Two months after its municipal elections, Brazil is at a political impasse.
The ballot results showed how the public is ready to put a stop to the country’s leftward march. One immediate and visible consequence of the defeat of the Workers Party (PT) and its government was the fact that some important leftist leaders have either left or been removed from the Lula da Silva government.
Another consequence of the defeat was the crumbling of the government’s support base. Two parties in the government coalition said they intend to drop out.
Lack of definition and uncertainty are perhaps the most noticeable aspects of the present political scene. Many suggest the solution lies in a political change of direction by the government, a change that could bring about unexpected developments.
In this regard, two ministers and the President of the Senate, government allies, recently proposed that the presidential mandate be extended from four to six years.
On another front, the Lula government is leading a campaign against so-called slave labor (which it does not define). With the help of the “social movements,” it has launched yet another offensive against private property and free enterprise in the country, by specifically focusing on agribusiness.
The Association of the Founders of the TFP – Tradition Family, Property joined the fray with a book to unmask this new maneuver of the left.
PT’s Defeat Leads to Political Impass
More than two months have elapsed since the municipal elections and Brazil is still mired in a political impasse.
Led by Chief of Staff José Dirceu, President Lula DA Silva and his government had set in motion a markedly socialist platform. To consolidate their program, they were hoping the Workers Party (PT) would have a good showing in the municipal elections. Thus, the government turned these local elections into a national issue, especially by focusing on reelecting Marta Suplicy as PT mayor of São Paulo.
Nevertheless, in a surprising turnaround, the PT suffered a stinging defeat in São Paulo and other important cities around the country. A case in point was Porto Alegre, host to the leftist World Social Forums, where the defeat was ideologically symbolic.
President Lula himself personally campaigned in those electoral races most crucial to his party. However, his much-trumpeted approval rating in the polls was unable to reverse the situation. In some races, his campaigning for PT candidates resulted in “reverse coattails,” where voters became even more unfavorable to the party.
Ideological Tension and Change of Direction
Two years into the Lula administration, there is a growing ideological tension that affects the great mass of Brazil’s largely centrist and conservative population. Several factors came together to produce this reaction against Lula and his party, which led to their defeat in the municipal elections: The government’s authoritarian methods to combat its opposition and even weed out internal opposition inside the PT; the Party’s takeover of state agencies and bureaucratic machinery; a lenient attitude toward leftist revolutionary movements such as the “landless” and “roofless” workers movements, who have invaded and taken over property with impunity; economic instability due to the breach of contracts and undefined regulations; a foreign policy with strong anti-American overtones, favoring ideological alliances to the detriment of Brazil’s commercial interests.
Rather than mere partisan politics, the municipal elections showed that the public, especially the middle class in the large cities, has decided to put a stop to the Lula government’s leftward march with authoritarian hues.
The results have changed the political climate inexorably. The PT tried to minimize, deny and, above all, exempt President Lula of any responsibility for the defeat. The maneuver failed, however, since, even among PT ranks, there was a lot of finger-pointing over who was to blame. Some clearly blamed the President.
After the clear politico-ideological defeat of the PT/government, many are calling for a change of direction and a wide-ranging but undefined cabinet reshuffle that keeps getting postponed. Lula’s close aides appear to be worried about organizing a political power base for the President’s 2006 reelection. This effort is bogging down and thus delaying the reform
What is presently evident is government paralysis due to its indecision about the future. As someone observed, the Lula government was so certain of victory they did not even have a contingency plan should their bid in the municipal elections fail.
A Political Support Base Crumbles
One more immediate and visible consequence of the defeat of Workers Party and its government is the fact that some prominent leftist leaders have either left or been removed from the government.
A notable resignation is that of special presidential aide Friar Betto, a leading proponent of Liberation Theology and the “Catholic left” and President Lula’s intimate friend and spiritual adviser. He organized and ran the government’s liaison with the Basic Christian Communities and the so-called social movements like the Landless Rural Workers Movement (MST). Friar Betto was also part of Zero Hunger and other government social programs which he tried to utilize to create people’s organizations in the mold of Cuba’s revolutionary councils. He presented his resignation for alleged personal reasons.
Also meaningful was Lula’s decision to remove Carlos Lessa, President of the National Bank for Economic and Social Development (BNDES). Mr. Lessa represented a current of socialist and nationalist economists linked with the PT. As an adversary of so-called neo-liberalism, he and his aides carried out a wide-ranging “purge” of the BNDES, jeopardizing the bank’s internal structure by removing highly qualified professionals for ideological reasons. He publicly advocated a strongly statist economic regime with serious restrictions on private and particularly foreign capital.
Another consequence of the electoral defeat was the crumbling of the Lula DA Silva government’s political support base. In the last few days, two parties in the government’s coalition have said they will leave.
The first is the Party of the Brazilian Democratic Movement (PMDB), the party with the largest number of representatives in Congress and the one which elected the largest number of mayors in the recent elections. Hoping to keep the party in the coalition, the Lula government has tried to stoke an internal division in the PMDB through some pro-government PMDB members such as Senate President José Sarney,
The second party, the Popular Socialist Party (PPS), is the successor to the old Brazilian Communist Party. While there is still some disagreement in the party over the issue, it has formally announced its decision to leave the government coalition.
In a strange case of government interference in the internal affairs of political parties, President Lula DA Silva asked his cabinet members from the two parties to go against the decision-making bodies of their own parties and remain in the government.
Another fruit of the recent elections was to bring the presidential race in 2006 to the forefront. The PT attaches great importance to Lula’s reelection, and has geared its political strategy to this goal. The opposition Liberal Front Party (PFL) has already announced its presidential candidate. Other political moves are in the works.
Also noteworthy were the public statements of former President Fernando Henrique Cardoso. Until now, he kept a low profile discreetly making occasional comments slightly critical of the government yet never seriously attacking it. In a change of tone that all noticed and the press was quick to pick up on, Fernando Henrique unleashed some stinging criticism of the Lula DA Silva government.
Lack of definition and uncertainty are perhaps the most noticeable aspects of the present political scene. A few days ago, Senator Pedro Simon (PMDB) warned that the country is going through very dangerous moments.
Many suggest the solution lies in changing the government’s political direction. However, the climate of uncertainty makes it difficult to foresee what course the present administration will take. Unexpected measures should not be ruled out.
One development is the perception that the government might be seeking political reforms which will change the presidential mandate from four to six years.
Thus, Political Affairs Minister Aldo Rebelo and Senate President José Sarney, a government ally, have called for a longer presidential mandate without the right to reelection.
For his part, Luiz Gushiken, head of the president’s Secretariat for Communications and Strategic Management, defended a presidential mandate of six years. Mr. Gushiken, a PT founder, is a former Trotskyite that remains faithful to Marxism and who, together with José Dirceu, is part of the government’s hard core. In his proposal, he alleged that frequent electoral debates are not good for the country.
The three statements – perhaps deliberately – were ambiguous, as they did not specify if the change would apply to Lula’s present mandate or the next one. However, according to the press, the idea of prolonging Lula’s mandate has gained ground inside the government. In either case, the change would benefit President Lula DA Silva.
All this begs the question of whether the Lula government, facing growing public frustration and discontent with its leftist policies, is ready to carry out political reforms (even constitutional ones) to guarantee Lula and the PT’s hold on power and take to the end the “social revolution” announced by José Dirceu in the government’s early days. That would be following in the footsteps of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who has resorted to every means (a new Constitution, prolongation of the president’s mandate and so on) to remain in power and carry out his Bolivarian revolution. This would not be the only point of affinity and similarity in the political processes adopted by the two governments.
Trends in the Political Scenario
In spite of the difficulty in discerning with certainty what direction the Lula government will take, some movements and trends in Brazil’s political scenario can be observed.
a. On one hand, there are the PT members who more publicly embrace their party’s socialist beliefs, including the Lula government’s left-wing allies like the “Catholic left” and the so-called social movements. These members are demanding that the government break with what they call the “neoliberal” economic model. In fact, they want: 1) A strong socialization of the economy; 2) A radical land reform with the consequent collectivizing of rural Brazil; 3) A unilateral refusal by Brazil to pay its creditors; and 4) Restrictions on the entrance of foreign capital in Brazil.
b. Others claim the only possible solution for the Lula government would be to strictly maintain the present economic policy and to “de-PT-ify” the government by removing all those who have been implementing the PT’s “Power project.” In this sense, Lula has already alluded to a possible national coalition government. Some even speak of the need to remove chief of staff and strongman José Dirceu, who is blamed for the Lula government’s errors and particularly its authoritarian and leftist bent.
c. There is also a third possibility that seems to be gaining ground. After removing several expressive leftist figures, Pres. Lula DA Silva could try as much as possible to keep his government team together and continue his leftward march. In other words, he would guarantee relative economic stability while keeping his government’s leftist hard core led by Chief of Staff José Dirceu. This is seen as the reason why Pres. Lula DA Silva has emphasized the importance of his chief of staff by asking him to give the speech summing up the first two years of his administration. Also in this line are the recent statements by José Dirceu, who said the government needed to avoid rocking the boat but also be audacious.
It remains to be seen whether Lula, after the unequivocal message of the polls, will defy public opinion and resume his march toward an authoritarian regime with ever more restrictions on private property. If this happens, he could face ever lesser support and growing discontent.
Land Reform “Key” to the Lula da Silva Government
Undoubtedly, the direction of Lula’s agrarian policy will be one of the “keys” to determining just how socialist the government will become during the second half of the Lula mandate.
The left, and particularly the so-called Catholic left influenced by Liberation Theology, has been trying for many decades to implement a socialist land reform that would sound the death knell for the right of private property and impose a collectivist system on the agricultural sector.
With his intimate links to the “Catholic left,” Pres. Lula DA Silva has always looked upon the implementation of land reform as a primordial goal for Brazil.
After his inauguration, he gave government posts to people closely linked with the Catholic Church’s Pastoral Commission on Land (CPT) and the Landless Rural Workers Movement (MST), both leading promoters of farm invasions by squatters. These posts included those in the Ministry for Agrarian Development and the National Institute for Colonization and Agrarian Reform – INCRA. He also announced with great fanfare a new National Land Reform Plan made on his request by one of the leaders of the Catholic left.
Because over the years, the left has failed in its efforts to implement a radical collectivist agricultural model, Brazilian agriculture has flourished through the wholesome dynamism of free enterprise. Even without special government subsidies or incentives, it has gradually expanded, reaching high levels of productivity and technological prowess recognized the world over.
Such a success should be clamorous and dramatic proof that refutes the need for land reform. However, the left continues in its obstinate quest to impose a Cuban-style sub-consumerist regime, the supreme model for liberation theologians.
A few months ago, the left started to attack this successful agricultural model by targeting the large farming establishments labeled “agribusiness.” Using old Marxist jargon, the left accused them of generating great profits at the workers’ expense and adding to the general population’s misery.
Leftists in the Lula DA Silva government have a manifest animosity toward agribusiness. This is patent in recent statements by INCRA president, Rolf Hackbart, who said that the government sides with the MST against agribusiness. Such statements spread shock waves throughout the country. An editorial in the Folha de S. Paulo called them scandalous and, alluding to statements by Minister Miguel Rossetto, pointed out that such declarations are not isolated cases:
“The minister for Agrarian Development [Miguel Rossetto] and the president of INCRA today discharge two main functions. On the one hand, they administer the government’s protection of the landless movement. On the other hand, they make use of the state bureaucratic machinery to ‘build up forces’ for a future rural ‘revolution'” (“O ‘lado’ do governo, 11/25/2004).
The Slave Labour Hoax
Among the tactics used to attack agribusiness, factions of the government’s left and the “social movements” use the struggle against so-called “slave labor.”
In an orchestrated campaign, the “social movements,” largely co-opted by the CPT, accuse landowners of using slave labor to keep their high levels of productivity.
At the same time, the authorities, above all the Federal Police and delegates from the Ministry of Labor, have launched with great public fanfare “slave rescue” operations. In surprise visits to inspect farms, some of them highly productive, they deem as “slaves” any workers whose status could in any way be at variance with the complex web of Brazil’s labor laws, or whose lodging and working conditions may show carelessness or neglect.
Such farmers, often threatened with prison, are intimidated by this campaign, since any slip-up, even involuntary, can put them on newspapers’ front pages as “slavecrats” and bring a serious risk of having their property expropriated. The mere lack of a signed worker “logbook” is labeled “slavery,” a totally ridiculous proposition in a country like Brazil, where 58 percent of the workforce is informal (without a signed worker logbook) as a consequence of the complex, socialistic labor laws.
The ferocious and totally disproportionate government persecution of farmers contrasts sharply with the authorities’ open connivance with blatant violations of the law by the MST and CTP. These groups have occupied private land and public buildings, blockaded highways, kidnapped adversaries, and even been involved in recent murder cases.
In addition to this offensive by the government and media, the National Congress is debating a bill for a constitutional amendment which would allow the government to expropriate all properties without any compensation where “slave labor” is found. This bill does not define “slave labor” and the lands thus expropriated will be used for socialist land reform projects. In fact, this massive new assault on private property will do much to undermine free enterprise in the country.
To give momentum to its offensive, the Lula DA Silva government has made its “slave labor” denunciations echo all over the world. Such accusations are amplified by the International Labor Organization (ILO) and a certain sector of the media that sees Lula as one of the last icons of the world left that must be saved at any cost.
In a clearly ideological attitude that brought shame upon the nation, Brazil, through its ambassador to the U.N., Tadeu Valadares, became the only country to recognize in an official UN meeting the existence of “contemporary forms of slavery,” alluding to Brazilian agribusiness. Not even African countries, where legalized slavery still exists, make such statements, nor does China or any other communist regime that maintain “people’s workers” in forced labor, recognize the existence of slavery in their countries.
The Association of the Founders of the TFP Sounds an Alert
After the first impact of this propagandistic offensive against property, some clarifying voices are making themselves heard.
The Association of the Founders of the TFP – Tradition, Family, Property recently published a study titled, Slave Labor, a New Weapon Against Private Property, by journalist Nelson Ramos Barretto. The scholarly expert in Brazilian agrarian affairs points out the absurdity of this leftist propaganda which could lead to changes that will deal a great blow to the institution of private property. The booklet was distributed to all members of Congress and is being warmly welcomed by rural landowners.
An article on this matter was recently published in the Correio Brasiliense, the capital’s leading newspaper, written by a great national figure, Prince Bertrand of Orleans-Braganza, a direct descendent of the emperors of Brazil. Prince Bertrand, a great grandson of Princess Isabel, who signed the celebrated Golden Law putting an end to slavery in Brazil in 1888, could hardly be more qualified to counter the present campaign.
In his article, which he signed as Director of Public Relations for the Association of the Founders of the TFP, the Prince clarifies: “A persecution of private property, under the pretext of ‘slave labor’ or any other, could deeply affect the country’s agricultural production, setting it on the dark path of Cuban-style sub-consumerism so beloved of Bishop Balduino and his companions at the Pastoral Commission on Land (CPT). Consistent with their Marxist inspiration, not only the CPT but also the MST have been heralds of the fight against agribusiness in Brazil. These movements would be most enthused with the present government if it begins a fight against ‘slave labor’ that would call for the persecution of agribusiness.”
Given its widespread resonance, the article was inscribed in the congressional record of the Chamber of Deputies and was praised by an opposition deputy on the Chamber floor.
Two days after the article came out, the newspaper O Estado de S. Paulo published an article by the president of an important farmers’ organization, who also denounced the ideological nature of the campaign against “slave labor.”