Zero Hunger: Political Culture and Antipoverty Policy in Northeast Brazil

Zero Hunger: Political Culture and Antipoverty Policy in Northeast Brazil

Zero Hunger: Political Culture and Antipoverty Policy in Northeast Brazil

Zero Hunger: Political Culture and Antipoverty Policy in Northeast Brazil

Excerpt

One evening in June 2003, Henrique, a Brazilian politician running for mayor of a small, impoverished northeastern town, attended a charity auction in a village along with several hundred people. He had made a fortune from the market and butcher shop he owned in a nearby city, and he was ready to put his money to work for his campaign, bidding on prize after prize (plates of cooked food, liquor, and soft drinks), all to be eaten right then and there, just outside the village chapel. As he won the bids, Henrique set them on a table and yelled, “Grab it, my people.” Dozens from the crowd slowly closed in to partake. The host villagers were glad to see Henrique square off against rival candidates, because bidders with big egos spelled big bucks, and regardless of who won, all that cash would underwrite the refurbishing of the village chapel. Henrique, the richest man in town, was coasting with little competition until a small group of men from town started to bid against him. They were political adversaries, but not politicians—just ordinary “weaklings” (os fracos) who had pooled their money to compete with him. Even with their money pooled, they were no match for Henrique’s wallet, but they put Henrique into doublebind: if he simply outbid the group of commoners, he would appear a bully, rather than a generous man-of-the-people. But if he let them win, their success might appear a symbolic victory for the opposing political faction. A look of pain crossed Henrique’s face as he indicated his withdrawal. But no sooner had he made his decision than a small group of commoners sprang up to bid against the first team. Henrique smiled from the sidelines as one among them cried, “Now, it’s our time!” The price rose only a bit before this second team had won the bid. Later, I watched from afar as one of these young men chatted quietly with Henrique in the shadows of the chapel. As the two parted, the young man said, “We are here for you, Henrique. Whatever you need, we are here.”

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