Manoel Eduardo, a 31-year old lawyer who was the first Ombudsman of the southern city of Curitiba, plans to help citizen groups learn how to increase their participation in and control over government.
Manoel Eduardo comes from a traditional Curitiba family and received a traditional, vigorous Christian education. His unusual initiative and strong values were apparent early. At twelve he began a school newspaper, which drew his colleagues' attention to the lives of the poor from the neighborhood favela. The school's priests, sympathetic to Manoel's social interests, involved him in several of the social programs carried out by their order. Manoel and the woman who is now his wife set up a community center in the nearby favela, which continues to function as an alternative school today. As is traditional in his family, Manoel studied law and received his degree from the University of Parana. However, he almost immediately adapted it to fit his values and temperament. His imaginative public interest practice culminated in his establishment of an ombudsman's institution in Curitiba that was quickly recognized as a national pace-setter.
Manoel Eduardo wants to strengthen Brazil's new democracy very directly -- by helping its citizens and their organizations learn how to play a bigger, more active controlling role. Many of the mechanisms that should allow them to do so are in place, and many more have been added by the new constitution. However, until Brazilians learn how to use these tools, and become accustomed to the process, neither the tools nor democracy will be secure.Manoel Eduardo's planned organization, the Center of Studies on Participation and Popular Control, will teach citizens about democratic processes such as judicial appeal and the right to petition the legislature and expect a timely reply. It will identify governmental job openings, and it will help the groups take advantage of them. Such help will include technical assistance, e.g., in drawing up any papers the process may require. The Center will also work to educate the various branches of government and the press about the importance of these vehicles for citizen control. Finally, it will help identify opportunities to further strengthen these means of access and will encourage their adoption.
Brazil has experienced only a few brief periods of democratic government over its centuries of history. Its citizens are used to being alienated from government. They are accustomed to a centralized state that is bureaucratic, paternalistic, personalistic, and controlling all at once.In the last decade, however, Brazil has seen the flowering of citizen groups, neighborhood associations, and a highly organized popular movement. This extraordinary growth has been allowed and encouraged by the politics that followed the military's relinquishment of control. Old rights were returned and the new constitution added significant new ones.Unfortunately, most citizens are unaware of all the mechanisms and laws designed for their use in advocating change or seeking redress. Even if they have heard of such a channel, they are very unlikely to know how to use it and even more unlikely to give the promise of such laws much credibility.As long as this enormous gap between legal promise and actual practice continues, Brazilian democracy will be vulnerable.
Manoel Eduardo has a very direct plan of approach. He believes that democratic engagement rests on a set of skills that can -- and must -- be learned like most others. His job is to spot the best learning opportunities and to help those involved start using those openings successfully and profitably. Success will lead to more successes and to emulation.Manoel Eduardo will start in his own state by identifying available access mechanisms in all branches of government and delving into the universe of citizen organizations to determine what they need or want from government. By comparing both sides, he will identify some early opportunities citizen groups in his home state can use. Given his experience as Ombudsman in the state capitol, he has the knowledge base to be able to do so quickly and reliably. Once he has identified a few especially good matches, he will not only help the groups see the opportunities he does, but he will follow up with training, materials, and assistance. As this work gets under way, and as he contacts the leading experts on public participation in the country, he will have laid the base he needs to launch his Center.As his work begins Manoel Eduardo plans to reach out immediately to two key prospective allies: (1) those government agencies whose job it is to control other parts of government on behalf of the public, e.g., the "Public Ministry", and (2) the press. Friendly ministries are an enormous potential resource for citizen groups -- and vice versa. Manoel Eduardo hopes to help them form a series of powerful, lasting alliances. The press is a more obvious ally. (The volumes of press clippings Manoel Eduardo accumulated as Ombudsman are ample testament to his grasp of its importance both as a weapon in particular controversies and as an avenue of public education.) He plans to build informal channels of communications between his Center and the press. He will help the citizens' groups with whom he is working learn how to work with journalists. He is also planning to encourage a newspaper column that would cover citizen complaints regarding public service.As the work takes hold in his home base, Manoel Eduardo will move to spread it nationally. The Center will expand, adding representatives of civil organizations, students, and participation researchers from other states. It will gradually seek out opportunities throughout the country to build new citizen group participation and, where appropriate, to suggest changes in the laws to make government more open and responsive. Manoel Eduardo plans to celebrate this phase in the Center's evolution by the First Brazilian Symposium on Participation and Popular Control.