The Workers’ Party (PT) now governing Brazil is a party of socialist bent that pretends to be moderate while implementing a radical agenda.
The director of one of the largest Brazilian newspapers leaves no doubt where the PT’s socialist roots began. He writes of the “three currents that came together to form the PT. The party’s driving force was the labor union movements. Its nationwide tentacles were leftist Catholic communities imbibed with Liberation Theology. And the ideological ‘whipped cream topping’ comes from their intellectual activists. These latter emerged from the devastating military defeat of the guerrilla movement. Another group, largely of public employees, later joined the original three” (Otávio Frias Filho, Folha de São Paulo, 2/6/2003).
Another important political commentator adds: “Militants of Marxist-inspired organizations of the most varied hues ranging from Trotskyism to Maoism have belonged to the PT since its inception. These leftist militants remain in the PT because they believe it still is a party of the masses whose goal is to lead the country to socialism” (Roldão Arruda, O Estado de São Paulo, 2/9/2003).
During Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s successful presidential campaign, the PT played down its socialistic nature to avoid negative reactions from the highly centrist and even conservative Brazilian voters.
1. Fusing the two Lulas
Once the party was installed, however, things began to change. Its tightening grip upon key administration posts is increasingly perceived as a centralizing and authoritarian trend at the service of egalitarian socialist ideas. Clearly, Brazil is still not facing Soviet or Cuban-style totalitarianism, if only because Brazilian society would overwhelmingly reject such an idea. However, a new governing style is taking shape which is characterized by pressure, propaganda and state control and aimed at breaking down resistance to the implementation of the Party’s program.
Many analysts observed that “during the presidential campaign, this aspect was camouflaged by a media persona presented as ‘Lulinha Paz e Amor’ [Little Lula, promoter of peace and love]. This version of the candidate, built from scratch by the skilful hands of image-maker Duda Mendonça, tailored his speech to the audience and spared the PT from disputing with its own history. It was a fusion of old Lula, the union leader indignant with social injustice, with the new Lula, the statesman who respects the market” (Guilherme Evelin and Tito Montenegro, Época magazine, 4/7/2003).
While the media in general, and particularly abroad, claimed the PT had become a center-left party, what happened during its first five months in office is enough to cast doubt on that change. In an interview with foreign journalists, Lula da Silva reinforced that doubt by saying: “I did not change ideologically: life changes” (O Estado de S. Paulo, 5/28/2003)
Ideas of ‘democratic centralism’ and state control of several public and private activities in Brazil are beginning to be applied in a clearly leftist direction.
2. Two Faces of the PT
This is how the April issue of the magazine 1ª. Leitura describes the contrast between the two faces of the PT:
“[The PT’s] historic symbols are inadequate. Besides being improper for use with current policies, they employ a revolutionary Third-World phraseology inspired in Liberation Theology that subverts the present order and could plunge the country purely and simply into violence. Since there is no doctrinal revision in the works, except for a very small beginning, the present government sails adrift on a non-calibrated mixture of new practices and old concepts.
“Respecting the institutions of representative democracy, obeying market laws, abiding by contracts and following basic principles of public governance can hardly be consistent with a foreign policy that supports Hugo Chávez and [Fidel Castro’s] Cuba and is seduced by anti-American policies. However, [Venezuela and Cuba] are symbolically important because they correspond to the PT’s historic positions of praise for the Cuban dictatorship and affinity with Chavez’ project.
“When asked how he intended to govern, Lula did not fail to emphasize that the PT acquired much experience with popular participation when it implemented its own system of participatory budget. However, when instances of actual implementation are analyzed, one finds how little representation there really was. What one sees is party control over the small sectors of the population that participated. One of its goals is to sell the governing party’s proposals as if they were “directly” willed by the “people,” turning the legislative branch into a rubber-stamp for decisions taken by the government and the party” (Denis Lerrer Rosenfeld, 1ª. Leitura magazine, April 2003).
In an article about a recently prepared PT document, the mayor of Rio de Janeiro, Cesar Maia, warns:
“In March, the PT National Directorate convened to discuss government action and formally lay out its plans.
“The term ‘National Congress’ appears only once, when it says that the transition of the governing bodies in both the Senate and the House has been calm. However, the document is rife with examples of direct democracy as a decision-making authority. Thesis No. 3 deals with participatory budget, local councils, Development Councils… Let representative democracy beware!”
The mayor also comments:
“Thesis 22 simply wipes out regulatory agencies: ‘Today, these agencies have shown to be anti-republican powers.’ Wow! And that’s just the beginning. It goes on to add: [they’ve been] ‘captured by the companies that should be regulated.’ In other words, they are preparing to shut down regulatory agencies and return them to state control.
“This is what happened at the directorate’s meeting. The PT has not changed: it is just on good behavior for tactical reasons. Its majority remains just as before and its radicals pay excellent service to the government and the party. Its claws are as large and sharp as always, but hidden by the gloves of media rhetoric (Folha de S. Paulo, 3/21/2003).
“The radicals,” a journalist explains, “do a world of good when they say what the moderates and those in power at times may think but dare not say” (Elaine Cantenhede, Folha de S. Paulo, 4/3/2003).
For example, PT senator Ana Júlia Carepa says that for the PT the word democracy means socialism:
“The PT is a radically democratic party. We have built a democratic conception of socialism. From a marginalized country and undemocratic order, the PT grew and gained strength to the point that it is the largest leftist party in Latin America” (Folha de São Paulo, 2/9/2003).
The well-known journalist Clóvis Rossi cites excerpts from the Lula da Silva government platform published on July 23, 2002: “The central concern of our program of government is to introduce profound changes to the country. The immense task of creating an economic alternative to face and overcome the historic challenge of social exclusion demands an active and regulating presence of the state over the market” (Folha de São Paulo, 2/5/2003).
The growing state control of the country’s agricultural lands was analyzed in the last LulaWatch. That effort towards socialist land reform and violent invasions of private lands by the MST landless movement continue in full throttle. This issue will deal with the PT’s efforts to control government structures.
3. Controlling Brazil via the state
This administration is introducing a massive influx of Workers’ Party activists into the state machinery – a move dubbed by some as the ‘colonization’ of the state by the party, or the ‘partyfication’ of the government. Even technical post holders are long-winded when it comes to extolling leftist ideology.
In the sidelines of Congress, one congressman went so far as to observe that the PT stance is reminiscent of the attitude of postwar Communist parties in Eastern Europe, putting together alliances that rise to power and then seizing the whole bureaucracy of the state.
In an interview with the magazine Época, the governor of the state of Minas Gerais, Aécio Neves, thus criticized the Lula da Silva administration:
“Another problem is [their] seizing the apparatus of power by farming out posts in the first, second and third echelons [of government] to party members. There has been an excessive takeover of the state by the party” (Guilherme Evelin, Época magazine, 5/26/2003).
In a document about the Lula government’s first 100 days, the Brazilian Social Democratic Party (PSDB) of the last administration, criticizes the creation of ‘phantom jobs’ for PT militants with the increase of government ministries [from 27 to 36] serving as a façade (cf. Folha de São Paulo, 4/9/2003).
Political scientist Leôncio Martíns Rodrígues comments in an interview: “In the case of the PT – a more ideological party whose members rose from lower ranks – the occupation of the state appears more accentuated. The ideological factor weighs too heavily over competence” (Folha de São Paulo, 2/2/2003).
4. Information control in government
To avoid “leaks,” the government is resorting to new methods including information control.
This attitude prompted journalists to draft a petition titled A Manifesto for the Freedom to Inform. The journalists’ union delivered it to President Lula.
The document denounced “serious obstacles imposed by sectors of the federal government.” Among the examples given were cabinet ministers prohibiting the publication of their agendas; and ministries and government offices holding back information about conferences, meetings, debates and hearings that have always been attended by the media without any problem.
In short, the document sustains that the government has imposed a “gag law” by routinely maintaining reserve about meetings and even refusing to inform about who participates in regular meetings. The petition signatories also say that the ‘decalogue’ prepared by journalist Bernardo Kucinski and presidential press secretary Ricardo Kotscho is not being respected. The ‘decalogue’ says that “information is a public good and not government property.”
In fact, the so-called decalogue is a dead letter. In the beginning of March, all first and second level government ministries and agencies, state-owned companies and regulatory agencies received an order that every bit of news – however insignificant – must be filtered and cleared by the person in charge of communications in each ministry (João Domingos, “PT centraliza informação e impõe lei do silêncio,” O Estado de S. Paulo, 3/23/2003).
This craving to control information led to an event unprecedented in Brazilian political history: the blocking of state governors’ cellular phones.
“What the governors have taken months to implement [controlling prisoners’ communications] in maximum security prisons, President Lula did in a meeting with all 27 governors invited to discuss the text of tax and social security reforms: he ordered two cellular phone jamming devices to be installed in the room where they met. The governors did not know it. Lula has said time and again that he does not like to see statements he makes in restricted meetings reproduced in newspapers the next day” (Adriana Vasconcelos and Cristiana Lobo, “Reunião no Torto teve até bloqueador de celular,” O Globo, 4/17/2003).
5. Controlling Culture
The left typically tries to dominate culture and thus change society. Following this rule, the PT has started molding Brazilian culture to reflect its own ideology. The first attempt was tying the release of funds for cultural projects by state-owned companies to a so-called social quid pro quo.
“Marcus Flora, assistant secretary for communications and strategic management, stated that criticisms of ‘cultural authoritarianism’ are flawed. ‘The government will encourage this change of paradigm by introducing the question of a social quid pro quo.’ Through its press spokesman, BR [the state oil and gas distribution company] said that ‘a social bent characteristic of the Lula government will be taken into account in projects to be funded” (Folha de S. Paulo, 4/30/2003).
“[Communications] Minister Luis Gushiken and the government’s ‘culture commissar,’ Yacoff Sarkovas, have decided to dictate how new Brazilian art must be. Today, in the 21st century, after the rebirth of our movie industry, it is absurd to return to a diffused Stalinism like Mr. Gushiken’s and his faithful private freelancer Yacoff. Please take note of it, president Lula, because it is a shame” (Arnaldo Jabor, “As patrulhas ideológicas estão de volta,” Folha de S. Paulo, 5/6/2003).
“[State companies] Eletrobrás and Furnas announced they will only sponsor cultural projects ‘in tune with government policy.’ Lula believes in propaganda. He won the elections thanks to propaganda. He plans to govern through propaganda. Everything has been turned into propaganda. Hunger is propaganda. Social security reform is propaganda. The dollar exchange rate is propaganda. It is no wonder that culture has also been harnessed to spread the government’s views” (Diogo Minardi, Veja magazine, 5/14/5/2003).
The art community reacted angrily to these measures. The government has retreated a bit. Or at least it appears to have retreated, for the time being.
6. Pressuring and Controlling Congress
Through clever publicity and marketing, the government meticulously cobbles together alliances to get its bills approved in Congress. The media even talk about “steamrolling” by a government whose party (PT) holds less than 20% of the deputies and senators in Congress.
As part of this offensive, the government promoted a symbolic march from the presidential palace to Congress, led by the President himself in the company of all 27 state governors, to deliver its bills on social security and tax reforms.
Journalist Jânio de Freitas comments: “Acting in Congress to obtain suitable decisions is a practice and right of governments. However, there are strict, clear, democratic and legitimate ways of doing this. Other [methods] are immoral or constitute undue interference in the decision-making autonomy of the legislative branch.
“The task force led by Lula that took over Congress, on the pretext of a disproportionately solemn delivery of two so-called reform projects, was actually a public way to pressure Congress by showing off a retinue of governors (who all depend on federal government funding and other support).
Deputy Aldo Rebelo is a member of the Communist Party of Brazil and the leader of the pro-Administration Caucus in the House of Deputies. He summarized very well the predicament of Congress: “We will approve [the reforms] according to the President’s will.’ So what good is Congress if its role is [merely] to approve the president’s will?” (Folha de S. Paulo, 5/1/2003).
Another journalist writes: “The whole script, setting, dignitaries and even the faces and expressions were meticulously planned to put together the proper climate and circumstance for an immediate approval of the social security and tax reforms. It was a mix between political gamble and marketing, centering on Lula in his best ‘peace and love’ style. He conveyed all the messages and demanded haste, while putting on a very friendly face” (Eliane Castanhede, Folha de S. Paulo, 1/5/2003).
In its editorial of May 4, the Folha de S. Paulo notes:
“The triumphal gesture of the ‘march on Congress’ is not a cause of concern as such as long as it does not actually interfere with the independence of the legislative branch. However, the marching block of president and governors becomes worrisome in a context where the mass media endorse and often portray government theses as dogmas. A climate is thus created: ‘He who is against government-proposed reforms is against Brazil’” (“Congresso sob pressão,” Folha de S. Paulo, 5/4/2003).
7. Controlling the Judiciary
The government also wants to subject the judiciary branch to ‘external control’ and has already set up a commission for this purpose.
President Lula da Silva’s recent call for external control of the judiciary unleashed a storm of controversy around the country. He accused the judiciary of favoring the rich over the poor using language smacking of class struggle.
Note that in Brazil, both by its Constitution and juridical tradition, the judiciary like all branches of government have always been independent.
The president of the Supreme Federal Tribunal, Marco Aurélio Mello, rejected the claims of Lula da Silva:
“Is this not a way to pressure the courts to make certain decisions? I do not know if the Lula government as such seeks to control justice, but it is inherent to a democratic state under the rule of law that the judiciary must have the last word; that this last word be issued without any strings attached to any current policies; and that it be issued from the normative constitutional framework” (Fausto Macedo, O Estado de S. Paulo, 5/10/2003).
Francisco Fausto, president of the Superior Labor Court, added: “The government wants not only to administer the courts but also to have the prerogative of appointing and dismissing functionaries as they please, thus controlling people’s careers in the judiciary” (Mariangela Galluci, “A máscara do governo caiu,” O Estado de S. Paulo, 5/20/2003).
About judiciary control, the newspaper Zero Hora reported that the president’s Chief of Staff, José Dirceu (regarded as the government’s strong man) “emphasized that the president has expressed a historic position of the PT” (“Dirceu quer ampliação do controle externo,” Zero Hora, 4/24/2003).
The president of the São Paulo State Court, Sérgio Augusto Nigro Conceição, contesting José Dirceu’s statements, added: “such interference is inadmissible, because a judge must have his independence preserved to hand down his decisions freely. His freedom as judge is at stake” (Fausto Macedo, “Uma interferência dessa ordem é inadmissível,” O Estado de S. Paulo, 5/25/2003)
Sérgio da Costa Franco, an historian and former prosecutor, wrote: “Unless he intends to exert the same power upon the Brazilian Judiciary as his friend Fidel Castro wields over the Cuban Judiciary, [Lula] has not the least right to monitor or censor a structure that is parallel to his and has the same level of authority” (“A ‘caixa preta,’” Zero Hora, 4/27/4/2003).
An editorial in Porto Alegre’s newspaper, Correio do Povo, takes the matter very seriously, raising the specter of a dictatorship.
“The statement by Mr. Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva was a presidential incursion into domains that he knows only superficially.
“In a solemn public ceremony, he improvises with a tirade that discredits one of the [three] branches of government, and precisely the branch not involved with party politics, which has the constitutional role of addressing disputes between individuals and institutions. With accusations of biased verdicts, the existence of ‘black boxes’ and venality in sectors of the Judiciary, the president endangers the wise and time-honored principle of independence of the three branches, a basic principle of democracy. A democracy without respect for the limits of each branch is not a democracy but an authoritarian regime typical of dictatorships” (“Crise de Poderes,” Correio do Povo, 4/26/2003).
* * *
The facts narrated above are but a small sampling of what has been happening in Brazil under the Lula da Silva administration’s drive to centralize political power in the hands of the Workers’ Party. It is neither centralization by force of arms (as with Fidel Castro) nor botched centralization (as with Hugo Chavez). However, it is no less radical in its principles and goals.
C. Preston Noell III