‘They tolerate me because I have intellectual strength’

Brasil Observer - Aug 15 2016
Jean Wyllys speaks at King’s College London (Photo: Geraldo Cantarino)

(Leia em Português)


Brazilian Congressman Jean Wyllys speaks to the Brasil Observer about impeachment, the left and the LGBT struggle


By Guilherme Reis

At 12:35pm on Thursday 21st July Brazilian Congressman Jean Wyllys entered the lobby of the Embassy of Brazil in London. He was slightly delayed, so he apologized to the reporter who was waiting for him. The tight schedule of the politician meant that he was due to have lunch at the residence of Ambassador Eduardo dos Santos in less than an hour.

We sat in a room on the third floor of the Embassy at number 14-16 Cockspur Street. Turning on the recorder gave the signal that the interview, which would last about 20 minutes, had begun.

Elected and re-elected federal deputy for PSOL (Socialism and Liberty Party) to represent the state of Rio de Janeiro, Jean Wyllys is certainly among the most popular politicians in Brazil. Proof of this was given on both occasions that he spoke to the public during his visit to the British capital – first to discuss the movie Rat Fever, by Claudio Assis, in a session held at the Embassy, ​​then to talk about human rights at a symposium organized by King’s College London. The hecklers invariably interrupted his speech and that of his interpreter. And the many selfies with the audience after the close of the debate challenge the notion that people have lost faith in politics and politicians.

But Jean Wyllys obviously is not unanimously accepted. The only Brazilian politician to be openly gay, Jean is a staunch defender of human rights, particularly the LGBT cause, and is part of what he calls the “4G left”. In a country like Brazil, one can imagine the kind of opposition he gets from all sides.

Back on the third floor of the Brazilian embassy, ​​the interview begins with the final judgment of President Dilma Rousseff’s impeachment, scheduled for the end of August in the Senate. “I think there is a possibility for President Dilma to return [from suspension],” says Jean Wyllys.

Jean Wyllys cites the last Datafolha poll, which revealed that 62% of Brazilians supported the bringing forward of the presidential election, scheduled for 2018. “This data can influence the senators. In addition to this popular desire for new elections is the fact that Dilma was cleared in the case of fiscal pedaling [fiscal manoeuvres] by the Senate, and by the Federal Public Ministry and the Federal Accountability Office, which at first had condemned Dilma but now says there wasn’t any fiscal pedaling.”

Last month, the prosecutor in the Public Ministry of the Federal District, Ivan Marx, who was investigating whether the Dilma Rousseff government had committed a crime by failing to repay debts to public banks, the so-called fiscal pedaling, closed the proceedings stating that the acts were not criminal, but constituted improper conduct.

“Dilma has to return in the name of democracy. Democratic rules were broken and need to be restored. There must be an apology to her and she may decide to call new elections, call for a plebiscite, to consult the population and bring forward the elections,” says Jean Wyllys.

The bringing forward of the presidential elections, however, is highly unlikely. According to the Federal Constitution, direct presidential elections can only be brought forward if the president and vice president roles become vacant before two years of their mandate has passed – in the case of Dilma Rousseff and Michel Temer, that would be before the beginning of 2017. New elections could also be called if both are impeached or the Supreme Electoral Tribunal decides, still in 2016, to cancel the election because of irregularities in the 2014 campaign.

Another way would be to change the Federal Constitution to allow early elections, but this would depend on the support of three-fifths of the Chamber of Deputies and Senate with two votes in each house – a difficult political fact to imagine these days. The calling of a plebiscite depends on less support – a simple majority of Congress – but that would not have the power to force early elections, only to express the will of the people.



Moving on, Jean Wyllys was questioned as to why the left-wing parties, when in power, ruled as right-wing parties. “I do not think they rule as the right. There is a distinction between being in opposition and being in government. Governments are governments for everyone, so somehow a party needs to give up some part of its program. In Brazil, we have the so-called ‘presidential coalition’ where the president needs a wide base in Congress to govern well. Being a system funded by commercial corporations, it is obvious that the PT [Workers Party] had to stick to the modus operandi of the Brazilian political system. And with that the party became involved in anti-republican practices and corruption schemes that were already there. It was not PT who invented the corrupt practices. The Brazilian political system has always been shrouded in corruption schemes that have more to do with the distinction between public and private interests, because the election campaigns are financed by large commercial corporations.”

And what about the left in this scenario? “The PT is not the only left-wing party. PT is part of the left. I think it’s unfair to blame all of the left-wing for all the mistakes and betrayals of the PT; we need to make that distinction.”

“We are living at a moment of disadvantage for the left from the point of view of participation in the system, but it doesn’t mean that the left is dead. It is a time to renew the left`s assumptions. This disadvantage has to do with the triumph of neoliberalism, accompanied by a conservative wave. It has to do with the last renewal of capitalism,” Jean Wyllys adds.

But how can we explain the conservative dominance even after the economic crisis of 2008? “To quote the philosopher Jacques Derrida, the plutocracy, neoliberals, economic elites, that is, the financial system has the ideological apparatus that build people’s imagination. People are infected by the neoliberal ideology of meritocracy, the free market idea, minimum state interference, that you build your own wealth. This is a fallacy because people do not start from the same place. Speaking of free market and liberalism would be beautiful if everyone started from the same place. We cannot erase the colonial past that affects us, the impact of slavery, all the disadvantages that were produced, not to mention other disadvantages that come from physical disabilities, the gender vulnerabilities. Women are at a disadvantage compared to men because they were excluded from the system of representation and voting for a long time. Homosexuals have disadvantages. All this distorts the liberal system. It is sad that the middle classes adopted this idea [neoliberal]. They adopted the minimum state speech when in fact it would not be in their interest.”

What should be done? “First we have to correct our mistakes, the mistakes of left-wing parties that came to power. These parties have to carry out some self-criticism and also in their relationship to conciliation with the economic elites. We have an anachronistic left, with their heart and mind in 1917, which does not review the errors of real socialism, which sacrificed individual freedom.”

“A 4G left doesn’t have to accept capitalism, but does have to consider individual freedoms. We have to construct a socialist management of capitalism, since revolution is not possible, as in the Nordic countries. We need to think about the welfare state. We need to put a brake on the market, and this can only be done with a state that is fully involved.”



From January to July this year, 173 gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people were victims of hate crime in Brazil, the equivalent of one death every 29 hours. In 2015, there were 319 deaths. In the past four years, 1,600. The data were collected by Grupo Gay da Bahia (Gay Group of Bahia), one of the few organizations that provide information on crimes motivated by LGBTfobia in the country. The numbers, however, may be even greater because there is no federal law in the country requiring the police officers to register crimes motivated by LGBTfobia.

In Brazil, gay marriage has legally existed since 2013, when the National Council of Justice issued a resolution stating that all the country’s registry offices should carry out marriages between people of the same gender. But the decision does not have the same force of law and can be challenged by judges.

Still, it is increasingly common to see gays kissing in the Brazilian soap operas, as well as same-sex couples represented in TV commercials.

“Being LGBT in Brazil is still not easy. And all the advances we have made in terms of visibility and organization have depended on ourselves, we have made these advances. If advertising agencies now make room for us, recognizing us as a niche, if the TV recognizes us as an audience and so on it is not because the market and television are good guys. They made concessions because of our pressure; they gave way under the pressure of the LGBT movement, which organized itself politically. Now, in Brazil, the increasing visibility of the LGBT community generates a reaction of the same proportion. There is a lot of violence against LGBT people, the number of murders resulting from homophobia and transphobia is increasing – or gaining visibility thanks to new technologies and information,” says Jean Wyllys.

And how is it to be a homosexual congressman? “It is not the easiest task to be an openly gay parliamentarian in a Congress with a large majority formed by heterosexual men, white and rich. The few homosexuals there are in the closet, so there is no interest. When I entered the first term it was more difficult because of all the jokes. I stuck my foot in the door and they had to at least contain themselves. They tolerated me because I have intellectual strength, I have arguments, and it’s not easy to argue with me, I’m not a caricature. I am a thorn in the throat”.

Before the recorder was turned off, moving to the car waiting for Jean Wyllys outside the embassy, ​​the deputy answers a question from Emerson Zanette, a reader who wants to know how he deals with the threats received on social networks. “I don’t walk with security guards, I don’t do anything differently, despite the threats, because I think the role of threats is simply to spread fear and make me go away. So I behave like the French respond to terrorist threats: occupy the streets to show we are not afraid”.

And what about political ambitions? Does he ever think about running for the office of president? “I cannot say that I will not. We cannot predict the future and there may be specific circumstances where they put my name forward for president. But it’s not something I aspire to; I cannot imagine myself as president. I don’t even imagine myself being a federal deputy for much longer.”

The car door opens and there is no time for anything else. Jean Wyllys goes to the giant wheel of Brazilian politics. And bus number 12 approaches the point, hastening the pace of him who holds the recorder.

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