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Hungry for change in Brazil

 Hungry 
        for change in Brazil

Lula’s
transformation, from radical socialist to international
statesman, has drawn lazy comparisons with Tony Blair.
The two have little in common. Lula’s "third way" involves a

genuine attempt to make the private sector see that its
interests lie with helping to address deep social problems.
by: Richard
Adams

 

Anyone
still nurturing images of Brazil as a country of dazzling carnivals,
beaches and footballers will be in for a shock when the country’s latest
export is screened in British cinemas.

Carandiru,
the tale of a bloody São Paulo prison revolt, was acclaimed by
both critics at Cannes and the residents of Brazil’s poverty-riddled
favelas, with the film breaking box-office records in places
where the price of a ticket is more than the average daily wage.

Luiz
Inácio Lula da Silva, the newly elected president of Brazil,
who grew up in the São Paulo slums, was moved to tears when he
saw it. The movie is a stark portrait of the problems Lula faces as
the country’s first leftwing president for 40 years: the violence and
poverty that sit alongside Brazil’s wealth and beauty.

Since
taking office in January, Lula has moved quickly and controversially
to tackle Brazil’s biggest problem: the enormous inequality among the
country’s 175 million population. The gap between rich and poor is one
of the widest in the world, according to UN figures, surpassed only
by Swaziland and Nicaragua.

Lula’s
answer has been to launch the ambitious Fome Zero (zero hunger) programme,
a crusade by the federal government to bring regular supplies of food
and aid to at least 15 million people in the very poorest communities,
funded by a combination of private sector partnership, international
support and government contributions. Lula’s government even put off
buying fighter jets to divert funds to it.

Lula’s
actions are remarkable in an age when the public fully expects politicians
to renege on election promises. Given the near economic collapse Brazil
recently faced, the new administration could have had easy excuses for
delaying the programme. Instead, in his inauguration speech, Lula underlined
his commitment to Fome Zero: "If, by the end of my term of office,
every Brazilian has food to eat three times a day, I shall have fulfilled
my mission in life."

The
inspiration for the scheme came from José Graziano, a former
agriculture professor appointed by Lula as minister in charge of Fome
Zero and its associated social programmes. Graziano’s argument was that
while Brazil didn’t suffer from famine in the manner of Ethiopia, it
did suffer from weaknesses in infrastructure and distribution, a consequence
of the country’s severe inequalities, with most of the poor living in
the rural north-east of the country.

The
previous administration had established a successful social protection
network, aimed at encouraging access to education. The incoming administration
quietly set about adapting many of those policies to put Fome Zero into
action. To reach the rural poor, Graziano’s ministry has attempted to
bypass entrenched local politicians to create an alternative distribution
network.

Late
May, the programme began using credit card-style food cards in nearly
200 areas in the north and north-east, with each family receiving a
monthly 50 reais (US$ 16) credit. By October, Fome Zero will be on course
to reach up to 1.5 million people.

Since
the project was first launched at the end of January, Lula’s administration
has received surprisingly warm support from the World Bank and the International
Monetary Fund—institutions that only a few years ago would have
been hostile.

The
new government has been lucky in one respect: the economic tidal wave
that has threatened to engulf Argentina and then Brazil within the past
two years has forced the World Bank and IMF to take a softer approach
compared with the enforced free-market reforms, known as the Washington
consensus, which were in vogue during the 80s and 90s.

Both
the IMF and World Bank have been heartened by the new administration’s
agreement to stick to earlier economic reforms, which it has advanced
with the establishment of an independent central bank and its decision
to tackle Brazil’s perilous debt position and bloated state pension
provisions.

The
result has been a queue of senior officials from the IMF praising the
new administration’s mix of prudent fiscal policies and leftwing social
platforms, while the World Bank has lent $500m towards social programmes.
The bank’s director for Brazil, Vinod Thomas, even mused in a Brazilian
newspaper: "What does the post-Washington consensus mean in practice?
It could be Lula’s programme."

That
possibility has moved a step closer, with Lula’s invitation to address
the G8 summit in Evian, where he presented a plan to use Fome Zero as
the blueprint for an international zero-hunger fund—managed by
a multilateral body and funded by wealthy nations making contributions
in proportion to their military spending.

Lula’s
transformation, from radical socialist to international statesman, has
drawn lazy comparisons with Tony Blair; Time magazine has dubbed him
"Brazil’s Blair". There are some parallels, but in reality
the two have little in common. Lula’s "third way" involves
a genuine attempt to make the private sector see that its interests
lie with helping to address deep social problems.

While
Blair’s variety of third way involves the private sector taking over
public resources, Lula’s flavour sees major companies giving resources.
Brazil’s largest supermarket chain is assisting with distribution, while
multinationals such as Unilever have pledged to donate food. Ford is
giving around 200 tonnes of food, linked to sales of its trucks. "I
won’t sell any more trucks because of this campaign," Ford’s Brazil
director has said, "but it’s certainly good for brand image."
Lula and his government have made it clear that donations to Fome Zero
influence them much more than contributions to party funds.

 

Richard
Adams writes for the British daily The Guardian. You can
write him at richard.adams@guardian.co.uk
 

Copyright:
Guardian Newspapers Ltd 2003. The original article can be accessed
here:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/analysis/story/0,3604,966709,00.html

 

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