Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff at the Planalto Palace in Brasilia, Brazil, January, 2016.
Adriano Machado / Reuters

During the last decade, the best place to witness Brazil’s long economic boom was on an airplane. On almost every flight, you could spot the first-timers struggling to find their seats or nervously asking an attendant for help with their seat belts. In a country larger than the United States, their exhilaration at this seemingly miraculous form of travel was palpable. One elderly man from São Paulo was excited to finally meet his three-year-old granddaughter in Recife; the 21-hour trip by bus was too hard on his back, but it was only three hours by air. He had just one misgiving: “Does it hurt when we land?” I assured him that we’d be fine.

The broader miracle that made all this possible is by now familiar. Pro-market reforms stabilized Brazil's economy in the 1990s, and then, spurred by Chinese demand for commodities, economic growth took off in the 2000s and lifted more than 40 million people out of poverty. Many of this new middle class could afford washing machines, flat-screen TVs, and smartphones for the first time. From 2005 to 2014, domestic air travel rose by an average of 11 percent a year, more than doubling in just a decade. Many

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  • BRIAN WINTER is the Editor in Chief of Americas Quarterly. He has written four books about South America, including Why Soccer Matters, a New York Times bestseller he authored with Pelé. He lived in Brazil from 2010 to 2015.
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