Hello from Belo— Belo Horizonte


Brazil’s third-largest city is well below the international radar compared with Rio and São Paulo. But things are changing in Belo Horizonte, as the economic boom continues to attract major national and foreign investment to the city.

economic boom, foreign investment

With a tropical rainstorm hammering down onto his practice in downtown Belo Horizonte, Gustavo Penna – one of Brazil’s most sought-after architects – waxes lyrical about his latest creation: the Edifício Zodíaco.

“This building is really crazy – it’s like you are stood on the bow of a ship,” he says, reaching for a pencil and sketching its sleek, curved outline onto a piece of A4 paper. “I think it looks like a flycatcher bird. Look at its pose. Its breast sticking out. It’s not cement and steel that make a building – it’s poetry.”

The recently…

Garden arty

Drive 60km south from Belo Horizonte, along winding country roads, and you come to the gem of Belo Horizonte’s art scene – Inhotim.

Currently Latin America’s most talked-about art destination, the Inhotim is a mix of botanical garden and contemporary art gallery that houses 1,500 species of palm trees alongside galleries containing work by artists such as Hélio Oiticica, Matthew Barney and Brazilian photographer Miguel Rio Branco.

Opened in 2006, Inhotim is the brainchild of Bernardo Paz, a Belo Horizonte-born mining magnate. “In Brazil museums have not been investing in their collections,” says Júlia Rebouças, an assistant curator at the museum. “Here we started off with the idea of becoming a reference point.”

The real economy

After surviving almost unscathed from the 2008-09 recession, Brazil will face some challenges in 2011. Brazil’s currency, the real, has strengthened by almost 40 per cent against the dollar since the start of 2009, and consumer prices have risen by 5.9 per cent in the past year.

Since both inflation and the strong real are caused by growth, they are the kind of problems many governments elsewhere would die to have. But they cause some friction at home. Imports are cheaper than ever and industry has lost competitiveness abroad with a strong currency.

Brazil is also suffering from a shortage of qualified workers. The country needs 60,000 engineers a year, but only 32,000 get a degree each year (most of them are from mediocre private universities). It also lacks good infrastructure – ports, roads and airports can’t keep up with the GDP growth. Airports in Brazil are managed by an air-force-dominated state company infamous for the delays of renovation projects and bad management.

Part of President Rousseff’s appeal was her reputation as a tough manager who can get things done in the slow-motion environment of Brazilian bureaucracy. But despite all the problems, Brazil’s GDP is expected to grow by at least 4.5 per cent in 2011, having grown by 7.6 per cent in 2010. Not that bad.

By Raul Juste Lores, business and economics editor, ‘Folha de São Paulo’


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