Witness to history in Brazil

Early on the last day of the year, Dec. 31 2002, thousands of Brazilian workers were constructing platforms and mounting sound systems in Rio de Janeiro and Brasilia, the capital of Brazil. A historic event was about to occur in the next 48 hours – the inauguration of the new president, Luiz Inacio “Lula” da Silva, a left-wing metal worker. Hundreds of thousands of people celebrated in the new year with the expectation of new programs against “neoliberal” economic policies under the new government.

With thousands on their way to Brasilia to witness the event, one could see the red flags with a white star, the symbol of Lula’s own Workers’ Party. But one could also see the red flags with the hammer and sickle, and the rainbow flags of the gay community. Many wore T-shirts with Lula’s picture. They were all on their way to see a worker, someone who is like them, take power as the head of state of the biggest country in South America.

When the sun went down in Rio de Janeiro, two million people crowded the beaches to wait for 2003. Many prayed, asking the higher power “help us to help Lula, we need him to build a new Brazil.”

A man who was picking up garbage stopped to shake my hand and to tell me the new expectations for Brazil: Hope for the ordinary people.

It had been raining and a rainbow appeared over the capital as the New Year came in, as if to announce a new day for Brazil.

For me, to see thousands of people arriving from all over Brazil in buses, airplanes, carts, cars and on foot, to witness a historical event, was moving beyond words. Something that one only sees once in a lifetime. It was even more moving for the Brazilians.

A worker was so moved by the events that he went up to the car of the new president to try to hug him, while the people danced, sang, wept and celebrated as only the Brazilians know how to do.

I met a couple who had spent three nights sleeping in a palm grove next to their car so as not to miss this historic event. They had a three-month-old baby. When they saw Lula put on his presidential sash they began to weep for joy.

That’s what happened to everybody around me.

Lula was elected with 64 percent of the votes of the 98 percent of Brazilians who voted. But his party members have only 35 percent of legislative seats. The road to come will be difficult, but the Brazilian people are willing to fight.

Middle class people were buying and putting on T-shirts with Lula’s image. People from all sectors who suffer under neoliberal policies of austerity for the poor and more wealth for the rich are supporting the new government. This faith in the new government comes from the high levels of unemployment in the country and the hope for new jobs created under the new administration.

One thing that Lula said was that he will start working immediately to end the tremendous poverty in the country. He also said he is going to work with his new government in getting medical service for everybody.

Governments from around the world sent high officials to this event, including 23 heads of state or government, among them those of Venezuela, Cuba and South Africa.

It shames me as a U.S. citizen that the United States did not send a high-level representative. This must be because Brazil is going to join with other Latin American countries in an “axis of good.” But the Bush Administration is going to try to disrupt this new path for Brazil. So we in the U.S. need to show our solidarity to the Brazilian people and workers and their new government in the days and months to come.

Perhaps the future of Brazil will include difficult periods, but Lula and his government are going to try to work to solve the great problems of the Brazilian people. In the new president’s own words: “... first we will fight against hunger, then we will find jobs. This is the new path for Brazil: To fight against hunger and end injustice for all is our future ...”

Gary Dotterman is an activist in Boston and can be reached at Garydin1@aol.com