Belindia Has Spoken

SANTIAGO – Forty years ago, the Brazilian economist Edmar Bacha named his country Belindia: a combination of prosperous and modern Belgium and poor and backward India. In last Sunday’s presidential election, according to many observers, the Indian part of Brazil voted for the incumbent, President Dilma Rousseff, and the Belgian part voted for the social democrat Aécio Neves. India is larger, so Rousseff won.

This is fast becoming the standard account of Brazil’s election, the most acrimonious and hotly contested in recent memory. And it is easy to see why. In Brazil’s underdeveloped Nordeste, Dilma (in Brazil, politicians, like footballers, go by their first name) swept the vote.

In the relatively rich South, which accounts for 70% of Brazil’s economic output, Aécio won handily. Similar divisions appear when voters are classified according to dependence on government handouts (high in the Northeast) or years of schooling (high in the South).

Yet there is more to this election than this broad-brush picture suggests. In 1974, when Bacha coined his term, it went without saying that the prosperous and modern Brazil was just a tiny sliver of the total. In 2014, Neves, the candidate of “Belgian” Brazil, won more than 48% of the vote.