With Brazilian presidential elections swiftly approaching, three Massachusetts-based Brazilian activists sat in the tiny studio of Radio BTTV in Somerville, Mass. to represent the candidates in a debate. The announcer opened by asking all three, “What can the growing population of Brazilian citizens living abroad expect from candidates?”
“Unfortunately, the present government is not remotely interested in helping those who live outside of their nation,” argued Dario Galvão, an activist from Stoughton, Mass, representing Brazil’s Socialist Party candidate, Marina Silva.
Galvão’s rival debaters, Claudia Tamsky and Pablo Maia, both agreed that citizens abroad must take responsibility and present their cases to the Brazilian government via their consulates abroad. Tamsky, a Framingham-based sociologist and president of the US chapter of Brazil’s Workers’ Party, represented presidential incumbent and Brazil’s Workers´ Party candidate Dilma Rousseff. Maia, an activist and entrepreneur, also from Framingham, represented Aécio Neves, Brazil’s Democratic Socialist candidate.
The event was organized by local Brazilian community news outlets The Brazilian Times and Radio BTTV to educate the public and promote the elections within the Brazilian community, according to Times Marketing Director Liliane Paiva.
The right for Brazilians to vote abroad was first put into practice in 1989 during the first presidential election after a 21-year-military dictatorship. Voting is compulsory in Brazil for citizens ages 18-70, though citizens as young as 16 can vote.
“We are interested in Brazil because we have family over there. Some of us have investments. We are connected, but not as much as someone living in Brazil,” Paiva explained.
Relaying questions from the online audience first, moderator and announcer Sidney Boeira asked the advocates to address topics including education, violence, and the environment.
The sparse in-studio audience included Jorge Costa of Framingham and a Somerville resident who goes by the nickname “Toinho do PT.” The two wore pins with a smiling photo of Rousseff and draped themselves in a white PT flag with Rousseff’s name in bold red lettering.
When asked about Neves’ education policy, Costa and Toinho do PT smirked when Maia replied “I unfortunately don’t have those statistics.”
Tamsky, consistently offering numbers in her arguments, cited “over 3,000” daycares opened for Brazilian workers and the programs and scholarships offered by the Rousseff administration such as Science without Borders, to help students study abroad.
About halfway through the debate, a middle-aged woman with long red hair made a brief appearance. Explaining that her father is a trustee of a hospital in Brazil, she asked Tamsky in an urgent tone, “What is being done to incentivize Brazilian doctors? Why are doctors being sent to Brazil from Cuba when we have plenty of medical school graduates in Brazil?”
Tamsky nodded with a solemn expression and reasoned that hospitals did not receive enough interest from Brazilian doctors to fill the positions. The woman listened, nodding with a somewhat dubious expression, and then left the room before the next question.
Galvão responded to all questions about Silva with consistent calm, denying charges of corruption against Silva and describing her as a “fighter, 100 percent for the environment.”
Following final questions, debaters smiled and chuckled, shaking hands.
Due to low voter turnout in other locations during the last elections, Boeira said, this year Brazilians from Massachusetts, Maine, Vermont, and New Hampshire would all vote in Somerville, Mass.
Lilian Regia-Davis, a Realtor from Marlborough, Mass., drove an hour to get to Somerville High before it closed its doors at 5:00 p.m. She cast her vote for Neves whom she thinks can improve healthcare and education, she said.
Though she doesn’t plan to move back to Brazil, she explained, “I care about my friends and family in Brazil. I see my nieces and nephews there going to college. I want my vote to count.”
Because no candidate earned more than 50 percent of the vote, a runoff between Workers’ Party candidate Rousseff and Social Democracy candidate Neves and was held three weeks later.
Like Regia-Davis, 81.5 percent of Somerville voters chose Neves, while only 18.5 percent favored Rousseff. These results showed a drastic difference from the overall election results, in which Rousseff narrowly won a second term with 51.4 percent of the vote over Neves’ 48.6 percent.
Alexandra Dednah is a Boston-based freelance journalist. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.