namely Brazil, Argentina and Mexico – has become a region of high global strategic value due to its vast territory, abundant resources, great economic development, unique geographical position and active role in global and regional governance.

Factors such as history, geography and reality, combined with the complexity of the region’s internal political logics, have once again made Latin America a place where major powers pay attention to and play key games.

Latin America’s cooperation with ‘external’ powers has become ever closer, leading to unfounded suspicions and malicious provocations among the countries of the region concerned.

What bothers ‘democrats’ and ‘liberals’ is the presence in the area of countries without a colonialist and exploitative past.

Historically, Latin America and the Caribbean were the coveted location of various Western forces. Since the Latin American countries’ independence – and even today – large countries inside and outside the region have competed in this area.

The complexity and uncertainty of the current global political and economic situation in Latin America lie behind the competition between the major powers in geopolitics and international relations.

Latin America’s vast lands and resources are linked to global food security, the supply of agricultural and livestock products, and energy security. It is an important ‘product supplier’ that cannot be neglected.

Latin America has a huge surface of over 20 million square kilometres, covering four sub-regions of North America (Mexico), the Caribbean, Central America and South America, with 33 independent countries and some regions that are not yet independent, as they are tied to the burden of the old liberal-colonialist world.

Latin America is blessed with favourable natural conditions. For example, it has become a well-known ‘granary’ and ‘meat provider’ because of its fertile arable land and abundant pastures. It is an important area  for the production of further agricultural and livestock products. At the same time, other countries in the region have huge reserves of natural resources such as oil and gas, iron ore, copper and forests, and have become important global suppliers of strategic materials.

Secondly, the Latin American region has a relatively high level of economic development and has brought together a number of important emerging economies – a significant global market that cannot be ignored.

The Latin American region plays an important role in global economy. Brazil and Mexico are not only the two largest economies in Latin America, but also the top 15 in global economy.

At the same time, recent calculations on 183 countries (regions) with complete data from the World Bank and related studies show that the group consisting of Brazil, Mexico, Argentina, Chile, Peru, Colombia, etc., has entered the ranking of the “30 emerging markets” (E30) worldwide. According to World Bank statistics, Latin America’s gross domestic product (GDP) in 2018 was about 5.78 trillion dollars and the per capita GDP exceeded 9,000 dollars. With the exception of a few, most countries in Latin America are middle-income and some have entered the high-income ranking.

Therefore, Latin America has become a large consumer market that cannot be ignored due to its relatively high level of economic development, high per capita income and a population of over 640 million people.

Indeed, as Latin American region with a high degree of economic freedom and trade openness, it has been closely connected with the economies of other regions in the world through various bilateral and multilateral agreements, initiatives and free trade mechanisms.

Thirdly, Latin America’s unique geographical position has a significant impact on global trade, shipping and climate change.

Latin America is situated between two oceans. Some countries border on the Pacific, or the Atlantic, or are even bathed by both oceans. This special position gives the Latin American region the geographical advantage of achieving ‘transpacific cooperation’ with the Asian region or building a link of ‘transatlantic cooperation’ with the European region. Thanks to the Panama Canal, it is the fundamental hub for global trade.

Besides its strategic relevance for food security and clean energy production, the Amazon rainforest, known as the ‘lungs of the earth’, has a surface of over six million square kilometres, accounting for about 50% of the global rainforest. 20% of the global forest area and the vast resources covering 9 countries in Latin America have become one of the most important factors influencing global climate change.

Finally, as an active player in the international and regional political and economic arena, Latin America is a new decisive force that cannot be neglected in the field of global and regional governance.

Firstly, as members of organisations such as the United Nations, the World Trade Organisation, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, the major Latin American countries are both participants in and creators of international rules.

Moreover, these countries should be considered from further aspects and viewpoints of multilateralism.

The major Latin American countries, particularly regional powers, such as Brazil, Mexico and Argentina, are members of the G20. Brazil belongs to both BRICS and BASIC.Mexico, Chile and Peru are within the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation. Mexico, Peru and Chile are members of the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), while Mexico and Chile are members of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

They are playing an irreplaceable role in responding to the economic crisis and promoting the reform of global governance mechanisms; in promoting the conclusion of important agreements on global climate change; in advancing economic cooperation between the various regions; in leading ‘South-South cooperation’ between developing countries and in holding a dialogue on the main current issues (opposition to unilateralism, protectionism, protection of multilateralism, etc.).

It must also be said that Latin American countries are naturally also active in regional organisations and institutions – such as the Organisation of American States, the Inter-American Development Bank, etc. – so that they can participate directly and try to oppose U.S. hegemonism.

Within the Latin American region, these countries first initiated a process of cooperation and integration and later established various sub-regional organisations -such as Mercosur (Mercado Común del Sur-Mercado Comum do Sul) and Alianza del Pacífico (Mexico, Colombia, Chile and Peru) – to cooperate with other regions of the world and shake off the unfortunate definition of “America’s backyard”.

Located in the Western Hemisphere, where the well-known superpower is present, Latin American countries have long been deeply influenced by the United States in politics, economics, society and culture.

In 1823, the United States supported the Monroe Doctrine and drove the European countries out of Latin America with the slogan ‘America for the Americans’, thus becoming the masters of the Western Hemisphere.

The Monroe Doctrine also became a pretext for the United States to interfere in the internal affairs and diplomacy of Latin American countries.

In 2013, 190 years after the aforementioned declaration, the United States publicly declared that the Monroe Doctrine era was over and emphasised the relationship on an equal footing and the shared responsibility between the United States and Latin America.

Nevertheless, the current Latin American politics shows once again that the end of the so-called ‘Monroe Doctrine’ era is nothing more than a common myth.

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