The Yanomami tribe (Brazil & Venezuela) Face New Risks of Government-Issued Resource Exploitation Permits

Originally posted on curated eclectica:

This is a remarkable photo essay and description of one of the rare indigenous Amazon tribes.

Thanks to the Washington Post for its coverage this Sunday of the humanitarian/scientific work by husband and wife team Sebastião Salgado and Leila Wanick Salgado.

The scenery captured in Salgado’s photos is breathtaking….remember that Director James Cameron went to the Amazon for inspiration to produce the film Avatar.  His fiction is not far from fact in the isolation of this people and the imminent risk they face from industrial “colonizers.”

Sebastião Salgado is a social documentary photographer and environmental activist. He and his wife, Leila Wanick Salgado, co-founded the Instituto Terra, an environmental center in Brazil dedicated to teaching about and re-seeding the Amazon Forest where their efforts have replanted more than 2 million trees.

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Brazil: Self-Imposed Discrimination


When I arrived in Brazil six years ago as an American anthropologist seeking to discover if Brazil would be a good place to do research and a book, I had no idea about the degree of class discrimination that existed and the depths of its penetration into the cultural fabric of Brazilian society. Clearly, I was familiar with “racial” discrimination growing up in America and spending my life fighting against it for the opportunity to advance socially.  That is to say, I was confronted with it on the killing fields of Vietnam, in the Lilly-white, ivy halls of the university and in the sterile workplaces of corporate America. And yet, in spite of it all, I still believe that America is the best country in the world to live and grow up in primarily because of the high quality of life, the high standards and conditions of life, the plethora of opportunities and benefits for everyone, and believe it or not because it actually protects its citizens (i.e., the very nature of the American legal system is one that is built on protecting the rights of its citizens – they call it the “commonwealth” – not like other countries whose legal systems are designed to exploit and disenfranchise its citizens)

Here in Brazil, I found a different type of socio-cultural phenomenon, perhaps not as dangerous but just as demeaning and debilitating as racial prejudice – class prejudice. A type of bias, institutional and personal, that closes the doors of opportunity and upward social mobility for poor people and people of low income. Clearly, it is no crime to want to live a better life and to employ whatever survival strategy at one’s disposal that maximizes one’s well-being – this is an integral component of life. But how do you explain a survival strategy that works against you; one that deprives you of a better life – a sort of reversed form of prejudice? This was a new experience for me and I wanted to know more about it.

In 2012, an article appeared in the International Journal for Equity in Health concerning research conducted into the links between discrimination and its impact on the health of individuals.  The study used secondary analysis of a regional representation – that is, 24,000 respondents from 7,500 households in the Belo Horizonte Metropolitan Region of Brazil. Also, it employed a series of bivariate, covariate and multiple logistic regression tests of “any” type of discrimination in specific settings, including healthcare services, the work environment, the family, social occasions among friends or in public places and finally, in “other” situations. The respondents were made up of a cross-section of self-reported ethnic groups based on those in the Brazilian census categories including white (branca), black (preta), brown (parda), and yellow (amarela). The researchers believed that a study in discrimination in Brazil would be particularly helpful given the country’s large, multi-racial population, complex race and social relations, and considerable social and economic diversity

The results showed that the relationship between poor health and discrimination was positive and consistent for each discrimination type and was highest for those in the worst health, low subjective social status, and low social trust categories. Also, the study reported on the links between stress and the subsequent deterioration of physical and mental health due to cumulative exposure to discrimination. For example, those that self-identified as black consistently showed higher odds of reporting discrimination – almost twice that of whites. Also, women were consistently likely to report more discrimination than men. Those in the white group were less likely to report less than 4 years of formal schooling and more likely to report more than 12 years of schooling.  On the other hand, those in the black group were more likely to report 4 years of schooling or less and fewer with 12 years of schooling. When we consider wealth, the white group had fewer members in the lowest wealth quintile and the black group had the highest followed by the brown (pardo) group. In terms of health, the black group had the highest proportion of those with health problems followed by the brown group. In fact, the presence of health problems was consistently associated with those that reported higher incidences of discrimination.

In terms of the discrimination categories, health services, at work, in the family, in social occasions, and in other situations, higher odds were reported among those that self-identified as black. Now, this was particularly interesting due to the category “other situations.” What was most interesting is the higher percentages for the brown vs. white category, female vs. male category, 4-7 years schooling, and lower social status vs. highest 2 tertiles. Of particular interest is the Belo Horizonte black city resident vs. Belo Horizonte white city resident category which almost triples in comparison in the “other situations” of discrimination category and the Belo Horizonte brown city resident vs. Belo Horizonte white city resident which almost doubles in the same category.

The question therefore is exactly what are “other situations”? Actually, I have found that this vague category has a variety of different forms. For example, when people deliberately avoid attending certain functions such as birthdays, anniversaries, christenings, and graduations because the event is held in a particular upscale neighborhood is one form. Another such example would be when people refuse to patronize certain restaurants, supermarkets, attend certain churches or events because they believe that when they arrive people will look down upon them and snob them because they think they come from a low-class background. Still another example is the fear of some people to seek housing in good neighborhoods (i.e., bairros nobre) even when their financial situation may allow them to live in those neighborhoods. Finally, there is the fear of seeking good medical care at some of the better hospitals simply because the hospitals are located in better neighborhoods. It seems to me that all of these situations are created by a self-induced psychological fear of rejection by others. You see, Brazilians have a tremendous fear of being embarrassed or shamed (i.e., vergonha) and will do almost anything to avoid situations that might expose them to it.

Perhaps, this form of critical analysis is culturally relativistic in some way demonstrating my own shortsightedness because of my American cultural background.  However, it seems odd to me that anyone, any population, from any country in the world would not want to improve their life, health, housing, education, and opportunity for happiness. Also, it seems to me that the role of any worthwhile government is to provide conditions for the betterment and advancement of its citizens (…after all their taxes do pay for the governing of the country), and that citizens should seek to take advantage of every opportunity for the improvement of their own individual lives without fear of discrimination – external or internal.

Source: Macinko, J., Pricila Mullachery, Fernando A Proietti, and Maria Fernanda Lima-Costa, (2012). Who experiences discrimination in Brazil? Evidence from a large metropolitan region.International Journal for Equity in Health. 11:80, pp.11. Photo: courtesy of the internet.

Captains of the Streets: Homeless Children of Brazil

Jorge Armado’s Capitães da Áreia

Today, I was riding the bus back home from one of the famous open-air marketplaces in Salvador – Feira de São Joachim.  It’s a huge marketplace with fresh meats, fruits and vegetables that are brought to the city from the “interior” (rural areas of Brazil). At this marketplace, you can buy good quality, drastically reduced foods and at times it appears the entire population of Salvador is there shopping at the same time.

When the bus came to a halt at a stoplight, I noticed a young, black child standing inside the doorway of what appeared to be an abandoned factory. He looked to be about 11 or 12 years old with heavy, dark eyebrows and just a dirty towel around his waist and a pair of red brief shorts wrapped around his head.  He was completely nude except for those two articles wrapped about him.  Of course, at a traffic light there were many other cars stopped as well and other onlookers were staring at the sight of an indigent young child.  I could see shock on the faces of some of the car drivers and the look of complete disgust and disdain on the faces of others. Meanwhile, the young boy was busy trying to put his clothes on and get dressed.  Apparently, he had just returned from washing his body somewhere. While dressing, he displayed some of his private parts and at times was totally nude. He noticed the strange stares of people in cars and on the bus and made a gesture, the likes of which suggested that he didn’t like them staring at him.

A few years ago, some Brazilian filmmakers released a film that was a remake of a book by famous Brazilian author Jorge Armado entitled “Capitães da Áreia” (…trans: Sand Captains or Captains of the Sand). The film featured a group of homeless, parentless, adolescents that lived in a abandoned, dilapidated mill with hardly a roof over it on the banks of Salvador Bay.  These children were street thieves, young hustlers, con-artists, male prostitutes, and gangbangers that had banded together to protect each other and survive in the streets of Salvador. Each one had his own unique but tragic story that brought them together in a brotherhood of street children.

The fact is one of Brazil’s biggest social problems resulting from poverty is the lack of housing, education, nutrition and health care for homeless children. Unable to afford to raise them, parents abandon thousands of children who inevitably end up living on the streets of metropolitan cities. Often these children enter into a life of crime, drug abuse, and resort to prostitution to survive. According to UNICEF, of the 42% of children living in poverty, at least 12% live on the streets. Over the past decade, the government of Brazil through the Ministry of Social Assistance (particularly the program against hunger initiated by President Luiz Ignácio da Silva) developed programs to address poverty and starvation of homeless children. In spite of allegations of corruption, these programs helped many children.

Now, there are a number of reasons why children end up on the streets of Brazil.  Often the causes are related to domestic, economic, social disruption, or the breakdown of families. Of course, many are abandoned by parents too poor to raise them but there are also those that run away from abusive homes – homes where they are physically or sexually abused constantly.In addition, some of the causes are often related to domestic violence, acculturation, mental health problems, and substance abuse. There is also political unrest and the fact that many are lured away by predators.  We must remember that the hardships of a life of abject poverty has a way of bending and breaking even the best of parents leaving them with mental problems, addictions, and all sorts of explosive, violent behavior. And then, there is also the “angry” ones – children so filled with anger and hate because of the predicament of their lives that they just want to strike out at the entire world. Often times, these children grow up to become violent criminals– callous, anti-social beings without feelings of regret or remorse.

Street children can be found in a large majority of the world’s densely populated urban cities in almost every country in the world but especially in developing or economically unstable regions. It is reported by organizations such as the UK based Consortium for Street Children and UNICEF that at least 100 million children are growing up on urban streets and that the numbers are increasing. In 2012, the Brazilian government estimated that children and adolescents who work or sleep on the streets was about 24,000 based on results from the national census mandated by the Human Right Secretariat of the President and the Institute for Sustainable Development.  It would appear that this figure is grossly understated.

Also, there are quite a bit of reports, papers and books written on street children. However, many of them are the result of scientific or metric testing that attempts to show coherence; utilizing metrics as a way of summing things up and arriving at general ways of discussing them; i.e., questionnaires, variables and samples. There are, however, some works that employ innovative fieldwork and ethnography and attempt to interpret culturally enigmatic symbols, in isolating their elements and in specifying the internal relationships among those elements.

While some governments have implemented programs to deal with street children, non-government organizations (NGOs) have been crucial in utilizing a wide variety of strategies to deal with the problem. Still, the number of street children around the world is drastically increasing.

Masked Discontent: Corruption in Brazil and Latin America-Part 3


As an illustration of corruption among high officials, the September 2013 issue of the Brazilian magazine Veja is running an article on a bizarre corruption scandal in Brazil. It concerns the petition of incarcerated federal deputy (Congressman) Natan Donadon. He was sentenced to thirteen years in prison for stealing R$8.4 million (…about U$4.2 million) in public funds. The “disgraced” politician appeared before the parliament telling his story of the hardships of prison life. He complained about having to take showers in cold water among other things and was successful in soliciting tears from members of the parliament. Even though he was in prison, he proclaimed his “right” to continue receiving the benefits of his political office. Notwithstanding, the parliament approved his petition. As a result, and while still in prison, he will be granted four cell phones, five regular telephone lines, a fax, five computers with internet, cable television, a refrigerator and office furniture. In addition, he continues to have 25 employees working for him, a monthly salary of R$26,000 per month (…about U$13,000 per month), another R$32,000 (U$16,000) expense account for food and “other things,” retains the right to decide how R$15 million (U$7.5 million) will be spent for construction projects in his old district, and R$3,800 (U$1,900) per month to cover rental expenses for an apartment. Clearly, a complicated set of factors.

Thus far, the arguments about corruption have focused on the motivations of individual officials. However, differences in the extent of corruption may also have certain socio-cultural factors. Treisman asserts that a country’s colonial history also has a very distinct impact on perceived levels of corruption. For example, he performed a series of regressive analyses that examined “legal culture” – that is, a series of tests comparing French, Spanish, Portuguese, British, and Germany legal systems. Compensating for some divergent variables, his results concluded that countries with civil law systems (…as opposed to those with common law systems) had higher perceived corruption levels.

Also, there is the consideration of the differences between Protestant and Anglican religious traditions. His results demonstrated that the larger the portion of Protestants in a country, the lower the level of perceived corruption. But how exactly does one interpret the relationship between Protestantism and corruption? One interpretation is that Protestantism has a greater tolerance for challenges to authority even when it comes to threatening established social hierarchies. Further, widespread Protestantism may reduce corruption by stimulating economic growth in terms of some economic theories posited by German political economist Max Weber (i.e., when per capita GDP is included in the regression). And finally, it may also reduce corruption by sustained stable democracy – that is, the number of consecutive years since 1950 a country has been democratic. All of these considerations seem to indicate that Protestant societies are more likely to discover and punish corruption by officials. There is also evidence suggesting that individualism and self-reliance inculcated by Protestant culture reduces corruption. For example, Lipset and Lenz’s research concluded Protestant countries were more individualistic and less “familistic,” and that Protestantism, in part, reduces corruption because of its association with individualistic, non-familistic relations.

Finally, Treisman’s research offers other plausible interpretations in addition to areas such as legal systems, Protestant tradition, per capita GDP, federal structure, uninterrupted democracy, and openness to trade and imports. However, he does admit difficulties in analyzing factors explaining high levels of perceived corruption when considering countries and regions. His ratings confirm that when comparing Africa, Eastern Europe, Asia, Latin America, the Middle East, Western Europe and North America that Latin America and Asia are perceived to be significantly more corrupt.  However, when controlling for economic development, Latin America and Eastern Europe remain significantly more corrupt than Western Europe and North America. Hence, his research concludes that high levels of perceived corruption can almost always be explained by the degree of economic development and the quality of political systems particularly in those countries with high levels of poverty and meager experience with democratic institutions.

Sources: Lipset,  S.M.,  Lenz,  G.S., (1999).  In:  Corruption,  Culture  and  Markets,  George  Mason  University, Manuscript; Treisman, D., (2000). The causes of corruption: a cross national study. Journal of Public Economics . 76, pp.399-457; Bonin, R., (2013). O Gabinete 595 do Congresso Nacional. Veja, 2337, pp. 47-53; Photo: Courtesy of

Masked Discontent: Corruption in Brazil and Latin America–Part 2


Although corruption has been around for a very long time, since the 1990s it has attracted a considerable amount of attention. Why so much attention now? On one hand, many believe that governments have fallen, prominent politicians, presidents, prime ministers, and even entire political parties have been replaced because of corrupt practices and it is a serious matter that needs to be addressed. While others believe that there is more corruption now than in the past and the reluctance to hold officials accountable is no longer acceptable. The role played by nongovernmental agencies such as Transparency International, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank support this view as evidenced by their commitments to anticorruption campaigns.

There are several arguments suggesting that the need for exposure and accountability are the motives behind the attention. Globalization, for example, has brought individuals from countries with hardly any corruption into frequent contact with countries where corruption is widespread. These contacts increased international attention to corruption because they believe their companies lost important contracts to companies that paid bribes to receive them.

Also, there is the importance and effectiveness of a country`s legal system. Legal systems have the tendency to differ particularly in regard to the protections and opportunities for recourse they offer, that is, to those that may be harmed by corrupt acts. Take the Unites States, for example, and its influence on international institutions. Policymakers in the US have argued that many American exporters have lost foreign contracts because they have not been able to pay bribes to foreign officials. It is well know that for American companies bribing foreign officials constitutes a criminal act and bribes paid cannot be deducted as costs for tax purposes. However, in many Latin American countries bribing an official is not illegal and bribes can be deducted as business expenses.

Now this is very interesting particularly when we consider developing countries and their attempts to consolidate democratic institutions. When we consider the differences between the common law system and the civil law system, we will find some interesting dynamics. For example, the common law system that was first developed in England ( …and later transplanted to its former colonies) was essentially designed to act as a defense for parliament, property owners and individuals against attempts by the sovereign power to regulate and expropriate them. On the other hand, the civil law system (designed primarily by continental European countries and later by their former colonies) developed more as an instrument used by sovereign powers for state building and control of economic life. As a result, David, Brierly, and La Porta argue that greater protections are embedded in the common law system and that this system has the tendency to improve various aspects of government including reducing corruption.

Next, we must consider the extent of the increasing role government plays in a country´s economy. In recent decades, this role has brought about an increase in the level of taxes, public spending, and a larger increase in regulations and controls regarding commerce. For example, many countries now require various types of licenses, permits or authorizations by government officials. In turn, these officials are now in a position to request and accept bribes in order to provide these services. As a result, the enticement of corruption has a greater impact on behavior of officials particularly in those countries where diligent fiscal transparency and accountability is lacking. This practice is particularly prevalent in Brazil and many other Latin American countries.

Notwithstanding these considerations, there are two other factors that have a direct connection to corruption – that is, the growth of international business and commerce and the economic changes taking place in emerging/developing countries. The growth of international commerce has created many opportunities for companies to benefit from profitable contracts over their competition by the payment of bribes. These bribes for foreign contracts in turn have made it possible for companies to get privileged access to emerging markets and particular tax incentives. Also, privatization is the economic change mostly closely linked to corruption. For example, public and state agencies have been used to finance activities of specific political parties and to provide jobs to individuals of particular parties. Many times these “employees” are fictitious persons to whom various funds and salaries are ciphered. In addition, the process of privatization, enables some high officials to have access to information and make decisions based on information not readily available to others. Again, this occurs quite frequently in Brazil and many Latin American countries. (…to be continued)

Sources: David, R., Brierly, J., (1985). Major Legal Systems in the World Today. 3rd ed. London: Stevens and Sons; La Porta, R., Lopez-de-Silanes, F., Shleifer, A., Vishny, R.W, (1999). The quality of government.Journal of Law, Economics and Organization . 15 (1), pp.222-279; Treisman, D., (2000). The causes of corruption: a cross national study. Journal of Public Economics . 76, pp.399-457; Photo: Courtesy

Masked Discontent: Corruption in Brazil and Latin America – Part 1


Anyone that has traveled to Brazil can not help but be impressed with the warm, light-hearted, friendly spirit of Brazilians. They are a kind, helpful,  joyous, love to eat, drink and be happy society of people.  But lurking deep beneath the surface of their smiling faces is a frustration and discontent that threatens the foundations of their democratic system and severely reduces their trust of politicians. Corruption – that ubiquitous, pervasive term that seems to permeate and oppress the lives of Brazilians and many other Latin Americans. Research has shown that corruption, independent of socioeconomics, demographics, or partisan politics erodes belief in political systems and has a negative impact on economic development.

This process has been closely studied by political scientist for the past fifty years and an amazing amount of qualitative and quantitative data has been collected. More important, researchers have used a number of approaches to analyze and explain it ranging from political economics to cultural relativism and have tried to define its causes, effects and implications on policy making. Some of the explanations offered include the impacts of colonialism, federalism, economic development, democratic consolidation, neopopulism, neoliberal reforms, and even religious work ethics as underlying causes.

In general, there are two types of corruption, political and bureaucratic but the wide variety of forms in which it manifests itself seems to defy categorization.  For example, some of the more prevalent forms of corruption are tax evasion, sale of public office, extortion, bribery, graft, perversion of justice, misappropriation of public funds, forgery, embezzlement, intimidation, undeserved pardons, blackmail, cronyism, nepotism, kickbacks, influence peddling, perjury and cover ups. Here in Brazil, people actually have bumper stickers denouncing political corruption.  They seem to feel that Brazil’s corruption level is extremely high and has systematically left education, housing, health, employment, security, and other social indicators far behind most Latin American countries and they’re fed up with it. Recently, millions of Brazilians mobilized and took to the streets in major cities across the entire country to demonstrate their disdain for the degree of political corruption that plagues their homeland.

But what really is corruption and which countries in Latin America are the most corrupt?

There are several definitions that have been used in a variety of works in political science, public policy, and economics. Sandholtz, Koetzle, and Treisman, for example, suggest that political corruption is the improper use of public office in exchange for private gain. However, we must also include Nye who states that corruption is behavior that deviates from formal duties of a public role for private, pecuniary or status gains. This definition is particularly important because it highlights a crucial element of corruption which is the blurring of the line between public and private responsibilities. And, it is certainly interesting to note that Manzetti, Blake, Porta, and Vannucci emphasize the transactional character of corruption,  in that, corrupt acts are exchanges between parties that offer inducements and receive benefits. All of these considerations seem to indicate that corruption is a process by which something good becomes degraded or sullied. But it is at this level we must be careful in our descriptions. For instance, if we suppose that corruption is the degradation of something good, then this view would inherently imply that the basis of corruption lies in the nature of human relations. This argument would then suggest the presence of some type of cultural relativism – that is to say, for example, people from a particular social class are more prone to corruption than others.  However, there is more than enough research to indicate that corruption is something more than any form of cultural variance.

Since 1995, the Transparency International Corruptions Perceptions Index (CPI) has been collecting data on a variety of sources of corruption throughout the world. However, the CPI makes no distinction between bureaucratic or political corruption.  It measures perceived corruption through a wide variety of independent surveys that examine the views of business people and citizens regarding their governments and authorities as trustworthy officials. It also offers relatively good data on Latin American countries. For the years 1995 – 2005, the following countries were considered the most corrupt: Chile, Brazil, Columbia, Mexico, Argentina, and Venezuela. This year’s results report that Mexico and Argentina are the two most corrupt countries in Latin America. Periodistas Frente a la Corrupción (PFC) publishes a report each year that highlights cases of corruption that have actually been indicted.  For example, an unfinished highway in Ecuador that cost tax payers $106 million when the winning bid was only $36 million; in Guatemala, the Ministry of Communication awarded $27 million to fictitious suppliers linked to government officials; in Venezuela ( this also occurs frequently in Brazil), a massive public housing program paid almost $800 million to non-existent companies and builders who never broke ground on the project.  It is estimated that at least 10% of all government spending and 10 – 30% of infrastructure spending is lost to corruption.  In Brazil, the figure is about $40 billion (R$80 billion) a year. ( to be continued…)


Biddle, L. (2006). Corruption in Latin America: Political, Economic, Structural, and Institutional Causes (Thesis). University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; Price, J. (2013). Corruption is growing (again) in Latin America. Latin Trade Group, Available:; Mallén, P.R. (2013). Mexico and Argentina are the most corrupt countries in Latin America, survey reveals. International Business Times, Available:; Photo: Courtesy

Brazil: A Society Without Hatred?


Nothing in the debate on Brazilian race relations seems to perplex scholars more than the myth of racial democracy. One side of the argument suggest it is the adoption of a national mixed-race or syncretistic cultural ideal, or in more profound terms, a universalistic social policy of integration while the other side argues that this concept is actually based on assimilationist ideology serving to rationalize the multiracial society of Brazil. The main difficulty is that contemporary scholarship splits this debate into two broad interpretations: one, the ideology of a seemingly racial paradise – that is, without barriers to people of color rising to official posts or positions of wealth and prestige within the society. The other side denounces this notion and suggests that Brazil is a class society and that class stratification manifests itself in racial prejudice, discrimination and exclusionary practices. Still, contemporary scholarship is not able to provide an adequate solution to this particular difficulty.

Throughout the twentieth century, many intellectuals, scholars and authors have contributed to this analysis but the debate concerning race relations in Brazil still remains a very confounding issue. Confounding in the sense that some studies indicate that class discrimination is more important than racial discrimination. Still others argue that racial discrimination plays a more important role. Moreover, most of the existing data on race relations in Brazil is “qualitative” in nature, fails to study race relations in the larger society, and as a result cannot be used to determine what is more relevant. A corollary of this is the inconsistency in studies that attempt to describe the many subtle distinctions within racial categories. In Brazil, racial classification is particularly ambiguous and complex. This makes it especially difficult to determine if race is an indicator or has a significant impact on educational, income, or social advancement. However since the 1970s, significant “quantitative” research in this area has been conducted to addresses some of these concerns. Notwithstanding, race relations in Brazil continues to be a very dense and even provocative controversy.

These two broad camps into which the debate on race relations focuses can be grouped – the traditional, universalist ideology of non-racialism and those that support the concept of racial awareness. In other words, those that support the concept of racial democracy, that is believed to have been conceived by Brazilian sociologist Gilberto Freyre, and the activists and militants that support racial particularism. It is argued, for example, that Freyre is responsible for the expression racial democracy. This expression and the controversy surrounding it has been the central focus of debate on race relations in Brazil for several decades. However, this expression, probably no more than a free interpolation of Freyre’s ideas concerning social democracy (1937), the concept concerning the merits of miscegenation and the non- existence of discrimination based on race is shared by many other prominent scholars. Yet, the literary history of this term reveals that it first appears in the work of Arthur Ramos (1941), followed by Roger Bastide (1944), and later Charles Wagley (1952). Although Wagley does not use the term explicitly, his conclusions coincide with the established doctrine of racial democracy. Thus, it seems that Freyre is not singularly responsible for the expression or the concept of racial democracy but the controversy surrounding it clearly rests with him.

When we take a more in-depth look at the racial democracy myth attributed to Freye, we will find that the apparent problem stems from a lecture in 1937. Freye uses the term “social democracy” in an attempt to define the merits of the Luso-Brazilian civilization (that is, that the cultural practices of ancient Lusitanians made Brazilians a unique people) and the term is interpolated into the expression racial democracy. It is argued that Freyre wants to make a clear distinction between political democracy and social democracy in order to demonstrate the unique contributions of Brazilian society. However, much later in his career in a speech given at the Gabinete Português de Leitura in 1962, Freyre actually uses the term racial democracy for the very first time.

As I mentioned earlier, there were a number of prominent scholars using the term racial democracy prior to Freyre. For example, Roger Bastide’s use of the term, which probably comes closest in meaning to what Freyre actually meant in his assertion of the merits of the Luso-Brazilian civilization is that the order of Brazilian society is composed of a unique combination of diversity and unity unlike the puritan notions of Europe and the U.S., that focuses primarily on civil rights and liberties, and that Brazilian society is a social order capable of achieving a high form of cultural freedom.The American scholars investigating race relations in Brazil, Donald Pierson, Charles Wagley, Marvin Harris, and Harry Hutchinson did not explicitly use the term, however each in their own distinct manner drew conclusions that coincided with the concept of racial democracy.

Clearly, Brazil is a society composed of a unique combination of diversity and unity. But more important, it is a country where people do not fester with hatred for one another. Regardless of class, background, income, heritage or inherent social conditions and problems, Brazilians have a certain tolerance for one another that surpasses their differences and unifies them as a whole people. Even the ruling class elites of Brazil that exploit the lower classes do not do it with an inbred hatred for the people they are victimizing. Perhaps, Freyre was too advanced in his concepts for the era in which he lived. Obviously, he was trying to illuminate some special quality that makes Brazilians different and gives them potential to be a different kind of society – perhaps even a new kind of “civilization.” This is not to say that discrimination and racism does not exist in Brazil – clearly it does but not to the extent it does in a number of advanced, highly technical, enormously rich Western countries. However, racism is one thing and race hatred is quite another. Perhaps, miscegenation does have its merits and can be used as a mechanism that prevents the harboring of concepts of racial purity that enables one group of people to brutalize and terrorize another justifying their actions by considering themselves a higher species of homo-sapiens.

One thing is certain, the limits by which Brazilian society defines itself and by which it defines its coherence contrasts it with many others. It is a society that seeks out the meaning of many different perspectives from the many diverse elements within it. Perhaps, what Fryre was actually alluding is that one day when societies become fully grown, they will not define themselves by the sum total of its inhabitants but by the infinite unity of its mutual needs. In this respect, Brazil is far ahead of many other developed nations.

Photo: Courtesy of Corbis Images