Exclusion in Brazil aggravates political landscape

March 25, 2013 3:55 pm

Renan CalheirosThere 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 so you would think) but the subsequent 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 go ahead 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 continued as senator for Alagoas. He was never, and I gather will never, be punished for anything, and has 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 is accused of stealing from public funds, yet he is still allowed to run for a public office. Though 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, it is impossible to forbid him from running because 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.

And so, hypothetically, the power of choosing a non-corrupt politician to lead the Brazilian Senate falls to the people of the nation. Some have already reacted to it, putting out an online petition that 1.3 million people have already signed.

Unfortunately that’s only 0,66% of the Brazilian population. Brazil Flag

The campaign was mostly publicized by social media, but its low number of signatures 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 Brazil. Though the event itself was stunning, there are millions of Brazilians that have never had contact with a simple PC.

According to a BBC report, over 65% of Brazilians who are over 10 years old do not access the internet. Even more shocking is that presently, 14 million Brazilians are unable to read or write. If we calculate roughly and combining the digitally excluded with the illiterate, that’s at least 72% of the Brazilian population who are unable to get access to information.

In 2011, 3.6 million children were out of school. This number is scary, but the situation gets even worse when the Brazilian education system is looked at from up close. The Economist has classified it as the second worse educational system in the world.

So when children do go to school, they are receiving one of the worst educations on the planet. It’s a trap: social mobility is practically non-existent because of it. Changing the government is impossible without awareness. And weak-minded people are constructed by the society on purpose.

Voting is compulsory, but good education isn’t. That is where most of Brazil’s problems lie. With education comes awareness, morals, and judgment – all essentials for voting for someone who hasn’t stolen public money. With education comes social mobility. With education comes a free press that represents its people. With education comes the need to have healthy debates on how to make things better.

To natives, it’s really no surprise 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.

It is sad to see a country with such inequality entrenched in its roots, like a disease that won’t let go.

The international sporting events Brazil will be receiving in the next few years will only make the situation more deplorable. Though it can be a time for the government to invest in training athletes, it simply won’t happen because there is no immediate benefit to our leaders to do so.

News about a deplorable and cheap education is constantly reported. The national standardized test, Enem (an exam like the American SATs, also used for university entry), was found to have serious fallacies in its marking process. One student got a score of 53% on the writing part of the exam where he wrote the recipe for ramen noodles – hypothetically, digressing from the essay question should equal immediate fail. In addition, students that committed gross grammatical errors were not penalized for mistakes. It has been reported that teachers employed to correct these essays are very underpaid and expected to go through a hundred exams in two hours.

It is not only that the education is poor, but the system itself is rigged so that it seems to be good enough. By underpaying markers and giving higher scores to students who don’t deserve it, the average mark is much higher than it should be. The illusion is see-through and it does more bad than good – in being permissive to gross mistakes and mocking, the exam itself and the higher education system becomes a joke.

Calheiros is a cheater, but that’s a profitable profession in Brazil. Even when you are caught with your hand on the money you can continue to be a politician and a leader. Education is one of the most powerful tools a government has to control the population, and despite the fact that Brazil is a democracy and pledges to have a free press, people are still excluded from information that would interest them, from information they need. Until the people are given a chance to think for themselves, I will not believe Brazil can be fixed.








%d bloggers like this: