Economy

Help Wanted: Booming Brazil Opens Its Doors To Foreign Executives

Rising foreign investment and steady growth have created a real need in Brazil for qualified executives. Foreigners - even those with less-than-stellar Portuguese skills - are encouraged to apply.

City skyline in Sao Paulo, Brazil
City skyline in Sao Paulo, Brazil
Daniela Arce

Nevermind that he couldn't speak the language, or that he hardly knew anything about the Brazilian market. Two years ago, Felipe Leonard packed his bags and moved across the border from Argentina to Brazil. Originally on the payroll of an Argentine-Belgian company, Leonard later found a job with a firm called Grupo Gamma, where he currently works as a general manager.

"This country really intrigued me," he says. "But other than the fact that it's a monster of a country that's galloping along, I didn't know anything about Brazil."

Leornard's story isn't all that unusual. Qualified executives capable of helping Brazil maintain its rapid growth are in high demand in the Latin American juggernaut, where direct foreign investment has increased by 38% since 2009, even as it dropped off worldwide by 24%, according to the International Monetary Fund. Goldman Sachs predicts that over the coming years, economic growth in the entire BRICS block will continue to outpace the world average. Besides Brazil, the BRICS group includes Russia, India, China and South Africa.

Not surprisingly, companies here are more interested than ever in attracting – and holding onto – talent. Brazilian tycoon Eike Batista, owner of the conglomerate EBX Group, is investing in a naval university in Rio de Janeiro in order to train engineers and managers for a massive port complex he's building in the south of the country. The Brazilian oil giant Petrobras, meanwhile, is busy promoting itself to future executives via an ongoing series of conferences delivered at universities.

These companies have to "fill the worker shortage somehow, whether it means stealing people from competitors, looking for retired people or searching for people in Europe or elsewhere in Latin America," explains Roberto Machado, a managing director with the recruitment firm Michael Page. "Each company has its own strategy depending on the sector. In the oil industry, for example, it's easiest to find people in Houston, Angola or Venezuela."

Must speak English… and a bit of Portuguese

For top posts, firms tend to work with headhunters, or hire through their various branches in Latin America and abroad. Recruiting specialists say job seekers should have international experience and be able to speak English. Foreign candidates would also do well to learn at least a bit of Portuguese. Though it's not necessary in most executive offices, Portuguese skills "can be a real plus for candidates," says São Paulo Business School (BSP) professor Vivian Manasse Leite.

Given the labor scarcity, Brazilian firms are paying quite well these days – at least by Latin American standards. Recruiters say the rapidly growing country is also a great learning ground for international executives. But there are also some downsides to setting up shop in Brazil. Violence is one of them. According to the U.N."s most recent Global Homicide Study, approximately 43,000 were murdered in Brazil in 2009 – roughly 22.7 per 100,000 inhabitants.

Foreigners moving to Brazil may also have to contend with legal and bureaucratic difficulties. "Because its tax scheme is so complicated, Brazil is known for being a cemetery when it comes to small companies arriving from abroad," says Felipe Leonard. "There are more than 50 different taxes that vary depending on what state you live in." In order to survive, foreign companies trying to set up a base in Brazil must rely on knowledgeable local advisors, he explains.

And even though the labor market has opened up significantly, foreigners still face legal impediments to working in Brazil. There are, for example, limits for how many foreigners a company can employ. Some Spanish companies, such as Telefónica and Banco Santander, have run into problems on that front.

Then there's the necessary cultural adjustments foreigners must make. Brazilians have a style all their own that takes some getting used to, says Leonard. "You can be in a work meeting, and it may seem like everything went phenomenally, but no," he says. "Brazilians are different, so you have to get used to the different social codes."

One major difference, according to BSP teacher Vivian Manasse, is that Brazilian business people tend to put the onus for understanding their message on the listener, rather than focusing on being "good communicators." She says foreigners often struggle to decipher the implied messages. "Brazilians have a habit of not finishing their sentences, leaving the listener to intuit the conclusion," says Manasse.

The Argentine comedian Peter Capusotto sums it up quite well with his "Duda da Silva" character, a flaky Brazilian singer who never finishes a single stanza of his songs and who biggest hit is "whatever will be, will be."

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Geopolitics

How Thailand's Lèse-Majesté Law Is Used To Stifle All Protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

Pro-Democracy protest at The Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand

"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.

Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.


But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."

Criticism of any 'royal project'

The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.

In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

photo of graffiti of 112 crossed out on sidewalk

Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release

Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire

Freedom of speech at stake

"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."

The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.

The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.

Activist in front of democracy monument in Thailand.

Shift to social media

While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.

The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.

Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".

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