The Reaction of the Wretched in Brazil

Rio thugs attack sunbathers on Leblon beachDespite the elections taking place this Sunday or maybe because of them, it’s important to reflect on the ever-deepening differences between the two Brazils in which we live.

One is the formal Brazil of the candidates seeking votes in sometimes monumental campaigns, protected by the law, and promising the world and handouts.


The other, however, is the real Brazil, whose images often shock. Even without such images, this Brazil faces an untenable situation, one which can only lead to a huge explosion which will reduce the formal Brazil to rubble.


The Hungry and Marginality


TV screens and newspapers showed a band of thugs threatening and assaulting peaceful people on Leblon Beach in Rio. Everyone was appalled by the report of such out-and-out bestial behavior.


But would anything be different if the outrage had not been caught on amateur video? Unfortunately, no. Documented this time, what happened is routine in all our large cities. Only in the large ones?


No way. The reaction of our wretched has become generalized. Despite the official propaganda, unemployment continues to grow, as do poverty and hunger.


The only avenue for the hungry and poor, as well as for the 60 million without hope, is to follow the paths of marginality: violence, robbery, aggression and crime.


Public authorities and society face the task of confronting this reality, not in order to repress it, but because of the need to promote social justice.


The little in the hands of the formal Brazil could be shared with the real Brazil. This is what our governments pretend not to understand, just as it is this which the elites and middle class stubbornly persevere in thinking has nothing to do with them. It does.


And now here come the municipal elections to show that little progress has been made. Or no progress at all, at the moment when everything is about to come crashing down.


Purity


The President of the Brazilian Superior Court (Superior Tribunal de Justiça – STJ), Edison Vidigal, has reminded us of the origin of the word “candidate”.


It comes from ancient Rome, where those competing for elected positions were obliged to parade through the streets wearing a white (candidus in Latin) toga as a way of demonstrating the purity of their lives and their political plans.


It was up to the citizens to either accept a politician and his proposals or to throw mud at the vestments of those known to be lying to the populace. In theory at least, a candidate had to be pure as snow, although in practice, many flouted the principle.


Vidigal uses this image as a starting point to defend rigid regulation of the right of anyone to run for election. For him, it’s not enough to prohibit the candidacy of those who have been sentenced for a crime or who have an obviously shady past. They should be prohibited from running for office while they are under suspicion.


For the president of the country’s second largest court, the Constitution demands morality, a principle which in the case of public office outweighs any presumption of innocence. He applauds the action of judges who deny the right to run for office to those who lack the necessary clean record.


The problem is, of course, that if these drastic rules were to be imposed, there would be a lack of candidates for elected office, whether city councilors, mayors, deputies, senators or governors. All levels of government would cease to function….


Explicit Contentiousness


Brazil’s banks slipped up this week, missing an excellent opportunity to keep their mouths shut, when they took out paid announcements in the major newspapers in a rarely-seen display of contentiousness.


Faced with the general preoccupation about how to pay month-end bills when the bank workers’ are on strike, the banks turned their backs and reaffirmed that they will impose late payment charges on the millions of Brazilians who, despite holding bank accounts, are unable to get into the bank to pay their bills.


Not even Kafka could imagine a situation like this, because someone who is impeded by the banks from withdrawing money should not be penalized by them. Logic tells us that if bank account activity is suspended, then so should the late charges.


As the size of the banks’ arrogance is even greater than that of the profits they rake in, one can only hope for some response from the authorities.


We can’t expect the government to issue a directive ordering the banks to keep their mouths shut. And, who knows, maybe we’ll get an injunction from the judiciary recognizing the problem of violence and prohibiting it?


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


Mike Allan translated this article. He worked as a translator in Rio de Janeiro from 2001 to 2004, and is currently based in Vancouver, Canada, where he continues to translate, as well as working in international education and playing guitar. He can be contacted at mikeallan@uol.com.br.

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