Far and Near Brazil

Gezi Park Resistance Article Series – No. 13

Far and Near Brazil

Does Google know everything? Almost. according to Google maps the distance between Recife and Campina Grande is 182km, by car 2 hours and 12 minutes. However, Google doesn’t know the road quality in Brazil’s North East. The trip lasts twice as long, because the road is full of potholes and the driver needs to go in wiggly lines not to ruin his car completely.

This road, however, doesn’t link two villages, but the biggest city in the Northeast and capital of the state of Pernambuco with roughly 4 million inhabitants with the second biggest city of the to the North neighbouring state of Paraiba, Campina Grande, which has more than 400,000 inhabitants. About 100 years ago there was a regular train connection between the two cities, mainly to transport the “white gold”, cotton, from the hinterland to the ports. In the 1970s these train connections were abolished, Brazil then was modern enough to renounce on trains. Having arrived in Campina, the middle class usually lives outside the centre in multi-story buildings; hardly any car is parked in the streets, but in fenced and gated parking spaces below the apartment blocks. During the nightly car rides the windows are closed, “too dangerous.” Or the middle class lives in houses with garden such as the Menezes family. Actually quite nice, if there were not the several meters high walls with barbed wire around the estate, which is also used as a parking lot, so that none of guests has to park on the street either. It is not surprising that one of the top issues in any conversation is the growing criminality and violence, many sentences start with “previously the kids could play in the streets.” Suzana, the dinner host, is a physiotherapist by training currently looking for a job. Her father Robert is professor at the local university. During his studies he was also in England and Germany. He complains about the quality of Brazilian universities. “Brazil has only one university that can compete internationally, in Sao Paolo.”

“We have got First World level stadiums and now we need a First World country around them”

Besides to Recife, there was also a train connection from Campina Grande to the capital of Paraiba, Joao Pessoa, which is directly located on the Atlantic coast. For American standards it is an old settlement dating back to the early 1500s. In eye’s sight of the beach, the young academic couple Silveira lives in the 7th floor of a 10-floor building. Luisa, a psychologist, works at a private university, which according to her husband Otacilio, professor of economic law at the federal university of Natal, is a “form of modern slavery.” Luisa’s wage goes directly into the education of the only child who attends a private school from first grade on. Why? “The state schools are a horror.”  Otacilio studied in Spain, he is fluent in Spanish and English, which makes him kind of exotic, the knowledge of foreign languages doesn’t correspond with the ambitions of Brazil of becoming an economic and political regional power.

In the triangle between Recife, Campina Grande and Joao Pessoa, more than 1000 km North of Rio de Janeiro or Sao Paolo, one quickly gets a feeling for the things that don’t seem to be so ideal in the economic miracle Brazil. The economy grew in the past years, between 2004 and 2010 by almost 4,5 per cent on average, but so grew the unequal distribution. And a side effect of the growth was that the country became more and more expensive, not only for tourists who quickly realize that they are everywhere but a low budget holiday destination.

dead footballs in Brasilia

Going through a supermarket one wonders how someone with the minimum wage of 678 Reais (230 Euros) can scrape by. Concerning the infrastructure, the country lacks far behind the necessary. In every big city you are welcomed by a traffic chaos, public transportation is weak and only used by those who don’t have another chance. Trains, as already mentioned, don’t exist anymore; also the 430 kilometres between Rio and Sao Paolo are only connected by a freight train. Airports, often prestige objects can’t cope with the growing numbers of passengers.. Besides the traffic chaos, almost every big city also has its “Crackolandia” where the cheap drug Crack is doing its best to destroy a part of the younger population and is most successful among the black one.

Brazil sells itself as a functioning melting pot, one of the official slogans of the federal government is “A country for all” praising its plurality. At a second look however, it rather seems that the heritage of slavery and discrimination of blacks are not discussed, as if a problem that is not talked about doesn’t exist. The better the neighbourhood the whiter they become and it is probably not only by chance that the most African of the Brazilian cities, Salvador, with estimated 80 per cent population of African ancestry has never had an elected black mayor.

All this is not new to Brazilians. Over the years they have witnessed how their country has drifted apart, how almost all parties were confronted with corruption allegations, how politicians filled their pockets and if caught and even sentenced could continue because of immunity, how the schools and the health system deteriorated. The big loser during this process was the environment; the mega-dam project Belo Monte is only one out of many examples where quick profit is more important than sustainability.

When the Brazilians don’t discuss these issues or enjoy themselves in the consumption temples called shopping in Brazilian Portuguese or in trendy bars, they might have watched at 9pm the telenovela “Salve Jorge”, which was broadcasted for the first time in October 2012. This Brazilian series, produced by well-known Gloria Perez is based both in Brazil and Turkey, there in Istanbul and Cappadocia. That’s why many Brazilians think that Cappadocia is from Istanbul a half hour drive by car.  The actors are all Brazilians, but in the series they are also Mustafa and Ayşe. The series with the usual drama of conspiracy, jealousy and intrigues, made Turkey better known to a broader public, the constantly shown air shots from Istanbul and Cappadocia could also have been made by the tourism ministry.

Brazil photo

This might be one more reason why some in Brazil drew parallels between what is going in the two countries, because Turkey was not anymore any kind of terra incognita in the Eastern Mediterranean, but a country they know from the sofa in the living room. Both countries are separated by 10 hours air travel, historical and societal they have few things in common, but nevertheless some of the problems are similar and therefore also the reasons for protest.

In both countries, an educated middle class demands more transparency, the inclusion of civil society and more social justice. In both countries this class resists against authoritarian decisions against the will of the concerned, the commercialization of the public space and the galloping environmental destruction in the name of progress.

protest in Campina Grande

In both countries there has been pressure in the kettle for quite some time; only when and where the outlet would explode was not clear. At least not for the municipalities of Istanbul and Sao Paolo when they decided to cut trees or raise the ticket prices for transport. Quickly more was at stake. Built up frustrations with the prevailing circumstances. In both countries not opposition parties led the protest, but civilian movements without recognizable leadership, which were both discontent with the government and the leading opposition parties.

Of course there are also differences. One of the more important ones is that in Brazil no lifestyle is at stake. This even if the life styles of the Catholics and the quickly growing Evangelicals are quite different, the Evangelicals neither drink alcohol nor do they dance Samba or Forro and they don’t participate in the Carnival. However, this did not turn out to be an ideological confrontation and issues concerning religions or confessions were not a topic. None of the main criticism of the Brazilian protests was related to alcohol consumption, clothing, and the fertility rate nor were the protestors accused of desecrating religious spaces. Maybe because of this, it came easier to Dilma Roussef to approach the demonstrators, because they do not demand her demission and there is no “we” and “them” in the debate. On 18 June she commented the protests: “My government is listening to the voices calling for change. … Brazil has woken up a stronger country. … [This] is evidence of the strength of our democracy.”  Roussef’s only criticism was concerning the violence, but, without ever denigrating the protestors as looters. However, not all reacted so wisely. Pele, ex-minister, sports ambassador and maybe soon ex-national hero proposed to his fellow compatriots to stop protesting during the Confed Cup and support the Selecao. “Pele is an idiot”, answered Saionara Cordeiro who organizes from Campina Grande also trips to Turkey. When schools and health become more important than big international events and national heroes become idiots, then one might hope for a more democratic future. This again, the two countries have in common.

Ekrem Eddy Güzeldere, Deputy Editor, Centre for Policy and Research on Turkey (ResearchTurkey)

Please cite this publication as follows:

Güzeldere, Ekrem Eddy(August, 2013), “Far and Near Brazil”, Vol. II, Issue 6, pp.48-52, Centre for Policy and Research on Turkey (ResearchTurkey), London, Research Turkey. (http://researchturkey.org/?p=3966)

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