Blog of the International Journal of Constitutional Law

Special Contribution to I-CONnect–Brazilian Supreme Court Justice Luís Roberto Barroso–The Republic that is Yet to Be

[Editor’s Note: On this special occasion of the 30th anniversary of the Brazilian Constitution, Justice Luís Roberto Barroso of the Brazilian Supreme Court shares his views on present-day Brazil. A longer version of Justice Barroso’s reflections is available here.]

–Luís Roberto Barroso, Justice at the Brazilian Supreme Court; Professor at the Rio de Janeiro State University; Senior Fellow at Harvard Kennedy School.

As we celebrate the thirtieth anniversary of the Brazilian Constitution, it is time to look back and take stock of the achievements and frustrations of these past years. On the positive side of our evaluation, we may include: thirty years of institutional stability, the achievement of monetary stability and significant social inclusion. In a single generation, we defeated dictatorship, controlled inflation, and won striking victories over extreme poverty. No battle is unwinnable.

These achievements came along with important advances in human rights, with special emphasis on the rights of women, blacks, gays and indigenous peoples. In addition, we have consolidated freedom of expression in a country of authoritarian tradition and censorial culture. And the SUS, Brazil’s public health system, despite all the difficulties of underfunding and management, currently is the largest public health system in the world, with 160 million people relying on it.

As for the negative side of our evaluation, we can’t fail to mention: a political system that represses the good and potentiates the evil, and which needs to be reformed so as to become cheaper, more representative and to facilitate governability; the revelation of a framework of structural and systemic corruption, which places us in the 96th position in Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index, and has only now begun to be faced by society and institutions; and the fact that we are the most violent country in the world, with 63,000 homicides a year.

The distress we are currently undergoing derives from clashes aimed at overcoming the old order. Looking to the future, three items should definitely be on the Brazilian agenda: a pact of integrity and republicanism to replace the oligarchic model of private state appropriation; a shock of free-enterprise, with more civil society and less officialism, without dismantling social protection programs aimed at guaranteeing dignity and opportunities to the underprivileged; and a true and engaged project in favor of education. I will now develop the last point.

We need to make the improvement of basic education a national, supra-partisan, patriotic project. Not a slogan, but a constructive obsession. When we transitioned from Dilma Rousseff’s to Michel Temer’s government, the great discussion in the country concerned who would be the finance minister, the president of the Central Bank and the president of the BNDES – Brazil’s national development bank. Everyone was understandably concerned about choosing the best names and directors. Education, however, was left to the general streak of politics. In fact, we have had five ministers of education in the past four and a half years. There is no public policy that can withstand such fragmentation and discontinuity.

We have already identified some of the main problems. Three of them are: non-alphabetization of children at the appropriate age; school dropout in high school; and the learning deficits revealed by domestic and international assessment exams. On the other hand, world-wide research has shown that one of the best investments a country can make is in child education from zero to three years, a phase of life during which the brain absorbs, like a sponge, everything that is transmitted to it. This is the time to give a child nutrition, affection, respect, values ​​and cognitive abilities. In a country with so much poverty and so many broken homes, maximizing teaching and access to schools at this phase is a way of overcoming the three problems I’ve mentioned above.

Amid political polarization, our country could come to terms on two matters, which would serve as a common denominator to approximate the extremes. The first would be a commitment to integrity, embodied in two rules: in public ethics, to not divert money; and, in private ethics, to not act in bad faith and try to benefit at the cost of others. The second would be a strategic, short-, medium- and long-term plan for basic education. To be led by the best possible specialists, who are not subject to the costs and circumstances of ordinary politics. With delay, admittedly, but not yet too late, this will be the great Brazilian revolution – a peaceful and constructive one.

Suggested Citation: Luís Roberto Barroso, Special Contribution to I-CONnect–Brazilian Supreme Court Justice Luís Roberto Barroso–The Republic that is Yet to Be, Int’l J. Const. L. Blog, Nov. 8, 2018, at:


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