Friday, June 09, 2006

Acre and Environmentalism III: Local politics and Florestania

The Folha Pagina 20, perhaps Rio Branco's most liberal paper, and a strong supporter of the PT government, recently ran the following editorial on "Florestania," penned by a history professor at the Federal University of Acre.

The author clubs his targets over the head with the intellectual authority of British social and literary critic
Raymond Williams. Interestingly, the targets of the editorial's vitriol are not wealthy ranchers nakedly opposed to the interests of the poor, but members of the Socialist People's Party (PPS).

The text well exemplifies a tendency to present Florestania as a post-modern ideology, breaking down old dichotomies, upsetting traditional hierarchies, and reversing the system of values that make the "Forest Peoples" peripheral impediments to progress.

Here is my translation:

Sérgio Roberto Gomes de Souza *

Florestania and citizenship are not antagonistic terms

In the propaganda of the PPS (Popular Socialist Party) appearing frequently in the media, candidate Márcio Bittar talks about the proposal to construct a “citizen government,” a term that seems to me, at least at first, to try to establish a point of distinction from the political project of the Popular Front of Acre (FPA), led by Governor Jorge Viana and by Vice-Governor Binho Marques, known as “Florestania.”

In the opposition candidate’s speeches there is a perceptible belief in an imaginary border separating the forest from the city, not taking into consideration the daily exchanges of experience that make a dichotomy between these spaces impracticable.

The problem in question is one of conception, and therefore quite complex. From the PPS candidate’s discourse, also reproduced by politicians such as Narciso Mendes and Luís Calixto, I think it is important to consider the reflections developed in the works of Raymond Williams. The book “The Country and the City” comes to mind, in which the author, working from various sources, approaches the country and the city as locales of realizations of human experience. Thinking in this way, it is possible to visualize the country and the city beyond the old dichotomy of the rural versus the urban, of the bucolic against the frenetic. The central element is human experience, culture, ways of life: “The life of the country and the city is mobile and present: it moves through time, through the history of a family and of a people; it moves in feelings and ideas, through a web of relationships and decisions.” For Williams, the important thing is not to keep representing the country and the city through superficial comparisons.

The proposal of the PPS to use the term “Citizen,” in opposition to the term “Florestania” [vs. cidadania, citizenship], betrays a prejudiced gaze and seeks to constitute a pseudo-antagonism between the country and the city which configures the image of the country as an “image of the past, and the common image of the city, an image of the future.”

In the political project of the PPS the city appears as a kind of space of realizations and the forest as a place of limitation. This discourse, according to Durval Muniz, seeks to create stereotypes and has as its principal characteristics assertiveness, arrogance, and repetitiveness. In this way a language is created that leads to an uncritical stability. The sure and self-sufficient voice seems to give the right to say what the other is in a few words. Thus, for Durval Muniz, the stereotype “is born of a characterization of the foreign group in which multiplicities and individual differences are erased in the name of individual similarities.”

Since the end of the 18th and the beginning of the 19th centuries, this preconceived discourse has sought to characterize the spaces of the country and of the forests and of the knowledges and doings of its populations as “illegitimate.” This perspective contributed, through the years, to the negation of sociocultural diversity and to the legitimization of expropriation of land, to land claims fraud, and actions of extreme violence toward Indians, rubber tappers, Brazil nut gatherers, subsistence farmers and other inhabitants of these spaces.

It is because of the prejudiced views of the PPS candidate and his allies toward the traditional populations that live in the country and in the forests that the term “Florestania” is greatly misinterpreted. From the perspective of the Popular Front, Florestania means the valorization of sociocultural diversity, [it means] a perspective on economic development that dialogues with multiple traditions, with the multiple forms of living that we have in our state; it means a de-concentration of income, creation of jobs, access to quality public education for all, independent of borders between the country and the city. Florestania means, fundamentally, the valorization of the men and women of Acre.

But, then again, to expect Bittar, Narciso, and Calixto to have the integrity and political grandeur to dialogue with the term “Florestania” is asking too much…

* Professor in the Department of History at UFAC [Federal University of Acre], master’s in Brazilian History from the Federal University of Pernambuco.


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