A Vision of Contemporary Brazil

By Adelto Gonçalves

The book Kenneth Maxwell on Global Trends – an historian of the 18th century looks at the contemporary world, published by Second Line of Defense and organized and edited by Robbin Laird, brings together essays that came out between 2011 and 2023.

An expert on the history of Brazil and Portugal in the 18th century and author of the classic A Devassa da Devassa (Rio de Janeiro, Editora Paz e Terra, 1977), released in 1973 in England under the title Conflicts and Conspiracies: Brazil and Portugal, 1750 -1808 (Cambridge University Press), his first book, Maxwell, although his work basically focuses on the Portuguese 18th century, has closely followed political developments in both Portugal and Brazil in recent times.

His texts present a wide-ranging perspective on the modern world and provide an insight into the disorder on the planet today, but especially dwell on the paths that democracy in Brazil has taken since the end of the military regime (1964-1985).


The eight opening essays, from 2011-2012, deal with the controversial issue of the purchase by the Dilma Roussef government (2011-2014) of fighter jets for the Brazilian Air Force (FAB), which was contested by the French company Dassault, the American company Boieng and the Swedish company Saab. Dassault was trying to sell Rafale fighter jets, while Boieng offered the F-18 models and Saab the Gripen, which in the end were chosen.

It’s a controversial subject to this day and was revived during President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s third term in office, when it was speculated that the Navy wanted to use the money spent on the purchase of the new presidential plane to buy F-18 fighters from Boeing. The Navy, however, said it had no interest in the transaction.

In an essay from 2013, the writer questions the need that the U.S. government found at the time, during Barack Obama’s term in office, to spy on emails and communications from the presidents of Mexico, Enrique Peña Nieto, and Brazil, Dilma Roussef, souring relations between countries considered to be allies.

The justification, Maxwell recalls, was the threat of terrorism. “But is Dilma Roussef a terrorist? Was it Lula? Was it Peña Nieto?” he questioned, noting that “stupidity has its consequences”. And he condemned the “insatiable appetite of the United States to spy not only on potential terrorists, but also on the authorities of allied countries”.

In light of this, it’s not too far-fetched to imagine that the U.S. government was behind the machinations that eventually led to the impeachment of President Dilma Roussef in 2016 and, perhaps, in the articulations that led to the election of a Nazi-fascist government in Brazil in the 21st century.

In another essay from 2014, the writer observes that Dilma Roussef, unlike her predecessor Lula, has always had many problems in dealing with world affairs.

And he recalls that Edward Snowdon, former director of the National Security Agency (NSA), a U.S .security agency with intelligence-related functions, revealed that the entity had spied on the cell phones and communications of several world leaders, such as Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany from 2005 to 2021 and leader of a center-right party.

And even high-ranking Petrobras officials, who, as we know, have been accused of buying a refinery in Pasadena, Texas, for an extremely high price, with all the signs of corruption (widespread embezzlement).

Later, in an article from 2016, Maxwell recalls that the Workers’ Party (PT) did not invent corruption in Brazil and that, traditionally, there has been corrupt involvement between businessmen, politicians and leaders of state-owned companies, to the detriment of the public interest.

And that Brazil is not the most corrupt country in the world, pointing out that Russia, China and South Africa, “just to mention the BRICS countries, are certainly very competitive in the global corruption ranking”.


In a 2017 essay, Maxwell wrote, in a prescient way, that “in a global interdisciplinary world, crises in one place not only have impacts elsewhere, but can have an unforeseen set of impacts”. And he anticipates the conclusions of the US government report released in 2023, “which proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that there was collusion between Bill Clinton’s campaign and the Obama administration in falsely accusing Donald Trump of colluding with the Russians.”

In another essay, he discusses the political crisis in Brazil that ended up favoring the rise of a politician completely unqualified to govern.

In the 2018 essays, the focus, of course, was the presidential election in Brazil that culminated in the choice of Jair Bolsonaro, whom the essayist defined as the Brazilian Donald Trump, known for “his homophobic, racist, violence-inciting, misanthropic and sexist outbursts (as well as his lack of legislative achievements).”

And for defending the military dictatorship and its uncivilized methods, which included torture and the disappearance of political opponents.

In the 2019 essays, Maxwell continued to comment on the administrative acts of the Bolsonaro government, without failing to analyze the consequences of the United Kingdom’s departure from the European Union, a political decision that became known as Brexit. The 2020 texts, on the other hand, dealt mainly with the phenomenon caused by the Coronavirus pandemic (Covid-19) and the country’s economic situation, which had worsened over the previous five years, with a recession that continues to this day, and the growing number of homeless people.

The writer recalls that in 2017, unemployment reached 13.70%, falling to 11.20% in 2019, equivalent to 12 million unemployed in a population of 210 million, which, of course, as he argues, is the result of the poor distribution of income in the country, where the richest 1% of Brazilians control 28.3% of the national wealth and the richest 10% keep 41.9% of the wealth. “Only Qatar has a worse distribution of wealth, with 29%,” he adds.

In the most recent essays, from 2021, 2022 and 2023, he makes incursions into the subject of his specialty, the Portuguese 18th century, taking the opportunity to present data that could form part of a future biography of Hipólito José da Costa Pereira Furtado de Mendonça (1774-1823), journalist and diplomat, creator of Correio Braziliense, a newspaper published in London, whose first edition is from June 1808.

Finally, Maxwell highlights the Brazilian president’s international activities, with trips to the United States, China – Brazil’s main economic partners – Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, which helped create the slogan “Brazil is Back” to reinforce the country’s position as an emerging player in the international system.


Kenneth Maxwell was the director and founder of the Brazilian Studies Program at the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies (DRCLAS) at Harvard University (2006-2008), and a professor in the Harvard History Department (2004-2008). From 1989 to 2004, he was director of the Latin America Program at the Council on Foreign Relations and, in 1995, he became the first holder of the Nelson and David Rockefeller Chair in Inter-American Studies. He served as Vice President and Director of Studies of the Council in 1996. He previously taught at Yale, Princeton, Columbia and Kansas universities.

He founded and was director of the Camões Center for the Portuguese-Speaking World at Columbia and was Program Director of the Tinker Foundation, Inc. From 1993 to 2004, he was a book reviewer for Western Hemisphere Foreign Affairs. He is a regular contributor to the New York Review of Books and was a weekly columnist between 2007 and 2015 for the newspaper Folha de S.Paulo and has been a monthly columnist for O Globo since 2015.

He was also a Herodotus fellow at Princeton’s Institute for Advanced Study and a Guggenheim fellow and a member of the Board of Directors of The Tinker Foundation, Inc. and the Advisory Board of the Luso-American Foundation. He is also a member of the Advisory Boards of the Brazil Foundation and Human Rights Watch/Americas. He received his BA and MA from St. John’s College, Cambridge University, and his MA and PhD from Princeton University. He is a regular contributor to the website Second Line of Defense (www.sldinfo.com).

He has also published Marquês de Pombal – Paradoxo do Iluminismo (1996), A Construção da Democracia em Portugal (1999), Naked Tropics: essays on empire and other rogues (2003), Chocolate, piratas e outros malandros (Editora Paz e Terra, 1999) and Mais malandros e outros – ensaios tropicais (Editora Paz e Terra, 2005), among others. In May 2004, he resigned as Director of Latin American Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York for having criticized Henry Kissinger (1923-2023), former US Secretary of State (1973-1977), in a book review about the coup d’état led by Augusto Pinochet (1915-2006) in Chile in 1973, and for not having had a response published in Foreign Affairs magazine.

Robbin F. Laird, editor of Second Line of Defense, is a global affairs analyst in the area of defense and security. He has worked for US government institutions such as the Center for Naval Analyses and the Institute for Defense Analyses. He is the author of more than 30 books on defense and international security.

In 2023 alone, he published nine books, including French Defense Policy Under Macron: 2017-2021 (editor), The Obama Administration Confronts Global Change (editor) and My Fifth Generation Journey: 2004-2018. He frequently writes articles and makes statements on the subject for the international press and participates in or conducts TV interviews with political leaders in Europe. Adelto Gonçalves – Brazil

Adelto Gonçalves, a journalist with a master’s degree in Spanish Language and Spanish and Hispano-American Literatures and a doctorate in Letters in the field of Portuguese Literature from the University of São Paulo (USP), is the author of Gonzaga, um Poeta do Iluminismo (Rio de Janeiro, Nova Fronteira, 1999), Barcelona Brasileira (Lisbon, Nova Arrancada, 1999; São Paulo, Publisher Brasil, 2002), Fernando Pessoa: a Voz de Deus (Santos, Editora da Unisanta, 1997); Bocage – o Perfil Perdido (Lisbon, Caminho, 2003, São Paulo, Imprensa Oficial do Estado de São Paulo – Imesp, 2021), Tomás Antônio Gonzaga (Imesp/Academia Brasileira de Letras, 2012), Direito e Justiça em Terras d’El-Rei na São Paulo Colonial (Imesp, 2015), Os Vira-latas da Madrugada (Rio de Janeiro, Livraria José Olympio Editora, 1981; Taubaté-SP, Letra Selvagem, 2015), O Reino, a Colônia e o Poder: o governo Lorena na capitania de São Paulo – 1788-1797 (Imesp, 2019), among others.

E-mail: [email protected].

Sunday, February 11, 2024

This article is translated from the Portuguese.

And first appeared on Baía da Lusofonia.