Let’s Stop Forgetting

 Let's Stop Forgetting

To improve Brazil’s image abroad, we need to make
changes at home and, inspired by the freeing
of the slaves,
carry out a second abolition: the abolition of poverty.
Cristovam Buarque

When John Lennon was assassinated in New York, no one blamed the United States. The death of the greatest
music idol of that time was seen as exclusively the act of a crazy fanatic. Now, after assailants murdered hero Peter Blake, the
New Zealander, in Macapá, the entire world is outraged by a Brazilian crime. Because that crime forms part of a negative
image that Brazil has nowadays.

The death of the yachtsman from New Zealand was not the act of crazy fanatics but, rather, of assailants; and it was
not an isolated incident in a country troubled by violence of all kinds: street killings; frequent lynchings; slaughters. It is not
the first time that this has occurred.

In the 19th century, when a Brazilian went to Europe, he or she was seen as a slave owner. Today, guilty or not, each
Brazilian is seen as a burner of the Amazon Rainforest, a murderer of the street children sleeping in front of the Candelária Church
and of prisoners in Carandiru, as a representative of a country with major urban violence and major income concentration.

In some European nations, Brazil is seen as a country of sexual tourism, well known for its abuse of children. Just as
today the world is asking itself why we are so violent that we have gone to the extreme of killing a yachtsman, people are also
asking themselves how it is possible that, week after week, the country receives planeloads of tourists who treat Brazil as if it
were a red light district for minors.

All this is the fruit of a mistaken model of development, which, over the decades, defined material wealth as the
central objective of society, which promoted the so-called Gerson’s Law of “Looking out for Number One,” which concentrated
income, which abandoned social investments, which indebted the country and its people, which tolerated contravention and
corruption, which broke with traditional values, which instituted urbanization before creating the necessary conditions in
the cities. It is the fruit of a country that chose a road where only part of the population was incorporated into society and
the rest remained excluded, marginalized from the wealth, so infused with the evil of the model as to do evil of their own.

Each time that we hear about acts that make us ashamed—like that of this week—we are indignant for a few days,
and then we forget. That is what happened when the children at Candelária and the prisoners in Carandiru (São Paulo) were
killed, when patients died from contaminated hemodialysis in Caruaru (state of Pernambuco), when a boy lost first one eye and
then the other working in the sisal, when a man hired someone to attack him and mutilate his arm so that he could receive
insurance money, when a youth named Sandro hijacked a city bus in Rio de Janeiro, when we hear about each lynching or
slaughter. For a day or so we remember the event, but, so accustomed are we to these tragedies, they have become part of the
routine of banality, and we forget them.

The rest of the world, however, does not forget.

Recently, the President of the Republic addressed the French Parliament and considered this a great
accomplishment. That country’s deputies listened attentively. They may have even sympathized with the ideas articulated in the speech,
but, in their hearts, they remembered that this gentleman represents a country that kills children and denies good schools to
the survivors, a gentleman whose country is marked by violence and child prostitution. That image will not be abolished
through speeches.

To improve Brazil’s image abroad, we need to make changes at home and, inspired by the freeing of the slaves,
achieve a second abolition: the abolition of poverty. We must guarantee that no one in this country will lose access to the
essential goods and services—the necessary food, a quality school, an efficient health system, public transportation, and a
dwelling with potable water, garbage collection, and plumbing.

This is possible.

It would be enough, in the first place, if the sense of indignation aroused by the murder of an international hero,
yachtsman and ecologist were to last the amount of time necessary to make these changes, if it were to expand to also include our
indignation about the social inequality in our country. And, above all, if each of us were to assume his or her share of the
blame for the type of country that we are building. It was a group of bandits that assaulted and killed Peter Black in Amapá, but
each of us is responsible for the crimes of each Brazilian and, above all, for the events that are degrading our image in our
own eyes and in the eyes of the world’s other peoples.

It is we who, year after year, have accustomed ourselves to a social model that creates bandits. It is we who, election
after election, choose the same type of leaders who are insensitive to the nation’s problems and to its mistakes and who think
that pretty speeches change reality.

There is nothing we can do to redeem ourselves before Peter Blake and the many other victims of the visible urban
violence and the silent social evil, but we can offer them an homage, so that their deaths and suffering will not have been in vain.
We can awaken to the need to change the real Brazil so that its image will also change. In the world and within each of us.

Cristovam Buarque
cbuarque@brnet.com.br), a professor at the University of Brasília, is the author
of Admirável Mundo Atual [Brave Real World].

Originally published by Correio
Braziliense as “A imagem do Brazil” on December 12, 2001. Translated by Linda

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