|The face of Brazil|
What do you know about Brazil? Perhaps you see through the lens of a media that persists in typecasting it as a country of samba soccer and teeny bikinis. Perhaps you associate it with Spanish speaking Latin America, Carmen Miranda, macho men, and bikini waxes. Perhaps you do not think of it at all when you get up in the morning and drink a glass of orange juice imported from Brazil, have a cup of coffee with soy milk made from soybeans grown in Brazil, put on a pair of shoes made in Brazil. Brazilians understand. They know that your economy has tanked, that you are struggling to keep a roof over your head, put food on the table, help the kid pay off student loans. They are used to being ignored, caricatured and ridiculed. But they are running out of patience with a number of distorted perceptions. I think that so should you.
Here are a few facts about Brazil: It is a Portuguese speaking country that occupies approximately half of South America. It is the sixth growing economy in the world. You can get more facts and figures from, say, the Brazilian Embassy or the CIA websites, but the essential fact is that Brazil is a democracy after having endured a brutally repressive military dictatorship that lasted from 1964 to 85. Here are some of the good things that happened in democratic Brazil: initially--that is, post-dictatorship-- poverty declined dramatically, programs such as Zero Hunger benefited millions of people, laws banning hate speech, permitting gay marriages and granting rights to workers came into effect. Generally speaking, a new perception of the rights of women began to take shape. Laws governing property rights, equal pay for equal work, were put in place, as well as a domestic violence code. According to some studies, "Brazil is first in women’s participation in the knowledge economy and science, technology and innovation, as well as in women’s agency." In the northeast of Brazil, where my my family lives, there is more governmental support available to writers and artists than in many states in the eastern United States where I live.
But it is not all roses for Brazilians, at the moment. Although "During his presidency, Lula da Silva halved the Brazilian proportion of hungry people and also reduced the percentage of Brazilians living in extreme poverty, from 12 percent in 2003 to 4.8 percent in 2009."* the current government, headed president, former technocrat Dilma Rousseff , failed to meet the raised expectations of most Brazilians. Worse yet, Brazil's infrastructure is broken. Education, health and transportation systems are woefully inadequate.Corruption is rampant and lately, the government chose to invest billions of reais--Brazil's currency--into enormous sports facilities where the World Cup and Summer Olympics, which are scheduled to take place in 2014 and 1916, respectively.Brazilians ask--and rightly so--who benefits from the World Cup and the Olympics. They ask why the billions of reais spent on stadium were not used to fund new schools, new hospitals, a better transportation system.
Last week, the increase in bus fares, approved by when the municipal government of Sao Paulo became the spark that ignited massive demonstrations throughout the country.At first, the global media ignored what was happening in Brazil, prompting young Brazilians to make dozens of videos telling the world what the demonstrations were about. Subsequently, American news outlets picked up the story of police brutality against protesters, but it failed to make it clear that the police assaulted peaceful, unarmed protesters with tear gas, pepper spray and rubber bullets. Yiu can see the videos on Youtube and on Facebook pages such as #change brazil. Much of the traditional media is buying the Brazilian government's spin of the demonstrations. CNN called the protests riots even the statistically, the percentage of vandalism was negligible. Speaking from Paris, the governor of Sao Paulo called the protesters vandals. Members of the Cabinet have said that they do not understand the protests. They also said that they will not allow anything to interfere with the World Cup and Olympics.Popular dissatisfaction is bound to grow and logically, protest will take place when the global media is present, such as in July when the Pope plans to visit Brazil.
Whether this matters to you or not depends on whether you understand the role the US played in propping up the generals under whose regimes thousands of Brazilians were tortured by people trained by CIA agents paid for tax dollar. I don't have the figures on murders and extraordinary rendition, but you might want to look them up. It is possible that you you have enough on plate and you don't care about the Third World. If so, I urge to rethink your position. You might believe that democracy is a privilege of First World citizens. It all depends on whether or not you have a social conscience.Brazil will go on regardless of how you think and how you act. But if your children and mine are to live in world that is more just, safer, and more democratic world depends on each one of us.