Guide to Brazil

São Paulo’s forgotten rebellion

Today, July 9, is traditionally a public holiday in the state of São Paulo, commemorating the 1932 Constitutionalist Revolution, eventually quelled by President Getúlio Vargas. However, São Paulo’s history of battles and skirmishes goes beyond 1932. One particular uprising, that of 1924, has largely flown under the radar in the state’s history.

Cannons, trenches, bombings, roughly 5,000 injured and hundreds of deaths — not a scenario one would usually associate with Brazil. This was the setting for an entire month in São Paulo in the 1920s, as the country’s most important economic center saw itself caught up in a military uprising as social changes brought the region to boiling point. With time, the damages were covered up and along with them the story of the worst conflict in Latin America’s biggest city.[restricted]

“Oh well, that’s because of a curse. It’s the revolution doomed to be forgotten for 100 years,” jokes Celso Luiz Pinho, author of ‘São Paulo – 1924,’ a book about the uprising of rebellious army members that tore the city apart for almost a month in July of 1924. While the grim forecast of an army commander passed on to Mr. Pinho is now an anecdote, it actually remains accurate. While the 1932 uprising is celebrated with the highest monument in the city — an obelisk built to hold the remains of fallen soldiers — and a public holiday, the events of 1924 are barely discussed by Brazilian historians, not to mention the population.

For Ilka Stern Cohen, author of ‘Bombas sobre São Paulo – A revolução de 2014,’ “memory is made out of choices that make sense or not. The events of 1924 do not make sense to São Paulo’s narratives. It all happened in the city by chance, local politicians were not involved. Of course it was important, it changed the lives of those who were besieged for more than 20 days, but it disappeared because it does not serve any interest,” she told The Brazilian Report.

Though it seems lost in time, this failed coup actually sheds light on ever-present questions in Brazilians politics: the need for social reforms and the involvement of the army in everyday politics.

A powder keg in São Paulo

While the uprising itself started on July 5, its causes go far back. The 1920s were a period of social change in Brazil, with the first steps of urbanization and industrialization taking place in its coastal cities. Amid the changes, the political system known in Brazil as “the Old Republic” — marred by rigged elections, low public participation in politics, and a rotation of rural elites in power — slowly started to crack.

One of these cracks showed up in the armed forces, in a movement referred to by the textbooks as tenentismo, or Lieutenantism. The lower ranks of the Army — an institution seen as almost unbreakable in modern-day Brazil — were keen on social changes. “I explain 1924 as an attempt to re-establish the ideals of the 1889 Republic. It is a moment when the political model is questioned”, says Ms. Stern Cohen.

Two years before, 18 soldiers had shown their dissatisfaction in Rio de Janeiro, when they tried to take over the Copacabana Fort, being besieged by the federal government forces and dying on the beach.

As an attempt to dissipate the movement, explains Mr. Pinho, some of those involved were deployed to far-away provinces, such as Mato Grosso do Sul and the countryside of São Paulo. Indeed, they were far from the federal capital of Rio de Janeiro, but not from each other. There, they were able to spread their ideas and gather support. Unaware of the situation, the city of São Paulo lay in between the rebels and their goal: to overthrow then-president Artur Bernardes in Rio de Janeiro.

The heat of the battle

The uprising began on the second anniversary of the attempted coup in Copacabana. The rebels, commanded by general Isidoro Dias Lopes, took over the 4th Cavalry Battalion in Santana, to the north of São Paulo, as reported by newspaper O Estado de S.Paulo. From there, they took the military airport of Campo de Marte and bombed the official government palace, which was located in São Paulo’s city center.

The conflict was brutal, with the rebels firing cannons and being targeted by aerial bombing in response. Trenches were dug all over town. Civilian areas such as the working-class neighborhoods of Mooca and Brás were targeted; the Liceu Coração de Jesus school, which was close to the palace, was hit by three bombs.

“[Federal government forces] bombed São Paulo and whether due to lack of technical knowledge or by a will to end the confrontation as soon as possible, they were not very fond of buildings, houses. There was broad destruction”, said historian Boris Fausto, in the Netflix documentary series Guerras do Brasil.

A quick fight was also the goal of the rebels, says Mr. Pinho. “They wanted a blitz. In little time, they occupied strategic spots, but did not have outside support. It was easy to see, after 20 days, that it wouldn’t work. Planning is beautiful on paper, but when it came to reality, they were not prepared.”

In her book, Ms. Stern Cohen explains some episodes of misfortune and bad planning that worked against the rebels, such as an informant that tipped off military commanders loyal to the government, who managed to organize a resistance and arrest some of the main leaders of the rebellion: brothers Joaquim and Juarez Távora.

But dragging the conflict on for so long took a heavy toll on civilians. Caught up in the conflict, they couldn’t tell rebels from loyalists, as both wore the same uniforms. Amid the besieged state, thousands fled to the countryside and the city’s supply chain largely dried up. Left to their own devices, the population tried to organize the city and mediate the conflict. But those efforts were not enough to avoid massive losses. Sources diverge in terms of deaths; official counts speak of 503 casualties, but historians put that number closer to 800. Regardless, the uprising of 1924 remains, to this day, the biggest armed conflict in the city of São Paulo’s history.

A symptom, not the cause

The rebellion itself did not have popular support in the streets, as Ms. Stern recalls, but the causes supported by the rebels were not strange to Brazilians. “It happened at a time of overall dissatisfaction. You had strikes, police repression … There was no one in the streets, but you can tell, by looking at the newspaper editorials, that there was some sort of sympathy [toward the uprising] as they were pointing to a new direction for the country,” she said.

The lieutenants did not know, but while they fled to the countryside after losing the unplanned battle for São Paulo, military uprisings in their support took place in Amazonas, Mato Grosso, and Sergipe, according to Fundação Getúlio Vargas.

Even though their claims were vague — and included ousting an elected president by the threat of violence — other demands made by the uprising find echoes in modern Brazil, such as improved education, cutting illiteracy, fair elections, and an end to corruption. Mr. Pinho recalls that, in the end, lieutenants were no longer a rank in the military, it was a name for all of those who supported their cause, whether they were members of the military or not.[/restricted]

Guide to Brazil

Six Brazilian Portuguese mistakes common to English speakers

Among the Western Romance tongues, Brazilian Portuguese is one of the most straightforward languages to pick up. It is forgiving, common usage involves a much smaller amount of verb tenses as some of its contemporaries (I’m looking at you, French and Spanish!), and the syntax is reasonably straightforward. However, it does have its pitfalls.

Proper pronunciation can be tricky, while colloquialisms and idiomatic Portuguese can take years to master. And even in the standard vocabulary, there are some irregular and tricky words that so often cause problems to non-native speakers.[restricted]

Ser and Estar

To be or not to be? In Portuguese, Hamlet’s question takes on a new dimension, as the language has two different translations for the standard verb “to be.” First, ser is a constant state of being, one that is inherent to the speaker’s nature. For instance, one would use ser to say “I am tall,” “I am shy,” or “I am from England.” These aspects of a person are not constantly subject to change. In fact, they help to describe the identity or personality of the speaker.

The verb estar is for changing or temporary states of being. For example, Portuguese speakers use estar for when they are tired, hungry, happy, or in any fleeting mood. One is not tired by nature—it is a passing state. Rather, you feel tired, then you rest, and you are no longer tired.

Gente and pessoal

In Brazilian Portuguese, the words gente and pessoal have, strictly speaking, the same meaning. Both can simply be translated as “people.” However, many Brazilians informally use gente to mean “we,” and pessoal to mean “they.” There’s no rule or hint as to why this division is made, so it’s something you can only really pick up through practice.

Levar and trazer

Simply put, levar is the verb “to take,” while trazer is the verb “to bring.” Easy, right? Well, in English, the phrases “I’ll take a cake to the party” and “I’ll bring a cake to the party” are largely interchangeable. Not in Portuguese, where you can only take something away, and bring something to a given place. In this case, the equivalent of “taking a cake to the party” (using levar) would be grossly incorrect.

Equally, Portuguese speakers cannot bring a piece of the cake home, they have to take it. A frustrating, yet common error made by most learners.

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Assume and assumir

The most common use of the English verb “assume” is to presume, suppose, or take something for granted. This meaning is non-existant in Portuguese, where the equivalent assumir only means to take control of something or be given new power or responsibility, such as “assuming” political office.

Therefore, the saying that “when you assume, you make an ass out of you and me” doesn’t work as well in Portuguese … or, does it?

Exit and êxito

If you’re looking to leave a bar in Brazil, don’t ask for the êxito—the word you’re looking for is saída. Êxito, while coming from the same Latin root as “exit,” actually means “success.”

Pretend and pretender

A classic false friend between English and Portuguese, the verb pretender is not used in the same way as “to pretend.” In fact, pretender used in place of “intend,” when you attempt or strive to do something. This meaning was once used in the English language but is long outdated. If you are trying to say “pretend,” however, you should use the Portuguese equivalent of the verb “to feign”—fingir.[/restricted]

Guide to Brazil

Beyond “12 Years a Slave”: the story of Luís Gama

On November 20, Brazil celebrates Black Consciousness Day—observed as a public holiday in over 800 cities. The date pays homage to Zumbi dos Palmares, a symbol in the struggle for freedom and empowerment of Afro-Brazilian people. But in this article, we will tell the story of one unsung hero in the struggle for racial equality in Brazil: Luís Gama. In 2013, international audiences were moved by the biographical drama “12 Years a Slave,” recounting the life of Solomon Northup, a freeborn African-American man who was kidnapped and sold into slavery in 1841, and his journey to regain freedom. The story of Luís Gama, born in Salvador in 1830, however, is arguably even more spectacular.[restricted]

He was the son of Luíza Mahin, a former slave credited with mentoring several slave insurgencies, and a ruined Portuguese bourgeois. His mother’s role in a secessionist movement to separate Bahia from the rest of the country in 1837 forced her to flee Salvador—leaving the young Luís with his father.

If in “12 Years a Slave” Mr. Northup was sold as a slave by two conmen, Luís Gama was sold to a slave trafficker by his own father—who desperately needed money to pay for his gambling addiction.

At that time, slaves from Bahia were considered to be “damaged goods,” due to the numerous uprisings from their enslaved populations. Many slave owners feared that their “revolutionary spirit” would “contaminate” their other servants. Receiving no bids, Mr. Gama grew into his teens as the property of the trafficker who bought him from his father, and ended working in a São Paulo inn.

He would learn how to read and write with a guest, and, aged 17, he managed to prove in a court of law that he was born a free man—and therefore couldn’t be enslaved. He tried to join the prestigious law school at the University of São Paulo—but was rejected because of the color of his skin. Still, Mr. Gama would frequent the school’s library, becoming a self-taught “rábula, that is, a lawyer without a bar certification—which, at that time, was not required to practice law.

The lawyer of the slaves

His stellar legal career was marked by his unyielding defense of the rights of slaves. Using the legal system, Mr. Gama freed over 500 slaves, with some estimates having the count at close to 1,000. Published in 1938 by the sociologist and journalist Sud Menucci, one of his most detailed biographies describes Mr. Gama’s work as a meticulous quest for technicalities that he could use in courts to break his clients’ bonds of slavery.

This work was usually pro bono, as he explained in an 1869 interview to the now-defunct newspaper Correio Paulistano. “I advocate for free out of sincere dedication to the cause of the disgraced. I’m not in this for profit. Nor do I fear retaliation,” he said.

He gained notoriety for defending a belief—at the time considered radical—that a slave who kills their master is, in fact, acting in self-defense.

When he died, in 1882, six years before slavery was abolished in Brazil, an estimated 3,000 people attended his funeral at a time when São Paulo was a city of just 40,000 people. It would take 133 years for him to be posthumously recognized as a lawyer by the Brazilian Bar Association, and only last year was Mr. Gama’s name included in Brazil’s “Book of National Heroes.”

For former Justice Minister Miguel Reale Jr., Mr. Gama was “the most important Afro-Brazilian man of the 19th century,” and that his legal pieces can be read “to build courage in the fight against all the injustices that still plague us.”[/restricted]

Guide to Brazil

How to validate your diploma in Brazil

The effects of Brazil’s infamously tortuous bureaucracy on the country’s economy are well-known. But now, an influx of refugees—more recently, from Venezuela—is exposing how inefficiency may be taking opportunities away from people who need them most.

When coming to Brazil, many refugees from countries such as Syria or Haiti already face barriers such as language and culture in the process of starting their new life, besides the rampant unemployment and economic recession that Brazil is still trying to shake. As if that wasn’t enough, a recent report by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) shows that 90.5 percent of the graduates among this group have not been able to validate their diplomas.

According to information provided by Brazil’s Ministry of Education, the process of revalidating one’s bachelor’s or postgraduate degree may take months and require many documents, which may explain why many of those refugees are resorting to other job alternatives, in spite of having formal education. 

The best way to navigate through this bureaucratic maze is by knowing the proper procedures. The Ministry of Education has created the Carolina Bori platform, which gathers processes and information to make everything quicker and simpler. 

The step-by-step process is below, which you can use to get ready for your application in advance. 

Requesting diploma validation

Pick a degree that is equivalent to your own at a Brazilian public university qualified by the Education Ministry to validate one’s diploma. The school doesn’t have to be located in the state where you are currently living, but the institution chosen must have availability, as it can only analyze a certain number of cases at one time. This also varies according to the university and course. The applicable universities and courses can be seen here.

Preparing your documentation

– A brief description of the research activities you performed, as well as any internships. You must provide scientific papers produced from your thesis, published in academic journals or presented at conferences. They must contain the name of the author(s), the name of the publication, date of publication, and/or the event’s location.  

  • A copy of your diploma 
  • An academic transcript (including a full list of all the study you have completed with the university, authenticated by the institute) 
  • Names of teachers and professional accreditations signed by the university
  • If available, information about the university’s structure, such as labs, libraries, performance reports, institutional policies authenticated by the institute.  
  • News reports proving the foreign institution’s reputation, if required.
  • If the course offered was a partnership between two institutes, you must present documents that prove this cooperation or support from international funding agencies, if applicable.

For double degree programs:

You may require the validation of both certificates, providing documents that prove the program’s existence and its content. 

For postgraduate diplomas

  • Individual registration with personal data and, if applicable, links with Brazilian institutes.
  • An authenticated copy of the diploma provided by the foreign institution.
  • A copy of the thesis/dissertation (in both physical and digital formats), alongside an official document provided by the institution, showing the work’s title, presentation date, the names of examiners and advisors, and their résumés. If the thesis wasn’t presented to the public, you must include a document explaining the institution’s evaluation criteria.
  • An academic transcript. 
  • A brief description of the research activities you performed, as well as any internships. You must provide scientific papers produced from your thesis, published in academic journals or presented at conferences. They must contain the name of the author(s), the name of the publication, date of publication, and/or the event’s location.  
  • If applicable, you must present independent evaluations of the degree program, if performed by a public institution with proper accreditation – as well as news reports.

University analysis process

If the application is accepted, the university will assemble a committee to evaluate the case. The normal process can take up to 180 days, while the fast-track process lasts up to 60 days. Holidays and vacations don’t count towards the deadline.  

Certificates eligible for fast-tracking are those which are: 

  • provided by courses that have already been fully approved by different institutions at least 3 times;
  • issued by courses accredited by the Sistema Arcu-Sul (for Mercosur countries only);
  • related to courses that have admitted students through scholarships provided by any Brazilian government body. 

At this step, universities may ask for additional information for graduates or require the applicant to do extra tests or classes. The applicant must provide the necessary documents, if applicable.

Diploma validation results

The university shall either accept or reject the request. It will also legalize the final document in up to 30 days.

The applicant must then collect their validated diploma at the university. 

Source: Carolina Bori platform and Ministry of Education. 

What about doctors?

The process to validate a degree in Medicine works through a federal government program called Revalida. As well as going through the process mentioned above, foreign doctors or Brazilians who graduated abroad must pass a two-step exam. At first, the doctors answer a test with 100 multiple choice questions and five written questions. If approved, they must undertake a practical test, where they must successfully pass ten stations simulating real-life tasks, such as diagnosing conditions. 

Brazil’s “More Doctors” white coat diplomacy program sparked a discussion about how Revalida is carried out. When Cuban doctors first came to Brazil by way of the program, they had the benefit of not having to go through the re-evaluation process. Once the agreement with Cuba came to an end, the Brazilian government has scrambled for ways to speed up the process. The Bolsonaro administration’s “Doctors for Brazil” program—replacing More Doctors—includes permissions for private universities to revalidate diplomas, beyond just public institutions.

In July, the Ministry of Education announced that the Revalida exam will have two editions per year, but the process will maintain the same structure. Applicants refused in the second test may have a second chance, instead of having to go through the entire process again. [/restricted]

Guide to Brazil

A guide to Brazil’s main regulatory agencies

Brazil’s power structure is split between the Executive, Legislative, and Judiciary branches. In grossly oversimplified terms, the Legislative makes laws, the Executive sanctions them, and the Judiciary analyzes whether they are constitutional. Beyond this, however, there is another level of governance which has just as much of an impact on the daily lives of Brazilians. Nominally under the umbrella of the Executive branch, there is a wide range of regulatory and government agencies which establish rules and norms in a number of key sectors.[restricted]

Despite their relative autonomy, these agencies still have formal links to cabinet ministries and as such can be targets of political influence. Other times, they stand in opposition to the government, providing necessary checks and balances in important areas of Brazilian industry. Here are some of the most important regulatory agencies in Brazil today.


The biggest regulator of all, the Brazilian Sanitary Surveillance Agency (Anvisa) is the body responsible for regulating pharmaceuticals, food products, and establishing sanitation procedures. Created in 1999 under the Fernando Henrique Cardoso government (which oversaw the creation of many of Brazil’s major regulators), Anvisa is linked to the Ministry of Health.

It is led by a five-person board of directors, who are appointed by the president’s office for three-year terms. William Dib, a former congressman for the Brazilian Social Democracy Party (PSDB), is the current Anvisa chairman, having been awarded the post by former President Michel Temer in 2018.

Recently, Anvisa has made the headlines for two reasons. First, for the record amount of pesticides it has approved for use in Brazil in 2019, and second, for its upcoming debate on the legalization of growing cannabis for medical use.

The Jair Bolsonaro government is forcefully anti-drugs and has opposed Anvisa’s move to regulate medicinal marijuana. Despite the agency putting forward a tame and highly restrictive proposal, Citizenship Minister Osmar Terra declared that Anvisa “could be shut down” if the regulation is approved.

The recent appointment of former Navy admiral Antônio Barra Torres to a vacancy on the Anvisa board has been seen as an attempt by the government to stifle the advance of the legalization of medicinal cannabis.


The Administrative Council of Economic Defense (Cade) is Brazil’s antitrust watchdog, similar to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission. The declared mission of the Cade is to protect free competition in the Brazilian market, and is the highest tribunal on all antitrust matters.

The agency is made up of three main branches: the Administrative Tribunal of Economic Defense, the General Regulatory Council, and the Department of Economic Studies. The council monitors the markets and investigates suspicions of antitrust practices, which are then tried by the tribunal. The Department of Economic Studies assists the tribunal and council by elaborating reports and analyses on administrative proceedings.

Cade evaluates mergers and acquisitions for any indications of antitrust practices, authorizing (or not) the completion of these transactions. 

A crucial element to competition in Brazil, Cade is currently hamstrung, having recently lost four of its seven board members after their terms expired. Cade’s members are appointed by the president, but Jair Bolsonaro has delayed nominating replacements, in a hope to use these seats as political currency.

He intends to give two of these nominations to Senate President Davi Alcolumbre, in an attempt to ensure the Senate approves the appointment of the president’s son, Eduardo Bolsonaro, as Brazilian Ambassador to the U.S.

Without replacements, Cade does not have a quorum to make any decisions, meaning that no mergers or acquisitions can be authorized in the country until the agency’s board is replenished.


Linked to the Ministry of Mines and Energy, the National Petroleum Agency (ANP) is the agency responsible for regulating the oil, natural gas and biofuels industries in the country, establishing national policy for these areas. It has been in the news recently surrounding the government’s plan to open up the gas market to the private sector, in what the Ministry of the Economy has called “a shock of cheap energy.”

The program involves a massive divestment push from Petrobras, as an attempt to reduce its monopoly in several levels of the oil production chain. Last week, for instance, the ANP authorized the sale of the Maromba oil field, controlled by Petrobras, to Norwegian company BW Offshore. The state-owned oil giant is also awaiting the green light from the ANP to sell off several fields in the Potiguar Basin, in the Brazilian Northeast.


Brazil’s Securities Commission (CVM) is in charge of regulating the country’s financial markets, licensing publicly-held corporations, accrediting independent auditors, among many other responsibilities. Crucially, it also has the power to investigate and punish market irregularities, being able to dish out fines of up to BRL 500 million each. As an example, earlier this year, the CVM gave a series of fines adding up to BRL 536.5 million to Eike Batista, formerly the richest man in Brazil, for insider trading.

The top level of the CVM is made up of a board of five directors, all appointed by the president’s office.


Set to take a prominent role in regulatory matters later this year, the National Telecommunications Agency (Anatel) is the body responsible for regulating the telecom industry in the country. Its scope includes telephone companies, internet service providers, and cable television companies. 

Brazil is currently discussing the ins and outs of a new telecom law, as the previous legislation dates back to 1997 and led to the creation of Anatel. Suffice to say, the telecoms landscape in Brazil has changed considerably since the 1990s, and Congress is discussing a pro-business bill to provide legal security for investments in the sector.

Regardless of how the telecom law process pans out, Anatel will remain in the spotlight for 2020, when it is expected to hold the long-awaited auction of 5G frequencies in Brazil. One of the agency’s main concerns surrounding the technology is the potential interference it may cause with dish antennas used in rural areas for TV signal.

Others regulatory agencies

Beyond these leading agencies, there are over a dozen more regulators covering other important sectors. With relation to infrastructure, there are the National Agencies of Land Transport (ANTT), Waterway Transport (ANTAQ), and Civil Aviation (ANAC) which oversee the administration of highways, railways, ports, and airports. The government’s recent push for privatization has seen these agencies take a leading role, as concessions for several roadways and airports are being sold to the private sector.

The ANTT is also worth special attention as it is the agency responsible for establishing price tables for Brazil’s truck drivers, who are responsible for transporting 60 percent of all cargo in Brazil—90 percent, when not considering iron ore and crude oil, which are not transported by road.

Furthermore, there are the National Agencies of Water (ANA), Electrical Energy (ANEEL), Supplementary Health (ANS), Mining (ANM), and Cinema (ANCINE), which act as the head regulators of their respective sectors.[/restricted]

Guide to Brazil

The origins of Bossa Nova in Brazil

Brazil is mourning the death of legendary musician João Gilberto, who passed away on Saturday, July 6, at the age of 88. A visionary guitarist and songwriter, Gilberto is often credited as the “father of bossa nova,” one of Brazil’s most distinct musical styles.

Nowadays played on films, in bars, and in elevators around the world, back in the 1950s and 1960s, bossa nova (literally “new trend”) came as a wave of modernity, an innovative style that took over the Southeast of Brazil.[restricted]

The birth of a new beat

And it all started with João Gilberto, then a young guitarist from the poor countryside town of Juazeiro in Bahia. Poet Vinicius de Moraes and composer Antônio Carlos “Tom” Jobim had developed a songwriting partnership, seeking to bring samba and popular Brazilian music in line with American jazz, which was all the rage in the bars and clubs of Rio de Janeiro. Their early compositions would be the beginnings of bossa nova, but it was only after meeting Gilberto that the unique sound was born.

In 1958, Tom and Vinicius’ songs were recorded on the album Canção do Amor Demais, sung by Elizeth Cardoso and accompanied on guitar by the then-unknown João Gilberto. On “Chega de Saudade,” often regarded as the first bossa nova track, Gilberto’s guitar provides the missing element and defines the entire new style.

Borrowing the syncopated jutting characteristic of jazz, Gilberto turns his guitar into something approaching percussion, going beyond providing added rhythm and actually dictating the beat of the song entirely.

Gilberto then went on to record his own version of “Chega de Saudade,” on a single which contained the B-side “Bim Bom,” written and composed by the man himself. Besides his already distinctive guitar playing, Gilberto’s vocals on both tracks became something inseparable from bossa nova. They are soft and familiar, approaching the tone of a speaking voice, while also deceptively quiet, drawing in the listener—like a soft-spoken person at a party, forcing people to lean in and hear what they have to say.

“Bim Bom” goes even further, with Gilberto using his vocals as part of the rhythm itself, a technique later picked up by many of his contemporaries.

Bossa Nova and Rio de Janeiro

The timing and location of bossa nova were crucial to its conception and popularity. The urban development projects of the mid 20th century saw the concretization of the wealthy middle class in the south zone of Rio de Janeiro, soon to be dethroned as the country’s capital city.

In the bohemia of Rio’s universities, clubs, and bars, there was a yearning for a culture that was new and modernist. American jazz and bebop became more and more popular, but these were imported and didn’t fit in with the growing sense of nationalism in the country’s big cities.

Bossa nova came as a way to take traditional samba rhythms and make them current and innovative. The samba was stripped back and slowed down, and elements of jazz were thrown into the mix, largely thanks to João Gilberto’s genius.

Here at The Brazilian Report, we have compiled a selection of some of our favorite bossa nova tracks, which you can follow on Spotify.

Correction: The original version of this article stated that João Gilberto died on June 6, when he actually died on July 6, 2019. The information has been corrected. 


Guide to Brazil

14 must-reads in Brazilian literature for every book lover

Brazilian literature manages to encapsulate the Portuguese language with a Brazilian flair and local themes. Even for those reading the translated versions, these authors will captivate you with their earnest characters and courageous narratives.

As Brazilian literature encompasses so many masterful authors, we’ve made an effort not to repeat works from the same writer. However, we made one exception with Machado de Assis—the most influential author in Brazilian literature sees two of his works enter this list.

Book lovers, get your pen and paper at the ready, because you’re going to want to take notes.[restricted]

O Quinze, Rachel de Queiroz (1930)

Brazilian journalist, author, and diplomat Rachel de Queiroz published her first work, O Quinze, or “The Year Fifteen”, in 1930—when she was only 20 years old. Born in Fortaleza, Ceará in 1910, Ms. Queiroz led a prolific life, recognized for her newspaper columns, novels, and short stories. In 1964, Queiroz represented Brazil at the United Nations and became the first women to enter the Brazilian Academy of Letters.

In O Quinze, Queiroz provides a portrait of the Northeastern Brazilian man at the turn of the century. Faced with the great drought of 1915, the migrant Chico Bento and his family journey to the Amazon.

The Feint, Sérgio Rodrigues (2013)

Recently published by Brazilian journalist and author Sérgio Rodrigues, The Feint features a weary sports commentator and equates the talents of soccer legends Didi, Zidane, and Falcão to the prose of Vladimir Nabokov. Rodrigues’ book won the Portugal Telecom Grand Prize.

Time and the Wind, Erico Verissimo (1951)

This epic by popular 20th-century writer Erico Verissimo comes in three parts:  The Continent, The Portrait, and The Archipelago. The trilogy narrates the formation of Brazil’s southernmost state, Rio Grande do Sul. Verissimo’s work spans 200 years of history, from 1745 to 1945. Over these years, Brazil’s South was characterized by oligarchy, internal wars, and border conflicts.

Captains of the Sands, Jorge Amado (1937)

In this revolutionary work, Jorge Amado portrays the lives of the street children of Salvador, one of the major cities in Brazil’s Northeast. In this gang of 100 street kids, ages 7 to 15, there are leaders, teachers, dreamers, and lovers. At the time, however, Amado received harsh criticism for integrating aspects of Afro-Brazilian culture, such as Candomblé and capoeira, into his works. In the year of its publishing, over 800 copies of the book were burned in the capital square.

The book gained a film adaptation in 2011, directed by the author’s own granddaughter, Cecilia Amado. Watch the trailer here.

Lampião and Lancelot, Fernando Vilela (2006)

In this book, legendary folk heroes of two very different worlds meet. Lampião is a real-life bandit from Brazil’s Northeast, who enjoyed much popular support for becoming a Robin Hood-esque figure. In Vilela’s adventure, he encounters medieval knight Lancelot, who challenges him to a duel. The book won two Jabuti awards, the most important in Brazilian literature.

1808, Laurentino Gomes (2007)

In this page-turning portrayal of history, Queen Maria of Portugal and her cowardly son João flee to Brazil under Napoleon’s threat of war. As a result, Brazil becomes a state, at last. Gomes’ book won the Jabuti award for Novel-Reportage as well as the Non-Fiction Book of the Year.

I’d receive the worst news from your beautiful lips, Marçal Aquino (2005)

The screenwriter and journalist Marçal Aquino masters the gritty suspense of a deadly affair between photographer Cauby and his lover Lavínia. Aquino writes his books for the screen, in order to pull more people towards his characters. This particular work sold 25,000 copies and reached millions in a TV adaption. While his work doesn’t yet have an English translation, it’s currently available in Spanish.

City of God, Paulo Lins (1997)

Paulo Lins’ book follows the transformation of his hometown favela: Cidade de Deus (City of God) in Rio de Janeiro. The author traces the roots of his community from the small-time criminality of the 1960s to the full-blown drug gang violence of the 1990s. Lins spent eight years collecting the information for his book, also working as a research assistant in an anthropological study about crime in favelas.

The book inspired the blockbuster Brazilian movie of the same name, which premiered only five years after the book itself. In the movie version of City of God, the main character is a spin-off of Lins himself.

Pornopopeia, Reinaldo Moraes (2009)

Pornopopeia exploded on to the Brazilian literary scene as São Paulo’s answer to Trainspotting. The book tells the story of a struggling cinematographer, who makes a living filming commercials for obscure brands. When the protagonist accepts a job to film a commercial for a sausage company, he ends up mixed up in a sex and drug-trafficking ring. His involvement spirals and he ends up participating in the murder of a drug dealer and fleeing to a small beach town, where he joins the beatnik movement.

Macunaíma, Mario de Andrade (1928)

In the style of magical realism and regional dialects, Mario de Andrade tells the story of Macunaíma, born in the Brazilian jungle with special shapeshifting powers. His protagonist travels to São Paulo and back again, taking the readers through polar opposites of Brazilian life. In fact, Macunaíma is a representation of the Brazilian character as a whole. Andrade based his work off his research on Brazilian linguistics, culture, and indigenous folklore.

The Passion According To G.H., Clarice Lispector (1964)

This work by Ukrainian-Brazilian writer and journalist Clarice Lispector takes us into the mind of a woman who goes only by the initials G.H. Her book comes in the form of a monologue, recounting her crisis after killing a cockroach in her wardrobe.

The Posthumous Memoirs of Brás Cubas, Machado de Assis (1881)

The deceased protagonist Brás Cubas narrates his own life story from beyond the grave, reliving his mistakes and failed romances. Published in 1881, the novel plays with surreal devices of metaphor and narrative construction, very unlike the clear, realist novels of his contemporaries.

The Slum, Aluísio Azevedo (1890)

This book epitomizes Brazil’s naturalist movement. Aluísio Azevedo narrates the life of Portuguese immigrants, former slaves, and mixed-race people living in the same impoverished community. Their characters and behavior change according to their environment, race, and social position.

Azevedo’s novel is key to understanding 19th century Brazil. He describes the raw social dynamic between whites and non-whites. In fact, the slum is as much a character itself as the people who live in it. A perfect book for a binge read.

Dom Casmurro, Machado de Assis (1899)

Dom Casmurro is certainly one of the greatest works in the history of Brazilian literature. Machado de Assis tells the story of adultery through the eyes of a betrayed husband. The husband tells of how his wife Capitu (Capitolina, in allusion to the Roman Capitolinus) cheated on him with his best friend. She later gives birth to a son that the narrator believes is not his.

However, the narrator doesn’t seem to have any solid facts. In fact, his story of betrayal almost sounds like one of paranoia. As a result, the reader never quite knows whether or not Capitu really cheated on her husband. Machado de Assis, however, said that the book contains all the pieces to the puzzle.

Can you solve the mystery?

Note: We had originally translated Sérgio Rodrigues’ book ‘O Drible’ as “The Dribble.” After the author expressed his preference for “The Feint,” we have changed the text. [/restricted]

Guide to Brazil

What it is like being an entrepreneur in Brazil?

In its latest study about Brazil, consultancy firm McKinsey defined Brazil as a “country of entrepreneurs in the broader definition of the word,” after data showed that make up 39 percent of the Brazilian workforce. However, it doesn’t mean that Latin America’s largest economy provides a friendly environment for people starting their own businesses. From the high burden of bureaucracy to elevated taxes, several factors contribute the low survival rate of new businesses.

According to the data, released by the Brazil Digital Report, two-thirds of Brazilian companies close before their fifth birthday. The top reasons being the lack of clients, lack of capital, and lack of knowledge.[restricted]

Part of it may be explained by the kind of entrepreneurship the Brazilian economy fosters. With unemployment reaching 13.1 million people in the wake of the country’s worst recession, plenty of Brazilians have to find ways to survive—the so-called “entrepreneurship by necessity.”

Data from Serasa Experian, a credit bureau, shows that Brazil created 2.5 million new companies in 2018, a record. But 81.4 percent of them were individual entrepreneurs, people who sometimes open up a small business to issue the fiscal receipts required by bigger companies or to have cheaper access to social security.

entrepreneurs brazil bureaucracy

McKinsey shows that the most common activities for Brazilian companies are related to low added-value services activities, such as restaurants, apparel, and catering. It could be explained by “the low level of investment required (…) and also because it does not require lots of knowledge about business operations, because they almost always come from a hobby or previous job,” explained Enio Pinto, a relationship manager at Sebrae, a Brazilian non-profit private organization that supports entrepreneurs.

According to the McKinsey report, “the typical Brazilian entrepreneur is female, under 34, lower-middle-class and with a high school education at best.” In fact, only 7 percent of Brazilian entrepreneurs have a bachelor’s degree or more, and only 3 percent earn more than 4 times the minimum wage (which is nearly BRL 1 thousand each).

The lack of preparation and the ailing economy may help to explain another observation: last year, 5.3 million small companies were defaulting on credit, the second-largest number on record. “These are people who have some kind of ability and they need to have an income, but sometimes are not fully prepared for financial management duties, which leads them to default,” says Victor Loyola, Vice President for Micro, Medium-sized, and Small Companies at Serasa Experian.

Brazilian bureaucracy does very little to help. Even if the entrepreneur wants to close the company, they will face costs 44 percent higher than what was necessary to open up the business in the first place, says McKinsey.

Sebrae research found out that, among small companies that close in Brazil, there is a higher proportion of owners who opened up the business after they lost their jobs, had little experience in the area and less time to plan. Also, Sebrae realized they invested less, did not control expenses and revenues, nor did they perfect their products and services.

What is Brazil doing to improve?

Elected under a liberal and market-friendly approach, President Jair Bolsonaro intends to put Brazil among the 50 best countries to do business in four years (instead of the current 109th place in the World Bank ranking)—by slashing and simplifying taxes, signing more trade deals, reducing the size of the state and bureaucracy. But to do it, the administration needs to approve the pension reform bill first, otherwise, it can’t give up on revenues.  

So far, the government managed to pass the so-called “good payers’ list” in Congress, an inheritance from the previous Michel Temer administration. It will allow financial institutions to reduce their risks when granting credit and, in theory, lower their interest rates. Privacy advocates, however, oppose the fact that people may be included on the list without consent, as we explained on the March 14 issue of our Daily Briefing newsletter.

Serasa Experian estimates that 2.5 million small companies may have access to credit due to the project, possibly injecting BRL 180 billion in the economy.

Entrepreneurs against all odds

Despite a hostile environment, startups are thriving in Brazil. According to McKinsey, Brazil already has over 10,000 startups and eight “unicorns,” which are startups with a market value higher than USD 1 billion. Among them, fintechs such as Pagseguro or Stone, and education company Arco Educação, are listed on the Nasdaq.

And there is room to grow. The report shows that most startups are “less than two years old, have fewer than six employees and have no revenue.” The Brazilian startup ecosystem is also quite concentrated in just nine states.

Most of these companies are also focusing on high-growth segments, solving problems where the country lacks structure or better competition: 16.2 percent work in professional services, 11 percent on telecommunications, 8.8 are fintechs. Healthcare, education, retail, and mobility also have expressive shares—and some of Brazil’s most promising fintechs, like iFood (a food delivery app) and 99 (a ride-sharing app) are growing on these fields.

But besides the common obstacles for companies, fintechs have to deal with specific issues, such as the lack of a specialized workforce. In Brazil, there are only 2 million graduates in STEM (Science, Tech, Mathematics, and Engineering) careers, while in India there are 22.7 million. The field is also little diverse; only 35 percent of startup founders are women. When it comes to the teams, the gap is even worse: a mere 12 percent are female.

For Mr. Pinto, a possible reason for the phenomenon is the “larger male presence in professional training to work in Engineering and Computer Science. These professionals frequently open businesses as a result of their professional occupation.”

The labor force is probably a bottleneck for another major challenge: how to obtain revenue and funding. As we explained in our Daily Briefing newsletter on April 12, the lack of specialized personnel has kept venture capital firms, such as Sequoia Capital, wary of investing in Brazilian startups:

“Brazil has about 170,000 new graduates in STEM careers (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) every year. In the U.S.—which is no benchmark country—there are 600,000, while China has 6m. So we may invest in Brazil, but having a local team could be too much of a headache”, said Doug Leone, a Sequoia partner, during the Brazil at Silicon Valley conference.

But it seems that, despite all challenges, startup funding may be flourishing as an opportunity for investors in the country. Although 76 percent of startup funding still comes from family and friends, angel investments are already in second place, reaching BRL 984 million in 2017.[/restricted]

Guide to Brazil

A beginner’s guide to the Brazilian workplace

Workplace customs can vary considerably from country to country. And when expats come to Brazil, some growing pains are expected. Brazilians are, in general, very welcoming and always willing to help. However, adapting to Brazil’s workplace habits could prove to be more tricky than grabbing a beer with locals.

The professional atmosphere in Brazil is a lot more sensitive than in most European countries, and it could be remarkably easy to cause offense with a poor choice of works. At the same time, Brazilian business talks are usually spoken with more tact, with people generally being less direct and concerned about coming across as pleasant.[restricted]

In Brazil, interpersonal relationships are very important, and they can even surpass professional relationships. The difficulty for managers—and foreigners—is being able to socialize with colleagues while still upholding the limits a superior should have with his or her team. Being too cold will prevent you from getting closer to your employees, which could lead to doubts about your leadership ability. However, being too close to your team will turn hard decisions into impossible ones.

Here’s some advice to ensure that you are following the rules in the Brazilian business environment.

Learn Portuguese

Brazil’s level of English proficiency is relatively low, according to a ranking by Education First, an international company specialized in language training. On a scale of 0 to 80, Brazilians score 50.66—behind countries such as the Philippines, Dominican Republic, and Vietnam.

Also, only speaking English (or any foreign language, for that matter) will limit the variety of people you’ll be able to communicate with. A study by the World Bank shows that there is a clear connection between individual purchasing power and language proficiency. Not speaking Portuguese broadly means you’ll only be able to speak with wealthy people.

Mind your words in the workplace

Unlike most Western countries, Brazilian people, on the whole, make great efforts to appear friendly. They generally try to avoid conflict and will engage in compromises to find solutions which work for everyone involved. For example, instead of bluntly expressing what they think and becoming involved in a conflict, Brazilians often seek to preserve a relationship by sugarcoating their criticism and using diplomacy. They will do their best not to hurt your feelings, even if it might take more time to voice their opinion.

Brazilians in the workplace also tend to be more sensitive and can be more easily offended than Europeans. Indeed, they speak with much more tact, they are less direct, and often try to be pleasant. Typically, being frank and showing irritation in Brazil will not help you solve a problem. It’s actually the opposite. Even if you’re a demanding person in the workplace, aim for an iron hand in a velvet glove approach. Stay calm and don’t let your irritation show, and “vai dar tudo certo.” Everything will work out.

Here is a list of words and terms you should try to avoid while working in Brazil, plus some ideas for alternative phrases to say instead.

  • “Why didn’t you do [something]?” >> “How can I help you do it?”
  • “Are you done?” or “Have you finished?” >> “What progress have you made?”
  • “Not now” >> “I will be happy to help you later, but I have something to finish first”
  • “I don´t like it” >> “Good job! However, we could do […] to make it even better”

Timing and scheduling in Brazil

As you will surely have noticed, Brazil is a giant, crowded place. The São Paulo region alone has over 20 million inhabitants, which is more than some European countries. As a result, Brazilians have a relationship with time and distance that’s a bit different from what most of us are familiar with in our home countries.

Brazilians don’t try to plan everything with precision, as they understand that it just can’t be done. Show patience with your colleagues and friends—you’ll almost definitely be left waiting at some point.

Small talk in the workplace

Brazilian people tend to place importance on the emotional aspect of their relationship. Knowing your colleagues is very important, if not mandatory. Before getting into business with someone, Brazilians will want to know the other person and understand them.

Do not underestimate small talk and discussions, as it might be at this moment that Brazilians make up their minds about you. Don’t be hesitant about going out for a casual coffee or drink with your coworkers. Go ahead and have a drink with your coworkers. At the very least, you’ll get to have some fun.[/restricted]

Guide to Brazil

Doing your taxes in Brazil as an expat

At this time of the year, all residents in Brazil—whether they are Brazilian nationals or not— must submit their revenue tax forms. Income tax returns are mandatory and must be sent to the Brazilian authorities between March 7 and April 30, 2019. After the joys of Carnival, the tax man cometh. It is called an “adjustment” tax return as individuals (expats, in this case) already pay income taxes throughout the year, either from their monthly salaries, or paid in regular installments (known as carnê-leão). Each Brazilian taxpayer fills out their return with a summary of their earnings, including specific deductions and arriving at final due payment.

Taxes on personal income in Brazil

[restricted]The Brazilian income tax system accounts for both income and property. As well as submitting earnings, each tax resident must also declare all of their assets, including real estate and bank accounts in Brazil and abroad. This declaration of assets is for information purposes only, and due tax is only calculated in accordance with information provided on earnings.

Foreigners and expats may believe that these obligations do not apply to them. However, according to articles 2 and 6 of Brazil’s tax law (IN RFB n° 208/2002), foreigners are also subject to tax obligations in Brazil under the following conditions:

  • As soon as they enter in Brazil with a permanent visa;
  • If they enter Brazil with a temporary visa and have signed an employment contract;
  • If they enter Brazil with a temporary visa but without any employment contract, in this case, if they stayed in Brazil more than 183 days, consecutively or not, over a period of 12 months.

Meanwhile, Brazilian nationals who do not reside in the country are not subject to income taxation in Brazil.

Any taxpayers intending to leave Brazil and settle abroad must first inform the tax authorities. Otherwise, they will remain a Brazilian resident for one year and will still have to pay income tax in this period.

The amount of taxes

Brazil applies the principle of worldwide taxation. Any income earned by a Brazilian taxpayer, in Brazil or abroad, is taxable in Brazil.

Specific rules may apply for stocks or real estate properties.

How to avoid double taxation

The Brazilian legislation allows for rebates on taxes paid abroad and taxes to be paid in Brazil, but only if a bilateral agreement has been signed with the country in question. Brazil has signed such agreements with 29 nations, stipulating that taxes paid abroad may be deducted from the amounts paid in Brazil.

What is the income tax rate?

In Brazil, the income tax burden is lower than in most European countries. An income bracket system is used, with highest earners paying 27.5 percent. There are also several deductions available to reduce an individual’s final taxable income.

In summary, filling out a tax return is mandatory if:

  • You earned an annual taxable income greater than BRL 28,123.91.
  • You earned a non-taxable income or withheld income of more than BRL 40,000.
  • You earned capital gains from the sale of assets or rights or from financial transactions;
  • You owned on December 31, 2018, assets or rights—included unbuilt land—valued equal or superior to BRL 300,000.
  • You became a Brazilian tax resident during the year 2018 and you were still a tax resident on December 31, 2018.[/restricted]
Guide to Brazil

Brazil, a country of few immigrants

At the beginning of the year, the Jair Bolsonaro administration announced that Brazil was pulling out of the United Nations Global Compact for Migration, signed by 164 countries in December of last year. The move was a campaign promise — and in line with what Brazilians think about immigration. A recent Datafolha poll shows that 67 percent of voters believe the country should have stricter immigration laws. Until very recently, immigrants were a complete non-issue in the political debate, but that changed when neighbors Venezuela fell into a downward spiral, causing millions to flee that country.

But despite the government’s aggressive stance on immigrants, they account for only 0.4 percent of the population — around 750,000 people, in a country of 207 million residents. Even the number of recognized refugees is low. According to the Ministry of Justice, there were only 5,134 people with such status on Brazilian soil last year. For comparison’s sake, Germany, a country of 82 million people, is home to 699,482 refugees.[restricted]

Even if we consider the argument that many immigrants come illegally and are, thus, unaccounted for, that fear of immigration doesn’t hold water. Let’s imagine that the real immigrant population is three times what authorities believe. Well, that would mean 1.2 percent of the country was made up of foreigners. Hardly an invasion, as the president’s rhetoric might suggest. In the U.S., for example, that rate is over 12 percent.

A few weeks ago, Ipsos published the last version of a poll entitled “Perils of Perception,” showing a wide gap between reality and what people believe it is true. The survey placed Brazil as one of the top 5 countries in which people know the least about their own country, only better than Thailand, Mexico, Turkey, and Malaysia (you can take the Ipsos quiz yourself to test your own knowledge on Brazil). In regards to immigration, Brazilians believe that immigrants represent 30 percent of the population — an astonishing 75 times the actual rate.

Brazil was once a nation of immigrants

According to the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics, the country had its biggest foreign population during the 1920s. Thanks to waves from Japan, Italy, and Germany, 5 percent of the population were immigrants — a record in recent history, without counting, of course, the colonization and the massive forced immigration caused by slavery.

Against popular belief, the workforce coming from Europe was not necessarily more qualified than what already existed in Brazil. In that time, 80 percent of adults in São Paulo were literate — while that rate was of 62 percent among European immigrants.

The rate of immigrants began dropping as the native population grew exponentially. In the 2000 census, Brazil had around 431,000 foreign nationals in a population of 190 million people. The trend has been altered since 2010, as Bolivians, Haitians and, more recently, Syrians and Venezuelans have arrived. But not nearly enough to place Brazil on a par with other nations.

Fewer immigrants than Argentina and Paraguay

Even if the number of immigrants has grown over the last few years, Brazil is way below the level of developed nations — and even below neighboring nations such as Argentina (4.9 percent of the population), Chile (2.7 percent) and Paraguay (2.4 percent — many of which are Brazilians).  The number of immigrants in Brazil is also lower than in other countries with over 100 million people, such as Russia (8.1 percent), Japan (1.8 percent), and Pakistan (1.7 percent).

Many Brazilians, however, live abroad

According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, over 3 million Brazilians live abroad — four times the number of immigrants in the country. And while Brazilians worry about the rise of the immigrant population, 70 million of them would move to another country if given a chance. According to a Datafolha poll from June 2018, 62 percent of the population between 16 and 24 years old wants to leave the country.

That is also the case among the Brazilian scientific community. As the government continues to promote budget cuts on research, Brazil has suffered from a phenomenon called brain drain: scholars are leaving Brazil for other countries, in order to continue working.


Guide to Brazil

Who is Jair Bolsonaro, Brazil’s new president?

On October 28, Jair Bolsonaro accomplished what most political pundits doubted, winning the presidential race by a landslide, earning 55 percent of the valid votes against the Workers’ Party’s Fernando Haddad. He’s been called many things, from radical, racist and misogynistic to anti-democratic and even a fascist. The truth is that Mr. Bolsonato seized, better than anyone, on the country’s crisis of representation to gather a massive following and become the new President of Brazil.

But who is the new president? Find out more about his life, politics, and the promises he made.

Early years

Born in 1955, Jair Bolsonaro was raised in the small city of Eldorado, in the state of São Paulo. He was 15 when Carlos Lamarca, a former military man who defected the Army to fight against the dictatorship, sought refuge in the region. He was one of the local boys who helped members of the Army look for Mr. Lamarca – who nevertheless ended up escaping. But the experience marked the young boy, who “after that started saying he would leave Eldorado to join the Army,” as his mother remembers.[restricted]

Jair Bolsonaro, the military man

Mr. Bolsonaro joined the Agulhas Negras Military Academy in the 1970s. Those were the so-called “Lead Years,” when hundreds of political opponents of the military dictatorship were incarcerated, tortured, and killed by the government’s political police. Many were buried in mass graves, and many families still have not recovered their remains. Not for a lack of trying, as many search operations were held throughout the decades after the military left power. In 2009, Mr. Bolsonaro belittled these efforts, hanging a poster in his House office saying: “Those who look for bones are dogs.”

He became known in 1986, after an op-ed he published in Veja magazine in 1986, criticizing “low salaries for the military.” He counters information published by the media at the time that dozens of cadets had been dismissed for “sodomy, drug use, and even indiscipline,” saying that the reason was a financial crisis that had victimized officers. Mr. Bolsonaro, then 33, didn’t have the authorization from his superiors to write the op-ed and was immediately punished with 15 days of detention.

Two years later, accusations would be far more serious. In 1988, he was investigated by the alleged participation in a plan to drop flash grenades inside Army barracks. The goal was to pressure the government into raising the salaries of military officers.

The Superior Military Court (STM) found Mr. Bolsonaro “not guilty” in a 9-4 vote, during a secret (but entirely recorded) session on June 16, 1988. The STM trial was the last step in the long case of military rebellion, the first to happen after the end of the military dictatorship.

This was a pivotal moment for the story not only of Mr. Bolsonaro’s life, but also of this country, as it took the young captain out of anonymity and into politics.

Jair Bolsonaro’s political career

If Brazilian politicians generally say slightly different versions of the same non-committal safe discourse, Jair Bolsonaro does not shy away from controversy. Instead, he actively encourages it. In 2011, a group of leftist congressmen made a formal complaint in the House against his demeanor, to which he responded by saying that they were “acting like faggots.” In December 2014, he told a congresswoman she was “too ugly to get raped.”

He was perhaps the most important voice of the anti-gay movement in Congress – and this is a big crowd we’re talking about. Mr. Bolsonaro has once said that people “become” gay due to a lack of parental discipline, and that a little smack on the face when the kids are young would “straighten them out.” His sons, of course, would never be gay because “he raised them appropriately.” Recently, the congressman met with openly gay Canadian actress Ellen Page to discuss the rights of the LGBT community in Brazil. You can see the results yourself:

The former Army captain was once a fringe candidate, regarded as a radical who only pleased retired military men, nostalgic for the military dictatorship.

But in the 2014 election, he was the highest-ranked candidate in his state, winning 464,572 votes – four times as many as he did in 2010. At the beginning of his seventh term in Congress, he declared his intentions of becoming the right-wing candidate, promising to be an “unabashed conservative, an alternative to those who loathe the Workers’ Party.”

Mr. Bolsonaro epitomizes Brazil’s far right. A former captain in the Army and a fervent Catholic, he supports the death penalty, the possibility of imprisonment for life (the current maximum in Brazil is 30 years), a lowering of the minimum age of criminal responsibility, and is against gun control legislation.

A lone wolf in Congress

During his 28 years in office as a congressman, Mr. Bolsonaro never enjoyed much prestige, as he himself acknowledged on several occasions. “I’m nobody here. I’ve never even had the honor of being named deputy whip for my party,” he said during a 2011 speech in Congress. In 2017, he ran for the House Speaker office, earning a total 4 votes (out of 513).

During his three decades as a politician, Mr. Bolsonaro was a member of seven different parties – and always proved to be a niche politician. Of the 190 bills he presented to Congress, 32 percent concerned the military. He said, time and time again, that his role was more to prevent certain bills from passing, such as the so-called “gay kit,” “gay kit,” the name evangelical leaders gave to anti-homophobia material to be distributed in public schools.

One of Jair Bolsonaro’s first actions into his sixth term as congressman, in March 2011, was to draft a motion to summon then-Minister of Education Fernando Haddad to a deposition in the lower house. He wanted Mr. Haddad to explain himself about the so-called “gay kit.” Two weeks later, Mr. Bolsonaro’s motion was crushed by the vast majority of his peers. “Is there a straight man around to back me up?” he asked the House floor, fuming.

Mr. Haddad never acknowledged the congressman, giving an idea of how irrelevant Mr. Bolsonaro was at the time.

Times have changed. In October 2018, Mr. Bolsonaro beat Mr. Haddad in the 2018 presidential election.

Nostalgia for the dictatorship

In the 1990s, he was against the privatizations plan put forward by the Fernando Henrique Cardoso administration. Mr. Bolsonaro went as far as saying that the then-president should have been executed by the dictatorship. He also declared that the dictators were wrong for not having killed over 30,000 people – and that only a civil war (not democracy) could lead to an improvement in Brazil.

2018 presidential campaign

In the hardest-fought campaign in Brazilian democratic history, Mr. Bolsonaro presented himself as an “anti-candidate,” promising to implode the political system. From the go, he marked his opposition to former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva – Brazil’s most popular politician. Opinion polls showed that Lula was set to win a third term, but he was never allowed to run. Convicted of corruption and money laundering, he was incarcerated on April 7.

But until mid-September, the Workers’ Party insisted in presenting Lula as the party’s candidate. Insisting with Lula for so long was an obvious decision for a party as rejected and polarizing as the Workers’ Party. Lula remains the country’s most popular political figure, and appeared polling as high as 39 percent late in August. In the Northeast, he was receiving up to 59 percent.

As a matter of fact, if Lula were a candidate, it would not be far-fetched to believe he would pull off a first-round win. But since he was not, the party used his image vouching for understudy Fernando Haddad to the point of exhaustion. That proved to be enough to push Mr. Haddad ahead of all candidates not named Jair Bolsonaro. In the runoff stage, however, Lula proved to be a liability, distancing centrist voters from Mr. Haddad, and throwing almost everyone right of the center into Mr. Bolsonaro’s lap.

The social media campaign

There are many reasons for Mr. Bolsonaro’s win, some of which we have covered in other articles: an anti-system wave, major rejection of the Workers’ Party and its supreme leader, Lula, and a nationwide focus on public safety – an issue that strikes a chord in a country with over 62,000 murders per year. But a major reason for this outcome was social media. Like no one else, Mr. Bolsonaro dominated the guerilla tactics on messaging apps such as WhatsApp to fuel the anti-Workers’ Party sentiment.

And that proved to be the difference in a country where people are addicted to social media. An impressive 68 percent of the electorate has a social media account, and an equally huge 66 percent uses WhatsApp Messenger. And social media was, naturally, source of the campaign’s biggest scandal.

Social media companies had illegal lists of cell phones to which they would send content against Mr. Haddad and his party. It remains unclear how they were obtained: either through leaks in telecom companies, credit companies or other illegal means. They were separated into several clusters, notably municipality of residence, gender, age, and monthly earnings.

Then, each cluster would receive specific content. Content about family-related topics such as same-sex marriage, gender issues, and social minorities would be sent out to more religious or older voters – who tend to be less open on those issues. Criticism of social programs would be forwarded to urban, richer voters – where the discourse of meritocracy against affirmative action is very popular.

It is actually impossible to know the extent of the reach. In July, WhatsApp limited the number of times one can forward the same message to 20. To circumvent this, companies obtained U.S. numbers – which can forward messages to up to 250 people. In about five minutes, you can get a number online for as little as USD 1.49 per month.

The September 6 stabbing

Mr. Bolsonaro spent a good part of the campaign in a hospital bed, after being stabbed in the stomach during a September 6 political rally in the city of Juiz de Fora. The perpetrator was promptly detained and identified as Adélio Bispo de Oliveira, 40. According to the police report, while being carted away the suspect said he was “fulfilling an order from God.” The president-elect underwent emergency surgery and was only released from the hospital on September 29. He still uses a colostomy bag, which will be surgically removed in January.

Sixteen days after being stabbed, Jair Bolsonaro gave his first interview, to newspaper Folha de S.Paulo. It was a short, four-minute talk over the phone, in which he defended Paulo Guedes, the ultra-neoliberal economist Mr. Bolsonaro anointed as his future “super minister” of finance.

Mr. Guedes has been at the center of some controversy this past week, after defending the re-creation of a financial transactions tax – something very unpopular among voters. After the news broke, Mr. Bolsonaro said on Twitter that “Brazil has enough taxes,” and that we wouldn’t create a new one. Since that episode, Mr. Guedes has canceled numerous meetings with TV stations and banks in which he would represent the presidential hopeful.

During his interview with Folha, Mr. Bolsonaro denied talks of a rift between him and Mr. Guedes. He also said that his top economic advisor never defended the re-creation of a new tax, but instead was misinterpreted. He was, according to the candidate, suggesting to simplify Brazil’s tax framework. “He doesn’t have political experience. If he had chosen other words, the press wouldn’t come after him like that,” said the candidate.

More Doctors controversy

Created in 2013 by the Dilma Rousseff administration with the aim of sending healthcare professionals to remote areas of the country, the More Doctors Program employs 18,240 professionals—8,332 of them being from Cuba.

Mr. Bolsonaro announced on Twitter—as he likes to do—that the continuity of the program would be subject to equivalence exams to attest the Cuban doctors’ capacity, that the doctors get the full amount of their salaries, and that they have the “freedom to bring in their families” to Brazil. “Unfortunately, Cuba hasn’t accepted,” Mr. Bolsonaro tweeted on Wednesday.

In a statement, the Cuban Ministry of Public Health said that Mr. Bolsonaro has given “direct, derogatory and threatening references to the presence of Cuban doctors, [declaring] and [reiterating] that he will modify the terms and conditions of the More Doctors Program, disrespecting the Pan American Health Organization and its agreements with Cuba.”

Several areas risk falling into a “state of public calamity,” according to the Brazilian Association of Municipalities (ABM). “Cuban doctors have acted in peripheral areas of metropolitan regions, in indigenous districts, in small towns, and remote areas. For most of these places, the arrival of Cuban doctors represented the first time a healthcare professional ever set foot in the region. Brazilian doctors refuse to go and live in these areas, even if the salaries offered are high,” said a letter from the ABM to the president-elect.

The government opened new spots for doctors, but most failed to show up to work.

Jair Bolsonaro’s promises for the country

Mr. Bolsonaro’s agenda has been more about being the “anti-Workers’ Party,” but his program lacks depth and detail. Here are his main promises:

  • Political reform
  • Slashing the number of civil servants politically appointed
  • A 13th month to Bolsa Família beneficiaries
  • Primary surplus by 2020
  • A unified, reduced tax system
  • Formal independence to the Central Bank, with terms that do not coincide with presidential terms
  • Reducing labor rights in the hope of curbing unemployment
  • Selling off Petrobras assets
  • Massive privatizations (of at least 50 state-owned companies)
  • Fewer environmental controls for companies and farmers
  • Shutting down the Palestine embassy in Brazil


Guide to Brazil

Presidential history of Brazil

Since overthrowing the Imperial Family in 1889, Brazil has had a total of 40 heads of state, six republics, two dictatorships, and eight constitutions. Only 60 percent of elected leaders of the country completed their terms, with seven presidents being ousted or impeached, five resigning, and four dying in office. This term completion rate is even worse in Brazil’s recent return to democracy – since Tancredo Neves died after the 1988 elections, only two elected presidents have completed their full terms.  Here at The Brazilian Report, we have profiled each one of Brazil’s heads of state, from Deodoro da Fonseca all the way to current President Michel Temer, the least popular president in Brazil’s democratic history. The history of Brazil’s leaders offers us a fascinating insight into the country’s past, present, and potentially, it’s future.[restricted]


Guide to Brazil

How Yellow bikes open new window into Brazil’s stray dog complex

Since last month, cyclists in São Paulo have been able to make use of a new, innovative service: a bike-sharing app that doesn’t rely on traditional bicycle docks. Everything is operated through the use of a smartphone. Already a hit in China, this kind of service is new to Brazil – and, apparently, we aren’t ready for it. At least, that’s the conclusion of BuzzFeed Brazil, which, on August 21, published the post “11 images showing why Brazilians might not be prepared for shared bikes.”

The piece compiled social media entries depicting bicycles that belong to Yellow, the new bike-sharing startup launched in August, which has been vandalized, broken or stolen. As the article went viral, several Twitter and Facebook users noticed that the tone of the piece suggested our country was not good enough to have such an “advanced” mode of transportation. São Paulo has two bike-sharing services based on docking stations (both started between 2012 and 2013). Yellow is the first to allow cyclists to park their bicycle anywhere.

Bruno Ferrari, a columnist at news radio CBN, made the important point that issues with dockless bike-sharing systems are not exclusive to Brazil. Several other cities around the world saw shared bikes being vandalized, stolen, broken or simply thrown into rivers. In the capital of the United States, The Washington Post reported on July 1 that “theft and destruction of dockless bikes [is] a growing problem.”[restricted]

yellow stray dog
Bikes: a door into our stray dog complex

According to the newspaper, up to 50 percent of the city’s fleet has been lost. GoBee, a Hong Kong startup, decided to pull out of French cities after reporting losses of 60 percent of its bikes. The Financial Times reports that even in Amsterdam, one of the cycling capitals of the world, a similar service, called White Bikes, closed in just a few days because users stole and threw the bicycles into the river.

In spite of what pessimistic and self-loathing social media posts might have you believe, Yellow has stated that the losses in São Paulo are below its predictions and its operation has not been compromised. On September 3, the company said that it registered more than 40,000 trips in its first month of operations. It started with 500 bikes at the beginning of August; now there are 2,000. Folha de S.Paulo reported that, unlike other bike-sharing services that operate in the city, Yellow has expanded its operation to peripheral neighborhoods. By the end of the year, the company plans to have 20,000 bikes. In 2019, that number will be 100,000.

Stray dog complex

So why were Brazilians so quick to focus on the bad side of this story? And why would BuzzFeed decide that we might not be prepared for Yellow bikes when other countries don’t seem to be doing such a great job themselves?

In the 1950s, journalist and playwright Nelson Rodrigues wrote that Brazilians suffer from what he called a “stray dog complex.” In essence, Brazilians usually think we (and the country as a whole) are below the rest of the world. Whenever there is a chance to put the country and its people down, Brazilians will do it in a heartbeat. And let’s be honest, the Yellow bikes affair was the perfect opportunity for our self-deprecating habits to rise again.

Instead of analyzing the company’s data and comparing São Paulo to other places – which would show that things are in fact going rather well (or at least not worse than elsewhere) – the knee-jerk reaction is to say Brazil is not prepared to have such a service.

Philosopher Roberto Romano, a professor at the University of Campinas, believes this tendency to put Brazil down has roots in colonial times. He says that colonizers forbade anything that could spell cultural, technical, social or religious improvement for the natives. Early Brazilians were not allowed to patent inventions, and universities were only available abroad.

Race issues

There is also a racial issue, Mr. Romano says. Even though some intellectuals and writers try to downplay the role of racism in the fabric of Brazilian society, slavery and the war on native Brazilians are undeniable factors in the makeup of modern day Brazil. “In the 19th century, with the doctrines of the white man and cultural superiority, the country saw intense propaganda about the inferiority of popular classes”, Mr. Romano says.

To try to whitewash the population, governments were invested in bringing European immigrants to work and live in the country. The basis of this thought was the theory of eugenics, which managed to influence scientists and policymakers in Brazil. In the early 20th century, Mr. Romano says, books circulated showing Brazilian’s inherent inferiority. “Renowned educators, such as Fernando de Azevedo, a very important figure in academia in the South and São Paulo, took eugenics as something right and to be followed,” says Mr. Romano.

This cultural trait has endured throughout the 20th century and is still felt. According to a poll, 62 percent of Brazilians between ages 16-24 would leave the country if they could. The United States is the top destination of choice (14 percent) for those who wish to flee, followed by Portugal (8 percent). The level of trust in general also provides an insight on how Brazilians see themselves: 91 percent of people believe their compatriots only want to take advantage of things. Only seven percent said they believe most people follow the rules.  

In Mr. Romano’s opinion, the only way to strengthen the country’s self-esteem is through the “concrete exercise of democracy, with is a precondition for equality, not only formally, but real.” The ones who are busy putting Brazil down, the philosopher believes, are in the upper classes and have an obsession with pleasing “the foreigners.”

In his opinion, “common people are more generous, less stuck to the ‘Bovary complex’ that leads the middle class to seek ‘ennoblement’ by acquiring foreign citizenship [from Portugal, Italy, or Germany], trying to run away from the country that gave them everything, including their academic knowledge.”

Perhaps Brazilians are prepared to have their dockless bike-sharing system after all. They are just blind to the fact that they are like any other people in the world – with their own flaws, shortcomings, skills, and qualities.[/restricted]

Guide to Brazil

How to understand Brazilian bureaucracy

Having to prove that you are who you say you are, filling out endless forms, walking around with different documents, wasting time in countless queues at state agencies. These are common ordeals for Brazilians who have to face state bureaucracy. Brazil remains one of the only countries in the world where a signature alone isn’t worth much — it first needs to be “validated” by a notary.

Brazilian bureaucracy is as old as the country itself. Portuguese colonizers brought a vastly bureaucratic structure that validated land donations from the Crown to the first settlers. As a matter of fact, the political elite of the land (more or less until the end of the First Republic in 1930) was not only formed by landowners and industrialists — it also contained families that controlled parts of the bureaucracy.[restricted]

The notary public is a great example of that. For centuries, these offices have remained hereditary establishments that hold the monopoly over document validations. In Brazil, you often need to prove that you are who you say you are, but this can only be done at a notary public — and those offices belonged to a small group of families. It was only in 2016 that the Supreme Court ruled against the hereditary character of those offices.

The centuries-old controversy around the need for notaries was reignited in 2013 by Lygia da Veiga Pereira, a researcher at the University of São Paulo. On her blog, she vented her frustrations about how difficult it is for Brazilian researchers to have access to materials from other countries. Ms. Pereira received a shipment of stem cells from Harvard, with 5 kilograms of dry ice packed around them, good enough to keep them frozen for two days.

It took 13 days for the cells to be cleared at customs. The National Sanitary Agency wanted documents with signatures from Ms. Pereira and her lab director — validated by a notary. Fortunately, the stem cells survived bureaucracy — but that was luck. “I lose credibility with the international research community if I spoil material. That sends a bad image,” she said at the time.

Things can get so bad that, in the 1970s and 1980s, Brazil had a Debureaucratization Ministry — which became the Small Causes Jurisdiction, a system of courts that deal with small cases, thus giving them faster trials.

Bureaucracy and corruption

Bureaucracy is corruption’s Siamese twin. In Brazil, we say that in many institutions, servants create hurdles in order to sell access.

Bureaucracy can be co-opted by political interests, social movements, but also corporatist interests. A big chunk of Brazil’s important posts have become fiefdoms of parties and nominations agreed in opaque behind-the-scenes negotiations. These positions are an important link in the influence networks that connect politicians, big business cartels, and parts of the private sector that monopolize public bidding processes, guzzling government money for the profit of their executives.

But if an overly bureaucratic state is the perfect environment for corruption, it also favors the flourishing of corporatist demands. We have seen that recently during the discussions around the pension system reform. The government had proposed to include federal civil servants in the austerity reform, which generated the threat of strikes. The servants eventually got their way and were excluded from pension cuts.

Mapping Brazil’s bureaucracy

ITS Rio, an NGO focused on technology, this week launched the Information Map, a project showing the bureaucratic web of the Brazilian government. The map shows that there are 20 digital databases dealing with subjects ranging from housing to healthcare, and none of them have any connection or information sharing between them. “Citizens pay the price. Today, administrative processes take much longer than they should, must be repeated at different institutions and are more expensive than they should be,” says the initiative.

Today, there are 48 different apps for bureaucratic services, from social security to voter registration. “We need a unified service — nobody will download every government-launched app,” says Ronaldo Lemos, director of ITS Rio.

bureaucracy brazil government
Click for an interactive view of the map.

Technology has already helped de-bureaucratize many processes, such as income tax. Since 1997, the process can be done completely online on an extremely user-friendly platform. The Federal Police allows, in many states, for citizens to go online to schedule appointments for receiving new passports. In states such as São Paulo, the Federal District, and Minas Gerais, the government has created institutions to centralize bureaucracy.

Yet, we still have a long way to go.[/restricted]

Guide to Brazil

Agricultural production in each Brazilian state and municipality

Over the past 11 years, Brazil’s agricultural production has experienced a major leap, as proven by the 2017 agricultural census. The area of newly cultivated land is equivalent of the territories of Portugal, Belgium, and Denmark – combined. But this growth has by no means been equal across all states. Pará in the North and Mato Grosso in the Center-West registered the biggest growth in cultivated areas.

While the portion of Brazilian land dominated by agricultural establishments has grown by 5 percent since 2006, 77 percent of that growth has been in Pará and Mato Grosso alone.

Data for the agricultural census is collected in the same way the government uses for a traditional population census, with surveyors visiting each property in turn. Therefore, the data compiled is self-declared and not cross-checked with satellite imagery.

As the data is not directly comparable to images from space, there is no way to find out precisely where this expansion has happened. It could have been in previously unused areas of the property, such as a landing strip, or it could be on areas which were previously protected. Pará, for example, was the leader in deforestation between 2006 and 2017, with roughly 4 million hectares of the Amazon rainforest being cut down.

The next in the ranking? Mato Grosso – with an additional 2 million hectares of deforestation. Mato Grosso also lost 1.8 hectares of the cerrado, a savannah-like biome.

Meanwhile, the Northeast region has seen the opposite trend.

Chastised by a severe five-year drought (which now threatens the Center-West and Southeast), the Northeast saw its “agricultural borders” shrink by 9.9 hectares as of 2006, when the last agricultural census was carried out. “There’s a massive area between Bahia and Rio Grande do Norte that has experienced desertification. A lot of producers have left those lands,” says census coordinator, Antonio Florido.

We have selected the best charts to explain how Brazil’s agribusiness production is spread across the country.[restricted]To explore these charts interactively, click here.

crops brazil total agricultural production

Brazil’s soybean country

soybeans brazil

Where corn is the leading crop

corn brazil

Where coffee is the leading crop

coffee brazil


Mato Grosso

mato grosso

Mato Grosso do Sul

mato grosso do sul



Distrito Federal

distrito federal

















São Paulo

sao paulo

Minas Gerais

minas gerais

Rio de Janeiro

rio de janeiro

Espírito Santo

espirito santo


Rio Grande do Sul

rio grande do sul

Santa Catarina

santa catarina














Rio Grande do Norte

rio grande do norte







Guide to Brazil

Pre-Colonial Brazil was nothing like you may have been told

amazon brazilian history
New findings unveil an unknown chapter of Brazilian history

If you look for reading material about Brazilian history, chances are they begin telling the story about Latin America’s largest country in 1500, when Portuguese explorer Pedro Álvares Cabral first set foot on our shores. Sources that go a bit deeper might even talk about another explorer who came two years prior, in a sort of scouting mission to assess the soon-to-be-colonized land. You’ll rarely find, however, any history books about Brazil’s pre-colonial times.

As a matter of fact, this period of Brazilian history is often misperceived, with people’s knowledge often based on cliché – even in Brazil. The common thing to hear is that the country was a near uninhabited land, and that indigenous people were still living in the Stone Age. Unlike pre-Columbian Peru or Central America, there was no centralized empire in Brazil, nor were there magnificent pyramids built by the Aztecs and Mayans. Brazilian indigenous populations are often depicted as “lazy and underdeveloped” – characteristics that would be reflected in the country’s contemporary shortcomings.

That is, of course, total nonsense.

New research is unveiling how Brazilian indigenous people lived during pre-colonial times. [restricted]Over the past 15 years, archeologists have discovered 81 sites in the southern rim of the Amazon rainforest which was not thought to be inhabited in the 13th and 14th centuries. Their findings show that Amazonian indigenous societies were far more sophisticated than we give them credit for, with complex urban organizations and a mastery of the jungle.

The new sites are located in the northern portion of the state of Mato Grosso, in an interfluvial plateau free of the characteristic floods of the Amazon. For decades, “these areas were archaeologically neglected following the traditional views that pre-Columbian people concentrated on resource-rich floodplains,” as wrote archaeologist Jonas Gregório de Souza, in an article published by Nature Communications in March. 

map amazon brazilian history

Complex Amazon societies

More recent estimates say that around 8 million people lived in the Amazon region, debunking the previously affirmed figure of 2 million. With the help of satellite imagery and field expeditions, researchers from the Federal University of Pará, the State University of Mato Grosso, the University of Exeter, and from the National Institute of Space Research identified 104 constructions or geometrically-patterned ditched enclosures.

They are usually interpreted as being ceremonial grounds, based on the lack of occupational debris found within their limits. Mounded ring villages are often found close to such sites.

Amazon Brazilian history indigenous populations
Xs mark ancient settlements. The red lines are ancient roads.

“Villages were huge compared to any modern Amerindian agglomeration. Sometimes, they were comparable in scale to Medieval or Ancient Greek cities. They had their own kind of monumental architecture, based on earth-building – big mounds, earthen rings, massive roads, ditches and wooden walls, which reminds me a lot of other pre-Columbian complex societies in the Mississippi Valley,” says journalist Reinaldo José Lopes, author of the book “1499 – O Brasil antes de Cabral” (1499 – Brazil before Cabral).

Among the findings explained in Mr. Lopes’s work is the sophisticated pottery found by European explorers – who thought they had stumbled upon Roman or Spanish pottery, according to historical documents. “It is just beautiful, and it suggests a class of at least part-time specialists producing it, which is the kind of thing you can only get in a complex society,” says Mr. Lopes.

Slight clues of very early stages of private property were also found not only in the Amazon area but in Xingu, an indigenous territory in the Center-West state of Mato Grosso, also populated prior to the arrival of European explorers. According to Mr. Lopes, “in Xingu and on Marajó Island (in the Amazon), monumental earthworks suggest that paramount chiefs were trying to put a clear mark on the landscape, but I don’t think anyone can prove this means they thought a particular village was ‘theirs’ and that other folks were their landless ‘vassals’”.

In harmony with the Amazon rainforest?

Another myth being debunked by recent research is that the indigenous populations who inhabited the Amazon were merely hunters and gatherers who didn’t alter the natural landscape around them. As a matter of fact, ancient tribes did change and shape their surroundings to better fit their own needs.

“There is evidence of that to be found everywhere. In many areas, there is an overabundance of plant species that are useful to humans in places where they ‘should not’ be found. They evolved elsewhere and were taken to their current locations by humans,” Mr. Lopes told The Brazilian Report. There are also findings of anthropogenic or “man-made” soil and very ancient fish weirs, canals and mound-building. Mr. Lopes estimates that 20 domesticated tree species are among the most common plant species in the whole Amazon basin, and they are found in roughly 70 percent of the forest.

Ancient monuments found in the Brazilian Amazon
Ancient monuments found in the Brazilian Amazon

Native populations, however, shaped the Amazon forest in a non-predatory way, as pointed out by Eduardo Neves, a professor at the Museum of Archeology and Ethnology of São Paulo. “In the past, people could settle in the tropics in sustainable ways, modifying it without destroying it, and actually improving biodiversity. This is the opposite of what we are doing today,” he explains.

Mr. Neves has been studying pre-colonial Brazil for the past 30 years. In his opinion, raising awareness about pre-colonial Amazon can contribute to development projects in the area: “There should not be a conflict between the preservation of the Amazon and its occupation by traditional societies such as indigenous people, riverside communities, and ‘quilombolas’ (traditional slave communities).”

An entrenched mentality to be changed

Both Mr. Lopes and Mr. Neves hope that the recent findings will help better inform Brazilians – and the rest of the world – about what Brazil was really like before the arrival of the Portuguese. But it will not be an easy task. In fact, when he launched his book on pre-colonial Brazil last year, Mr. Lopes was stunned by a comment from a reader who dismissed his writings as pure fiction.

According to the journalist, this approach to this period of Brazilian history is conveniently chosen to justify the European conquest and colonization. But he’s optimistic about where science can take the study of Brazilian history: “This is just the beginning. There are huge areas in Brazil that haven’t been properly explored by archaeologists. Almost every week somebody publishes some a good paper refining and expanding on what we already know. It is a great time to be a science writer if you ask me”.[/restricted]

Guide to Brazil

A brief guide to Brazil’s (several) political dynasties

You can’t understand Brazilian politics without knowing the Portuguese word coronel (colonel). This term dates back to 1830s Brazil when the monarchy decided to create the National Guard in response to several separatist movements which erupted across the country. This force was sponsored by rich landowners, who bought their military ranks and became lieutenants or — if they had more money and prestige — colonels.

The government extinguished the National Guard in 1922, but the political influence and financial power of these men persisted. Not least because during Brazil’s First Republic, the central government articulated a deal with these colonels to ensure that only candidates backed by local oligarchs — and supportive of the president — would be accepted in Congress.

Political prominence helped these families multiply their wealth, turning them into regional political dynasties. This phenomenon, we must add, is not exclusive to Brazil. The U.S. elected two Bushes to the White House and nearly chose a second Clinton in 2016. Not to mention the Cuomos, in New York, and the Daleys, in Chicago — to stay with the more recent families.[restricted]

What distinguishes Brazil’s political dynasties, according to what historian Luiz Felipe de Alencastro once said, is the historical connection between political patronage and slavery. “It gives authoritarian and antidemocratic touches to the oligarchic tradition,” he said, in a 2001 interview.

Albeit very different from one another, these powerful clans have several important similarities. They are usually connected to media groups — more often than not owning local affiliates of Rede Globo, Brazil’s most influential media company. Scandal also seems to be a trademark of Brazil’s traditional dynasties.

It’s been over a century since some political forces predicted the imminent and inevitable downfall of Brazil’s oligarchs. And yet, they remain in some of the country’s most influential offices. Here are some of the main political dynasties in Brazil:

Sarney Family (Maranhão)

sarney family political dynasties
José Sarney and his daughter Roseana.

The Sarneys are the textbook definition of a modern dynasty. The clan rose to power in the northeastern state of Maranhão — and influenced national politics — in the mid-1950s, when José Sarney was first elected to Congress. Since then, he occupied several other offices, such as senator, party leader, and president.

The family also controls the state’s main media outlets — which assures he receives friendly coverage.

A former supporter of the military dictatorship, Mr. Sarney was elected Vice President in 1985, on the same ticket as Tancredo Neves, the first civilian president elected since the military coup of 1964. But Mr. Neves died before his inauguration, which led Mr. Sarney to the country’s top office. His administration draws many comparisons to that of the incumbent Michel Temer — a lack of political strength, an abundance of economic quagmires, and his public image as little more than a lame duck.

Now retired, José Sarney remains influential. He helped Mr. Temer pick some members of his cabinet — which include one of his children, Sarney Filho, who resigned as Minister of the Environment to run for the Senate. Sarney’s daughter, Roseana, has already won a senatorial race and four gubernatorial elections. In 2002, she eyed up a presidential bid, which was cut short by a corruption scandal. In October, she will stand for a fifth term. Sarney’s grandson Adriano is the latest family member to go into politics, having won a seat in the Maranhão state legislature in 2014.

Calheiros Family (Alagoas)

Sen. Renan Calheiros and his son, 'Little Renan'
Sen. Renan Calheiros and his son, ‘Little Renan’

The Calheiros family entered politics during the 1960s, with Olavo Calheiros Novais becoming mayor of Murici, a small city in the countryside of Alagoas state. Olavo had 10 children, half of which would later be elected for office. None shone as brightly as Renan Calheiros, who was elected Senate President on multiple occasions. Renan has been an important leader in the past four federal administrations — and has been at the center of countless corruption scandals. Despite his long rap sheet, Renan Calheiros managed to get his son elected governor of Alagoas and his nephew became the mayor of Murici.

However powerful, the Calheiroses are by no means the only political clan in Alagoas.

Collor de Mello Family (Alagoas)

Fernando Collor during his inauguration as president
Fernando Collor during his inauguration as president

Despite being the third-smallest Brazilian state, Alagoas has nevertheless produced three Brazilian presidents, including Fernando Collor de Mello (1990-1992). Born in Rio de Janeiro, Mr. Collor was raised in the northeastern state, where he became governor and rose to the political limelight, thanks in part to the support of national media groups.

In Alagoas, the family controls the main TV and radio stations and has been in politics for decades. Patriarch Arnon de Melo was a congressman, governor, and senator — infamous for killing a fellow senator in the Congress building but avoiding any punishment.

Despite having been impeached after a corruption accusation during his presidency, Fernando Collor managed to win a seat in the Senate in 2010.

Magalhães Family (Bahia)

magalhaes acm
Antônio Carlos Magalhães was a political force to be reckoned with.

For decades, the late Antônio Carlos Magalhães controlled state politics in Bahia with an iron fist. Loved by his supporters, thanks to his populist policies, he was also feared by opponents, who called him “Mean Toninho” (Toninho is a nickname for Antônio).

A close supporter of the military regime, Magalhães helped his son Luiz Eduardo become the House Speaker and a potential presidential candidate.  Luiz Eduardo’s career, however, was abruptly ended by a heart attack in 1998.

The clan lives on through Antônio Carlos Magalhães Neto, a former congressman who is now the mayor of Salvador. Like most families on this list, the Magalhães family controls the main media outlets in the state of Bahia.

Gomes Family (Ceará)

Cid (L) and Ciro Gomes (R)
Cid (L) and Ciro Gomes (R)

Another Northeastern family, the Gomeses are led by short-tempered center-left presidential hopeful Ciro Gomes. They are based in the state of Ceará, where Mr. Gomes started his career as state congressman and mayor of state capital Fortaleza, in the late 1980s.

He would later serve as Ceará’s governor, Finance Minister during the mid-1990s, and as Minister of National Integration during former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s first term, one decade later. Ciro’s younger brother Cid Gomes was also a governor and had a short stint as Minister of Education during the presidency of Dilma Rousseff.

The Gomes clan is famous for its ill-tempered politicians. For Cid, it cost him the position as minister. Ciro, however, paid a higher price for his verbal diarrhea: the 2002 presidential race.

Bolsonaro Family (Rio de Janeiro)

bolsonaro and his sons
Jair Bolsonaro and his sons

This clan does not follow the classic pattern of coronelismo that defines political dynasties in the Northeast, as the Bolsonaros are urban and have their roots in Brazil’s biggest cities: São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. The rise of the Bolsonaro family is tied to the growing popularity of the authoritarian far-right in Brazil.

A former Army captain, Jair Bolsonaro has served in Congress since the early 1990s. He now leads every presidential poll, running for a conservative party with a nationalist agenda.

Meanwhile, his son Flávio is set to win a Senate seat for Rio de Janeiro. Other political heirs include Carlos, a Rio de Janeiro city councilman, and Eduardo, a congressman for São Paulo who is running for re-election.

Other political dynasties

Garotinho (Rio de Janeiro). Convicted and arrested for corruption charges last year, Anthony Garotinho has been released and will try to govern Rio again, 16 years after leaving office. Mr. Garotinho made his wife, Rosinha, his successor in 2002 and became head of Security during her administration. Their daughter, Clarissa, won a congressional seat in 2014, and now serves as Rio’s Municipal Labor Secretary.

Maia (Rio de Janeiro). House Speaker Rodrigo Maia is the son of Cesar Maia, a former mayor of Rio de Janeiro and one of the state’s most-liked politicians.  

Viana (Acre). Brothers Tião and Jorge Viana are based in the Northern state of Acre. They have taken it in turns to be state governor and senator, and also play important roles in the Workers’ Party.

Alves (Rio Grande do Norte). Former Minister of Tourism Henrique Alves, who is now serving time after being convicted of corruption and money laundering, served as a congressman for 44 years. His family has called the shots in his home state of Rio Grande do Norte since the 1950s.  

Vieira Lima (Bahia). Like the Magalhães family, the Vieira Limas are another prominent clan from Bahia. And have another minister of President Temer’s cabinet in jail. Last year, a suitcase stuffed with USD 16 million was found in Geddel Vieira Lima’s apartment. The photo has spread around the world and he was detained days later. [/restricted]

Guide to Brazil

Brasília: Brazil’s planned capital

The concept of Brasília was born on April 4, 1955, in Jataí, a village with no more than 1,000 residents at the time located in central Brazil. Juscelino Kubitschek, or JK, then-candidate for the presidential election held that year, was questioned about his plan to develop the countryside. At that time, there was an immense abyss – much greater than the one that currently persists – between the modern coast, where most of the urban population lived, and the empty land in the center. “I will relocate the government and build a new capital,” said JK.

After that day in April, the new capital became a central talking point in JK’s political platform. [restricted]He ran for president under the slogan “50 years in 5” – stating that his five years at the helm of the country would represent five decades of development. His most remarkable work by far is Brasília. It’s impressive that his administration was able to build a city from the ground up, in the middle of an empty plateau, in just three years (from 1957 to 1960). And it’s especially impressive if we compare this with the speed of São Paulo’s metro expansion. Line 4 alone took over 30 years to be inaugurated.

Brasília Congress politics
Congress under construction. Photo: National Archives

Brasília was conceived as a utopia – a city meant to oppose Rio de Janeiro, until then the capital, marked by colonial architecture. Brasília was going to be modern, drawn with clean lines, and everything planned out with lots of space. In 1987, this utopian urban design secured Brasília a spot on UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites.

But there’s one thing about our utopia that made it, well, less utopian: it cost a lot of money. If JK indeed pushed Brazil into modernity, his “50 years in 5” motto could also be applied to the growth of public debt and inflation. Brasília’s cost – in today’s values – amounts to something around $83 billion. In the 1950s, that equaled 10 percent of the country’s total wealth.

Brasília was planned and developed by Brazil’s top-notch professionals – architects Lúcio Costa and Oscar Niemeyer, as well as landscape architect Roberto Burle Marx. The city center is shaped after an airplane: wings are residential and commercial areas, while the fuselage is where government agencies, ministries, Congress, the Supreme Court and the Presidential Palace are located.

Brasília original plano piloto
See the airplane?

The capital is currently forming only its third generation of brasilienses, those who were born there. But although Brasília is still a young city, it’s not lacking in terms of personality. Actually, few cities in our country have produced a youth as critical and ironic towards the problems in our society as Brasilia’s. During the 1980s and 1990s, it was considered Brazil’s Rock Capital. Locals fight its reputation as a place for crooks – especially because most of the crooks operating there, a.k.a. our illustrious congressmen, come from other regions.

That youthful vibrancy is translated into how people relate to the city. “People from Brasília have had a relationship with urban space like never before,” says Carlos Madson, from the National Institute for Historic Heritage.

Not for Pedestrians

When Brasília was planned and built, the auto industry was a state-of-the-art symbol of modernity. And naturally, the city was designed to privilege transit by car. Public transportation is a major issue. As with many Brazilian cities, the capital suffers from bad administration and poor urban planning.

No subway system was planned before the late 1980s — and only inaugurated in 2001. Two years later, a bifurcating metro line became operational, but the subway doesn’t reach the vast majority of residents.

In JK’s mind, Brasília would be a city without slums, a place where different sectors of society would cohabit the same urban space. In that respect, his dream didn’t come true. Brasília’s city center – the plane – is an island of development, where the GDP per person is Brazil’s highest. A few dozens of kilometers outside, though, the poverty levels are striking. One of the most notorious favelas, just on the outskirts of Brasília, is located in a dumping ground for trash. In a way, Brasília epitomizes the inequality in Brazil.