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Obama: In Brazil, an idol still

Afro-Brazilians still care more about Obama's symbolism than about particular policies.

Candido has also heard about Obama’s domestic troubles, but they don’t seem to affect his opinion: “We know that he is not going to accomplish what he wants, because the forces against him are so strong. But he will always be our idol.” There has been just one big disappointment, he said: that Obama has not yet succeeded in closing the prison at Guantanamo Bay.

When Obama was inaugurated, Pestana organized a dance to celebrate. It was flooded with hundreds of uninvited visitors; many were turned away. This year, he could tell enthusiasm for Obama had not flagged, since people begged him to hold a one-year anniversary dance. (He declined because of a planned vacation.)

“We know about the problems that Obama is facing because of unemployment, the economy,” he said. “But he continues to be venerated in the Afro-Brazilian community.”

“From a certain moment on, we saw what Obama really meant: it was more than having a black man in power,” said Vicente, the educator. “He seemed to establish possibility for struggling minorities who have not been heard, who have not been recognized, who have not been given chances. He continues to be a great reference for all those who have tried, are trying, or will try, who at some moment give up or lose hope. He is that light ahead, saying ‘you can, try again.’”

Still, Brazil has a long way to go before it gets a black president, most believe. One likely candidate, the Green Party’s Marina Silva, is an Afro-Brazilian. But she is fourth in the polls — dead last — and is not considered a serious contender.

“When Obama became president of the United States, Americans were used to seeing professors, leaders of multinational corporations, governors, and mayors that were black,” said Pestana. “He might not have been benefited by affirmative action directly. But it allowed for the creation of a political, economic and intellectual class that helped prepare the country for a black president. We are not going to have a black president until we go through that.”

(Read an overview of how the world views Obama one year later.)