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Brazil's governors get down to business

By Mac MargolisSpecial to The Christian Science Monitor / March 25, 1983



Sao Paulo, Brazil

Raucous boos and deafening applause, bright hope and crushing debt. Brazil's new civilian governors faced all of these as they took office last week after the first gubernatorial elections in 18 years.

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Ten of the new governors are from political parties that oppose the nation's military government. Together they rule the richest, most populous swath of this country of 124 million. Thirteen states remain in the hands of the Social Democratic Party, closely linked with the military government.

That is as even as the political score has been in Brazil since the military seized power in 1964.

After the Nov. 15 elections, political observers waxed enthusiastic that Brazil would be a ''new country.'' Now, some four months later, the governors face the less glittery task of running a country in which their new ideas crash up against seemingly intractable problems.

In Rio de Janeiro State, self-styled Socialist Gov. Leonel Brizola, who spent 15 years in exile, took office in a splashy ceremony attended by foreign notables such as former US Attorney General Ramsey Clark, Coretta Scott King, former Mexican President Luis Echevarria Alvarez, and the widow of former Chilean President Salvador Allende Gossens.

Nowhere were expectations about a new governor higher. Two-thousand taxicabs escorted Mr. Brizola, himself in a taxi, to Rio's Guanabara Palace. Hours before the ceremony he was roused by a throng outside his Copacabana apartment building yelling, ''Brizola, wake up.''

''Suddenly,'' bubbled the opinionated Brazilian news magazine Pasquim, ''a good, refreshing rain of socialism fell over Rio de Janeiro that washed the soul of all of us.''

Yet nowhere is the task of governing likely to be so difficult. Brizola's state has a $3 billion public sector debt and a hefty tab for foreign loans on a stalled subway construction project. He has no money to pay public officials until May.

Brizola must also grapple with the state's legacy of corruption and organized crime. He must deal with the powerful First Army of Rio, one of whose commanding officers once swore he would never shake the new governor's hand.

In Sao Paulo, the challenges are no easier despite a formidable industrial base. Gov. Franco Montoro, elected by landslide proportions, faces an estimated workers have been fired as industries fight recession.

Mr. Montoro's first crisis occurred just three days after he took office: Angry transit riders burned 27 buses after service was cut by 30 percent.

Only the state of Pernambuco appears to have a manageable debt. But like the other new governors, Joao Durval will have to pare a patronage-laden administration left behind by the previous regime.

What this means is that opposition leaders will have to curb their rhetoric and walk hat in hand to Brasilia, where the federal government holds tight purse strings.

Optimists argue this new ''balance'' of power will produce dialogue among opposition and government parties.

Pessimists see this as the great loophole in Brazil's policy of aberturam (political liberalization). They say last November's elections served only to take the heat off the Brazilian military and did nothing to change deeper problems in the structures of power, namely the rigidly pro-military Constitution and the almost untouchable intelligence community.

Many observers say it seems both fitting and ironic that the military, which ''allowed'' abertura in the first place, stayed away from the inauguration ceremonies.

''The Army,'' said Armed Force Minister Walter Pires, ''is not a political instrument.''

But the Army will celebrate in its own way at its barracks March 30 - the anniversary of the Brazilian revolution and of the day, 19 years ago, that put politics in soldiers' hands.