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Brazil and Paulo Freire

     Surprising reports from Washington complain that Clinton is not interested in international affairs and that only recently, under pressure, has he begun reading the national assessments which are prepared for him every day. At the same time, the Republican congress is thinking of downgrading the foreign affairs committees because few congressmen want to serve on them. This is rightly taken as further proof that Americaas are not interested in international affairs.
     Yet, like it or not, the world is still there, and next to us is Latin America. This memo will take up the role of religion there. Required conditions for belonging to CIIS are being informed and polite. Within those limits there is a wide variety, indeed antagonism of opinion. Some members view Latin America as rife with anti-American subversion and accuse the Catholic Church of backing it, even with arms. They are concerned mostly with Central America.
     However, Brazil should be considered too. Throughout that vast country this weekend there were church-sponsored mass demonstrations against the "neoliberalism" blamed for the plight of the Brazilian people. There was a mass ceremony at the shrine of Nossa Senhora da Apparecida in Sao Paulo state. The priest who gave the main speech defended theft by the needy; throughout Brazil, Jean Valjean has become the symbol of justified theft, with the police cast in the role of villains. This plays well, since in many places police officers are on trial for killing innocent people, including street children. The latest case is in Ribeirao Preto in the state of Sao Paulo.
     The criticism of the plight of the poor is well-founded, but giving church blessing to theft is dangerous, since most people think they are deprived and might welcome a nihil obstat to ripoffs. Moreover. calling for a just society means little unless we are told how that just society would be achieved. Priestly oratory is very similar to that of French Communist leader Robert Hue this morning on French TV.
     A catalyst in these clerical calls for a just society is the Braziliam Paulo Freire, born 1921. He is little mentioned in the United States, but his works have had a worldwide impact. They have been translated into a variety of languages, including Arabic and Japanese, since the call for a just society is common to all religions. Including the many translations, his production adds up to some 400 titles.
     Freire has introduced the word conscientiaization (with a variety of spellings) to the world's vocabulary. The "oppressed" must become conscious of their unjust plight. Without literacy it cannot be remedied. His call is indeed a worldwide one, and today is UNESCO's literacy day; startling figures have been issued about illiteracy, especially among women, even in countries like Spain. Freire is not quite clear as to how far protests should go, nor indeed is the Catholic Church. One thing is certain, namely that Freire's call has echoed around the world, and we would be ill-advised not to listen to it.

Ronald Hilton - 09/08/98