sexta-feira, 29 de outubro de 2010

Radio: Brazilians Head to Polls for Presidential Run-off Election

From FSRN

Friday, 29 October, 2010

Listen to Radio Report

Brazilians take to the polls again this Sunday for the second and final round of the Presidential elections. Worker’s party candidate, Dilma Rousseff leads conservative candidate Jose Serra in the polls. But it has not been an easy campaign. The second round debate has centered on abortion, religion, scandals, and a mainstream media campaign against the left-wing front-runner. Mike Fox has more from Porto Alegre, Brazil.

quinta-feira, 28 de outubro de 2010

Homage to a Fallen Patriot - Nestor Kirchner

The scene is surreal. The crowd passes buy slowly, respectfully. Touching the casket before them, last words murmured silently. Cristina is across from them, nodding her head to the crowd filing through, touching her heart. Brown hair hangs to hear shoulders, sunglasses to hide the anguish, flanked by family, Bolivian President Evo Morales, and many others. The madres and abuelas embrace her, bandanas tied around their heads in remembrance of those that have passed.

Presente”, cries the crowd packed into the Latin American Patriot’s Gallery of Argentina’s Presidential Palace, Casa Rosa. Another patriot has fallen.

“The death of Nestor Kirchner is irreparable,” writes Argentina torture-survivor Patrica Isasa from Washington DC. “Amidst sobs, anguish, full of memories… and with the certainty that the future is ours! We should pay honor to his memory and continue down the road that he indicated, but which is difficult. We have lost a unique leader… the great statesman, the great constructor of popular power, the great visionary, and above all a great companion!!! He who returned dignity to the people, who annulled the laws of impunity, who honored memory and justice.”

Ecuadoran President Rafael Correa arrives to applause, as does Uruguay President Pepe Mujica. The crowd and the ceremony continue in silence. Wordless, speechless silence. Motionless in this quickly shifting universe. Motionless and silent, broken only by emotional cries from the crowd. “Por Argentina!” Shouts, cries, respect, and tears. Hope and dreams of a tomorrow. Dreams uplifted by the man lying before them. Dreams and memories that will never be forgotten, and homage to a fallen patriot – Nestor Kirchner (25 February 1950 – 27 October 2010). To watch the ceremony on Argentina's Public TV Channel 7.

sexta-feira, 8 de outubro de 2010

Brazilian Elections: Shifting Dynamics and the Green Vote

From Upside Down World

Friday, 08 October 2010

Lula & Dilma Rousseff

Lula & Dilma Rousseff

“Something is different. I don’t know how, but you can tell that things have changed,” said a committed Worker’s Party (PT) supporter on election night in Brazil’s largest city, São Paulo.

She had asked to remain anonymous. Her voice was shaky, hesitant. Brazil’s Supreme Electoral Tribunal—the independent branch of government in charge of the elections—had only just released the first results. But she had been on the streets all day and she already knew the outcome of the October 3rd presidential race.

“We’re definitely going into the second round,” she said nervously. “We have a long month ahead of us.”

To win in the first round in Brazil, a candidate must receive more than half of the valid votes. A sure win in the first round for Worker’s Party candidate Dilma Rousseff, had in only a few short weeks turned into a runoff. She still won the election by far, garnering nearly 47%, 14 points ahead of her closest challenger, right-wing candidate Jose Serra (PSDB). But what scared this Dilma supporter on election night was the feeling in the streets—or rather, the lack there of.

Eight years ago, when Brazilians took to the polls to elect their working-class hero, Luis Inácio “Lula” da Silva, activists and PT supporters poured out en masse to bring their historic leader into office. It was a long time coming. Lula’s fourth and last run at the presidency. The streets were alive. The energy—contagious. Banners waving. Change riding in on a wave that was about to blanket Brazil.

Four years later, in 2006, excitement was still in the air, as Lula was re-elected for his second and last term in office.

“You’ll see. It’s a great big party. People dancing in the streets,” said Maria José da Silva, from São Paulo’s Americanópolis favela or slum, only days before last Sunday’s vote.

But on Election Day in São Paulo, the streets were overwhelmingly silent. Times had changed. Voting was calm. Leaders praised Election Day as a sign of the maturity of Brazilian democracy. But for activists looking for a moment to celebrate, Sunday was a solemn wake-up call that the ground is shifting beneath their feet. Gone was the street party and in its place, the institution.

It was to be expected.

Outgoing President Lula has an approve rating close to 80%. He has managed to balance social, welfare and fiscal policies that have pleased both the working poor and international investors. His social welfare programs like Bolsa Familia—which provides economic support to poor families with their kids in school—have helped to lift more than 20 million Brazilians out of poverty. Lula has carried his country swiftly into the international arena brokering the Iran-Turkey nuclear deal. The Brazilian economy is growing at nearly 8% a year, and the country barreled through the world’s recent financial troubles with a currency that strengthens daily. Nevertheless, the PT has failed to live up to the expectations of many, who dreamt of true transformative change as they cast their ballot eight years ago.

Part of it was inevitable. The coalition forged—between the PT, the centrist PMBD and several other parties—to win the 2002 election would not allow more radical reforms. Nor would a hand-tied congress and senate.

On the streets, the PT followed the direction of the more traditional parties who pay “volunteers” to wave banners and flier for their candidates. Brazil’s Landless Worker’s Movement, the MST, has been critical of the Lula administration’s lack of agrarian reform. According to the MST, the Lula government has given ten times more subsidies to multinational agribusiness than family farming. The PSOL party, which split from the PT a year into Lula’s first term, has called for true socialist alternatives.

Nevertheless, the party can still move thousands in droves. The Monday night before the elections, tens of thousands of PT supporters amassed in São Paulo’s samba stadium to support Dilma in her end of campaign rally. They were also there for their president, who was greeted by voluptuous applause as he took the stage.

“I want to tell you that president Lula, the factory worker, led the best government that this country has ever had,” said Dilma to the crowds cheering in the pouring rain at the rally. “And he has passed to me a legacy to continue this project of Brazilian transformation.”

If elected, Dilma would become the first female president in Brazilian history. Dilma Rousseff, PT candidate and Lula’s former Chief-of-Staff may represent the continuation of Lula’s policies, but she does not have the charisma nor the history of the former labor-leader. She is his choice, and the people have faith in Lula. This had carried her to the front of the polls, and blown her far ahead of the pack for months.

But with the media leaning against her, a complicated abortion debate, and the break of a corruption scandal involving a close Dilma confidant, voters began to defect less than two weeks before the elections.

But those votes did not go to the right-wing candidate Jose Serra. They went to Green Party Candidate, Marina Silva, who now may hold the keys to Brazil’s presidential Alvorada Palace. The question now is who she will decide to hand them to.

The Green Wave – “A Onda Verde

“Waiting for Marina,” read the headlines of the Elections section of the Estado de São Paulo newspaper on Tuesday, October 5th. The day before, Marina had announced that within 15 days she would decide which presidential candidate, Dilma Rousseff or Jose Serra, she would officially endorse. Her decision could make or break the second round of the presidential elections, on October 31.

As a former member of the Worker’s Party, it might at first appear obvious that she would throw her weight behind Dilma. But as is the case in Brazilian politics, nothing is that obvious.

Marina Silva is Lula’s former Environmental Minister, who stepped down roughly two years ago because of the roadblocks towards environmental protection, she said were thrown in her way by the Lula administration.

She jumped on board as presidential candidate of the Green Party over the last year. With a platform in favor of environmental protection and sustainability, and a grassroots “movement” in support of her candidacy, Marina at first appeared to offer an exciting third party choice.

But in many ways, Marina is not your typical “green”. She has criticized President Lula for his close relationship with the Presidents of Venezuela and Cuba, saying that those countries should open up their “freedom of expression” and “democracy.” An Evangelist, she is against abortion, an issue that rose in importance late in the presidential campaign. Both she and Serra have criticized Dilma’s more lenient stance. Dilma, a Catholic, is in favor of abortion in extreme circumstances, and she has called for the Brazilian people to decide the issue in a national referendum.

By straddling the grey area between the left-wing and the right—the environment, abortion, politics—Marina offered a safe choice for 20 million, largely middle-class Brazilian voters who didn’t feel represented by Lula, aren’t confident in Dilma and are concerned with the corruption in Brasilia (be it with the PT or in the previous governments).

In two weeks, Marina may decide to stay neutral, which would bode well for Dilma who was only a few points from fifty percent majority in the first round. But in the meantime, lesser members of the Green Party have already come out in support of Jose Serra. Among them is Fernando Gabeira, the PV candidate for Rio de Janeiro state governor, who lost on Sunday but acquired over a million votes.

Legislative Elections

Gabeira was just one of more than 22,000 candidates who competed last Sunday for Brazil’s state governorships and seats on the Brazilian Congress, the Senate, and State Legislatures. While these elections may seem of lesser importance, for a country the size of Brazil—with a population just shy of all the South American Spanish-speaking countries combined—such local elections can set the pace for the direction of the country.

In the Senate, the PT picked up 5 seats and now has the second largest voting block after their coalition partner, PMDB. The PT and their allies picked up governorships in 11 states, compared with Serra’s allies in 7 states. The other nine states are still up in the air or will have a second round runoff on October 31st. Probably the biggest PT win for governor was in Brazil’s Southern-most state of Rio Grande do Sul, where the former Justice Minister, Tarso Genro, took back the state from the conservative governor, Yeda Crusius (PSDB).

In the Congress, the PT picked up five seats, becoming the largest voting block with a total of 88 representatives. The PT and its allies now hold 309 of the 513 seats in the congress. The opposition parties, PSDB and DEM lost 34 seats, acquiring a total of 111 seats. Among the candidates with the largest numbers of votes for the national congress were 29-year-old Manuela D’Avila from the Rio Grande do Sul Communist Party and Anthony Garotinho of the Party of the Republic in Rio de Janeiro. A clown from São Paulo, named Tiririca, “Grumpy”, took the cake, winning more votes than any other congressional representative in the country.

With these votes, and a potential Dilma win, the PT is well positioned to continue to carry out the policies of the Lula government. However, this will continue to have to come in collaboration with the allies that have made up the PT coalition under Lula.

Second Round

In the meantime, the second round of the presidential electoral campaign has already begun, with both Dilma and Serra on the road to entice Marina supporters in their direction.

Despite the Green Party positioning, with 47% of the votes in the first round, a Dilma victory looks likely. Even Lula had to wait for the second round in both of his successful presidential victories. And with the high approval rating of the Lula government, especially in the poorest communities, Dilma seems poised to still ride in on this wave of support.

On Monday, October 4th, community organizer Maria José da Silva broke down while walking through the poor Anjos de Jardim Miriam community in Southern São Paulo, where she has been helping to fight for infrastructure improvements.

“It’s just too much,” she said, wiping tears from her eyes. “Our local candidate didn’t win, and I know that we aren’t going to get any improvements in this community for at least the next four years.”

Maria had been out promoting the PT candidates for months in the hopes that they could improve the reality for the hundreds of residents that precariously live here, without public infrastructure, alongside open sewers that which flow like tiny rivers, flooding their homes when it rains.

Most of the local PT candidates lost in São Paulo, but Maria is banking on a Dilma presidency that can continue the social policies of the Lula government. They may not be as radical as some would hope for, but under Lula these communities have had hope and change. Maria was able to go back and finish school. Now she is going to college to be at teacher, with the goal of continuing to organize to improve her community.

“This would never have been possible when I was younger. Never,” she said with tears in her eyes this week in front of her family’s homes a few kilometers away, a maze of cinderblock rooms piled one on top of the next winding up into the hills. These are the people who will likely put Dilma Rousseff on top on October 31st, regardless of the political positioning that takes place between now and then.

quarta-feira, 6 de outubro de 2010

The Homeless World Cup in Brazil: Changing Lives Through Soccer

From Toward Freedom

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

In Rio de Janeiro, soccer players concluded the Homeless World Cup in late September. Hundreds of homeless men and women from dozens countries participated in this year’s tournament, drawing crowds of thousands. But the event wasn’t just about soccer, it was about changing lives.

Vusumzi Shushu is quick and agile on the soccer field. He has to be. That’s what a life on the streets will teach you.

“I spent eight years on the streets, also done some drugs and I’ve been in prison,” he says. “And I’ve realized in three years that god gave me a gift so why don’t I use that to make a living instead of doing all the crazy things that I do.”

The gift is soccer, and last week it brought hundreds of people just like Vusumzi together for the Homeless World Cup in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

The game is fast. Four to a side, and played on a small court. Two 10-minute periods with scores that can reach double digits. Sixty-three teams competing, each representing their home country.

“It’s been wonderful,” said Vusumzi Shushu, from the South African team. “It’s been amazing really in terms of getting to know each other from different countries so we can be one as a nation at the end of the day.”

The bleachers are lined with players from across the globe, speaking in their native tongues, rooting for each other’s teams. Beyond the soccer courts, Copacabana beach rolls into the Atlantic Ocean beneath a hot sun and a blue sky that stayed clear for most of the tournament.

Nineteen-year-old Jasmine Morris from the US women’s team walks off the court after sliding past India 5-3.

“Oh, It’s been great, a lot of competition,” she says, out of breath. “Hard Competition, but it’s been fun.”

Morris only picked up soccer a year ago, she’s now a member of the first U.S. women’s team to play in the Homeless World Cup. But she was homeless in Minneapolis for two years before she got a break.

“I was out of it and my coach helped me get into the transitional living program and it was the best thing that ever happened to me in my life,” says Morris.

“It’s a really important event because it’s changing people’s lives,” says the founder of the 7-year-old tournament, Scottish native Mel Young. “We’re just using football as a common entry and creating a competition around it and it changes lives, that’s why it’s important. I don’t think there should be any homeless people in the world, at all. I don’t think there’s any reason for it, but we have it. Hundreds of millions of people are homeless and so this is kind of a little contribution to try and make a difference.”

According to Young, a surprising 70-80% of participants experience a significant life change after getting involved in the program. They find a home, come off drugs, or even become coaches.

The Homeless World Cup takes place in a different country every year and is the last phase of a much longer program. Participants compete on the local, regional and then national level before a team is chosen to represent each country. To be eligible, players must be at least 16, have been homeless within the last year, be a refugee or be in a drug rehab program.

“In three years I lost everything. I never thought I would fall so low,” says Ricardo Mendes, from the Costa Rican team. After years of alcoholism and drug abuse, he finally got help. Now age 29, he is getting his life in order and he wants to go back to school. “I’m getting back up again and I began with this.”

This was also the first year the Palestinian team participated in the Cup. All of the players are from refugee camps in Lebanon.

“When they invited us they told us that players should be homeless within one year of the event. I told them all of our players are born homeless. They are born in refugee camps,” said Palestine coach Sameh Zeidani.

According to event organizers, with natural disasters, inequality, extreme poverty and lack of affordable health care and housing, roughly a billion people are homeless or without adequate housing worldwide.

The recent financial crisis has also contributed to homelessness, especially in the United States. While numbers are hard to get, The National Coalition for the Homeless says that three and a half million people are homeless each year in the United States. Nearly 800,000 homeless children are enrolled in U.S. public schools.

“Among the other sort of developed countries, we have more of a problem, because a lot of those countries have a system of meeting people’s basic needs when the job market isn’t enough to do that,” says Steve Berg, Vice President of Policy and Programs at the Washington-Based National Alliance to End Homelessness. “I think in most of the sort-of advanced countries there’s more of a social safety net that sort of says we’re just not going to let people be that poor and in this country, we just don’t have that.”

Nevertheless, the Obama administration has been trying. Three months ago, it unveiled the Federal Strategic Plan to End Homelessness in the United States. The first of its kind, the plan proposes to increase affordable housing, economic security, health care and leadership training for the homeless. It plans to eradicate both chronic and veterans homelessness in only five years.

But that will likely take an uphill battle.

“It’s the blinded eye syndrome,” says US player Jasmine Morris sitting on the beach after her game. “Most Americans don’t really care. They’re starting to care, but it’s not enough because people are still sleeping on the street, and you walk by a homeless person just sitting there.”

On Sunday, September 26, last day of the cup, Brazil’s men and women’s teams blew past Chile and Mexico, winning this year’s Cup. The tournament players headed home.

“What are your goals?” I asked Morris before she left. “I want to go to the University of Minnesota, to get a scholarship to play soccer,” she answered.

sexta-feira, 1 de outubro de 2010

Brazilian Elections: Big Shoes to Fill

This Sunday, October 3rd, Brazilians hit the polls to elect a new president. Local, legislative, and governor seats are also up for grabs, and the Worker’s Party (PT) could take a Congressional majority. Their Presidential Candidate, Dilma Rousseff, is well ahead in the polls and if she can win over 50% of the votes this weekend she can propel herself into the presidency without a second round. But even if she does win, she’ll have big shoes to fill.

Tens of thousands of PT supporters amassed in Sao Paulo’s samba stadium to support Dilma in her end of campaign rally last Monday night. But the real hero was outgoing president Luis Inácio “Lula” da Silva, with cheers erupting as he took the stage.

Lula is barred from running again due to term limits, but the president has an approval rating close to 80%. His social welfare programs like Bolsa Familia—which provides economic support to poor families with their kids in school—have helped to lift more than 20 million Brazilians out of poverty. Lula has carried his country swiftly into the international arena brokering the Iran-Turkey nuclear deal. The Brazilian economy is growing at nearly 8% a year, and the country barreled through the world’s recent financial troubles with a currency that strengthens daily. That’s a tough act to follow.

“I want to tell you that president Lula, the factory worker, led the best government that this country has ever had,” said Dilma to the crowds cheering in the pouring rain at the rally. “And he has passed to me a legacy to continue this project of Brazilian transformation.”

If elected, Dilma would become the first female president in Brazilian history. Since 2005 she served as Lula’s former chief-of-staff, and she has promised to continue Lula’s policies, but that is exactly what worries some.

Brazil’s Landless Worker’s Movement, the MST, has been critical of the Lula administration’s lack of agrarian reform. According to the MST, the Lula government has given ten times more subsidies to multinational agribusiness than family farming. These policies have led to deforestation, and environmental degradation from monocropping, pesticides, fertilizers and GMO crops.

“There have been many advances under Lula, but what I find the most disturbing, is that the environment is always sitting out there in the waiting room drinking tea, because they had a vision of development without the necessary attention to the impacts that this development generated.” said Flavio Lazaro co-founder of the Brazilian Green Party in Rio de Janeiro.

That’s part of the reason that former Worker’s Party Environmental Minister Marina Silva joined the presidential race under the Green Party. Silva is now polling at 13% but at a rally in Rio da Janeiro last Saturday’s rally she called on supporters to push the race into the 2nd round.

“What we are seeing on the streets is larger than what appears in the polls. The numbers will be there. Not as a possibility, but rather as the accomplishment of putting Marina Silvia, Green Party in the second round,” she called out to more than a hundred supporters circled around her, who cried out with cheers.

Nevertheless, Marina still lags 14 points behind Dilma’s closest challenger, the former Mayor of São Paulo, right-wing candidate Jose Serra of the Social Democracy, PSDB party.

Serra is a former economist, who wants to strengthen ties with the United States and has criticized Lula for his close connection to Latin America’s left-wing Presidents. Recently he has tried to capitalize off of a corruption scandal involving a close confidant of Dilma Rousseff.

“We can make this country advance, we can have an ethical government focused on the people and not for the parties, for buddies and groups, and friends, but a government for the Brazilian people, and that’s what I want for Brazil,” Jose Serra told supporters at his closing rally in Sao Paulo on Wednesday night.

But to be elected, Serra has an uphill battle. Many of those at the rally were paid “volunteers”, given weekly stipends of 200 Reais ($115) to wave flags and pass out propaganda.

Meanwhile, like the Lula government, the Worker’s Party is just one of a much larger coalition supporting Dilma’s presidency. With strong economic stability under Lula, some of Serra’s normal business constituents may even vote for Dilma.

“The PT has become extremely attractive for the Brazilian upper-class, because they have a much larger capacity to maintain stability, and governability, of a system that doesn't frighten the regime or the market,” said Arlei Assucena last week. Assucena is the Rio de Janeiro community liaison for the tiny left-wing party, PSOL, which split from the Worker’s Party shortly after Lula’s first victory.

“The Lula government is finishing up 8 years. In those 8 years under Lula, we’ve had one march of 80,000 of public servants in May 2003 in Brasilia. Then we had some marches of 10,000 people in Brasilia and we haven’t had any strong national demonstrations. This is compared with the government of Fernando Henrique Cardoso, who confronted a general strike, who confronted a march of 100,000 people in support of the MST in Brasilia,” said Assucena.

Nevertheless, Lula’s government has been benefiting the lives of millions of people across Brazil. Like Maria José da Silva, who lives in the Americanopolis slum of Sao Paulo. She dropped out of school when she was 17 because she was pregnant. But under Lula she was able to go back and finish and now she is studying Education at the University, and organizing to improve her community.

“This would never have been possible when I was younger. Never,” she said with tears in her eyes this week in front of her family’s homes, a maze of cinder rooms piled one on top of the next winding up into the hills. These are the people who will likely vote en mass for Dilma Rousseff on Sunday.

The polls open at 8am on Sunday. The vote is mandatory in Brazil, so a massive turnout is expected.