In the late 1980s, moreover, it was members of the Brazilian middle class who, hurt by thenrampant inflation, began seeking their fortunes abroad as immigrants to North America, Europe,and Japan. Still, a ray of hope emerged with the stabilization of the Brazilian currency and therapid decline of inflation in the mid-1990s. Estimates suggest that some nineteen millionBrazilians moved from the working poor to the lower middle class. For the first time these people had money to spend on consumer goods; those who remained poor also benefitted fromstable prices and were better able to afford staples such as meat, chicken, eggs, and beans.
SYMBOLS OF SOCIAL STRATIFICATION:
Brazilians are preoccupied with classdistinctions and are quick to size up the social distance that exists between themselves and othersthey meet. Yardsticks of such distance are general appearance and the "correctness" of a person'sspeech. The degree to which an individual's vocabulary and grammar is considered "educated" isused as a measure of schooling and, hence, social class. And this, in turn, establishes patterns of deference and authority between two individuals should they belong to different social strata.When such patterns are ignored, the "elite" persons may harshly demand of their "lessers," "Doyou know
you're talking to?"²a ritualized response when someone of higher status is notaccorded due deference by someone lower on the social scale.
SOCIAL WELFARE AND CHANGE PROGRAMS:
Brazil has long had welfare and pensionsystems but they do little for poorer workers and largely benefit state functionaries. Brazil alsohas some of the most progressive social legislation of any developing country²such as paidmaternity leave²but as with other legislation, it is more often honored in the breach. One verysuccessful social program that received national attention is
iva a Criança
(Long LiveChildren), which was begun by the governor of the state of Ceará in the impoverished Northeast.A campaign of preventive health education, the program cut infant mortality in Ceará by one-third in only four years.
NON GOVERMENTAL ORGANIZATIONS AND OTHER ASSOCIATIONS:
Arguably themost visible nongovernmental organization (NGO) in Brazil today is the
ovimento dosTrabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra
(MST), or Movement of Landless Rural Workers. Now withsome 500,000 members, it began organizing the occupation of large unproductive estates in themid-1980s after the federal government was slow to follow through on its promised program of land reform. A convoy of vehicles invade an estate at night so that by dawn too many people willhave occupied the land for the police to be able to evict them. Such land occupations haveescalated since the mid-1990s, enhanced by the Brazilian media's sympathetic portrayal of theMST as supporting a just cause. Partly in response to the MST, by the end of 1998 the federalagrarian reform program had settled nearly 290,000 families on eighteen million acres (7.3million hectares) of land, and Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso had promised anacceleration of the process. Over the last decade or so many other Brazilian NGOs have beenestablished dealing with the problems of street children, rural poverty, hunger, ecological issues,