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Post Memories of Peace Corps in Brazil
Created by John Eipper on 07/07/12 11:58 PM

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Memories of Peace Corps in Brazil (Anthony D'Amato, USA, 07/07/12 11:58 pm)

David Fleischer's reports (7 July) on the Peace Corps in Brazil are indeed fascinating. But I am puzzled as to why there is no mention of the street children. Were they not on the Peace Corps' radar?

JE comments: Street children are the sad result of urbanization and the displacement of the rural peasantry. I presume that in the period 1962-64 in Minas Gerais, where David Fleischer was stationed, these demographic upheavals were still in their initial stages.  Plus, David worked on agricultural development in MG, so he must have been in a rural area.

David:  did I understand this correctly?

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  • Street Children in Brazil in the 1960s (David Fleischer, Brazil 07/09/12 12:29 AM)

    In response to Anthony D'Amato's query of 8 July, when I arrived in Rio de Janeiro in the early 1960s, Brazil was still pretty much a rural country (some 60% rural). By the 1980 census, it had become about 65% urban, especially after the military regime decided to impose social security and labor legislation on rural areas. This produced a massive rural-urban exodus, much faster than the same process in the US.

    Thus, in 1962, Rio de Janeiro did not have very many "street children" and crime was not a threat to movement around the city, even in the early morning hours. However, by the early 1980s, urban crime and the problem of "street children" got much worse--aggravated by drug trafficking in the large cities, especially in Rio de Janeiro. However, in the late 1960s and early 1970s, many volunteers were placed in urban "community development" projects in large cities and had direct contact with the social problems of these communities.

    As JE pointed out, our project worked with rural extension in small towns in the interior of several states. I was stationed in Lavras, in the southern region of Minas Gerais (then population 40,000). I did visit São Paulo and Rio several times for very short periods, but would go into Belo Horizonte (the state capital city) more frequently--where the central office of the MG rural extension service was located. Thus, during my Peace Corps experience, I had little contact with urban areas.

    To answer JE's question about the length of training programs, some were quite short. One of my friends trained for community development in Espírito Santo and said that her training was just 8 weeks at U Wisconsin/Madison and then directly into the field with no in-country training. Later in the 1960s, Peace Corps tried to find training sites in the US that had "characteristics similar" to those the group would encounter in Brazil. While my wife and I were at the U of Florida/Gainesville, in mid-1967, I helped a contractor "advance" a possible training site in Cedar Key, FL, a small Gulf coast fishing community. The Peace Corps group was to go to the coasts of the states of Rio de Janeiro and Espírito Santo to work with fishing cooperatives.

    The contractor (Westinghouse Learning Corp.) got the contract and my wife and I worked on this project between August and November 1967--she teaching Portuguese language and I doing Brazil studies and community development. I got the group involved in a poultry project (raising some broiler chicks). One of the trainees had gone to Hunter College and had never left the NYC area. She called home every night. But later on (in Brazil), she said that if had not been for this Cedar Key "cross-cultural" experience, she would not have been prepared for Brazil.

    If anyone is interested, there is a recent book about the Peace Corps in Brazil (in Portuguese), I recommend Cecilia Azevedo, Em nome da América: Os Corpos da Paz no Brasil. São Paulo: Alameda, 2008.

    This was a history PhD dissertation done at the U of São Paulo that involved interviews with former volunteers, some former Peace Corps staff and considerable research done in the US on the JFK/Johnson period and the "Alliance for Progress" context. I am sure that Amazon.com could supply this book for those interested.

    Many have asked me "Is the Peace Corps still active in Brazil?" The answer in "No." The Peace Corps was not "kicked out of Brazil," but rather died a "natural death" when no new projects were approved by the Brazilian Foreign Office and the last volunteer went home--in 1978. This was the result of "very icy" bilateral relations during the Carter administration. Brazil and West Germany had signed a "nuclear agreement" in 1975 and the US put heavy pressure on both nations to cancel this treaty--that called for the construction of eight nuclear power plants to generate electricity. Also, the government of President Gen. Ernesto Geisel (1974-1979) was very upset at US criticism of Brazil's human rights policy and in 1977 canceled the US-Brazil military agreement (signed in 1952). The Peace Corps was one of the casualties of this period.

    JE comments:  Countries with US Peace Corps volunteers may feel there is a stigma of underdevelopment attached to hosting such programs--is this the case?  Yet surprisingly, according to its website, the PC is still active in China.  Typical Chinese pragmatism?  What about the cultural "imperialism" that a PC presence imposes--the American Way of Life and such?  Perhaps David Fleischer or Richard Hancock could elaborate.

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