Date: Thu, 16 Mar 1995 22:23:33 -0500 (EST)
From: PNEWS <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: PNEWS:[Brazil]-Apartheid in Americas
/* Written by crossroads in igc:crossroads */
/* ---------- "Brazil:Apartheid in Americas" ---------- */
The following article appeared in the December/January issue of CrossRoads magazine.
For more information about subscribing to CrossRoads, email email@example.com
Brazil is one of the Latin American countries that has
most enthusiastically taken up neo-liberal economic reform.
A nation of great natural wealth and human resources, Brazil
shares the dubious honor -- with Mexico -- of having the
greatest disparity between rich and poor in the Western
Hemisphere. After two decades under a brutal military
regime, Brazil has begun to re-establish civilian government
and civic participation in national life. But whether this
process is considered
democratization largely depends on
one's relative position within the country's socioeconomic
and racial matrix.
Every two minutes, a child dies in Brazil; 53 percent of children under 15 live 50 percent below the official poverty line in families earning less than $70 per month.
Children currently make up 18 percent of the country's work force. Child labor has risen 11 percent since 1970. Youths between 14 and 18 years of age make up 45 percent of the work force, up from 31.4 percent in 1970.
For those children entering first grade, only 10 percent will complete primary school. Inadequate nutrition and poor conditions make it difficult to study. Most students cannot afford books and supplies and are forced out of the public school system forming a body of eight million marginalized street children.
The murder of street children in cities such as Rio de Janeiro has become epidemic. Business owners hire armed thugs, in some cases off-duty police officers, to assassinate children as they sleep. Eighty percent of the victims are Afro-Brazilian. The death toll over the last 10 years is double the number of U.S. troops killed in the war in Indochina.
Recently, under the guise of the war on crime, the
governor of Rio de Janeiro turned over control of state and
local law enforcement agencies to the Brazilian Army. The
federal army will coordinate the roundup of suspected
drug traffickers in Brazil's most famous
city. Plans to crack down on drugs and weapons include the
potential military occupation of 400 working class
The timing of this extraordinary law enforcement initiative coincides with the mid-November special elections for state offices. New elections had to be called because the October election results had to be thrown out due to massive fraud.
For Brazilian activist Carlos Verr!simo, these facts demonstrate the racist nature of the Brazilian state and the inequitable impact of neo-liberal economic policies. The unofficial-but-officially-tolerated policy of extermination of marginalized members of society exposes the underside of Brazil's transition to civilian government since 1984. While the military is no longer formally in government, the political and economic elites in power are, for the most part, the same ones who prospered under the military regime.
Increasing concentration of wealth -- and especially agricultural land -- continually forces migration to urban areas. More than 70 percent of Brazil's population live in the cities, swelling the working class shanty towns known as favelas. Favela residents often lack basic services such as water and electricity. Even workers with full-time jobs often earn sub-minimum wages and cannot afford daily transportation from home to work. Thousands of these workers live as homeless people on the streets of Rio Monday through Friday, only to return to their families on the weekends.
For activists such as Verr!simo, the issue of race and
class are indivisible in Brazilian. Out of a total
population of 150 million, 90 million are of African decent.
This gives the largest country in Latin America the third
largest Black population in the world, Verr!simo says.
when one looks at the government bureaucracy, the military
hierarchy and the directors of corporations, one never sees
a Black person.
Since the mid-seventies, the Brazilian Black consciousness movement has been organizing regionally and nationally in a variety of forms to change the conditions of all oppressed people in the country. The Instituto de Pesquias das Culturas Negras (Institute for Research of Black Culture) -- in which Verr!simo works -- was founded in 1975 by Afro-Brazilians with the goal of fighting racism and ending racial discrimination. IPCN seeks to empower marginalized peoples to demand a genuine transition to democracy.
Historically, the Brazilian left has been hesitant to
deal with racial inequality. Verr!simo attributes this to
the official ideology of racial democracy in Brazil and the
Brazilian left's Eurocentrism.
We've put these questions on
the table, and they don't understand what we are talking
about. They have no theoretical basis to understand the link
between race and class. I think this is one of the big
challenges for the left in Latin America, particularly in
Brazil. We have this strong racial component in society, and
we can't explain exploitation as just a class problem.
Yes we have this class problem, but I believe that the
way capitalism works to stay in power is to exploit the
differences within the working class itself. They will
exploit you because you are a woman, they will exploit youth
because they have no protection, they exploit Black people
because they are Black and have less power in society, they
use these differences maintain control. This is their
strategy. We believe that we must understand this strategy,
and create a new strategy to fight against this system.
Traditionally, marginalized sectors of society have not
been satisfied within the structure of left organizations
and trade union structures:
It's not enough to say we need
to unify all these people because we need unity for the
class struggle. The working class is diverse and has many
different issues, many different realities. For women,
Blacks, the youth, when they bring their issues to the
unions and the parties, they are told `this is not the main
issue, it's not a class issue.' So this frustrates people. I
know many people that left unions and parties out of
frustration, because they had no representation there.
The process of transition from a military to civilian
government, known as
democratization, culminated this past
October 10, 1994 with the election of former socialist and
currently neo-liberal Fernando Enrique Cardoso. For Carlos
Verr!simo, the recent electoral process proves the strength
and impunity of the Brazilian elite. This democratization
process was created by the military. Of course we needed to
do this. This was a tremendous struggle in the society to
push for this democratic process. I was part of this
process. But all this happened with the permission of the
military. When you create a process like you have in Brazil,
they maintain the control of it. We don't have a military
regime any more in Brazil, but of course we don't have a
real democracy. The people really need change. Some kind of
new things need to happen in the country.
Approximately 30 million people are living in misery,
not poverty, misery. These people have no participation in
this democratization process. They have no time to think and
decide who is a better candidate. They can't buy a
newspaper, they don't have radios. They can't go to meetings
to talk about the situation in the country, they are
completely marginalized. So what kind of a democracy is
that, when you put millions and millions of people outside
This kind of democracy is very helpful to the elite.
It helps them continue exploitation and maintain control.
IPCN, as a non-partisan group, works in the electoral
arena in different ways. We support candidates that are
representative of the people. There are many candidates who
are in the left parties, especially the Workers Party (PT)
and the Democratic Workers Party (PDT), there are people who
are very dedicated to the working people and marginalized,
and we support such candidates.
But the October 1994 election was really terrible for
the left, especially the left parties. The elite proved that
they no longer need to conduct a coup, like in Haiti. They
proved they can maintain control via manipulation, and with
The majority of people in the congress are mainly representatives of the business community. There are few Black members of congress: just four out of 500. The elite showed the people they are still in control of the country and they have no intention of sharing power with the majority.
Still, I think something will happen very soon in
Brazil. You can't continue to oppress the people for so
long. If the people don't believe they can make change
through the electoral process they will find another way.
The IPCN is planning it's Third International
Conference in 1995. We are trying to bring people from
different countries together, because we realize that the
elites in Brazil work together with the elites in other
countries. So we believe it's time for the people to come
together, to talk about our diversity but also to talk about
what we have in common. It is also time for us to talk about
strategy. We need to have strong participation on the
national level, but also on the international level, so that
we can begin to coordinate our work at the international
We want to open the door for people to share their
experiences. You have many organizers here in the U.S. who
are doing good things in different areas. We have a lot of
organizers in Brazil who are eager to hear about your
experiences, and who want to share our experience with you.
I think the IPCN conference is one way to give a new energy
to the organizers.
We are trying to invite more people from Latin
American countries. This conference is for all oppressed
people. We need to come together; we have a very similar
reality. The same arm of oppression afflicts people in the
U.S., in Haiti, in Africa, in Europe, in Asia -- it is the
same arm that oppresses people in Latin America. We have to
understand this process. This conference will bring a new
hope for our organizations in Brazil, particularly in Rio de