Brasilia--Capital’s ‘Long Silence’ Is Over With Rebirth of Democracy
Striking auto workers spilled out of their buses and settled in on the lawn in front of the National Congress building, where hundreds of militant bank clerks had already encamped.
“We are here to be seen and heard, and we will stay until we are,” one of the auto workers, Jaci Teixeira, said.
Teixeira is from Sao Paulo, where he was fired from the Volkswagen plant for going on strike. He and his colleagues were demonstrating in an effort to persuade Congress to strengthen the unions’ right to organize and strike.
The bank clerks had come 1,200 miles, from the southernmost state of Rio Grande do Sul. They wanted Congress to nationalize a big bank that had failed and threatened to throw 20,000 employees out of work.
There had not been a scene like this in the Brazilian capital for years. Before the new, democratic government took over in March, such demonstrations were repressed by club-wielding military policemen. And the role of Congress was severely limited.
‘Order and Progress’
The military rulers who held sway in Brazil for 21 years wanted order in the capital. They raised a huge Brazilian flag, bearing the words “order and progress,” to the top of a staff even taller than the 22-story towers of Congress. It flew there day and night, and it continues to do so in the clear blue sky that arches over the rolling prairie that surrounds the capital.
But today there is much more activity below, for Brasilia is reassuming the political role intended for it when it was founded 25 years ago as the national capital.
“The long silence is over,” Caiuby de Azevedo Trench, a psychoanalyst who has lived here for 24 years, said the other day.
Trench, 55, is one of the owners of the Moinho restaurant, which is one of the bright new gathering places in a city suddenly feeling its political oats.
Brasilia is a planned city of functional apartment blocks and distinct sectors for hotels, commercial offices, politicians’ residences, military installations and shops. But the planners set aside no space for cafes and clubs, so these have been improvised, wherever space can be found and the neighbors are not too critical.
Fired From Hospital
“When I came here in 1961, Brasilia was still living the effervescence of the (President Juscelino) Kubitschek construction period,” Trench said. “There was a big labor force of men who came here unskilled and learned to be carpenters or electricians or mechanics. . . . There was no unemployment and little crime; people were friendly. . . .
“When the military took power, in 1964, I was fired from the city hospital where I worked. In 1968, they began to imprison student and union leaders who were suspected of organizing resistance.”
The end of the military era began with demonstrations by millions of people last year in Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and other urban centers, for restoration of direct, popular election of the president. But in Brasilia, under the tight control of the military, there was virtually none of that sort of thing.
“People under the age of 30 here are politically alienated,” Trench said. “They grew up in the period of silence.”
But when Congress met here, in April, 1984, to vote on a constitutional amendment restoring presidential elections, the eyes of the whole country were fixed on Brasilia for two days.
Civilian Rule Restored
The amendment was narrowly defeated, but the campaign led to the creation of an opposition coalition that defeated the military’s candidate in the Electoral College. Tancredo Neves, governor of the state of Minas Gerais, was elected president, but he fell ill and died before he could be inaugurated. His running mate, Vice President Jose Sarney, took over as president.
For Brasilia, the restoration of government based on civilian party leadership has had the immediate effect of creating a political opening. Congress voted to allow residents of the capital, for the first time, to elect their own representatives to Congress--three senators and eight deputies.
Offices of political parties have sprung up like mushrooms, with banners and identifying symbols. Party members are being signed up in the administrative and residential center of Brasilia, which is known as the “pilot plan,” and even more vigorously in the score of largely unplanned satellite cities that have sprung up around the capital.
To be sure, the new democracy has not yet solved all of Brasilia’s ills, but it has made it possible to discuss them openly in political forums. President Kubitschek and the architects Oscar Niemeyer and Lucio Costa conceived Brasilia as a “social laboratory” that would provide solutions to Brazil’s urban problems, but there have been few solutions. The extremes of wealth and poverty that plague all Brazilian cities are equally evident here.
The future of the capital will depend on the way relations develop between the affluent pilot-plan residents and the people in the satellite cities, where problems of housing, transportation and employment are acute. Brasilia was planned as a city of 400,000 people, with a few small outlying communities, but today the area’s population is 1.7 million, with less than half in the capital itself.
Typical of the satellites is Taguatinga, 15 minutes by bus from central Brasilia. When construction started on Brasilia, there was no Taguatinga, only vacant prairie. Today Taguatinga is a bedroom town for lower-paid government workers. It and the adjacent community of Ceilandia together account for more than 500,000 people.
In contrast to the strikingly modern pilot plan, with its glass-and-steel buildings, broad avenues and soaring monuments, the satellite towns look like all the other ramshackle towns in Brazil’s interior.
The streets are narrow, often unpaved. There are some tall office and bank buildings, but most are of one or two stories, quickly assembled. Furniture and appliance stores, open to the street, are thrown together with barber shops, storefront churches, real estate offices and record stores with blaring loudspeakers.
Linked by Highways, Buses
Some of the new towns, like Brasiliandia, are no more than farm villages, surrounded by vegetable gardens and orchards that produce for the capital.
All the satellite communities are linked by a paved highway system, municipal buses and power lines. They have schools, health clinics and sports facilities, and they are populated largely by poor migrants drawn by the capital’s glamour and the hope of finding work. They are plagued with unemployment, crime, prostitution and street children working as car attendants or carrying bags at supermarkets. The streets of Brasilia are filled with beggars from these towns.
The relatively well-paid federal employees, merchants, bankers, government contractors and people in the service industries are an affluent minority that own automobiles, shop at the luxurious Carrefour mall and frequent the boutiques. Most of these people come from the wealthier southern regions of Brazil.
Still, the well-to-do are nagged by insecurity as a result of the surrounding poverty. There have been more than 60 homicides this year, some of them drug-related. Auto theft is an organized business; stolen vehicles are shipped to Paraguay and Bolivia.
Communists and Cook
Trench said that he thinks the city’s social development will go ahead more dynamically as the political movement develops. The Moinho restaurant is a good example. It was started a year ago by Trench and seven friends--three engineers, two architects and two movie-makers. It was opened on May 1, International Labor Day.
“We are all Communists, and I am the cook,” Trench said, with a laugh. He said he has had a lifelong interest in the culinary arts, but he still works weekdays at his clinic.
Besides its menu, the Moinho offers string quartets and other musical fare, and political cartoon contests. The walls are covered with announcements of theatrical events, gallery exhibits--and political gatherings.