Today is election day in Brasil and I visited two different voting centers in Sao Paulo, each in elementary schools, outside of both the sidewalks were littered with paper cards advertising the faces, slogans, and corresponding voting numbers for the candidates. Each candidate has a unique number. Voters are instructed to insert one number in each screen of the computerized voting terminal, to select one candidate for each of the administrative positions requiring a vote, one of which is for the President of the country. Voting is mandatory for Brasilian citizens, otherwise more than half the people wouldn’t show-up.
Watching the crowds of people come and go from the polling stations is very interesting, it’s like watching a cross-section of the countries population on parade. On the street outside the schools where the voting booths are installed, there are street vendors selling coconut milk, sugar cane water, various snacks, and pastels, a national favorite stuffed pastry deep-fried in oil on the spot from push-carts or converted VW vans.
The people are dressed very casual, since it’s Sunday afternoon, generally quite colorfully, many wearing shorts and sandals. Brasil is populated by a 52% mixed origin race, with the highest population of African slave descendants any ware outside of Africa, so the people are mostly mulatto. Further, a society with one of the world’s worst distribution of wealth, puts the majority of Brasilian’s in a low income bracket, although the neighborhoods where I was are predominantly middle-class.
The penal code for Brasil makes a distinction between College educated and non-educated criminals, whereby those with an education go to a separate prison than the over-crowed, poorly appointed, and basically worn-out facilities where the un-educated are sent to serve out there sentences. The legal system is extremely tough on the poor, uneducated (majority) but seems to be very lax on the wealthy, educated (minority) and in the case of politicians there seems to be little if any punishment other than ridicule in the media and a little residual character damage, so it’s not unusual to see a politico, as they’re called, be back running for re-election in the next term (4 years later) after being completely exposed, arrested, and publicly humiliated for accepting payola, or stealing monies from public coffers. Usually the politician denies the allegations repeatedly and blames his opponents for misinformation, even against irrefutable evidence, corroborated testimony, video and audio recordings and/or legitimate signed, verified documents providing bullet-proof evidence, like valid Swiss Bank Account records, this is all in a days work for a Brasilian politician.
Brasilian’s, for the most part, are apathetic towards their politicians, so they try to vote for the person who’s most likely to get something accomplished that might effect them in a meaningful way. Almost everyone I watched come out to vote seemed relatively happy, just in a hurry to cast their vote and get on with their Sunday. If you ask anyone of these voters, most would tell you it doesn’t matter who they vote for because all elected officials steal. Some people in Brasil say that the crime problem starts at the top, not at the bottom, as most of the countries leaders would have us believe.
The crime rate is a major campaign platform on every level of government and the winners of today’s vote will be those that made promises to enforce stricter sentences and build more prisons etc… however, there is a voice of reason that’s starting to be heard, that blames a deplorable education system for the underprivileged, to the cause of crime. Sadly, more often than not, it’s the programs for the poor where the public coffers get skimmed, and even more sadly, if more schools were built there’s a huge problem hiring teachers because the status quo of the culture is such that anyone with an education to teach would work in one of the many private colleges that provide education for the privileged elite, so the cycle continues.
As a Canadian living in Sao Paulo, I really feel sorry for the people at the bottom and wish there was some way to help them. British Columbia, my Province of birth, seems like Utopia compared to Brasil. I don’t even know of private schools and never met a Canadian who had 2, 3 or 4 servants living in their house, sure some people have domestic workers to clean or help with children but they’re paid a respectable wage and protected by workers rights. The teachers in Canadian schools are mostly inspired to teach because they want to, have excellent qualifications, financial incentives of good salaries, and excellent benefit packages which include lot’s of time off.
In my opinion Brazil is going to need to make a quantum leap in it’s education system by implementing computerized class rooms and multi-media programs which can solve the problem of hiring and training teachers but before any progress can be made a consensus needs be reached that crime and education are connected. Every single child is the responsibility of every single citizen, we’re all in this together. The 13th largest economy in the world can afford to educate every child, all we have to do is adjust the distribution of wealth, reform the education system and make education the single most important issue in the country.