Dear Family and Friends

Its been a long time since I sent off a missive. Perhaps even my address seems strange, but is easily explained by the fact that my mother and stepfather live here an hour outside of Campinas. Really it should be called Motorolatown, as much business and it´s kin are in the same software circuit.

However, I am leaving tinseltown. I begin my intrepid journey heading north, to be followed by south, way south. This weekend I will be heading to one of the most beautiful cities in the world, Rio de Janiero. Ten years ago I first went to Rio and was stunned by the awesome beauty of the volcanic cones rising up out of the ocean. Of course Copacabana beach is also well-known for beauty. The trip should include Sugar Loaf, Concrete Christ and the beaches, but not a favela (shantytown) tour. This apparently is all the craze now for rich tourists to go into poor neighborhoods and look at the awful living conditions. It turned my stomach even thinking about it. The principle seems ok at first. The program is a non-profit, it is run by the people of the favelas as a income-generating program. On the positive it brings rich tourists in contact with poverty they may have never seen before. As mentioned it generates income for the poor. On the negative, is the premise of human beings looking at poorer human beings as a tourist attraction. It´s dehumanizing. It also encourages the poverty cycle. If these people´s income starts improving do they lose the tourism? It also pushes the fatalistic concept that poverty is not a condition, it is an identity.

Moving off the soapbox, after Rio I plan to head to Curitiba, Brazil. This is every planners city dream. Thirty years ago, an architect rose to the position of mayor and began a multitude of top-down projects to create walking districts, improving transportation and creating successful recycling programs. On the lighter side, I also hope to head to Florinapolis which appears to be a quiet Argentine/Brasilero mecca of surfing, seafood and beaches.

Next stop will be the not so touristy Porto Alegre. This town is run by the Workers Party of Brazil, a leftist party which works in the opposite manner from Curitiba. It tries to incorporate every opinion and acquire general consensus before moving on projects. In other towns, such as Campinas this modality didn´t work at all. But in Porto Alegre, the workers party is now into its third five-year term.

I´ve also taken to investigating Campinas. The health care in Brazil is one of the most decentralized institutions in the country. In Brazil the concept of decentralization or shifting of money and delegation of responsibility to the local governments was reaction to decades of military dictatorship. Decentralization and democratization went hand-in-hand. The countries health centers seem to be one of the more successful points of focus. I learned that decentralization is the delegation of power to authorities, not directly to the people. It has na institutional building role as well. The delegation of money directly to community groups doesn’t delegate power, as at any moment the central government can turn off the tap.

I also learned that health is classless. Campinas is surrounded by a “cinturon” or belt of poverty. These are some of the famous favelas where 40 million Brazilians live. These villagers who come from the countries interior to eek out a living in the urban centers often bring diseases. So despite Campinas’s center area high standard of living they still get affected by yellow fever, tuberculosis and other poor-man’s diseases. Food for thought.

Rio 14/2/2000

Ah Rio, I went to Maracona the worlds largest stadium. At one point 140,000 people sat in one place in 1950 to watch 11 Brazilians LOSE to 11 Uruguayans. In this case Flumenese lost 2-0 to Palmeras. I was immediately adopted by the Flumenese whose dedication (the team had already been eliminated from the tournament) reminded me of the post 1975-pre 1998 Yankees, or a Seattle Seahawk fan at any time. The Flumenese team has class, and money as we later went to see their clubhouse. They simply lack good players. Rio will always have a special place in my heart.

São Paulo 16/2/2000

Decided to check out Polis a São Paulo think tank on urban affairs. I should mention that all these names didn’t appear out of thin air, I am reading a book on New Paths to Democratic Development in Latin America: The Rise of NGO-Municipal Collaboration by Charles A. Reilly. I admittedly borrowed ideas of “what to see” with regard to urban affairs.

Also a shameless plug, should you have any interest in this field this is a must-read book. I admit I know and like the author very much, but the content is interesting and gives a terrific social and economic framework to the struggles of civil society in much of Central and South America.

Silvio Caccio Bava, the head of POLIS was willing to chat with me on my vague “municipal development” journey. He has the interesting dual role of working both with POLIS and the workers party(PT) which supports 25% of Congress, 3 governors and 506/5000 municipalities in Brazil. He was particularly clear with me that the application of these programs should be well considered before applying to another social and cultural context. He was referring, correctly, to my hope to apply some of these ideas to the municipal development training in May.

A large part of the PTs goals s to get citizens active in the public space. They have worked in São Paulo to divide the budget into neighborhoods and allow neighborhood organizations to decide on their own what projects they would like to do. At the same time this participatory budgeting is real in some cities and false in others. Recife for example pushes the budget, but then doesn’t follow the citizens results.

The PT and POLIS are also pushing for a Robin Hood tax (and have been pushing this for at least the past four years). The concept is that companies that place a high demand on the public transportation system should have to pay for it. That revenue would always stay on to improve the system. Good on paper, but several major companies have hired on lawyers to put in na injunction and question its constitutionality. Working by consensus is a bitch.

I’ll update on Curitiba soon. All the best. Email me your address if you want a postcard from Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Bolivia or Peru.