Sweat of Your Brow? No, Government Coupons

 Sweat of Your Brow? 
 No, Government Coupons

President Lula da Silva hasn’t read the Bible. Or why would he
say, "It is not written anywhere, not
even in the Bible, that
one needs to go without food for days". Work, the best antidote against
does not seem to be a priority for the new administration.
Janer Cristaldo

"There was hunger in that land", says the first book of the Bible, when Abraham traveled down to Egypt, "as a
pilgrim, because hunger was widespread on the land". In Genesis itself we learn that another famine descended on the land,
"after the first one, which happened during the days of Abraham". The whole land of Egypt had enjoyed seven years of
abundance. Seven years of hunger followed, all abundance was forgotten and hunger consumed the earth. "Abundance will not be
known on earth because of the famine to come; because it will be severe".

With hunger widespread, Joseph opened all the store houses and sold everything to the Egyptians, because hunger
prevailed on the land of Egypt. There was also hunger in the land of Canaan. "The famine was very severe on the land. The
Jewish people said to the pharaoh: "We came as pilgrims to this land; because there is no grass on which the flocks of your
servants can graze, because hunger is severe in the land of Canaan". The land of Egypt and the land of Canaan were weakened
because of hunger.

Hunger was extreme in Samaria, I Kings tells us. In II Kings, Elysium tells us that hunger is the will of the Lord:
"Raise and go, you and your family, and travel where you can travel; because the Lord called for famine and famine will come
over the land for seven years". In Psalms, the Lord spares the hungry and keeps them alive: "And the eyes of the Lord are
over those who fear him, over those who await on his benignity, to deliver them from death and to keep them alive in hunger".

Still in Psalms, again hunger meets divine designs. "He called for hunger over the land; he denied them all
sustenance from food". This same god, in Isaiah, makes hunger his government tool: "And the firstborn of the poor will be feasted
on, and the needy will lay down safe; but I will make your roots die of hunger and your remains will be destroyed". Also in
Isaiah, anyone deviating from the Lord knows his destiny: "Because thus says the Lord God: my servants will eat, but you will
suffer hunger". Also in Jeremiah, hunger is an instrument of divine justice: "thus says the Lord of legions; I will punish them;
the youth will die upon the sword, your sons and your daughters will die of hunger".

Hunger is a recurring scourge in the Bible. To mention every time the phenomenon occurs would be exhausting
and redundant. But behold, in this year of grace of 2003, a new interpreter of the Bible appears in Brazil, assuring us with all
certainty that hunger is not in the Bible. The name of the novel exegete is Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, and he did not wait even ten
days to take his new professorial office.

On the ninth day of his administration, he pontificated: "It is not written anywhere, not even in the Bible, that one
needs to go without food for days". It is normal for uneducated people to think they understand the Bible just because they
heard or read excerpts from it several times during the course of their lives. Coming from a president, though, such statement
testifies against a country’s entire culture.

Hunger permeates the Bible. You don’t even need to read it in order to know that. Biblical peoples were desert
peoples and it doesn’t take a genius to conclude that hunger followed these men in their paths. However, while we do find
hunger in the Bible, what we don’t find it is a State feeding its famished. From the sweat on your brow you will get your
sustenance, the Lord says to Adam, also in Genesis, after the latter had tasted from the fruit of the forbidden tree. When there was
hunger in Egypt, Joshua does not donate food to the Egyptians. Joshua sells it.

But this was a long time ago. In our days, the precept is different. With a coupon from your government you will get
your sustenance—that is the new law. No more sweating. At least that’s what we perceive from the cornerstone of the new
PT (Workers’ Party) administration—to end hunger in the country by giving food to the hungry. Work, the best antidote
against hunger, allowing people to eat without waiting for hands-out, does not seem to be prioritary. If we see Lula’s program
fully accomplished, at the end of his administration we will have a crowd of well-fed beggars, all in line, their hands stretched
out, begging alms from the government. Zero hunger? Ditto for dignity.

The program to fight hunger started out well. January 10, a Friday, in Piauí state, following a visit to a
bolsão de miséria [impoverished area] in Teresina, the president and his ministers proceeded to the most luxurious hotel in town to
participate in a luncheon offered by the State government for 250 people—local authorities, politicians and advisers. That’s what
daily Folha de S. Paulo tells us. In the menu, sautéed lamb, fish with shrimp sauce,
caipira (domestic) chicken with molho
pardo (dark sauce), carne de sol (dried meat northeastern style) and
paçoca de pilão (regional meat and flour dish).

For dessert there was an array of tropical sweetmeats made with lime, guava,
bacuri and jack-fruit. An excellent start,
no doubt about it: the government team surveying the best diet to satiate the famished. It reminded me of a historical
episode which took place in Porto Alegre, during an event hosted by the
gaúcho PT. Following a rich and abundant
feijoada (bean stew with meats), the militants decided to sing "The International." They had hardly started the verse "raise, famished of
the earth" when they could not resist and cracked up laughing. Facts, when they choose to juxtapose themselves, can be ironical.

While vultures glided over the dirt-paved square and women fainted under the intense heat, waiters dressed in white
jackets and bow-ties served iced water to the ministers and Lula. According to the Chief of Staff, José Dirceu, the ministers had
a lesson in reality. If we use the same logic, the slum-dwellers had a lesson in power. They did not participate, granted, in
the sumptuous ministerial feast. But at least they saw up close one of the symbols most dear to the powerful—waiters in
white suits and bow-ties.

Touring favelas (slums) is a favorite recreation activity for Germans, French, Swedish and other citizens of the First
World. The fad seems to have arrived in the Third now—to the disgust of many, true, who probably were not yet contaminated
with this European idiosyncrasy. The tour of the distinguished ministers, thank goodness, is always quick. A few hours of
dust on a dog day, in the company of ugly and toothless people, compensate for four years of special privileges and air
conditioning in the corridors of the Presidential Palace.

As to hunger, better talk about in a more appropriate environment. At the Brasília’s luxurious Piantela, for example.

Cristaldo is a journalist, writer and translator living in São Paulo. You can read more of his articles in Portuguese in
Baguete – www.baguete.com.br. The author welcomes your comments at

Translated by Tereza Braga, email: tbragaling@cs.com

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