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Why Brazil's Government Shake-Up Matters To Americans


Brazil's political implosion matters not just to Brazilians but to the world. Brazil is the largest economy in Latin America, so to talk about what this means for Americans, Brian Winter joins us. He's the editor in chief of Americas Quarterly. Welcome to the program.

BRIAN WINTER: It's a pleasure to be here.

SHAPIRO: So if somebody came up to you at a dinner party and said, hey, Brian, why should I care that Brazil's president is out, what answer would you give them?

WINTER: Well, first of all, Brazil is big, which you've already touched on. But it's also the kind of country that Americans should want to see succeed. It's a big democracy, a messy democracy certainly lately, but it's the kind of place - it has no real ethnic conflict. It gets along well with its neighbors. And countries like that are in short supply in the world these days.

SHAPIRO: OK, so from a political democratic perspective, we should want Brazil to do well. What about from an economic perspective?

WINTER: It's also a $2 trillion economy. It's the biggest in Latin America. It actually accounts for about 40 percent of Latin America's GDP. And when it goes well, that basically - the whole region south of the United States tends to do better as a result.

SHAPIRO: And when it doesn't...

WINTER: And when it doesn't, it's tough. You know, Brazil has connections to virtually every country in the region. Trade is not huge part of its of its economy. But it certainly is a country that people around Latin America look to.

SHAPIRO: What about Brazil's economic ties to the United States? Are there specific industries or sectors in the U.S. that are especially going to feel a crunch from Brazil?

WINTER: Well, aviation's an important one. Pretty much everybody who's flown in a midsize jet in recent years has flown on an Embry airplane. That gets made in Brazil. The United States actually does quite well on balance in its trade relationship with Brazil. That's also an exception in the world right now.

SHAPIRO: I've heard that American farmers should also care a lot about what happens in Brazil. Is that right?

WINTER: That's right. Brazil's the world's biggest exporter of soy, beef. It's big in iron ore as well, and so it's a big producer of the farm commodities that - some of which are also produced in the United States.

SHAPIRO: Talk about diplomacy. You know, Brazil is in a complicated neighborhood with countries that the U.S. has had at times strained relationships with - Venezuela and so. Does the U.S. need a strong diplomatic ally in the region?

WINTER: You know, the neighborhood is actually pretty good right now overall. The Venezuelas of Latin America tend to get the most attention 'cause they're (laughter) - you know, they're kind of the loudest person in the room. But actually the region itself is overwhelmingly democratic and doing OK right now.

SHAPIRO: Brazil was part of the shorthand where people referred to the BRIC countries - Brazil, Russia, India, China - as sort of these four powerful up-and-comers. Brazil got the World Cup. It got the Olympics. Were global expectations just too much for this company to live up to?

WINTER: I think expectations were high. But look; let's not declare Brazil a failure quite yet. It's going through a rough patch right now. It's had two consecutive years of really bad recession, its worst recession in 80 years. But we in the United States also know that there are cycles that go up and down.

In 2008, 2009 we kind of ate our own humble pie, and Brazil's going through that right now. But you know, I think I still believe Brazil. I don't think there's anything fundamentally flawed or broken about it. It's a country that again will have these cycles. I'm personally optimistic that a country that's a big democracy, that's open to the world is going to do well over the long-term.

SHAPIRO: Brian Winter is the editor of Americas Quarterly. Thanks for talking with us.

WINTER: Thank You. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.