Date: Fri, 10 Oct 97 10:15:44 CDT
From: (Rich Winkel)
Organization: PACH
Subject: Brazil: Death of a Secular Saint: Herbert de Souza
Article: 19689

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** Topic: Death of a Secular Saint: Herbert de Souza **
** Written 8:21 AM Oct 9, 1997 by newsdesk in cdp:headlines **
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Death of a secular saint: Herbert Betinho de Souza mourned by Brazil

By Dada Maheshananda, a PNA dispatch, 8 October 1997

Princess Diana and Mother Theresa are not the only saints who have died in the past few months. Brazilian Herbert de Souza has also passed away (as did Brazilian Paulo Freire in May), though he received much less media attention worldwide—perhaps because he confronted economic injustice and government corruption directly

The Brazilian people lost a great leader who mobilized millions to serve the needy and fight for justice. Sociologist Herbert de Souza, better known as Betinho, died on 9 August, 1997 at the age of 61. He founded non-government organizations and initiated mass movements that ignited the flame of selflessness and citizen empowerment. The Brazilian president nominated Betinho for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1994 for the extraordinary work he did for the poor. Surely no other Brazilian in history has been so loved and admired.

From student activist to anti-corruption leader

From 1959 through the early sixties, Betinho was a student activist and leader of the radicals in Belo Horizonte where he grew up. When the Left came to national power in 1963, Betinho became chief of staff in the Ministry of Education, where he conspired to support the radical educator Paulo Freire's national literacy campaign. When the military coup d'etat took place in 1964, Betinho led the fight against the dictatorship first from the underground and then in 1970 from exile in Chile, Mexico, Cuba and Canada until general amnesty was finally declared in 1979.

When he returned, he transformed from being anti-government to non-government. He founded the Brazilian Institute of Social Analysis and Economics (IBASE) with the goal of democratizing political, social and economic information about Brazil. Alternex, the first Internet server in the country and part of the Association of Progressive Communication (APC) was also founded by him.

From this base Betinho began to launch mass democracy movements. In 1983 the National Campaign for Agricultural Reform began, eventually transforming into the Landless Workers' Movement. It today has 10 million militants.

In 1986 he received a terrible personal blow: born with the genetic disease hemophilia, he learned that he and his two brothers had contracted HIV through transfusions of contaminated blood. Two years later he watched his siblings die: the radical political cartoonist Henfil and the talented musician Chico Mario.

Painfully thin, Betinho kept himself alive with a daily cocktail of drugs and an incredible determination to fight. He threw himself into leading new mass actions that seemed unrealistic yet achieved what appeared to be impossible. In 1992 he launched the Movement for Ethics in Politics that brought Brazil's students and workers together into the streets of every major city. The protests eventually culminated in impeachment of the corrupt President Fernando Collar.

Remembering the marginalized

From that success, Betinho redirected the idealism and enthusiasm of the people towards the poor and marginalized people of Brazil. He launched the Citizens Campaign Against Hunger and Misery and For Life, mobilizing hundreds of thousands of volunteers in local committees to help feed the hungry. Religious and spiritual leaders united in this cause, too. In 1994 he started an annual drive, Christmas Without Hunger that raised 600 tons of food and, according to all surveys, achieved the goal of the first Brazilian Christmas without hunger in 500 years. National polls demonstrated that he had achieved an incredible 96 percent approval rating from the people.

He led other campaigns for AIDS education and research, to stop the violence done to street children and to protest unemployment. Suddenly a second devastating blow came in 1994: he had contracted Hepatitis C virus through yet another transfusion of contaminated blood. Further weakened, weighing only 40 kilos (88 pounds) despite his 1.72 meters (5'9'') height, Betinho continued to write and speak for the ideals of democracy and social justice.

In 1996 when P.R. Sarkar's *Proutist Economics* was being published in Portuguese, Betinho contributed the following words to the first page:

In Brazil, 48% of all the national wealth is in the hands of only 10% of the population. This is certainly one of the greatest concentrations of income existing in the whole world. Yet there are 32 millions who live in utter poverty in this country, deprived of every right, including the most basic of all, the right to eat.

It is imperative to achieve jobs. When we use jobs like an arm in the fight against poverty, we show how Brazil can find an answer, because we don't have more time. We are running against time, against this tragedy that has occurred in the country.

Democracy cannot live without solidarity, without love for social equality, without the participation of everyone in the changes that come through action.

Outpouring of grief and solidarity

In the early morning hours following his death from hepatitis, Betinho's body was placed in the front entrance of the legislative assembly building in Rio de Janeiro so that it could be viewed by the public. A day of national mourning was declared as thousands filed past. Grateful slum dwellers and street children stood beside Brazil's political and social leaders.

The First Lady, Ruth Cardoso, represented the President. The mayor and governor of Rio de Janeiro, and other governors, senators and ministers also came. The leaders of the opposition Workers' Party (PT) and of the Landless Peoples Movement draped their flags by the coffin. Dozens of artists, writers, musicians and actors were there to remember the thin man who convinced them to contribute their talents in fund raising drives.

Television crews and journalists representing all of Brazil's major media organs recorded the statements of all of them in memory of this popular man. Leonardo Boff, founder of the liberation theology movement, said, When the pope visits Brazil in October, he should canonize Betinho and declare him a secular saint of the poor. He lives now in our collective unconscious.

Dominican monk Frei Betto, another liberation theology leader famous in Latin America, told the people, He was more than a hero, because his main achievement was to bring hunger out of hiding and put it in the center of the nation's attention. I hope that the government understands this legacy, because the masses certainly do. Finally all present sang the protest song of the exiles during the dictatorship. Then an incredible wave of applause swept the crowd as the cry, Betinho lives! echoed through the hall.

The next morning his body was taken away for private cremation. His ashes were then scattered on the land of Brazil that he loved and for which he sacrificed so much.