On the trail of enormous wealth in Brazil—an engine of national progress or a trench of impoverishment?
As an American journalist for Bloomberg News based in São Paulo from 2010 to 2016, Cuadros became both fascinated and appalled by the excessive wealth he witnessed. While the Brazilian nouveau rich used to ape the styles of the French, now it is the United States via Miami, where much of the Latin American wealth is invested. In this “parallel universe” of billionaires, the author became acquainted with the “ladder of luxuries” such as private jets, rarefied art and cars, pricey real estate, and restaurants. In this universe, the names on the Bloomberg Billionaires Index needed to worry constantly about kidnapping and protection of family members. The two tried-and-true ways of getting rich in the Brazilian economy were by politics and/or public contracts, and while many of the billionaires Cuadros covers were mired in graft and corruption scandals, the Brazilian saying “Rouba mas faz” (he steals but he gets things done) sums up the public tolerance for them. Cuadros dutifully reveals many of the major players: Paulo Maluf, the force behind the building of the so-called Minhocão (Big Worm) freeway, has become a kind of poster boy for patronage; soy baron and former Mato Grosso Gov. Blairo Maggi routinely battled environmentalists over issues of deforestation; Roberto Marinho built the dominant Rede Globo TV network; Edir Macedo fashioned a massive Universal Church of the Kingdom of God from relentless tithing of the faithful; Eike Batista, head of OGX Petroleo e Gas, went from being the richest man in Brazil to bankrupt. The debt that many of these men owe to the acquiescence of the government, namely that of former populist president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and his handpicked successor, Dilma Rousseff, is remarkable—e.g., what has come to light over the skimming of profits from the massive Belo Monte Dam.
Well-rounded and -researched portraits of the staggering chasm between rich and poor in Brazil.