Magazine article New Internationalist

Longing for Lula: The Election of 'Lula' Da Silva as President Is a Turning Point in Brazilian History - but Sue Branford Is Worried about the Destination

Magazine article New Internationalist

Longing for Lula: The Election of 'Lula' Da Silva as President Is a Turning Point in Brazilian History - but Sue Branford Is Worried about the Destination

Article excerpt

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'To end hunger in the country. That's what I want President Lula to do,' said the 19-year-old woman, Marina, looking at me very seriously with her dark-brown eyes. 'I voted for Lula. He cares for people and he's determined to do something for the poor. It's shameful that a country as rich as Brazil still has people dying from hunger.'

I was chatting to a class of English-language students in Higienopolis, a middle-class neighbourhood in Sao Paulo, Brazil's largest city. Most of the students were young professionals - doctors, lawyers, teachers, computer programmers.

Quite unprompted, one after another even those who had not voted for Lula told me exactly the same thing. They wanted the new Government to end the fearful social crisis that has turned Brazil into one of the most unjust countries in the world.

The coming to power in January of Luis Inacio 'Lula' da Silva, at the head of the left-of-centre Workers' Party (Partido dos Trabalhadores, PT), feels like one of those turning points in a nation's history. I've been visiting Brazil for 30 years and I've never found the level of political awareness so high. All over this vast country, almost the size of the United States, people are talking excitedly about a new beginning. People want Brazil to turn its back on free-market economics. They want an end to government cutbacks, privatizations and downsizing. They want Brazil to develop its huge natural resources, to redistribute income and land, to put the interests of ordinary Brazilians before those of foreign creditors.

What about injustice?

On election night Lula was interviewed on Jornal Nacional, the main news and current-affairs programme on TV Globo, the biggest television network. The programme had carried in considerable detail the reaction of 'the markets' to Lula's victory - the small slide in the value of the real (Brazil's currency), the impact on the Sao Paulo stock market, the view of foreign investors. With a half-smile on his face, Lula commented: 'Haven't we got something more important to talk about? What about the hunger, the unemployment and the social injustice in the country?' Since Lula took office social movements have been hurriedly occupying the new political space. Environment Minister Marina da Silva, herself from a family of poor rubber-tappers in the Amazon forest, has appointed leading

environmentalists to key positions. She is determined to stop loggers from illegally extracting timber from Indian reserves and national parks and to put an end to indiscriminate jungle clearance.

With full government backing for the first time, labour inspectors will be moving swiftly to eradicate the slave labour still regularly found on large cattle ranches.

Working closely with Brazil's powerful landless movement (Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra, MST), Miguel Rossetto, Minister of Agrarian Reform, will start to redistribute latifundios, the huge unproductive landed estates, to landless families. Brazil has one of the most concentrated systems of land ownership in the world. Just 27,000 latifundios cover 178 million hectares (an area well over three times the size of France), while four million rural families have little or no land to live on. 'If it behaves courageously, the Government could make 100 million hectares of land available for agrarian reform,' says Joao Pedro Stedile, an MST leader. 'It's a lot of land.'

To honour his commitment to end hunger, Lula has already launched Fome Zero (Zero Hunger), a welfare programme for the country's nine million poorest families. …

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