I just got back from a symposium entitled “Brazil as an Emerging Power: Challenges and Choices.”

The forum was organized by Tufts University’s Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy and held at the Fecomercio building in São Paulo.

It featured presentations from Rubens Barbosa, Brazil’s former ambassador to the UK and the US; Pamela Cox, the World Bank’s Vice President for Latin America and the Caribbean; Roberto Setubal, the CEO and President of Itaú-Unibanco; and Stephen Bosworth, the Dean of the Fletcher School and a former US diplomat.

The presentations were brief and not particularly enlightening. All four speakers covered the usual ground, about how Brazil needs to invest in infrastructure and education. How an increasingly powerful Brazil will adapt to its role in the new world order was also an issue all the speakers came back to.

But there were two points that surprised me.

One, was that no one even mentioned the word corruption. To me, fighting corruption is one of Brazil’s biggest challenges.

I tried to ask the panel why they never mentioned it but we ran out of time for questions. But what I planned to ask was this: Did they not mention corruption because they think it is diminishing? Or was it because they see it as less of a challenge than the other factors they mentioned? Or did they see corruption as inevitable?

Whatever the reason, it was a bit worrying to see so many important figures ignore the issue.

The second point was the surprise admission by Roberto Setubal that he doesn’t think Brazil needs reforms.

Setubal said that in as many words, before realizing what he said. He then corrected himself and said Brazil would be better off with micro-reforms rather than major reforms that need constitutional changes or large Congressional majorities.

The moderator called him on it, and quite rightly, as there is a general consensus among progressives in Brazil that the country badly needs political, tax, labour and union reforms, amongst others.

The generous reading of Setubal’s remarks would be that the financial sector has already undergone broad reforms and is now as modern and efficient as any in the world.

A less charitable reading might be that Itaú made R$ 6.4 billion profit during the first six months of 2010, more than any other bank in Brazil’s history. It couldn’t care less about reforms for the future. It’s doing fine just as things are.

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