Skip to comments.Brazilians Seek Their Fortunes Overseas
Posted on 07/30/2005 11:44:08 AM PDT by TFine80
GONZAGA, Brazil -- Horse-drawn buggies still deliver milk door to door in this sleepy Brazilian town, while young men flush with dollars and euros open stores and buy fully loaded four-wheel-drive pickup trucks.
Gonzaga, the remote hometown of the Brazilian electrician killed in London when he was mistaken for a suicide bomber, is at the center of a mostly illegal migration boom from Latin America's largest country to the United States and Europe.
There's no end in sight, even with the death of 27-year-old Jean-Charles de Menezes, shot seven times in the head on the subway on his way to fix an alarm.
Menezes, who was working in Britain to save enough money to buy a cattle ranch back home, was buried Friday in the cemetery on a hill overlooking this Brazilian town of 6,000.
Friends and relatives who threw roses on his casket had hoped he would return to Gonzaga smiling, like they had, with wads of foreign currency and set for life in a country where millions are mired in low salaries and chronic unemployment.
Few in Gonzaga believe the flow of townspeople seeking fortunes overseas will ebb because of Menezes' death. The rewards, they say, are just too rich.
The number of Brazilians captured on the U.S.-Mexico border -- 27,000 from October to July, nearly triple the previous year -- illustrates the trend. Brazil's government estimates half the 1.5 million Brazilians in the United States are there illegally.
While the United States is the prime destination, many -- like Menezes -- head to Britain, Germany, Italy, Portugal or Spain because it's easier to fly there legally as a tourist, then take jobs off the books.
"For a few months people will be scared of going, but they'll forget about this because Brazil's economy is too tough," said Romir Pereira, who worked construction illegally for five years in Framingham, Mass.
Pereira wouldn't say how much he brought home last year, but the close friend of Menezes said his savings allowed him to erect the largest building in Gonzaga, a four-story concrete structure with a red-tile roof shadowing the palm-lined central plaza.
The 29-year-old entrepreneur runs a grocery store on the ground floor, rents three large apartments upstairs and drives a shiny black 2005 Chevrolet S-10 extra cab pickup with a turbo engine.
A few miles away on a dirt road in a valley dotted with orange and banana groves and fields of 12-foot sugarcane, Rubens Menezes, one of Jean-Charles' many cousins, lives in a new three-bedroom home with a vegetable garden and a pond he plans to stock with tilapia fish.
He paid for the house and built an apartment building in the capital, Brasilia, with the $50,000 he earned as a landscaper in Massachusetts for five years.
His only regret: U.S. immigration authorities captured him and sent him home a few months before he had enough money to pay for a wraparound terrace and an American-style grassy front yard.
Pereira and Rubens Menezes got to the United States legally on tourism visas before U.S. authorities tightened requirements for Brazilians.
But almost all Brazilians from Gonzaga and other towns in the central state of Minas Gerais now turn to smuggling rings promising to deliver them for $10,000 to $15,000.
The gangs bus immigrants to Brazil's largest city of Sao Paulo, then fly them to Mexico City. Smugglers take them across the U.S. border, police and residents say. Payment is made from Brazil only after the immigrants arrive in their city of choice, often Boston or Philadelphia, and phone relatives in Brazil.
Ground zero for smugglers is Governador Valadares, a city of 250,000 just 50 miles from Gonzaga, where federal police issue the passports allowing immigrants to enter Mexico, which lifted a visa requirement for Brazilians in 2002.
Governador Valadares Mayor Jose Mourao estimates 40,000 residents from his city alone have lived abroad. Ninety percent return, he said, and entire neighborhoods have sprung up from foreign currency.
The trend started as a trickle during World War II, when American companies came to the region to extract mica, a mineral used in insulation and electrical equipment, and a few Brazilians were invited to work in the United States.
It turned into a flood by the 1990s as residents realized they could make far more money abroad than elsewhere in Brazil.
Brazilians in the United States now send more than $1.5 billion home every year.
"They go there to work at jobs Americans and Europeans don't want, don't commit crimes and they're not terrorists," he said.
Menezes came home to Gonzaga last summer after several years in Britain, telling friends he would return for good in three more years.
"He had the money to pay a smuggler, but he wanted to do things right," Pereira said. "Our story is the same, but his ended in tragedy."
Associated Press Writer Vivian Sequera in Brasilia, Brazil, contributed to this story.
BRAZIL PING - Mail me to join up.
Maybe one criterion for UN Securioty Council should be the ability to keep people at home.
Tell that to China, India, and Russia. :)
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