Wednesday, March 31, 2010

March 31 - A Day Remembered

Tanks roll in military rule.

March 31 is a rueful date in Brasil’s history. On that day in 1964 people disappeared, civil liberties were suspended, hard-won freedoms were lost overnight. In what was supposed to be a temporary transition the military coup turned into two decades of oppression.

Teachers were hauled away, while actors and poets went into exile. Students who had pushed hard for social reforms were tortured and killed. Their textbooks were heavily edited to support revisionist histories. Film makers and writers had to be clever to make sure their work got past the censors and still had relevance.

A million people march for democracy in 1968

Not surprisingly, the poorest suffered the worst, with nearly 50 percent of the population living in the favelas on less than a dollar a day. The slums quickly spread across the large cities, while foreign multinationals profited from Brasil’s rapidly expanding economy. Education was limited to the privileged, while babies borne by the poor seldom lived to five years of age.

While the US and many nations in Europe had 200 to 500 years to develop their political systems, Brasil has had just 23 years of democracy.

Students push for a new democracy in 1987

A month ago 150,000 people in Rio gathered in a driving rainstorm to protest a proposed government policy. In October they vote in their country’s most important presidential election. Brasilians are moving at light-speed to a future no one would have predicted forty-six years ago.

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