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Last Updated: Saturday, 30 July 2005, 14:22 GMT 15:22 UK
Brazil's youth in poverty escape
By Jo Wright
In Gonzaga

About half of the young people from the Brazilian town of Gonzaga move abroad in the hope of securing a better future.

One of them was 27-year-old Jean Charles de Menezes, the man mistakenly shot dead in London by police officers who feared he was a suicide bomber.

Grieving relatives at graveside of Jean Charles de Menezes
The killing of Jean Charles de Menezes has caused grief and anger in his home town
In the tiny cobbled town, houses and small apartment blocks being built among dilapidated bungalows give the appearance of a holiday resort, except there are no tourists.

The construction is paid for with foreign earnings, as those who stay in this rural area struggle to earn the minimum wage.

Jean's family live half an hour outside the town, along a dusty red dirt track. Hundreds of small hills dot the landscape, where smallholdings are surrounded by subsistence crops of maize, sugar cane and banana trees, and the richer families raise a few cattle.

At the family home, Matosinhos Otoni da Silva, a bricklayer, spoke about his son in the present tense.

Describing his pride in the way his "well-mannered" son behaved with people, and the future he was building by working as an electrician, the 66-year-old said: "My son only went to primary school because we are poor. But he is intelligent.

"When he was a child he said: 'Father, I heard on the radio people make good money in England, the United States, France. If I have money to go, I will go. I will take advantage of my age and my energy to help you out.'"

Jean and his older brother, who now works in Sao Paulo as a bank clerk, spent their childhood in an adobe hut. Now the family has a small, bright bungalow in front of the hut.

Mr Silva said Jean had always wanted to be an electrician - as a child, he would make electrical toys with batteries, copper and matchboxes.

Jean Charles de Menezes
Menezes was well-known in his home town
Jean trained in Sao Paulo, before leaving for England at the age of 24 where he joined relatives in London and quickly learnt to speak English.

"Of course people worry when a son leaves," said Mr Silva. "But it was his desire to travel. A girlfriend helped arrange his ticket to London. He was in good hands.

"He didn't make a lot of money in England as he was a self-employed electrician. Most of his money went on rent and food. He wanted to stay for another two years to save money so he could come back and invest in a ranch.

"He was happy in London. He said it was a marvellous capital, where the people are very nice, where it is quiet and you can work without problems. He said it was a positive place, a very rich capital."

Since being told of Jean's death, his grandmother has been taken to hospital, while his 50-year-old mother Maria was too distressed to speak.

But friends and relatives who had gathered outside on the dusty ground remembered how Jean was "always smiling", "never had a cross face" and was well known in the area as he would fix people's TV aerials. A young cousin showed off a red Honda motorbike Jean had bought and emblazoned with a sticker of a Union flag.

'Very poor'

Gonzaga, in the state of Minas Gerais, is located 100km (62 miles) from the poorest area of south-eastern Brazil. It is 12 hours from Rio de Janeiro along 700km (434 miles) of eroded highway, where lorries weave from side to side dodging craters.

"Our region historically has a very strong relationship with the Americans and English," said Octuvaldo Oliveira, a friend of Jean's family.

"The English mined mica and precious stones. The relationship between the Brazilians and the foreigners was very strong. This stimulated the exit of Brazilians from this part of the country to other countries."

The town Mayor, Julio Maria Souza, estimates that about half of Gonzaga's young people travel abroad.

"My town is very poor," he said. "A lot of people go to the United States, work and spend it here. They build or improve homes, buy a small farm or a store.

"There are about 6,000 people, 4,000 of them young, including children, and of these maybe 1,500 are abroad."

A teacher from the local school added: "The great majority of young people go away, so they can invest here. The ambition for most is to go away."

Ronaldo, 29, spent five years working in the US on construction sites. He earned about $20,000, and over the past three years has built a small block of apartments that he rents out.

He always planned to return to his home town. "I wasn't sure how much money I would earn, but it was always my intention to invest it here."

A spokesman from the Brazilian ministry of external relations said there were an estimated three million Brazilians living abroad, with about 1.3 million in the US and 100,000 in the UK.

Emigrants are typically males aged 25 to 35.

"In general, they are people with very low education levels. People who don't find many opportunities. They want to try their luck in the first world," said the spokesman.

Most return, but in the last few years the ministry has noticed more people are staying abroad, particularly in the US and Japan.

"Migration is pushed by low incomes and violence. Better jobs and good incomes are the attraction."

People traffickers have targeted those who want to leave.

"We have had some problems, mainly in Spain and Portugal, with prostitution. Mafias come here and are very organised. They offer jobs and when the women get there, they are forced into prostitution," said the ministry spokesman.

He added that an incident such as the killing of Jean Charles de Menezes was unlikely to be a deterrent for those who want to leave.


Brazil's prime-time soap opera, America, shows Latin immigrants pursuing the "American dream" in the US.

Leonardo Monteiro, a lawmaker for the Workers' Party, said: "The soap opera only shows the romantic side of the story - parties, a woman who wins a prize on the lottery, people who get very rich. It doesn't show the bad side, with the police and repression against Latin people.

"The soap opera ought to be showing American culture, Mexican culture and our culture here. To stimulate us to create conditions for us to live and be productive in Brazil.

"In Governador Valadores [the nearest major town to Gonzaga], every day there are enormous queues of people trying to get passports so that they can go to the United States, Europe and Japan."

The procedure to get a US visa has recently been tightened, so more people are trying to sneak over the border from Mexico. Between April and May, 7,000 Brazilians were arrested as they tried to make the crossing.

And since it got harder to get into the US, many more Brazilians are going to Europe.

In spite of Jean's death, his younger cousin, 13-year-old Juaelia, told how she wanted to work in London as a seamstress when she was older, to send money back to her family.

"I think London is a beautiful place and England a very nice country. I still want to go," she said.


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