Brazil: Why Hunger Is Absurd Here

     Brazil: Why Hunger Is Absurd Here

    How can hunger exist
    at all in Brazil? With one half of the
    country’s grain production Brazil would be able to feed 225
    million people. Since we have a population of 165 million,
    there would have leftovers. The devil is in our economic model,

    which favors speculative activities in detriment of production.

    by: Carlos

    The Brazilian government just celebrated the first anniversary of the Zero
    Hunger Program. In spite of the still timid results, no one in their right
    mind can contest the seriousness of the program or fail to applaud this initiative
    designed to feed the hungry. The figures are disputed: for some, the number
    of hungry Brazilians is 10 million.

    Others talk about 15 million
    and there are those who claim 20 million, based on the incontestable reality
    of the 55 million Brazilians who live below the poverty line, which means
    surviving on half a salário mínimo (R$ 240, or around
    US$ 80/month).

    If the Lula administration
    manages to help half of these citizens who wake up without knowing if they
    will have a meal that day, it will have accomplished a great feat, considering
    the limitations and standards imposed by our neo-liberal economic policy which
    is, deep down, the main culprit for the hunger. Do we have any guarantees,
    however? Absolutely none. Could it be any different?

    First We Help the Speculators

    The answer is in the very
    numbers generated by our economic model. This year Brazil should produce a
    record harvest of 100 million tons of grains, most of it for export. This
    time, however, we will keep half of it. 55 million tons are shipped abroad
    and 55 million stay in the country.

    According to FAO (U.N.
    Food and Agriculture Organization), a ton of grains is more than enough to
    feed four people for one year. With one half of our production—either
    the one staying or the one leaving Brazil—we could feed 225 million people.
    Brazil has a population of 165 million, so we would have leftovers.

    We are among the biggest
    producers and exporters of sugar, manioc root, beef and poultry in the world.
    And only 13 percent of the Brazilian land is cultivated, mind you. Arable
    lands are 90 percent, in a country blessed with sunshine the whole year round,
    with an area of eight million square kilometers and holding 24 percent of
    all the potable water in the planet.

    Furnished by professor
    Bautista Vidal, these numbers lead us to a sad conclusion: how can hunger
    exist at all in Brazil? We could be a gigantic sieve and we still would not
    be able to drain these many riches away.

    The devil, it’s worth
    repeating, is in our economic model, which not only favors speculative activities
    in detriment of production, but last year remunerated our public debt, worth
    almost R$ 1 trillion, with R$ 147 billion in interest. And our R$ 750 billion
    foreign debt with 75 billion in interest.

    We never missed a single
    deadline or haggled over a single cent of this interest in the past nine years,
    under the allegation that the government must honor its commitments. Well,
    is there a more important commitment for a country than to placate the hunger
    of its people?

    The market can’t be bothered
    with commitments. Its aim is profit at any price. As if we lived under the
    empire of the market, manager of the model…

    Nothing Changes

    Around New Year’s much
    was said about the arrival of a time for serious change in Brazil, meaning
    changes in the economic model, i.e., bringing back economic development and
    doing away with neo-liberalism. Great expectations sprung up in the administration
    itself and among the federal departments involved in social and human services,
    as well as in the congressional blocs of the PT (Workers’ Party).

    Well, no more. In a recent
    press conference, Minister Antônio Palocci buried any existing hopes
    by declaring that a change would be nonsensical and a way to demonstrate that
    Brazil has gone adrift. For the commander of the economic team, the country
    will have to grow according to the present model.

    Not even Pinocchio would
    dare so much, because this model is making the country increasingly poor.
    The wealth we produce disappears abroad faster than the wealth which is native
    of our country. It is a plundering and cruel model that only benefits stupid
    domestic elites and very smart international gangs.

    There are signs from the
    Planalto Palace that President Luiz Inácio da Silva may be perturbed,
    irascible and eager for results that he may link to his campaign promises.
    I don’t think so. The truth is that Lula is probably living under the illusion
    that this strategy is in fact the best one to follow. One whole year was not
    enough to convince him—nine years, to be more precise, if we add the
    inheritance left by Fernando Henrique.

    The latter, unlike the
    former, was not deceived. He really wanted to cause the disaster that now
    devastates us. Not out of evil intentions, of course, but due to his conviction,
    as a sociologist, about the inevitability of hunger and destitution as a way
    to privilege a few.

    Defeated by frustration,
    the hope that conquered fear is now at a record low. President Lula may wake
    up. Or he may not.

    Carlos Chagas writes for the Rio’s daily Tribuna da Imprensa and
    is a representative of the Brazilian Press Association, in Brasília.
    He welcomes your comments at

    Translated from
    the Portuguese by Tereza Braga. Braga is a freelance Portuguese translator
    and interpreter based in Dallas. She is an accredited member of the American
    Translators Association. Contact:

    This article appeared
    originally in Tribuna da Imprensa –

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