President Bush caused great hilarity when he welcomed the former Brazilian president, Henrique Cardoso, in Washington with the amiable question: "so you also have blacks in Brazil?" Of course, but they have little stake in their country.
"Zero hunger" was the slogan that led Lula da Silva's workers Party to the landslide victory in last October's Brazilian elections. The world's fifth largest country, with the tenth largest economy, Brazil has for too long been a "country of the future" partly because it prefers to forget its past and is not very proud of its present. Of its 175 million people, half of which are mixed and black, 57 million live in extreme poverty. The poorest 20% share only 2% of the national income; two-thirds of the income are owned by the richest 20%.
In Catholic Brazil, blacks were never subjected to the abominable racist violence of the Ku Klux Klan of white Protestant Southern USA, which, at some stage, had millions of white followers; nor were they kept apart by institutionalised segregation.
But after the much-delayed abolition of slavery, while Brazil, like the US, was opened to mass white immigration, "freed" blacks had to face just an arduous and unwinnable race. All in all, Black Brazilians, due to their skill in soccer and samba, have long dominated the multi-coloured image of Brazil where, by European and American racial definitions, mixed people count as non-white, half of the Brazilians would be black. For this reason, President Bush caused great hilarity when he welcomed the former Brazilian president, Henrique Cardoso, in Washington with the amiable question: "So you also have blacks in Brazil?" President Cardoso's reply was not reported. But one can well imagine his embarrassment at such implied ignorance of political history.
To top it all, President cardoso, a notable academic and economist, and author of the book, Capitalism and Slavery in Meridional Brazil, was one of the most cultured modern heads of state. A social reformer, who had won the previous election over Lucas da Silva, he might even have opened the way for the reawakening of political activism of workers, the landless and the destitute, that led to his rival's historic victory in October.
Cardoso tried to widen black representation in government, appointing Pele, the famous soccer star-cum multimillionaire conservative as sports minister, even though on his presidential visits to Britain and elsewhere, the TV cameras made him (cardoso)...