Brazilian Immigrants Move Closer to Gaining Political Representation Back Home

By Eduardo A. de Oliveira, and FI2W reporter
Brasília - O senador Cristóvam Buarque fala durante sessão não deliberativa do Senado Foto: José Cruz/ABr

Brazil's Senator Cristovam Buarque. (courtesy photo: AGENCIA SENADO)

Brazil’s Senate is debating an amendment to the nation’s constitution to create at least four congressional seats to represent Brazilian citizens who live abroad in the US, Japan, Europe, and the rest of the world.

Fifty-nine senators recently voted in favor of the amendment — authored in 2005 by Senator Cristovam Buarque of Brasilia.

Brazilians in Massachusetts celebrated the victory, although the amendment still faces an uphill battle. Before it can get passed into law, it must go through one more voting session in Brazil’s Senate, and two in the House.

Currently 3 million Brazilians, worldwide, live outside Brazil, sending about $5 billion back home every year. The Brazilian state of Alagoas, with a population of 2.9 million people, has more natives who live abroad than in the state itself.

“Put it this way: Imagine if Pernambuco [a northern state in Brazil with population of 6 million] did not have its own congressmen. You [Brazilians living in the US] all represent a state,” said Sen. Buarque during a live interview on “Conexao Brasil,” an evening radio show on Portuguese-language WSRO (650 AM) radio station in Framingham, Mass.

If Buarque’s amendment gets Congressional approval, Brazil will join a select group of European countries – such as Italy, Spain and Portugal – that already have passed similar proposals. The new congressmen would be picked among the several communities abroad with the help of Pro-Citizenship United, a Massachusetts committee of Brazilians whose own statue guarantees that its members cannot run for the new political seats.

Last month representatives of Pro-Citizenship United visited Brazil’s Congress in the capital city of Brasilia. The representatives – a pastor, an activist and a real estate broker – were hosted by the Senate president, José Sarney, a former president of Brazil, and the House’s leader, Michel Temer, feeling confident the amendment had some traction.

“We’ve been working hard for several months and never had any financial support,” said Pablo Maia, the group’s spokesperson and owner of Pablo Maia Realty Group in Framingham, Mass, a town with a large Brazilian population. “We’re doing this for our children and grandchildren.”

The news of a possible representative from Brazil stationed in the US spread fast. Brazilians in Massachusetts celebrated the possibility that they could have someone who would be able to deal with renewal of documents, retirement, and healthcare issues. Current legislation in Brazil allows overseas citizens only the right to vote in presidential elections.

“This victory belongs to every immigrant woman, who rises early every day, works hard cleaning homes, and still takes care of [her] husband and children,” said Claudia Tamsky, a longtime community activist and caseworker at the Framingham Community Health Center.

The amendment faces fierce public opposition in Brazil. Only hours after O Globo, Brazil’s major daily newspaper, published a story about the vote in the Senate, hundreds of readers criticized the amendment.

Although many of them agreed that Brazilian workers living abroad deserve greater political representation, they bashed the proposal, saying: “We don’t need to create more corrupt politicians.” They defended the use of some of the existing 513 congressmen to do the task.

Brazilians in the US who favor the proposal’s original text claim that plucking congressmen from Brazil’s 27 states would not be “full representation.” The Brazilian diaspora comes from many parts of the country, they say, and workers deserve a full-time congressman.

The proposal’s author, Senator Buarque, feeling pressure from his colleagues in the Congress, told O Globo, “We’re talking about a proposal to be approved not sooner than 10 years.”

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