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Are we zombies? What is wrong with us?

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The series of protests that have rocked Brazil in past weeks have pushed me into a reflecting mood. These protests are somewhat different from those that have been happening in areas of the Mideast. Brazil sometime ago overtook the United Kingdom as the seventh largest economy. The 2013 CIA World Fact Book notes that Brazil is “characterised by large and well-developed agricultural, mining, manufacturing and service sectors, Brazil’s economy outweighs that of all other South American countries.”{{more}} But in trying to set the context, we have to remember that Brazilians are soccer crazy and have traditionally been seen as people who would do anything for soccer, especially when it involves their national team. The great Pele is still hero–worshipped in Brazil. So, why these protests when their country is involved in the Football Confederation Cup being held there and when preparations are being finalised for the 2014 Soccer World Cup?

The anger of the Brazilians was triggered by a hike in transportation fares and then expanded to include dissatisfaction with poor public services, government corruption, increase in violent crime and deteriorating infrastructure. They are also pointing to the billions being spent to host the Confederation Cup, the 2014 Soccer World Cup and the 2016 Olympics. The slogans displayed by the protestors tell their own tale; “Not against the games – In favour of the nation!”; “The people have awakened! Pardon the inconvenience! Brazil is changing!”; “frustrated and exhausted by the endless corruption of our government!”

In a country where people are fairly well off, where unemployment is relatively low and inequality has declined “for each of the last 14 years”, the people have put aside their craving for soccer and have put nation first. When you listen and witness all of this, you are tempted to say that we in SVG are a happy and satisfied bunch. We take everything that is thrown at us with a smile, although we perhaps grumble under our breath, only to vent our anger on others by breaking their homes or knocking them down even for minor things. The nation every now and then indulges itself in a ritual that involves a National Day of Prayer and organized marches and believe that its job is done. We seem to think that all our problems will be mysteriously solved. Of course, there are those who don’t think we have problems or if they accept that we do, point to hard times in more developed countries, forgetting that those countries have put in place measures to cushion their people from some of the hardships. Their people also have hope that things would soon change or that they are changing.

But what about us? It is amazing to see the long lines at Moneygram and Western Union. One suspects that some of our people are totally dependent on this. Yet, some of the recipients of these funds seem happy to exist that way, failing to realise that their benefactors have to put in long hours of work, sometimes working double shifts, to ensure their happiness, while they sit at home and remain quiet as though everything is “just” good, as Fya Empress might say. In reflecting on the Brazilian experience, it would appear that we have no corruption, that public services are excellent, that nation means little to us, that crime is something we just have to pray about, that we, as a nation, have our priorities dead right. While we remain in this zombie state, more and more people are being thrown on to the heap of the unemployed; some of our businesses are fighting for their very survival and have or will be forced to lay off workers. What does the future hold? Are we going to have to continue to depend on the mercies of the Taiwanese? I am sorry for these people. They need friends, but the friends they attract are not the ones who have clout that would bring anything to them. Remember some years ago the Vincentian had on its front page a photograph of them handing over a pot to the prisons. Imagine this! A country cannot develop by having to rely on begging. What are we producing? Unless we can build our production levels, our situation will continue to deteriorate.

Why have we become zombies? Are we really satisfied with what is happening in our country? It is said that we have “a revolution in education”. Where are the products of that revolution, or is it a revolution that has gone sour? In Brazil, the young people are the ones spearheading the protests? Has the “education revolution” paralysed our people? Or are they satisfied that things are as good as they will ever be? What is happening in our public service and police service? Are we happy with how they are performing? Should we shout hurrah about the way the police quickly identified the person who allegedly committed the robbery of the postal corporation’s attendant? When within a day of the robbery, I heard the name being publicised of the person who allegedly committed the crime I said to myself: “Woow! Kudos for the police!”

President Dilma Rousseff of Brazil has begun to take steps to address some of the issues that stirred the anger of her people. Do we as a people accept that we have the right to make our views known about the state of things in our country? Any stranger to our country would think that we are the happiest people in the world. This is Carnival time. This is what matters now. The Brazilians are protesting while the Confederation Cup is taking place. With us, well, we will see what happens later.

Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian.

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