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  HOME | Brazil (Click here for more)

Tabata Amaral, Scourge of Bolsonaro, Raised in Favela and Trained at Harvard

SAO PAULO – Raised in a favela in Sao Paulo and a Harvard graduate, Tabata Amaral, 25, is a rookie federal congresswoman who has stood out for her criticism of Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro’s “prejudice-laden” policies.

“Brazil has become a mockery in the world. It is forming an image that is a country where everything can happen, where the constitution is not respected and human rights are no longer a guarantee,” Amaral told Efe during an interview in Sao Paulo.

A few months after the beginning of her mandate, the deputy has risen as one of the main voices in the defense of education and against the “arbitrary” policies of Bolsonaro.

It did not take long for the parallels between her and the young American congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to be drawn.

Amaral was born and raised in a poor neighborhood of the capital, she never imagined that she would graduate with honors at Harvard University, Massachusetts.

Even less, that two years later she would win a seat in Brasilia after securing more than 264,000 votes in the national elections in October.

She is a member of several social movements and lays charges against the current Government for its “co-responsibility” for the “wave of violence that is spreading” throughout the country.

Although she says that she cannot prove that the president was directly responsible for the increase in “hate crimes,” Amaral said that Bolsonaro is “jointly responsible” for them, because he “clearly encourages” violence.

“When you have a leader who is macho, xenophobic, homophobic and racist, he is saying that the population can be so, legitimizing those speeches,” she added.

A graduate in political science and astrophysics, Amaral became an emerging figure in the Brazilian center-left, although she rejects labels and defends an open dialogue with “all sides” beyond “traditional concepts such as the left or the right.”

The deputy attributes her multilateral vision of the world to her personal and professional career, which she acknowledges is not “typical of a Brazilian” nor of a “typical person” from her impoverished upbringing.

While growing up in a disadvantaged area of Sao Paulo, Amaral lost his father to drugs and saw several friends succumb to the world of crime at a young age.

She then discovered a new life through education and went on to participate in multiple international competitions in mathematics, physics, chemistry or science.

The medals accumulated during her school years guaranteed her scholarships at a prestigious private school in the capital and at an English-speaking school, thanks to which she obtained the necessary grades to apply for six American universities, including Yale, Columbia and Harvard.

“Whoever had the vision that I had of the periphery and of Harvard is not going to have a flat view of politics, and people get very upset when they come up with something that is not typical, expected or familiar,” she said.

Amaral described dialogue as a fundamental tool and said that its absence “impacts the most solid things that politics should deliver” and puts at risk “something much greater, which is our democracy.”

In the first months of the Legislative, she was in favor of liberal proposals, as an alternative to the pension reform of the government or the private financing of certain university sectors, but without leaving behind her “social outlook.”

Despite her short political life, Amaral caught the covers of the Brazilian press after she left in evidence the then Minister of Education Ricardo Velez in a mediatic parliamentary meeting.

“They (the government) have the right to think as they wish, but not to dismantle education based on prejudice, Brazil still has a constitution and they can not make arbitrary decisions as they were taken,” Amaral said.

The politician said she believes that the best strategy to achieve social and economic development is quality education with fairer access and without “arbitrary prejudice.”

“This moment that we are living, of an ideological war against education, is something absurd, that is not political,” she added, in reference to the recent cuts of more than 30 percent to higher education budgets announced by the government.

Amaral said she is not in Congress “to be re-elected,” but to do what she considers “correct.”

She added that “more important than the old or the new policy is to make good politics.”


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