AT THE CENTER OF ATTENTION WITH RIO OLYMPICS, COUNTRY EXPERIENCES ITS WORST ECONOMIC AND POLITICAL CRISIS
By FABRIZIO Pellicelli *
Photos by Gabriel Nacimento (top) and Antonello Veneri (slideshow)
In these days, when Brazil is at the center of international attention with the Rio Olympics, the country is experiencing the worst economic crisis, and political and institutional reforms of its democratic history. The striking contrast between the grandeur of the opening ceremony and the actual condition of the majority of Brazilians forces basic questions: how is it possible that these two realities continue to coexist? How is it possible that tens of millions of people still live in extreme poverty, with no water, food, education, hospitals, work? Is there a common understanding, either in Brazil or in the rest of the world, as to the reasons for this great disparity and social injustice?
On the opening day of Rio 2016, I happened to be in the Sertão, the semi-arid Brazilian outback, a very poor region north of Rio, which alone represents 9% of the Brazilian territory and is home to 11% of the entire population. I was there to start a development project on behalf of some local communities that AVSI Brazil intends to implement with a large Italian industrial group which has expanded its activities to that region. The project aims to contribute to the improvement of living conditions for hundreds of local families.
The Sertão is the clearest mirror of Brazilian inequality. In this region, unlike the area surrounding Rio which has been polished up for the big event, there are no roads without potholes. The local roads are largely unpaved and red Brazilian earth soils the white of the horses.
There has been no rain in the Sertão since January; a tragedy in a place where the local water depends mainly on rainfall. Though high quality underground water flows in abundance, the State, which has invested billions of Reals to extract of oil in the pre-salt region, is unable to build water wells for its population.
The positive international image of Brazil being broadcast in these day is surely helpful: an emerging country, thanks in part to Olympics. But this growth should generate new wealth to reinvest in development policies. The State has a duty to ensure access to basic services for people, to ensure a basic infrastructure and to attract private investment in a sustainable manner, which is also compatible with its land and culture.
Private businesses are vital players when seeking a better redistribution of wealth. In Brazil, corporate social responsibility models have reached very advanced stages. They are based on the concept of mutual gain for the private sector and for society as a whole, which is seen as a set of stakeholders in a given region.
These models call for the active involvement of the third (non-profit) sector, through partnerships that create wealth for the region, stimulate employment, promote access to new knowledge and technology, and form the basis of thoughtful cultural and environmental development the country.
The associations of the Brazilian non-profit sector can be effective in promoting sustainable development. They guarantee a stable presence in contexts where the State struggles, or is has no interest, to serve. Even in the poorest places in Brazil, there exist non-profit associations that arose in response to the practical needs of the people and the desire of people at all levels of society to be protagonists of their own development.
The faces and stories of the people of the Sertão may appear "unnecessary" in a society where a "culture gap" dominates, but they can teach us to rediscover the value of solidarity and the positivity of life, even in extreme conditions. The Olympics may represent a unique opportunity to reveal this other face of Brazil.
* Fabrizio Pellicelli is CEO of AVSI Brazil. AVSI has been present in Brazil since the
1980's and works in various fields of development, such as urban development, energy efficiency and education. The staff of AVSI, is composed of over 1,000 people and its programs reaches 2.6 million direct beneficiaries worldwide.
By AVSI Brazil staff
Photos by Antonello Veneri
“I used to lead a gang in my neighborhood. I joined the criminality and I suffered the consequences in traditional prisons in an inhuman way that cannot be described. I went to prison many times and each time I left, I became worse. Everything changed when I had the chance to go to the prison unit created by APAC. There, everybody treated me as a human being and I realized I still had a chance to become a better person. Today I work as a methodology inspector in FBAC and I will be eternally grateful to each person who helped me and believed in me,” says Daniel Luiz da Silva, former prisoner at the Sao João Del Rei APAC (Minas Gerais).
To recover more lives, just like Daniel’s, the project “Superando Fronteiras (Overcoming Borders)” was created aiming to strengthen the experience of APAC (Association for the Protection and Assistance of Convicted Persons) in Minas Gerais and to promote the method’s expansion to other five states in Brazil: Ceará, Espírito Santo, Maranhão, Paraná and Rondônia.
The event that officially launched the project “Overcoming Borders” took place last April in the auditorium of the Minas Gerais Magistrates Association (AMAGIS) in Belo Horizonte.
Present at the ceremony, European Union representatives and contributors that develop the initiative: AVSI Brasil, FBAC and Instituto Minas pela Paz (Institute Minas for Peace).
"It's very rewarding to work to strengthen the APAC methodology, promote human rights in Brazil and see the lives of families being changed by the actions of APAC," said Jacopo Sabatiello, vice-president of AVSI Brazil, at the event's opening session.
In addition to the collaborators, present at the ceremony were government officials of Minas Gerais, representatives of the concerned states, as well as members of civil society and the private sector involved with the theme of convicts resocialization.
Overcoming Borders – The Project
"By sending people to traditional prisons we are often subjecting them to inhuman punishments, and in consequence, they leave prisons worse than when they arrived and commit even more serious crimes. After so many years working on the application of criminal law, the APAC method appeared to me, as a solution to all the problems we face in the prison system in Brazil. It is a hope for the convicts resocialization”, affirmed Eiko Araki, State Prosecutor of Rondônia. “It was very difficult to make the government management of my state accept the APAC method, but sometimes it takes a little craziness to go against what everyone thinks is normal, to bet on a totally unthinkable method," she added.
Eiko also said that in Ji-Parana, the second most populous city of Rondônia, with more than 150,000 inhabitants, the judicial authorities were resistant about the APAC method. After a detailed presentation by AVSI Brasil and FBAC in a seminary in Rondônia, sponsored by the Public Prosecutor of Rondônia, the concept has progressed and the methodology is being recognized as a good alternative for these authorities.
According to FBAC’s executive director, Valdeci Ferreira "the funds provide by this project will allow a series of actions to take a leap in quality, especially in states that seek to improve its interventions for better rehabilitation rates and reduction of criminal recurrence.”
The expectation is that the results generated in the project will enable the expansion of the experience and APAC methodology as a public policy in Brazil, strengthening human rights and political participation and the involvement of civil society.
The prison units called APAC are alternative prisons with a unique method that aims at the promotion of human dignity. This proposal consists in implementing a path of resocialization to convicted people and insert them back into society with abilities to find a job and not get back into the crime scene.
These units are characterized by the absence of police and weapons, with the presence of civil servants and volunteers from the society to carry out the activities. Another difference is the cost of maintenance. According to the prosecution, one APAC holds one third of the resource required to maintain a traditional prison.
The number of inmates in APAC does not reach 2% of the prison population of Brazil, and its expansion will enable the achievement of a higher number of convicts serving sentences in these units, strengthening human rights.
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