quarta-feira, 29 de outubro de 2008

Brazil: The Obama Samba

Brazilians love to mix things up -- never afraid to grab hold of an idea and incorporate it seamlessly into their constantly evolving culture. Take their national drink, the caipirinha, add fruit juice, and you have a caipifruta (try guava, passionfruit, or kiwi). And samba, the most Brazilian of dances, is itself a mix of African rhythms and European melodies. In Rio, they put a hip-hop beat to it, and call it "funky."

So it should be no surprise that the country's politicians exhibit the same flare when running for office. Brazilian law allows candidates to register under any name they choose -- as long as it's not offensive. In the past, "Lula," the nickname of the popular president, was taken by scores of politicians. This year, inspiration is coming from a politician a continent away: Barack Obama.

At least eight candidates across the country have chosen to identify themselves with the U.S. presidential hopeful. Using names that sound like welterweight champions, there is the "Brazilian Obama," and the "Obama of the Savannah." Outside of Rio, in the region known as the Baixada, or "Lowlands," there is Claudio Henrique, also known as the "Obama of the Baixada."

Hoping to become the first black mayor of his hometown of Belford Roxo, Henrique sees the senator from Illinois as an inspiration, who has been able to break boundaries and overcome obstacles -- many of which stand in Henrique's way.

Poverty, violence and corruption are the norm in Belford Roxo. Its beloved mayor and two city councilmen were assassinated in recent years. Streets are unpaved, and sanitation, health care and education are all lacking.

When Henrique began campaigning, asking residents to join him in a dream of a better city, his supporters started calling him their Barack Obama. The name stuck, and a campaign jingle followed -- set to the funky Rio beat. His popularity soared.

Crisscrossing town in a caravan of family and friends, Henrique meets and greets everyone in town. On the streets he is a crowd favorite, but as we see in the piece, when election day arrives in Brazil, Henrique finds even more obstacles to overcome in trying to make history in the Baixada.

-- Andrés Cediel

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