A demonstration of force and conflict

brasilobserver - Jul 20 2015
Activists commemorated the rejection of the Constitutional Amendment in the vote on 30 June (Photo: Fabio Rodrigues Pozzebom/Agência Brasil)

(Leia em Português)

The vote on the reduction of the legal age is a metaphor for how political conflicts are in Brazil


By Dennis de Oliveira*

The vote of the Constitutional Amendment (PEC) 171 which reduces the legal age for 16 years brought many lessons and concerns. The first, most obvious, it is that the mobilization of social movements is strong. Thanks to the PEC being defeated in the vote on 30 June. The other is that the right is also strong. Soon after the defeat, right-wing deputies took advantage of the regimental manoeuvre of the Chamber of Deputies’ President, Eduardo Cunha (Brazilian Democratic Movement Party) to vote a proposal almost identical to that was defeated and managed to reverse the result – this time with a small presence of representatives of social movements, because many of them had left Brasilia and also by authoritarian decision of Cunha who banned people in the galleries of the House.

The discussion of lowering the penal age is just the tip of the iceberg. DataFolha Research shows that 90% of the population supports the measure. “Journalistic” TV programs specialized in police news have been doing a real subtle campaign for the reduction. They feature the crimes and offenses committed by minors, giving the impression that most of the violence is practiced by them (when, in fact, only 1% of heinous crimes are committed by persons below 18 years in Brazil). What’s more, not covering and charging authorities disrespect the rules of the Statute of Children and Adolescents, generate the feeling that this law is ineffective, or worse, ensures impunity of children and adolescents offenders.

Thus, it created what the American thinker Walter Lippmann called “pseudo environment”. According Lippmann citizens act on an imagined reality and, therefore, the public opinion is the product of certain structures. The 90% of the population who advocate the reduction of legal age will certainly consider that violence is a product of impunity, which it is practiced mostly by minors and that existing laws do not punish enough to resolve crimes. Hence, the easiest solution is to intensify the penalties and defend violent practices.

Much of those who hold such positions are people living in the periphery who are the most affected by police violence and the worsening of the law, since, as the data indicate, there is a selectivity of race and class in punishment (witness the social profile of incarcerated or victims of police violence).

The black movement has strengthened for the struggle against genocide of black youth. And not without confusion, particularly because in recent years moved up significantly in the development of public policies to combat racism. Quotas, Law 10639, Statute of Racial Equality, secretaries… Nevertheless, extermination of blacks and black youths in the suburbs continues, drawing attention even Amnesty International.

Then the dilemma comes. This apparent contradiction stems precisely from a gap in the political project of the progressive parties that has ruled the country since 2003: it is not enough to include by the consumption (which is important) if not a political project of rupture with one patrimonial, classist, racist order that was built from the 19th century with the unfinished abolition of slavery, eugenics project of the Nation and the positivist conception of the Republic. Since then, what we see is a capitalist society that is based on the tripod of restricted citizenship and not universal; concentration of property and wealth and violence as systemic political practice.

Each advance of the subordinate segments, the right rearticulates and gives it a kickback. The action of Eduardo Cunha during the vote on lowering the penal age is a metaphor of how political conflicts are in Brazil. The mistake of part of the left is not realizing this process of struggle and making no signal for deep reform actions and re-foundation of the Brazilian state.


*Dennis de Oliveira is a professor at the School of Communications and Arts at University of Sao Paulo; this article was originally published in Revista Forum magazine (www.revistaforum.com.br), and translated by Brasil Observer