From the little town of Caetés, Pernambuco, in Brazil’s agreste zone, the Semiarid Against Hunger Caravan tour will take off to drive around Brazil and denounce the rise of hunger in the country. Nearly 12 million Brazilians are below the extreme poverty line today, which means they earn less than R$70 (less than US$20) a month, according to a survey by ActionAid Brasil.
Farmers, activists, and communicators will tour for 14 days on three buses around the states of Pernambuco, Bahia, Minas Gerais, São Paulo, and Paraná, then drive to Brazil’s capital city, Brasília, where they should arrive on August 5th.
The first demonstration takes place this Friday at the main square of Caetés. The Brazilian Semiarid Articulation (ASA), a co-organizer of the caravan, expects to gather more than 3,000 people coming from several areas of northeastern Brazil.
The best-known son of Caetés is ex-president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. In the small town, residents speak fondly of their famous fellow citizen. Simão Salgado da Silva, head of the Caetés Rural Workers’ Union, reiterates what the latest voting intention polls show: if the elections were held today, Lula would win in the first round.
Drought and social policies
The severe drought that made Lula’s mother, Mrs. Lindu, leave Caetés with her children in 1952 to try to make a living in São Paulo still affects the area. Most people in Caetés live in rural areas (around 70 percent of its 27,000 residents), and the town was one of the several cities that suffered with the lack of rain that has devastated Brazil’s semiarid area over the last seven years.
Struggling with their yield, rural workers are making a living thanks to social programs created especially during Lula’s first term. However, cuts to public policy budgets by Michel Temer’s coup government have been leading to negative consequences, residents report.
“We are feeling the impacts, especially [in terms of] hunger. You’d rarely see anyone on the streets begging for food, and now you see, not as much as before [the Lula administration], but you already see people going door to door begging [for food],” says Uedislaine de Santana, who lives in the quilombola community of Atoleiro, in Caetés. A quilombo is a settlement set up in Brazil’s rural areas, mostly by escaped enslaved people of African descent.
The conditional cash transfer program Bolsa Família benefits around 46 percent of Caetés residents with an average R$242.34 (US$65) a month per family, according to government data. “We had a really long drought here in the Northeast, and people couldn’t make money off their farms, and most of them could only put food on the table because of Bolsa Família, but now they are cutting it. And we are feeling the difference,” Simão Salgado.
Other public policies that changed people’s lives in the Northeast and are now being cut are the 1 Million Cisterns Program, with which a lot of Brazilians were able to have access to clean water, and the Food Acquisition Program.
Edition: Diego Sartorato