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Are things really getting ‘much better’ for Brazilians?

President Michael Temer claimed they would be by now – and some economists agree. But do Brazilians feel the same?

“...The economy is getting much better… I have the support of the press. Well, you’ll see. We’re going to end this year much better. In 2018, we’ll be celebrating.”

That’s the current president of Brazil, Michel Temer talking with a businessman last month in a secretly recorded conversation at the presidential residence in Brasilia.

One year in, he's one of the most unpopular presidents in the Brazilian history. His predecessor, Dilma Rousseff, was impeached (i.e. kicked out) from her position for allegedly manipulating the figures in the national budget – and leaving Brazil’s economy in pretty bad shape.

Now, the headlines are saying Brazil’s difficult economic times are near to an end, and that Temer’s prophecy for 2018 will come true. But will it?

Back up: when did things get so bad in the first place?

The story we’re hearing right now is that Brazil’s ‘recession’ – i.e. a period in which everything from employment, to manufacturing, to sales goes down in an economy – is coming to an end. People are basing this statement on two things: firstly, that Brazil’s is going up, and secondly, that are going down.

Neither of these sound particularly exciting, but both are judged by economists to be an important indicator of how well a country is doing. GDP is the combined value of everything a country produces, and an interest rate is the amount of money a bank gives you as a reward for saving.

Supporters of the current president Temer say that the reason Brazil’s GDP was so low before is the damage that Rousseff’s manipulation of the budget did to the country’s rep. They say that now Temer is in power, investors trust Brazil’s economy again, and are putting their money back in.

Friend of the business world? Perhaps. Friend of the people? Not so much

But although businesspeople might like what Temer does, the majority of people seem a lot less convinced. Last December, he pushed through a policy called PEC 55, which basically froze any increases in public spending for twenty years – a move called austerity.

And although on paper the numbers seem to say Brazil’s economy is doing better, prices of everyday goods are still extremely high. So is unemployment: the number of workers out of employment is 14 million, or 13.7 per cent of the working population.

...Oh, and there’s still that humongous corruption scandal to deal with.

Dilma Rousseff wasn’t the only politician in Brazil to be accused of corruption. Her investigation was part of the biggest in Brazil’s history, named ‘Operation Carwash’ – a federal police operation to expose the vast networks of money and bribery in Brazilian politics and ‘wash’ them right out (get it?)

It’s not over – Temer himself is under investigation at the moment for corruption charges. The problem is, so is almost everyone else; which leaves Brazilians with a pretty poor choice over who to elect in his place.

Brazilians are on the streets pretty much all the time at the moment, demanding better from their government. But corruption is so embedded in the way the country works, from small-scale daily transactions to huge government bribes, there’s even a slang word for getting something done in a slightly cheeky way – ”dar um jeitinho,” it’s called (roughly translated to ‘finding a way around it.)

It’s obviously impossible to know the exact figures, but according to the UN about £47 billion of Brazilian taxpayer money is lost every year to corruption – a massive figure by any account, but particularly when you’re talking about a country with an extremely high poverty rate and extremely poor public services. For a bit of context, that amount could build around 228,500 new schools in Brazil.

So things might be looking slightly better in economists’ reports; but for a lot of Brazilians, it’ll take some time, and a lot of change, before the reports on the ‘end of recession’ match the reality of their day to day lives.

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