TWO names only are on the lips and in the minds of all voting Brazilians this weekend: Fernando Color and Luis Inacio Lula, invariably referred to as merely Collor and Lula. On Sunday citizens of this sprawling, incredibly exciting, staggeringly rich but corruptly and chaotically governed nation from which I have just returned will go to the polls in the most important election of their history.
There are no certainties, but Collor is favourite to win. The results will not be known for several days as it is theoretically compulsory for every eligible Brazilian to go to the polls. That means everyone over the age of 16, even though about 30 of the country's 150 million people can't read or write. And it will be nearly a week before votes from outlying villages, separated by inpenetrable jungles from the cosmopolitan big cities of the east, can be counted and delivered.
Life, moreover, is one thing for the opulent businessmen, elegant ladies and scantily clad young sun-lovers of Rio de Janeiro's famous and fabulous Copacabana district. It is quite another for the ragged, "skinand-bone" unfortunates who "live" like animals in the country's numerous "favelas". The latter are the shanty towns lurking everywhere, often within a block or two of relatively prosperous urban areas.
Life in many of the favelas is sub-human: indescribably filthy, primitive, squalid and ugly. The "houses" are made by hand from salvaged or stolen planks, sheets of metal, scraps of odd material, and thrown away mattresses and the like. Their floor is the earth and the ceiling often the sky.
By way of stunning contrast, the beaches and pavement cafes of Rio are crowded with carefree "cariocas" (citizens of Rio) and bewildered tourists, mixed with a heady sprinkling of cosmopolites. You could compare it with the ChampsElysee were it not that the uninhibited abandon of Copacabana makes Paris seem like a maiden aunt.
Chaos and contrast
DESPITE the chaos, confusion, inflation (two per cent per day), street violence, robberies and terrifying poverty, are Brazilians the most inter-racially Mixed people in the world a happy breed? Impossible, of course, to generalise, but first impressions (I hope to go back), after trying to penetrate as far as possible into every type of place and area permitted by time and prudence, make one say "yes amazingly so".
The most amazing single incident of all was to hear the delighted cry of laughter of a small boy at play. He exuded joy in every gesture, and in the radiance of his smile. He cried with delight every time the ball came near him during a game of football in the dirt "playground" of his home town: a particularly terrible favela on the ouskirts of the world's most extraordinary capital city, the ultra-modern Brasilia.
lIuman nature can, at least for a while, conquer material squalor. But death lurks around the corner. That laughing boy will probably be dead within five
years. The life-expectancy rate is terrifyingly low. That favela in Brasilia was even more primitive than some of the remote villages I remember from Kenya and Ghana.
IT IS just possible that Collor could, given time and tuck and his known political and business expertise, (combined with his Kennedy-like determination, charisma and compelling confidence) perform the necessary miracle. Why, then, does the most representative part of the modern Church in this, the world's largest Catholic country seem, in general, to back his bitter rival Lula?
The answer is deceptively simple, within an almost incomprehensively complex background. For the Church is widely recognised to be the best friend of the people. And Lula is a prototypical "man of the people"; indeed a veritable indentikit of the 'legendary shopfloor to president's palace type of politician.
He had no formal education after 14, after which he became a
metal worker, clawing his way up Trade mission through the "syndicalist" ranks to become a successful trade
unionist. Ile taught himself to speak in public and to win friends.
No one, on the other hand could be more urbane than the unflappable and intellectually gifted Collor, and the difference betwen the two in their televised confrontation last week was fascinating indeed. The film starlike Collor made short sharp points, hacked with a massive array of facts and figures.
I.ula, by contrast passionately sincere, his bearded face bobbing on a body dwarfed by that of the tall, slim Collor was distinctly on the defensive. His appeal is to the hard-core of his supporters but he will have gained few converts.
Collor, in the final crunch, seems to have emerged as the more credible reformer. The Church's final answer, for their part, is to depart from a timehonoured tradition, and actually urge its flock from the pulpit to vote for Lola. ALL this, of course, is an inadequate summary of the impressions brought back from a short visit (as a publisher member of a "trade mission") to one of the world's most fascinating countries. What I have said could well be an over-simplification, for the inner heart and soul of Brazil are undiscoverable in all their multiple facets even by Brazilians (as they told me themselves).
One heard, however, basically the same story from many different pairs of lips: those of the very charming British Ambassador in the study of his space-age Brasilia embassy; of a youth programme organiser in the person of a highly intelligent, Irish-born priest, in his office at the Bishops' Conference again in Brasilia; students in secondary school (many entitled to vote) in Sao Paulo; and of such as waiters of course), taxi drivers, other diplomats, Mass-attenders, booksellers, publishers, trade mission "opposite numbers", and many others.
The priest youth organiser in question works in the Bishops' Conference office in Brasilia next to the Papal Nunciature. Few things, it struck me, could be more ironical.
The "liberation theology" school of thought (as recently modified and developed) is now taken for granted by church workers who actually know and really love the people they try to serve. But conservative, conceivably sinister, elements, still infect, perhaps even dominate, the Brazilian church.
Thus the rank-and-file workers in the Bishops' Conference centre live next to the representative of a Vatican which has been cleverly infiltrated by ultra-conservative pressure. groups from within Brazil. The liberal-minded Cardinal Arns of Sao Paulo has had his key diocese split up into five parts by the Curia with strongly conservative (and locally unpopular) auxiliary bishops foisted on the Catholics of this crucial area. (The same policy has, of course, long been in operation in other countries.)
This is one example of the contrast between Brazil's disparate elements particularly as represented by Lula and Caller. Never the twain shall meet. And a divided Church symbolised by its outwardly magnificent cathedral, most of it underground.
Its "crown" emerges among the ministerial skycrapers of the capital but most of its interior is filled with scaffolding. This is part of a desperate and possibly doomed effort to prevent a would-be awe-inspiring edifice being reduced to rubble by lashing rain. The latter seeps in from the thousand leaks in what was meant, originally, to be the most spectacular stained glass windows ever to adorn the upper areas of a church.
A sad scene.