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Brazzil - Poverty - September 2003

Brazil to U.S.: "Take Your Hands Off Me"

Brazil still needs land reform and has too many people who are
unemployed. During this Independence Day Brazilians have
taken to the streets by the thousands to protest against social
exclusion and the Free Trade Area of the Americas accord.
"Brazil Is Ours," has been the cry of these protesters



The Cry of the Excluded movement demonstration this September 7 (Brazil's Independence Day), in Brazil, was a success in that it mobilized the public, provoked a debate and made the government aware of the need to promote changes, says Ari Aberti, one of the movement's coordinators. According to Aberti, there were 120,000 people in Aparecida do Norte, state of São Paulo, where they protested against social exclusion and the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) agreement.

Aberti declared that the fact that Brazil has a popular government does not weaken the Cry of the Excluded movement, which is celebrating its 9th anniversary. The theme of this year's demonstration was "Take your hands off me... Brazil is ours." Aberti explained that the movement is not against the government, but against social exclusion. He pointed out that the country still needs land reform and has too many people who are unemployed.

The Cry of the Excluded will be in Brasília on September 16 to deliver a petition for a plebiscite on membership in the FTAA. Aberti warned that the FTAA is not just a trade agreement but a serious threat to Brazilian sovereignty. "We want people to discuss these issues. We have to ensure that the public that elected Lula with so much hope is not disappointed. Our contribution is to get people involved," said Aberti, adding that only public participation will make those hopes become reality.

The union leader, Luis Marinho, of the Central Única dos Trabalhadores (CUT), and the leader of the Landless Rural Worker Movement (Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra) (MST), João Pedro Stédile, also participated in the demonstration in Aparecida.

There were other demonstrations by the movement throughout Brazil; a total of 2,500 of them. In the capital of São Paulo, 3,000 people demonstrated in the center of the city.

The Cry of the Excluded, which, in the Federal District, took place in the satellite city of Samambaia, was also a demonstration in favor of the preservation of national culture. The program included presentations of capoeira (an Afro-Brazilian form of leg-wrestling, which is both a martial art and a dance), maracatu (a street dance procession typical of Carnaval in some Northern and Northeastern cities), and percussion instruments, by the National Movement of Street Boys and Girls.

Besides this, the national campaign against the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA)  mobilized 50 people in the Esplanade of the Ministries, to gather signatures for a petition that will be delivered to President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and the presidents of the National Congress, Senator José Sarney, and the Supreme Court, Minister Maurício Corrêa, on September 16.

The petition makes three demands: an immediate public audit of Brazil's foreign debt, as stipulated in the Federal Constitution, with the participation of social entities; the immediate cancellation of the agreement granting the United States use of the Alcântara base; and the convocation of an official plebiscite, this year, on the FTAA, in order to guarantee the Brazilian people the right to decide their own destiny.

The Cry of the Excluded movement was born during a Catholic church fraternity campaign in 1995 and has grown to include most countries in South America and the Caribbean region.

Between 1980 and 2000, social exclusion increased 11 percent in Brazil. During these two decades, the number of excluded people grew from 51 million (42.6 percent of the population) of a population of 120 million to 80 million (47.3 percent) of a population of 170 million. These data are contained in the Atlas of Social Exclusion in Brazil - 2, which discloses the ranking of the states and the evolution of exclusion in the country between 1960 and 2000.

The increase in unemployment and violence are the main factors contributing to the growth of social exclusion in the country. Among the data that were researched, education was the only sector that presented improvement. In 1960, social exclusion encompassed 34.36 million people, 49.3 percent of the 69.7 million total population.

Foreign Funds for Infrastructure

The Brazilian government is examining the possibility of seeking financial resources from foreign pension funds to increase investments in infrastructure. President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva's goal is to improve this sector in order to promote internal growth. "President Lula's orientation is towards feasible things (projects) for which to seek resources, be they from international agencies or pension funds," revealed the Minister in charge of the General Secretariat of the Presidency, Luiz Dulci.

According to the Minister, the largest pension fund in the United States has US$ 8 billion to invest in emerging countries. "The President has said that good projects often call forth the resources," Dulci pointed out.

The Minister recalled that, during the President's trip to Europe in July, Lula made a personal effort to negotiate foreign investments for Brazil. "All the President's trips abroad involve this quest," he observed.

The President has held a series of meetings with Ministers and the presidents of the Federal Savings Bank, the Bank of Brazil, and National Economic and Social Development Bank (BNDES), and Petrobras to discuss the government's major projects in the area of infrastructure. The government also wants to guarantee resources from the state enterprises and private pension funds to provide feasibility for these projects.

Concern over the country's infrastructure is not restricted to the federal government alone, however. Civil society also defined the improvement of roads, ports, and basic sanitation as among the country's principal needs. Increasing government investments in infrastructure is a point of consensus among the over two thousand civil society organizations that, during the past two months, participated in discussions in the 27 Brazilian states on the 2004-2007 Pluriannual Plan (PPA).

Other areas, besides infrastructure, that were also defined as priorities by these entities were social programs, the environment, the generation of jobs, and tourism. Minister Dulci, who coordinated the debates with civil society, did not furnish numbers nor the chief suggestions received by the government.

"It is not a tradition for the political area to meet with civil society. But there was no confrontation. At times, the same individual (who participated in the debates) is on the street in a labor demonstration," the Minister pointed out.

Dulci revealed that there is an explicit determination on the part of President Lula to include in the PPA the principal suggestions made by the civil society organizations. He acknowledged, however, that some proposals may be excluded from the PPA by the government itself or during the debates in the National Congress. "The effort that the government is making is to assess and identify what the society as a whole considers to be priorities," he assured.

According to Dulci, budget limitations will certainly block the feasibility of some suggestions, but the PPA is being planned for investments over the next four years. "One thing is the PPA for four years. Another thing is the annual budget," he made clear. The government has already announced that it will allocate R$ 191.4 billion for infrastructure in the PPA through 2007.

The president of the Brazilian Association of NGO's, Sérgio Haddad, is optimistic about the channel opened by the government, and he said that the next step is to maintain the continuity of the process from here on. "Expectations for the incorporation (of suggestions into the PPA) will depend upon what is universal in the demands, what has greatest political weight. Even if their suggestions aren't incorporated by the Administration or by Congress, the organizations should influence the debate for their proposals to prevail," he underlined.


The material for this article was supplied by Agência Brasil (AB), the official press agency of the Brazilian government. Comments are welcome at lucas@radiobras.gov.br




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