- The Guardian,
- Monday September 15 2008
Walk into a polling station in Belford Roxo, an impoverished city on the fringes of Rio de Janiero, on October 5 and you will be faced with an historic choice. You could vote for Alcides Rolim, the Workers' Party mayoral candidate promising a "city for all" or Elizeu Pitorra, a local communist who believes it is "time for a change". Most voters, however, will probably opt for Barack Obama, a 39-year-old Brazilian who, until recently, was known as Claudio Henrique dos Anjos.
Welcome to Obama-mania, Brazil-style. Few countries have embraced the idea of the US's first black president as enthusiastically as Brazil, a country with one of the largest Afro-descendant populations on Earth yet where black faces remain a minority in politics. Obama T-shirts are everywhere while chat shows and newspaper columns are filled with talk of the 47-year-old Illinois senator.
Now even Brazil's politicians are lining up for their piece of the pie. Due to a quirk of Brazilian law, candidates are allowed to run under the name of their choice. As a result, at least six Brazilian politicians have officially renamed themselves "Barack Obama" in a bid to get an edge over their rivals in October's municipal elections.
"In truth it was an accident," says Belford Roxo's Obama, an IT consultant who is bidding to become the city's first black mayor. "I'd been on the television wearing a suit and people thought I looked a bit like him so they started calling me Barack Obama. They'd see me in the street and shout: 'Hey! Barack!" So I decided to register it."
Like his illustrious American counterpart, who has relatives in Kenya, Brazil's Obama also has one foot in Africa. His grandfather was the descendant of slaves.
He admits he has also been looking to his namesake's speeches for inspiration. "I say the same things. I talk about political renewal, change, about transforming the city."
Despite their similarities the two Obamas have yet to meet although the Brazilian Obama says that as mayor he would "extend an invitation" to the real Obama to dine in Belford Roxo. "It would be great if he could come and see our reality," he beams. "Just imagine."