Cablegate: Acaua Trip Report: The Politics of Hunger In

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

011509Z Jul 04




E.O. 12958: N/A

REFS : (A) 03 Brasilia 3939

(B) 03 Brasilia 3867
(C) 03 Brasilia 3347
(D) 03 Brasilia 1192

1. SUMMARY. Acaua is a modest municipality of 5,430 people
in northeastern Brazil that was selected as one of two pilot
communities for President Lula's flagship social program
"Fome Zero" (Zero Hunger) in February of 2003. Econoff's
June 2, 2004 trip to Acaua provided a sharp contrast to
desolate, destitute pilot sister town of Guaribas (Ref. A).
Acaua's infrastructure and accessibility is far better than
that of Guaribas and many surrounding municipalities. A
trip to Acaua begs the question of how this municipality was
selected as a Zero Hunger pilot town and invites the answer
that the choice was political rather than needs-based. By
its inhabitants' own accounts, Zero Hunger has brought only
minor and spotty benefits to the community, and the recent
watershed improvements in local life have come rather with
electrification and the ongoing construction of cisterns -
both initiatives of the previous, Cardoso administration.

2. Both Acuaua and Guaribas are in Piaui, one of Brazil's
poorest states, have mayors from Lula's Workers' Party (PT),
and are the Zero Hunger pilot towns. There, the
similarities end. In contrast to Guaribas, Acaua has
several municipal buildings, some cobblestone roads, general
stores, budding businesses, and satellite dishes on several
homes. Note. The scattered satellite dishes mounted on
numerous Acaua dwellings cost 400 Reals - quite a luxury
when considering the minimum wage of 260 Reals per month.
End note. According to many people, the defining moment of
increased prosperity was not the arrival of Lula's Zero
Hunger food cards and accompanying social programs, but
electrification three years ago.

3. Eraldo, 29, has had a tire repair business for five
years. He worked during daylight hours in the dim premises
before he received electricity. He only had a pump and
rudimentary accoutrements to fix the tires. Today he has
lights, a compressor, and an electric cutter which has
replaced his hand-saw. His home is at the side of the shop,
and he has converted the front part into a snack shop. He
displays chips and has a case with hot foods. Eraldo's
little store caters to students who sometimes come for lunch
from the vibrant blue three-room school cattycornered from
his shop. The fact that students have discretionary-
spending money for less-nutritious snacks was a surprise
when put in the context that this was a Zero Hunger pilot

4. Renato, 36, has had the largest grocery store in the
community for seven years. Renato estimated that about half
the people in the municipality benefit from Zero Hunger. He
commented that his gross income has not increased since the
implementation of the program: just the form of payment from
many customers has changed. The blaring television could be
seen from the counter, fed by a satellite dish. The shelves
in the two large rooms were stocked not only with staples,
but with what most would consider discretionary items like
nail polish, fancy flip-flops, liquor, and sling shots. The
freezer section contained meat and ice cream.

5. Equmira, 29, is one of five teachers in the secondary
school. She was born in Acaua, went to the college in
Piaui's capitol, Teresina, and came back to the family farm
to live with her parents and four brothers. She teaches 30
9-17 year-old youngsters four hours per day, eight months a
year. Equmira did not believe her students faced
malnutrition before Fome Zero commenced, since there were
many farming families with children in the school, and added
that the biggest difference was the five cisterns built in
the community over the last few years, which she associated
with the program. Note. Interesting that Equmira
associates these cisterns with Zero Hunger, as the
installations were initiated during the Cardoso
administration with UNICEF and World Bank funding.

6. Twenty-seven-year-old Val was born in Petrolina, a city
two hours away in the state of Pernambuco, where he was a
gas station attendant. He moved his bride and their two
children to Acaua after the advent of electricity to fulfill
his dream to own a business. His father-in-law gave him
land, and he and two friends constructed the medium-sized
bar in less than 30 days. The structure contains a TV, pool
table, refrigerator/freezer, and two shelves of beauty
products and snack foods. Val said his place functions as a
bar on weekends, and pointed to a shelf with liquor, soft
drinks, and cigarettes. He praised the arrival of the
electricity that allowed him to manifest his dream, but did
not have an opinion on the Zero Hunger program.

7. Econoff stopped at several houses for a more
comprehensive spectrum of opinions. Barthalemeu, 18, is one
of five children and works on the family farm raising goats,
pigs, horses, and chickens. The family sells goat cheese
and left-over meat to the local market. Barthalemeu pointed
out the cistern which was funded by UNICEF in 2002 during
the Cardoso administration. Regina, 29, is the mother of
three children, and the wife of a farmer. She raved about
Zero Hunger and commented that her family also received the
Bolsa Familia ("Family Stipend", an umbrella family-benefit
program) stipend for a total of 95 Reals (exchange roughly 3
Reals to the USD) per month.

8. Antonio lives in a cluster of eight houses built with
materials funded by the Cardoso administration. The
municipality released the land, and eight families helped
each other erect these humble dwellings in 30 days. Antonio
commented that he did not vote for Lula during the 2002
election cycle, and will not vote for him in the future. He
added that he voted against the current PT mayor, and
resented the fact that Mayor Antonio Rodrigues Filho does
not even live in Acaua, but in Paulastino, a municipality 18
kilometers away. Rita, 27, was downright bitter about the
Zero Hunger program. She has one school-aged child, no
husband, no income, and does not receive any money from Zero
Hunger or the Family Fund.

9. Jose was repairing the cobblestone streets. He had done
this seasonal work for 25 years in Acaua, which was
incorporated eight years ago. This 36 year-old man appeared
to be well into his 50s, evidence of his difficult life of
working in the sun to support his family of four. He cannot
work during the rainy season, but commented that as a
recipient of the Zero Hunger card, he is less reliant on his
extended family for basic needs.

10. The mayor's office in Acaua looks strikingly nice for a
small Brazilian municipality. The city is run by City
Administrator Jose Antonio Filho, 45, who left a teller job
at the State Bank of Piaui after he was appointed by his
father, the mayor. He said that the federal and state
government governments, in concert with several NGOs, were
working together to implement a myriad of social and
community improvement programs. In addition to the ongoing
installation of 394 cisterns, a community center with a
swimming pool and 20 houses are being built.

11. Econoff asked about Rita's desperate situation as a
single mother with no income and not qualifying for Zero
Hunger and associated benefits. Filho said the community
committee of seven people met once a month to evaluate who
should receive benefits, which was difficult, because it is
"the poor choosing the poor". Although there is no appeal
process, he added that a family could re-apply monthly for
the benefit.

12. Children guided Econoff to the home of Izilina, the
municipality's Secretary of Health, by saying it was the
nicest in Acaua. Indeed, it was a spacious, well-
constructed home with coffered ceilings and crown moldings.
This 33 year-old woman has been in her position since 1997,
and her husband heads tourism (sic!) in the mayor's office.
The community has a public health team consisting of 19
employees, including a dentist, doctor, and nurse. All of
the health programs in place existed before Zero Hunger.

13. Edvaldo Pereira, attorney from the mayor's office in
Petrolina, Pernambuco, commented that he could show Econoff
people much worse off than the citizens of Acaua in a nearby
quilombo (communities founded originally by run-away
slaves). Afranho is a community located in Pernambuco, less
than eight miles from Acaua. The mayor of the town is from
the opposition party PSDB and commented that only 15 of
Afranho's 400 inhabitants receive Zero Hunger cards. The
municipality of 400 is much closer in appearance to Guaribus
than to Acaua with its dirt roads and nothing but individual
dwellings - not even a grocery store. Francisca de Lima,
57, is a 30-year resident who lives in a shanty with six
family members. They are subsistence farmers and receive no
benefits from any government program. Lima said she has not
seen any improvement since the Lula government came to

14. There is a sharp contrast between the Zero Hunger pilot
towns. There is definitely poverty to be found in Acaua,
but not so ubiquitous and repressive as in Guaribas.
Piaui's Fome Zero Director Rosangela Sousa commented on
Econoff's earlier trip (Ref. B) that Guaribus was selected
as the pilot due to lack of infrastructure, and that Acaua
was selected because it had the lowest per capita income.
Guaribas was an obvious choice, but that of Acaua was more
complex. The raw per capita income numbers were deceptive,
because many people in the community are subsistence
farmers, thus did not have a dire hunger problem.

15. Comment. It is striking that few residents gave Lula
the credit for the positive changes Acaua has experienced
via the Zero Hunger program. During this period of the
administration's eroding popularity, not even this showcase
municipality is generating positive publicity for the
administration's social programs.


© Scoop Media

World Headlines


UN: Visionary ‘Blue Transformation’ Strategy To Enhance Underwater Food Systems

Record levels of fisheries and aquaculture production are making a critical contribution to global food security, the UN Ocean Conference under way in Lisbon, Portugal, heard on Wednesday...
Abu Akleh Shooting: Fatal Shot Came From Israeli Forces, Says OHCHR
Israeli forces were behind the fatal shooting of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh in the West Bank - not indiscriminate Palestinian firing - the UN human rights office, OHCHR, alleged on Friday... More>>

Ethiopia: Conflict, Drought, Dwindling Food Support, Threatens Lives Of 20 Million

Hunger is tightening its grip on more than 20 million Ethiopians who are facing conflict in the north, drought in the south and dwindling food and nutrition support beginning next month, the UN food relief agency warned on Thursday... More>>

UN Ocean Conference: Opens With Call For Urgent Action To Tackle Ocean Emergency
With climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution exacting a devastating toll on the world’s ocean — critical to food security, economic growth and the environment... More>>

World Vision: Deeply Concerned For Thousands Affected By Afghanistan Quake
World Vision is deeply concerned about the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Afghanistan in the wake of a powerful earthquake in the early hours of this morning... More>>

Malaysia: UN Experts Welcome Announcement To Abolish Mandatory Death Penalty

UN human rights experts* today commended an announcement made by the Malaysian government that it will abolish the country’s mandatory death penalty and encouraged Parliament to take concrete steps to pass the agreement into law... More>>