By Sibel Tinar, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO – As the opinion polls continue to give presidential hopeful Dilma Rousseff a comfortable and steady lead, Brazil has been preparing for another four years under the Partido dos Trabalhadores (PT, or Workers’ Party), the biggest of whose accomplishments was arguably the reduction of poverty and hunger under the leadership of Lula, recognized this week in a new report by the NGO ActionAid.
There is little doubt that Dilma’s surging popularity, which appears to sweep more than half of the country’s population at the moment, stems from a general desire to preserve the status-quo, and a faith that she will be the “New Lula”. Therefore, a victory for Dilma on October 3rd would be the most direct indication of a victory for PT and its fight against hunger in Brazil.
Lula, in the beginning of his first term as the president, launched Fome Zero (Zero Hunger), the biggest welfare initiative in the history of Brazil with the aim of eradicating hunger and poverty. Bolsa Família (Family Grant), which allows the poorest families to receive direct financial help from the government, one of the largest in the world of its kind, has been the most controversial, and arguably, the most successful part of this program.
While the opposition initially criticized Lula’s welfare programs in general, and Bolsa Família in particular, the results achieved with regard to the reduction of poverty in Brazil are impressive, as evidenced by reports recently released by ActionAid, an NGO that monitors the fight against hunger in the world, as well as by the United Nations.
The ActionAid report Who is Really Fighting Hunger? indicates that Brazil has in fact been the world leader in efforts and results in fighting poverty for the second year in a row, and praises the actions taken by the Lula government towards this end, primarily the welfare policies such as Fome Zero and Bolsa Família.
The UN has also pointed out that Brazil has been the country leading the efforts in reducing hunger by investing in small-farm agriculture, and offering financial aid and social protection, while clarifying that it still has a long way to go towards eradicating hunger and the immense inequalities between small and large producers.
Some 12 million families, or 45 million people across Brazil, receive direct financial support from the Bolsa Família program, the majority of whom are concentrated in the poor Northeastern states, where in some regions more than half the population is dependent on government support to survive. The aid is conditional on the families vaccinating their children properly and sending them to school.
Entering the final stages of campaigning, Dilma has been making promises to keep prioritizing the eradication of poverty, increased job creation, and the acceleration of the social programs that have contributed to Lula’s success, and indirectly her own popularity.
As the effectiveness of welfare measures such as Bolsa Família become indisputable, even the opposition parties and Dilma’s rivals in the presidential race have begun to praise these social programs, make promises of continuation, or even increase should they pull off a remarkable victory.
In a debate on Monday, September 20th, candidate José Serra promised to take the program one step further by creating a “thirteenth salary” for the recipients of Bolsa Família, which led Marina Silva, who has always been a vocal proponent of such welfare measures, to remind him that his party has been critical of these programs throughout Lula’s rule, and accuse Serra of only defending these initiatives for “electoral purposes”.