Alexa

The setting is a slum, but its people's expectations for Lula's new term have a corporate twist

The setting is a slum, but its people's expectations for Lula's new term have a corporate twist

A short drive from the gleaming marble palace where Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva will be sworn in for a second term as president Monday, raw sewage bubbles to the surface of dirt roads, and crime is so bad that no one goes out after dusk.
The Vila Estrutural slum ought to be fertile ground for Brazil's doctrinaire left, which accuses Silva of betraying his socialist creed by embracing the free market. Yet some of the opinions heard in this teeming slum have a distinctly capitalist tinge. People here say they need jobs, and that Silva's goal of cutting taxes and labor costs is a way to create them.
Built partially atop a dump where thousands eke out a living sifting through trash, this "favela" is home to more than 30,000 destitute Brazilians, most of whom moved from even poorer rural areas to seek a better life.
They have already tasted some of the fruits of the war on poverty waged by Silva in the four years since the peasant's son and trade union leader became the first leftist to be elected president of Brazil.
They now have running water and electricity, and Silva's success in containing inflation through high interest rates has brought down the price of rice and beans. His acclaimed "Zero Hunger" campaign, which gives families food money, means more of them can afford to keep their children in school.
But the sole school in Vila Estrutural can only accommodate children up to age 7, so more than 1,000 older students are bused to better-off neighborhoods, often arriving with muddy feet that stigmatize them as favela kids.
The slum has just gotten its first police station, but officers stay out of areas where the gangs outgun them, and the drug trade drives up street violence.
"We need almost everything here," said Mariluvia de Sousa, 40, who runs a small convenience store. "Pavement, a health center with a doctor, schools, and security. You can't even think of going outside at night or you'll get robbed or shot."
Silva enters his second term under big pressure to boost a Brazilian economy whose growth, while slow and steady, lagged behind the rest of Latin America during his first term.
While foreign investors and governments praise him for ending the nation's traditional boom-and-bust cycles, Vila Estrutural residents say they've been left behind while big corporations rack up record profits.
Edimilson Braga spends 12 hours a day pushing a cart with 20 live chickens door to door, offering them for 15 Brazilian reals (US$7;euro5) each. On a normal day, he sells three or four.
"I haven't seen any growth," said Braga, 35. "Everything has just been stagnant."
But Braga and others in the favela don't think soaking the rich and boosting welfare is a solution.
Instead, the talk sometimes sounds eerily corporate: People say the president they know as Lula must reduce high taxes and labor costs that inhibit companies large and small from expanding and hiring workers.
Down a narrow, muddy lane, Roberto Carlos Fereira sells soap, toilet paper and candy from a window he created by knocking a hole in the wall around his two-room house.
Laid off from his truck-driving job several months ago, Fereira said reducing obstacles to business growth should be a top priority.
"I was making 1,200 reals (US$570;euro430) a month, and now I'm lucky if I make 200 (US$95;euro73)," said Fereira, 38. "Lula has to reduce the burden on business because they'd be able to start hiring more workers."
Vila Estrutural is in line for major infrastructure improvements, financed in part by a World Bank loan to pump US$159 million (euro120 million) into three Brasilia favelas.
But experts doubt Silva has the votes to push through meaningful tax and labor reform, predicting he'll at best win modest improvements.
Whether the newfound support he seems to have gained from the poor for business-friendly reforms from the public will last is anyone's guess, but analysts say the attitude change is significant.
"The common low-income people are associating unemployment with high taxes," said Christopher Garman, director of Latin American research for the Eurasia Group consulting firm. "It's a growing trend, and businesses are using that as a reason not to hire workers."
And it has further alienated former Silva allies who helped him win his first term as president, even though his popularity is at record levels.
Rep. Maria Jose da Conceicao Maninha, of the far left Socialism and Liberty Party that broke away from Silva's Workers' Party during his first term, said the president is "hoodwinking the poor into accepting policies that do nothing to reduce poverty."
"History will judge Lula as just one more of the many mediocre presidents to govern Brazil and not as the president who had the best chance of all to transform this nation," she said. "He betrayed us all."
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Associated Press Writer Iara Luchiari contributed to this story from Sao Paulo, Brazil.


Updated : 2021-01-15 22:30 GMT+08:00