Go Back

Brazzil - Poverty - February 2004
 

Brazil: Why Hunger Is Absurd Here

How can hunger exist at all in Brazil? With one half of the
country's grain production Brazil would be able to feed 225
million people. Since we have a population of 165 million,
there would have leftovers. The devil is in our economic model,
which favors speculative activities in detriment of production.

Carlos Chagas


The Brazilian government just celebrated the first anniversary of the Zero Hunger Program. In spite of the still timid results, no one in their right mind can contest the seriousness of the program or fail to applaud this initiative designed to feed the hungry. The figures are disputed: for some, the number of hungry Brazilians is 10 million.

Others talk about 15 million and there are those who claim 20 million, based on the incontestable reality of the 55 million Brazilians who live below the poverty line, which means surviving on half a salário mínimo (R$ 240, or around US$ 80/month).

If the Lula administration manages to help half of these citizens who wake up without knowing if they will have a meal that day, it will have accomplished a great feat, considering the limitations and standards imposed by our neo-liberal economic policy which is, deep down, the main culprit for the hunger. Do we have any guarantees, however? Absolutely none. Could it be any different?

First We Help the Speculators

The answer is in the very numbers generated by our economic model. This year Brazil should produce a record harvest of 100 million tons of grains, most of it for export. This time, however, we will keep half of it. 55 million tons are shipped abroad and 55 million stay in the country.

According to FAO (U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization), a ton of grains is more than enough to feed four people for one year. With one half of our production—either the one staying or the one leaving Brazil—we could feed 225 million people. Brazil has a population of 165 million, so we would have leftovers.

We are among the biggest producers and exporters of sugar, manioc root, beef and poultry in the world. And only 13 percent of the Brazilian land is cultivated, mind you. Arable lands are 90 percent, in a country blessed with sunshine the whole year round, with an area of eight million square kilometers and holding 24 percent of all the potable water in the planet.

Furnished by professor Bautista Vidal, these numbers lead us to a sad conclusion: how can hunger exist at all in Brazil? We could be a gigantic sieve and we still would not be able to drain these many riches away.

The devil, it's worth repeating, is in our economic model, which not only favors speculative activities in detriment of production, but last year remunerated our public debt, worth almost R$ 1 trillion, with R$ 147 billion in interest. And our R$ 750 billion foreign debt with 75 billion in interest.

We never missed a single deadline or haggled over a single cent of this interest in the past nine years, under the allegation that the government must honor its commitments. Well, is there a more important commitment for a country than to placate the hunger of its people?

The market can't be bothered with commitments. Its aim is profit at any price. As if we lived under the empire of the market, manager of the model...

Nothing Changes

Around New Year's much was said about the arrival of a time for serious change in Brazil, meaning changes in the economic model, i.e., bringing back economic development and doing away with neo-liberalism. Great expectations sprung up in the administration itself and among the federal departments involved in social and human services, as well as in the congressional blocs of the PT (Workers' Party).

Well, no more. In a recent press conference, Minister Antônio Palocci buried any existing hopes by declaring that a change would be nonsensical and a way to demonstrate that Brazil has gone adrift. For the commander of the economic team, the country will have to grow according to the present model.

Not even Pinocchio would dare so much, because this model is making the country increasingly poor. The wealth we produce disappears abroad faster than the wealth which is native of our country. It is a plundering and cruel model that only benefits stupid domestic elites and very smart international gangs.

There are signs from the Planalto Palace that President Luiz Inácio da Silva may be perturbed, irascible and eager for results that he may link to his campaign promises. I don't think so. The truth is that Lula is probably living under the illusion that this strategy is in fact the best one to follow. One whole year was not enough to convince him—nine years, to be more precise, if we add the inheritance left by Fernando Henrique.

The latter, unlike the former, was not deceived. He really wanted to cause the disaster that now devastates us. Not out of evil intentions, of course, but due to his conviction, as a sociologist, about the inevitability of hunger and destitution as a way to privilege a few.

Defeated by frustration, the hope that conquered fear is now at a record low. President Lula may wake up. Or he may not.


Carlos Chagas writes for the Rio's daily Tribuna da Imprensa and is a representative of the Brazilian Press Association, in Brasília. He welcomes your comments at carloschagas@hotmail.com
Translated from the Portuguese by Tereza Braga. Braga is a freelance Portuguese translator and interpreter based in Dallas. She is an accredited member of the American Translators Association. Contact: terezab@sbcglobal.net
This article appeared originally in Tribuna da Imprensa - http://www.tribuna.inf.br


Discuss it in our Forum

Send your comments to Brazzil

To Top / Go Back