The candidate and the children in Brazil

By , William H. Ellett, who lived in South America for 10 years, spent two months on the Amazon last summer, his third trip to do research and documentary work there.

Brazil's military rulers are trying to step down. They would like to see government return to civilian hands. They would also like to get out from under the responsibility of running or overseeing at least 70 percent of the country's business and industry. Under the name "Abertura" ("Opening"), they have allowed the formation of political parties again, and have announced gubernatorial electios, the first free elections since 1960, to be held in November 1982.

One candidate already engaged in a very active campaign is Gilberto Mestrinho , who was a popular governor of the State of Amazonas before the military assumed control. Among Brazil's problems is how to develop the Amazon Valley. And Amazonas, over twice the size of Texas, comprises a large portion of this wilderness region. Many people there are banking heavily on Mestrinho's election.

At first supporting PTB (Brazilian Labor Party), Mestrinho is now backing PP (Popular Party), but his popularity in Amazonas has not waned. There, it is not so much the national affiliation which moves the electorate as the man who is championing their cause, and Mestrinho has had a good record.

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Personal differences with Ivete Vargas, national leader of PTB, may be at the root of the defection of prominent figures from her party. In any event, a recent report in Veja, a leading Brazilian news magazine noted, "The PTB was made of glass and it broke."

The Brazilian system permits the "fusion" of political parties. While this is not likely at the national level, as regards PTB and PP, it is very likely what is going to happen in Amazonas.The PP, with adherents of the former UDN (National Democratic Union Party), and PSD (Social Democratic Party), has a solid base.

A charismatic leader, Mestrinho resorted to an unusual tactic during the early days of his campaign. He had several thousand notebooks printed and distributed free to school children.

On the back of the notebook, in what looks like free verse, is the following, dedicated to the children of the State of Amazonas (translated by this writer). I and Amazonas need you very much! You as yet cannot vote, Nor can you work. But, you are going to help us very much. How? By studying and learning all you possibly can. With dedication. With enthusiasm. With love. People who knows, think more clearly, know their rights, do their work well, are able to direct and help others, and obtain better living conditions. And more: they learn to love, to have strong convictions; he/she who knows how to love, opens his/her own path. For this reason I beg you: Study with courage and determinations. For yourself. For us. For Amazonas. Agreed?

There is a certain poignant irony in this message, which strikes at the very heart of one of the basic issues in the Amazon: illiteracy. As you speak wtih children in isolated areas in the interior, you can sense their hunger for the learning which is just beyond their graps. In the small settlement of Badajos, a brick schoolhouse was started in 1961, but never completed. Today, several papaya trees grow within its unfinished walls. Nearby, a wooden schoolhouse was built, but there is no teacher.

I mentioned the above notebook to several children in Badajos, and one young girl ran to get hers. With a stoic countenance far beyond his years, one youngster remarked. "When Mestrinho is elected, we'll have teachers."

You could run down a long list of other issues that need solving, which are beyond the recursosm (resources) of the mayors and municipal councils of the municipiosm (counties). Most of the inhabitants live a resigned existence, oblivious of the comforts and conveniences of a modern world. Health regulations and sanitation are nonexistent in many communities, as are the maintenance of streets and the collection of litter and garbage. But now there is hope that it will be different.

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