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Brazil: Why Hunger Is Absurd Here

 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.

by: 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

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