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Friday, 21 April, 2000, 10:09 GMT 11:09 UK
Brazil: Country of the future?
Favela em Belem
Poor Brazilians live in huge "favelas"
By Americo Martins of the BBC Brazilian Service

Generations of Brazilians have long been taught that they lived in "the country of the future".

With its vast territory, natural resources and economic potential, its people were led to believe that Brazil had a guaranteed place as one of the world's leading countries.

But as the country celebrates 500 years since the arrival of European explorers, the promise of a bright future has not come true for the majority of its population.

A great number suffer daily from tremendous inequality, widespread corruption and growing violence.

Love it or leave it

For a good part of the 20th century, Brazil was one of the fastest-growing countries in the world.

Brazilian rocket
Economic growth has enabled Brazil to send rockets to space

In the first decades of the century, migrants from places as varied as Japan and Italy were attracted by the beginnings of national industrialisation.

In the 1950s their sons and daughters believed the future had indeed arrived as Brazil started to receive massive foreign investments and several multinationals set up offices in the country.

The dream faded with political instability and economic failures.

In the 1970s, the military dictatorship tried to renew hope by using its propaganda machine, manipulating the good times of the "economic miracle" and even by pointing to the success of the national football team.

All to show how great Brazil was.

Children were taught in school to think that Brazil was "big" - the best in the world - and that one should either "love it or leave it".

Most people believed it and the country became a place of superlatives.

Brazilian girl
Love it: Brazilians were told their country was the best
Suddenly, everyone was proud to say that we had such things as the longest bridge and the biggest hydroelectric power station in the world.

People would tell jokes saying that even God was Brazilian.

Once again, failure followed the "miracle" and the economy simply did not grow at all in the 1980s - the lost decade.

Social problems

All these cycles of economic growth have had an impact on the country.

From a totally rural society, Brazil has grown to be the 10th largest global economy.

Yet the country has failed to redistribute its wealth among its160 million people - one-third of Latin America's entire population.

In fact, Brazil is one of the most unequal countries in the world.

About 50 million Brazilians are poor, 32 million do not have access to clean water and 24 million are illiterate.

Many have to live on a mere $77 per month, the country's minimum wage.

Living in huge "favelas" or shantytowns, the poor in fact have limited access to education, the job market and the health system.

Violence

One of the results of the social exclusion has been an increase in violence.

In 1997, 8,092 people were murdered in the city of Sao Paulo alone - an average of one person almost every hour.

Some people say the gap between the rich and the poor is widening even though the country is now back to a certain degree of economical stability.

Inflation is under control and most analysts predict the country's economy will grow between 3% and 4% this year.

But nobody knows if this growth can be maintained long enough to guarantee its people the promised bright future.

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