Joy is a political responsibility

Paul Klee, Tunisian Hall Traffic on Boulevard Tunis, 1918.


Preface to the recently released book by Camilo Vannuchi about Diogo de Sant'Ana

Brazil needs more people like Diogo de Sant'Ana.

You need that smile that rarely closed. That willingness to dialogue, which he had all the time. From those ears and that heart that were always open to listen and understand the suffering and struggle of the most vulnerable people in our society.

Diogo worked for people who suffer not only from the denial of their most basic rights, but also from the prejudice and turned-down noses of those who have had all the opportunities in life and think that poverty is a life option.

The truth is that those who think that misery is a sign of inferiority or the result of some natural law that separates those who deserve to live well from those who deserve to suffer lack a minimum of humanity. Poverty is a political choice. And, like every political option, it can be changed.

Diogo always understood this very well. He knew that the path to regaining the dignity of these people involves the existence of public policies that give them the opportunity for a better life. That they effectively guarantee them everything that is recorded in our Laws, in our Constitution, in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

One of the first things I learned in my union life is that it is the struggle that makes the law. A fight that was never easy, but which resulted in fairer wages and better working conditions. Which, ultimately, led a metallurgist to the Presidency of the Republic.

In the union movement, however, we had some conditions that strengthened us. Firstly, we had formal jobs. We had unions. Even though we were beaten by the police, we went on strikes that forced the bosses and the State to listen to us.

But what pressure instruments do recyclable material collectors have? How can they make themselves heard at the center of power? What is the power of these people, no matter how organized they are, to demand that their rights be guaranteed?

For this reason, it is not enough for the State to passively wait for its demands to reach us. We need to go to these people, listen to them with an open heart and work hard so that their needs are transformed into public policies.

In 2008, when Diogo started working in my office, it didn't take me long to realize what Gilberto Carvalho, his immediate boss, had already realized: that guy was not only totally aligned with our greater purpose – guaranteeing a rights revolution in Brazil, without leaving anyone behind – as well as being able to run the Esplanada from top to bottom to transform this purpose into public policies.

I remember how moved I was when, thanks to Diogo's efforts, we received a group of women from the Amazon who were victims of scalping in Brasília. They were women and girls who suffered accidents with propellers or boat engine shafts and ended up losing their hair and scalp.

At that moment, I determined that the involvement of several areas of the government was necessary, not only to give the necessary attention to the victimized women, but also to prevent accidents of this type from continuing to occur. It was Diogo, with his persistence and skill, who coordinated the actions with several of our ministries. This resulted in the creation of specific procedures in the SUS, the creation of care homes for victims and standards to make boats safer.

With recyclable collectors, it was the same thing. Since 2003, thanks to collaborations made by Gilberto Carvalho, I had been participating in Christmas celebrations with collectors in São Paulo.

In 2006, we promoted something unprecedented in this country: we welcomed collectors to Palácio do Planalto to participate in the signing of a solemn act. I did this because I thought it was important to show that the barrier between those who pull carts of recyclables on the street and the highest authority in the country was a barrier that could be broken. That we are all human beings, Brazilians, with exactly the same rights.

Also, since 2003, we have been launching policies and programs to guarantee the rights of the homeless population, benefit recyclable collectors and promote an economy based on the reuse of solid waste.

 When Diogo started working with us, he took this topic as his life's mission. And those who have a purpose in life don't give up, they make things happen. Diogo was instrumental in putting the Pró-Catador Program into operation in 2010. It helped cooperatives and waste picker networks organize themselves to have access to BNDES financing. It helped to remove bureaucratic obstacles in the processes. And this resulted in recycling centers, trucks, cooperative network organizations and a series of concrete transformations in the lives of collectors.

Unfortunately, Diogo passed away too soon, too young. And it's hard to imagine how much more he would be doing today.

Their struggle, however, still bears fruit. And it will continue to generate.

Your fight is alive in the hands of Aline Souza, the recyclable collector who met with Diogo so many times and who handed me the presidential sash on January 1, 2023.

Their struggle is alive in every young person who gains access to a good school, a university, a job.

That's why I say that Brazil needs more people like Diogo. I say this not as a regret. But as a hope that, by continuing to give our young people the opportunities they are entitled to, we are also giving Brazil the opportunity to generate many more Diogos de Sant'Ana.

*Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva is President of the Republic.


Camilo Vannuchi. Joy is a political responsibility: the swagger, audacity and urgency of Diogo de Sant´Ana. Perseu Abramo Foundation; Literary Autonomy, 2023. 264 p.

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