23 July 2009

Moving to a New Blog

Just in case some of you are still periodically checking for updates on this blog, I have switched to a new blog site at http://pinnaclesandthepedestrian.blogspot.com/.

I decided to do this since I still have a lot of material to share but I am no longer in Brazil; hence the concept of dispatches from Brazil would be dishonest. So now it's on to Pinnacles and the Pedestrian, a blog about books, travel and life. I hope you switch over and that you enjoy what you find there!

07 March 2009

In Country: Recent Article in Time Magazine

This recent article in Time magazine claims Brasil may get through the economic crisis fairly unscathed. Read the article here: http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1883301,00.html?xid=rss-topstories

06 March 2009

In Country: Beach Time!

Today is a holiday in Recife and all 2 million residents, seemingly, went to the beach. Although I am not a sun worshipper Fernando, Hope and I did go down to check out the action. This is what we saw.

Bodies, and more bodies.
Apparently Recife is renowned for shark attacks close to shore with about one per year ending up being fatal. Signs of caution like this one were liberally sprinkled around the beach.

Brasilians don't appear to care much about the warnings, however.
A lifeguard tower manned by pigeons. Surely they can fly fast enough if a great white breached, but I am not so confident about the birds' ability to handle a life preserver in the event of an emergency.
Bodies, lots of bodies. In this case, she had the body of a 30 year old and the face of a 60 year old. Brasil is the botox capital of the world, I am told.
Bodies, lots of bodies.

Vendors, lots of vendors. In this case, he was hawking plastic ponies from his forehead.
Hope drinking coconut milk.

Edigio working toward his 30th pull-up.
Stephanie, a Brasilian Obama lover.
Young bodies.
Umbrellas over bodies.
Old men.
Young boys.
Old men, young boys and vendors, lots of vendors.
What was the holiday? Known as Magna Pernamubuco, this civil holiday celebrates the Revolution Pernambuco which broke out on March 6, 1817. Also referred to as the Fathers of the Revolution, the instability caused by the Revolution Pernambuco eventually led to the independence of Brasil from Portuguese monarchical rule in 1822. Unfortunately for the leaders of the revolution when the territory of "Pernambuco declared independence from Portugal, Alagoas, Paraíba, Rio Grande do Norte and Ceará [also] adhered, the upheaval was violently crushed by Portugal, and the leaders were beheaded." http://www.v-brazil.com/information/geography/pernambuco/history.html
I wonder if all those bodies on the beach today knew some other bodies lost their heads in order to earn this holiday?

05 March 2009

In Country: Recife Landing

Last night we left Campinas and flew to Recife (pronounced hey-see-fe) which is an urban beach city of 2 million people. The flight was great but we didn't arrive at our apartment until about 3:00am. Consequently today was a foggy-minded day of orientation to a new city.

For lunch Fernando, Hope and I checked out a self serve restaurant about 1 block down from the apartment. While we were eating, a woman with a box of plants balanced on her head walked past the window. Of course I didn't have my camera with me to get you a photo, but I did buy one of her plants as a reward for her amazing feat of coordination. The plant now sits on the balcony table.

Speaking of the balcony, our apartment sits in a neighborhood of Recife called Boa Viagem. We will be here for about 3 weeks and decided an apartment with a kitchen would be better than a regular hotel. The balcony has a hammock similar to the type we used on the boat in Amazonas. Fortunately for us, the only swaying we'll be doing here is to the nice ocean breeze that blows in from the east.

If you look at a map, Recife is the closest point to Africa in South America. In fact, it's parallel with Luanda, Angola.

After dinner we went for a night walk on the beach. Hope and I chased each other while David and Fernando served as our bodyguards. Then, a warm rainshower interrupted our persecution of an albino sand crab who probably assumed the sunset would allow him a night's respite. Just when Fernando caught it in his hands the rain began in earnest. We left our prey and headed back to the apartment for dessert and coffee.

Our first day in Recife is just about over.

03 March 2009

In Country: Summary of the World Social Forum in Belem, Brasil

The following are a couple of salient excerpts from the summary. Otherwise, here is the link for you to read the whole document. It's pretty compelling and worth more of my attention than I have time to give it right now. http://www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=va&aid=12520

"The declaration of indigenous peoples uses similar terms to those found in the ASM declaration to formulate demands for an antiracist, antipatriarchal and socialist alternative that would respect the earth mother. The crisis of the capitalist, eurocentric, patriarchal and racist development model is complete and opens onto the biggest social and environmental crisis in the history of humankind. The financial, economic and energy crisis contributes to structural unemployment, social exclusion, racist violence, machism, and religious fanaticism. So many deep and simultaneous crises spell out a genuine crisis in Western civilisation, the crisis of the ‘capitalist development and modernity’ that jeopardizes all forms of life. Yet even in such a quandary some still dream of improving this model and will not recognize that the present crisis is a product of capitalism itself, on eurocentrism with its model of a State for one nationality, of cultural homogeneity, of Western positive law, and of commodification of life."

"Lula’s political stance is close to the liberal social model of Gordon Brown in England, or of Zapatero in Spain. It mainly favours the big capitalist Brazilian companies established throughout Latin America, the powerful Brazilian agribusiness sector, the private banking system, and the big transnational corporations located in Brazil. It is a policy that promotes exports as fundamental to development, in particular the sugar cane industry with a view to producing ethanol, and transgenic soy exports. In ecological terms, however, the consequences for the last five years have been catastrophic. Since 2003, Lula’s policies have engendered deforestation in Amazonia over an area equal to that of Venezuela."

01 March 2009

In Country: Labor Unions, the Communists and Global Economics

Political protest is commonly viewed as a healthy sign in a functioning democracy. When opposition parties are allowed to assemble in public spaces and when labor unions are given voice -- and that voice is heard -- a country has self-respect is respected by other countries of the world. It is healthy for society to allow dissent, claims the purveyers of conventional wisdom.

If this is true, then I have two compelling examples that display the health and vibrancy of Brasil's democracy. One example comes in the form of a recent court ruling in favor of three labor unions.

But first some back history. As corporations around the world are struggling to deal with the global economic downturn, news of employee layoffs increase. This is the case with the world's 4th largest aircraft maker Embraer which, on February 19, announced a 20% reduction in its workforce in an attempt at dealing with declining work orders. As a result of the announced cutbacks, three labor unions representing the workers filed a collective lawsuit to stop the layoffs. Yesterday a court here in Campinas "temporarily blocked aircraft manufacturer Embraer from laying off close to 4,300 workers amid the steep global economic downturn." While the victory for the workers is not permanent, and the company will appeal the ruling, it is a good example of how labor unions work to preserve jobs in Brasil. Whether their attempts to keep jobs for workers will be successful, however, is a completely different issue!

Another example that points to the health of Brasilian democracy was a protest I witnessed in the park adjacent to our hotel in Campinas. The hotel is called Park Tower Hotel and the park is known as Largo do Para. Both sit in the central portion of the city so there is a lot of activity most every day and night. But what took place on Saturday morning was exceptional. Typically every Saturday a handful of artisans set up booths to sell their wares. This Saturday, however, a convergence of people with large red flags and a man with a loudspeaker joined the craftspeople in the square. Because of the tree cover I was unable to get a good look at the flags. Likewise because of my still-insufficient abilities with Portuguese I was unable to firmly understand what was being said on the loudspeaker. Once the protesters made their way out onto the street, though, I got some good shots of the flags and the people. And guess what? They were Communists and Socialists. Yep, the Communist party in Brasil is alive and well.

Intersindical is a leftist organization which was formed as a result of the 2002 election of President Lula. Although Lula was originally a leftist too, many critics are concerned with the right (neo-liberal) turn he has taken with regard to economic and political policies in Brasil. Hence the emergence of a new group of leftist organizations, of which Intersindical is one. Also in this new cohort of political action against the present government is the PSOL (Party Socialism and Liberty) and the PCB (Partido Comunista Brasileiro or the Brasilian Communist Party). The PCB was initially established in Brasil in 1922, shortly after the 1917 Revolution in Russia. And, although it has undergone extensive revision in the past 75 years, it is still adherent to Marxist-Leninist ideology. This may explain the hammer and sickle on the flag below. Overall, these groups are comprised of "workers, landless activists and youth from all over the country" who are increasingly dissatisfied with Lula Administration policies, according to a SocialistWorld.net article from July 2008.

The crowds were small and fairly sanguine as they marched through the main thorough fares of Campinas. Indeed there was an absence of militancy or aggression amongst the protesters but they were protesters of a type never seen on the streets of American cities. After all, when was the last time you saw the Communists marching in broad daylight in Sacramento?

In conclusion, if this were the only measure by which a society were judged, then I would say that Brasil's democracy is healthier than the United States' simply by virtue of the political protests on display.

In Country: The Interregnum Is Almost Over

You may have noticed my silence lately. I have been engaged in a blogging interregnum. However, this little break in the blogging action is almost over because on Wednesday David, Hope, Fernando and I hit the road again, this time heading for the northeast city of Recife.

In the past few days I have been doing a lot of reading, due in part to access to the books I had stashed at Jocelyn's house as well as the books in English I have been able to pick up at bookstores in Campinas. The long reading drought has mercifully ended! So, the following is a list of books and articles I have been working on lately. The only one that is not related to Brasil is the novel by Nadine Gordimer, which is set in South Africa, but is still a really good read.

Andrews, George Reid. Afro-Latin America 1800-2000. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004.

Bandeira Beato, Lucila. “Inequality and Human Rights of African Descendants in Brazil.” Journal of Black Studies, Vol 34, No 6, July 2004, pp 766-786.

Bartlett, Lesley. “Human Capital or Human Connections?: The Cultural Meanings of Education in Brazil.” Teachers College Record Volume 109, Number 7, July 2007, pp 1613-1636.

Bianchi, Alvaro and Ruy Braga. “Brazil: The Lula Government and Financial Globalization.” Social Forces, Vol. 83, No. 4 (Jun., 2005), pp. 1745-1762.

Borges, Dain. “’Puffy, Ugly, Slothful and Inert’: Degeneration in Brazilian Social Thought, 1880-1940.” Journal of Latin American Studies, Vol 25, No 2 (May 1993), pp 235-256.

Butler, Kim D. Freedoms Given, Freedoms Won: Afro-Brazilians in Post-Abolition Sao Paulo and Salvador. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1998.

Gordimer, Nadine. My Son’s Story. London: Penguin Books, 1990.

Haynes, C. Vance, Jr. et al. “Dating a Paleoindian Site in the Amazon in Comparison with Clovis Culture.” Science Magazine. Vol. 275. no. 5308, pp. 1948 - 1952

Mann, Charles C. “1491.” The Atlantic Monthly. Digital Edition. March 2002.

Scudamore, James. Heliopolis. London: Harvill Secker, 2009.

Shohat, Ella and Robert Stam. “Formations of Colonialist Discourse.” Unthinking Eurocentrism: Multiculturalism and the Media. London: Routledge, 1994, pp 55-70.

Stengel, Marc K. “The Diffusionists Have Landed.” The Atlantic Monthly. Digital Edition. January 2000.

Walker, Robert. “Mapping Process to Pattern in the Landscape Change of the Amazonian Frontier.” Annals of the Association of American Geographers, Vol 93, No 2 (June 2003), pp 376-398.