Brasilia moves to become more livable

The capital of Brazil has become a showcase for the country's newly democratic regime. Brazilians are watching intently -- and sometimes with a measure of disbelief -- as they see the leadership of Bras'ilia tackling the city's longstanding problems.

Since his appointment as governor of Bras'ilia last June, Jos'e Aparecido de Oliveira has moved to fight crime, cut back on the privileges of the wealthy, and renovate the city.

The people of Bras'ilia ``are stunned to discover that fairness, decency, honesty, and the public interest can actually be the guidelines of local government,'' says one foreign diplomat, echoing what editorialists and foreign observers in Brazil have been saying recently.

For more than two decades of military rule, corruption and a perceived lack of concern for the welfare of the people were key features of both the national and local governments. When democracy was reinstated last spring, the people of Bras'ilia were overjoyed and full of hope. Over the last eight months, their faith in the government and the political system has begun to blossom.

``It is quite stunning. People feel protected in more than one way as the new governor of Bras'ilia, Jos'e Aparecido de Oliveira, has moved dramatically to fight against crime, to protect the environment, to make urban life worth living, to provide the needy with food and shelter, to stamp out corruption,'' says Ermirio Galvao, a journalist who has lived in the capital for the past 20 years.

A rundown of what Aparecido has tackled:

Crime. Bras'ilia has a high crime rate. Still, residents were taken aback last August by the reported rape and murder of a young child of a working-class family. They were even more surprised when a suspect was actually arrested three days later.

Before the arrival of Aparecideo, it appeared that the police were doing little to eradicate crime. The people felt the people were more interested in locating ``subversives'' and taking bribes than in finding Bras'ilia's criminals.

Aparecido saw things differently.

``Certain things,'' he said, ``simply will not be tolerated here.''

When he heard about the murder of the child, he phoned the head of Bras'ilia's police every hour on the hour for three days and nights. The police chief was given to understand that if the case was not promptly solved, he would have a new job as a policeman in a small town along the Amazon River.

Privileges of the wealthy. Recently, a group of bulldozers appeared early one morning at various points around a 20-mile-long artificial lake in Bras'ilia. They began to remove the soft green lawns that had been extended illegally from the homes of government officials and wealthy civilians, which surround the lake, to the shore. A sidewalk for strollers and bicycles replaced the lawn. Despite the protests of the wealthy civilians and government officials, the sidewalk stayed in place.

Urban decay. Twenty-five years after its construction, Bras'ilia has slowly fallen into disrepair. It has become less livable. Its looks, services, comfort, and cultural assets no longer attract people from all over the country, as they once did.

Last summer, Aparecido summoned the city's founding fathers and commissioned them to finish what they had never completed. The city is now getting more parks, ponds, playgrounds, and mosaic sidewalks. Mass transportation is being improved.

Aparecido is not known to be a rabble rouser or a demagogue. Rather, he is seen as a mild-mannered, softspoken, moderate conservative with a sense of tolerance and of compromise. He opposed the military rule and went into exile in Mexico for a few years during the military dictatorship. When he returned, he worked for Brazil's top banker and was appointed minister of culture by President-elect Tancredo Neves.

``More than noble political speeches, more than election-campaign promises, the way in which this city is run on a day-to-day basis is giving people in this country back their dream and their faith,'' says Jos'e Aurino de Carvalho, a barber in one of Bras'ilia's supermarkets.

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