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Socialism in the 21st century: The success and failures of Brazil’s social programs

Photo: Sinclair Broadcast Group

WASHINGTON (Sinclair Broadcast Group) - The election of a new far-right President in Brazil has raised doubts about the future of that country’s many social welfare programs.

In our continuing series of reports about 21st-century socialism, we examined a government-handout program in Brazil designed to lift millions out of poverty.

Rio de Janeiro is famous for its stunning vistas. It’s also known for these sprawling symbols of inequality like the favela.

Favela is a Brazilian word that means slum. And there are thousands of them across the country. It is here you find incredible poverty. It’s is also where the highest concentration of crime occurs.

Crime and violence fueled by drugs and gangs are made worse by generations of Brazilians forced to live in a marginalized world.

We met Sylvana da Silva in one of the most impoverished favelas in Rio de Janeiro.

Silva raised six children with limited water, intermittent electricity and a sewage system that ran right into the canal.

About 15 years ago, the government of former Brazilian President Lula da Silva tried to help, launching a program called Bolsa Familia.

“It’s a very simple concept. I mean, you give to those who have nothing,” said hunger expert Daniel Souza.

The program provides a monthly stipend to the millions of poor.

“He took 20 million people out of the poverty line; this can’t be forgotten,” said best-selling Brazilian author Eduardo Bueno. “Some people used to say that’s just like giving something to a beggar.”

Souza said the program became a model to the rest of the world.


“We had delegations from more than 100 countries that came to Brazil and asked, how did you reduce so much poverty, so much hunger in so little time,” Souza remarked.

They did it, in large part, on the back of a roaring economy but not long after a crash occurred, followed by cutbacks.

“We are very ashamed in the front of the world to say, "well we’re going back,” Souza said.

Journalist Felipe Moura Brasil said an array of expensive social programs like Bolsa Familia bloated the government and crippled the nation.

“You measure the success of a social program by the number of people who leave it, not the number who are added,” said Brasil.

Sylvana da Silva continues her job sorting trash at the dump, and she says her stipend has decreased to $90 a month.

Many believe Brazil proved that hunger could be reduced with a social program, but others say it also showed no government handout is sustainable forever.

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