May 2, 2005

Event Series Focuses on Brazil

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Experts in many areas of Brazil came together this past Friday and Saturday at the International Conference: Brazil in Interdisciplinary Perspective, the same title of the keynote address given by Dr. Celso Lafer Ph.D. ’70, former Foreign Minister of Brazil and Ambassador to the World Trade Organization. The five panels of the conference included: The Brazilian Economy: Inside and Out, Human Rights and Social Movements, Environment and Development in Brazil. Topics in Modern History: Labor, Planning, Authoritarianism, and The Politics of Art, 1955-2005.

Introduced by Prof. David Wippman, law, vice provost for international relations, Lafer began by talking about his experience as a student at Cornell. “What was the climate here then? The mid to late 60’s was a period of strong discussion and opposition to the war in Vietnam.” he said. Lafer mentioned professors he remembered: Hannah Arendt, Allan Bloom, Andrew Hacker, Mario Einaudi and Clinton Rossiter. He added that the papers and thesis he wrote on democracy and Brazil as well as what he learned was useful in public office.

Lafer then brought up connections between Cornell and Brazil mentioning Cornell’s first geology professor, Charles F. Hartt. Hartt went on an expedition to Brazil, eventually founded the Geological Commission of the Brazilian Empire, and embarked on Brazil’s first countrywide geological survey.

“An interdisciplinary perspective is necessary and indispensible for Brazil,” said Lafer. He referenced George Kennan’s Around the Cragged Hill which calls U.S., China, Russia, India and Brazil ‘monster countries’, large and populous countries with significant economic, cultural and political power .

“How to deal with a monster country is pertinent in a globalized world,” said Lafer. In Brazil, home to more than 184 million people, 83 percent of the population is urban.

“We are a benevolent monster country compared to the other monster countries,” he said.

According to Lafer, Brazil has reasonably diversified exports, including sugar, orange juice and coffee. Issues of sustainable development and environment, biodiversity, climate change are important. He also said that relationships are important for Brazil, which borders ten different countries. In such a large country, issues such as sharing use of waters and irrigation are also important.

According to Lafer, the level of inequality in Brazil is greater than that of Russia or the U.S. and 8 percent of the population lives below the poverty line. He talked about looking at this with a moral or ideological critique as well as thinking of the present vs. ideal society. Lafer listed statistics showing improving realities in terms of equality in Brazil. In 1993 56 percent of children 5-6 yrs old were enrolled in school, this number increased to 79 percent in 2003. For ages 7-14 yrs, school enrollment increased form 89 percent in 1993 to 97 percent in 2003.

“The issues of equality and poverty are important in Brazil, but the things that have been done are relevant when you look at the scale of the population,” said Lafer.

He then asked, “What is Brazil?” and said that there is “The house, the street and the world.” He explained that the house and the street are two faces of the same coin. The house represents the family, the street is the public and the world includes racism. Prejudice depends on the context, there is prejudice of appearance and prejudice of origin. Lafer also discussed the idea of raw vs. cooked, saying that the street is raw, while the house is cooked. According to Lafer, looking at Brazil now, there is the return to democracy which occurred in the last 20 years, and other issues of civil rights, civil and military relationships, environment, problems of legitimacy and the difficulty and challenges of reform.

“In order to deal with a monster country like Brazil, with its challenges and opportunities, an interdisciplinary view is most useful.” said Lafer.

“I was very surprised when I came back [to Cornell] that there weren’t more courses on Brazil,” said Linda Rabben, Ph.D. ’81, visiting scholar, anthropology, latin american studies program. Rabben organized a meeting with interested Brazilian and American graduate students about how to raise the profile of Brazil.

“It was the easiest time I’ve ever had raising money for anything. I think that’s because they recognized that there’s a need on this campus, there are increasing numbers of students studying Portuguese, and increasing numbers of graduate students researching Brazil,” said Rabben.

“The business school at Cornell has been working very hard for the past two years to integrate with area studies programs,” said Jan Katz, Suter Staley Director of Global Business Education, Johnson Graduate School of Management.

According to Prof. John Henderson, anthropology, director, latin american studies program, Rabben was sort of the nucleus around which a bunch of people interested in the Latin American Studies Program put together this panel.

“It’s nice that so many different units on campus were interested in participating; I think it’s activated a lot of potential links,” said Henderson.

“He is very respected in Brazil, a great businessman and diplomat, he showed just a bit of his knowledge here,” said Emiliano Machado, 1st year MBA. He added that as a business student, he was expecting more business and economics even though the main point of the speech was academic and interdisciplinary.

“There was more hindsight than looking forward, and a lot of good background information,” said Matheus Zanardi JGSM ’05.

The conference was sponsored by the Latin American Studies Program, College of Arts and Sciences Dean’s Office, Mario Einaudi Center for International Studies, Johnson School of Management, Luso-brazilian Student Association, International Program – College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Cornell Law School, Cornell Institute for Public Affairs, School of Industrial and Labor Relations, Dept. of Anthropology, Dept. of Development Sociology, Polson Institute for Global Development on Population, Development and Environment, Dept. of Government, Polson Research Working Group, Center for Sustainable Global Enterprise, Society for Humanities and Committee on U.S. – Latin American Relations.

Archived article by Vanessa Hoffman
Sun Senior Writer