Giles Fraser Brazil trip – Interview with CA Mara Luz, Brazil Country Manager
Mara: We have been together for one week now visiting Christian Aid’s partners. I would like to know your general impressions about the work done by Christian Aid in Brazil.
Giles: Well I have seen quite a few and it’s all been very impressive. The first was Gaspar Garcia Human Rights Centre and they took us around São Paulo city. I was hugely impressed with their dedication and commitment. I was very impressed by the way in which they saw the big picture as well about what was going on urban Brazil. The same was true in terms of the big picture even more so with the INESC in Brasilia who are a terrific organisation who’ve been fighting particularly battles about transparency which are very important. The visit I particularly liked was the MST in the encampments of Esperança and 8 of March in the Distrito Federal and Goiás state. I thought the MST is very ballsy, feisty and they revealed historic issues of Brazil, issues that go back hundreds of years about who owns the land, who the land is for. And that actually for me has been the overriding impression of the big political issue here in Brazil. And the same with the Quilombolas communities we visited in the area of Abaetetuba, Pará state and the work that’s been done by CPI-SP with the Quilombolas. Again, issues about land and land rights. It’s extraordinary that in such a big country, so much land is owned by so few people. And there are still struggles for many people to find a secure place to live. It reminds me very much of a group of strange, in a way, wonderful Christian political activists in the 17th century called the Diggers in England. And the Diggers in 1649 took over part of Surrey, which is now terribly posh, it’s a golf course called St George’s Hill. And they talked about making the land a common treasury for all and that’s something that I really see the parallels with what’s happening in Brazil. What’s been happening for hundreds of years and what’s been happening now.
Mara: You also had some opportunities to see and to talk with some Church leaders and young Church leaders. So do you have any message for them?
Giles: I saw some interesting ecumenical leaders and I warmed to the Episcopal Anglican Church of Brazil and its Anglican Service of Diaconia and Development (SADD). It’s very much like the Episcopal Church in the United States, it’s a small Church but I think it punches above its weight because it’s able to say that there is not just one single way of being a Christian and wants to be an inclusive church. In so conservative religious landscape in Brazil now, with the charismatic and the setbacks of sectors of the Roman Catholic Church, it is very important to have another sort of voice, to show that there is another way.
Mara: What can be the actual role of the Churches in the UK and Ireland and Christian Aid in the support of the poor and excluded people in Brazil?
Giles: Well Brazil’s not a poor country, that’s the really interesting thing about it and the role of aid and development is in a country like this. That’s a very live issue in the UK with India, with the UK scaling back considerably its aid budget to India. And there’s always going to be a question about things like that in a country such as Brazil. But the gap between rich and poor here is enormous and there are people who live here in very difficult conditions and in some sense there are political issues and they need to be addressed politically. And I’m glad that Christian Aid doesn’t shy away from that and isn’t afraid of that. It’s not simply a question of handing out money; it’s a question of pressuring the right people to make the right sorts of changes. So things like the law and taxation, which are in one way very unglamorous issues for Christian Aid to tackle, but I think they are absolutely central issues for them to tackle because that’s the way in which the government ends up doing the things that it should be doing.
Mara: Do you have a last word for the partners you visited and the others you didn’t have an opportunity to visit in Brazil?
Giles: Certainly not a last word because I will certainly be saying more. There’s no way it will be the last word! I don’t think I can do a last word on anything (laughs). It’s a fantastic place, there’s really some fantastic work going on here and I think it’s very inspiring to see the passion, the dedication of the people who are working in the projects here.
Mara: Thank you very much and safe trip back home.