Brazil poll revives geographic, class divide

2014-11-01 20:05
Dilma Rousseff has urged nations to commit ahead of the Rio+20 climate summit. (Eraldo Peres, AP)

Dilma Rousseff has urged nations to commit ahead of the Rio+20 climate summit. (Eraldo Peres, AP)

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Brasilia - Leftist President Dilma Rousseff's re-election in Brazil has exposed a deeply divided country, reviving the old wounds of class struggle.

Last week's vote showed huge support for the incumbent in the impoverished northeast, where millions receive benefits from huge welfare programs Rousseff's Workers Party (PT) has rolled out over the past decade.

The programs have helped lift out of extreme poverty some 40 million people, who formed the bedrock of Rousseff's support as she saw off business world favourite Aecio Neves.

In the south, many of those who backed Neves to end 12 years of PT rule are expressing anger at northern voters, many of them welfare recipients, for Rousseff's narrow win.

"I'm preparing to leave for Orlando, where my father lives. I've tried to help them, these poor imbeciles, these idiots who voted for Dilma," complained one voter, Deborah Albuquerque, in a video that went viral on social media.

"But they are too dumb and are going to be dependent on the Bolsa Familia (a family stipend for poor families) and Bolsa 'Misery' for the rest of their lives," she wailed.

The battle between two bitterly opposed camps is still being played out over social media, a week after the election, as everyone from politicians to footballers, journalists and members of divided families cheer and boo Rousseff and Neves as one might a football team.

Two tribes 

"I do not think these elections have cut the country in two," Rousseff insisted after her win.

But frustrated opponents disagree and have set up a Facebook campaign suggesting a wall be built separating Rousseff's northern strongholds from the rest of the country.

Northern voters, around 70% of whom backed Rousseff, have responded in kind.

"That's perfect, but we keep samba, because that was born in Bahia (a northern state). And we'll also keep (celebrated northern singers) Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil," a contributor to a "Northeastern manifesto" posted.

"After such a tough campaign, it is natural such deep-rooted and historic prejudices should emerge," said political analyst Andre Cesar.

Anthropologist Roberto DaMatta explained: "Brazil was a monarchy, an aristocracy with slavery. And the republic essentially came into being more in the northeast than in Rio de Janeiro, where the monarchy was concentrated."

Many Brazilians in the largely prosperous southeast accuse their northern brethren of closing their eyes to the ruling party's failings, as Rousseff battles a scandal of alleged kickbacks for political allies at state-owned oil giant Petrobras.

Some southerners claim northerners prefer to live off government hand-outs rather than work for a living.

Northerners, many of whom have left their regularly drought-hit home region over the decades to look for work, typically retort "Go to Miami," a preferred bolt hole for their cash-rich cousins.

Rousseff's PT predecessor Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva was one northerner who headed south. Born into rank poverty in Caetes, in Pernambuco state, he left for Sao Paulo to become first a union leader, then leader of the nation.

Backward, bovine

Northeasterners make up not just a major source of labour but are also very much part of Brazil's cultural fabric - hosting the famous Bahia carnival in regional capital Salvador, for example.

"The Northeast has always been backward-looking, behind the government, bovine, the lackeys of the power brokers," journalist Diogo Mainardi opined controversially during an edition of broadcaster Globo's television news.

Brazil footballer Hulk, who hails from the northeastern state of Paraiba, blasted Mainardi as arrogant and ignorant.

DaMatta concludes the north-south division leaves Brazil difficult to assess.

"We always choose the path of indecision. This is a society which is capitalist and yet not at the same time. That may be a trend for the 21st century," he ventured.

Read more on:    dilma rousseff  |  brazil

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