By Cristovam Buarque
Five years from now, Brazil will enter the third centenary of its history as an independent country. On this September 7th, the 195th year of our independence, it is possible to commemorate what our ancestors have achieved. We have spent nearly two hundred years consolidating an immense sovereign territory and unified it by transportation networks, communication’s systems, energy distribution, and a common language. The Brazilian economy is among the largest in the world in GDP value. Our population has surpassed 200 million inhabitants. There is no doubt that we have a lot to celebrate for the first two centuries.
But if, instead of looking at the history, we look around us, the festivity loses its brilliance. Although we commemorate a high GDP, the eighth largest in the world, due to our low productivity we are in 84th place in the world when it comes to per capita income. Equally serious, our economy is concentrated on agricultural and mineral goods, or on more traditional industries, because we are a country of low capacity for innovation. From the social point of view, we carry the shame of being world champions in the distribution of income: we have formidable islands of great wealth and a tragic sea of poverty.
We come to our third century divided so brutally that we can consider ours to be a system of apartheid – a country where the population is divided and separated by an insurmountable “invisible Mediterranean”. We are a country integrated physically but socially disintegrated. That is why today we are, in part, the champions of urban violence, with more than 100 thousand deaths a year, 50 thousand murders and 45 thousand victims of traffic accidents.
In politics, despite celebrating the anniversary with a democratic system and functioning institutions, at no other time did we have such a discredited political class. Promises were broken, corruption spread, parties broke up, public finances collapsed, state-rooted corporations divided the country into “banana republics” and we are left without national pride. The feeling is that the country enters its third century by dis-aggregating, without social cohesion, without historical direction.
The malaise is explained by many causes, but certainly the main one is the neglect of the education of our population, right from from early childhood. We arrived in our third century with 13 million adult citizens unable to understand the Republic’s own flag, because they can not read the motto “Order and Progress” written on it. In addition to these, according to the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE), there are almost 28 million functional illiterate adults and only a very small number of young people are trained to build the economy and the knowledge society that will characterize the century ahead. After two centuries, we are still a country with a very low level of education and with abysmal inequality in access to education due to family income.
It would not be difficult to make Brazil, well before the fourth century, become a country with quality education for all: the children of the poorest going to schools with the same quality as the children of the richest and a society that would not dispense with a single intellectual talent of its population. Without that, surely we will again not have anything to celebrate when the fourth centenary arrives.