The last couple of weeks have seen events of pivotal importance in determining the future direction of President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s administration.
President Lula da Silva continued his “foreign policy offensive” – an expression coined by leaders of the Workers’ Party (PT). He seeks to establish Brazil as a major player on the world stage, an attitude which former president Fernando Henrique Cardoso dubbed “impertinent.”
To this end, President Lula da Silva steered Brazil closer to the French and German diplomatic opposition to war in Iraq and took steps to accelerate trade negotiations between Mercosul and the European Union, as a counterweight to FTAA.
The media machine surrounding the new president seeks to impress Brazilian public opinion with his diplomatic “successes” abroad even as his administration’s prestige begins to wane in Brazilian homes.
Doctrinal strife within the PT has worsened. The party’s internal discord has been widely publicized, pitting the so-called radical wing against the clique that made it to power. This has led Lula to express concern that losing control within the PT may affect his ability to govern.
Furthermore, the Landless Rural Workers’ Movement (MST) resumed its social agitation, with government connivance. The MST took the Secretary of Agriculture of the State of Alagoas as hostage “to get Lula’s attention.” Several members of the new government belong to the MST.
Finally, the government’s Zero Hunger initiative was launched, to the concern and perplexity of observers. Although presented as a welfare program, Zero Hunger looks more like the centerpiece of an emerging populist and revolutionary machine of political control.
1. A Foreign Policy Offensive:
The Lula government continued its diplomatic offensive. As prominent PT and government leaders explain, the new administration’s foreign policy is part of the PT’s highly leftist national plan.
“Foreign policy topics should be seen as one of the fundamental axes of a new vision for the country,” said Marco Aurélio Garcia, special assistant to the President for foreign affairs.
This policy is explicitly aimed at diminishing the natural influence of the United States in South America and favoring leftist trends there. This is why President Lula da Silva, in his speech at the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, openly defended Cuba’s regime, and said world socialists hoped his government would succeed: “I am very much aware of the hope our victory brings, not just here [in Brazil], but for the left around the world, above all in Latin America.”
President Hugo Chavez was also in Porto Alegre. He was invited by the State of Rio Grande do Sul’s Committee of Solidarity with the Venezuelan People. This Committee’s representative is Luciana Genro, a PT congresswoman.
During his visit, President Chavez openly defended armed revolution as a solution for South America: “If South America’s oligarchs don’t realize that changes are inevitable and that the best way to achieve them is through peaceful means, the great telluric forces of this continent will emerge. As Che Guevara once said, ‘the din of war and machine gun fire will be heard.’” The Brazilian press did not publish this statement.
President Chavez’s affirmation is particularly worrisome from the perspective of international relations since he is a head of state and he made the statement while visiting a foreign country. He proposes a solution for all of South America (including Brazil), that runs contrary to the democratic and constitutional principles he preaches and based on which President Lula da Silva insists the Venezuelan president be kept in power. As on previous occasions, the Lula government voiced no protest for this statement made by President Chavez on Brazilian soil.
After participating in the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, President Lula da Silva went to Davos, Berlin, and Paris. During this trip, Brazilian diplomats moved negotiations between Mercosul and the European Union into high gear in a clear attempt to obstruct FTAA negotiations.
President Lula da Silva also took advantage of this trip to bring Brazil closer to the diplomatic positions of France and Germany, opposing American policy on Iraq.
The president’s anti-American position, and that of his party, became especially clear with the sending to Iraq of a delegation made up of three PT congressmen, and one from the Communist Party of Brazil (a junior member in the government coalition), in a show of support for Saddam Hussein.
2. Doctrinal strife within the Workers Party:
The PT caucus in the House of Representatives held a meeting with Antonio Palocci, Minister of Finance and a PT member, to evaluate the administration’s performance in its first month. The caucus’ criticism of the administration’s economic policy was bitter. The minister defended the government saying President Lula da Silva was fulfilling his campaign promises.
PT radicals like congressman João Batista de Araújo, known as Babá, accuse their colleagues in power for their document titled “Letter to the Brazilian People.” The radicals claim that the document, written during the electoral campaign with the help of marketing specialists, strayed from party policy and was a strategic maneuver to “calm down” the markets.
These radicals also claim that the PT members now in government have forgotten the Party platform (signed in July 2002) calling for substantial changes to the current economic model. Among the signatures to the Party platform can be seen that of presidential candidate Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.
An analysis published in the Folha de São Paulo emphasizes this campaign adaptation of the party’s goals for electoral advantage: “In fact, what surfaces in reading the PT’s platform is the trajectory of a political group which, faced with the possibility of finally making it to power, felt obliged to quickly patch up its thinking without enough time for internal debate or for rewriting its previous proposals.”
PT’s radical wing rejects the validity of adopting a “neoliberal” economic policy to “calm down” the markets, when the real intent is to introduce substantial changes later.
The government thus finds itself under direct pressure from the president’s own party and faces a dilemma: either hearken to the party’s ideological grassroots or fulfill electoral campaign promises.
PT congressman Luciano Zica believes his colleagues in the administration must be aware that PT represents the mainstay of government support. “Solid [support] comes from PT. The illusion of an ample majority can be fleeting.”
An editorial in the important daily O Estado de São Paulo says the radical left will keep up its “intermittent pressure for an about face, bringing back radical orthodoxy. Lula will not be necessarily immune to this.”
News reports also say the public warnings to PT radicals made by Finance Minister Antônio Palocci and PT president José Genoíno were done mainly to calm down the markets and show that the government will not cave in to pressure and change its economic policy.
Nevertheless, as was noted by an important economic commentator, foreign investors “still have doubts about how much control the Lula government will have over this process.”
3. The MST steps up its subversive campaigns:
In its first action with nationwide repercussion during the Lula government, the MST set up a roadblock on a state highway and took the Secretary of Agriculture of the State of Alagoas, Reinaldo Falcão, hostage for several hours. The MST demanded the expropriation of lands and support for land reform settlements.
Miguel Rossetto, Minister for Land Reform and closely linked with MST, refrained from taking the measures required by law. The press said President Lula da Silva decided not to move against the MST for this subversive action. The government claimed the action had not been cleared by MST national leadership, and called it a “local” episode.
The government’s assessment clashes with the statement made by one of MST’s chief leaders, José Rainha. The latter stated that this action, like all others, was coordinated by the MST national directorate.
Thus, MST’s criminal act went unpunished. According to Luiz Antonio Nabhan Garcia, a well-known farming leader, the government chose to negotiate with the hostage-takers. Dora Kramer, a political commentator, said the government’s conniving attitude towards MST’s criminal action is incomprehensible. Her article says that by accepting such “warnings” from the MST the government opens the way to a situation of institutional disorder in which anything goes.
During these first days of the Lula administration, the MST also invaded a productive farm in the State of Rondônia. This farm had been occupied once already last year, but the squatters had been removed under a court order.
MST’s subversive actions are particularly grave as they occur at a time when, according to statements made by the Minister of Public Safety, the federal government’s intelligence services will no longer investigate the actions of “social movements” like the MST.
Instead, under President Lula da Silva, surveillance efforts will focus on landowners organizing to defend their farms, and congressmen who are members of the so-called Rural Caucus. This government attitude represents on the one hand a dangerous cover-up of subversive activities and, on the other, the eventual persecution of honest people.
4. Zero Hunger – a social program providing cover for leftist policies:
Since his election, President Lula da Silva has presented the Zero Hunger program as his main political project.
Friar Betto is one of Zero Hunger’s main coordinators. A Dominican lay brother, and a leading proponent of Liberation Theology, Friar Betto is now a special assistant to the President.
The “slogan program,” as the press has called Zero Hunger, tugs at people’s emotions. It presents a catastrophic, albeit nonexistent, social “reality.”
Zero Hunger has now been launched, supported by a vigorous marketing campaign. Monica Weinberg, however, in an article published in Veja magazine, says its inception was “marked by improvisation and by a singular distinction: social welfare experts, regardless of their political leanings, are unanimous in labeling it a mistake, although coming to this conclusion for varying reasons.”
Much controversy surrounds the numbers of those suffering from hunger in Brazil. If the 45 million figure used by President Lula da Silva at Davos is taken at face value, one in every four Brazilians would be hungry, since the latest census put Brazil’s population at 169,799,170. This would characterize a state of public calamity. In fact, however, it does not reflect the real world.
The confusion does not stop there. The figures presented by the government and organizations involved vary from 22 million to 45 million. This disparity is totally unacceptable for any truly objective and scientific study.
Moreover, the government recognized it does not have a register of who is hungry in Brazil, and who, therefore, will be benefited by Zero Hunger.
One must note the absence of even a single newspaper picture of residents in cities where Zero Hunger will be applied showing anyone who can be said to be starving. To the contrary, residents in cities where pilot programs were established – cities that could undoubtedly use more infrastructure assets or domestic appliances – but they are simply not hungry. Kamila Fernandes writing in Folha de São Paulo quotes Guaribas resident and Zero Hunger beneficiary Gilvanda Alves da Silva, age 34: “It is a lie that we are dying of hunger here. We don’t have leafy greens, but we have food on our plate every day.” Another resident, Maurina Pereira da Silva, age 33, and a mother of four says: “Sometimes our children ask for something they saw on TV and are sad because we can’t give it to them.”
Another rather inexplicable fact, as far as Zero Hunger’s coordination goes, is that farmers, acting on the appeals to stamp out hunger, gathered tons of foodstuffs to donate to the hungry. The government, however, says it lacks the means to store and distribute the food.
Several commentators find it incomprehensible that the Lula administration is not using existing welfare programs to distribute food and assistance to those in need. Instead, the government is creating a huge new bureaucracy involving four government ministers, with only a small benefit going to the public.
This bureaucratic apparatus led Horácio Lafer Piva, President of the Federation of Industries of the State of São Paulo (FIESP), Brazil’s main organization of corporate leaders, to warn: “Bureaucracy and corruption are already paving the way to grab the largest part of the program’s benefits for themselves.”
In addition to devouring a large chunk of the resources, this bureaucracy is being called a political control machine: “This type of bureaucracy fosters the rise of petty local tyrants who will exert their power to obtain favors and personal gain.”
The government insists that program beneficiaries prove the money was spent on food and not on other goods. Observers note that such a demand would not be appropriate if the population were truly hungry.
But the government’s real intention with this demand is to create so-called “management committees,” the seeds for political bodies called “people’s organizations.”
This is affirmed by José Graziano, Extraordinary Minister of Nutritional Security and Combat of Hunger, in a press interview: “As we see it, establishing accountability as to how the money was spent is not important. What matters is that the Food Card fosters a people’s organization. . . [It] creates an embryo of local organizations: the management committees.”
Thus, Zero Hunger is supposed to foster the creation of so-called “people’s organizations,” much like Cuba’s “committees to defend the revolution,” or Venezuela’s Bolivarian Circles.
The government’s goals provoked an editorial in Folha de São Paulo, the newspaper with the largest circulation among the politically influential dailies. The editorial underlined Zero Hunger’s authoritarian nature: “It would be more simple and dignified to recognize as disastrous the idea that the poor partaking of the program’s benefits have to subject themselves to the guardianship of (Cuban-inspired?) management councils, or whoever it may be.”
It is interesting to note that Zero Hunger will also implement Cuban-imported literacy programs.
In his speech launching Zero Hunger, President Lula da Silva presented Land Reform as a solution to the imaginary hunger problem. According to news reports, however, Land Reform settlements and MST camps will be among the first beneficiaries of Zero Hunger. Hence, one may conclude that such settlements generate problems and hunger and cannot be considered, therefore, a solution. Or, one may conclude that the government will take advantage of the “hunger-fighting” program to finance these failed Land Reform projects and MST squatter camps network.
A symptomatic piece of news in this regard was published by the magazine Época. It states that João Pedro Stédile, one of MST’s main leaders, seeks to grab part of the international funds earmarked for Zero Hunger to promote Land Reform.
It would seem that the long sequence of contradictions, improprieties and inconsistencies in the Zero Hunger program can be explained only in light of an unconfessed goal: the use of this welfare program to provide cover for implementing leftwing policies and revolutionary political controls.
C. Preston Noell III___________
1. Portuguese acronyms are used throughout, unless referring to an international organization or treaty such as the OPCW (Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons) or the FTAA (Free Trade Area of the Americas), where the more familiar English acronyms are retained.
2. Luiz Alber Weber, “E o mundo ouve Lula” [And the World Listens to Lula], Carta Capital, Feb. 5, 2003.
3. “Discurso do Presidente da República, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, no III Fórum Social Mundial, Anfiteatro Pôr-do-Sol – Porto Alegre – RS” in www.ptpoa.com.br/lula_fsm.html
4. Gustavo Patú, “Programa de governo espelha contradição do PT,” [Government’s Program mirrors PT’s internal contradiction], Folha de São Paulo, Feb. 5, 2003.
5. Eugênia Lopes, “Quem precisa reler o programa é ele,” [He’s the one who needs to reread the platform], O Estado de São Paulo, Feb. 2, 2003.
6. “O confronto com os radicais do PT” [The confrontation with PT radicals], Feb. 2, 2003.
7. Sonia Racy, “Mercado reconhece firmeza” [The market recognizes firmness], O Estado de São Paulo, Feb. 6, 2003.
8. Monica Weinberg, “Fome Zero, confusão dez,” [Zero Hunger – Confusion Ten], (Veja, Feb. 5, 2003.
9. Kamila Fernandes, “Cidade-piloto não vê fome como prioridade” [Pilot city doesn’t see hunger as a priority], Folha de São Paulo, Feb. 1, 2003.
10. Renata de Freitas, “Presidente da FIESP alerta para risco de corrupção no Fome Zero” [FIESP President warns of the risk for corruption in Zero Hunger], Reuters, Feb. 7, 2003.
11. Weinberg, idem
12. Marta Salomon, “Graziano indica que Vale-Gás e Bolsa-Renda podem acabar”[Graziano suggests that Vale-Gás and Bolsa-Renda may finish], Folha de São Paulo, Feb. 2, 2003.
13. “Pai dos pobres,” Feb. 2, 2003.