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Brazil's President Vows To End Poverty For Millions


That growing ethanol industry is tone reason for Brazil's rapid growth. A booming economy and innovative social programs have lifted tens of millions of people out of poverty in Brazil. But many have been left behind. Now, the country's new president is on a new crusade to eliminate extreme poverty. She's focusing on a traditionally poor region in the country's northeast.

From Recife, Brazil, NPR's Juan Forero reports.

JUAN FORERO: This metropolis of four million, with miles of white-sand beaches, is filled with high rises, new car dealerships and shopping malls. It represents the modern, dynamic Brazil, and its hard at first to see how anythings wrong.

(Soundbite of construction machinery)

FORERO: Amauri(ph) Crispim(ph) is among the new workers at a construction site.

Mr. AMAURI CRISPIM: (Foreign language spoken)

FORERO: There were few jobs, Crispim says, and he struggled to make a living cutting sugar cane. Now he works at the vast and growing Suape port and industrial complex, among the projects that helped give this state a 9.3 percent economic growth rate last year.

(Soundbite of machinery)

FORERO: Here there's a shipyard and companies like Fiat are building factories. An oil refinery and petrochemical plant are also going up.

Frederico da Costa Amancio, the chief executive, says there are 55,000 workers.

Mr. FREDERICO DA COSTA AMANCIO (Secretary of Health Government, Pernambuco Brazil): We have new jobs and these companies are attracting another companies. That's why our economic results are much, much better than other parts of Brazil.

FORERO: Yet, you dont have to go far to find people whove missed the boom, like Netildes Dalvina Soares.

(Soundbite of traffic)

FORERO: Her neighborhood, on the edge of a highway just a couple of miles from Suape, is little more than a collection of wood-plank shacks. Theres no water, no electricity.

(Soundbite of voices)

FORERO: Shes forced to hike up a barren hillside to get to her home.

She's barefoot, wears old black leggings and a T-shirt. And she says theres little relief under a relentless sun.

Ms. NETILDES DALVINA SOARES: (Foreign language spoken)

FORERO: We suffer a lot, she says, and sometimes go without water for three or four days. This is the grindingly poor Brazil the 60 million people in abject poverty.

President Dilma Rousseff has made the end of indigence - what Brazilians call extreme poverty - a center-piece of her domestic agenda.

President DILMA ROUSSEFF: (Foreign language spoken)

FORERO: Brazil will only be truly wealthy, Rousseff told listeners on her weekly radio broadcast, when all Brazilians have a better quality of life.

Under Rousseff's predecessor, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, more than 30 million Brazilians were lifted into the middle class. And Brazil grew to become the worlds seventh largest economy. But improving the lives of the indigent will be harder, they earn less than $45 a month and many are illiterate.

As part of Rousseffs new anti-poverty initiative, the government is expanding education, health and other services, and directing development projects toward poor regions.

Experts like Ildo Sauer, a former official in the Lula administration, say the government needs to go further instituting vast, complex structural changes.

Mr. ILDO SAUER (Former official, Lula administration): First is education, then it's public health services, then you need to improve infrastructure. You still need to work, I still believe, on land reform, and nothing of it is being done now.

(Soundbite of music) (Soundbite of voices)

FORERO: In the shantytown near the Suape complex, Mara Maria da Silva says this is one of the places where the government has to start from scratch.

Ms. MARA MARIA DA SILVA: (Foreign language spoken)

FORERO: Here, she says, we're full of poverty, and theres a need for everything from paved roads to housing for homeless children. Its so bad, Silva says, that sometimes you simply need to count on the help of a higher power. And with that, Silva sings a song that she says makes her feel optimistic.

Ms. SILVA: (Singing) (Foreign language spoken)

FORERO: It's about getting a helping hand from God. Give me your hand, she sings, so I can feel happy.

Juan Forero, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Juan Forero