New Brazil HDI shows how much the dictatorship hurt the country

idhbrasil999568_498613706889791_531596622_nHuman Development Indexes usually say much more about a country than raw GDP figures. They tell more than the status of the economy: they count healthcare, education and women’s rights, among others, as key elements for a place to thrive. The map on the left was made by the United Nations and it shows not only how much Brazil improved in the last decades, but also how big was the failure during the military regime (1964-1985). In that dark period of Brazilian history, spin doctors said the country had to “make the cake grow and then share it”. There wasn’t any sharing, the maps show.

All parts painted in red show very low HDI. In 1991, they were 85,8% of the Brazilian territory. In 2000, when inflation was already tamed and the first social programs had been implemented under President Fernando Henrique Cardoso, there were still 41,8% of our cities in that situation. In 2010, with sustained economic growth and even more attention to social programs, only 0,57% of Brazil is still in dire straits. President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva was credited with most of that success and left for his successor, Dilma Rousseff, the task to end extreme poverty by 2016. All these three were heavy-weights against the a dictatorship that was very popular in the seventies for allegedly creating an “economic miracle“. It was all an illusion.

This UN map also shows how the dictatorship concentrated most of Brazil’s little wealth in the clusters around São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. Good HDI levels stepped into Brazil’s core and South. Some of the places which are better off today, specially in the West, have a lot to do with the commodity prices soaring. Others have placed a bet in better services. Although they are bad enough for many people to take to the streets, there is no comparison with the possibilities in the early ninities — I can say that because I used these services myself, mainly healthcare and education.

In the impoverished North and Northeast the issues are far from solved, but the impact of Bolsa Familia is now clear. That program uses about 1% of Brazilian GDP to assure poor families keep their children at school and see a doctor once in a while, in exchange for a small payment. That revitalized local economies and pushed HDI up. Education is still the main issue that stops the country from getting even better figures.

I tried to find similar maps for other South American countries that were victims of vicious dictators, like Argentina and Chile, but couldn’t find any. I doubt they would be too different, though. Military paranoia made those regimes spend loads in so-called security apparatus. They were much more corrupted because there would be no press coverage to stop them. The protests were so small they could torture and kill the few bold people who were in them. Their economies were so old-fashioned they couldn’t deal with the new challenges (unlike delusional Margaret Thatcher, I never believed Chile owes anything to Augusto Pinochet but thousands of assassinations).

When I and other journalists less infatuated with protesters said people had taken to the streets because they were now in middle class and wanted a bigger role in Brazil’s political life, some understood it believing in propaganda. After all, Brazilians and internationals alike love the idea it is still a very poor country in which the poor had, at last, decided to act. That was even more noticeable a few weeks later because President Lula used a similar vocabulary to describe the demonstrations. The HDI figures show Brazil is really a changed country. Which makes the challenges ahead much difficult to understand.

About Mauricio Savarese

I am a Brazilian journalist who got tired of reporting only in Portuguese. Politics and football, these are my turfs. Twitter: @msavarese. Email:

Posted on 01/08/2013, in Politics, Social and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. bamabrasileira

    Great article! I have been trying to understand more about the lasting effets of the dictatorship here. It seems that many of the older (wealthier) people who have never been without anything perceived it as a GOOD thing! But I am finding more people who had previously been exiled and who have returned home who have been willing to talk about the horrors of that era.

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