July-August 2001
Brief and Longer Notes


Porno to the Rescue

rpdjul01.gif (2468 bytes)Brazilian authorities have found an unlikely ally in its fight against AIDS: the pornographic film industry. Studs are placing condoms before the action and wearing them during the action and thanks to a new federal law, every porno video movie rented and sold in Brazil must now carry this message at the start of the tape: "Make safe sex. Wear a condom." Law 10.237/01 signed by President Fernando Henrique Cardoso in June was introduced five years ago by Representative Fernando Gonçalves, who is also a doctor.

The new legislation was published in the Diário Oficial, making it the law of the nation, just a few days after the celebration of National Day of the Condom (Dia Nacional da Camisinha) which coincides with Sweethearts’ Day (Dia dos Namorados), June 12, the Brazilian version of Valentine’s Day. The newly picked date was observed for the first time this year suggested by the NGO Associação Vida Positiva (Positive Life Association) and Associação dos Artistas Plásticos de Colagem (Association of Plastic Artists of Collage). The idea is to link notion of love and sex and the use of rubber. In São Paulo the day was remembered with an exhibition of 36 paintings related to love, prevention and AIDS.rpdju01b.gif (23597 bytes)

The Brazilian Health Ministry is betting that their project Social Marketing of the Prophylactic will make the use of condoms more widespread. With a population of 170 million, Brazil today uses only 600 million condoms a year. Contributing to this are the price of the product and the difficulty of findings condoms, which now can only be bought in pharmacies and drugstores.

The government plan includes cutting the price of condoms by half, increasing availability of the product, and making easier the process of importing condoms since the national industry is not able to adequately attend the domestic market. Around Sweethearts’ Day, the Health Ministry send 800,000 postcards by mail with a little souvenir: a rubber. The government has been distributing 200 million free condoms a year and it intends to triple the number of condoms used in the country. That would mean 1.8 billion rubbers.rpdju01a.gif (30281 bytes)

Carnaval time has been used in recent years for condom and AIDS awareness campaigns by the Health Ministry. This year 20 million condoms were distributed for free by the federal government during the four-day celebrations, double the amount of rubbers —or camisinhas (little shirts) as they are called in Brazil- distributed in the 1999 Carnaval. Three million of these were given away in Rio. Four million others were distributed in São Paulo. The Health ministry also gave away 10 million condom-shaped masks that doubled as fans to beat the heat so that "condoms are on people’s minds," as pointed by Health ministry José Serra.

Brazil’s open attitude toward sex has been useful in the battle against AIDS and the country is being presented by the UN and other world organizations as an example on how to deal with the disease in developing countries. Regulating the way porno movies are marketed is just another piece of proof that Brazilian authorities will stop at nothing to prevent the spread of AIDS. Another one was the decision to produce their own generic anti-AIDS drugs when the international labs wouldn’t lower their prices for the products at the risk of enraging the pharmaceutical lobby in Washington and the White House, which has complained to the World Trade Organization. This aggressive policy, however, allowed the country to cut deaths from AIDS by 60 percent. Brazil is the only country in the developing world that offers free anti-AIDS for whoever needs it.

He Humanized Geography

He was one of the world’s top geographers and one of Brazil’s top thinkers. In an area in which scholars are not known for discussing ideas and philosophy, Milton Almeida Santos helped to develop the notion that Geography is a life and society changing experience. Santos in 1994 became the only intellectual outside the Anglo-Saxon region to receive the Vautrin Lud prize, considered the Nobel of Geography. He was Doctor Honoris Causa from several famous universities including Toulouse in France and Barcelona in Spain. He died at age 75 at São Paulo’s Public Servant Public Hospital, June 24, victim of prostate cancer.

For Emir Sader, a professor at USP (Universidade de São Paulo), and Santos’s colleague, the geographer’s life was a huge success in several fronts: "He looked for space in life and in the sciences. It’s impressing that he has accomplished what he did being Baiano (from Bahia), black, poor and a public school student." Muniz Sodré, professor at UFRJ’s (Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro) Escola de Comunicação, a friend of Santos has also commented on him being black: "Although he was a black connected to the elite, accepted by it, French speaker, Santos was a black and this should bother a lot of people."

Born in Brotas de Macaúbas in Bahia, on May 3, 1926, Milton Santos revealed his genius at a very early age. Son of a couple who were elementary school teachers, he was already reading and writing in good Portuguese at age 5 and dealing with algebra problems at 8. That same year he also started to learn French. At age 10 he was already in Junior High. Student leader, Santos helped to found the Associação dos Estudantes Secundários da Bahia (Bahia’s High School Students Association) where he fought against the Getúlio Vargas’s dictatorship and for the country’s re-democratization.

"Since my teens I wanted to touch the world in some way," he declared recently. His parents raised him to be a conductor of men. He graduated in Law from Universidade Federal da Bahia in 1948, but decided to change his area after reading Geografia Humana (Human Geography), by Josué de Castro. In 1958 he got his doctorate in Geography from the Strasbourg University in France. At that time a deep mark was left in his way of thinking. Said he: "The French influence on me is very strong, although I try to get rid of it with some brutality. It is responsible for an independent style, which I learned with Sartre, far from all kinds of militancy, except that of ideas." Santos, every time he had some days to spare, would take a plane to Paris just to spend sometime leafing through the books at the Sorbonne University Institute of Geography.

The scholar discovered his interest for Geography while studying Law at the end of the 40s. After graduation in geography in Brazil he went to the University of Strasbourg in France where he got a PhD in 1958. He went back to Bahia and worked as a professor at the University there and as an editor at the daily A Tarde. He soon became a vocal defender of policies to help the poor and presented controversial proposals like a tax on wealth.

Antagonized by the military, which took over the country in 1964 he was fired from the University and jailed for three months, being released only due to health complications he suffered. The professor then left Brazil invited by friends to teach overseas and lived in Tanzania, France, Canada, Venezuela, England and the United States before returning to his homeland in 1977. Back in Brazil, Santos went to teach at USP’s (Universidade de São Paulo) Instituto de Filosofia e Letras.

He wrote more than 40 books, but it took him a long time to start dealing with blackness and racism, although he was a victim of racism himself. His last book Por Outra Globalização (For Another Globalization), with several of his essays, was a bestseller during Rio’s Bienal do Livro (Book Biennial) last May. Through his articles in newspapers and books, he became an inspiration for several intellectuals in Brazil. Composer Gilberto Gil and poet, producer and actress Denise Stoklos confessed to have been inspired by him. In 1998 Jornal do Brasil gave him the title The Year’s Man of Ideas. The following year he received the Chico Mendes award for his resistance.

In his last for Brasília’s daily Correio Braziliense he wrote: "By definition, intellectual life and the refusal to assume ideas don’t match. This, by the way, is a distinctive trait among the true intellectuals and those scholars who don’t need, cannot or don’t want to show in the sunlight, what they think. The true intellectual is the man who searches, doggedly, the truth, but not only to rejoice intimately, tell it, write it and publicly sustain it. The intellectual activity is never comfortable.

"In the big crisis that the country faces now the absence of a more intense and deeper discussion is evident, coming from Academia, in several instances… Apathy is still present in the larger part of the docent and student body, which is not something that leads us to cheer about the civic health state of this social layer whose first obligation is to constitute, as spokesperson, the first line of an attitude of non-conformism with the present course of public life."

Santos was against the idea that urban centers destroy the human experience. "What destroys it," he said, "is the civilization that we adopted because the city appears as a manifestation that represents it." According to him city and country people are getting more similar everyday and in some cases the difference has already completely disappeared.

Poor Man Satellite

A bit of "trivia" in a minor newspaper of Brasília, DF, Brazil, taken as an overheated "invention" of a green columnist, seems to have some factual ground. The news reported that a "multinational corporation" had been given the green light by the Brazilian Government to try out with a helium-filled blimp to be "moored" by an umbilical chord to an earth station in the central plateau of Goiás State as the key elements of an inexpensive wireless telephone web.

Now, the July issue of ON Magazine— a publication for TIME-Warner—relates that Howard A. Foote, an American engineer and businessman, and his company Platform Wireless are planning to do exactly that. The blimp, carrying some 500 kilos of equipment, would be placed at around three miles above Goiás, connected by a connection cable weighing about 2 metric tons.

The anonymous Goyano columnist wondered whether: 1. How would the blimp be serviced in space? 2. Wouldn't blimp and umbilical chord be hazards to aviation? 3. What assurances are there that the blimp-earth cable will not break off its moorings and drag a three-mile long whip over Goiás and surrounding states, lashing terrestrial life, buildings, powerhouses, and other facilities? 4. Who would be the primary users of the wireless telephone web? 5. What kind of control would the Brazilian government have over the enterprise and its inherent risks? 6. Has any calculation been made of the cost of insuring the entire project and its eventual "victims"?

The "trivia bit" ended advising the Brazilian Federal authorities to ask Mr. Foote all those questions, and many more, looking ahead, before granting him any leave of use of Brazilian ground and space.

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