The US Consul General on US-Brazil relations

On Monday, August 11 U.S. Consul General in São Paulo Dennis Hankins gave a talk at Graded about US-Brazil relations, providing the audience with rich information about both countries due to his many years living in Brazil and working in the State Department. Before arriving in Brazil, Hankins served as Deputy Chief of Mission in Khartoum, Sudan; Nouakchott, Mauritania; and in Maputo, Mozambique. Among his other assignments were Deputy Director of the Office of Peacekeeping, Sanctions, and Counterterrorism, Consul General Riyadh, Political and Economical Counselor Lisbon, and Political Counselor Kinshasa. He first began his career in the Foreign Service as Vice Consul in Recife, Brazil in 1985.

Hankins started out his speech by expressing his positive outlook on Brazil’s future, explaining the vastness with which it is expanding its impact on the world, and how it has improved immensely since he first arrived in the mid-1980’s, when inflation was skyrocketing to 2000%. He said that at that time, it was extremely difficult to think of Brazil emerging as it has, but upon his arrival thirty years after his initial visit to the country, he is now very optimistic—even saying that now Brazil is finally living out its future, one that was unimaginable only thirty years ago.

In terms of the relationship between Brazil and the United States, Hankins drew comparisons between the nations, stating that they have shared heritages: both are industrial, agricultural, financial, and technological leaders, as well as being continental nations with a lot of diversity. He noted that both countries have shared experiences of immigration, and said that São Paulo is a prominent example of this diversity, having a vast number of the population descending from Japan and Africa. He also said that the number of immigrants coming into both the US and Brazil is still growing today because of the economy in Europe and refugees. Hankins also compared Amazonian natives to North American Native Americans, as well as the fact that both countries used to have slavery. Overall, he referred to both as “melting pots” of culture and religion, a characteristic that establishes the connection between them.

After speaking about the similarities with the US, Hankins turned the focus to Brazil’s current economic situation, hyperbolically depicted in an Economist magazine cover last September plummeting towards the ground. As an economy, he says, Brazil is a major player and still growing. Brazil’s GDP had a growth of 2.3% in 2013 and is estimated to grow 1.6% in 2014, while unemployment is down to 4.8%. Hankins said that this means the country is neither taking off or nose-diving, but is somewhere in the middle with a sense of steady growth. A notable aspect he refers to as something Brazil should be proud of is the growing middle class, whereas before the rich got richer, now the poor get richer faster because of programs such as the bolsa família and getting more people employed.

Finally, Hankins addressed the fact that while Brazil is still growing and expanding today, and while he is optimistic for the country’s future, there are still several aspects to be improved before it can truly take off. There has been a qualitative difference since 1985, he says, but this only brought Brazil up to a “grade B” country, and there are a few steps that must be taken to make the jump from “B to A,” such as working on education and infrastructure, reducing taxation, and easing government regulation—quite a lot of hard work lies ahead.