Booming Brazil

When Larry Rohter stepped down as The New York Times' Brazil bureau chief in 2008, he was easily the most reviled foreign correspondent in the country.

Despite years of balanced, in-depth reporting about Latin America's largest country, an oddly sourced article he wrote maintaining that President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva had a drinking problem exploded into a national scandal that almost saw him expelled from the country.

Another article suggesting that the proverbial "Girl From Ipanema" was getting fatter didn't help - especially after the portly beach-goers in the accompanying photographs were exposed as visiting tourists.

Rohter's turbulent foreign correspondency, however, does little to color his perceptions, and his new book, "Brazil on the Rise" (Palgrave Macmillan, $27) is a fair and fairly boosterish introduction to a nation long reputed to be the "country of the future."

The book takes the viewpoint that "maybe, just maybe, the future has finally arrived."

Rohter does a good job of summing up Brazil's history and idiosyncrasies before embarking on a powerful and well-informed argument about the state of Brazil's economy and why the country with its vast array of natural resources now seems poised to achieve the world power status that has long eluded it.

Having vanquished the staggering inflation that long plagued the country in the mid-1990s, Brazil now boasts having "one of the most balanced and diversified economies in the world."

Exports are booming, the country's foreign reserves exceed $250 billion and Sao Paulo's stock exchange stock rose by 87 percent in 2009 - more than any other bourse in the world.

Aside from its traditional agricultural bounty and mineral wealth, Brazil now exports a host of manufactured goods including jet planes.

The country is also brimming with energy: Hydroelectric dams are being built across the Amazon basin, vast quantities of sugarcane-based ethanol power much of Brazil's automobile fleet and massive oil reserves were recently discovered off the coast.

That Brazil will host the 2014 World Cup and Rio de Janeiro will host the 2016 Olympics only seems to confirm that the long-awaited future has arrived.

But later chapters present a more complicated picture, with Rohter painting a fairly damning portrait of Brazil's stewardship of the Amazon rain forest and the country's highly dysfunctional political system.

As has long been the case, bureaucracy, corruption and a tremendous social debt still have the potential to squander Brazil's substantial gains - returning the country to the boom-and-bust cycles it has suffered for centuries.

A chapter titled "Becoming a 'Serious Country"' wanders into more dangerous territory with Rohter discussing the deep-seated sense of inferiority in a country "where the laments over Brazil's lack of global status - and the outside world's lack of knowledge of and regard for Brazil - can at times be deafening."

Rohter cites his own problems with the president as an example of Brazilians' thin skin, and while these arguments will probably only confirm many Brazilians' harsh opinion of him, the displeasure they are likely to provoke would only seem to confirm his thesis.