Tag Archives: brazilian politics

The Pro-Choice Fight in Brazil

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This is an edited and cut down version of this piece. It is part of my Beyond the Sex and Sunshine series, where I write about Brazilian women and try to change the sexualized narrative around them. To read the full text please click here and support my work.

Jandira Magdalena dos Santos Cruz, 27, was last seen alive on her way to an illegal abortion clinic in Campo Grande, Rio de Janeiro. Weeks later, her body was found carbonized in a burnt car, without limbs or a dental arch. A divorced mother of two daughters, Jandira resorted to abortion when her boyfriend refused to take responsibility for the pregnancy.

Abortion is illegal in Brazil except in cases of rape or if the mother’s life is in danger. This illegality what led Jandira to pay USD$1,200 for a procedure in an illegal clinic. Her case is not a rare one: according to the World Health Organization (WHO) one woman dies every two days because of unsafe abortions in Brazil. Brazilian public health care estimates indicate that 1.5 million women get abortions yearly while the Ministry of Health’s calculations reveal that 3.7 million Brazilian women between the ages of 15 and 49 have had at least one abortion in their lifetime. In Latin America, 95% of abortions are considered unsafe by WHO.

In Brazil, having an abortion is punishable by law and could result in one to four years in prison. In 2005, a proposed bill of law threatened to take away the already existing provisions for abortions and to make abortion a heinous crime. The law would also forbid stem cell research.

In an election year, the subject of abortion is curiously absent from electoral campaigns and debates. Despite Jandira’s death and that of thousands of women which has caught the attention of mainstream media, advocating for the legalization of abortion is considered political suicide in a country where 79% of people are against any change in legislation.

“Abortion is a taboo, religion and the media display dead babies of eight or nine months and say this is abortion, which causes discomfort in any person,” says activist Isabella Medeiros, organizer of a pro-choice march in Rio de Janeiro on September 28. “This image of taboo that the media shows the population is very fictitious; the rate of women who get abortions is immense. In truth, it is a great manipulation because of religion, more so than politics, where conservative values are predominant.”

Mariana* says this predominant attitude in society makes it harder for women who have abortions to speak out or even heal mentally from the procedure. She got an abortion after paying R$12,000 ($5,000) to a doctor who instructed her to go to a high-class hospital and pretend she was having a miscarriage so she could be operated safely.

“He told me to come to a hospital – a good hospital in Rio – and pretend I was having a miscarriage. I would have to arrive in the early hours of the day. I was lucky – we paid a lot of money. My father got a loan from the bank, my mother didn’t go on a planned trip. I was lucky to have a family that was looking out for me, that supported me. They understood it wasn’t the time for me to have a kid.”

While Mariana was fortunate to have the procedure done in a proper hospital, this is not the reality of most Brazilian women.

“Jandira’s case is an example of what we call unsafe abortion,” explains Dr Ligia Bahia in an interview to newspaper O Globo. “It’s an abortion performed outside of a medical unit with proper credentials. In Brazil, because abortion is illegal, interventions in illegal clinics are more common. Women put themselves in a situation of extreme risk when they seek this kind of operation. Ideally, society would debate this theme without an ideology, focusing only on the grave issue of public health.”

Since the legalization of abortion in Uruguay, the number of abortions has decreased and there have been no deaths as a result of the procedures. Despite this positive result, political leaders in Brazil seldom mention a direct change in legislation, with presidential candidate Marina Silva only going as far as proposing a referendum on the issue. According to Uruguay’s Public Health sub-secretary Leonel Briozzo, “that’s not the best way to solve the problem.”

“For the life of women,” they chanted

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On September 28, Latin American and Caribbean Day for the Legalization of Abortion, women took to the streets in several cities across Latin America to protest for their bodily autonomy. In Brazil in particular, organizers of the movement hoped to bring attention to the issue in times of election.

At the end of Copacabana beach, a small group of feminist activists painted pro-choice signs for the march later in the day. They were of all colors and backgrounds, but all of them recognize that the criminalization of abortion is a bigger danger to low-income women of color. One of the signs read: “The rich women pay, the poor women die.”

Besides remembering the death of thousands of women across Latin America who died from unsafe abortion, the march in Copacabana had as an objective to start a political conversation about the legalization and decriminalization of the procedure.

Protester Desirée Carvalho, 23, said: “We think this is something to be debated since we are in an election year and this is a subject that isn’t debated, even though we have more than one woman running for president so our objective is this, to talk about the need of the legalization of abortion by the public health system.”

The march was peaceful, but also met with a bit of hostility. Many people shook their heads in disapproval when the protesters chanted pro-choice songs to call attention to the march. A few others observers pumped their fists and joined in, but the march was mostly met with silence.

In a Lugar de Mulher (A Woman’s Place) blog post that went viral last month, Brazilian feminist writer Clara Averbuck summarizes an approach to the legalization of abortion that might work for Brazil.

She wrote: “Your personal opinion about abortion doesn’t matter. Women will continue to have abortions and to risk their lives while it’s not a legal and safe procedure (…) You hate the idea of abortion? OK, so don’t have one. Your opinion won’t change that women have abortions (…) All kinds of women have abortions and there is not one personal opinion that will change that.”

*Not her real name.

This is an edited and cut down version of this piece. To read the full text please click here and support my work in changing the narrative around Brazilian women.

What can a president do?

President Dilma Rousseff has proposed a plebiscite that will determine the future of the Brazilian political reform. Judicially, she is trespassing on her presidential powers because this proposal and its progress depend on the congress. It is not her job to force a political reform onto the several branches of the government, but alas that is what she has done.

What Rousseff is doing is refusing to move the chess pieces she can move. The game has been upped by the audience and it is apparent that politicians are terrified: almost all political parties released statements to the press this week regarding the Brazilian protest, corruption, political reform and excessive spending.

Leaving the problems that have been brought to the table by the people that are actually the fault of the Legislative and the Judicial branches of the government and that can be solved by them, there is much the president herself can do to change the landscape Brazil finds itself in at the moment. The problem is that she has been focusing on the things she can’t actually do to distract the people from the real issues.

So what can she do? Two things on the list of demands can be solved with one strike. Corruption and excessive spending come from most places in the government (Congress, executive, local government, etc) but a good place for Rousseff to start is the number of ministries she has to preside over – ministries her government has created.

In 2002 Brazil had 24 ministries. Today, there are 39 ministries that need R$58,4 billion to function every year, money that of course comes from taxes. This is not only excessive, but double the amount of money used for one of the biggest social programs in Brazil, Bolsa Família. And many of these ministries are redundant and could easily be absorbed by other ministries, making them easier to manage and cheaper to keep.

An example of a ministry that could be absorbed by another is the Ministry of Fishing. It is not just a little bit ridiculous that Brazil has a whole ministry dedicated to fishing, but matters seem worse once it’s revealed that there is a Ministry of Agriculture, Stockbreeding and Provision. There is also a Ministry of Farming.

I could give you many other examples (Social Communication Ministry cold be absorbed by Communication Ministry, Women’s Ministry could be absorbed by Human Rights Ministry and so on) but it doesn’t take a genius to realize that an addition of 15 ministries in ten years drains the public funds considerably.

There is also the fact that controlling 39 ministries can’t be easy for Rousseff. There is a high number of people working in these ministries and they are practically free to spend as they like since there are too many of them to account for. This is where corruption and overspending start in the federal government

I won’t even mention the culture of creating public jobs to buy endorsement or benefit friends and family.

This is where Dilma should start. But the people need to pressure her more. And the Congress have to be shaking in their shoes to do something, so I’m hoping these movements won’t end so soon.

The meek damage control of Dilma Rousseff

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After two weeks of protests all over Brazil, President Dilma Rousseff had a cabinet meeting and finally spoke to the nation about the unrest. In a 10 minute speech, she vaguely alluded to the course she is taking in the future to meet the demands of the protesters. Rousseff is an ex-revolutionary and her roots are of change but her words and promises weren’t concrete. A dissection of her discourse follows below.

“[These protests] show the strength of our democracy and the desire of our youth to make Brazil go forward. If we take advantage of this new political impulse we will be able to do, better and faster, many things Brazil still hasn’t been able to because of political and economic limitations.”

Rousseff is playing it safe and condoning the peaceful protests. Later she says the violence should not overshadow the tranquil and unthreatening movement. She got one thing right: the Brazilian political system is a huge barrier to the country’s progress, not only because it gives way to corruption but also because it is lengthy and inefficient. The protests themselves are proof that the parties in power at the moment no longer represent the values and morals of the people.

Huge parts of Brazil are uneducated, don’t really understand the political system (I am not even sure I understand it fully) and have to vote obligatorily every two years (one of the problems with the Brazilian political system is that federal and state elections occur within a two year gap of municipal elections). This means two things: research and the forming of opinion is not done in most communities and corrupt politicians are often re-elected (impeached president Fernando Collor is an acting federal senator since 2007. He was impeached due to corruption charges).

The mandatory vote also encourages buying of votes in more remote and unsupervised parts of the country.

But in terms of economic limitations, there is no real evidence to support that. Brazil has been bragging of economic growth and being the country of the future for two decades. What happened to that money? The lack of transparency leads the people to believe this money has gone to the politicians’ and private companies’ bank accounts.

“My generation fought a lot so that the voices in the streets could be heard.”

It is unsurprising that Rousseff mentioned her revolutionary activist past to create a linear connection with the protesters. However, it doesn’t seem like she has been fighting for her country when she finally has incredible power to do so. And the people have noticed that.

“I will invite the mayors and governors of the main cities in the country to make a great pact for the betterment of the public services.”

This is one of the vague sentences that makes me wonder if one of the main points of the protests has been misunderstood: the people want transparency. She might be aiming for a pact but what will it encompass? The people need to know exactly what will be done, this weak promise tells them nothing. Thankfully, Rousseff gets a little more explicit in the next paragraph.

“The focus will first be on the elaboration of a Plan of National Urban Mobility that will make mass transport better. Secondly, 100% of royalties from oil profits will go to education. Thirdly, we will bring doctors from abroad to Brazil immediately.”

This is concrete, but these options will either not make a big enough impact on society or have already been struggling to be accomplished in the last few years.

The first is already an on-going project that will supposedly have its first facility opening this year in Rio de Janeiro. The project has been in motion since 2011 and will supposedly invest R$18 billion in public transport.

However one of the major problems with building facilities for transport (or of any kind) in Brazil is over-billing by private companies that carry out the projects. More often than not there are big sums of money being transferred under the table to both parties – the politicians and the businessmen.

Another issue is the lack of follow through due to bureaucracy. The São Paulo to Rio de Janeiro train project has been on paper for about ten years and its predicted launch has been changed from 2014 to 2020.

Secondly, the 100% of oil royalties going to education don’t really mean that much more money will be put into education. Senator Cristovam Buarque said the project won’t make any big changes in Brazil’s education system.

He said: “Actually 100% is a small part of the profits.”

He explains that it is 100% of the money that would go to the federal government.

“So that won’t even be 20% [of the royalties].”

And lastly, the problem with Brazilian health is not the competency of its doctors but the lack of beds, hospitals and upkeep of the ones we already have. The salaries of public health doctors are extremely low as well, so most medicine graduates go for the private line of work. Work conditions are also very poor, there is no funding for research, spots and resources in intensive care are extremely scarce and there is no career planning service. In more secluded parts of Brazil, physicians can go months without their salary.

“We need […] better ways to deal with corruption. The Lei de Acesso a Informação (Freedom of Information Act) must be amplified to all powers of the Republic and federal establishments.. It is a powerful instrument the citizen can use to watch over the correct use of public money.”

The problem is not the press exposure of corruption, but the impunity that is entrenched in the government. The press can expose as many crimes as they can, but they will not be punished, even if they are found guilty. The Supreme Federal Court has only found five people guilty of such crimes and none of them are in jail.

And so with talks of peace, democracy and the great nation Brazil is, Rousseff ended her speech with no real conclusion. Her weak attempt to charm the nation has only emphasized that she isn’t using her power as president efficiently, and throwing the ball to the Congress.

This week I will be tackling nepotism, benefit culture, short-sighted measures, excess of ministries, ways into corruption in Brazil and much more. To stay tuned like my Facebook page or follow me on Twitter.

Exclusion in Brazil aggravates political landscape

1398371339_332e3bea61_zThere was once a cheater called Renan Calheiros. He was born in Alagoas, Brazil. In the seventies, during Brazil’s military dictatorship, he stood for democracy and the end of a bi-partisan era, affiliating himself to the Brazilian Democratic Movement (Movimento Democrático Brasileiro).

Fast forward a few decades later, as the President of the Brazilian Senate, he was caught red handed accepting bribes from a lobbyist to support a bastard son, the result of an extramarital affair. He stepped down a few months later, ending his term as President of the Senate in 2007. It was out, he cheated on two counts, he betrayed the voters who chose him as a leader and his family.

Being accused of taking bribes was bad enough for his reputation (or you would think) but the following investigations into his funds revealed more than sketchy dealings with lobbyists. Income tax fraud, document fraud and embezzlement.

The cheater stepped down, but he wasn’t impeached. This was six years ago, and to this day he hasn’t been tried for any of the allegations as there was not enough evidence to proceed with a trial and the case was filed into a dusty drawer.

In 2007 he was actually, outrageously, absolved by his peers – in the eyes of the Senate there is not enough evidence to convict him. He was free and he stepped down as president when he wanted to step down – but he continued as senator for Alagoas. He was never, and I gather will never, be punished for anything, and continued practicing as a senator, being re-elected for 2 consecutive terms.

Though this scandal was quite public, this February he was once again elected to be President of the Senate by his peers while he is still waiting for his trial by the Supreme Federal Court. He accused of stealing from public funds, yet he is still allowed to run for a public office. There are almost not enough words to describe how completely absurd the situation is, considering that the Brazilian Senate has just passed the Ficha Limpa law ( Clean Record Law) that determines no one with a criminal record can run for office for three years.

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Officially, Calheiros does not have a criminal record yet .And since the law only guarantees crooked politicians can’t run for three years, the truth is that they are not even banned completely or forever. It should certainly predict cases like his, where a man is under suspicion of embezzlement and his character and morals are in doubt. The people have already reacted to his taking of the position of leader of the Senate and 1.3 million people have already signed it. Unfortunately that’s only 0,66% of the Brazilian population.

A campaign mostly done via Facebook and that failed to get more than 1% of the population to sign it emphasizes the size of Brazil and how much of it is excluded from education and technology. In Alagoas Renan Calheiros was chosen as senator once again after allegations, was it popular trust that trumped accusations or simply proof that lack of education makes our people weak minded and easy to fool?

In 2011 I wrote about illiteracy in Brazil that contrasted wildly with a book fair I attended and that prized itself with new technologies that were finally available in this huge country. According to this BBC report, over 65% of Brazilians who are over 10 years old do not access the internet. Even more shocking is that Brazil has 14 million people who are unable to read or write. Combining the digitally excluded with the illiterate, that’s at least 72% of the Brazilian population who is unable to access information properly.

The numbers are scary, and they get even worse. The Economist classed the Brazilian education system as the second worse system in the whole world. On top of 72% of people who already struggle to find information or be educated, the lack or decadence of the education in Brazil traps the population in a state where social mobility is an extremely difficult feat, changing the government is impossible, and where weak-minded people are constructed by the society on purpose.

So it’s no surprise Renan Calheiros is President of the Senate. And while he, and others who have called the Clean Record Law a ‘ridiculous abuse of power’, are the leaders, the space for change is quite small. So where do we go from here?

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 Photos by black_wall and Agência Senado / Flickr Creative Commons License.

Political humour exhibition

I promised this post ages ago, and since I’m supposed to be writing about something else, here I am! Ah, well. This will be pretty quick to write though because it’s mostly picture led and I’ve only chosen a few that I took. Unfortunately, I didn’t remember to write down who they were by but I’ll write a list of all the participant artists at the end.

Political humour is significant in any democracy with a considerable amount of freedom of press. Brazil has gone through a period where that wasn’t the case and this exhibition showed caricatures and comics from just after imperial times so it was really interesting to see what transformations our politics and our people have gone through.

Caption reads: The triumphant car of national progress.

Although it turns out not that many changes happened; our politicians have always been corrupt and our people still have a massive class difference driving them apart. The image above is one of the earliest comics exhibited, showing how slow on progress our government is (despite the word progress actually being on our flag).

The trophy reads: “Award for the best costume”

This one might not seem political at first but carnival isn’t just a party; it’s also a contest between samba schools. They prepare the whole year long to win the competition, the whole thing is almost a mafia, and this is a really good social commentary on who usually wins.

Top: Carnival is a democratic party! Bottom: “Well, Maria, now the party is over so you can go back to being a maid and I’ll go back to being a madam”

This one is probably my favorite. The class division in Brazil is massive but there are two occasions all that it goes out the window; carnival and the world cup. Too bad it’s only pretend though.

Pretty self-explanatory, I should think.

I’ve been asked for bribes in Rio before and corruption stories are barely even news anymore, so I think most Brazilians can relate to this cartoon.

“Public Education”

Anyway, hope you enjoyed this post, sorry if it was a bit rushed but I should really get on with my day. You guys should check out these cartoons as well, they won places at the exhibition after participating in a massive contest and there’s a great one of Amy Winehouse (less funny now she died but it’s a pretty impressive image). Also, here’s the official page for the exhibition.

See you next time!

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