The 1st Session of IIAS Latin America Lecture Series | Democracy and Inequality in Brazil: Does Federalism Make a Difference?

On the evening of April 21st, 2021, the 1st online session of Latin America and Caribbean Lecture Series hosted by Institute of International and Area Studies, Tsinghua University (IIAS-THU) was successfully held. The event was delivered by Prof. Marta Arretche from the Department of Political Science at the University of São Paulo, with the theme of “Democracy and Inequality in Brazil: Does Federalism Make a Difference?”, and was presided over by Prof. Zhou Yan, Assistant Research Professor at IIAS and Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the University of Oxford.

Prof. Arretche started with a brief overview to the federalism in Brazil. She quoted the provisions of the Brazilian Constitution that the national and local governments have the same constitutional status and drilled down into the differences in functions and powers actually performed by the Brazilian federal government and local governments. She vividly illustrated the visible cross-regional inequality caused by these differences and continued to analyze the strong and weak relationship between the central government and local governments under Brazil’s federalism, pointing out that Brazil is a highly decentralized federal country, and sometimes excessive political power of local governments will hinder the functions of the central government. However, Brazil’s federalism is not as decentralized and divided as many may think. In fact, the federal government has a redistribution policy for local governments in the fields of education and public health, which helps to improve regional inequality. Furthermore, Prof. Arretche also revealed how the Brazilian Constitution plays a role in restricting the extent of decentralization of Brazil’s federalism.

Finally, Prof. Arretche warmly interacted with the audience and patiently answered the questions raised by the audience related to COVID-19, including how the Brazilian federal and local governments should overcome the disadvantages of high decentralization and better deal with COVID-19 pandemic and whether the COVID-19 outbreak in Brazil will make people deeply aware of the defects in Brazil’s federalism.

Prof. Marta Arretche is Professor of the Department of Political Science at the University of São Paulo. She holds a PhD in Social Science by the State University of Campinas (UNICAMP). She used to be a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Political Science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Vice-provost for Research at the University of São Paulo (2016-2018) and Editor-in-chief of the Brazilian Political Science Review (2012-2018). Her research interest covers the institutional and comparative analysis of federalism and social policy. Her publications include Paths of Inequality in Brazil: a Half-century of Changes (Springer, 2018), Inequality and Governance in the Metropolis: Place Equality Regimes and Fiscal Choices in Eleven Countries (Palgrave Macmillan, 2017), Trajetórias das Desigualdades: Como o Brasil Mudou nos Últimos 50 Anos (Editora UNESP, 2015) and Democracia, Federalismo e Centralização no Brasil (Ed. Fiocruz/Ed. FGV/CEM, 2013).

Text by: Wang Zijing
Typesetting by: Wang Zijing
Reviewed by: Zhou Yan & Xu Shuai