1. Lula da Silva’s Government Is Losing its Luster
Just over two months into the new presidency, there are signs that the image of President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (Lula) and his administration is beginning to lose its luster.
The media now present Lula and some of his closest aides as tired, anguished, and under pressure.
Writing on the challenges the government faces, political analyst Gaudêncio Torquato affirms: “Those who thought the PT era would be paradise are now beginning to realize there is a detour through purgatory. The president is thus left to grapple with a fading public image” (“A prova de fogo do presidente,” O Estado de S. Paulo, 3/2/2003).
“Presidente Lula was advised not to speak excessively,” reports Época magazine. “The reason is because the government is now dealing with unpopular issues. The Zero Hunger project hype is wearing out. Odds are that ministers José Dirceu and Antonio Palocci will have to employ damage control caused by negative press” (Agenda negativa, 3/10/2003).
Commentators note that Lula and his government have made many promises but failed to take any concrete measures. As far as they are concerned, the only outstanding government achievement has been its own marketing.
Great expectations generated by the Lula da Silva propaganda machine make it hard to turn campaign promises into immediate concrete achievements.
Political scientist Christopher Garman writes: “President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva risks wasting his ‘honeymoon’ with public opinion and generating great frustration.” And he continues: “The government made a big mistake by fanning expectations that some reform could be carried out during the first year” (Silvio Bressan, “Especialista não acredita em reformas ainda este ano,” O Estado de S. Paulo, 3/2/2003).
Economist Paulo Rabello de Castro emphasizes: “The government’s policy agenda is fraught with doubts and can end up by generating even greater frustration” (Rubeny Goulart, “Os caminhos do governo Lula,” Forbes, 2/15/2003).
With its image declining, the Lula government is under strong pressure from its own supporters to change its economic policy and strive for profound transformations in line with the PT’s leftist ideology. This creates uncertainty.
Others have warned President Lula not to fall into temptation.
“ There are still doubts whether the government, with its leftist bent, will survive internal pressures from the groups that brought it to power. ‘One hopes Lula will not succumb to economic populism,’ says Loyola [ex-president of the Central Bank]” (Rubeny Goulart, “Os caminhos do governo Lula,” Forbes, 2/15/2003).
An editorial in O Estado de S. Paulo admits that changing economic policy would be madness. “President Lula must keep resisiting the temptation to find an easier route” (“Não há Plano B,” O Estado de S. Paulo, 3/8/2003).
Analyzing economic policy, journalist Rolf Kuntz notes: “President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva has a simple, easy and quick way to destroy his government. All he needs to do … is to implement great transformation once and for all.”
“ If he has not yet been immunized, President Lula should look for a vaccine against the temptation of magical solutions” (“Se Lula ceder, destruirá seu governo,” O Estado de S. Paulo, 3/6/2003).
2. The Government imposes a “Law of Silence”
The Lula administration is implementing authoritarian measures that are causing great concern.
Controversy is now raging over an order issued by the Cabinet of Institutional Security that forbids presidential palace employees to disclose or comment on any type of information with anyone at all, be it a relative or a news reporter, without authorization from his immediate supervisor.
The Cabinet of Institutional Security labels the law of silence with the euphemism of an “awareness-raising campaign” and says it may be extended to all government ministries. The press dubbed this measure a “gag law” calling it authoritarian and intimidating, since it goes beyond normal governmental rules to protect sensitive information already in place.
Well-known political commentator Dora Krammer notes: “This attitude clashes with the President’s promise of transparency. It is more proper to militarized and misguided minds that mistake obligatory party discipline for democratic freedom of information. It is well to repeat: Brazil is not the PT” (“Bocas fechadas em ordem unida,” O Estado de S. Paulo, 2/22/2003).
Until recently, Lula, presented as a “mature socialist,” enjoyed a seemingly unanimous climate of support that appeared very favorable to carry out his political project drapped under the cover of democratic approval.
However, as the government announces its reforms plans, it has faced strong hostility. Evidently, the President and his administration have begun to feel that their good image is wearing out.
In a meaningful article titled “Government imposes gag law on civil employees,” the bureau chief of the newspaper Folha de S. Paulo in Brasilia points out how the government is using this measure.
“ Under Lula, Brasília now lives in a phase of exhilaration that cannot be spoiled … To investigate any topic too deeply is a disservice to the cause of unanimity. … The ambience of euphoria cannot survive with the old dichotomy between right and wrong. Now there is only what is advisable and what is not. And criticism is not” (Josias de Souza, “Government imposes gag law on civil employees,” Folha de S. Paulo, 3/2/2003).
The gag order also caused uneasiness in poltical circles. A congressman from the PSDB (former President Fernando Henrique Cardoso’s party) requested clarification from the President’s Chief-of-Staff about the “law of silence.” “We are no longer in Politburo times. We live in a democracy that cannot be diminished at every step” (“Tempos de rolha,” Folha de S. Paulo, 2/21/2003).
3. Ideological Afinity Between the Lula Government and the Narco-terrorist FARC
Although elected on a moderate political platform, Lula gradually reveals his leftist nature. He does this against a smokescreen of moderation that gives him credibility, particularly abroad, and keeps the economy stable. Thus, the PT government strives to cover up the real ideological motives that inspire its policies.
Foreign policy is a remarkable example of this ruse.
Controversy is now raging about the Lula government’s refusal to declare the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) as a terrorist group. Such recognition would force the government to freeze FARC assets in Brazil and authorize the capture of FARC members inside its borders.
The real reason for the government’s refusal stems from ideological affinities with FARC. The PT believes FARC is a “national liberation movement” and not a terrorist organization. Moreover, they believe any governmental action against FARC should be deemed “state terrorism.”
The government is constantly finding new excuses for its refusal – even resorting to convoluted diplomatic language to cover up the true reason for its position.
“ Fallacious” is how O Estado de S. Paulo branded the government’s excuses. Failure to declare FARC a terrorist organization, said the paper, “is either political blindness or ideological hypocracy.” And it adds: “What is clear is that President Álvaro Uribe asked for Brazil’s help … measures that would prevent FARC’s use of Brazilian territory as a safe haven and base of political support – but President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva refused” (“Só o governo não percebeu,” O Estado de S. Paulo, 2/26/2003).
Brazil’s leading weekly magazine, Veja, underlining the PT rank-and-file sympathy for FARC, concludes that “what Brazil really is telling Colombians is that it will not freeze bank accounts held by guerrillas or arrest a guerrilla simply because he is in the country. This sounds like an offer to shelter terrorists” (Raul Juste Lores, “Brasília faz que não vê,” Veja, 12/3/2003).
The Colombian case illustrates the fact that the Brazilian government’s sole concern seems to be impeding American aid against terrorism and drug-trafficking.
Presidential aide Marco Aurélio Garcia, openly criticized such aid.
“Itamaraty [the Brazilian Foreign Ministry] has always appeared more annoyed with the role Washington plays [in Colombia] than with the war taking place there” (Raul Juste Lores, “Brasília faz que não vê,” Veja, 3/12/2003).
A BBC interview with leading FARC commander Pastor Alape makes this undisguised ideological affinity between the Lula government and FARC even more glaring.
Mr. Alape says he does not believe Brazil would sign any statement including FARC on the list of international terrorist organizations. He praises the “independent stance” of the Brazilian government.
“ The guerrilla leader says his organization celebrated Lula’s election to the presidency. According to Alape, Lula is consolidating [sic] an important position in Latin America” (Valquiria Rey, “Brasil não vai nos classificar como terroristas,” BBC, 3/6/2003).
This attitude of the Lula government is especially grave considering the widespread charges in the press of actual FARC presence on Brazilian territory.
“ FARC uses Brazil to shelter its elite guerrillas,” O Estado de S. Paulo reports. The article says Brazil has three shelters for elite guerrilla groups. These cadres “are assigned to maintain contacts. They act abroad by laundering money gained from armed protection to traffickers, procuring weapons, preparing logistic operations, and establishing supply lines” (Roberto Godoy, O Estado de S. Paulo, 3/1/2003).
Another aggravating factor in the government’s attitude – pointed out by various media – is the narco-terrorist link between FARC and the criminal Brazilian organization Comando Vermelho [Red Commando]. In the days before Carnaval festivities, the Commando carried out veritable urban guerrilla operations in Rio de Janeiro leaving 10 dead and 54 buses and other vehicles burned.
A criminal organization of Marxist inspiration, Comando Vermelho is led by Fernandinho Beira-Mar, a Brazilian drug lord who was in Colombia under FARC protection before his deportation to Brazil in 2001. He supplied FARC with arms in exchange for cocaine.
The Jornal da Tarde reports: “Rio’s police believe that ten FARC men allied with Fernandinho Beira-Mar in the international cocaine traffic may be behind the recent troubles in the city” (“De onde vem o perigo,” Jornal da Tarde, 3/1/2003). The article also claims FARC guerrillas are in Rio de Janeiro training one thousand drug traffickers belonging to Comando Vermelho.
For its part, Jornal do Brasil reports that “the Army’s shake down of the Bangu 3 and 4 penitentiaries is linked to the suspected presence of Colombian guerrillas in Rio” (“FARCs teriam base em Bangu,” Jornal do Brasil, 28/2/2003).
This unequivocal ideological afinity of the new Brazilian government with the leftist narco-terrorist movement causes great apprehension about Lula’s foreign policy. It paves the way for regional destabilization with the proliferation of terrorist actions and the expansion of narco-trafficking inside Brazil’s huge territory.
Colombian President Álvaro Uribe stressed this point during his recent visit to Brazil: “Today, terrorists do not care about the Colombian Constitution. Tomorrow, they will not care about the Brazilian Constitution. Today, terrorists kill civilians in Colombia. Tomorrow they will kill them in Brazil” (André Soliani/Leila Suwwan, “Brasil pode virar Colômbia, alerta Uribe,” Folha de S. Paulo, 3/8/2003).
4. The Government’s Cozying up With Liberation Theology
Over the last few decades, the so-called progressivist wing of the Catholic Church, influenced by Liberation Theology, has played a leading role in the Brazilian left.
President Lula da Silva’s Workers’ Party (PT) is an offshoot of this progressivist wing. From its inception, the PT has systematically supported leading progressivists and intensely helped the Basic Christian Communities [BCCs]. The BCCs are small religiously inspired groups organized around parishes or chapels by priests or pastoral agents. With a strong Marxist influence, the BCCs have always helped promote social unrest and even social revolution in Brazil.
Since the Church’s progressivist wing is not very popular among the majority of the population, the links between the PT and the so-called Catholic left were prudently kept under wraps during the presidential election campaign.
Now, however, Lula is calling many of those linked to Liberation Theology to join his government.
A most significant such case is Friar Betto, a Dominican religious appointed as special aide to the President and even presented as his spiritual advisor. Friar Betto spent four years in prison after his conviction for involvement with the urban guerrilla actions of Carlos Marighela.
Lula often listens to Leonardo Boff, a former Franciscan friar considered one of Liberation Theology’s founding fathers.
In an unusual gesture, the president of the National Conference of Brazilian Bishops (CNBB) invited Lula da Silva to the opening session of the Brazilian Bishops’ Annual Assembly.
Echoing the criticism of PT radicals, CNBB lambasted the ministries in charge of economic policies and pressured Lula for immediate changes of a clearly leftist inspiration.
In an article titled “Planalto opens job positions for Church radicals,” Roldão Arruda states: “The Catholic Church’s prestige in the present administration is on the upswing. More precisely, it is the prestige of the progressivist wing that follows Liberation Theology … President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva is said to have told friends and aides that he believes the progressivists’ influence in his government is positive.”
In addition to Friar Betto, the article points out that leading leftist bishops linked to Liberation Theology, like Bishop Tomás Balduíno and Bishop Mauro Morelli, have also joined government agencies.
And he adds: “However, the government is getting closer not only to the intelligentsia and progressivist leadership. At this moment, Friar Betto is organizing BCC support to the Zero Hunger program” (Roldão Arruda, “Planalto opens job positions for Church radicals,” O Estado de S. Paulo, 2/23/2003).
Perhaps the most active militants of the Catholic left are now found in the Ministry of Land Reform and agencies such as the National Institute of Colonization and Land Reform, whose president belongs to the Pastoral Land Commission (CPT).
These activists are causing increased unrest in rural areas and providing cover to squatter occupations of privately-owned lands.
C. Preston Noell III