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Brazilian Dialogue

Angel of Alagoas

Keep Lourdes Monteiro (the Angel of Alagoas) in your prayers. Bureaucrats of her city and municipality are determined to get control of Fundanor, seeing that it has blossomed into an institution known not only throughout Alagoas, but occasionally making the national news as well. The newest ploy of the "hostiles" is to accuse her of not having applied public money in strict accordance with regulations. A judge has been appointed to do a judicial investigation of Lourdes' administration of Fundanor.

Were there large amounts of tax money involved, one might give these charges a bit more credibility. The truth is, only a miniscule part of Fundanor's patrimony and maintenance over the 23 years of its existence came from local public funds. Because public engagement for the rescue, rehabilitation and ongoing support of street children hardly exists in Brazil, it is not surprising that Palmeira dos Indios was not much concerned with helping its street kids. It's no different from cities small and large all over Brazil.

But Lourdes did beg a few crumbs from the public purse. And now the municipality persecutes this heroic lady for not having followed all the rules and regulations governing public expenditure. Probably the charges are trumped up, but if they do have an element of truth, I'm reminded of the great defence Robert Louis Stevenson mounted on behalf of Father Damian of Molokai when a venal minister in Honolulu published a scurrilous attack on him. Lourdes doesn't have access to the media and so her jealous detractors may carry the day, but the Lord knows of her 23 years of night and day care of lost and sick kids, lonely and abused kids, handicapped kids, babies found outside her door in a shoe box in the morning.

Let those who accuse do a tiny fraction of what Lourdes has done these 23 years. Meanwhile, put Lourdes and Fundanor on your prayer intentions list. Readers of this column know that Rev. Lawrence DeMong, OSB, (this column's founder) and I have throughout the column's 15-year history insisted on land reform as the first and fundamental social and economic reform in Brazil and indeed in all of Latin America. A headline in an Alagoan paper of May 3, 2003, reads: "Alagoas gives priority to land reform." Of course, this bit of rhetoric is far from action; nonetheless it is a harbinger of things to come, because the land cannot remain forever in the hands of a few magnates producing sugar, cocoa, chocolate, exotic fruits, coffee -- in short, cheap desserts for the rich world, while the many who labour on these holdings for subsistence wages have not one hectare on which to grow food.

The May 3 article told of a meeting between Marcelo Resindes, national president of Incra, (entirely dealing with land reform) and Mario Agra, head of Incra in Alagoas. Alagoan governor Ronaldo Lessa attended their meeting and promised this "prioritization" of land reform. Lord, that it may come to pass!

Henrique, author of Joining the Street People, says that social tension was palpable in Alagoas. Cane cutters were tense, talked only when necessary, trembling when their children asked difficult questions. Beautiful, romantic-sounding Alagoas! But oh, the reality.

Al Gerwing