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Brazil Journey Friday, 20 September, 2002, 11:22 GMT 12:22 UK
Campaigning by river boat
Aracruz: An 87 year-old Tupiniquim Indian leader says he can't write and won't vote Canudos: Paulo meets island-dwelling Marciano, who follows a 19th Century messianic leader Salvador: Traditional street vendors want a president who will give them a monopoly on bean fritters Pernambuco: A community descended from escaped slaves fights for access to its own land Eldorado dos Carajas: Where land reform has brought soaring crime Serra Pelada: Small-scale gold diggers win a 10-year mining rights battle Brasil Novo: A remote jungle town longs for electricity and a surfaced road Santarem: Canvassing votes by river boat at the heart of the Amazon jungle Belém: The city where a councillor with one arm is spearheading the fight for disability rights Belém-Brasilia highway: Two days with a trucker on Brazil's damaged and bandit-ridden roads Brasilia: The scavengers who live off the capital's waste Sao Paulo: The city 'island' dwellers who will have to travel for four hours to vote

Report eight: Santarem

As Brazil gears up for presidential elections in October, BBC Brasil's Paulo Cabral travels through remote mountains, arid countryside and deep jungle to find out what 21st Century politics mean in the Brazil that normally goes unreported.

Long boat trips are a key part of any election campaign here in the enormous, rainforest-covered Brazilian state of Pará.

With fewer than three voters per square kilometre and hardly any roads, the Amazon state's immense network of rivers is one if the best ways of getting around.

The current campaign is proving hard and tiring for all the candidates.

River boats near Santarem
A community 100km away can take six hours to reach by river
"Pará is very underdeveloped. The municipal areas are enormous, the roads are terrible and most of the towns have no airport," said Benedito Guimarães of the Popular Brazilian Party (PPB), who is standing for the state legislative assembly.

"Boats represent the only means of transport to reach certain communities," he said.

The candidate says he has had to travel 12 hours by boat to reach some riverside communities - and that's without even leaving the borders of the municipality of Santarém, his main electoral base.

Mr Guimarães complains that some of these trips are hardly worth the trouble and do not really contribute to his campaign.

"Some communities have no more than 100 to 120 voters, but each vote counts so we are obliged to make the effort," he says.

Electoral candidate Benedito Guimarães
Benedito Guimarães says some trips are barely worth the effort
Mr Guimarães explains that some of his trips into the depths of Pará state have meant three days away from home.

"We spend days on the boat, getting off just for a few minutes each time to visit small riverside communities," he says.

Aldo Queiróz, the state candidate for the Party of Social Democracy Brazil (PSDB), says the long distances force his party to focus on the more populated areas:

"The campaign is concentrated here in Santarém. But we have 13 candidates so we have to visit other communities too."

'Unfair advantage'

The community of Monte Alegre illustrates the problem: as the crow flies it is only 100 kilometres away from Santarém, but it takes six hours to reach it by boat along a winding river.

Presidential election
First round: 6 October
Run-off: 27 October
Key candidates
Jose Serra - ruling centrist coalition
Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva - Workers' Party
Ciro Gomes - centre-left Labour Front coalition
Anthony Garotinho - Socialist Party candidate
He also complains that the trips rarely have much effect.

"In these extremely poor communities, the people usually end up voting for the candidates who can bring them immediate benefits, and invariably that means the candidates backed by the local government," he said.

But even so, he thinks the campaign boat trips are important opportunities.

"This is a crucial time for the electorate to think of its problems, to discuss them and find solutions by talking with the different candidates," he says.

Key stories





See also:

20 Aug 02 | Americas
19 Jul 02 | Americas
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