Brazil, Go to the Streets to Bring Justice!

Painted faces helped impeachment of Brazilian President Collor de MelloAs anyone who lived through the times of the Brazilian military dictatorship knows, Brazil made a historical leap on the 14th and 15th of March, 1985.

Twenty years ago, the country left behind an authoritarian military regime and inaugurated a regime of complete freedom.

I am part of a generation that fought to make this possible.  As a student militant in the streets of Recife, confronting the police, running risks, like thousands of Brazilians.

Then in Brasília, demonstrating in front of the National Congress, calling for the approval of Deputy Dante de Oliveira’s amendment, which would have established direct elections of the president by Brazilian voters.

Later, beside then-Deputy Fernando Lyra, working for the indirect election of the civilian Tancredo Neves by the Electoral College.  With political sensibility, Fernando Lyra had perceived that, since direct election was impossible, Tancredo’s election was the road to take.

During my first meeting with Governor Tancredo Neves, in April of 1983, I suggested that he present a proposal for the development of the Brazilian Northeast.

I told him that he alone could legitimately do this since he was the only governor on the Deliberative Council of Sudene (the Superentindency of the Development of the Northeast) and he belonged to the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party (PMDB), which opposed the military regime.

I thought that his enthusiasm for the proposal was merely an attempt to be agreeable.  But on the following day I was invited to go to Belo Horizonte to deal with the matter.

Tancredo had assigned Aloísio Pimenta, then the president of the Minas Gerais State government’s João Pinheiro Foundation, the duty of coordinating the proposal preparation.

Meeting in a small group of economists – Tânia Barcelar, Dirceu Pessoa, Leonardo Guimarães and myself – along with some Minas Gerais technicians, we elaborated the Reexamination of the Northeast Question, an innovative proposal anticipating the rational use of resources and massive investments in the social area.

Tancredo presented the document to Sudene.  His gesture guaranteed the support of the great Northeastern leadership of the PDS, the Social Democratic Party that favored the military government, for his election by the Electoral College.

Afterwards I formed part of the team facilitating the transition from the military government to Tancredo’s.  For two months we met with hundreds of sociopolitical leaders.

I was present at the collective interview on the afternoon of March 14, 1985, and watched Tancredo Neves, the resolute man over 70 years old, explain how he would construct what he called (as suggested by the journalist Mauro Santayana) the New Republic.

That night Tancredo was hospitalized.  I spent the early morning hours with Fernando Lyra and Attorney-General Sepúlveda Pertence, in future Labor Minister Francisco Dornelles’s office, monitoring the events.

Until April 21 we all suffered over the oscillations of Tancredo’s health.  It was as if Brazil were in the ICU, improving and growing worse.  Tancredo died but Brazil had to persevere.

Vice President Elect José Sarney’s assumption of the presidency brought with it a certain dread.  But soon we perceived – and this is important to recognize – that he would fulfill all the promises made by Tancredo.

And he led the redemocratization of Brazil without a single backward step.  Perhaps to give himself legitimacy, he went further, and with more support from the conservative forces, than Tancredo himself.

I am proud of my participation in this process, but I admit that our task has not yet been accomplished.  The democracy will be complete only when there is income distribution, reduction of regional inequalities, universalization of quality education and an efficient healthcare system.

As a participant in that historical movement, I view the next 20 years with the hope that today’s young people can also have something to commemorate.

Not the political freedom, which has already been attained, but that which my generation did not possess the competency to create:  social justice.

When I was young, I fought for democracy.  I ask the young: Go to the streets!  Mobilize yourselves!  Do not let Brazil continue as the incomplete democracy that I helped to construct.

Cristovam Buarque has a Ph.D. in economics. He is a PT senator for the Federal District and was Governor of the Federal District (1995-98) and Minister of Education (2003-04). You can visit his homepage – www.cristovam.com.br – and write to him at cristovam@senador.gov.br.

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

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