The Pope Visits Brazil: Bad News Multiplied?


2013-07-29 By Kenneth Maxwell

It is curious how bad news multiples while good news diminishes.

I suppose the international press had a new royal baby in Britain to swoon over this past week, and London is closer to home for most of them than Rio de Janeiro.

But good news about the erstwhile land of “sun and samba” is difficult to find these days, even with the Argentinian Pope Francis in town.

The car carrying Pope Francis is mobbed by wellwishers as it gets stuck in traffic as he is driven from the airport to the Metropolitan Cathedral in downtown Rio de Janeiro, in this July 22, 2013 still image taken from video. REUTERS/Pool (BRAZIL – Tags: RELIGION POLITICS) REUTERS /POOL /LANDOV

It did not help that  the Pope’s modest family car took the wrong turn on the way from the airport into town, and ran headlong into an enthusiastic and unruly mob.

Nor did it help when the police used stun guns and tear gas to disperse protesters outside the Guanabara palace where the Pope Francis had just spoken to Dilma Rousseff and assembled Brazilian bigwigs at his welcoming ceremony.

But the challenges facing the new Pope in Brazil are obvious.

Whereas 89% of the Brazilian population in 1980 declared themselves to be Catholics, today only 57% of Brazilian over the age 16 say they are Catholics. The competition from protestant evangelicals is self evident throughout Brazil.

But the mass street mobilizations, popular protests, and riots on the streets during the World Federations Football Cup only confirmed the growing negative view of Brazil.

The Financial Times reflected the tone of much international news coverage when it reported recently: “As the country reels from protests, Brazilians wonder if Rousseff has the political savvy to lead.”

The Financial Times also noted that “talk of Lula’s presidential comeback grips a shaken Brazil,” President Dilma Rousseff, the newspaper adds, who was preferred by 58 % as recently as March, would currently only get 30% of the vote according to public opinion polls.

There are certainly economic and political storm clouds on the horizon for Brazil.  

The global economic environment is much less favorable than it has been in recent years:

  • The slow down of the Chinese economy
  • The continuing problems in the Eurozone
  • Rising inflation at home.

All are aggravated by uncertainty over the political future which had seemed set until very recently, but which is now much more uncertain. New as well as old political bosses are very wary of the power of the angry crowd.

Pope Francis already has his hands full at the Vatican. Dilma Rousseff has her hands full in Brazil.

Both must look enviously at times at the continuing soap opera in Britain, where Queen Elizabeth still rules, and the next three heirs to her throne are all waiting their turn.