The Embarrassment But Mostly the Pride of Being a Brasília’s Brazilian

Two Candangos in Brazilian capital Brasília I left Recife in 1970 and lived outside Brazil until 1979. When I found the political conditions auspicious for my return, I chose Brasília. At that time, residents of Brasília did not vote for any offices.

Even under the dictatorship, the rest of the country chose its own governors, mayors, city council members, deputies, and senators. Brasília was a city without local politicians. No one considering a career in politics opted to live in Brasília.

Brasília was settled by persons who, arriving in the late 1950s, during the decade of the 1960s, and even later, came to construct a city, a new capital. It was not easy to leave behind families, places, and friends, everything familiar, to come to the Central Plateau.

Brasília was made, therefore, by Brazilian heroes who moved here to make a country great by means of a great capital. We are candangos, the workers who built Brasília.

The city will celebrate its 50th anniversary this year, and some of those first to arrive are still living. They can look around and see the city that they made. Perhaps no other human group has managed to make itself so proud by building a metropolis, during its short life span, as the people of Brasília.

Those who came here chose Brasília, instead of the cities where they were born or the large capital cities, because they have the spirit of adventure, the boldness to choose the new.

In a short time, we made one of the largest cities in Brazil. We created a quality university, the best elementary/secondary education system, and a politically active population that participated in the Diretas Já movement to bring back presidential elections; the Constituinte to create a new constitution; the Anistia movement that permitted the exiles to return, and, above all, the 1992 movement for presidential impeachment.

And we are proud of this. Each resident of Brasília has the right to feel proud of his or her role in building a new capital.

We know that outside the city that adventure, that boldness, that pride we feel for being from Brasília are not recognized because the city has come to symbolize political corruption. Even in the worst moments of corruption, however, we were accustomed to saying that we were blamed for the misdeeds of politicians elected in other states who came to exercise their mandate in the city that we had constructed.

This has changed, however. Since the beginning of the 21st century, a senator elected by us was removed from office; then another was forced to resign; and then yet another. In the last few weeks, we witnessed the videos of Brasília politicians receiving money in person and without any convincing explanation.

Because of this, the image of the city of candango heroes is marred. Even residents of other cities, places with no less corruption than Brasília, are less sullied by it than are we, the residents of Brasília.

In spite of this, we must continue to feel pride for our city and our work, for being the builders of the capital and of a city that is greater than simply the capital: The UNESCO World Heritage Brasília; the industrial and commercial Brasília; the Brasília of education; of the pedestrian crosswalk; the Brasília that invented the Bolsa Escola and other projects that have now been exported to other Brazilian states and even to other countries.

We are proud that we constructed a city where before there had been only a Central Plateau of open countryside. Proud of the adventure of our having left behind the security of our birthplaces and come to build a new city. Above all, we must remind ourselves that, of the 2 million inhabitants of Brasília, only 36 are elected politicians, two for each 100 thousand residents.

We are all voters, however, and we cannot shirk our responsibility. As an elected officeholder and as a voter, I feel doubly responsible. I am one of the 36, and I am one of the 2 million. Even so, I maintain my pride in residing in Brasília and bear a sense of responsibility for completing what we have not yet succeeded in doing: constructing the moral Brasília beside the urban Brasília that we have built in these 50 years.

As a first step in constructing that moral Brasília, we must not allow ourselves to be engulfed by that sense of shame; we must hold our heads high for having constructed a new city, the modern capital, the Brasília with residents who go to the Rodoviária bus depot, to the shops, to the outdoor markets, those who work with dignity for their salaries.

As a second step, we must not hide the sins committed by elected officeholders and voters. As a third, we must not remain alienated from the problems; we must assume our responsibility as elected officeholders and voters and persevere to reconstruct the image of candangos, builders, bold citizens of a country under construction.

Our fourth step is to be constructors of ethics and not only of buildings, freeways, bridges and viaducts. This demands decency from those elected and responsibility from those voting.

Then, we will be able to affirm with even more pride: somos brasilienses; we are from Brasília.

Cristovam Buarque is a professor at the University of Brasília and a PDT senator for the Federal District. You can visit his website – www.cristovam.org.br – and write to him at cristovam@senado.gov.br.

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

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