Over the last few weeks, Brazil suffered two institutional crises with far reaching consequences. They were sparked by statements and attitudes of President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, whose image was inevitably damaged.
Political analysts point out Lula’s growing messianic and populist tone. He has now shed his moderate image adopted during his election campaign and first few months in power. They also note a growing climate of intolerance and confrontation in Brazil.
The first crisis was unleashed by a speech in which Lula confronted both the Judiciary Branch and Congress, breaking the most basic rules of any democratic state. He told them that neither branch could stop him from carrying out his political reforms. The statement caused great uneasiness in these branches of government, and among politicians and the media. Brazil’s largest newspaper, in an editorial, said that “we have witnessed a disquieting and symbolic running of a red light.”
The second crisis started with the government’s manifest complicity with the Landless Movement (MST). This highly revolutionary movement, that employs rural guerrilla tactics and has no defined juridical status, has caused instability all over Brazil. In blatantly illegal actions, it promotes invasions of rural properties, destruction of crops, theft of cattle, looting, blockading highways, taking over toll booths, and occupying and vandalizing public buildings.
Lula received MST leaders in a climate of friendship and even put on the MST cap, a gesture widely seen as symbolic of the president’s communion with the movement’s subversive ideals. The MST was even called “the government’s military arm.”
In an extensive report, The Wall Street Journal commented that unrest in rural areas is “becoming a critical test” for President Lula’s government.
In a widely published article, a leading Brazilian entrepreneur said Lula’s credibility gathered over the last six months was lost in only a few days, mostly due to attacks on rural private property.
These continuing attacks, abundantly covered by the media, target agriculture which is the very segment of the economy that has given Brazil growing trade surpluses and diminished its external vulnerability.
Lula and his government increasingly find themselves in a dilemma: on the one hand they present themselves with a certain moderation in economic matters; on the other hand, they endorse ever more radical leftist proposals that break with the status quo. Such proposals often come from those linked to the so-called Liberation Theology and to movements such as the MST. This led an important economic commentator to say that Lula “cannot be communist and capitalist at the same time.”
1. Lula defies Congress and the Judiciary
In a speech at the National Confederation of Industry, “Lula raised his voice and said with trepidation: ‘You can be sure neither rain nor frost, earthquake nor smirk, National Congress nor Judiciary Branch – only God can prevent us from making this country hold the outstanding place it should never have ceased to hold´” (“Lula afronta Poderes e diz que só Deus impedirá êxito do país,” Folha de S. Paulo, 6/25/2003).
a) Reactions in Congress and the Judiciary
The reaction was immediate.
The following day, Lula was to preside, at the Planalto Palace, over the convening of an extraordinary session of Congress. The ceremony unfolded in a climate of strong political crisis: “Irritated with Lula’s attitude, leaders of the PFL, PSDB and even PDT parties refused to go to Planalto to debate the convening of the extraordinary July session. The presidents of the Chamber of Deputies, João Paulo Cunha (PT-SP), and the Senate, José Sarney (PMDB-AP), asked the president to recant. After meeting with the leaders, Lula offered the excuse that he was misinterpreted” (Paulo de Tarso Lyra, “Lula discute convocação do Congresso em clima de crise,” Jornal do Brasil, 6/26/2003).
Congress was unmoved by the president’s retreat. He was severely criticized both off-the-record and in speeches in the Senate and Chamber of Deputies.
“Opposition leaders in the Senate were tough on Lula. At the plenary session, opposition representatives equated the president’s attitude with stances of dictators like Hitler, Stalin and Mussolini.
“PFL leader José Agripino and PDT leader Jefferson Péres expressed concern. `God forbid, to think we are now governed by a president who…encourages class struggle and populism,’ Agripino said.
“Péres reinforced: ‘The president’s gesture was arrogant, authoritarian and extremely worrisome. You cannot paper it over, there’s no other interpretation. I fear that, if he continues in this line, he may promote not a coup d’etat (because there is no longer a possibility of that) but may adopt a populism a la Hugo Chavez, which would be a step backward´” (“Recuo do president não convence Congresso,” O Estado de S. Paulo, 6/26/2003).
In an official note, the PSDB [party of former President Fernando Henrique Cardoso] reacted: “The president has caused great apprehension about democratic stability when he alluded in his speech to running over democratic institutions. The timid correction offered by Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva did not dispel suspicions about the motives of his statements” (“Recuo do president não convence Congresso,” O Estado de S. Paulo, 6/26/2003).
The Judiciary also reacted swiftly to Lula’s attack.
In an official note, the president of the Supreme Federal Tribunal (Brazil’s Supreme Court), Justice Maurício Corrêa, augured that the president’s “divine predictions” would be fulfilled, but cautioned: “`Nevertheless, as far as the other [government] branches are concerned, the Constitution must be respected, so that each branch has its [powers within] expressly and clearly defined limits’” (Sérgio Gobetti and Mariângela Galucci, “STF reage com ironia a ataques de Lula,” O Estado de S. Paulo, 6/25/2003).
In the wake of negative repercussions to his speech, President Lula da Silva cancelled his participation at the swearing-in ceremony of three justices of the Supreme Federal Tribunal that he appointed. While the designated justices avoided criticizing the government during the ceremony, Lula’s statement clearly was the main topic of conversation.
The president’s apologies did little to placate judges and other employees of the Judiciary Branch.
The Jornal do Brasil reports: “The president of the Brazilian Association of Federal Judges (AJUFE), Paulo Sérgio Domingues, issued a statement saying Lula’s speech, ‘with its messianic tone, is more than worrisome and reinforces the impression that the government [Executive] thinks the other branches of government are mere underlings’ . . .
“In another part of his statement, the president of AJUFE went even further: ‘No rain, storm, grimace, Executive Branch, or threats will prevent the Judiciary Branch from enforcing the Constitution and the laws’” (Luiz Orlando Carneiro, “Mal-estar na Justiça,” 6/26/2003).
“The president of the Superior Labor Tribunal, Francisco Fausto, complained about the president’s attitude: `More than once he spoke as a union leader. He exchanged the union podium in Sao Paulo for the Planalto pulpit.”
“The president of the Superior Tribunal of Justice, Nilson Naves, issued a statement calling on the three branches of government to use ‘commonsense’ and ‘work together.’ But he also warned that ‘one cannot trample on the Federal Constitution’ . . .” (Mariângela Gallucci and José Ramos, “Judiciário ouve desculpas, mas cobra ‘sensatez,’”, O Estado de S. Paulo, 6/26/2003).
b) Media criticism of President Lula’s messianic and authoritarian sides
The media expressed grave concern over the speech’s clear challenge to other branches of government. Several times the media compared him to the impeached President Fernando Collor.
An editorial of the Folha de S. Paulo pointed out: “It is something else for the head of the Executive branch to present himself to the country in a messianic fashion, as having a predestined power answerable to God alone. Presidential excuses must be accepted. However, there remains a feeling that we witnessed the disquieting and symbolic ‘running of a red light’” (“Desculpas do Presidente,” 6/27/2003).
The newspaper O Estado de S. Paulo also editorialized on the presidential speech. Symptomatically titled “The Error of He Who Cannot Err,” the article says Lula’s speeches have increasingly become a cause for concern. They convey the impression that the president “harbors a sentiment between pride and megalomania.” It continues: “But these are venial sins compared to the despotism that emerged with a bang from his delirious speech. … It is messianism … cloaked this time in disconcerting authoritarianism” (6/26/2003).
An article by journalist João Mellão Neto, until recently Secretary of the Government of the State of São Paulo, also chided President Lula for defying the other branches of government. He pointed out that you do not meddle with the country’s institutions, let alone challenge them, lest you be fulminated. He reminded President Lula of the route of the Fernando Collor administration and how, because he challenged institutions, he saw them all come together at the right time to bring his government to an end.
For her part, the well-known political commentator Dora Kramer pointed out the inadequacy of the presidential justification for the speech: “As a whole, what catches one’s attention was, in addition to the words, the subjacent idea that the will of the Executive is so overwhelming and absolute that only the divine imponderable can hover above it. The president said there was a misunderstanding, but this is not the first time a chief executive sets himself up as savior of the country” (“Os excessos do poder,” O Estado de S. Paulo, 6/26/2003).
Another well-known journalist and political analyst, Carlos Heitor Cony, after mentioning how he favored Lula’s electoral victory, writes: “Nearly seven months later, I discover the messianic side of the PT: the direct line of the party, and mainly its chief, with history, destiny, God … the party and its chief are infallible, frequent Mount Sinai, and from there, after talking with God in the burning bush, bring down the tablets of the law. No earthquakes, Congress, judges, and even less corrupt and corrupting journalists, can contradict these tablets and hinder plans of national salvation. In the [latest] chronicle I asked two questions: What will Lula do with Brazil? What will Brazil do with Lula?” (“Lula e o Brasil,” Folha de S. Paulo, 6/28/2003).
Another political analyst, Eliane Cantanhêde, noted Lula’s gradually changing image. The real Lula emerges, leaving behind the moderate image political marketing had created during the election campaign.
“This new, post-inauguration Lula appears to have very little to do with the one from the election campaign, who turned the other cheek … and opened his mouth only to make promises and talk about things he was sure of. Lula now casts aside his written speech, liberates his unconscious … says what he really thinks of Congress and the Judiciary branch. He now cancels appearances as a reprisal. … Power now seems to be burying ‘Little Lula peace and love’ and presenting to the nation ‘Almighty Lula’ aided by ‘Rancorous Dirceu’” (“Cadê o ‘paz e amor’?,” 6/27/2003).
Even leftists balked. Roberto Romano, chaired Professor of Ethics and Philosophy at Unicamp University, in an article titled “Against Despotism” warned: “The impromptu talks of President Luiz Inácio da Silva reek of arrogance and lack basic decorum. … His self-bestowed title of ‘father’ of the Brazilian people is a blow against our democratic Republic (in which no one has parental tutelage over other citizens, which is despotism) and bears the hallmarks of Luciferian pride.”
After drawing a significant parallel [between Brazil] and the former USSR, the Unicamp professor concludes: “The shame of the past, when many chose to betray the democratic program in order to turn into gods men like any others, echoes today in the Kremlin halls” (Folha de S. Paulo 6/25/2003).
2. Fraternizing with the MST
The MST is a highly revolutionary movement that employs rural guerrilla tactics and has no defined juridical status. It has caused instability all over Brazil. In blatantly illegal actions, it promotes the invasions of farms, destruction of crops, theft of cattle, looting, blockading highways, taking over toll booths, and occupying and vandalizing public buildings.
a) After Lula’s inauguration, the MST resumes agitation
During the election campaign, the MST stopped almost completely its rural agitation ostensibly to avoid harming the candidacy of Lula, its historical ally. However, when the new government was installed, the MST resumed its well-organized subversion.
The movement applauded the designation of Miguel Rossetto as Land Reform Minister. Mr. Rossetto, a member of the more radical faction of the Workers Party, is often mentioned as an intimate MST ally and collaborator.
Miguel Rossetto “allocated” – a sarcastic expression widely used in the media – the jobs at the National Institute of Colonization and Land Reform (INCRA) to members of the MST, the Pastoral Commission on Land (CPT, linked to Liberation Theology and the MST) and other groups that promote property invasions.
Miguel Rossetto announced he would work to overthrow legal restrictions that forbid the government to inspect invaded properties for land reform purposes and exclude invaders from the land distribution program.
With such posts in hand and encouraged by the unequivocal support of the Minister for Land Development, the MST recently escalated its activities.
Over the past months, the MST organized well over 100 land invasions, took over highway toll booths, blockaded roads and organized lootings. The media also reported that the more radical leaders of the MST have recently taken the vanguard of all activities in several places nationwide.
b) The MST’s violent actions shake whole regions
The MST’s illegal and violent actions with total or nearly complete impunity have so destabilized the country that many landowners are exercising their legal rights and organizing the defense of their farms, homes and belongings. This necessarily places certain regions of the country dangerously close to armed conflict.
“Given the lack of action on the part of the federal government facing ongoing invasions and lootings – which is tantamount to a license to commit crime – rural landowners are doing what the law permits them to do: contract private security firms to defend their threatened properties” (“Rendição incondicional,” O Estado de S. Paulo, 7/4/2003).
In an interview with O Estado de S. Paulo, the president of the National Confederation of Agriculture said non-enforcement of the law is making invaders increasingly bolder and causing greater restlessness among owners of invaded properties, who feel unprotected by authorities and are obliged to exercise their legitimate right to defend their property.
“`We cannot ignore the risk of confrontation is high, and our concern is about bloodshed,’ said João Bosco Leal, president of the National Movement of Producers (MNP). … He believes it is the farmers’ ‘constitutional right’ to defend themselves from invasion, even with guns. … ‘The government must take immediate measures, otherwise it will be responsible for great bloodshed.’ …`When you invade a farm you invade the farmer’s house, and it’s hard to tell him not to arm himself,’ argued [João Sampaio], president of the Brazilian Rural Society (SRB)” (Conrado Corsalette, “Ruralistas também querem audiência com Lula,” O Estado de S. Paulo, 7/3/2003).
c) Lula decides to intervene directly
In view of growing invasions of farms all over the country, President Lula expressed concern and announced his intention to intervene in negotiations with the “landless.”
The president ordered José Dirceu, his chief of staff, and Luiz Dulci, secretary-general of the presidency, to contact the movements carrying out invasions. Lula himself announced he would receive the MST leadership.
In a radio interview soon after talking with Lula, Luiz Dulci said the government sought to dialogue with all sectors of society. However, at no time did the president or government call on representatives of farmers’ associations, the victims of the MST.
It soon became clear that Lula was not really concerned about repressing the illegal activities of the MST and like movements but rather to give them a privileged podium to negotiate with the government.
“At this moment, the government of President Lula appears to consider MST its most powerful and respected interlocutor” (Cesar Giobbi, “Fazendo as contas,” O Estado de S. Paulo, 7/11/2003).
The day after expressing concern over the invasions, President Lula presided over a ceremony at the Ministry of Land Development to grant a credit of 5.4 billion reais to small farmers and settlers. The grant was but another attempt by the government to finance the long failed experiment of land reform settlements. “Instead of producing, a significant number of settlers live in a situation of misery, surviving at government expense through the distribution of ‘basic food baskets’ of the Zero Hunger Program” (”, João Domingos, “Sem-terra não podem passar por cima da lei, O Estado de S. Paulo, 6/25/2003).
Several MST leaders were among the special guests of the ceremony. They were seated in the first rows wearing the red caps that symbolize their movement.
During his speech, Lula made not one reproach of the invasions nor showed any disagreement with the MST. All he asked for was patience: “Things do not happen in the time-frame you wishes, but when you prepare them to happen. And we are preparing them. There are people who are more frantic, in greater hurry, there are people who would like things to happen at the wrong time. They don’t” (Demétrio Weber and Leonêncio Nossa, “Lula pede paciência, mas MST rejeita trégua,” O Estado de S. Paulo, 6/25/2003).
Soon after the ceremony, several MST leaders said the farm invasions would continue. João Paulo Rodrigues, a national MST coordinator who attended the ceremony, emphasized that the government had not formally asked the movement for any truce.
For his part, one of the most important MST leaders, João Pedro Stédile, reaffirmed that the movement will not suspend land invasions: “For us, the word truce does not exist. [Land] occupations are a natural way for our movement to function. And the government never asked for this [truce]” (Rubens Valente, “‘Não existe a palavra trégua,’ diz Stedile,” Folha de S. Paulo, 6/26/2003).
An editorial of the newspaper Jornal do Brasil commented how the MST desires to maintain and even intensify invasions of private or public lands, whether productive or not: “The fact that these statements are becoming commonplace and that a series of previously announced attacks against the rule of law are taking place, constitutes a very grave picture”(6/29/2003).
In view of such statements by MST leaders, Lula’s initiative to receive them was harshly criticized. An article in O Estado de S. Paulo by Dora Kramer explains with precision:
“By going ahead with his idea to receive MST leaders at the presidential office, Lula will be giving society a signal that transgression is now permitted. Even more: he will be rewarding [them] with a tolerance he has denied other widely recognized sectors of society. …”
“If the president refuses to attend the inaugural ceremony for justices of the Supreme Federal Tribunal because he was criticized by judiciary officials and cancels an appointment with FIESP [Federation of Industries of the State of São Paulo] as a reprisal for corporate leaders’ protest against tax reform, how can he welcome such lawbreakers?” (“A crise está contratada,” 6/27/2003).
When President Lula da Silva already announced he would receive MST leaders, the movement decided to organize lootings of commercial trucks transporting foodstuffs with the explicit goal of sending the president a “message”: “The landless have carried out lootings in Pernambuco, invaded toll booths and occupied public buildings and taken public employees hostage” (Alexandre Secco, “O boné é apenas um detalhe,” Veja, 7/9/2003).
In an apparently well-orchestrated ploy, Lula caved in to MST pressure and decided to move forward his meeting with the leaders of the movement.
“President Lula erred by moving forward a meeting with MST leaders – as if it were not an error for the chief executive to grant an audience to an entity that legally ‘does not exist,’ is not legally constituted and therefore has no one to answer or speak for it. … He erred because he capitulated before the clearly and demoralizing ‘message’ he received from MST coordinators: looting commercial transport trucks … and taking their drivers hostage, blocking roads, toll booths and intensifying invasions. … This meeting is a guarantee that nothing will change, except for the worse” (“Nada vai mudar,” O Estado de S. Paulo, 6/3/2003).
Some people hoped President Lula would ask the MST for a truce. Instead, the media at large noted that the president received MST with reverence, in a climate of great fraternizing: “Like a reunion of old friends,” said O Estado de S. Paulo (7/3/2003). And the newspaper O Globo emphasized: “Wearing the [MST] cap, President Lula chats and fraternizes with MST representatives between hugs and smiles, as in a meeting of friends. … Friar Betto summarizes in one sentence the feeling at Planalto Palace: ‘Anyone who finds this odd is forgetting these guys are companions to the president, as they embody an historic cause in this country.’ In his view, ‘the meeting was very good, in a very good climate’” (Merval Pereira, “MST na cabeça,” O Globo, 7/3/2003).
Several MST leaders were pleased by the meeting, including Gilmar Mauro: “We have no doubt that Lula is an encouragement and hope. With his record and what he agreed to do in the campaign, he will carry out land reform” (“Lula repete promessas ao MST, mas não obtém truce,” Folha de S. Paulo, 7/3/2003).
Besides receiving an unusually high number of MST leaders (27), the president made sure there was maximum media exposure. With one of the MST people holding a soccer ball, President Lula spoke about putting together a “land reform team.” He then donned the MST cap in a gesture seen as endorsing the movement’s ideals.
The action was seen as endorsing illegality and conniving with elements seeking to destroy the rule of law.
At the same time the president was speaking with the “landless,” the news magazine Veja reported on one MST group blocking a road in Minas Gerais State, another occupying the INCRA Federal Building in Cuiabá and a third invading an office of the Alagoas Electric Power Company. …
“If the president receives at the palace a group that tramples the law of the land and, to boot, dons the cap with the movement’s emblem, he is endorsing in some way the confrontational actions that the MST people employ as a political tactic” (Alexandre Secco, “O boné é apenas um detalhe,” 7/9/2003).
“The president not only received the landless the day following another bout of lootings and invasions, but he did it in an atmosphere of explicit fraternizing. He donned the MST cap as one who embraces a cause that for some time now has lost its sense of justice” (Dora Kramer, “O alto preço de um boné,” O Estado de S. Paulo, 7/3/2003).
In an editorial titled “Lawless Land,” the Folha de S. Paulo says: “It is odd that the chosen strategy was to have the president get together with leaders who not only act illegally but publicly boast about it. The fact that the president donned the MST cap was unequivocally inappropriate. It is impossible not to see his action as an impudent statement of sympathy for the movement” (7/3/2003).
An editorial in the O Estado de S. Paulo says: “His gesture only congealed, on a symbolic plane, a reality impossible to hide and whose potentially disastrous developments are impossible to exaggerate. … The literally lethal incoherence of the Planalto is as clear as day. On fraternizing, negotiating and temporizing with directors of this authentic revolutionary party, the president, willing or not, gave it more than legitimacy: a passport to chaos. … The president is now a ‘companion’ [term that replaced the old communist ‘comrade’ in PT jargon]; and invasions – as Bishop Tomás Balduino, president of the Pastoral Commission on Land – affirms, are supposed to help him solve rural problems, that is, lead him to adopt rural policies pleasing to the MST” (“Rendição incondicional,” 7/4/2003).
While the Minister of Land Development, also present at the audience, said the government had no reason to ask the MST for a truce, the movement’s leaders confirmed that at no time was the possibility of a truce mentioned. The MST’s João Pedro Stédile said he was pleased with the meeting with Lula and emphasized: “This [truce] is not up for discussion. As long as there are landless people and large rural properties, the fight will go on” (Leonêncio Nossa and Roldão Arruda, “Stédile sai satisfeito, mas diz que não há trégua,” O Estado de S. Paulo, 7/3/2003).
d) Strong reactions to President Lula’s attitude
Reactions were swift to come. A choir of disapproval arose among politicians, media, farmers and society in general.
Criticism of President Lula and his association with a lawless organization came from people from all walks of life – including circles that support the president.
“Lula’s meeting with the landless caused much criticism and his donning the MST cap was deplored by adversaries and even allies. ‘This is the beginning of a radicalization process. When the president wears the MST cap, he gives the idea he’s encouraging the conflict,’ said Jutahy Júnior, a PSDB leader from the Chamber of Deputies. His PMDB counterpart in the Senate, Renan Calheiros, sees the episode as ‘the first great crisis of this government.´ It begins a new phase ‘in which the population begins to show impatience…’ he continued. The PFL leader at the Chamber, José Carlos Aleluia, said `the president sent a wicked signal by showing intimacy with persons on the margins of the law” (“‘Estou muito preocupado,’ diz ministro da Agricultura,” O Estado de S. Paulo, 7/3/2003).
Deputy Raul Jungman, ex-Minister of Land Reform, believes the president has sanctioned the radical actions of the MST.
Geraldo Alckmin, governor of the State of São Paulo, also reacted: “The cap we all must don is the cap of Brazil, which means development. And there’s no development if there’s no peace in the countryside” (Alexandra Penhalver and Ana Paula Scinocca, “Alckmin: `O boné que devemos vestir é o do Brasil,´” O Estado de S. Paulo, 7/4/2003).
In an article in the Folha de S. Paulo titled “The Cap of Nonsense,” Senator Jorge Bornhausen, president of the PFL, wrote: “Before 24 hours went by, the same cap worn by a man arrested for looting a transport truck showed up on the head of the nation’s president.
“If this coincidence does not symbolize an identity among those who wear the same cap, the logic of symbols, which so facilitates understanding the world, needs to be reviewed. …
“The president and the MST have taken up common cause, that is, they have embarked in the same ship of nonsense that has the nation restless. The least that can be said is, the president at least temporized with the lootings and disorders avowedly carried out by the MST, by people wearing their common cap. …
“Who will remind the president that he was not raised to power by barricades, invasions or disorders, but by the legitimate vote of society, which he gained in … a democratic election campaign by promising to maintain democratic institutions that the MST calls ‘bourgeois democracy’?”(7/3/2003).
The opposition decided to set up a Parliamentary Inquiry Commission (CPI) to investigate the relationship between the Planalto Palace [seat of the presidency] and the MST.
“In his toughest speech at the Chamber of Deputies about President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva having donned an MST cap, the PFL leader at the Chamber, Deputy José Carlos Aleluia, called for bringing down the government. …
“According to Aleluia, the PFL will begin to set up ‘an opposition movement wishing to bring down the government.´ This, according to him, would be done through a Parliamentary Inquiry Commission (CPI) that will investigate the alleged involvement of Planalto with the landless movement. …
“The climate became more tense at the Chamber when a group of PT deputies unfurled an MST flag at the assembly in support of a speech defending Lula by Deputy Nelson Pellegrino, a PT leader (Ranier Bragon, “Líder de oposição na Câmara diz que quer derrubar Lula por meio de CPI,” Folha de S. Paulo, 7/3/2003).
The signatures needed for opening the CPI were obtained and the application was read at the Senate. In reply, the government’s leader in the Senate, Aloísio Mercadante, made every effort and resorted to every subterfuge to prevent the Parliamentary Inquiry Commission from coming into being.
“Mercadante said he sees the setting up of a CPI to investigate the MST as an `exaggeration´: ‘Criminalizing social movements is not a good route for democracy’” (Diana Fernandes and Eugênia Lopes, “Planalto tentará impedir instalação da CPI,” O Estado de S. Paulo, 7/5/2003).
PT Deputy João Paulo Cunha, the Chamber’s president, came to the defense of the MST by attempting to ward off the said CPI: “The CPI is part of the old strategy to criminalize the MST and other social movements” (Rosa Costa, “Senado aprova CPI para investigar MST,” O Estado de S. Paulo, 7/4/2003).
Curiously enough, the PT government always avoids condemning subversive movements like the MST or defining the FARC Marxist guerrillas as terrorists with the same argument of “not criminalizing social movements.” Never mind that they openly and continually break the law.
The day after Lula donned the MST cap, his chief of staff, José Dirceu, in an interview with Globo TV’s “Good Morning Brazil,” sought to excuse Lula’s attitude: “stigmatizing the MST does not help Brazil.”
“If the minister does not see a difference between a soccer team’s shirt or cap and a symbol of groups that loot, invade [properties] and take hostages, it is really hard to understand what criteria he applies to distinguish between right and wrong” (Dora Kramer, “A ressurreição do patronato rural,” O Estado de S. Paulo, 7/4/2003).
e) Lula and Frei Betto reaffirm commitment to the MST
If there remained any doubt about Lula’s links with the MST, Friar Betto, special aide to the Presidency and a friend and inspirer of the president, made sure to dispel it.
He made an enthusiastic apology of the MST and labeled those farmers who take legal measures to protect their properties as “bandits.” He also justified Lula’s actions:
“Unlike many other members of government who try to allay any appearance of one-sidedness of the Planalto in the land disputes in Brazil, Friar Betto clearly affirmed the MST is part of the history that led president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and PT to victory in the latest elections and that ‘the president’s mind is in tune with the social aspirations of the MST, which is carrying out land reform in this country.’
“A personal friend of Lula, he defended the president’s action at the meeting with MST leaders … ‘This meeting only expressed something that was already happening daily. The two are interested in the same question –an historic challenge’” (Eduardo Kattah, “Frei Betto critica ‘bandidos’ que atacam sem-terra,” O Estado de S. Paulo, 7/5/2003).
During his visit to Lisbon and London, President Lula himself reaffirmed his engagement with the MST: “President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva said that if the circumstances allow, he will again wear the MST cap. … Lula also said he will treat the MST as he always has” (“Voltarei a usar boné do MST, diz Lula,” Folha de S. Paulo, 7/12/2003).
“President Lula said in an interview with the BBC Brazilian service that he was surprised at so much prejudice against the MST among Brazilians and he saw no problem wearing the MST cap as he met the movement’s militants: ‘I did not expect prejudice against the landless to be so great in scope. They have a just claim’” (Cristiane Jungblut and Soraya Aggege, “Lula diz que ainda há preconceito contra MST,” O Globo, 4/17/2003).
f) Reactions among farmers
The friendly tone of Lula’s meeting with the MST caused dismay among farmers, who are constantly victimized by MST violence. Protests in rural circles have multiplied and old suspicions against Lula have been reinforced. Rural leaders also contend that the demands of the so-called landless workers are groundless, since it has been abundantly proven that the land reform settlements are not economically viable.
“All the effort that President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva had made to draw closer to farmers during the campaign and the first few months in government was almost completely ruined by his meeting with the MST. This is the opinion of one of the most traditional entities in the business, the Brazilian Rural Society. `In my conversations with rural owners from various parts of the country I only heard expressions of concern, frustration and rage,’ said João Sampaio, a movement leader (Roldão Arruda, “Para líder rural, diálogo com Planalto está comprometido,” O Estado de S. Paulo, 7/4/2003).
In another article, Mr. Sampaio also warned of a climate of insecurity that will make the countryside ungovernable: “It is totally unacceptable to place our democratic normalcy at risk by putting it in the hands of the old leftovers of a social movement that refuses to accept our country’s democratic values and laws.
“The government will pick its team: either the one that will produce within the bounds of the Constitution and the laws; or one that will implement forcible land reform, which overthrows the rule of law. History will judge that choice” (“O time da produção,” O Estado de S. Paulo, 7/5/2003).
For his part, the president of the National Confederation of Agriculture (CNA), Antônio Ernesto de Salvo, said he was “frustrated with the friendly stance” of President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva as he received the MST. However, “what irritated him the most was the president’s donning of the movement’s cap. ‘To put on the cap was a servile attitude unbecoming a president,’ said Salvo. And he continued, `it is not a matter of discussing the thing as such but the way it developed, with the president receiving a group of people who continually break the rule of law with lootings, attacks on toll booths, public buildings, and invasions’” (José Maschio, “Para entidades ruralistas, Lula foi ‘servil’ ao MST,” Folha de S. Paulo, 7/3/2003).
In a heated meeting, “the president of the Rural Union of the city of Presidente Venceslau, Almir Soriano, made clear that old fears of landowners in relation to the president have been revived: `Lula was genuine at the meeting. He showed he’s part of the kitchen of the MST, an openly leftist and revolutionary movement’” (Roldão Arruda, “Para líder rural, diálogo com Planalto está comprometido,” O Estado de S. Paulo, 7/4/2003).
Eight organizations representing farmers and cattle ranchers held a meeting and issued a joint statement “warning of the ‘growing violation of the law by groups uncommitted to legality’ and denounced the ‘dangerous break with constitutional values.’ According to the farmers, ‘growing radicalization of these groups is placing at risk the policy of national conciliation defended by the president.’ The statement says ‘not only rural businesses are threatened by the escalation of land occupations’ but ‘the continuity of this process tends to make the country ungovernable and jeopardize the destiny of our democracy’” (Conrado Corsalette, “Ruralistas também querem audiência com Lula,” O Estado de S. Paulo, 7/3/2003).
g) Other reactions
One of the country’s leading corporate leaders also reacted to the episode.
“Antonio Ermírio de Moraes, of the Votorantim Group, said the government of President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva is `reaping what they sowed’ in the land reform issue for having encouraged land invasions in the past, as he put it. He believes tension in rural areas is the main problem facing Lula and that he must act vigorously to preempt a climate of ‘revolution’ in the country” (Conrado Corsalette, “‘Governo está colhendo o que plantou,’ diz Ermírio,” O Estado de S. Paulo, 7/5/2003).
Also noteworthy is an article by the aforementioned journalist João Mellão Neto. He commented on the profound shock Lula’s attitude caused on Brazilian society. He donned the cap of a movement that openly violates the Constitution and laws that he swore to enforce on the day of his inauguration. In so doing he insulted hard-working and law-abiding Brazilians:
“… the total absence of rules or authority is the prelude to social chaos. Liberty does not take hold without order. Peace and security cannot be established without a minimum of authority. This is true of any regime. Perhaps less so of the regime Mr. Lula favors or at least appears to favor as he impudently dons that cap.
“It is not just any cap. It is red as blood and bears the initials of the wicked Landless Movement. More than just a few Brazilians have had the sad opportunity to find out what this means. It means invasions of private property, vandalism, robbery, lootings, hostage-taking — none of which involves the principles of law and order. And Lula, who is supposed to be the foremost guardian of these principles, purely and simply dons their cap. What is the message contained in this gesture? It means he agrees with the actions of the MST. To don their cap, among other things, means: ‘See, I’m one of you!’” (“Por causa de um boné,” O Estado de S. Paulo, 7/4/2003).
In an editorial, Veja magazine says: “The MST violates the law of the land. It invades private property, vandalizes and loots, all in the name of social justice. In this situation, the president should not lend the prestige of his post to condone a group known for its continued onslaught against the law and the country’s institutions” (“Liturgia do cargo,” 7/9/2003).
Epoca magazine affirmed: “By donning the cap of a movement that seeks to take over properties by force, [Lula] supported a group that disrespects the law and is but a step away from common criminality because of their wave of lootings and demented actions… The question now is, didn’t Lula have a clue of the reaction his gesture would provoke? The problem is either way you answer it (yes or no), it is damming to the president” (7/7/2003).
h) Presidential involvement with a clearly revolutionary and undemocratic organization
Lula’s complicit attitude with the MST is made worse at a time when the press carries daily denunciations of the MST’s true goals and its violent and illegal methods.
According to the reports, the movement is not at all interested in solving any land-related issue. Its ultimate goal is to seize power and impose a socialist regime with the abolition of private property, which it sees as an evil.
“Actually, this is the government’s unconditional surrender to a movement which, inspired by an exhumed Guevarism, intends to revolutionize – this is the right verb in its fullest sense – the rural economy of Brazil as a starting point to radically transform the system of property in the country,” pointed out O Estado de S. Paulo in its editorial ”Rendição incondicional” (7/4/2003).
Commenting on the cap incident, political analyst Dora Kramer concludes: “As we saw yesterday, see today and will continue to see from now on, the MST is not interested in peace or negotiation. They only care about a fight to the end” (“O alto preço de um boné,” O Estado de S. Paulo, 7/3/2003).
The well-known economist and former finance minister, Antonio Delfim Netto, referring to the country’s recent successes in agricultural production, emphasizes: “[This sector] also hasn’t been spared from the disturbing actions of the government or at least its complacency. This is the case of the Landless Movement, which at every moment is showing that what matters is not to have land but to organize Brazilian society with these generous aims: nothing less than eliminating private property and building an egalitarian world, albeit miserable” (“Lavoura da salvação,” Folha de S. Paulo, 3/27/2003).
The president of the Federation of Agriculture of the State of Tocantins and federal deputy Kátia Abreu (PFL), in an article in the Folha de S. Paulo analyzes the action of the MST:
“The MST is not interested in land reform but in the revolutionary tool of invasions with which it intends to promote its two basic goals: negating private property and seizing power. …
“The bad part about these fanatics is that, indifferent to reality, they create fantasies and begin to live them. In the case of the MST, they do not admit the Soviet fiasco and see themselves as more competent and capable to rewrite the communist saga, rehabilitate Marxism and re-implant it without the errors they see as having caused the USSR’s fiasco. This is the explicit itinerary of the MST. What is happening at this moment is a madman’s scenario” (“Baldeação na estação Finlândia,” 7/12/2003).
For its part, in a special report signed by Antonio José do Carmo, titled “Marxism as the MST Ideology,” the Jornal do Brasil shows how the MST sees Castro’s Cuba as the model of a just society and how MST leaders find support for their leftist doctrines in Liberation Theology.
Época magazine also presents an important report analyzing MSTdoctrines and methods: “While Lula receives the MST with a cap and cookies, its new leaders believe the solution for the country is revolution.”
The report emphasizes: “At a time when Cuban teenagers dream about Florida, young people from Eastern Europe celebrate the end of the Iron Curtain and the Chinese try to escape oppressive state control, the new generation in the MST is perhaps the only group of young people in the world that still believes in the dictatorship of the proletariat. Che Guevara is the idol of girls and boys …
“A majority of these young militants was prepared for socialism from early life. Although they studied in municipal schools, they received their real ideological formation in courses given at [land reform] camps and settlements. An essential part of this pedagogy is the so-called ‘mystics,’ theater plays staging historic passages of communist revolutions and the MST. They often feature heroic scenes with protagonists such as Mao Tse-Tung, Fidel Castro and Vladimir Lenin” (Alexandre Mansur, “MST – Os filhos querem revolução,” 7/7/2003).
The magazine analyzes the lifestyle and organization at MST camps, where militants learn to organize camps, lead occupations and recruit people in the cities, with the goal of socializing the methods of production and changing society even if by force.
The press also points out the strategic reasons why the MST concentrates its action in certain areas. In an extensive report, O Estado de S. Paulo shows how the so-called landless workers seek to install their settlements in the rich and developed areas of Brazil.
The paper cites denunciations made by João Bosco Leal, president of the National Movement of Producers (MNP): “If you observe a map carefully, you’ll see that the region I pointed out includes the country’s largest hydroelectric plants, the largest concentration of highways and big cities.”
And it goes on: “He even insinuates that this is part of a strategic plan of the MST and CPT to control the country’s richest regions: ‘It’s increasingly clear that these organizations do not want only land distribution. They want political power; they want socialism’” (Roldão Arruda, “Sem-terra intensificam ações em áreas ricas do País,” 6/29/2003).
For its part, the Folha de S. Paulo denounces a scheme set up by the MST to divert public funds from land reform settlements. With the complicity of technicians paid by government agencies, they would levy a “contribution” on government-issued credits. “Under the PT, the problem tends to worsen. The oversight agencies of INCRA have become the cells of ‘social movements.’ President Lula acts like an ostrich. He flees reality by sticking his head into the MST cap. He becomes an accomplice of deception” (Josias de Souza, “Problema do MST está no bolso, não no boné,” 7/6/2003).
One last fact attests to the gravity of Lula’s gesture toward the MST and reveals the government’s worrisome political designs in relation to land reform: its cozying up to the Cuban revolution.
The Folha de S. Paulo reported that the Cuban Minister of Higher Education, Fernando Alegret, delivered a speech to the inaugural class at the post-graduate course of Latin-American Studies in the Federal University of Juiz de Fora, Brazil.
With a backdrop depicting several revolutionary leaders (Marx, Engels, Lenin, Mao-Tse Tung, Ho Chi Minh, Che Guevara, Fidel Castro and others), Mr. Alegret evoked the ideals of the Cuban Revolution and highlighted the fact that a land reform was one of the first initiatives of Fidel Castro.
“Summoning socialist ideals and preaching Latin American unity set the tone at the inaugural class of the post-graduation course of Latin American Studies for militants of rural social movements, mainly the MST. …
“There was no lack of revolutionary chants and skits made by the landless, whose texts called to mind the struggle of people like Cuban José Martí, Chilean Salvador Allende and Brazilian Carlos Marighella [a terrorist]. Almost everyone present (300 people) chanted the International [socialist hymn] standing, some of them raising their left arm and clenched fist” (Paulo Peixoto, “Ministro cubano dá aula ao MST,” Folha de S. Paulo, 6/28/2003).
That concludes this issue of LulaWatch. Until next time,
C. Preston Noell III