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The Necessary Occupation

Senator Cristovam Buarque, Ph.D. former professor and Rector of the Universidade de Brasilia. Former governor of Brasilia - Federal District - from 1995 to 1998. Former Minister of Education between 2003 and 2004. Was elected senator by the Federal District in 2002 to this date. He is a member of the Brazil Monitor Editorial Council


By Cristovam Buarque

Rio and Brazil are once again celebrating the intervention of our soldiers in the fight against the violence that seized this beautiful city. Facing the civil war that is underway, there is no way to justify staying against the decision of the federal government, but we have to be alert to its risks and limitations.

With the Armed Forces (FFAA) on the streets, the people of Rio de Janeiro can have a breath of peace, but at the risk of involving our soldiers in deaths: theirs and that of bandits in the streets. The consequences of these deaths could turn out to be very serious for the necessary marriage between Brazilians and their armed forces.

In choosing the path of confrontation between our soldiers and the criminal guerrillas, we take the risk of soldiers killing Brazilian civilians as “collateral effects”: an euphemism that means the killing of innocent victims from bullets fired by one side or another. In this year alone, 92 military police and more than 500 civilians, including children, were killed in the war between bandits and police. These are frightening statistics: even more serious as it involves our soldiers.

Equally serious are the limits of this option. The Army can not remain forever in the streets of Rio, nor in other cities. The day after the departure of the military, even if it is not seen as defeat, the bandits will return with the spirit of winners. Not to mention the risk of success of the guerrillas, if not directly in the confrontation with our soldiers, indirectly by the spread of banditry in other cities.

The interim solution will have an aggravating factor. Even if having momentary success, the soldiers will not be able to create lasting peace, which could only come if the federal government would occupies the city with well-trained, dedicated, well-paid teachers in beautiful, well equipped, full-time schools.

For years, many people have said that if Brazil did not fill its cities with teachers, it would have to fill them with soldiers. Darcy Ribeiro said that if we do not build schools, we will have to build jails. Either we fill the cities with teachers or it will not matter if we fill them with soldiers.

But we still seem to prefer soldiers over teachers, provisional safety over permanent peace. We celebrate the federalization of safety, but we refuse to federalize education. If all the children of Rio had schools equivalent to the federal schools, such as Pedro II or the Military Schools, in a generation we would have an atmosphere of peace, avoiding the need for the precarious and risky military option.

Perhaps this will never happen, due to myopia in relation to the future that makes us prefer soldiers in the streets, walls in the condominiums, and armored cars, instead of a lasting peace that comes from education. In large part, we cling to this myopia because we have three deep-seated ideas: 1. education does not solve the problem; 2. we can not wait for it; and 3. above all: in Brazil there is no way to offer public schools for the children of the poor with the same quality that we offer private schools for the children of the rich. This mentality is the main source of the violence that we are now trying to stop with soldiers.