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Brazil’s Congress fighting for its right to party

. Jun 23, 2019
Brazil São João celebrations

With Congress almost ready to go on its mid-year break on July 17, leaders in the House of Representatives are scrambling for time to approve the much-awaited reform of Brazil’s pensions system. The bill is currently awaiting a vote in the House’s special committee, and representatives are working overtime to try and push it through the lower house before they go on holiday.

Therefore, it might come as a surprise to hear that Congress is not expected to get any work done next week, with a fair amount of members likely not to even bother turning up to Brasilia.

</p> <p>The reason? <em>Festa Junina</em>, <a href="https://brazilian.report/society/2019/03/02/brazil-besides-carnival-celebrations/">Brazil&#8217;s annual harvest festivals</a> which, in some regions of the country, are the most important days of the year. Huge parties are held in cities, towns, and villages all over the Northeast of Brazil on the feast days of Saints Anthony (June 13), John (June 24), and Peter (June 29)—and for members of Congress hailing from these regions, missing out on the celebrations is political suicide.</p> <p>Due to the vast internal migration of people from the Northeast to the North and down to the state of <a href="https://brazilian.report/podcast-brazil/2019/01/23/sao-paulo-killed-rivers/">São Paulo</a>, these regions have also developed their own strong Festa Junina traditions, meaning that the last week of June is something of a write-off in Congress.</p> <p>That could change this year, however, if Rodrigo Maia—Speaker of the House of Representatives—gets his way. Desperate to push the pension reform bill through the lower house before the July 17 holidays, Mr. Maia is reportedly planning to substitute all members of the reform&#8217;s special committee who are planning to leave Brasilia this week, replacing them with representatives who have pledged to stay put.</p> <p>The decision would be a risky one, for a number of reasons. First, substituting all of the members will be a tall order, as of the 34 representatives which make up the special committee, 24 come from the Northeast, North, or São Paulo.</p> <p>Secondly, there is some doubt as to how this maneuver will be received by the traveling politicians. Though not written into congressional rules, the exodus of north-eastern representatives and senators at the end of June is a long-standing tradition, punishing them for heading back to their constituencies could push this considerable group into the hands of the opposition. Considering that north-eastern representatives make up over one-quarter of the entire House, and that the pension reform will require three-fifths of the chamber&#8217;s support in order to pass, Mr. Maia&#8217;s plan is a dangerous one.</p> <h2>See and be seen</h2> <p>The tradition of politicians leaving their posts in Brasilia to enjoy <a href="https://g1.globo.com/ceara/sao-joao/2017/noticia/sao-joao-em-salvador-sera-realizado-de-22-a-24-de-junho-no-pelourinho-e-em-paripe.ghtml">Festa Junina celebrations</a> may sound crass, especially at a crucial time for the country&#8217;s legislature. However, the festivities are absolutely paramount for public figures in the Northeast to build alliances and reinforce the support of their constituents.</p> <p>Last year, in the middle of a nationwide truckers&#8217; strike which very nearly brought the country to a complete halt, Brazil was on tenterhooks, waiting for the Senate to approve a bill reducing tax on diesel to convince drivers to go back to work. With supermarket shelves empty in several cities around the country, Senate President Eunício Oliveira decided it was a good idea to fly back to his home state of Ceará and inspect the preparations of 2018&#8217;s Festa Junina celebrations.</p> <figure class="wp-block-image alignnone size-full wp-image-19607"><img src="https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/sao-joao-rui-costa.jpg" alt="sao joao rui costa" class="wp-image-19607" srcset="https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/sao-joao-rui-costa.jpg 780w, https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/sao-joao-rui-costa-300x169.jpg 300w, https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/sao-joao-rui-costa-768x433.jpg 768w, https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/sao-joao-rui-costa-610x344.jpg 610w" sizes="(max-width: 780px) 100vw, 780px" /><figcaption>Bahia Governor Rui Costa during São João celebrations</figcaption></figure> <p>Local governments invest millions in their celebrations, particularly for the São João (Saint John) parties on June 24. Were a senator or representative, elected by a particular municipality or state, not to show up for the event, you can be sure their support will take a hit in the next elections.</p> <p>São João celebrations are also a good measure of the support level of local governments in the Northeast. When a mayor is unable to attract influential representatives and senators to their major festivals, they are seen as being politically isolated.</p> <p>Sometimes, however, it is just too difficult for politicians to leave Brasilia. In these cases, they often bring the parties to the capital, as was the habit of former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. Born in the countryside of the north-eastern state of Pernambuco, Lula instituted a tradition of holding a large São João party every year in the president&#8217;s official residence, Granja do Torto. The &#8220;Arraiá do Torto&#8221; was one of the social events of the year during Lula&#8217;s presidency, always gathering huge crowds of cabinet ministers and members of Congress.</p> <h2>The never-ending festival</h2> <p>While literally translated as &#8220;June Festival,&#8221; it would be an error to assume Festa Junina lasts just 30 days. In the middle of May, you will often run into <em>arraiais</em> or <em>quermesses</em>, open to all comers and fueled by lively music and decorations. After São João itself, some towns extend their celebrations into July (giving it the convenient name of Festa Julina), and you might even find a couple of parties popping up in August.</p> <p>Originally a Catholic celebration geared around the feast days of the three saints, Festa Junina is now based on community, local tradition, and the harvest. It is normal to see celebrations in churches, schools, clubs, and out in the streets, often with funfair games and bingo.</p> <p>Food is a central element to the Festa Junina, often the most important part for some revelers. As it is tied to the harvest, most of the delights are corn-based. “It is a party very connected to food, which is the symbol of collective memory. Traditional foods are the collective memory of our people,” said Eliane Morelli Abrahão, a historian at Campinas State University (Unicamp), to Agência Brasil.</p> <p>When it comes to libations, mulled wine and the potent elixir known as <em>quentão</em> (mixing cachaça, ginger, sugar, and spices) are the drinks of choice. With June falling at the beginning of Brazil&#8217;s winter, the hotter the drink the better.

 
Euan Marshall

Originally from Scotland, Euan Marshall is a journalist who ditched his kilt and bagpipes for a caipirinha and a football in 2011, when he traded Glasgow for São Paulo. Specializing in Brazilian soccer, politics and the connection between the two, he authored a comprehensive history of Brazilian soccer entitled “A to Zico: An Alphabet of Brazilian Football.”

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