Brazil has emerged as a brash emerging-market giant alongside China and India, but the "old Brazil" lives on in the stifling red tape that infuriates foreign investors, companies and individuals, and stunts its economic dynamism.
Reforming the maze of rules and regulations -- a key reason why Latin America's largest economy has for long struggled to sustain fast growth compared to more dynamic countries -- is central to a debate over the role of the state that is shaping the campaign for Brazil's presidential election in October.
Excessive bureaucracy deters companies from investing in areas such as infrastructure that Brazil needs to raise its growth potential. The average of 120 days it takes to start a company and the complex labor laws that make hiring workers an expensive minefield make it unlikely that the next Google will be Brazilian. Bureaucracy fuels corruption and ensures that Brazil's huge informal economy keeps thriving.
"Brazil will have to reduce bureaucracy, because if it doesn't it will lose its competitiveness in a short time," said Joao Geraldo Piquet Carneiro, director of the Helio Beltrao Institute, which campaigns against excessive red tape.
"The opportunities for (global) investment in the coming years will be multiple, and the weight of bureaucracy will make the difference."
The World Bank's annual survey on the ease of doing business ranks Brazil 129th out of 183 countries, below Papua New Guinea and Bangladesh, among others. Its lowest ranking was in paying taxes, with the average company spending a mind-numbing 2,600 hours a year on tax bureaucracy.
A key question investors are asking ahead of Brazil's presidential election is which of the two main candidates is more likely to push through a "second generation" of economic reforms after President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva steps down.
The economy romped ahead at a 9 percent annual pace in the first quarter, but economists say it cannot grow much faster than 5 percent a year over the long term without reforms to its labor and tax laws, pension system, and bureaucracy.
It remains unclear how far Lula's hand-picked candidate, Dilma Rousseff, or the opposition's Jose Serra would try to reduce bureaucracy, although Serra is seen as favoring a slimmer state.
Rousseff, who as Lula's former chief of staff has intimate knowledge of how the bureaucracy works, has spoken of the need to tackle Brazil's "chaotic" tax system and to reduce the burden on investment. Serra, who as Sao Paulo governor set up a state de-bureaucratization program, points out that Brazil has the highest tax burden of any big emerging economy.
"It's a microeconomic agenda that the next president is going to have to tackle," said Christopher Garman, chief Latin America analyst for the Eurasia Group in Washington.
"There are huge bottlenecks over the capacity of the government to execute infrastructure programs, and this is a particularly acute problem in the run-up to the World Cup and the (2016) Olympics."
Delays in preparations for the 2014 World Cup are showcasing Brazil's bureaucracy problem as stadium plans have been snarled in court cases and complex tender processes.
Garman said Serra could probably make a stronger case as a bureaucracy fighter because of his record in Sao Paulo state and the strong team of technocrats that surrounds him, but he said both candidates would make reform a priority.
"It (reform) has to be piecemeal because a lot of the inefficiencies are sector specific," Garman said.
Brazil's struggle with bureaucracy, which many believe is a hangover from its colonial past, is a long one. President Joao Baptista de Oliveira Figueiredo, who ruled Brazil in the last years of its military dictatorship from 1979-1985, created the oxymoronic and now-defunct Ministry of debureaucratization in an attempt at reform.
There have been some recent breakthroughs.
Big states such as Sao Paulo and Minas Gerais have made strides in tackling local bureaucracy, and a national reform called the "Super Simples" that unified a clutch of taxes for small companies in 2007 has drastically reduced the bureaucratic burden on that sector.
Another law, introduced last year, allows the owners of small businesses with annual revenues of up to 36,000 reais ($20,000) to register their companies online in a matter of minutes.
"It's an enormous advance over what we had before," said Carlos Alberto dos Santos, the director of the SEBRAE group that represents and supports Brazilian small businesses.
"When we discussed the Super Simples, the finance ministry was scared they would lose revenue. We always said they wouldn't because more companies would come and pay taxes."
He said the entrepreneur law passed last year had brought about 450,000 firms in from the informal economy to legality.
Bureaucracy at the federal level has not been tamed, however.
In one example of how vested interests slow reform, a bill to create a credit rating agency that would remove the need for Brazilians to produce multiple documents proving they are free of debt has been held up for five years in Congress.
Among the forces opposing the bill is the country's huge network of notary offices, or "cartorios," which have long thrived on processing the mountain of documents that Brazilians need to survive daily life.