In Brazil, Rich or Poor, We’re All Prisoners

Man tries to put some order on São Paulo, Brazil, chaotic traffic

An old adage stated, “Brazilian, profession hope.” Today, it would be more
correct to say, “Brazilian, profession prisoner.” Prisoner of transit, in cars
that are ambulatory cells in slow march, wasting their passengers’ precious
time. Some in armored cars, the darkened windows closed, impeded from seeing the
city in its reality, obliged to risk running red lights to avoid assault, death,
kidnapping on street corners.

Prisoner of illiteracy, which makes Brazilians foreigners in their own cities, impeded from decoding the signals providing freedom of locomotion, choice, understanding. They are free in a strange world, prisoners of ignorance, exiled in time walking about in the 21st century and living in the 19th.


Beside them, prisoners also are millions of Brazilians, principally young people, who learned to read but, for lack of quality education, did not find a job. The prisoners of that insufficient education are many.


Others are also prisoners: the educated who are obliged to interact with Brazilians who are prisoners of low-quality education; the engineer without workers who understand his or her orders or know how to operate the machines that they should utilize; the manager whose assistants cannot execute his or her orders well due to their lack of professional preparation.


Prisoners of the lines: at the bus stops; at employment sites seeking an opening; in the halls waiting for medical attention, condemned to death, sentenced by the lack of a doctor, of a bed, of equipment, of medicine.


Prisoners of the insensibility and incompetence of the national leaders, who do not channel the necessary resources or who waste them in the midst of that managerial blackout characterizing Brazilian public administration.


Prisoners of the politicians who seem more like hypnotists: capable of stealing when they appear to be giving, of lying when they appear sincere.


Child prisoners, their childhood stolen, in the streets instead of in school; in crime instead of in a family; in prostitution instead of enjoying simple gestures of childish or adolescent friendships.


Children prisoners from the day in which they were born, who will spend their lives, from early childhood to death, without touching the cold ground of the national reality. Protected in social bubbles: from room to garage; from there to school; or to the club or to the dentist; and then back to the garage and to the room.


Adults, prisoners in condominiums as closed off as spaceships, distant from the urban reality. Moving from the house to the locked car; from there to the underground parking lot, office or shopping center, airport or other cities in which the social bubble continues carrying them as prisoners, protected, frightened of the risk of social contamination.


Despite the luxury, the comfort, the wealth, the income, they are isolated like prisoners, observing reality at a distance through the television. Confusing the happenings of their country with occurrences in any other part of the world. Prisoners of a globalization that is transforming the world into a simulation, mere appearance. They are prisoners as much as the 580 thousand incarcerated in the overcrowded national jails.


Legislators, prisoners in the National Congress because they opted to build a political bubble, isolated from the will of the people, distant from public opinion. They think of the people only when the elections roll around every four years.


Prisoners of their own concept that there is more power in saving a colleague than in submitting themselves to the will of the people when there is strong evidence that the colleague has violated congressional decorum.


The Brazilian, profession prisoner, is like someone under hypnosis who believes him or herself to be free. Deceived like the poor person who feels rich when he or she rolls up the car windows while imprisoned in the traffic jam: prisoner, tired, but happy because all around the other poor prisoners will think that the car has air conditioning.


Prisoner, me. And you, too, reader!


Cristovam Buarque has a Ph.D. in economics. He is a PDT senator for the Federal District and was Governor of the Federal District (1995-98) and Minister of Education (2003-04). He is the current president of the Senate Education Commission. Last year he was a presidential candidate. You can visit his homepage – www.cristovam.com.br – and write to him at mensagem-cristovam@senado.gov.br


Translated from the Portuguese by Linda Jerome – LinJerome@cs.com.

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