By Natalie Morales
Known for its world-class beaches, beautiful scenery, dynamic people and glamorous lifestyle, Brazil is finally enjoying its moment in the sun. While the rest of the world hobbles back from one of the most widespread global recessions, Brazil’s economy is sprinting toward dominance and will soon become the 5th largest global economy thanks to its booming commodities and wealth of natural resources. Soon it will host the World Cup in 2014 and the Olympics in 2016. These are golden times, but this is not the Brazil I grew up in. I am half-Brazilian and my family lived in Rio de Janeiro from 1976-79 during what were the difficult times building up to the so-called “lost decade of the 80’s” where inflation was at about 100 % a year (reaching a staggering 5000% inflation rate in 1993.) I remember the currency constantly changing from week to week -- from the Cruzeiro, to the Cruzado, to the Novo Cruzado to the Cruzado Real, eventually becoming today’s Real. Back then, it was a country on the verge of economic disaster -- so now, it’s somewhat ironic that Brazil is helping the United States emerge from the shadows of the recession.
In South Florida, it used to be that you would hear mostly Spanish mixed in with English, but now Portuguese is everywhere you go. The Brazilians have arrived! And not just any Brazilians, these are the uber-wealthy armed with cash. Remember that real estate crisis in Miami, all those newly constructed condos sitting vacant or in foreclosure? Guess who’s buying them? That’s right, Brazilians. They are the first nation of tourists to surpass spending over a billion a year in the U.S. – that’s a billion more reasons Brazilians are being welcomed with open arms, especially in South Florida. In other words, our “bust” was their “boom.” Even million dollar apartments here are considered bargains there. When I visited Brazil last year, I was shocked by what I saw. I might be aging myself, but when I lived there you could buy a steak dinner at a premier Churascarria for less than 10 dollars. Today, breakfast at a decent hotel for a family of four will cost you a hundred dollars easy. That’s why Brazilians think our country is their land of opportunity.
On Rock Center with Brian Williams, we take a look at what the Brazilian wave is doing to help the local economy in South Florida. We check out some of Miami’s luxury properties with a Brazilian real estate agent who has cornered the market…finding vacation homes for wealthy Brazilians. One area of heavy concentration is Sunny Isles, fast becoming known as little Brazil because its two largest condos, the St. Regis and Trump Tower, are filled with Brazilians. And it’s not just properties they are buying up, but everything to go along with their luxury lifestyle as well and that means a cash infusion from retailers to restaurants, and more jobs being created. Miami is not alone in benefiting, because what is happening there is happening in New York too. Brazilians are also buying up some of Manhattan’s finest real estate as the ultimate status symbol.
But what Brazilians can’t buy, yet anyway, is easy access to the U.S. Right now, they are required to get a visa to come here. In Brazil, it’s a tedious process with only a few consulates issuing visas. It can take years, and can be hugely expensive. Brazilians want to be able travel to the U.S. like Europeans, with just a passport. But that’s not happening right away, though President Obama is trying to streamline the process by installing more U.S. consulates in Brazil and hiring more visa processors. But for those who have money, the visa issue hasn’t stopped them from traveling here whenever they want… and local economists in Florida say the impact will be even greater when all Brazilians can travel here more easily. These are Brazilians who are coming to visit, not stay here indefinitely -- and while they’re here, they are spending… spending… spending.
It’s a proud moment for Brazil and here’s your first lesson in Portuguese: Whenever Brazilians ask, “Tudo Bem?” (How’s everything?), you hear only optimism in their response, “Tudo Optimo.” (Everything’s Excellent!”)