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Last Updated: Tuesday, 26 February 2008, 14:55 GMT
Brazil unveils anti-poverty drive
By Gary Duffy
BBC News, Sao Paulo

President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva in a file photo from 1 February 2008
President Lula: Weighing economics and politics
The Brazilian government has unveiled a multi-billion dollar anti-poverty plan to provide jobs and infrastructure in the poorest parts of the country.

President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said the biggest cost to the country was not taxes but a century in which poor people had been forgotten.

The move comes months before important municipal polls are held across Brazil.

The programme, which will see some $6bn (3bn) spent in 2008 alone, still has to be approved by Congress.

The initiative, known as "Territories of Citizenship", is meant to help around 24 million people, including rural workers and indigenous communities.

The money, which is part of the existing budget, will be used to supplement 135 policies, involving 15 government departments, that are focused on 958 towns in states across the country.

The government is also promising to finally reach its target in the "Light for Everyone" programme to bring electricity to poor communities.

The areas selected for funding are said to be in the 60 regions of Brazil with the lowest rankings on the UN Human Development Index.

Speaking in the capital, Brasilia, on Monday, President Lula called the proposals the "second step to ending poverty".

Election year

Brazil already has a major anti-poverty programme, known as Bolsa Familia, that pays a monthly allowance to more than 11 million families.

Housing in Brazil
Brazil is marked by deep divisions between rich and poor

That policy was attacked in the past by critics who said it was a way of buying votes, and the same accusation is likely to be made against the latest announcement, coming as it does months before important municipal elections.

Minister for Agrarian Development Guilherme Cassel said the government could not stop the fight against poverty just because it was an election year.

Opposition politicians are considering a legal challenge to the plan in the Federal Supreme Court, because of the electoral implications.

They are waiting for details of the proposals to see if they favour areas run by parties that support the government.

The latest initiative was launched just a week after Brazil announced that for the first time in its history the country's foreign reserves exceeded its foreign debt.

In his weekly radio broadcast earlier in the day, the president said Brazil was well-prepared to deal with any recession in the US.

People were buying more and exports were growing because Brazil did not depend on the US or Europe alone, he added.

The president's confident tone reflected recent economic successes, but undoubtedly it was also the message of a veteran politician who has his eye on the mood of voters in the months ahead.

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