Brazil has three main ethnic groups-whites, blacks, and people of mixed ancestry. Most of the whites are from Europe. According to the Brazilian government whites make up about 60% of the nation’s population, and people of mixed races form about 30%. However, the government of Brazil counts many lightskinned people of mixed ancestry as white. Brazil’s ethnic groups generally get along well with one another. Racial discrimination in Brazil if far less widespread than that in many other countries with people of several races. But Brazilians of European descent have had better educational opportunities. As a result, they hold most of the higher jobs in government and industry. Many of the non-Europeans, particularly blacks, have excelled in the arts, entertainment and sports.
Brazil’s prison system system is in crisis. Four years ago, in its 1990 urban violence report Amnesty International described the prisons as being at breaking point, holding double their official capacity in “inhuman” conditions. Four years later the situation has not improved. In some respects, it has deteriorated. Overcrowding, lack of medical and legal assistance, torture and ill-treatment of inmates and harassment of visitors are endemic. A frightening and rising proportion of prisoners carry the HIV virus. In the Women’s Prison of Soo Paulom, around 33% of the inmates are infected with the virus, while in the male prison the figure reaches 27% of the prison population. A study published in 1994 shows that the majority of prisoners are yourn, poor, and black.
agroup of inmates in the Desembargador Vidal Pessoa Central Prison of Manaus, Amazonas held a peaceful protest against conditions in es called in military police shock-troops. They reportedly beat the inmates, who had taken refuge in their cells, with batons, as well as hitting and kicking them. Subsequently they locked the inmates in their cells and threw tear gas grenades in after them.
For prisoners to complain to officials about their treatment takes enormous courage. In Recife, Pernambuco state, on 11 May 1993, prisoners told a visiting delegation in the Barreto Campelo Prison
of the brutality they faced. The prisoners reported incidents of torture and named the alleged torturers, even though they were in the same room. The inmates expressed their fears of reprisals from
the prison staff. Some of them told the delegates that the director of the prison had threatened them with severe punishment if they dared to speak out. The torture they described included beatings,
near drowning, death threats and electric shocks.
In his report on the visit to Recife, one of the delegates, the President of the National Council for Penal and Prison Policy, noted that despite persistent reports in the local press about ill-treatment in prisons in Pernambuco, the Judge of Penal Sentences and the Secretary of Justice for Pernambuco claimed to have no official knowledge of the prisoners’ complaints. He asked the state authorities to investigate the prisoners’ allegations, but no information has emerged about any investigation.
Two incidents involving prisoners with AIDS were reported in S?o Paulo in 1994. On 27 March, a woman prisoner who was in the final stages of AIDS in the Central Hospital of the Penitentiary System, was reportedly beaten by a prison warden. The woman, named Leci Nazareth da Silva, who was in great pain, was calling for the assistance of a nurse when, just after midnight, a warden came to her cell, shouted at her to shut up, and hit her in the face. According to the testimonies of other women inmates, after the
incident Leci Nazareth da Silva’s mouth and lips were swollen and she was bleeding. The warden
reportedly threatened the other inmates with reprisals if they dared to report the incident.
On 31 March 1994, Jose[‘] Roberto dos Santos, also an AIDS sufferer, was severely beaten in the Casa de Detenc[,]?o, in S?o Paulo. According to his written testimony, he was verbally insulted and physically abused by a prison warden in an argument. When he reported the incident to a prison official, the official insulted him again and beat him with an iron bar. The prison officer then ordered Jose[‘] Roberto dos Santos to be taken to a senior official’s office in another part of the prison, where he was met by a group of about 13 prison wardens who punched him, beat him with iron bars and kicked him. As a result, he began to cough up blood and was forced to wipe the blood from the floor with his own hands. On 1 April, a prison chaplain visited him in the infirmary and saw that Jose[‘] Roberto dos Santos had bruises on his chest, back and upper limbs. He had a swelling on his right hand side above the kidney and wounds on both legs. Amnesty International knows of no action taken against those responsible.
Brazilians are now pushing for a profound, ethical reform of their political system. The peaceful and demorcatic presidential impeachment in 1992 was followed by a thorough congressional investigation of a vast budget corruption scandel affecting several members of the Brrazilian Congress. As a result, several Congressmen were unseated on the grounds of “unetheical behavior,” reaffirming the stance that Brazilians want a corruption-free political environment. In a related development, Brazilian elevtoral legislation was updated and imporved with significant revisions made in the areas of disclosure of political contributors and in accountability. The 1994 general elections were carried out in a climate of democratic freedom and high civic expectations and the outcome serves to reinforce the strength of democracy in Brazil.
As in other democratic societies, there is an almost permanent political debate in Brazil about how best to deal with the country’s social and economic challenges. Areas of special concern are income distribution, fiscal and social securtiy reform, and economic modernization. Finding solutions to these festering problems is not easy. It will require the elimination of the remnants of old political structures inherited from less democratic periods in Brazilian history. President Itamar Franco, who was completed his two-year term with an 86% approval rating from his fellow citizens, and President Fernando Henrique Cardoso have both pledged and worked hard to ensure the modernization of Brazil’s political system.
According to the Institute for Applied Economic Research ant the Ministry of Planning, one quarter of the 60 million Brazilians aged 18 and younger-15 million children and adolescents-live below the poverty line in family units with a per capita monthly income of US $18.00 or less. One third of these youths do not attend school, even in the age group (7-14) for which school is mandatory. Roughly two million children aged 10-14 work, which is forbidden by law. An estimated 200,000 to 700,000 youth either live on the streets or spend their days there. More that threee million children live in households headed by women. In recent years, this sad picture has prompted a significant mobilization of both government and non-government enities to improve the situation of poor children and adolescents. Not only does human compassion demand attention for destitute youths, but a provision of the 1988 Constitution recognizes that children and adolescents must be the primary target of social programs and public assistance due to their special vulnerability. These constitutional provisions have been further developed in the basic law known as the “Statue for Children and Adolescents.” This Statue, enacted in 1990, has been praised by UNICEF as one of the moset comprehensive in the world.
Government programs, including the installation of hundreds of Centers for Comprehensive Child Care, address basic needs such as education, distrubution of nutritious meals, health care and the promotion of children’s rights. The “Pact for the Children”, co-signed by the President of Brazil and 24 state governors, set up a “Plan of Action” which is intended to fully implement the constitutional and legal provisions that provide for protection of children and adolescents. Several fedrral agencies oversee the execution of government programs for children and adolescents designed to give to Brazilian yourth opportunities for a better life, education, shelter, and love. Moreover, as mandated by law, 21 states and 1,654 municipalities have established special Councils for Children’s Rights. Several hot-lines are operating throughout Brazil making it easier for children to seek help and report instances of violence, neglect or abuse.