August 2011

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August 30, 2011

A Banda-Larga Public Diplomacy Success

Our Information Section did something really great with social media. I find it almost unbelievable.It came, as many things do, at the intersection of preparation and changing conditions, with a little bit of luck. Let me explain.

We launched our 9/11 commemoration campaign a couple days ago.Our theme is “superacão” or resilience & overcoming difficulties.My colleagues prepared a poster show.We did some media interviews & generally reached out to Brazilian media and people.There is no shortage of attention to 9/11 in Brazil.We don’t have to create a demand.  But we do prefer that the narrative be one of superacão and resilience rather than destruction.  We want to remember and honor the victims, but emphasize the resilience of America.  

Among the things I find most appealing is a program we have set for September 12.Ten years ago, after the attacks of 9/11, a school in Ceilândia, just outside Brasilia, made an American flag for us. All the students contributed part. It was very touching and we still have their work. We will return to the school for a ceremony and have invited the original students, now young adults, and their teachers to join us.Response has been great and I look forward to taking part.But I am drifting.Let’s return to social media.

We launched the campaign this weekend and as of this writing we have more than 106,000 responses.We might have had a few more, but the initial surge crashed our server and we had move to a bigger server. Our theme of superacão was popular with our audiences. They were invited to write their own feelings about 9/11 and/or their own stories of superacão.And they did. Our Facebook page has almost 10,000 new members and we have gained another 38,000+ on our Orkut platform. Orkut is popular with non-elite audiences in Brazil.A video of Ambassador Thomas Shannon talking about 9/11 has garnered 9,260 views as of this morning, but I figure more than 8000 by the time you read this.Today we were getting almost 1000 new comments every hour.I say comments, not visitors and not “hits”.A commenter has to take the time to write something.

Our initial demographic analysis indicates that participants are coming to us from all over Brazil, even interior towns indicating that Internet has penetrated far into Brazil.Many of our participants are from the less-privileged social groups. This is because the Orkut component is providing them a forum, we believe.    

I want to emphasize again that these are responses, not mere “liking”.Of course, we have been unable to look at all 100,000+ responses, but our sampling indicates that most are thoughtful.Most are also favorable to the U.S.Many of the personal stories of resilience are moving.   

We will follow up with social media and with boots on the ground. I remain a little skeptical of social media that doesn’t yield physically tangible results. One of our initial ideas is to take representative groups from various cities and invite them to programs or representational events when we visit their home towns. This will create a good media opportunity both in MSM and new media, especially in those places were we rarely tread.It makes it more concrete and exciting for the participants and fits in well with our plant to reach out to the “other Brazil”, i.e. those places not Rio, São Paulo or Brasilia.As I wrote earlier, we had planned to reach to the 50 largest cities.  I had to add a few extra so that we could encompass all state capitals, even in places with thin populations and some cities of special significance, such as an especially good university, for example. I ended up with 61, but I think I will find five more so that I can call the plan “Route 66”.

I don’t know how many Brazilians we will have touched by the time we are done with this campaign, but I think we are doing okay so far. As I have written on many occasions, this is a great place to work.The only problem is that we might get tired taking advantage of all the opportunities.

Up top I mentioned the intersection of preparation, good luck and changing conditions. Preparation is what my colleagues did and have been doing.They built a social media system ready to be used. It needed an opportunity. They also prepared for what they knew would be a big anniversary. But this program would have gone nowhere had not Brazil expanded its internet network, so that people could respond.I don’t think this success could have happened last year or even six months ago.One of the Portuguese terms I learned was “banda larga”. It means broadband. Many Brazilians were learning the term and its meaning the same time I was.Now they have the capacity to log in and they are doing it.New fast-spreading technologies have allowed Brazilians to jump over a digital divide that we thought was as wide as the Grand Canyon. We are lucky to have these conditions.

The New Bahia

Sunset in Salvador

Bahia is a big and diverse state and there is a lot more than the well-known images of carnival, capoeira or the images from Jorge Amato novels.  A place like Bahia, which was less developed than many other places, has the advantage in that it can jump ahead, taking advantage of advances w/o having to go through all the mistakes that other suffered along the way. It is the advantage that the sun-belt had over the rust-belt and the U.S. analogy works on several levels.

Salvador street

We bought a Ford Fiesta for Mariza. I noticed it was made in Brazil; now I know it was made in Bahia.  The plant opened in 2001 and started to make cars for the U.S. market a couple years ago.  It is a new plant and one of the most productive in the world.  It doesn’t have the so-called legacy costs of older-plants. The equipment is new and up-to-date and so are the workers, who are trained and accustomed to the up-to-date equipment.  BTW – I didn’t know that all the Mercedes-Benz “M Class” vehicles are made in Alabama. So the American car (Ford) comes from Brazil and the German car (Mercedes) comes from America. Who can keep track?

Students at the Federal University in Bahia

There are lots of new things in the old state of Bahia. Money is pouring in because of good business opportunities in general but also because of the pre-salt petroleum discoveries off the coast.  Some of this oil will come ashore in Bahia and the petroleum industry will require billions of dollars of support activities.   Bahia also is set to become a leader in the biofuels industry.  Sugar cane is one of the most efficient crops for producing ethanol and sugar cane in a prime crop in Bahia. They are also experimenting with other crops to be used to make oils and biodiesel.

Western Bahia has become some of the most productive farmland in the world, thanks to better ways to manage soils and new crop varieties.  The remaining problem is infrastructure.  Roads are bad and railroads almost non-existent, but the Brazilians are building a railroad across Bahia, from Tocantins to the sea to carry the grains of the inland farms to the ports of the world.   

I knew that corn and soy could be successfully grown, but I was surprised to learn that they are growing grapes for wine in Bahia. The season never really ends and with the help of irrigation they get two and a half harvests a year from their vineyards.  I thought that wine grapes could not be successfully grown too far into the tropics.  I recall that there was some doubt that a successful wine industry could be established even in Rio Grande do Sul.  But it worked there and now it is moving even farther toward the equator. I also heard that EMBRAPA is developing pears that grow well in the valley of the Sao Francisco, in Bahia. Pears are/were also a cool climate crop. The wonder of modern agriculture is how we keep on developing new varieties of crops that grow in places where nobody thought they could.  Actually, it is the wonder of human imagination.  Somebody always figures out ways to overcome those who tell us things cannot be done.

One of the complications of development for a place like Bahia is that a lot of the work is done by newcomers and many of the benefits are gained by them.The farmers in the western part of the state, for example, are often immigrants from states like Rio Grande do Sul & Paraná.They brought their know-how with them and developed it to a higher level in the new land of Bahia.Sometimes transplanted ideas and methods work better.

My first trip to Bahia only gave me a start. Salvador is only a small part of the state.  I have not been to western Bahia, but I plan to go and see those productive farms in places where a few decades ago everybody said could grow nothing but poverty.

My pictures show Salvador from the ocean view, a new area of town (notice the new buildings under construction) and the last picture shows students at the Federal University of Bahia.

August 29, 2011

Live fast; die young; leave a nice looking husk

walking along the sea in Salvador

I didn’t know much about coconuts and much of what I did know was evidently wrong.  I thought that inside the coconut was a whitish liquid – coconut milk.No, inside the coconut is mostly water. The Brazilians call it aqua de coco. It tastes a lot like ordinary water except it is thicker & is supposed to be good for you. I was offered coconut water lots of places in Salvador and one of the hosts told me the story of coconuts. Many people also like the white coconut meat. I happen not to, but I suppose if you are hungry enough it would be good.I also thought that the coconut was a big seed.It isn’t.There is a single seed inside the nut.  When conditions are right the seed sends roots and stems out those weak spots in the shell, the things that look kind of like a face on the nut. With all these attributes, you can see what a useful thing this would be on the proverbial desert island. 

Agua de Coco stand with coconut palms in background

The coconuts come in a green husk that floats. That is how coconuts get distributed throughout the world.   The thing falls or is washed into the sea.  The sea-journey and the salt water don’t hurt the coconut. If it washes up on a hospitable beach in a reasonable amount of time, a new coconut palm can be born. That is why coconut palms ring the tropical seas and are a symbol of tropic beaches.

Coconuts do not live very long, at least for trees. But they grow fast.This is another adaptation to life on the beach.  Roots cannot sink too deep into the shifting sands and over the course of a few decades it is almost certain that a storm will come along that is strong enough to disrupt even a well rooted tree growing not very far above the tide line.So the coconut’s strategy is to live fast, die young and leave a nice looking husk.

Along the sea is Salvador

My pictures are from along the sea in Salvador. The top two show coconut palms.  In the second picture you can see an agua de coco stand where you can get fresh coconut water.  Notice the big dunes of white sand behind the stand. I don’t know the details of how it gets deposited there, but some places along the coast these big dunes block the ocean. Some are covered by vegetation, like the ones in the picture, others are just sand.

Afro-Brazilians in Old Salvador

Kids on Salvador Street playing drums

Old Salvador is an interesting place because of the interesting architecture and charming streets, but much more because of the interesting life on the streets, the people, in other words.Old Salvador comes with a soundtrack.  There is the constant sound of drums and singing, as well as the usual human activity sounds you would expect on streets where the pedestrian still trumps the car.  You get a feeling of community.

Hair dressing on Salvador streets

We were in this part of town to visit an African Brazilian organization called Olodum.Olodum is known mostly for its music, with strong percussion. In fact, Olodum members were responsible for some of the drumming and singing I heard. Some of these people were featured in a Paul Simon Album and Michael Jackson came to Salvador & Rio to record a music video “They Don’t Care About Us”.I understand that he did not to the moon walk.I suppose even for the King of Pop it would have been hard to do a smooth moon walk on the rough cobbled streets.

Street scene in Salvador

We are interested in Olodum more for its community outreach than for its music. We are hoping to broker a partnership between the BNC ACBEU and Olodum to teach English in the local Afro-Brazilian community.  The community is interested in this because of the general utility of English, but also because of the specific demands of the World Cup, which will feature games in Salvador in 2014.With English, community members could more easily find good jobs related to foreign visitors.  We see this as a good opportunity to help a group that has often been excluded and to make new friends, in the networking way I have written about on so many occasions. 

Coca-Cola delivery in old Salvador

We went to the other side of town to Senzala do Barro Preto with a similar aim.This is another Afro-Brazilian organization.They told me that they were inspired by the civil rights movement and you could see that in the pictures of leaders like Martin Luther King and Barack Obama. Leaders at the Centro are more interested in a partnership than in English teaching per se and it makes sense.They don’t want to just have a one-time infusion, but rather want to develop community members who can sustain the effort.It makes sense to “train the trainers”.It complicates logistics a bit, but we can probably figure it out. Things just work better when the community gets what it wants and is committed to working for the results.

Street repairs in Old Salvador

My pictures show various scenes from Old Salvador. They are fairly self explanatory. I took the Coca-Cola truck, since I don’t want to go anywhere where they don’t have Coca-Cola. I don’t think there really are many places like that in the world these days. The bottom pictures show a street in the other part of town and the other part of town. It is less charming but it is the place where lots more people live.

Crowded streets in Salvador

Below is a the neighborhood.

Poor neighborhood in Salvador

August 28, 2011

Old Salvador, 500 years on.

Sao Franciso Church in Salvador, Bahia Brazil

The old part of Salvador reminds me of Lisbon, which come as no surprise given the direction of colonization.  The Portuguese landed here at the height of their empire. The Pope divided the world between the Portuguese and the Spanish in 1794, the Treaty of Tordesillas. It was interesting that they thought that the Pope had the right to broker such a treaty and give millions of people and undiscovered lands to two Iberian nations, but they took it seriously. The dividing line gave most of the Americas to Spain. Brazil was yet undiscovered, but the tip of what is now Brazil – now Salvador – juts out into the Portuguese zone. This technicality is one reason why Brazil speaks Portuguese today. 

The Portuguese empire has always fascinated me.It seems like an oxymoron. Yet little Portugal used to be a big deal, as you can still see from the spread of their language and cultural traits from East Timor to the Azores.  Portugal didn’t have the population or national heft to maintain an empire, but that didn’t stop them from doing it for more than 500 years.

Courtyard in Sao Franciso Church in Salvador, Bahia

They hugged the coasts in most places. Brazil was an exception to some extent. The Portuguese still hugged the coast, but their descendants & others pushed way into South America, which is why Brazil is so big today.

Interior of Sao Franciso Church, Salvador, Bahia

Salvador is an example of the old coastal empire.It was a rich place, as you can tell from the existing architecture, especially the opulent baroque church of São Francisco. We went to visit it just before one of our appointments and it was worth the trip.A little old guy called Paulo met us on the way in and gave us the fast tour.  I forgot most of what he said, but it was worth having him at the time. He didn’t ask for any money, but we gave him some anyway and he didn’t even make a pretense of turning it down.

Mary & Jesus at Sao Francisco Church in Salvador, Bahia

Most of what I remember is that the tiles are from Portugal and a great example of that sort of art.  You can see in the pictures that Paulo was telling the truth. That gold encrusted vision you see in the picture is wood.  He said it was pau-Brasil, for which the country was named.Pau-Brasil was the country’s first big export item, before the sugar cane plantations got started.

Celing in Sao Francisco Church, Salvador

Salvador was Brazil’s first capital.It has a kind of charming decadence today and I think it probably s had a charming decadence from the day it was founded. There was not really anything like a new big building until relatively recently in history.  Monumental buildings took generations to build and people used and occupied them as they were in the process of being competed.  I know this is a small point, but I think it is important to explain some attitude differences in the past.We expect to start and finish things in a way they did not.


The economy came to depend on sugar cane, which the Portuguese introduced.Sugar was an extremely profitable crop, but growing it was labor intensive and the labor was hard and dangerous.The Portuguese grew it with slave labor imported from Africa. Portuguese colonization was different from the English colonization in North America.The English came in large numbers and often as families and most intended to stay in America.  Fewer Portuguese came to Brazil and they often came as single men often with the intent of making money and going home.   This had predictable demographic and economic consequences that you can still see today.Bahia is demographically very much like Africa and the people of Bahia have retained many cultural aspects of their African heritage. Please see the next post to find out more about that.

My pictures are all from the São Francisco Church in Salvador.

August 27, 2011

Seventy Years in Salvador

Associação Comercial Bahia

Our BNC in Salvador, ACBEU, celebrated its seventieth anniversary.It was founded when much of the world was already at war and only months before the United States would be dragged too.  The context is not coincidental.  The founders understood the need for the two greatest nations of the Western Hemisphere to come together in the face of all of this rising sea of trouble.  They wanted to make their contribution. 

I say “our” BNC.  The accuracy of the usage depends on what you mean by the word “our.”  It is certainly “our” in the sense of U.S.-Brazil and it is our in the sense of the U.S. government representing the U.S. nation. We helped.  But it is mostly theirs.  It belongs to the people of Salvador, who over generations have built ACBEU to the institution it has become.  The thing that impressed me most about ACBEU, what has impressed me about all the BNCs I have visited, is the depth of community involvement.  There are people who have been involved with this BNC for two generations.  The son of one of the founders spoke at the anniversary celebration and around the room were leading members of the Salvador community.

AcBEWU mural

I talked to a guy about my age who runs a charity that helps a thousand poor kids with education, medical care and general direction. He proudly told me that he had been a student at ACBEU many years before and that it has helped shape his life.  This is an example of a long term impact. The Chairman of ACBEU Board estimated that they have around 420,000 alumni, many like the man I mentioned above doing important work in Salvador.

ACBEU has around 6000 students this year.  It is the usual BNC mix, with mostly young people but also adults and professional students.   ACBEU supports an EducationUSA advising center; they have strong partnerships with local businesses and governments and the reach out to the community, giving poor kids scholarships and holding some classes in the poor neighborhoods.  These are all great things that most BNCs do.  An unusual aspect of ACBEU was its American student contingent. 

ACBEU hosts around three-hundred Americans each year who come to learn or perfect their Portuguese.  We talk a lot about two-way exchange, but it more often is Brazilians going to the U.S. Brazil is a great country and getting more important all the time.  We need to develop a bigger group of Americans who understand this country, its language and customs.  These students mostly come through linkages with American universities.  American students want to come to Bahia and the cultural experience is great. 

We also met one of our ELFs – English Language Fellows.  This particular ELF, Jennifer, is housed at ACBEU.  Among the things she does train high school English teachers, obviously another high-leverage activity since they will in turn train thousands of kids.  We are trying to expand this program in Brazil to help satisfy the seemingly inexhaustible demand for English language.  We currently have only two in the country: one in Recife and the one in Salvador that we met.  But next year we should get four more funded by ECA and another one funded by the public affairs.   In addition, the Secretary of Education in the state of Pernambuco wants five more ELFs and he says that he will pay for with his own funds.  ELFs have always been hosted by local partners, but I don’t think this type of full cost-share has ever happened before and it is certainly the first time in Brazil that we have had that kind of partnership.  Our English Language Officer in São Paulo is figuring out the details.  You always know when somebody really wants want something when they put their time and/or money up.  

ELFs are is a great way to reach young Brazilians, a high leverage activity, since we are helping them get what they want and we get a self-selecting group of highly motivated people, who are likely to be influential in the future. 

I have marveled at how easy it is to work in Brazil. It is because of these programs implemented over many years that we can so easily do our business in this country.  The polling data give us their ephemeral numbers of how many like us and how many don’t.Currently we are well-liked in Brazil, according to the polls.  I read polls and I pay attention to them, but I understand their limits.  People have opinions that they report and they have things that they do; these are often not closely related. I know that through good times and bad times, we have friends. 

The top picture shows  Associação Comercial Bahia. Below that is me at the commemoration trying to look good. The next two pictures show murals at ACBEU. They have an art gallery space. New artists can show their work there.  There is no money charged, but the artists have to leave a work of art at ACBEU.

August 24, 2011

The Goal of the Process is the Process

Sao Paulo View

I watched “Remember the Titans” today. The story is a common one, retold since the time of Homer or Gilgamesh.  Different people, maybe even enemies, come together to achieve a common goal and in the process of working toward the goal they become a team.  They learn to respect each other by working together. Winning the championship is not the story; becoming a team is the real theme and long-lasting mutual respect is the long-term outcome.

State Department of Education in Sao Paulo

A successful public diplomacy program is like that. We don’t win friends in the long run by always being right or by convincing people of the righteousness of our cause; we win friends by working together on a common cause.  And the process of doing the task is often more useful than the final outcome.Creating a process IS the goal if your purpose is to make friends for the long run. The key to finding joy in this endeavor is to find a worthy common purpose that will absorb the energies of the participants and capture their imaginations.   I mentioned our school principal exchange before.I didn’t know a thing about it a few months ago, but I love this program.  It takes top-performing Brazilian public school principals and sends them to the U.S. where they work with American counterparts for three weeks. Then they come back to Brazil to report on their experiences to their Departments of Education and their colleagues.  They hold their big conference in a different city each year.  It will be in Recife this time on November 5.

This year we will have representatives of twenty-four of the twenty-six Brazilian states.They usually do not come from the biggest cities in Brazil and they do not go to the biggest cities in the U.S.  It is a heartland –to-heartland exchange as well as a heart-to-heart emotion.  Next summer, after keeping in contact over the intervening months, the American principals will come to Brazil. I wrote a little about the principal exchange in an earlier post. This is a great process in  and of itself and if we achieved the goal of bringing the principals together I would consider it a grand success.It puts Americans and Brazilians in a common quest to improve public education in our two countries.  But it is even deeper than that.  The Brazilians and the American institutions involved take the selection process very seriously. Dozens of Brazilian principals vie for each opening.Thousands of people are involved and I believe they are improved by it.  

Our youth ambassador exchange is celebrating its tenth anniversary next year and it keeps on getting better.  It started out when then U.S. Ambassador Donna Hrinak wanted to do something to reach a youth audience in the wake of the 9/11 attacks.  Our PA section came up with the idea of sending twelve ordinary young people from public high schools to the U.S.  It was a modest start and it is still not a program that reaches masses of people, but it has grown.  Now we send thirty-five and work with 7500 students. And again the process is what touches most people.

This year we got around 7500 applicants, as I mentioned above. All speak English and are good students.They apply through sixty-four of our partner organizations throughout Brazil, all of Brazil including little towns in places like Acre or Rondonia, where we can rarely tread.  This partnership is valuable.They are BNCs, education departments and schools, all of which are willing to devote many hours of their people’s time to the service of what they consider a worthy cause.  Everybody is a volunteer and they do it for the love of learning and the future of their country.  In the process we build friendships.

The applicants write essays about American topics – in English, which are judged by boards that include university professors, teachers and BNC officials.They narrow the field to 180 finalists.After that a board in Brasilia made up of our CAO, our lead Brazilian employee plus some other people from consulates in Brazil.Thirty-five get a scholarship to visit the U.S.  This year, since it is the tenth anniversary, we want to send “plus ten” or forty-five.We are looking for corporate sponsors for this addition, which is another opportunity for partnership.

All the finalists get something.Those not chosen as youth ambassadors get a week of English immersion at one of Brazil’s great BNCs.  I wrote about the last time  here and here.

The lucky winners go to the U.S.   During their first visit in 2002, Secretary of State Colin Powell took the time to meet with the group.He spent more than a half hour with them, which is a lot of time for a busy guy like him at that time.  Subsequently, they have met other Secretaries of State plus people like Laura Bush and Michelle Obama.  It is a class act.

We always get a lot of great press in Brazil, which magnifies the reach of an already great program.  This year we believe we will get the winners announced on one of Brazil’s most popular TV variety programs.  It will reach millions of Brazilians with the kind of excitement generated by American Idol.I am not at liberty to reveal details now, since we are still in negotiations, but I am reasonably certain that we will make a big noise o/a October 22.

So this is a great program in terms of tangible PR results, as is the principal exchange. We get press and we get noticed.  By I return to what I consider more important, the lasting relationships. We have friends all over Brazil who have worked with us on these programs and recall our common success.  Long after the newspapers have composted and the television glamor has faded, these relationships abide.

My pictures show the city of Sao Paulo from the offices of the Lemann Foundation and the SP State Ministry of Education.

August 21, 2011

Places of Aspiration

Wild landscape in Goias

Brazil is a big and diverse country that has changed remarkably in recent years. That fact is so obvious that it can be overlooked; it can hide in plain sight.  History and tradition conspires against seeing the big picture.  Rio is so attractive and São Paulo so dynamic that it is easy to think that Brazil revolves around this axis.  Add Brasilia, and you could spend a lifetime in this Brazil w/o paying much attention to the rest. It is not only Brazil.  I know another big and diverse country where some people don’t really notice much beyond the East Coast (i.e. New York and maybe DC) and the West Coast (i.e. LA and maybe a little around SF). But in both countries, much of the energy is outside these formerly central places.

My admittedly still limited experience with Brazil leads me to believe there is a strong parallel with the U.S. in what we can expect in future development. Demographer Joel Kotkin identifies such “cities of aspiration” in the American heartland as engines of growth and cultural expression in the next decades. I think the same thing goes for Brazil. Cities like Manaus, Cuiabá, Campo Grande or Tres Lagoas are Brazilian cities of aspiration, places where people go to get their piece of the country’s success. It is musica sertaneja replacing samba. It is new infrastructure opening up new places and new people enjoying social mobility. We cannot forget the old places, which are and will remain important, but we should also be in the new places.

I can think of lots of reasons to stay in the office. Office work creates its own gravity. It is hard to get out and if you are out of the office a lot some people think you are not working, but we are not really doing our jobs if we DON’T get out … a lot. If we didn’t need to get out among Brazilians we could just stay in the U.S.  Most Brazilians are far away from us, since it is such a big country, it takes time to get to them but we can get to them. Some are close enough to drive, although that takes time too. Some of the areas and satellite cities around Brasilia are places of aspiration, so are some places in Rio and Sao Paulo.  They are not all away from everything. They are not all far off in the countryside. My car will come soon, I hope. I can drive from Brasilia to Goiania in about three hours and from Goiania I can get to Uberlandia etc.

Anyway, I think that most of us agree about the need to get out. We can all identify the problem. We just have to do it, and not just me.  It is an exciting time to be in Brazil, as I have said on many occasions.There is enough Brazil for everybody.

The picture is a landscape in Goias.  There is lots of room.

August 20, 2011

Beautiful JK Bridge


JK Bridge in Brasilia

Among the many things in Brasilia named for Juscelino Kubitschek is the bridge in the pictures. It is a real work of art and looks good, as you can see in the pictures.

JK Bridge in Brasilia

You notice from the grass that we are getting into the peak of the dry season.  The air is as dry as Death Valley. and it won’t rain again until September. After that it will rain every day for the next couple of months. You can read more about the bridge at this link.

JK Bridge in Brasilia


August 19, 2011

Born Knowing Algebra

Case Thomas Jefferson graduation ceremony

I recently had the honor of speaking and giving out some diplomas at a Casa Thomas Jefferson graduation ceremony.  536 students of various ages and programs got diplomas. The diplomas are symbols hard work, but do note confer any special privileges. Yet the students came for them and so did their families.  Everybody was proud. It was the affirmation of a community that made the difference.

Rituals have a place in our lives that we often forget or neglect.My speech was not very interesting and nobody expected it to be. You don’t come to a ceremony like this for stirring oratory. I was playing my role, as were the others.The fact that we were doing it mattered, not the ostensible content.We marked the achievement and the transition of the students.  

IMO, we have abandoned too many of our traditions and rituals.We like to think that we are too sophisticated and that we see through these “empty” gestures.There are indeed empty gestures, but many of the traditions that mark transitions or recognize achievement are not empty.They are full of meaning as structures that define our lives and hold our society together.  When people neglect their roles, society starts to fray.

The Casa Thomas Jefferson students were admirable and they deserved the recognition that the ceremony gave them.  Many of the adults work all day and study at night. They know that English is an important asset for their success.We Americans don’t appreciate how lucky we are that we learn the world language as our first.One author said that it is almost like being born already knowing algebra. Others understand the power of our native language and are willing to sacrifice to learn it.

I have a lot of respect for those who learn my language & I am glad that they do.  I have had a lot of fun learning my Portuguese, Polish and Norwegian, but since I can’t learn all the languages of the world, I am delighted that so much of the world has decided to learn mine. And if I can celebrate their achievement and take part in their traditions, it sure makes me happy.

August 17, 2011

Fishy Food

People in Manaus eat a lot of freshwater fish and various restaurants offer varieties of fish I have never heard of before.  They had names like tambaqui & pirarucu; I cannot recall which were which.  All that I know for sure is that I had at least five and maybe as many as eight different kinds of fish.  They all had a kind of whitish meat and a mild taste.  A lot depended on the way they were cooked and nothing had the kind of strong taste of cold water fish like salmon or trout.  

toothy fish

You can see from my pictures what servings look like.Everything tasted better than it looked.  I think it was the tambaqui that I liked the best.  I don’t know for sure, but in the models you see of the two fish, I think it is the bigger one.  It is not served whole, like the others in the pictures.

I just took the advice of the people I was with about what to eat and I was glad that I did.  The food was very good and different than I usually eat.  I eat salmon and trout, but otherwise my fish comes in squares with breading on it and they don’t stare back at me. Below is the airport & the turtle pond pond in front.  Notice also the pickup trucks. Manaus has lots of pickup trucks.

August 16, 2011

Another (Little) Favela Conversion

Little favela in Manaus

The picture you see above shows a successful outreach to a favela. It was not a big favela, but it was troublesome.  I took the picture from the garage of our BNC in Manaus.The BNC folks told me that it used to be very dangerous being near the favela.People would climb up the wall, steal things or just vandalize property.

The BNC  was happy when the city government decided to do some renewal.The street you see in the picture used to be an open stream, more of an open sewer. The water now passes under the road, which follows the old water course.  The people get to stay in the simple but comfortable houses on condition of decent behavior and keeping their kids in school. There is evidently some provision for secure property rights, but the people I talked to didn’t know the details. Improving physical conditions followed by provisions that establish discipline and some kind of property rights or at least responsibility are the essential ingredients of stability.As we learned in the 1970s, just building houses for the poor does no good and may actually cause harm if it breaks down social bonds. Buildings are important components of communities but it is the human relationships that really count.

Speaking of relationships, the BNC also did its own outreach.They went down into the community, offering some scholarships but mostly just getting to know the people better.  Today, they tell me that peace and harmony are more or less established in this particular corner of Brazil.  It looks orderly and clean. Somebody is picking up the trash. That is a good sign.

In general, BTW, Manaus is a fairly clean city with significant numbers of trees along the streets.  This complex doesn’t have many trees, but they seem to have made provision for parking.

August 15, 2011

Youth Audiences: Simple, not Always Easy

Choir at assembly

Reaching youth audiences in a meaningful way is a perennial challenge for public diplomacy. We sometimes pander to them, trying to supply vacuous messages in a pathetic attempt to be cool. I don’t like this. We (USG) are not cool in the adolescent way and I don’t want us to be. But I think we already have nearly perfect vehicles for sustained contact with youth.We may not appreciate them because we have been using them for a long time but we have not been using them in the same old ways.

I wrote a note about our BNCs earlier here & here.  So far, I have visited BNCs in Rio, Recife, São Paulo and Manaus and that has made me more certain than before that this is a great vehicle. We reach thousands of young people with almost no direct cost to the U.S. taxpayers.  BNCs have also played parts in a couple other great programs, that I will describe below.It is the synergy that we are always seeking.

HS marching band in Manaus

For example, one reason I went to Recife and Manaus last week was to follow up on participants in our youth ambassador program.  Young Brazilians went to the U.S. a few months ago.  Most of the winners were chosen with the help of the BNCs.The BNCs also did follow up programs with runners-up, as I described in an earlier post here & hereNow they are hosting Americans coming to Brazil as the counterpart of the program. It is a great experience for the young Americans, but it is even more important to the young Brazilians they meet.  The program lets us reach all parts of Brazil.  Each of the youth Ambassadors personally interacts with hundreds of Brazilians.Through social media and traditional media (they are interviewed in newspapers, radio and TV) they reach even more.  One reason this is so effective is that they are in smaller centers too.An official American is a bigger deal in Manaus than in São Paulo and an even bigger deal in Rio Branco or Boa Vista.

In Manaus, I had planned to meet the four American youth Ambassadors who went there. So I invited them to a meeting.  I had not counted on all their new Brazilian friends and former Brazilian youth Ambassadors. I ended up with twenty kids at Pizza Hut, excitedly talking about America with me and with each other. They want to know about … everything.  They commented that they couldn’t believe that American diplomats could be so open and eat so much pizza. They had a image of us with three-piece suits. The Pizza Hut encounter changed their minds. I am not saying that twenty kids will change the world, or our image here, but, as I wrote above, they talk.  It was touching that they worried about spending my money and wanted to chip in for the check.  It cost about $R20 a person. We can afford that and it was money well spend. I think I will try to regularize these kinds of meetings with young people. I used to do it a lot in Poland and it worked well.  Kids everywhere like pizza. Me too.

The other program I have been following around is the Brazil-U.S. Principal Exchange Program. This one takes the best principal from Brazil and sends them to work with schools in the U.S.  It is followed by some of the best American principals who come to Brazil.  Each group studies the work of the others and suggests exchanges of best practices. These educators go to places where Americans are less common, like Acre, Tocantins, Mato Grosso or Rondonia.They reach thousands personally and maybe millions through the media.

I spent the morning in Manaus with the principal that went to Amazonas & Acre.  Her name was Sandra Boyles and she was a principal in the State of Georgia.  She made her report to the State Secretary of Education in Amazonas at a big assembly of school leaders from throughout the state. They met us – literally – with a band and a choir. 

I talked to the Secretary of Education Gedeão Timóteo Amorim during lunch that followed the program.  I have rarely found anybody so satisfied with one of our programs. He said that he had spoken with the principals that went from Amazonas and that his staff had lots of ideas for following up.  In fact, our current good situation is a partial follow up to an even to an earlier program. This guy was an IVP. He told me that he got many ideas about distance educations during his official visit to the United States.  Amazonas is mostly rain forests and it has few roads.  People have to travel hours by boat along the rivers or they have to fly. Amazonas today has one of the best organized distance learning systems in the world. And we helped; our program made a big difference. And the authorities in Amazonas recognize and appreciate it.

Our principal was treated like a rock star by the HS students and she told me that this had been her experience during his whole time in Acre and Amazonas.  Students, teachers and administrators flocked around to have their picture taken with us or to offer their words of English.  With the social media, they are sharing these pictures and sharing their experience.  She told me that it had been like this during her whole trip. The other principals confirmed this with their own stories.  I lost track of the number of times I heard some variation of “Americans are so much better than we thought from the news or movies” I heard from the kids.

I am certain that we will have had a lasting positive effect on Brazilian education and I think the exchanges of ideas will have a lasting positive impact on U.S. education.But strictly from the public diplomacy point of view, I don’t think we could have made a greater impact on youth audiences in any other way.These programs work.

As much as we want direct contact with the youth audiences – future decision-makers- which these programs give us, I still believe in the imperative of reaching current decision makers.  This exchange program got us in close personal contact with decision-makers like principals, politicians and state secretaries of eduction who will decide what to do now.  The principal I was working directly with in Amazonas has impact in the states of Amazonas and Acre.  This program also sent principals to Alagoas, Ceará, Espirito Santo, Goiás, Mato Grosso, Mato Grosso do Sul, Minas Gerais, Paraná, Pernambuco, Rio de Janeiro, Rio Grande do Norte, Rondonia, Roraima, São Paulo, & Tocantins.  Suffice to say that the got to places were our public diplomacy would not otherwise reach.  They talked to people we would not otherwise meet and had experiences we will never have.  Beyond that, there is a network that has been created. This year’s principals are benefiting from those that went before and so shall it be in the future. I repeat because it bears repeating that the American nation is greater than the American government.  A program like this lets our public diplomacy leverage the power of the American nation.

I also repeat again – just about everything we do in public diplomacy is simple. Success depends on energy and persistence in the application of things almost all of us know to do. We have to get out of the offices and among the audiences, fewer meetings with each other and more meetings with audiences. And we have to leverage the efforts of others. We all know that. It is simple, but maybe not easy to do. My first weeks have included lots of travel and literally hundreds of meetings with Brazilians. This “boots on the ground” approach is also something that works.  I hope I have the energy to keep it up and to keep up with the Brazilians.

Vice Consul interview on TV Globo Amazonas

One more thing to add about our youth outreach. We are using the interaction of old and new media very well. During my stop at the TV Globo in Manaus, I ran into two of our vice-consuls, Dustin Salveson & David Fogelson doing TV and then online interviews about visas.  Nothing is we do really more interesting to Brazilian audiences than visas.  There are lots of myths and misconceptions.  Almost all Brazilians now who seek visas get them.  This is a change from years ago, but many people still believe the old system is still in place.

TV GLobo Manaus interview

Beyond that, there is essentially no wait for student visas. I asked our vice-consuls to repeat that early and often.  You have to repeat the same message over and over. It gets boring for you to do it, but we have to remember that most people are hearing it for the first time and even if they heard it before, they probably did not pay attention. Our vice-consuls did a great job. You can see the pictures of the “event”. This is a trifecta. We get television, live-online interview and a written record.

I believe that you have to understand before you can try to be understood, which is why I am doing so much contact work and travel in Brazil.  I am learning a lot and my Portuguese is improving too. The more I see of what we are doing in Brazil, the more encouraged I become. Our colleagues of the past laid a great foundation and our colleagues now of doing a great job. Beyond that and most important, the Brazilians like and appreciate what we are doing.  I have always been lucky with my posts, but this one seems to be beyond great fortune.

August 14, 2011


Fortaleza beach in Brazil

CENTENE (see link) has the challenge of getting science into common use.  Centro de Estudos e Sistemas Avançados do Recife (C.E.S.A.R.) does that as its primary task.  Its job is innovation or more correctly translating innovation into profitable and sustainable enterprises.I talked to Claudia Cunha and asked her what she meant when she used the term innovation. This is not a simple question.Innovation is one of those terms that everybody loves but sometimes defines in different ways and often when people say innovation, they mean totally new products, but don’t include the actual application. I was pleased to see that we agreed on the more inclusive definition.Innovation, of course, includes new technologies or processes, but it also includes different ways of using old things or organizational changes that increase productivity. And it always means actually bringing improvements outside the think tank or the laboratory.

Fortaleza in Brazil

As a sidebar we talked a little about the challenges of productivity in the recent economic downturn.  All wealth creation is ultimately based on productivity, but productivity means that you can produce more of the things you want with fewer inputs of time, materials or labor.In other words, productivity – in the short run – costs jobs.  More precisely, productivity improvements  costs jobs in existing enterprises and in existing clusters, while creating them in other places where they might not be seen as the result of productivity, not a good argument for politicians.This is a problem as old as innovation, but it is worth thinking about it all the time when arguing for more productivity.


CESAR is an incubator and a consultant.It works with existing firms (such as Motorola, Samsung, Vivo, Oi, Positivo, Dell, Visanet, Bematech, Bradesco, Unibanco, Banco Central do Brasil, Siemens, Philips, CHESF e Agência Nacional de Águato and others) to  improve their products and processes.It also provides financing, incubates and then sells off startups.We couldn’t talk about all the aspects of the work.They maintain strict separation of lines of endeavor, since they are working with proprietary information.

Suffice to say that this is another non-profit that makes a good living. They want to have “profit” in order to do more.  Profit, after all, is the price of survival. The CESAR method has been successful in Pernambuco and now has been established also in CESAR Sul, in Curitiba, Paraná. I don’t know why they still call is CESAR.  Maybe it should be CESAPR (for Paraná). 

My pictures are not from CESAR. They didn’t want me to take pictures, lest I inadvertently reveal some proprietary information.  The pictures are Fortaleza, where I made a stop on the way to Manaus. I got them from the plane just before they made us turn off electrical devices, which I learned includes cameras. This is still in the Northeast (CESAR’s district) so I figured it was appropriate enough. Up top is a low rent district that still has a nice sea access.  Below is the city itself and finally are some windmills taking advantage of the steady winds.

August 13, 2011

High Tech in a Less Advanced Place

View of Recife in Brazil

Recife and the state of Pernambuco are some of the places in Brazil that have changed the most in recent years.  In fact, the whole of the Northeast has been changing.It is still the poor part of the country, but it is catching up.  Recife is now a center of high technology and a magnet for high tech businesses.Centro de Tecnologias Estratégicas do Nordeste (CETENE) is a part of this.

CETENE was founded in 2005 by the Ministry of Science and Technology.  Its mission is to develop and disseminate technology in the area of the Northeast.This includes nanotechnology and biotechnology.One of the main thrusts is the development of energy using the resources of the Northeast, which include lots of sunshine (for solar energy) and long growing seasons.They are working on plant varieties and biotechnology that will produce fuels such as ethanol and biodiesel more efficiently.They are also cooperating with EMBRAPA to produce blight resistant varieties of plants for the Northeast.

I hit it off well with Giovanna Machado, who specializes in nanotechnology and her colleague Andréa Baltar Barros, who does biotechnology.Biotech and nanotech are truly the industries of the future since they deal with basic materials we use to construct our lives and with life itself.  Giovanna is interested with working with us on a mentor program for women and girls in science.Our role would be to facilitate the sharing of American experience, maybe do some CONX programs or even a speaker tour. Our Consulate is working on this program.

Electric microscope

The facilities at CETENE are modern and well equipped.  Most interesting for me was the electronic microscopes that can see down past the molecular level (see nanotech).  These devices are so sensitive that vibrations caused by far away traffic or even the waves on the sea can cause them to malfunction.  Giovanna told me that the ground in Recife is a little unstable.The city is not build on bedrock.To address this, CETENE has an elaborate system of balances.We talked about the strength and versatility of carbon nanotubes and the strange properties of elements at the nano-level.Gold, for example, is a superb conductor and catalyst, but very expensive.  At the nano-level a less expensive metal such as copper can be made to have the same properties as gold.  It has to do with surface areas. The surface area is the only part of a material that really interacts with others. Nanotech can alter this interaction.  Nanotechnology has the capacity to essentially eliminate shortages of crucial products, such as rare earth elements, since manipulating substances at the molecular level make other things do the same job.  Manipulated copper might be ersatz gold, but if it behaves like gold in the way you need it to, does it really matter?  The dreams of the alchemists may yet be realized in ways they could never have imagined.

Just to add a little background – A nanometer is a one billionth of a meter. How small is that?  It is so small that a human hair is 100,000 nanometers thick, an average man is 1.7 billion nanometers tall, a strand of DNA is 2-3 nanometers & an atom is 1/10 of a nanometer. You can’t see a nanometer with your naked eye or even with the most powerful optical microscopes.  But we can see them with our electronic microscopes mentioned above and nanotechnology means we can now manipulate matter at the atomic level. This is nanotechnology, one of the most exciting industries of the future. 

For most of the activities of our daily lives, the things we can see with our eyes, Newtonian physics works just fine.  But when things get very small, on the nano level, elements behave in different ways. A nano-particle is not the same as a molecule.  Molecules are stable. Nano-particles are not because they behave according to the rules of quantum physics.  Don’t ask me to explain that.

Nanotech is an enabling technology. For example, nanotechnology is already being used in medicine. A nano-particle can deliver medicine directly to cancer cells and kill them w/o affecting neighboring cells. Some nano-particles can be activated by infrared or magnetism. In that case, a nano-particle could be directed to a cancer cell and then activated to get hot and kill the cancers. These advances have developed only in the last five years. 

We are now familiar with the stain repelling, wrinkle free fabrics, even sox that won’t stink. These were developed using nanotechnology. We also have self-healing paints. For example, paint on a car that can cover its own scratches. The closest thing to a mass produced commodity product today are carbon nano tubes. They can be stronger than steel but at almost no weight.

Biotechnology is similar to nanotechnology in that scientists are changing the properties of things, in this case living things and their DNA codes.  (This has often created reactions among those who fear the new science and there have been bans of biotech products and crops.) It is also similar to nanotechnology in that the things they are working with are very small.  I didn’t learn much about the specific biotechnology experiments.  I have to admit that I would have had trouble understanding some of it even if we were speaking English instead of Portuguese.  But I can give you some of the simple-man conclusions.

Among the things they are working on are yeasts and algae that secrete biofuels (see biofuels). For example, they have some kind of fermentation that produces biodiesel instead of alcohol.  They also had some kind of algae that is supposed to break the bonds in water, releasing oxygen and hydrogen.  This is what is pictured above. Photosynthesis normally separates oxygen from carbon in CO2. This also separates oxygen from hydrogen, don’t know how.  I do know that hydrogen is a superb fuel, but it doesn’t have much mass.  In its natural (gas) form, hydrogen has only 1/24 the weight of gasoline and takes up lots more space per unit of energy. That is why it will never be used directly to drive vehicles.  A pound of hydrogen has more energy than a pound of gasoline, but a pound of gasoline is much denser.  A gallon of gasoline contains four times the energy of a gallon of LIQUID hydrogen, which would require high pressure tanks to maintain. But hydrogen can be used to generate energy using fuel cells at fixed locations and since energy is fungible to some extent this will address the liquid energy problem.

We talked a little about cellulosic ethanol.  I used to have great hopes for that, but I don’t anymore.  They told me that the science would eventually make it possible to make ethanol from cellulose at an acceptable cost, but the real market for it might not be there.

For a little background – Cellulose is common in farm and forestry wastes and is “available” as a feed stock, but it also has other characteristics. Most notably, cellulose waste is bulking, heavy and it tends to burn well. It will never make practical sense to move all this stuff to factories to be turned into ethanol, a process which will produce relatively little energy in return for the massive input. The most useful alternative is what the Brazilians already do with bagasse (the mostly cellulous remains of sugar cane after the sugar is extracted) and what many pulp, paper and wood mills do with their sawdust and scraps: burn them on site to produce electricity. This is a good use if we remember the more inclusive word bioenergy instead of the narrower biofuel. This woody biomass is a vastly underutilized bioenergy source. If we use electric cars, it would be good if the electricity is produced from a carbon neutral source such as woody biomass.

In Brazil, not only does the bagasse fuel most of the ethanol plants that use sugar as a raw material, they also produce electricity for the Brazilian grid.  It is especially useful because the cane harvest season coincides with the dry season in Brazil, when the hydroelectric plants have less water.  Why would you give up the real benefits of bagasse as a fuel to chase the chimera of cellulosic ethanol?

The most promising bioenergy that might replace petroleum is not really bioenergy at all, but rather is a byproduct. Much of our modern industrial society is petroleum based and much of that is not the stuff we burn.  Plastics, drugs, fertilizers and many composites even the paving on our streets is petroleum based.  We could replace liquid petroleum fuel a lot easier than we could do without many of these petroleum based products.  But when we recall that petroleum is a biofuel, we can see that we could use bioenergy production to replace petroleum in many of these uses. In fact, Middle Eastern potentates feel more acutely threatened by developments in alternative materials than they do the development of alternative fuels. As long as we need the “byproducts” production of oil etc is assured.   

The problem for CETENE, they told us, was the difficulty they have in translating science into practical applications.We talked about other research parks in the U.S. and I mentioned Research Triangle in North Carolina. I was surprised that they did not know about it, but we will follow up with information and maybe a CONEX program or speaker tour. We will be in touch.  

Talking Taxis

Taxi stand w/o taxis in Manaus

It is hard to get a taxi driver’s opinion about things, unless you ask.They aren’t a statistically valid representative sample of the population, but they know the city better than average and they get to meet lots of different people, so it is worth asking.I rode in eight taxis in Manaus and decided to get something more from the exchange than transportation. I started with similar questions.(1) How long have you lived in Manaus and (2) How do you feel about the changes in the last ten years? That kept the conversation going for the rest of the trip, no matter how long and one trip took an hour.

Museum square in Manaus

All but one of the drivers had grown up in Manaus and the one who didn’t had lived there more than forty years.  This was a bit surprising, because they all told me that most of the people in Manaus are newcomers. Maybe taxis drivers are uniquely recruited from native populations.But besides the guy who had immigrated to Manaus, nobody had ever gone anywhere else, not even other parts of Brazil.They explained that Manaus was like an island.  It was not connected to the rest of Brazil by any road that you could use.To get to Manaus you had to fly or take the boat up the river.A couple grumbled that this was a kind of conspiracy by the elites in the rest of the country, who wanted to prevent competition from the new frontier regions.One guy told me that there used to be a road that went west across Amazonas and connected with Rondonia and from there to Brazil in general, but the road had fallen into disrepair and was now been reclaimed by the jungle. They blamed foreign NGOs and environmentalists for preventing repairs and improvements.

Church in Manaus

Manaus has grown fantastically in the last ten years.Although it is far from everywhere else, it has a port on the Amazon that can handle ocean going trips.  Once you get a container on the boat, shipping costs to any other seaport of the world become much less important.  It can cost less to ship bulky cargo thousands of miles around the world than it does to ship a hundred miles on some of Brazil’s roads.  Manaus has a free trade zone, which has attracted all sorts of assembly industries.  They assemble computers here, no surprise, but they also make heavy things like cars and Harley-Davidson motorcycles, thanks to the capacity for cheap shipment by water.

All this growth is a mixed blessing.The city’s infrastructure is not up to the population growth.  A couple of the taxi drivers told me that they used to play football on the streets that are now so chocked with traffic that it is hard to run across them to the other side to safety even when the light in in your favor.  One of the drivers told me that there are 3000 more cars on the streets every month.  This might be apocryphal, but it gets on the perception of the problem.

Traffic jams in Manaus

Many of the buildings and whole neighborhoods are new in Manaus.There is a feeling of growth and vitality.It is becoming a high-rise city, although there are some nice green and low places in the old city, as you can see in the pictures.  It would be nicer if the transportation network could keep up.  Mass transit is not good. They have plans for a monorail that is supposed to help with all the traffic associated with the World Cup.  Of course, having it ready by the time the World Cup rolls around in 2014 is a low probably event.  It is expected to go only thirteen kilometers anyway.  It would not address the problems of the large and growing city. 

A couple of travel & taxi-tips – there are not enough taxis to meet the demand during most of the day, but especially during rush hours.  It is not like São Paulo or Rio.  Taxi stands tend not to have taxis waiting. You have to call.  Traffic is increasing daily. You need more time between appointments than you think. Distances also tend to be a little greater than you would think if you were thinking about a more densely packed cities like Rio or São Paulo.  

Evangelical Religions

Besides the new buildings, the thing you notice driving around Manaus are the many protestant churches and meeting houses.  They are mostly store front affairs, but some are really big. I didn’t ask the taxi drivers about their religions, but one volunteered that Jesus had changed his life.And they all talked about the growing religion.  

I don’t know the figures, and I am not sure figures would be accurate anyway, but it seems that Manaus has more evangelicals than other places in Brazil.This would seem to track with the idea of migration. People willing to make big changes in their lives in one way, for example moving to a new city, are also often more willing to change their lives in other ways, like converting to a new religion.

The protestant religions are mostly native Brazilian, i.e. they are not the result of recent foreign proselytizing or foreign immigration.  I say recent, because clearly the Baptists and Pentecostals so widely present in Brazil did not originate here, but they have been fully Brazilianized so that now the people seeking new converts are Brazilians.  Brazil is evidently even sending missionaries to other places like Africa and even the United States.

In any case, the many new churches are self-sustaining with local support.I heard about, but did not actually see that a new Mormon Church was being constructed.  I also heard that a mosque was being built, but this is not a native development.  According to what I heard, it is being implanted with Arab money, maybe Saudis, but that is all the information I have.  There is a significant Arab community in Manaus, but many are Christian Arabs, whose families have lived in Brazil since the time of the Ottoman Empire, and many with no particularly strong religious affiliation.Brazilians generally seem tolerant of religious differences in an easy-going way.

I learned a lot from my taxi experience, but I followed the trust but verify rule, i.e. I asked others too at my other meetings and there was significant concurrence. For example, I asked a few educators about the idea that Manaus was being disadvantaged by elites in other parts of the country.They said that they personally did not believe that to be true, but that lots of people did believe it and they could find examples. I suspect my taxi research is as useful as any focus group.Way back in MBA School I was officially trained as a researcher.  After all, it was only a quarter century ago.

 Speaking of taxi knowledge, I have a story from São Paulo too, this one a little less serious.In the morning, one of the drivers told me about a football game to be played between Corinthians and Americana MG.He told me that Corinthians were the team of the people and that all good people in São Paulo liked them.  That evening in another cab I heard the game on the radio.I figured it must be that game, so I said that to the drivers.  It was and Corinthians were ahead 1-0. I commented on the game and the driver was surprised and delighted.  When Corinthians scored a second goal, he said I was good luck. And when it came time to pay, he rounded the fare down $R 5, which is not common for taxi drivers to do.Of course, the truth was that I had deployed every bit of knowledge I had on the subject.Good he didn’t ask any more questions about football.

August 12, 2011

Heart of the Amazon

Me and the big leafI had never been to the Amazon rain forest before and I am not sure that I have been there now.  Manaus is indeed the heart of the Amazon rain forest, the place where the Rio Negro (Black River) meets the Rio Solimões to form the Amazon.  But Manaus is a very big city.  It has more than 2 million inhabitants and you can easily forget that you are in the Amazon when you are stuck in traffic and surrounded by tall buildings.

My appointments included the usual meetings with journalists, academics and a stop at the local BNC.These are things I would do in any other city.  I did, however, get to make a stop in the remnant of the forest.  As the city was growing rapidly, a few farsighted people figured that it would be good to have a big green and natural place in the middle of what would become the greater city.  They set aside – and really defended – a large area of natural forest.   It is called the Bosque da Ciência and now features native forests and animals such as manatees and otters that were injured and brought to the place.  

I was a little surprised by the forest.  The trees were not a big as I thought and there was a lot more brush on the ground. I read that rainforests were so dark because of the shade of big trees that there was not so much growing on ground level.  This was not a completely natural place, so maybe it is like our own temperate forests, i.e. thicker when they are reestablishing.

Amazon forest close up of the understory

Ancient tree in Bosque da Ciencia in Manaus, BrazilMaybe it sounds strange, but the Amazon forest I saw just reminds me of being around a lot of really big house plants. Many of the species are the ones or like the ones that decorate our windowsills and offices. Look at that picture of me with the giant leaf.  It gives a the thought of falling leaves a menacing aspect. The tree on the side is thought to be the oldest in the park, at least 600 years old. It is mostly hollow and provides a home for all sorts of animals.

My ostensible reason for visiting the forest was to accompany a group of U.S. youth ambassadors and their Brazilian counterparts, as well as their escorts from the BNC.  I got there before they did, so I had a chance to look around in the company of one of the young Brazilian guides.   It was hot and humid, but I just love being in the woods, no matter where.  I understand, of course, that I couldn’t survive long if I were actually in this wild.  The first thing I noticed was a kind of howling sound.  Big cicadas were responsible. You can see what they look like in the picture nearby. The sound was more musical and a lot less annoying than the kind of mechanical sound similar bugs make in North America.

I went into a little museum, were I encountered a group of Brazilian school kids.  I was evidently more exotic than the animals.  They literally flocked around and followed me, bashfully saying words in English. It was funny.  I guess Americans are rarer around here than the cool animals.

Alligator in Amazonia

Brazilian OtterI got a very interesting fact talking to one of the scientists.She said that they are studying the ecology of the forest in a very broad sense, including studying the habits and culture of the people who live in the woods.  She said that they had to persuade forest dwellers to change their long-held habits.One of the cultural habits that needs to change is the slash and burn agriculture practiced by the natives for generations.   Of course, I knew about slash and burn agriculture.  I learned about it in anthropology classes many years ago.  But I guess I didn’t focus on it in the modern context.

The natives have been using slash and burn for thousands of years.  It was a sustainable kind of agriculture because native populations were very small.  The burned fields remain productive for only three to five years using the ashes as fertilizer.  After that, the farmers have to move on and clear new land.  Obviously, this destroys lots of forest, but with low population densities the forests grew back before the stone-age farmers came back.  Think about what this means.  It means that the tropical forests are not very old, although a few very old ones would survive in limited areas, especially around rivers or ravines. Even with low densities, it is likely that forests would be slashed and burned every fifty to 100 years.  This seems like a long time and it is a long time in human terms.  But in a forest terms, it is not.  My pine forests go from inception to final harvest in around 35 years.  The rain forest is essentially a kind of extensive farm.  It also means that the trees can grow back rapidly.  It is a hopeful thing.

Cicada in Manuaus

I bought an interesting book at the airport in Brasilia, “Guia Politicamente Incorrecto da História do Brasil” (A Politically Incorrect Guide to Brazilian History) and read it on the plane to Recife & Manaus. It was the #1 non-fiction best seller on Veja Magazine and featured lots of debunking of popularly held misconceptions.  Among other things, it talked about the treatment of the forests by native Brazilians.  They burned them regularly and it was actually the Jesuits who taught them that the forest should sometimes be left standing.  This is very similar to the case in North America, as I have often written in my forestry blogs. Fire is the favorite tool of stone-age man. It is really the only way they can clear and manage forests.  Stone axes just don’t do the job.  Anyway, my airplane reading fit exactly into my on the ground information.  Sweet. Feeding Mantees

I want to get a much more in depth study of the rain forests and get to know them in the ways I know my North American woods of home.  It will take a lot of study as well as contact with somebody who really knows the biomes.

My trip to Manaus taught me a couple of things. First, Manaus is a big city that only happens to be in the Amazon. I worry about the urban advance. Second that the Amazon forests were regularly disrupted and burned long before the European arrived.  On the plus side, it means that renewal is possible.

The pictures are explained in the text or need little explanation. The otters are very cute, but  they are aggressive. If the put two of the same gender in the same place, they will kill each other.  They eat mostly fish and breed rapidly. The Amazon manatee you see being bottle fed does not breed very fast. They are at greater risk. The local river dwellers and natives eat them given the chance. The popular local name for them is river cow and some people think of them exactly as that. Come to think of it, we used to call them sea cows before they picked up the less pejorative name of manatee. Manatees are harmless herbivores. Other things inhabit the water, like the alligator or Jacaré.  You can not easily see it laying there in the plants. They have brains the size of a peanut, but they don’t need to be very smart to bite down. I am not really very fond of them.

August 11, 2011

Tenative Peace in the Complexo de Alemão

 This is another of my out of order posts.  It is from my trip to Rio a while back.

Compexo de Alemao

National Basketball Association (NBA) players came to work with kids in the Complexo de Alemão, which just a few months ago was one of the worse and most violent favelas in Brazil.It requires the sustained intervention of the Brazilian army and police to push out the drug dealings and retake control of the neighborhood.They are employing a kind of counterinsurgency strategy that I recognize from Iraq. It is the “seize, hold, build” strategy at work.  General Petraeus would understand.


The back story is interesting, as one of the top-cops explained it to me.There was a political reaction against the police and the military after the end of military rule in the middle of the 1980s.One of the dominant modes of thinking explained and to an extent excused crime among poor people as a reaction to the violence and disrespect of the authorities. There were obvious problems with the police at the time and there was merit to the idea that the police should act less as an occupying force and more like members of the community, but what amounted to a partial withdrawal of the forces of order had a negative result. Of course, this is a simplified explanation and nothing ever happens for one simple reason, but this is part of the explanation.

In any case, the favelas were effectively out of control.Movies like “Tropa de Elite” show the situation, no doubt with some cinematic exaggeration, but the fact is that nobody would enter the favelas in safety and the crime spilled out into all regions of the city.


Crime was oppressing not only favela dwellers but spilled into other parts of the city.Some commentators almost seemed satisfied that the quality of life for “the rich” was declining because of the fear of violence, but a storm that wets the feet of the rich often drowns the poor. The rich retreated to walled compounds and hired guards. The poor just got robbed and killed.

The Rio authorities decided to pacify the favelas.They started cautiously, trying to bring services into the favelas, building sport complexes.We had our NBA event in one of those complexes.It was/is a nice facility, but until the police established order, it was a used as drug emporium.  


Anyway, even the limited pacification efforts annoyed the drug lords of the favelas, who wanted to keep things the way they were.Evidently to show their displeasure and get the government to back off, the drug gangs started to attack and burn cars and buses outside the favelas, but instead of backing down, the government doubled down. It was a heroic moment. State, local and Federal authorities cooperated to retake the territory from the drug gangs. The Brazilian army literally invaded the favelas, taking them back from the traficantes.Following the forces came services.It was the “seize, hold & build” strategy.

Today police presence remains strong and obvious, but the big story is the return of life and vitality to the favela.  I was able to walk freely in places were heavily armed police could not tread just last year. 

The authorities have no illusions about wiping out the drug trade.There will always be criminals.But there is a big difference between crime that goes on in the world and actual control of territory by criminal gangs.  It was important to secure the authority of the government.When they raised the Brazilian flag on the high point of the favela de Alemão at the end of November last year it was a proud day for the Cariocas and all Brazilians.

So far, so good. The streets of the favela are now crowded with people and the shops have products in them.  There is a chance now. The security has been established, the essential first step. Now the government is making investments in infrastructure. You can see all the workers in the pictures. It is also an auspicious time because the Brazilian economy is growing and providing jobs.But perhaps the most surprising development, one unpredicted by experts, is the dropping birthrate within the favelas. This will give Brazilian authorities and people of Brazil a breathing space to make the changes they need to make in the culture and nature of the favelas.

The pictures are from the favela. You can see the closeup of what it looks like. The favela is a kind of vertical city. It crawls up the hill. It reminds me of those Pueblo Indian dwellings, only much bigger. One guys roof is another’s front yard and walking the streets near the top means climbing stairs and even ladders.

August 10, 2011

Recife: Another Great Binational Center

ABA Recife

ABA is one of the newest BNCs in Brazil, only twenty-three years old. Executive Director Eduardo Carvalho told me that when the BNC was founded, they looked to their older cousins for advice and modeled their program on ALUMNI in São Paulo.ALUMNI at that time was aimed mostly at adult students, so that is what ABA did too. They soon found, however, that most of the demand was among younger people, teenagers and children.ABA now enrolls around 3500 students; 800 of them are adults.Preteens and teenagers make up the biggest group.

 Four American Youth Ambassadors were visiting ABA for their orientation while I was there.  This is only the second group of Americans.  The Embassy has been sending Brazilian Youth Ambassadors to the U.S. for more than ten years.  The program was so successful that everyone agreed that Americans should make the return trip.  The Americans arrived last week and have been spread across the country.  I will be meeting with some of those who went to Manaus tomorrow.  Their goal is to learn about Brazil, learn a little Portuguese and interact with Brazilians.

Eduardo is enamored with technology and wants to use it throughout his program and you can see his interest all over the building.  There are well equipped computer rooms and the library has digital access to publications.  I noticed notices without much text taped to walls around the building.  Eduardo showed me what they were with his I-Phone.They were I-Phone patches that could be read with the device and each of the patches had a clue, in English, for a kind of scavenger hunt.The students were supposed to learn (and play with) the technology while learning English and solving a puzzle.  You can see what the posters look like and the ABA library in the top picture. I will put Eduardo in touch with IIP’s office of innovative engagement.They make I-Phone apps that I am sure will be a big hit in Recife.

Business is good at ABA, both their own and that of others.A big source of income and connections for ABA comes from the business seminars they sponsor or host at their headquarters.Recife has grown into a business capital.  Firms are flocking here for the high tech industrial base, including informatics, nanotech and biotech, as well as because of the growth of the port facilities and heavy construction.The port is expanding to handle bigger shipments of agricultural materials from the interior, expected when a new rail line is completed next year.  Petrobras is using Recife as one of its staging areas for the exploitation of oil in the big new discoveries in the Pre-Sal formations off the coast.All this business creates business for ABA.People need to learn English and businesses need places to train their staffs. ABA is ideally positioned for both these things.

ABA is an impressive operation.  It is not-for-profit, which means that it is not allowed to distribute money to owners or shareholders, but it is – or would be – a profitable enterprise. It produces enough revenue to cover all its costs and do valuable social services, such as provide scholarships and cultural events.  ABA also houses one of our EducationUSA advisers.It is a great and growing partner in a great and growing part of Brazil.

I would be remiss not to mention to efforts of our neighbors to the North.Brazilians often refer to us as North Americans and I suppose that can include Canada. The Canadians have claimed some of the space in ABA with their early childhood program called “Maple Bear.”I saw classes of little kids learning English by playing games.  Some people joked about “the competition” but I don’t see it that way.The kids are learning English, which means that they will come to the American BNC at a higher level.Beyond that, it is great if more people have exposure to better English at an early age.We don’t offer anything like Maple Bear, so we should be thankful that our farther north-North Americans have stepped in.I don’t think most of the customers care.

August 09, 2011


Manaus Opera House

My posts will be late an out of order.  I am really enjoying my work in Brazil and I asked my colleagues to create very tight schedules for me on my travels.  They did.  I am usually scheduled with an early morning or breakfast meeting, meetings during the day and then some sort of representational event at night.  I don’t write this so much to brag (maybe a little) but to emphasize the scheduling.   Back home, some people think the life of a diplomat is just doing fun things … and it often is.  It is great fun and personally rewarding to have the chance to meet so many Brazilians and talk to them about such a wide variety of concerns.

But it is also very tiring.  I always tell people that everything about doing public diplomacy is simple.  You just have to keep doing it and keep doing it.  It is also hard to speak Portuguese all day AND at the same time keep track of the important things that are being said.  You will read in subsequent posts about our visits to a high-tech complex in Recife.  It is hard to talk nanotech in Portuguese.  Actually, many of the high-tech words are almost the same, but the concepts are not easy in a foreign language.

Manaus street

The biggest challenge is writing notes.  What I post on the blog are derivatives of the notes, so you know what I am talking about.  I take out most of the names and some of the details and add a few more touristic details.  I generally cannot take written notes during meetings.  It would be strange or bad manners to pull out the old note book at every lunch meeting.  So I have to write notes within a day or two, otherwise I forget details.   If I don’t make a note and share it with others it is not really much of a meeting from the practical point of view.

I think I should add a note about the “tourist” aspects of diplomacy, because this is something I  didn’t understand as a junior officer.  My first time in Brazil, I mostly worked on the things people call work. I wrote all my reports, made the official points etc.  I think I did a good job, but not a great one because I didn’t understand that the fundamental task of a diplomat (IMO) is to understand and appreciate the local reality.  I am not talking about the usual tourism, of course, but of a better understanding. The people I contact in Manaus want to know that I have seen and appreciate their Opera House, for example, even if some of them have not actually visited themselves, BTW. So one of the most important tasks is to learn about the points of pride or concern and just be there.  Imagine a diplomat in Washington who never had time to visit the Washington Monument or the Smithsonian.  His credibility is compromised.   So now I make it my business to study the places I go.  It makes my job a lot more interesting and makes me much more effective.  That is the part the blog posts reflect.

The Brazilians that I meet  have often known other American diplomats.  The ones that they remember, the ones that were effective, are those that knew and appreciated Brazil, not the ones that effectively delivered talking points about the most recent hot issue.  They did that too, but they knew that the message has to be delivered in the proper cultural context.

My rant is done.  Have to get to work now.

The picture up top is indeed the Manaus Opera House, which I made sure to see. Below is a picture of modern Manaus.  It is a big and dynamic city. You would not know you were in the Amazon, except for the remarkable heat and humidity.

August 08, 2011

Think Tanks

Boardroom from Banespa

Brazil doesn’t have think tanks in the sense that we have them in the U.S. Brazilian scholars of politics and society are generally linked to universities, the media or political parties. But there are some that do what think tanks do. During my recent visits to São Paulo & Rio, I visited a few of the organizations that perform the think tank function.

Before going on, it might be a good idea to admit that the concept of a think tank is not well defined and in the U.S. as in Brazil they overlap & share personnel with universities and the media. Think tanks in the U.S. would include institutions such as the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), Brookings or RAND. RAND was set up to advise the military. Maybe the reason Brazil doesn’t have such a defined network of think tanks is because it doesn’t have a big military establishment that can consume and pay for expert advice. A second generation of think tanks emerged in the 1970s and 1980s, occupied chiefly by conservatives who felt that their ideas were viewed with little enthusiasm in traditional universities. Probably the most famous of these is the Heritage Foundation. In reaction to this, think tanks developed on the more liberal side. 

Think tanks develop and elaborate ideas that are often adopted by government, firms and in society generally. They provide options an intellectual framework for policy. They also provide a home for thinkers and former officials when they are out of favor or power. Most successful think tanks have few actual employees but lots of associates and contributors.

Fundação Getulio Vargas (often just called FGV) comes close to being a think tank, although it remains primarily a school that grants degrees.  The headquarters is in Rio and there is a branch in Brasilia. The FGV business school in São Paulo (Escola de Administração de Empresas de São Paulo -FGV – EAESP) was established in 1954 in cooperation with Michigan State University. The business school is responsible for a lot of the think tank sort of research that is published in Brazil.  

25% of Brazil’s top business leaders are graduates of FGV-EAESP. And FGV-EAESP is extremely well connected with Brazil’s most successful businesses. Businesses sponsor programs, chairs and wings of their building. In return they get their names and often their products in front of Brazil’s future leading executives and some of the current ones, since in addition to traditional student FGV-EAESP is extensively involved in short term training and courses of executive MBAs.

FGV welcomes cooperation with American institutions and they have been seeing a lot more of their representatives in recent years.  Universities and firms from Europe & the U.S. are starting to understand that they need a “Brazil strategy” and they are rushing to make up for lost time. What FGV wants are real partnerships, where both sides give and get.  What they don’t want is the kind of one way street where an American or European institution sends down its professors and students for a semester of “Brazilian experience” w/o much contact with Brazilians. This, unfortunately, has been a pattern for many semester abroad programs. FGV doesn’t need this kind of thing. But they are interested in true partnerships and very interested in visits by notable U.S. experts who want to share their knowledge while learning about Brazil.

We talked a little about the lack of Brazil experts among Americans.Brazil is the biggest and most important country in South America, culturally, economically and temperamentally very different from its neighbors, yet it is too often treated as a sub-set of Spanish speaking Latin America. It is not sufficient to be an expert in Latin America.  Speaking Spanish helps understanding Portuguese, but they are obviously not the same language and the overlap is more limited than many people think.  

Another think tank experience visit was at CEBRI in Rio. This is a smaller operation. We talked about Brazil’s new place in the world and referred to the Council of Foreign Relations report about Brazil.  Everybody agreed that the U.S. and Brazil should develop a more mature relationship of mutual respect and partnership. They liked the word partnership. They also pointed to the problem that Americans have of thinking of Brazil as a subset of Spanish America. Although most Brazilians can understand Spanish quite well, they don’t like to hear it from Americans. It is probably better to speak in English in many cases.The U.S. needs to develop a bigger body of experts that know Brazil, know Portuguese and know better the difference between Brazil and its neighbors.

I finished off my almost-think-tank tour with the Institute of International Relations at PUC. This is housed in the university (PUC) but participants have aspirations to be more. They have developed a “nucleus” to study the BRICS.  I asked what “BRICS” really meant, since I could think of nothing that they BRICS had in common except a cool name thought up by an analyst at Goldman-Sachs a few years ago.  They laughed and told me that Walter Russell Mead had asked similar questions. It seems to be an American thing.Nevertheless, there are few commonalities except that they were all developing countries and not Western Europe or the U.S. Being BRICS, if nothing else, provide a forum for the various countries to get together and being in the convenient group amplifies their voices. In the longer term, however, cooperation depends on common interests or at least common aspirations.

I am not sure that Brazil NEEDS think tanks along American lines, but I am reasonably certain that the country will develop them sooner rather than later. Think tanks fill a niche in the American, and increasingly the world.  As I alluded above, in the U.S they provide independent, if often ideologically tinged, analysis.  Their analysis is demanded in the marketplace of ideas. It will be useful to politicians and business people who can pay for or at least support the infrastructure needed to create the ideas.

My picture is from the board room at Banespa. It was not a think tank, but it was the symbol of consolidated and deliberate power.

August 07, 2011

African-Brazilians & Others

Afro-Brazilian Museum in Sao Paulo

Race is a complicated issue. There is nothing genetically true about race and categorizations based on appearance are always going to be wrong.   Racial classifications are an entirely cultural construction.  In Brazil, estimations of race were long made on appearance alone.  It is possible for brothers to be members of different races and one family might have people called black, white and various colors between.

There is currently a big debate here about quotas based on race for university admissions. We had (and still have) conflicts about this in the U.S., where we have more clearly defined groups. I don’t really know how they determine group membership in Brazil, but I expect that self-identification as a person of African descent will increase among those who could claim multiple ancestries.  As I said, there is no biological basis for race; it is a strictly cultural choice.


For many years Brazilians often emphasized their own and their country’s European heritage.There are areas of the country inhabited by decedents Germans, Italians or Poles that look like Europe in almost every way, except for the palm trees.Brazil also has the biggest community of Japanese outside Japan and lots of people from the Levant.But African heritage is a big part of Brazil’s cultural and physical makeup and in recent years there has been more emphasis on this.

States such as Bahia are especially known for their African heritage, but you can find contributions of Africa all over Brazil.In São Paulo I went to visit Afro-Brazilian museum and talk to its founding spirit and artistic director Emanoel de Araújo.

Emanoel is a truly interesting guy.We invited him to the U.S. back in 1975 as part of our international visitor program and he told me that the visit changed his life.He came to understand much better that the African diaspora was similar all over the Atlantic-America and that the African cultures of their origins were worthy of admiration and study.

The museum is built around this concept.You start with African art and artifacts that show the excellence & sophistication of great African civilizations.The exhibits next show Africans in the new world.Of course, the subject of slavery cannot be ignored, but the exhibits are more about overcoming the effects of oppression than about the oppression itself. They show the slaves as competent individuals with important skills that built Brazil.  Among the slaves were skilled carpenters, masons, blacksmiths and artists.Their work is celebrated.In addition, Deputy Artistic Director Ana Lucia Lopes told me that Africans had brought important skills and products with them. For example, the strains of rice grown in colonial Brazil came principally from Africa, not Asia.  Africans knew how to cultivate these crops and essentially brought this sort of agriculture to Brazil.

The contributions of Africans might seem obvious, but are often submerged in a dominant narrative that Africans supplied mostly unskilled hard labor and that the finer things were planned and managed by Portuguese colonialists. This is just not right.  The colonists came in small numbers and they relied on first Native American and later Africa labor AND skills. Brazil, like the U.S., is the result of these multiple influences.

The rest of the museum is filled with interesting things from Brazil’s current or recent culture or current events.  The picture second from the top shows “promessas”.These are relics given as homage to a saint in return for helping alleviate a problem.  The carving indicted the part of the body or the thing that was affected.So if somebody has a headache, he would carve a head.Some people have broken bones.You see lots of hands and legs.  A lot of times, the person is generally sick, so you get the whole person. These were made of wood. Ana Lucia told me that many are also made of wax, which is easier to mold, but they don’t last as long. I took a picture because I just couldn’t tell what it was until I heard explanations.Among the other current events exhibits is one on our President. President Obama is popular in Brazil and the Afro-Brazilian museum featured an exhibit called “From King to Obama.”

I spent a couple hours at the museum and could have spent a lot more talking to Ana Lucia & Emanoel but I had a dinner with the President of the University of Nebraska and had to run.Whoever nominated Emanoel for the IVP program was prescient. It has paid dividends over and over again.Besides the obvious, physical evidence of the museum, Emanoel still loves the United States.Despite our own persistent problems with race, Emanoel sees our country as an example for others to follow.

I constantly bore people by repeating that public diplomacy is a lot less about information and a lot more about relationships.But I repeat it because it is true and I don’t want to let us fall into the trap of thinking we have done our jobs when we pass along some information.We need to work through people.The example of Emanoel shows how effective, sustainable and long-lasting this can be.

The Grand Majesty of the Law

Court room in Sao Paulo State Appeal Court

One of the challenges we have when talking about law with experts in most other countries is that the American system is fundamentally different. A big part of our system is common law.Among our 50 states, only Louisiana has a code law heritage, based on the Napoleonic Code, in force in Louisiana when Thomas Jefferson bought the place from France in 1803.

Justice in Sao PauloCommon law has the disadvantage of being unclear, since it relies on experience. This flexibility is also its strength. Common law can be pragmatic; it relies on experience and judgment of generations working with real world problems. Most other countries, including Brazil, base their law on codes.There is convergence, as our system comes to rely more on legislation.

But we still value precedents in deciding cases, judges usually have discretion in applying the law and juries can and do bring their own interpretation of the cases to bear. As some of the judges at the São Paulo State Appeals Court explained to me, this is not how it works in Brazil. In Brazil, as in other code law countries, the law is supposed to anticipate all eventualities and the job of the judges is to apply the law.  Of course, this is not as easy as looking in the books, but the big difference is application versus interpretation.  



Another big differences is juries. Brazil uses Juries only in homicide cases. In other cases, lawyers represent clients, but they argue before trained judges & are considered more as servants of the state or the law than of individual clients.


Although Brazil has states, like the U.S., the states do not have the independence in law as they do in the U.S.  In Brazil, laws apply across the country and lawyers are regulated on the federal, not the state level. One of my interlocutors explained the difference. In the United States, the states preceded the federal government and they created the Union. The Union, in its inception at least, was a servant of the states and American states retain much of their autonomy. Brazil was an empire. Provinces existed, but not states. With the establishment of the Republic, states were created and they have characters of their own, but the Brazilian government preceded the Brazilian states and the central government created them.


It is often hard for Americans to understand what the centralization means in Brazil as it is hard for Brazilians to understand what our greater decentralization means in the U.S.

We often use the same terms and symbols (look at the courtroom and the depiction of Justice and you see the same things as you would in the U.S.); we don’t perceive that they mean different things. As I wrote in a previous post, our Brazilian friends sometimes misunderstand the fact that our states and their universities are not managed by the federal government, so they cannot make an agreement with the federal authorities that will hold true in all the states.

In the case of an appeals court, where I visited, however, the differences are not as significant, since an American appeals court also has the duty of applying the relevant law. Still, there is not a court that corresponds to a state supreme court in the U.S.

I understand, BTW, that I am in over my head on this, since I have no legal background.I am giving an interpretation of what they told me. I welcome any comments that might clarify or correct my work.

I also visited the school for prosecutors at the Tribunal de Justiça do Estado de São Paulo. This was a fairly big operation.Speaking of applicable law, the school is working on a conference to study American law concerning fraud and asked our support to bring American experts. The result of this conference is supposed to be a proposal for a law to be put before the Brazilian Congress to make frauds in securities more difficult to perpetrate and easier to prosecute, a worthy goal.

Law is complicated and we have to let the experts do the thinking about the details,but is important to a free people that law is simple enough for the average guy to know whether he is doing right or wrong.The thing I always liked about having a strong dose of common law included in our rules was that it is a check on the otherwise uncontrolled rule of experts.When law becomes too complicated for the people to understand, at least in a general way, it has just become too complicated. I think we can all share that experience.

I mentioned the impact of the various permutations of the “Law & Order” franchise. Whether or not they always get everything exactly right, it is a good educational show for Americans and many Americans … and Brazilians understand law through this simplified prism. There is a “Law & Order UK” which highlights some of the differences between U.S. and UK procedures, even thought UK is also a common law country.  “Law & Order” as well as the LA and Special Victims are available on Brazilian TV and my lawyer friends said they liked the shows. I need a “Law & Order – Brazil”.

August 06, 2011

Sports Diplomacy

Basketball w/o borders in Complexo do Alemao Rio

I wrote about music in public diplomacy a few posts back.  This one is about sports diplomacy. I am belatedly getting around to writing this; it actually happened in Rio before the music program in São Paulo.

This one was also depended on the generosity of individual Americans, this time NBA basketball players. This program was also a great deal for us; it cost us absolutely nothing except our time to support the activities and publicize them.

band at Complexo do Alemao Rio

Our part consisted mostly of attending a basketball clinic at a community center in the Complexo do Alemão.  This was one of the most violent and dangerous places in the world until a few months ago. It was controlled by drug gangs. Honest people were in constant danger and the police could not enter many of the areas; they were outgunned by the traffickers. As the City of Rio tried to establish order, the traffickers lashed out.  They attack and burned buses and cars to show that they were serious about their violence and get the authorities to back down.Instead, the Brazilian authorities went all in, using the military and special police units to pacify the favela.


What we see now is a variation of the “seize, hold, build” counterinsurgency strategy. In fact, walking on the streets reminded me of my time in Iraq. These former violent places were bouncing back.  There was still a heavy police presence to maintain order, but the emphasis now was on building and providing services.

The basketball (Called basketball without borders) was helping with the reconstruction of civil society.  NBA players came at their own expense and the NBA paid to set up a basketball court, which they inaugurated with the clinic that you see in some of the pictures.

Dancers at Complexo do Alemao

Our post in Rio did a good job of publicizing the event. I use a variation of the old saying that it is like the rooster taking credit for the sunrise.  This event could have happened w/o us.  IMO, it would not have been as successful, but who knows?  But we (the post) helped call attention what was happening and explain its significance. So it is not like the rooster taking credit for the sunrise. It is rather like the rooster calling attention to the rising sun; he spreads the good news so that others can understand the significance and benefit from the light and the warmth. It is a very important task.  

NBA interview in Rio

Sports, like music, engage people that we often cannot engage with our programs. Also like the music, we could not possible afford to pay the participants what their talent is worth, so we are grateful that they give it freely. Above and below you can see the public diplomacy tasks. The bottom show our Rio colleague explaining to one of the kids how things work. Other pictures show the NBA athletes teaching kids; the local community showing its talents with dance and capoeira.

showing the kid in Rio how the little camera works

São Paulo: the City That Never Ends

Sao Paulo, Brazil skyline

If New York is the city that never sleeps, São Paulo might be the city that never ends.I got to the top of the Banespa Building and looked over city almost as far as the eye can see. Because it was a windy day and the air was clearer than usual, you can see the hills in the far background. Most days, the horizon just shades off into the mist. The Banespa Building started in 1939 and completed almost eight years later.It was the tallest building in São Paulo for twenty years and at the time of its inauguration the tallest building outside the United States. It is modeled after the Empire State Building. The pictures were taken from the top. Above & below is the São Paulo skyline.

Sao Paulo skyline from Banespa Building

Below is the Sao Paulo cathedral from the roof.

Sao Paulo Cathedral

Below is a rooftop garden and heliport. It is interesting the parallel worlds that exist in a three dimensional big city. From the street, you would never know that there was a forest park overhead.

Rooftop garden in Sao Paulo

Below is one more view of Sao Paulo. If you look right in the middle you will see a rooftop mansion.

rooftop mansion

August 05, 2011

All That Jazz

Delfeayo Marsalis in Sao Paulo

We helped bring some music to the favela, as I mentioned in the earlier post. The leader of the group was Delfeayo Marsalis.His whole family is talented and most people have heard of his brothers, trumpeter Wynton Marsalis and saxophonist Branford Marsalis.Branford was the leader of the band on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno before Kevin Eubanks.  

Orchestra in favela de Heliopolis in Sao Paulo

They played New Orleans style music, but they were not there just to perform. They were there to work with the kids from the favela and they did a wonderful job, inviting kids to perform with them and encouraging everyone to develop their own style based on their own heritage. Above you can see the student orchestra that played for our jazz musicians, showing them Brazilian style.

Jazz players

I am not in the entertainment business. What we want to do is to increase understanding between Americans and Brazilians. This program worked. I could see it on the faces of the kids in the audience and hear it in the words of their parents and teachers. The community will remember this for a long time. The good feelings will linger as everybody remembers the talented Americans who shared their talents and appreciated the talents of Brazilians. The good coverage we got in the media will help spread the word. It was good all around.

Interview with Delfeayo Marsalis in Sao Paulo

Jazz bass playerThe American nation is greater than the American government. This was a good example. We (USG) helped bring the jazz players, but we helped defray only a part of their expenses. The musicians contributed their time and talent. They were paid in the joy they shared with young Brazilians, but theirs was an act of charity and good will.

This is true of most of the participants in our programs. We could not afford to pay these talented people what their time is worth, but they give it freely. It always makes me proud to be in the company of such people. I tell them, but I am not sure they believe me. It sounds a bit schmaltzy, as it does when I write it, but it is the truth. The only true wealth of a nation is contained in its people. We are blessed with great people and it is good just to stop sometimes and be thankful.

Look at the joy on the base player’s face. That joy comes from losing yourself in the flow of an activity. Music is one of the most common, but it also happens in sports or any task that is a challenge that can be mastered but remains a challenge. It is important to remember that nobody can give this joy to anybody else, since it comes from the accomplishment based on hard work,  but they can inspire it in others.

My pictures are self explanatory. I took them all during the workshop. Sorry about some of the focus problems. The light was hard for me to work with.  I don’t really know how to work the camera and rely on the automatic settings.

The Other Side of Sao Paulo

Favela of Heliopolis in Sao Paulo

Like all big cities, São Paulo is a city of neighborhoods with characters of their own.The city has some beautiful areas of big homes and beautiful gardens.  It also has some less beautiful sides. The pictures are from a favela are called Heliopolis.You can see what it looks like from the pictures, but the pictures don’t tell the whole story.

Favela street

The favela is very lively.  You can see the shops.They do some nice graffiti as advertising signs.  The picture up top say “potato point.”

Favela de Heliopolis

We helped sponsor a jazz workshop in a local music school.I am not a big fan of jazz, but this was a great program.The jazz musicians worked with local music students.  All of them came from the favela and all of them were committed to learning music and by extension other things. For them, music was a live changing experience. I learned from talking to some of them that they did not depend on the “big score”, which is often a curse of the aspirational poor.They weren’t counting on being big rock stars. Instead, they were working hard to perfect their craft.  Most understood that they would not be able to make a career in music, but they knew also that music would enrich their lives and improve it in other ways. The discipline of music was what they wanted and what they were getting. I will add more details in the next post.

appliance store in Favela de Heliopolis

People take the opportunity, even in the poorest and ostensibly most hopeless places.  It is a tribute to the human spirit and to the power of arts and music to let it soar.  This is not THE solution to the problems of the favelas, but it is a step in right direction.

Shoe shop in the Favela de Heliopolis

Below shows one of the many signs of advancing evangelicalism in Brazil, especially among the poor.

Jesus poster in the favela Heliopolis, Sao Paulo

August 04, 2011

São Paulo (1)

Me at Globo Sao Paulo

The dominant activity during my four-day visit to São Paulo was sitting in traffic between the many wonderful visits that my colleagues at the Consulate in São Paulo arranged for me.  After a while, I started to notice the landmarks and the geography.We really were not going very far, but it was taking a long time because of the traffic, a very long time.

Sao Paulo

People in São Paulo have adapted to this traffic and the uncertainty it creates about arrivals. Nobody is upset when you arrive late … or early.We don’t often associate traffic challenges with early arrival, but that happens too.You build in time with the “expected traffic”.It can be worse, but it can also be better.Traffic was lighter than expected on a couple of occasions. My colleagues called ahead, apologized for coming early and asked if we could move our appointment forward. Of course, we also called ahead to explain that we would be late when conditions were different.

The key to success seems to be the mobile phone.It doesn’t eliminate uncertainty, but allows all participants a range of estimates. My colleagues call ahead and tell the person on the other end of the line what landmarks we are currently passing. Evidently everybody is so familiar with the landmarks and the expected traffic patterns that they can make an estimate themselves.

Sao Paulo Traffic

We were lucky to have a Consulate driver, who knew the roads and more importantly the characteristics of the places we were going.A lot of time can be spent getting in and out of building complexes. There are lots of gates and lots of guards. Going down the wrong way can cost time and tension. Our driver was highly skilled at fitting into and through spaces I thought were way too small.  Many of the government buildings have parking and garages inside, but they are not obvious parking garages like you might find in the U.S.Instead, you have what looks like a pedestrian entrance with a gate. I would never have thought to turn into a place like this.

I don’t know how I could have done business w/o my colleagues and the driver.Actually, I do know. It would not have been nearly as easy.I would have spent even more time in traffic, in taxis and been lost most of the time.  I think I might have walked more. Some of the places were not far apart if you went on foot.  I prefer to walk, whenever possible, but walking is not always a safe activity. Although the crime rate in São Paulo has dropped, it is still high.More urgently is the difficulty of crossing some of the streets, because of all that traffic we talked about earlier.   

When the traffic slows or stops, people literally run between the cars to cross street.  One of my colleagues advised me NOT to cross at the walk signal, which he said was more dangerous than waiting for the cars to stop and dashing between them.  It reminds me of that old video game “frogger”. The cars are a hazard, but at least you can get a fair idea about their movements. The more immediate menace, IMO, comes from motorcycles.  These things race between and among the cars as they wait in traffic.When I say “race” that is what I mean. They are not edging down the road.  They are going at high speed, creating a danger to themselves, cars and pedestrians. Some of the motorcycles have altered handlebars to make them narrower.This allows them to fit through even narrower spaces, but also reduces leverage & makes them harder to steer. Neither thing is good. Brazilians authorities have moved to make such alterations illegal, w/o significant results, in my observation.

I don’t see a way out for São Paulo. It is just too big. At some point any system becomes too big to properly manage. People have adapted in many ways, as I mentioned above with things like flexible schedules.  São Paulo offers many benefits that – so far – outweigh the costs for most residents.  I talked to many people who cannot imagine living anywhere except São Paulo.  They are a lot like inveterate New Yorkers in that respect. The things you can do in São Paulo are almost limitless – IF you can get to them.  You might be better off locating elsewhere and dipping into São Paulo when you need something.  A commute via air from Brasilia is shorter than a drive from one end of São Paulo to the other. I am not the only one to figure this out. I hear that businesses are locating outside the city if they can. The problem is that they have to go a long way before they are out of the city. I have decided that São Paulo is a great place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live here. Having a hotel near restaurants and meeting is great.  I could walk to some places.  Most people don’t have that luxury and I would not have it if I lived in São Paulo permanently. I can stand being entombed in traffic sometimes, but every day would be more than I could tolerate. 

My pictures are from the TV Globo affiliate in Sao Paulo. The bridge is one of the landmarks of the local area. It is a nice bridge that doesn’t carry much traffic. If you live on the road serviced by it, you are lucky. The river you see has a very distinct smell. You are lucky to have only the photo.

Can’t Say it Better Myself

I got these recent studies about the effectiveness of good forest management.  I usually don’t just do cut and paste, but I wanted to publish these from foreign landowners association.

New Forest Products Lab Report Confirms FLA Position

One of the tag lines on our new web site, and one that FLA CEO Scott Jones uses often in his presentations is, “In order to sustain forests, we must sustain the people who own them”. Another is “healthy markets make healthy forests”.

Both of these facts were confirmed loud and clear in a recent Forest Products Laboratory report, Sustainable Development in the Forest Products Industry. Researchers state that “The historical data we examined in this study support the hypothesis that an economically vibrant industrial forest products sector has been key to forest policies and forestry practices that support sustainable timber supply and demand”.

Based on their observations, the authors further conclude that the future direction of forest products technology can have a large influence on sustainability of forests and forest management.

“If future technology and wood demands generate sufficiently high values for timber as a raw material, then historical experience suggests that forests and forest management will thrive; if the value of timber is cheapened, however, through low-value use or insufficient forest product technology development, then forests may face significant challenges regarding their future sustainability.”

The full report can be accessed at the following link
New Bio-energy Report Confirms Working Forests Better Than Carbon Neutral

A new report from Dovetail Partners concludes “A comprehensive review of research conducted over the past decade reveals convergence in findings that sustainably managed forests can be ‘better than carbon neutral,’ yielding a range of useful products, including energy, while at the same time providing significant carbon storage and emission reduction benefits.”

The report states that “Over 847 billion cubic feet of timber have been harvested from U.S. forests in the past sixty years. This harvest volume is equivalent to a pile of wood measuring 2 miles x 2 miles x 7,600 feet high. Put another way, this is enough wood to create a square foot stack that would reach to the moon and back 334 times! During this same time period, the volume of wood within America’s forests increased by more than 50 percent.”

This and other interesting data prove that long-term sustainability is being achieved. This “must read” report from Dovetail Partners can be viewed at:

August 02, 2011


Rio beaches at night

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff wants to send 100,000 Brazilian students to study science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) in other countries by the end of her term and we want to help.It is the classic win/win.American universities are coming to Brazil to get their share of the new students.We have an opportunity rich environment.Great.

Grafitti artists at Complexo Alemao

Americans and Brazilians have been working together on this for a long time.We have the venerable Fulbright program, which was established in Brazil in 1957.U.S. universities have been active in Brazil and Brazilians have looked to the U.S. for more than a hundred years. American universities are acknowledged to be the best in the world.  It is an embarrassment of riches. We have all the networks in place and they have been working well for a long time, but now we are going to push more through the network than ever before.

Kennedy Wing at PUC

Among our best assets is a regional educational advising center (REAC), headquartered in Rio at PUC University. I visited there during my recent visit to Rio.PUC, our Brazilian partner institution, gives us the space, which is at a premium on their crowded campus. Their students also provide volunteer support in marketing and advertising the services.In addition, we have advisers at twenty-three other centers, such as BNCs, around Brazil and three offices at private universities. State Department’s Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) office trains the advisers, but they are paid and otherwise supported by their local Brazilian institutions.Such is the demand for this service that our partners are happy to cooperate.The centers can defray some of their expenses by offering translation services and consultation on writing in English, but they do not charge prospective students for educational advising.  

One of their big activities is sponsoring Education USA fairs.American universities come to Brazil to recruit students.  The advising centers can and do charge U.S. institution to defray costs.  Interest in Brazil is growing and the fair in Rio scheduled for this fall is already booked up with fifty U.S. universities. Other centers also hold fairs.  The BNC Casa Thomas Jefferson will hold a fair later this month in Brasilia, for example.

Nobody really knows how many Brazilian students there are currently in the U.S.  Our deceptively precise number is 8786, but we get this figure by a survey of answers supplied voluntarily by U.S. universities. Our educational advisers think this number is lower than the real one. They mentioned anecdotal evidence of universities where they know there are Brazilian students that reported none, but the real number in not much more. If Dilma’s aspiration becomes a reality, there would be more than four times as many coming to the U.S. in the next four years. This is a big bump and you get an idea of the challenge.

One thing we have to explain to Brazilians is that America’s higher education system is extremely decentralized.The Federal government cannot order state or private universities to admit Brazilian students or offer them tuition discounts. This must be done on a individual basis. The good news is that we have hundreds of excellent universities in the U.S. and many want to get Brazilian students to diversity their student body and build a future alumni network in what will be a much more important country in the future.One of our (Embassy & REAC) goals is to spread the students out over the U.S. Brazilians tend to know only a few American universities.  Everybody wants to go to Harvard, MIT or University of California and who can blame them.But dropping thousands of Brazilians into a few institutions would not be desirable, even if it were possible. Our task is to explain the diversity of American education.We have many excellent choices and sometimes the best programs for a particular student might be at an American university that few in Brazil (maybe few Americans too) know exists.

Our centers are reaching out to Brazilians to explain things like that and to help with applications.  Their motto is that studying in America is “mais fácil do que você pensa” easier than you think.We have to remind students that there is essentially no waiting line for a student visa to the U.S. and that it is indeed, easier than they think.

This is a great opportunity to shape the future of Brazilian-American relations through education.  It is truly a win-win.We just have to do it.

My pictures – at top is Rio from my hotel window. You see the symmetry of the reflection in the glass. I didn’t get perfect symmetry because I could hang only so far out the window w/o falling 21 floors. Might have been a cool picture on the way down, however. Below that you see graffiti artists at the Complexo de Alemao, a favela that the Rio authorities recently took back from gangs and drug dealers. Third down is the Kennedy Wing at PUC. It is dedicated to the U.S. and JFK. Bobby Kennedy came down for the commemoration of the bust in the picture.

August 01, 2011

Future High End Real Estate: Rio’s Port Redevelopment

Rio Port

The general idea is that the long neglected and now nearly derelict part of the port would be turned into an exciting area with shops, condos and office space.  Cruise ships and pleasure boats would dock at a Y shaped pier that will go out from where you see the first row of cranes in the picture above. I nice dream.

Rio Port Project

Rio’s port experienced the same changes that affected ports all over the world.  Containerized cargo rendered most of the existing warehouses unnecessary (containerized cargo is just stacked up) while the larger size of the ships & the big equipment needed to load and unload them made it necessary to have more open space, both on the land and in the water.  Inland, wider roads are needed. The old infrastructure is no longer appropriate.  Finally, the once busy docks are now largely abandoned; a machine run by one operator does the work of hundreds of longshoremen, so all the houses and apartments once occupied by dock workers, their families and associated workers are now empty. Put in a more positive light, there are lots of opportunities for redevelopment.

Construction at Rio Port

Someday, if things are done right, this area will be high end real estate, as we have now in Baltimore, Boston or Charleston. It is an aspiration that makes sense, but it takes a imagination to picture it now.  Below is a kid sliding down a rock that obviously many kids have used before.  But the rock has a darker history. It was the place where slaves were unloaded and sold in Rio’s first days as a Portuguese colony.

Slave rock

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