Posts Tagged With: Dilma Rousseff

The cheese is always greener on the dark side of the moon

I love you hate you love you hate you...having fun in Brazil

I love you hate you love you hate you…Brazil is irresistibly infuriating

It’s easy to love Brazil. The sun floods the house in the morning, filling the spaces with light and lightening the mood of the people. As mid-day approaches, gaggles of work-colleagues appear on the streets, chattering and chortling as they amble towards the nearest buffet-lunch bar. In the late afternoon, people sit in the park with their tea bowls, sucking the green liquid and gazing into the future. When the light fades, the crickets come out to sing, filling the tropical night air with an elusive mystique.

I see a message...if only those beans could speak to me!

I see a message…if only those beans could speak to me!

Some of my colleagues cannot believe I am thinking of heading back to the miserable grey skies of England, to the land of yob-culture, school bullies, boarded-up pubs, shops that shut at 5, small-minded conservative people and baked beans with everything. To a country where camping trips are ruined by the rain, where your body never throws off its clobber, where coffee is instant bilge, where town centres have been made anonymous by ugly shopping centres, where traffic wardens are repressed psychopaths and where a cheese and onion sandwich is the highlight of your day.

After all, living abroad makes you feel like a hero: what a remarkable feat you have managed, making your way in a foreign land and communicating in a foreign tongue, launched out of your cosy comfort zone like a jack-in-a-box! Surviving and prospering abroad is the sign of an intrepid adventurer, an infinitely resourceful globe-trotter, a multi-cultural maverick. When ex-pats in Brazil sit outside a trendy bar quaffing glasses of freezing beer and eyeing the talent they wish their cowardly mates back home could see them now! ‘This is the life’, they say.

Oh dear...the boom years have busted

As socialists, we promise to help…erm, ourselves?

But Brazil has hit the buffers with a dull, ominous thud. The Worker’s Party, who claim to be ‘socialists’ and have been in charge for more than a decade, have been exposed as one of the most corrupt governments in the country’s history. With mafia-like villainy, they have made Al Capone look like Homer Simpson. In the latest scandal, billions of dollars were siphoned out of Brazil’s huge state oil company, Petrobras. Now the country is financially broke and morally and spiritually broken. The local currency is up and down like Tower Bridge and the future looks, well, not exactly pear-shaped – more banana republic. Being here sometimes feels like living in the middle of an abandoned building site.

The middle classes have been revolting, huge swathes of them taking to the streets to call for the impeachment of President Dilma. They say they want a new Brazil, though I doubt many of them would be prepared to give up their servants – armies of the poor who daily spend hours in cramped buses on the way to clean house, cook and look after rich kids for a pittance. In many ways Brazil has never overcome the master-slave mentality that began when the Portuguese monarchy arrived here 500 years ago. Success, for a Brazilian, is not having to do the dirty work. Today, the professional classes may be working hard in their corporate suites, but they don’t lift a finger when they come home. The surest way to go bankrupt in Brazil is to open a DIY store.

Brazil versus England...the story of my wife (I mean LIFE!)

Brazil versus England…the story of my wife             (I mean my LIFE!)

This potent mixture of political corruption, middle-class hypocrisy and exploitation of the poor is making Brazil much less easy to love. If anything, the recent displays of public anger are symptomatic of a country riddled with self-hatred. It’s very difficult today to find a Brazilian with much love for their homeland; most have become profoundly cynical. The tragedy is that, during the recent ‘boom’ years, Brazil did little to invest in public services: schools, hospitals and transportation are woefully underfunded. In this respect, Brazil has failed to throw off its ‘third world’ stigma. The irony is that, for a third world country, the current cost of living is astronomical. In short, nothing seems to make sense in present-day Brazil.

But perhaps the single most shocking thing about life here, is the blatant lack of policing and crime control. If the English police force is considered ‘professional’, then the Brazilian equivalent is a bunch of amateur clowns, so badly paid (and drawn from the uneducated poor) that they can’t resist colluding with the criminal gangs they are supposed to be catching. Many days go by here in Porto Alegre where I don’t see a single police officer. And this in a country where crime is rife and victims are shot dead if they react. One of my friends admitted recently she is just waiting for the day when a gun is put to her head and she hands over the keys of her car. If she accidentally screams, she might not live to tell the tale. When my son announced, with only a trace of irony, that if he had to stay living in Brazil he would buy a gun, something clicked in my head. That can’t be right.

Ben's Record Shop in Guildford...a haven for vinyl junkies

Ben’s Record Shop in Guildford…I miss it like I miss being 12

And yet, despite all this angst, my reasons for being lured back to Blighty are mostly mundane. You see, I miss a lot of daft stuff – ebay, for example. The second-hand Johnny that I am has been starved to the bone. I dream of charity shops, used book and record shops, jumble sales, flea markets. I ache to buy a decent second-hand motor at a reasonable price (impossible in Brazil). I miss supermarkets with their half-price offers and vast range of imported foods. I fantasize about Wetherspoons pubs – in fact, any pub. I long to see clean water in the rivers, hear the smack of leather on willow and enjoy the light of those long summer nights.

Plonk me in Wetherspoons with a pile of newspapers and I'm 'appy

Plonk me in Wetherspoons with a pile of newspapers and I’m as right as rain

There is nothing like a jumble sale to make you feel patriotic

There is nothing quite like a jumble sale to make you feel patriotic

Of course, there are a few serious reasons, too. Like free healthcare, for example – here in Brazil, like the USA, if you don’t have costly health insurance you take your place at the back of the queue and risk being forgotten. And being a rich country, there is at least some spending on public services in England and a modicum of respect for the environment. And, though I never thought I would ever say this, I want to live in a place with at least the odd copper knocking about; a place where criminals pay for their crimes if they are caught, which rarely seems to happen here. When I first heard gunshots in the middle of the night, I felt proud of myself for braving life in lawless, ‘wild west’ Brazil. But now I’m too old for Cowboys and Indians.

If I do set sail and leave these distant shores, it will not be without sadness, but with a heavy heart. If I do feel the odd twinge of hate for Brazil just now, it’s only because deep down I love it. Just play me a Djavan song and I’ll be in tears in no time. What makes Brazil warm is not the tropical climate, but the big-hearted Brazilians with their zest for life, despite all the struggle and strife.

The view from my ideal apartment, without binoculars

The view from my ideal apartment…yeah, right!

In fact, if I had a sea-view flat in Copacabana, with armed guards on the door and a shotgun under the mattress, a constant supply of untaxed imported goods, a few dodgy friends, an English pub round the corner and a pair of binoculars I would probably stick around. But somehow I think that’s unlikely.

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Categories: Blighty, Brazil, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Passion, politics and personal hygiene in Brazil

Tiririca the clown says: "If elected I promise I will help all Brazilian families... especially mine"

Tiririca the clown says: “If elected I promise I will help all Brazilian families… especially mine”

Today is a big day in Brazil. More than 100 million people will toddle along to their local polling station to cast their precious electronic vote. Today, Brazil’s huge population will not just decide who the next president will be, they also have to choose senators, governors and representatives at a municipal and local level. For weeks, every strip of grassland next to the main roads has been cluttered with billboards, huge photographs of dozens of well-heeled contenders and their electronic numbers. There are no written messages on the pictures, apart from the subliminal and obvious “Vote for Me”, which goes without saying.

Having found myself caught up in all the excitement and, as an outsider, mystified by all these names, numbers and bland photographs, I naturally consulted my colleagues and students to discover how they were going to choose their next political leaders. To my chagrin I discovered that the vast majority of these “delegates” are unknown; anonymous faces with numbers to match. In fact, it wouldn’t be stretching the truth to suggest that many people will vote for the person who, from their photographic portrait, appears to be the most sincere and reliable. I won’t say “trustworthy” as Brazil has a shameful history (one which runs right up to the present) of corruption in politics at all levels, leading most voters to adopt a cynical attitude to the electoral proceedings. It looks like a case of “meet the new boss – same as the old boss”, as The Who’s Pete Townsend  aptly put it in his ironically titled song, Won’t Get Fooled Again.

That's Dilma the president at the top...but who are the rest?

That’s Dilma the president at the top…but who are the rest?

What a daft system! Surely nobody should be voting for someone they have never heard of. But then that is the nature of metropolitan politics where huge numbers of people live together and know next to nothing about how their city is run. It may sound idealistic, but wouldn’t it be great to get to know your candidate, to sit down and have a little chat? Only then would you know if this was the kind of person who best represents your opinions. Not only could you broach all those touchy subjects like poverty, education and corruption, you could get a feeling whether this candidate was understanding, humane, kind – somebody worthy of your vote. You could also check whether they have bad breath and expect you to pay for the drinks (obviously a no-brainer).

The biggest issue, as I see it, is how to make our societies fairer: how to engender more equality of wealth and opportunity. The simple solution – to tax the rich and give to the poor, Robin Hood-style, is surely way too simplistic. Wouldn’t that just make rich people not want to work anymore and, at the same time, make poor people lazy? Well, it depends. Like all political ideals, the answers lie somewhere deep in the darker realms of philosophy. The bigger question is: are we human beings basically good-hearted, sharing, caring creatures, or are we selfish individuals out to get everything we can for ourselves and our precious families? More to the point – shouldn’t all those candidates with the big beaming faces know the answer to these quandaries?

Hobbes: without state control you would be a brute

Hobbes: without state control you would be a brute

Of course they should! So, here’s the thing – all the candidates should be made to sit a philosophy exam and the results made public before the election. You see, I’m full of great ideas! But hang on a minute – do I know myself what the philosophers say about human nature? Well, erm, let me see…

Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679): Here we have a very influential English pessimist who wrote in his impressive tome Leviathan that human life would be “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short” without the powers that be keeping tight control on everybody. That’s because human beings have a natural tendency to fight with everybody else in the name of self-preservation. What Hobbes called “every man against every man” or what we call today, proverbially, “dog eat dog”. (Oh dear…not a good start!)

Jean-Jaques Rousseau (1712-1778) “Man was born free”, Rousseau famously proclaims, “and he is everywhere in chains.” Sounds familiar? Well, the Frenchman’s invention of the term “noble savage” might also ring a bell. But what does he mean? Well, unlike Hobbes, Rousseau is a bit of a romantic. He believes that in our true “natural” state, human beings do not know good and evil; in fact our ignorance of vice makes us unable to do bad things to others. Men and women are naturally peaceful and “passionate”. (Now this is more like it…sounds lovely!)

Adam Smith (1723-1790)

Adam Smith in Edinburgh: 'Just start up a business and everybody will be better off...honest!'

Adam Smith in Edinburgh: ‘Everybody is better off with Capitalism’

This Scottish economic philosopher has got a lot to answer for, my friends. He believed that yes, man is selfish, but that self-interest will actually benefit everybody else. Sounds dumb? Well, Smith argues in The Wealth of Nations that the creation and maintenance of business practices will benefit the whole of society, from the managing director to the cleaner who scrubs his floor. This is the thinking that spawned “neo-liberalism”, a free-market, no-holds-barred economic system which ultimately led to the chaotic global financial crisis we saw just a few years ago. Aggressive capitalism, Adam Smith-style, surely does not benefit everyone. How could it?

Karl Marx (1818-1883) My homeboy, in case you hadn’t guessed, this infamous German revolutionary believed that humans are naturally sociable “self-expressive animals who need one another to survive, but who come to fulfillment in that companionship over and above its social usefulness”, according to Marxist professor Terry Eagleton. Humans are political creatures, in the sense that we always have to organize ourselves and work together in order to produce the things we need. The problem is, in the advanced capitalist societies of today, little people don’t get a chance to voice their opinions or have the power to change the mighty economic system.

The very noble savage

The very noble savage

Which brings me back to the Brazilian elections today. Everyone I have spoken to here has very strong opinions about their beloved country. Brazilians are passionate about politics and have a wealth of ideas about how the country’s institutions need to change. How, for example, the cynicism of corrupt, selfish politicians can be traced back to a woefully underfunded education system which fails to enlighten schoolchildren about the crass limitations of consumerism and economic self-interest.

Luckily, being an ex-pat, I don’t have to vote today, but if I was Brazilian, I would be rooting for the candidate who regularly visited all the areas (including the very poor) of his or her constituency to actually speak with the people; to meet the voters – as many of them as humanly possible. That is true political representation. I would also be tempted to vote for someone who was stunningly attractive, of course – as long as they had read all three volumes of Das Kapital!

Categories: Brazil, Global Crisis, Great Minds | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Dear President Dilma…

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff is carrying the weight of the world on her back

Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff is carrying the weight of the world on her shoulders…

Brazil has taken a dive. For the last few years, ‘Brazil’ and ‘boom’ were synonymous. Not any more. The tropical honeymoon is over. Even this year’s World Cup won’t save the country from economic decline. The global crisis has finally hit these shores and the shockwaves are shaking the coconut trees.

Comrade Dilma prepares to be condemned for her socialist convictions

Comrade Dilma prepares to be condemned for her socialist convictions

This year is election year and the Brazilian Workers’ Party (PT) are hoping their “iron lady” Dilma Rousseff will win the voters’ confidence for a second term. Dilma has impeccable Marxist credentials: she fought as an urban guerilla against the military dictatorships of the 60s and 70s, earning herself a spell in prison where she was allegedly tortured. But comrade Dilma now has big problems. So much so, that I reckon she should listen to some sound advice from a straight-talking Bradford bloke like me. So, for the purposes of this post, I am recasting myself as an old lefty pal of Dilma’s from way back when. So, I have made a list of items she needs to address. Here goes:

IMAGE: Dilma, baby, you look ridiculous. Have you looked in the mirror recently? Your hair looks sculpted. Who are you trying to frighten? Think natural; look natural; be one of us again. And all that power dressing! What happened to the old jeans and jumpers you used to wear? You know, the communist clobber? Stop trying to look like Angela Merkel…you’re Brazilian, for god’s sake! Stop hiding behind a corporate mask, comrade. Ditch the designer wardrobe, get off your cardboard pedestal and come back down to the people – your people. And try to lose some weight: you’re beginning to look suspiciously like a self-satisfied bourgeois.

Now which one looks like a former leftist agitator? Erm, good question...

Now which one looks like a former leftist agitator? Erm, good question…

COMMUNICATION: Have you talked to any ordinary Brazilians recently to find out what they expect from the government? I thought so – hiding in your office again, behind a barrage of empty rhetoric. Stop acting. You are not a two-dimensional technocratGet out and meet the people.  Every struggling Brazilian would love to tell you about their plight. Remember this is supposed to be a democracy. How can you make policies if you don’t know what the people want at grassroots level? Imagine being able to make an election speech where you can say that you have “spoken to hundreds of families and understand their needs”. Don’t be shy – you know it makes sense.

Brazil's state schools: when you pay teachers peanuts, what do you get?

Brazil’s state schools: when you pay teachers peanuts, what do you get?

EDUCATION: Oh dear, what a sad story. You are proud to boast that every Brazilian kid now has a chance to go to school…but what kind of school? Some of them are a disgrace. For this, there is NO EXCUSE. Income and import taxes are ridiculously high, so you’ve had plenty of money to spend, especially in recent years. Education has to be your number one priority from now on. That’s number one, right? Top doggy. Listen to me: illiteracy and ignorance are rife. Are you proud of that? Without a greatly revalued and revamped education system, one which encourages and esteems academic achievement, Brazil will never be able to compete with other major economies and will continue to hang its head in shame.

Please, Ms Dilma, is there an honest politician in Brazil?

Please, Ms Dilma, is there an honest politician in Brazil?

CORRUPTION: OK, Dilma, you’ve been a tad unlucky. A gang of your own party members – people who claim to be socialists fighting for the rights of the poor – have been caught embezzling on a grand scale, lining their own pockets with tax-payers’ money. It must be so embarrassing for you, I know. But don’t bury your head in the sand. Have the courage to stand up in public and condemn those convicted of fiddling. In fact, go a step further: set up a commission to investigate corruption at all levels of government. Remember, you have nothing to fear but your own safety.

FIFA: Stop boasting that the 2014 World Cup will be the best ever – it’s defensive and plainly not true. The stadiums have already sucked billions in public money and many are doomed to be white elephants. That’s hard-working Brazilians paying for gilded arenas the inside of which they can never afford to see. So the people are angry and have every right to be, don’t you see? So prepare yourself for more protests, baby! What to do? Don’t let FIFA run off with all the profits – that would be silly. You need to redirect some of the money back into the local communities – housing, health and other social programmes. If you really want to make the World Cup “the best ever”, use it as a development tool to empower poor, struggling Brazilians – not FIFA executives.

Hey FIFA - forget football! Brazil needs proper public services...

Hey, FIFA – forget football! Brazil needs proper public services…

I could go on, Ms President…I could talk about the dreaded inflation that seems out of control, import taxes that make cars here vastly over-priced, a bloated public sector with its mindless bureaucracy and Russian-style protectionism, an impoverished and shoddy public healthcare system…but I won’t say any more.

Only this: Dilma, you are our sister, fellow-worker, comrade – a mother, a woman. Of course you are proud of Brazil – the country is wonderful in many ways. But rich and poor are staring at each other across an ever-widening abyss. Don’t be an also-ran. Don’t be Brazil’s first woman president who became an irrelevance. Be great. I think you can do it. But you have to be bold…very bold. And you have to be human again.

 

Categories: Brazil, Football, Global Crisis | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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