Editorial: The next day of Brazil

Brasil Observer - Apr 15 2016

(Leia em Português)


Brazilians are proud people. Proud even of their problems. It’s not rare to see them glorifying the complexity of their country. “Brazil is not for amateurs”, they love to repeat paraphrasing one of their most illustrious countrymen, the maestro Antonio Carlos Jobim. They are always ready to preach the impracticability of their nation, bound to succumb to the tropical sultriness, the easiest way even if wrong, and the embarrassing jeitinho brasileiro. And we don’t accept opinion from gringos, who, we say, know nothing about us and our peculiar misery.

To understand what’s going on in our country today and what the next day of our history will bring, a deep breath is necessary in order not to miss the trail; and a huge dose of fearlessness, because it’s a spectacular tragedy.

The current crossroad occurs at the junction of an economic crisis with no precedent and a bankrupt political system, designed to perpetuate the secular division between the rulers and the ruled, to satisfy the power owners in all national spheres, public and private. A deep analysis is not necessary to identify the intact structures of the masters and the slaves logic, or gated communities and favelas. More than one hundred years of independence have not been enough to bury more than three hundred years of violent, exploitative and disgraceful slave-driven colonization. Thirty years of a young democracy have not been enough to bury more than twenty years of a dictatorship that served those who today, in the name of morals and good customs call on the impeachment of the elected President Dilma Rousseff, who, by the way, went down to the dungeons of the civil-military regime defending democracy.

But let’s get back to current days. The current economic crisis is the result of international factors (fall of Chinese demand, end of commodities boom, decrease in oil prices, etc.) and national mistakes (escalating public debt, fiscal imbalance, lack of investment, tax revenues collapse, etc.). In the boom years, PT (Workers Party) governments of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and Dilma Rousseff did enough to heat the domestic demand and boost consumption (Bolsa Família program, minimum wage enhancement, facilitation of credit, etc.) and insufficient for the economic growth with reducing inequality to be sustainable in the long term (tax reform, diversification of exports, increase industrial productivity, etc.). We moved forward thanks to specific sectoral policies and favourable external conditions – and not because of major structural changes.

It wasn’t an insignificant rise. The world witnessed and applauded the social rise of more than 30 million Brazilians; the almost eradication of poverty; the reduction of extreme poverty; the unique expansion of access to education (elementary to university level); the empowerment of the popular classes. All this combined with a new and independent role of Brazil in the international arena. Lula became “the man” in the eyes of US President Barack Obama; Christ the Redeemer took off on the cover of The Economist. Even liberals surrendered to the social democracy led by PT, in front of a large and strong progressive, left-wing popular base.

What went wrong? Once in power PT began to behave like the others. It smeared on the route of corruption on behalf of a power project. It opted for a false reconciliation of classes instead of politicizing its base numbed by superficial advances. It allied to the most reactionary sectors of the nation in exchange of opportunistic support (see the recent “departure” of the PMDB, the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party, from the government). It banished key issues for a new development cycle to ensure electoral victories more and more alienating, based on marketing. It betrayed, after all, those who placed their hopes and votes for the party.

It’s almost comical to see pro-government politicians complain about the treatment received by the native media, for example. When they could, the PT governments preferred not to raise the debate about the democratization of the media – essential in any minimally civilized country. Instead they irrigated, year after year, the mainstream media with public money through state enterprises adverts – rather than focusing on narrative plurality, the diversity of voices in the public debate.

Make no mistake, however. The PT has always suffered from what we can call a class hate from the national elite – represented by the mainstream media, spokesman of The Masters since forever. It is essential to understand the current situation, taking into account the performance of the hegemonic media in line with the financial elite. And understand the resentment fuelled by a ruling class that has never accepted the rise of the popular classes. It’s a matter of fact.

On the other hand, again, it is not the case to understand PT and its governments as mere victims. Lula always praised himself for being the president under whose watch banks and big corporations profited like never before – or as always? It would make sense if the capital gains had been better democratized, fostered productive and not speculative investments. It was not what happened. “National champions” were chosen and played a new kind of Brazilian capitalism that does not respect the environment, much less the basic rules of fair competition, making all sorts of offenses in exchange for money and power. From success to a big pool of mud.

Then arrived the operation Lava Jato, to bare promiscuous relations between businessmen and politicians at the highest levels of the Republic and across all parties. And to the crux of the failure of the political system: what chance has the popular desire to prevail in a Congress where 70% of its representatives were elected with money from ten companies? Who these parliamentary answer to, the voter or campaign donor? No wonder that almost half of Brazilian parliamentarians are involved in corruption investigations. That’s why the financial system plays a crucial role in the political crossroad at which the country finds itself. The basic concept of “one person, one vote” is completely distorted in Brazilian democracy.

What to do? A considerable part of the population, especially the wealthiest ones (but not only them, fair to say), believes that the solution is the impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff – which may happen soon. They believe PT is primarily responsible for the national crisis and should be punished exemplarily, including Lula’s imprisonment. To meet this demand, the vice president Michel Temer (PMDB) articulates with the leaders of the biggest opposition party, the PSDB (Brazilian Social Democracy Party), Aecio Neves and Jose Serra. In addition to them, other supporters of this solution is part of the national business community (mainly represented by Federation of Industries of Sao Paulo, which is shamelessly campaigning for Dilma’s impeachment) and the mainstream media, even if they hide themselves in the false curtain of impartiality.

This new power bloc has little to do with the anti-corruption smoke emanating from the mainstream media and, consequently, from the protests in favour of impeachment. PMDB and PSDB are also involved up up to their necks in scandals that, unlike those perpetrated by PT, receive less attention from the “independent” media. What do they want? Basically to put into practice the project of “modernization” of Brazil, defeated in the last four presidential elections, of liberal-conservative character: welfare reform; relaxation of labour laws; changes in oil exploration rules of the pre-salt layer; autonomy of the Central Bank; fiscal adjustment for producing robust primary surpluses; adaptation to the dictates of the International Monetary Fund; alignment with US foreign policy; distancing of so-called progressive governments in Latin America; free trade agreements like Pacific Alliance; criminalization of social movements, especially those linked to the right to land (MST) and housing (MTST); reducing the State’s role as promoter of economic growth; new rounds of privatization; policy reform in search of something that resembles the district vote; victory in the presidential election in 2018.

What does the PT offer in response? Very little. After the victory of Dilma Rousseff in 2014, it was clear that the government had to choose: to deepen the achievements of the progressive camp fighting the conservative forces or succumb to market forces to please those who haven’t placed their vote in PT. They opted for the second exit – something that, it is true, had been done since the first Lula term. By doing this, in adopting the speech that had fought in the election campaign, the President lost her political capital. She weakened in the face of adversaries, who started considering impeachment proceedings every day, as did the masses, tired of waiting on a “left turn”.

But there is a basic problem: impeachment is not the solution to bad government. Provided in the 1988 Constitution, the procedure is the result of two variables, political and another essential factor, which is legal. There are a lot of political reasons to take Rousseff out of power. However, there is no clear crime evidence. There is no legal basis for the impeachment based on the so-called “fiscal tricks”, financial procedure widely adopted by state and local governments throughout Brazil, including the former presidents Lula and Fernando Henrique Cardoso. The impeachment based on alleged obstruction of justice committed by Dilma Rousseff second plea bargaining of jailed senator Delcídio Amaral – strengthened by Lula’s indication to the government – has not enough evidence to be irrefutable.

Against Rousseff there are no charges for unlawful conduct in office of President of the Republic. The same cannot be said about two central figures of national policy, the presidents of the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate, Eduardo Cunha and Renan Calheiros, both from the PMDB, most interested party in the impeachment of the president. Aecio Neves, president of the PSDB and presidential candidate in the last election, has been cited at least six times under the Lava Jato. More than half of the committee to judge the impeachment is being investigated by justice.

That’s why government supporters and democracy advocates not necessarily aligned with PT have spoken out against what they call a coup. Protests are happening in the streets of Brazil, on social networks and even in London. They fear that an impeachment without legal basis opens a dangerous precedent in a country marked by coups and whose democracy is still in the first half of century. And that the social achievements of the past will be at risk in a PMDB-PSDB government.

Supporters of impeachment reject the coup idea arguing that it is in the Constitution. Yes, that’s obvious. To be legitimate, however, there must be the characterization of crime by the representative of the nation – which is not the case. What legitimacy will a government appointed without the vote of the population and that came to power through political manoeuvrings in collusion with sectors of the media and the business community who were mostly on the side of civil-military dictatorship that condemned once more, after colonization/slavery, the history of the country? What legitimacy will an impeachment proceedings have, opened by someone like Eduardo Cunha, with extensive wrong-doings list? What future will the fight against corruption have, as touted by impeachment supporters, once the PMDB-PSDB take power?

The show is tragic. And there are no good guys. Remember: it was the PT that chose to ally with PMDB; that chose to give the vice presidency to Michel Temer; that sought to ally with Eduardo Cunha and Renan Calheiros until the last moment; that shook hands with figures such as Paulo Maluf, José Sarney, Fernando Collor, among many others. It was PT that allied to large construction companies, engendering vested agreements on behalf of a lopsided development, disrespecting the environment and indigenous peoples, for example, essential issues for the left. It was the PT, after all, that felt part of the club of the elite and turned its back to the country’s social project that once it thought to represent in order to stage a power project that now falls wistfully, leaving a vacuum of representation of the popular classes that no one knows yet how to fill.

The course of days and hours brings up new facts in such great speed that make predictions, and to take positions becomes extremely difficult. It is certain that what each side of polarization judges as ideal will unlikely happen: Dilma Rousseff will not resign, nor find room to rule if she escapes impeachment. In case of impediment of the President, Brazil will be governed by a rabble without legitimacy. The native media certainly will report a possible impeachment as the redemption of a country from the excesses of a “left-wing” government, decreeing the failure of progressive thinking. And the instant market animation will make the people feel that something is better, when in fact we will be on the face of chaos. The streets certainly will not be silent, increasing the chance of conflicts with the repressive state forces, which will act with its usual truculence when it comes to demonstrations not supported by the mainstream media. In case of government victory, Lula will return to the centre of power de facto, that is, in one way or another, Dilma no longer will govern the country – she no longer governs, by the way. Lula will encourage PT militancy, infuriating those on the other side of the spectrum, also raising the chance of clashes. It is impossible to predict more. There is a remote chance of new elections. Dilma-Temer can still be revoked by the Superior Electoral Court, but it will not happen so quickly.

Fearlessness is necessary to understand what is happening in Brazil today. Impeachment is not a solution. Yelling “there will not be coup” is not enough. In the next day of our history, what country will we have? Crises bring in the fog, windows of opportunity. We can move towards a social democracy, fairer and more inclusive, or return towards the oligarchies, the owner of always. This story, with or without Dilma, is far from returning to normal.