Diversity Drives Fulton County’s Brazilian Bond

It’s one of the fastest-growing economies in the developing world, but business wasn’t the only reason Fulton County targeted Brazil for economic and cultural exchanges.

A shared history of African slavery in the county and the Brazilian state of Bahia has fostered an appreciation for diversity and civil rights in both locales, said Fulton County Commission Chairman John Eaves, who signed a three-year partnership with Bahia last month.

“Brazil too has wonderful diversity like ours,” said Mr. Eaves, flanked by Bahia Gov. Jaques Wagner, who visited Atlanta for a signing ceremony. “And so, my friends, I am very excited because our story of diversity, our story of the human rights struggle, is a story that can be shared and can specifically be of benefit to Brazil and vice-versa.”

The agreement was the fruit of many months of labor between the county and the fourth most populous state in Brazil. Mr. Eaves, who visits the Portuguese-speaking country multiple times a year, spearheaded the effort.

The deal marks the county’s first official arrangement with another country, although the commission is also targeting China,South AfricaGermany and Israel for future partnerships, Mr. Eaves said.

With a more than $2 trillion economy in 2010, Brazil is a promising partner for bilateral economic development, provided American firms can get past some cultural hurdles, said Simone Santos, president of OpenPath Solutions LLC, a Brazilian cultural consultancy based in Atlanta.

“As far as doing business, Brazil is now the sixth largest economy and is hosting the 2014 World Cup and the Olympics in 2016,” Ms. Santos said. “And it’s really growing at a tremendous pace, but there’s still a lot of cultural differences most Americans don’t get right away.”

Brazil has become the largest economy in Latin America by posting consistently high GDP growth, driven by the country’s strong agricultural, industrial and energy sectors. Though growth slowed to 2.8 percent last year, analysts expect it to tick back up in 2012.

Mr. Eaves was more concerned with cultural connections. The Bahian capital of Salvador is especially well known for its rich Afro-Brazilian heritage, which blends the heritage of the descendants of African slaves with the city’s white and indigenous peoples.

Though Mr. Eaves is building the relationship on diversity, Americans shouldn’t fall into the trap of assuming Brazilians share their conceptions of race, Ms. Santos told GlobalAtlanta in a Skype interview from Brazil’s capital, Brasília.

“Diversity is not just about race. It’s also about culture,” she said. “Bahia is a good example. For us to say that someone is black, you have to be almost blue,” she said of the state where more than 9.1 million people identify as “brown” or “pardo” versus the 2.3 million that identify as “black,” according to the Brazilian government.

“People have no concept of what race you are. Everyone is just Brazilian,” said Ms. Santos, whose father hails from Bahia.

A large port city in the northeast coast of Brazil, Salvador also draws in hundreds of thousands of tourists each year, which some expect to increase in light of the upcoming World Cup and Olympics.

At a Brazilian-American Chamber of Commerce Southeast event last year, the Bahia tourism minister, Billy Arquimimo, called on major airlines like Delta Air Lines Inc. to increase flights to his part of the country from the United States.

And the relationship goes both ways.

As previously reported by GlobalAtlanta, Georgia is trying to attract Brazilian tourists to visit the state, particularly those already on vacation in the United States in areas like Miami or Orlando, Fla.

Last year, Delta’s managing director for Latin America and the CaribbeanDavid Bishko, has called the country the airline’s “top priority” for the region, despite its lagging airport infrastructure, regulations and visa rules.

The company already offers nonstop flights from Atlanta to Rio de Janeiro and San Paulo.

Atlanta has 18 international sister city relationships, including with Rio de Janeiro. Georgia is also a sister state to Pernambuco, which borders Bahia.

To read more about cultural differences in Brazil, visit OpenPath’s company blog at www.openpathsolutions.net/blog.



This story first appeared on GlobalAtlanta July 14.

The video dialogue was written by Chris Shattuck and narrated Charrod Walker.


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