Brazilian Emigrants Stand Up for Rights From Brazil

The First Conference of Brazilian Communities Living Abroad, held in Rio de Janeiro, was the Brazilian government's most important step in reaching out to its 3 to 3.5 million emigrants.It means historical changes on the part of the Brazilian government are underway, as well as the way the country traditionally has dealt with Brazilian emigrants.Organized by Brazil’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the meeting -- held at the historic Itamaraty Palace, once the office of composer Vinicius de Moraes -- upgraded the discussion to a level never seen before.At the end, it became clear that from now on, Brazil can no longer ignore its emigrants’ demands, and that future negotiations require a higher level of respect from both parties.The Conference also made clear that the emigrants themselves ought to be the spokespersons and mediators of their own demands. Either the Brazilian government talks to the emigrant leadership or there will be no conversation.And lastly, Brazil’s government and its Ministry of Foreign Affairs understood that Brazilian emigration is no longer a phenomenon but a fato consumado (a consummated fact) that needs to be capitalized on, understood and negotiated.The country profits about $7 billion in annual revenue from remittances sent home by its nationals living as far away as Lebanon, Africa and Australia. For Brazil, Brazilian emigrants are no longer a problem, but an asset.For immigrant-receiving countries, they are a nuisance.And this is exactly the sticky point Brazilian emigrants want their homeland government to fix for them.Tired of losing rights and being seen as mere commodities, Brazilian emigrants laid out their requests: They want Brazil to use strong language in talks with countries with large Brazilian populations. They want Brazil to be at the forefront of the emigrant rights movement, as they claim the Mexican government has done.At the domestic level, Brazilian emigrants want to retain the basic labor and health rights they are entitled to back home but lose as soon as they cross the border. They want to have the right to continue contributing to the government retirement plan, and they want to retain the working hours and seniority they earned while employed in Brazil.At a more ambitious level, Brazilian emigrants want to elect local representatives to represent their interests in Brasilia (Brazil’s capital). The proposal, introduced by Brazilian Senator Cristovam Buarque, has been sitting inactive on a Congressional committee for eight months.During the conference’s second and last day, attendees signed a petition demanding Congress to bring the bill to a vote.In a world where global societies and economies make immigration greatly appealing and riskier at the same time, Brazilian immigrants are looking further ahead on the road.No matter what, though, Brazil is in no position to back out from the commitment reached at the Rio meeting. And this means only gains for Brazilian emigrants.

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