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Date: Sun, 23 Aug 98 23:30:26 CDT
From: rich@pencil.math.missouri.edu (Rich Winkel)
Organization: PACH
Subject: RIGHTS-BRAZIL: Women, Indigenous and Landless Join Election Fray
Article: 41721
To: undisclosed-recipients:;;@chumbly.math.missouri.edu
Message-ID: <bulk.13819.19980824121829@chumbly.math.missouri.edu>

/** ips.english: 477.0 **/
** Topic: RIGHTS-BRAZIL: Women, Indigenous and Landless Join Election Fray **
** Written 4:11 PM Aug 22, 1998 by newsdesk in cdp:ips.english **

Women, Indigenous and Landless Join Election Fray

By Mario Osava, IPS, 19 August 1998

RIO DE JANEIRO, Aug 19 (IPS) - Indigenous people and landless rural workers in Brazil are keen on expanding their representation in parliament in the Oct. 4 national and state elections, along with women, who enjoy a 25 percent quota of all candidacies.

Indigenous people, who have only put one representative in Congress, in the 1980s, are making a bid to regain a voice by fielding two candidates to the Chamber of Deputies, one from the Amazon region and the other from southern Brazil.

Eight indigenous candidates are also running for state legislatures, mainly in Amazon jungle states, where Brazil's more than 300,000 indigenous people are concentrated.

Better organised, the Movement of Landless Rural Workers (MST) is backing seven candidates committed to agrarian reform who are running for the national Chamber of Deputies and 13 for state legislatures.

Since its founding 14 years ago, the MST has had its own militants in parliament as well as lawmakers who support its struggle. But this is the first time it has participated in elections in an organised manner, said one of the movement's national coordinators, Gilberto Portes.

The 20 candidates backed by the MST have been fielded by leftist parties, mainly the Workers Party (PT), in 14 of Brazil's 27 states.

The MST has decided to openly support PT presidential candidate Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and oppose the reelection of President Fernando Henrique Cardoso - a decision that led the government to accuse the movement of engaging in party politics and abandoning its social objectives.

There are more than 50,000 families in MST camps organised on occupied land left idle by its owners or along roads throughout the country. The movement also controls many of the rural settlements where more than 250,000 families were provided with land by the government since last decade.

Women, meanwhile, hope to see their representation in Congress swell from today's total of 37 deputies and five senators - a mere 7.2 percent of all national legislators.

They have been assisted in that aim by a law that reserves 25 percent of all parliamentary candidacies for women. A similar quota of 20 percent applied in the 1996 municipal elections helped double the number of women sitting on city councils to nearly 11 percent.

But a majority of parties, most notably conservative ones, have failed to come up with enough female candidates to fulfill the quota. And since the spots reserved for women cannot be occupied by men, the parties will dispute the elections with incomplete tickets. y The quota is an artificial measure. Everyone is having trouble complying with it all over the country, complained Deputy Artur Virgilio Neto, secretary-general of President Cardoso's Social Democratic Party of Brazil (PSDB). Although Neto is in favour of stronger female participation, he argued that it should occur naturally.

First Lady Ruth Cardoso defended the quotas as a way to break through the invisible ceiling on women's capacity to create and produce. Women are also marginalised in the country's unions, she pointed out.

The difficulties in meeting the quota do not worry the original sponsor of the law, Deputy Martha Suplicy, the PT's candidate for governor of the province of Sao Paulo. She pointed out that the process would be gradual, and that the law would contribute to women's rise in politics over time.

In countries where a quota system or affirmative action for women has been adopted, female participation in politics has surged quickly, like in Argentina and Scandinavian countries, where women account for more than 35 percent of seats in parliament, she argued.

But for Brazil's indigenous people, the fight will be even tougher.

Alvaro Tucano, an indigenous leader from the Rio Negro region in the state of Amazonas, has a chance of succeeding the near- legendary Mario Juruna, the first and only indigenous person to be elected to the federal Chamber of Deputies, for a four-year term in 1982.

Juruna, a leader of the Xavante community in west-central Brazil, rose to national reknown by taping negotiations with authorities and later holding them to their promises and demonstrating that politicians had lied to his people.

Elected for the state of Rio de Janeiro, which has few indigenous inhabitants, Juruna's bid for reelection fell flat. Today he works as a public functionary in Brasilia, the capital of Brazil.

Ludovico Monconan, a member of the Caingangue community, is running for the PSDB in the southern state of Parana. But he has few chances of election, given the small local indigenous population and a dearth of funding.

In small Amazon jungle states like Acre and Roraima, several local indigenous leaders stand a chance of making it to state legislatures - at least a step toward defending the rights of their peoples at a national level.