The idea is simple. Take some of the money that is used to pay off the foreign debt and invest it in education. That is what the 29th Congress of Workers in Education (CNTE) is calling for. The congress began yesterday in BrasÀlia, capital of Brazil.
On Friday, they plan to have 3,000 demonstrators marching down the Esplanada dos Ministérios to demand that the government set aside an amount equivalent to 10% of what it pays in foreign debt service payments and use it on education. The CNTE estimates that amount involved is some US$ 66.6 million (180 million reais).
Minister of Education, Tarso Genro, said he is in favor of the proposal and has been working to do just that. “I think it is absolutely fair for us to divert some of the debt payment to education,” he declared in a speech at the opening of the congress.
Genro went on to say that next month representatives of Brazil, Argentina and Spain will meet in Madrid at an international conference to discuss the issue.
“What we want is for creditor nations to share the burden of resolving the most serious problem debtor nations, especially the poorest ones, face: education,” said the minister.
According to Genro, the mechanism would be simple. “For example, Argentina owes money to Spain. What can Spain do? Instead of insisting on full payment, accept only half and permit Argentina to invest the other half in its educational system, in addition to regular budgetary allocations for education,” he explained.
The process could be overseen by a multilateral organization such as Unicef. “We have already discussed this issue with the World Bank and will continue those talks in the future,” said Genro.
However, the president of the CNTE, Juçara Vieira, complained that Genro is talking about a small amount, 10% of what Brazil pays in foreign debt service payments.
“We want more. We need an amount that is sufficient to make education in Brazil quality education. The only way we can do that is to find funding beyond what is earmarked for education in the budget,” she said, pointing out that the US$ 9.6 billion (26 billion billion) elementary education bill (Fundef) budget will not be enough.
Vieira went on to say that the Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva administration has enough public support, both domestically and abroad, to be capable of resolving the problem by the end of its first term in office in 2006.
Translation: Allen Bennett