Category Archives: Politics

Church and State: secularism in politics

Sarkozy and Pope Benedict XVI in France

Sarkozy and Pope Benedict XVI in France

In the speech Pope Benedict XVI made in front of a huge crowd of 260 thousand people yesterday, in hist first visit to France as a Pope, as well as in interviews the Church’s leader gave, relations between Church and State were brought to attention when the message of religion and State being more open to each other was passed.

The french President Nicolas Sarkozy, who has a history of bringing religion to the spotlight, also spoke words about a new perspective in secularism, which he called “positive secularism”. Such declarations immediately got opposition responses from the french Socialist Party and from the Secular State Defense Association.

Discussions about the bonds between religion and government should be made more often. We brazilians could take a good dose of this subject with our cities mayoral elections coming up next month.

Rio de Janeiro has a particular interest in this subject, since the city has one of it’s two main candidates as an ex-bishop of the largest pentecostal churchs in Brazil, the Assembly of God.

A modern Assembly of God temple in Brazil

A modern Assembly of God temple in Brazil

Pentecostal churches, specially the Assembly of God, have reached an amazing power level in Brazil. They have large acceptance in lower class citizens, and their temples are spread throughout the country. These temples, most of them large and modern auditoriums, get packed to capacity when services are being held. Preachers “speak the language” of simple people, having an amazing power of argument and persuasion with their audience.

Just like the Catholic Church, Assembly of God has built it’s empire with the money of the poor. Money enough to buy the second largest TV network in Brazil, several radio stations, newspapers, magazines, publishers, have their sessions transmitted nationally in other smaller TV networks, and so on. Politics, of course, are on their list of main objectives too.

danger zone.

Religious influence on people: danger zone.

Now, with the elections period nearing it’s peek, Rio de Janeiro citizens are facing a true possibility of having a pentecostal mayor next year.

Mixing religion with State affairs is a dangerous move. I feel it’s wrong to make decisions that will affect the entire society with the light of a determined religious concept shining over. Just as an example, issues like drugs, abortion, marriage, gay rights, medical procedures and freedom of speech and belief could be seriously in risk of not being treated with the true balanced and reasonable sence of fairness they deserve.

Not a Constitution

Not a Constitution

And religious fanatism, of course, should never be forgotten as one of the ugly faces of any religion.

Religion is and will always be a part of political campaigns. For a strange reason beyond my actual comprehension, it’s still important for people to know if a candidate believes in God or not, which God, and stuff like that. But we must pay attention in order to not let a Devil in disguise run our lives preaching the Lord’s word.

Wikipedia has an interesting article about pentecostalism. Click here to read.
The New York Times story about the Pope in France, click here.

Independence or Death!

"The yell of the Ipiranga", painted by Pedro Américo, 1888

"The yell of the Ipiranga",
painted by Pedro Américo, 1888

Today, septemper 7th, is Brazil’s Independence Day. Exactly 186 years ago, Dom Pedro I, royal prince in charge of the portuguese colony back then, took his sword out of the sheath near the Ipiranga River (where the city of São Paulo is nowadays) and yelled “independence or death!”, being after that declared Dom Pedro I, Emperor of Brazil.*

Practically two centuries have passed by, and we have no kind of submissive relations with our former metropolis. In fact, we are way ahead of Portugal in a lot of subjects. But, in a modern perspective, can Brazil consider itself really independent from anything?

My opinion is that no, we have never truly experienced a real independent life, and there’s still a long way to go before we can think of calling ourselves independent.

I say that based on the conception of independence that matters not only to foreign relations, but mainly to internal issues.

It’s easy to notice a lack of credibility to the country’s independence day. Public patriotic demonstrations are becoming more and more rare when the september seventh’s arrive in the calendar. Several military parades are happening right now throughout our territory, but who attends to them? Last year’s parade in Brasília, our capital and home of the largest military parade, had the not so impressive mark of less spectators in the history.

Does that shows a common sense of disbelief in this so-called independence? I say yes. When you go to the United States, England, France, Germany or Italy (or any developed country), every corner, every building, public or private, have their countries flag raised on poles. Independence days are celebrated at its fullest. In Brazil, not even big cities City Halls have the country’s flag waving on top of them.

In a country where government let people die in hospital waiting lines, die with no medication, die from abandon, die because of the crescent and apparently uncontrollable urban violence, die with no education, die with hunger, die with no perspectives, no dreams, no hope… it’s easy to understand why flags only come out in World Cup period.

Personal independence is also a matter of analysis in big cities. People are more and more often depending on luck to live everyday. There are some periods in the day-by-day living in Brazil, specially when media coverage shows murders and shootings like they where showing soccer goals, that you actually believe returning home after a day of work is not guaranteed as it seems.

We have a long way before calling ourselves independent. We must break from the chains of corruption, populism and personal interests in the public sphere, and from the irons of apathy in the private sphere. Then, one day, we may actually celebrate our independence and cheer a true condition of free human beings. 

* Modern historiography considers that the process of brazilian independence from Portugal started when the portuguese Royal Family first came here, in 1808, running away from Napoleon’s army. Also, the utterly romantic version of Dom Pedro I shouting such words of independence mounted on a horse is questioned too.

Barack Obama in Brazil

It seems that Mr. Barack Obama’s campaign crew has reached a superb, and humorous, ability to spread the presidential candidate image around the world.

Meet Mr. Cláudio Henrique dos Anjos, 39 years old, the brazilian Barack Obama, as he presents himself, in his campaign running for Belford Roxo city hall.

Who's the real deal?

Who is the real deal?

Belford Roxo is a poor city near Rio de Janeiro, and has never been governed by a black man or woman.

Mr. Obama (the brazilian one) is one of the six candidates in Brazil that uses Mr. Obama (the original) name in order to catch a hike along publicity between voters.

I could write something about how diminishing this is for a serious candidate and for brazilian electoral process. But I’ll leave it to you. This time, this post will stay with the funny part of it.

Campaigns under siege

Supreme Electoral Court discussing army forces in Rio de Janeiro

Supreme Electoral Court discuss
sending army forces to Rio de Janeiro

Brazilian Supreme Electoral Court has authorized today the use of army forces in Rio de Janeiro, in order to guarantee a free-of-violence campaign period for the city’s candidates for mayor. Union forces are now waited to act togheter with local police and Federal Police.

Since the campaigns period started, a couple of months ago, several candidates have been prohibited by drug dealers to enter some favelas (slums). This outlaw force has also prohibited journalists to cover campaigns in those places. Only candidates supported by drug dealers are welcome in certain poor communities, leaving democracy and free will of choice for inhabitants behind.

In a certain way, I’m surely in favor of the army in my city. We live today a situation of civil war that hasn’t been treated like a civil war so far by no one in power. Of course. With a vast majority of voters living in poor areas, actions to stop drug dealers would certainly affect people living there. By consequence, mayors and governors would have their votes affected too.

But, in other way, I feel awfully ashamed of this. It’s a sad, sad feeling for cariocas (how Rio de Janeiro born citizens are named) to live in such a beautiful place, but without any sort of freedom.

I keep asking myself why politicians have led Rio de Janeiro to the actual situation of total abandon. Maybe the answer is written above in the third paragraph. But I believe it’s more, it’s got to be more. I can’t accept that my dear city is abandoned and thrown into it’s own luck because of one or two men greed. I can’t accept that, as years go by, as elections go by, things continue to be the same.

The presence of army forces, as “comfortable” as it seems, just serve to tell us one more time in the face: Rio de Janeiro is gone.

We have had army support several times in the past, but we must remember that their presence should be seen as band-aid, something that must be removed after the cut stops bleeding. The problem is that our blood never stops to drop.

I hope at least that, from now ’till the day of voting, people, wherever they live, rich or poor, are able to see, listen and choose any candidates they want. Democracy is the main pillar for hope in every place. If we lose this, than you can consider us officially dead.

Speaking of hope, I hope the next mayor will be more serious, more efficient, more fair and more in love with Rio de Janeiro than the actual one. Let’s see.

Cuffed System

Brazilian Supreme Court has approved today an act that forbids policemen to put handcuffs on prisoners that offers no risks of aggression or escape.

This decision was made after a construction worker, condemned for 13 years as a murderer, sued the State because he was kept handcuffed throughout his entire trial. This case got to the Supreme Court and served as a base for this new rule.

At a first glimpse, some may say the Supreme’s decision is ok. That’s surely not my opinion.

I’m a law student and I have no shame in saying that I feel sorry for the brazilian law system. In order to understand the true meaning of this new rule, we must remember that recently some important figures, like bankers and politicians, have been arrested by our Federal Police.

Actions of the Fed’s have a singular characteristic, which, by the way, I’m not a fan. Almost all of them are previously leaked to TV stations so that, at the moment of the arrests, cameras are able to capture every moment of the action.

Surely that’s not appropriate, but well, It’s also not something that keeps the Federal Police from doing it’s job! If you want to know, Fed’s here in Brazil actually work. Big fishes are taken to jail everyday.

The problem is that these fishes are thrown back into the ocean in a day or two because our justice system sets them free. And, because of all that media coverage, the system has also taken the cuffs away from criminals.

Imagine if a politician or a really rich banker can be seen on TV handcuffed? Of course not!

It’s a shame. Definitely, a shame.

Cheers! Or not…

Last month, Brazil’s government approved a new law, popularly named “dry law”. As the name suggests, this law forbiddens any quantity of alcohol to be consumed before driving a car. If someone drinks a can of beer or a single glass of wine and gets pulled over by the police, a fine up to almost one thousand Reais is given (something like US$600) and the driver’s license is apprehended for one year.

Brazil has a sad characteristic of having laws that no one respects, mostly because the lack of fiscalization. But with the dry law, things are happening in a different way. You actually see lots and lots of police barriers in the cities, specially on fridays and saturdays, pulling over drivers near known bar areas. Nationwide press is showing these actions almost everyday. Government representants are saying that car accidents have dropped almost 20% in the entire country after the law began to take effect.

At a first glimpse, some may say “well, that’s excellent! Nice job!”. But there a few points that should be taken in consideration before judging.

As I said before, no alcohol is permitted before driving. Neither a small cup of wine, or fifty packs of black ale. But I believe there’s a difference in there. Here in this country, it’s part of the culture to meet friends, loved ones and family at a bar just to chat and cheer something. This practise doesn’t mean that everyone is going to get their heads blowing drunk every night. No, far from that!

Also, it’s no longer permitted to go out to a restaurant and ask for a fine glass of wine with your wife or your friends to celebrate a birthday, an engagement, a job promotion, or anything. If you drink, you will be treated like a criminal.

This law is unnecessarily harsh. I’m strongly in favor of hard punishment for drunk drivers who put other people lives in danger. But that’s not what this law is about. It has actually reduced the penalty for those who commits a crime while drunk driving, like hit someone else. It’s totally nonsense.

There’s another point. Before this dry law, Brazil had another similar law, but not that severe. The difference is that when that old law was on, police didn’t care. There was absolutely no barriers, no fiscalization, no equipment to detect alcohol, nothing. But now, with a new sensation and with the media daily coverage, policemen and government are having their 15 minutes of fame. All on the people’s back.

To finish, car accidents are not caused only because of alcohol. Amongst the several causes, we can list badly conserved streets and roads, covered with holes; lack of signalization; narrow two way roads; cars with absolutely no conditions to be on the streets, but out there anyway; lack of driving education; animals on the road, and so on. All of those items listed we have plenty here in Brazil, and many others I’m forgetting right now.

If you want to visit Brazil and taste the famous Caipirinha, remember: don’t rent a car!

Born in the R.I.O.

Brazil is living its days of mayor’s campaigns throughout every of it’s cities. It certainly is a madness. Street signs with propaganda everywhere, television, radio and Internet announcements, cars with speakerphones at maximum volume cruising the streets, pamphlets given at every corner, wow! Campaigns are set-off and nothing can stop them.

As usual within an electoral moment, candidates try to sell their fish talking about many subjects as possible. Tons of (sorry about the following word) bullshit are being spoken. Sometimes, just sometimes, a few discussions that really matter are held. One of them is abortion.

Well, there is one candidate in particular here in Rio de Janeiro, a lady who is a doctor and mother of two, the only woman running for mayor in this city, that rises the flag of turning abortion into an legal act. I believe she’s the only candidate that has already spoken openly about abortion so far. But she’s not lonely. Our actual governor has already said a few words before the electoral period, some of them quite controversial, defending the legalization of abortion.

When the subject hit the streets, many opinions around it were formed. As you may know, despite Brazil’s unbelievable beauty of it’s land and people, we have a lot of poverty around. Favelas, which may be translated as slums, dominate a major part of Rio de Janeiro’s hills and other cities around the country. As the icon of poverty, they were the first to be remembered as a reason to make abortion legal.

The main idea is: by making abortion legal, poor women will be able to choose safely if they can or cannot raise their children. People who think this is right usually says that nowadays, even with the law punishing abortive acts, many procedures of this type are being made “under the sheets”, which submits the mother to several clandestine clinics with no proper equipment and cleanliness. Also, poor families are obligated to raise several kids at once, even though sometimes they don’t want that. And by “poor families” we must think the mother with kids, or the mother and grandmother with kids, because its a common fact that fathers usually don’t recognize their babies and run away from home, leaving many sadness and difficulties behind.

The cons say that life should be preserved no matter what, and that we, humans, are not able to tell when a person should live or die.

An obvious fact is the fast growing of favelas in Brazil, and something must be made. But, is turning abortion legal an effective way? Maybe, or maybe not. I believe that the success of public policies depend on how they are implanted and based on the proper interests _ in other words, the interest of the people, not only for the rich or for the poor, but for both.

You may feel curious to see a favela. Just look for “Rocinha” in google images. That’s the largest favela in the country, located here at Rio de Janeiro.