President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva marks his third year in government and begins the final and most decisive period of his mandate. Presidential and legislative elections are scheduled for October.
This is an opportune moment to summarize Lula’s third year at the helm, which was full of great changes in Brazil’s political scenario and the mood of public opinion.
Election projections say Lula may lose
Since his inauguration, President Lula DA Silva and his closest associates have insisted on a prolonged stay in power. They spoke of long-term projects spanning twelve, sixteen and even twenty years. Given the Workers Party’s (PT) ideological bent, many were perplexed and startled at such insistence, since it seemed to indicate the leftist party would resort to political, legislative and judicial maneuvers to distort the democratic process and perpetuate itself in power.
Accordingly, PT leaders like former Chief of Staff José Dirceu have insisted on the crucial need to reelect President Lula DA Silva and have been working feverishly toward that end. Opinion polls indicated Lula was unbeatable.
However, 2005 closed with an important change: For the first time, election projections indicate that Lula can be defeated.
The President started 2006 by announcing a hugely expensive – some say electioneering — public works program that implies an intention to run for a second term. However, Lula still has not officially announced his candidacy, and there are rumors that he may not run. As his approval ratings dip, it becomes increasingly more difficult to cobble together a coalition of parties to assure his victory.
Even before the present corruption scandals, the PT never had enough pull to guarantee a Lula victory by itself. Now grave and proven irregularities could at any moment put the Party on the defendant’s bench, deprive it of its funds and even disband it. Lula’s candidacy could be severely jeopardized by being from a party formally convicted of irregularities or even…no longer in existence!
“Today, Lula is a divided president: He is afraid to lose and, even worse, to have his legacy torn to bits in a campaign. He complains the PT has been lax in defending the government. In this scenario, if the PT continues to hinder rather than help, Lula is seriously studying the possibility of desisting” (Donizete Arruda and Luiz Cláudio Cunha, “A reeleição de Lula subiu no telhado,” Isto É, 1/18/2006).
The left loses popularity
Opinion polls are showing:
– those who disapprove of the government are now 52%, compared to 18% a year and a half ago;
– disapproval of the government is now affecting the approval ratings of the president. Those who no longer trust Lula stand at 53%, up from 19% a year and a half ago;
– in election projections, President Lula DA Silva’s popularity has taken a steep dive among working class grassroots, supposedly his natural constituents, who are showing growing dissatisfaction with the inefficacy of welfare state policies;
– positive results in certain areas of the economy have had a negligible effect on improving the government’s image;
– voters rated the government negatively for its much-trumpeted but ineffective combat on hunger and poverty, its failure to maintain law and order, and an increased tax burden;
– charges of corruption against the government and the Workers Party have also contributed to the negative image of the Lula DA Silva administration. Despite the President’s repeated denials, a growing number of people believe Lula knew about and is responsible for the corruption.
Polls reveal a growing dislike for President Lula DA Silva, his administration, and the PT, showing a substantial ideological change in Brazilian public opinion.
With socialist parties and ideology critically losing steam worldwide, the PT and Lula went out of their way to mask their leftist ideology and present themselves as moderates. The banner of political ethics was their great election trump card.
With the passage of time, the PT unmasked itself with clearly ideological policies and a mismanagement of public affairs that is a far cry from their much-trumpeted ethics.
Leftists now speak of an “immense frustration” and an “historical defeat.” Leonardo Boff, a leading proponent of Liberation Theology, leaves no room for doubt:
“The PT’s great debt is not financial but political and ethical. The events of the last few months involving sophisticated corruption in the party leadership have had a devastating effect on the population. … Politically, the disappointment is irredeemable. It demands reparation. Otherwise [PT] leaders will be cursed by the people and scorned by their militants” (“A dívida maior do PT,” Jornal do Brasil, 11/25/2005).
The middle class, which for the most part had swallowed the victorious slogan of 2002 — “Little Lula, peace and love” — now feel defrauded in their hopes for peaceful and honest government. The left has lost its bid for popularity. Writing in the International Herald Tribune, Jonathan Power noted this phenomenon, saying that Lula has lost important support and may have already sealed the destiny of his presidency.
A huge corruption machine imposing totalitarianism
The middle class distanced itself from the PT for many reasons, especially the string of corruption scandals in 2005. Justice Marco Aurélio de Mello, of Brazil’s Supreme Federal Tribunal, deemed this crisis much worse than the one that led to the impeachment and resignation of Fernando Collor de Mello:
“I believe that everything that has emerged is shocking. Not even the most antagonistic or the most creative mind could imagine a tenth of what has come to the surface” (Silvana de Freitas, “Crise é pior que a de Collor, diz Marco Aurélio,” Folha de S. Paulo, 1/3/2006).
The huge number and scope of the corruption scandals unfolding before the astonished eyes of the public tends to pollute the political panorama and confuse people’s minds.
However, the main thrust of the denunciations was the fact that it revealed the goals and methods that inspire PT leaders to decisive sectors of society. The PT showed that it does not believe in the so-called democratic regime as an end in itself but merely as an instrument to advance their totalitarian project.
This was shown in the following ways:
– the impetus with which the PT attacked the structures of the state;
– its attempts to achieve partisan-ideological control of state agencies and companies;
– its creation of councils to control the Judiciary Branch, the media, culture, universities and so on;- its pronounced and public support for movements like MST that violate public order and disrespect private property;
– its failure to provide an effective policy of public safety, combat organized crime, and its attempt to impose a gun control policy detrimental to honest men;
– its “third-world-oriented” diplomacy, infected with anti-Americanism, which sought a leftist front of Latin American governments against the U.S., benefiting China as a trade and ideological ally, and turned toward strange and spurious alliances (as with Syria);
– its corruption schemes to deviate public funds to the PT, which led to the fall of important government figures, the resignation of many in the PT leadership and heads of important state-owned companies;
– the denunciation, proved by a Parliamentary Commission of Inquiry (PCI), that the PT siphoned public funds to bribe congressmen to vote with the government on important issues and enlist opposition congressmen;
– its strange shuffling of funds inside and outside the country, allegedly involving money from Castro, Chavez, the PLO, and Qaddafi.
In 2006, denunciations regain momentum
As the crisis unfolded in 2005, leading PT members and the Executive Branch (even though not necessarily directly involved in the denunciations) simply ignored the accusations.
President Lula DA Silva also appeared to ignore all the crimes that investigations were uncovering in rapid succession.
By the end of the year, Lula claimed the denunciations were lacking in substance and expressed the conviction that the crisis was reaching its end and that political calm would be re-established after the Christmas recess.
Lula also tried to consolidate this impression in an interview to “Fantástico,” a popular program by Globo TV. The President showed ignorance of the main conclusions reached by the Parliamentary Commission of Inquiry (PCI) and said he had been “stabbed in the back” but mentioned no names. However, the interview backfired:
“President Lula’s first appearance in 2006 was frightful. Lula managed the remarkable feat of spending 34 minutes – an enormous amount of time – on television without giving any explanation about the denunciations of corruption that shook the country in 2005” (Fábio Portela e Victor Martino, “Não li e não gostei,” Veja, 1/11/2006).
Moreover, the President’s hope that the crisis would lose steam appears unfounded.
The PCIs have resumed hearings. The administration and the President himself already are cited in new and grave denunciations. Indeed, the evidence against Lula has never been so obvious and strong.
Deputy Osmar Serraglio is in charge of writing the report of the main inquiry involving a scandal inside the Brazilian Post Office. He wants to blame the President in his final report for “negligence.”
Despite denials by PT politicians, Veja magazine reports the same PCI gathered such compelling proofs about corruption schemes run by the Lula government and the PT – the so-called mensalão [the big monthly bribe] – that it will ask the Public Prosecutor and the Federal Police to indict at least 100 people. These include two former cabinet ministers, José Dirceu and Luiz Gushiken; the three main leaders of the PT during the Lula administration; Lula’s image maker, Duda Mendonça, credited with being the architect of Lula’s victory; and directors of important state agencies such as the Post Office, the Banco do Brazil and others.
Another PCI is looking into illegal gambling scams, might ask for the indictment of the former president of Caixa Economica Federal (Federal Savings and Loans Bank), the former presidential undersecretary for parliamentary affairs (linked with former minister José Dirceu) and the private secretary of finance minister Antônio Palocci.
The same PCI is now investigating two of the closest friends of President Lula DA Silva. It obtained the release of bank, tax and telephone records of Paulo Okamotto, Lula’s election campaign treasurer, accused of raising “informal” funds for PT campaigns over many years and of making a still unclarified payment of a debt of the president to the PT. The PCI also summoned attorney Roberto Teixeira, godfather of one of President Lula’s children, to explain some suspicious business deals involving the PT and the government.
Economist and former PT militant Paulo de Tarso Venceslau was also asked for a deposition. He was expelled from the party in 1998 after sending Lula and other PT leaders a letter describing fraudulent schemes the Party used for fundraising.
In his deposition, Paulo de Tarso accused Lula DA Silva of knowing about and covering up these schemes:
“Since the start of the three PCIs investigations into the corruption of the Lula government and particularly the Workers Party, never was the President accused so directly as in this deposition by the former PT member …
“One thing is definitively beyond all doubt: Lula is the one mainly responsible for the ethic derailing of the Party that owes its existence to him more than anyone else. As such, he will not escape condemnation by the tribunal of history” (“Nitroglicerina pura,” O Estado de S. Paulo, 1/19/2006).
The fall of José Dirceu
The fall of Chief of Staff José Dirceu and the subsequent revoking of his political rights were undoubtedly two of the most severe setbacks of the Lula government in 2005.
José Dirceu, a former guerrilla, presided over the Workers Party until the 2002 presidential elections. He was the architect of both Lula’s electoral victory and the PT’s blueprint to dominate the Brazilian political scene for the long term future.
He had engineered a purge inside the PT benefiting the Lula faction inside the party which he dubbed “the majority camp.”
When Lula rose to power, this close friend of Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez became the government’s strongman and, some claimed, Brazil’s real ruler. In his first speech as chief of staff, he ditched the conciliatory tone of Lula’s campaign, and preached the need for the PT to carry out a “social revolution.”
He gradually imposed his authoritarian and centralizing style on the government and legislature, causing widespread dismay.
Suddenly, his aide for parliamentary affairs, Waldomiro Diniz, was caught red-handed in a vote-buying corruption scam directed by José Dirceu himself.
It was downhill for the Chief of Staff from then on.
By mid-2005, Deputy Roberto Jefferson threatened further investigations and Dirceu responded by resigning his post and returning to his seat in Congress.
Accused of masterminding the vote-buying scheme, Jose Dirceu was finally banished from politics all together.
Veja magazine noted the fact:
“It is incredible that the politician who until very recently was the almighty minister of the republic, the most sought-after politician after Lula … has had his political rights revoked until 2015. … The banishment of José Dirceu is the most eloquent datum that the corruption crisis has become immense. So immense that it KO’d a heretofore vital power broker in Brasília” (Otávio Cabral, “É apenas o começo,” 12/7/2005).
José Dirceu’s banishment was an eminently political act that struck down the most visible symbol of the leftist totalitarian state the Lula regime was attempting to impose on the country:
“Senator Arthur Virgílio (PSDB) said that the punishment that the Chamber of Deputies imposed on former deputy José Dirceu amounted to ‘a moral banishment of the Lula government.’ ‘There’s no use for the president to say he has nothing to do with the matter,’ he said. … For Senator Virgilio, the banishment was a ‘requirement’ of society” (“Câmara promove é ‘cassação moral’ de Lula, diz Virgílio,” Folha de S. Paulo, 12/2/2005).
Writing for the newspaper O Estado de S. Paulo, João Mellão Neto, a former deputy, secretary in the state government and minister, listed the causes that led to Dirceu’s banishment: he recognized no limits and aimed to revolutionize society.
“As a dedicated and consistent Marxist, Dirceu never believed in the virtues and excellence of ‘bourgeois democracy.’ Judging by his acts as a minister, the democratic regime was not an end in itself for him, but a transitory instrument in the struggle for power. It was under his aegis that the body of the state was quartered and its flesh was shared out among his companions in the party. … It will take a long time to put together and recompose the shreds to which Dirceu reduced our institutions” (“Já vai tarde,” 12/2/2005).
A discreet note published by the newspaper Folha de S. Paulo, revealed the politico-ideological inner workings of the Lula government during the crisis:
Hugo Chavez followed “closely the political crisis and monitored the martyrdom of José Dirceu with special attention. After the vote in the Chamber that sealed his banishment, Chavez called him to express solidarity. An emissary of Fidel Castro also brought his support” (“Chavez chama-Fidel chama,” 12/6/2005).
The gun control fiasco
Under pressure from grave scandals, the Lula government urgently needed to promote something to reverse the freefall of its prestige. The government decided to hold a national referendum on the sale and trade of guns. It pulled out all the stops to obtain a “yes” on gun control.
Early Poll results indicated a highly favorable reception with figures of up to 80% favoring “yes.” Furthermore, the regime counted on the support of a good part of the media, NGOs, and even opposition parties like the PSDT. Finally, Catholic “progressivism,” through Brazil’s National Conference of Catholic Bishops (CNBB) threw its weight and influence behind the government project.
The debate took on ideological overtones and the agile and intuitive Brazilian public saw that this was not a mere gun control proposal but an attempt by the left to move toward a totalitarian state.
This perception resulted in a 63.94% victory for the “no” vote, a powerful political and ideological setback for the Lula government. José Dirceu was forced to recognize the defeat, saying:
“When the politico-ideological confrontation took place, everyone who supported the ‘yes’ simply hid. This is becoming a norm in Brazil: hide when the clash comes.” (“Dirceu afirma que Lula é ‘personagem difícil,'” Folha de S. Paulo, 12/9/2005).
The result made patent the profound change in public opinion, marked by the defined ideological notes of a growing conservatism:
“The ideological flourishing of the right is the most immediate and obvious consequence of the crumbling of the PT and Lula, in addition to an almost final discrediting of politics. …
“The right is now entrenched in the media, in people’s habits, and in the historical and new ideas of rightism” (Vinicius Torres Freire, “Direita, sem medo de ser feliz,” Folha de S. Paulo, 10/31/2005).
Lula Helps Chavez’ influence to grow
One achievement of the Lula government at the end of its third year was the effective organization of a united front of leftist governments in Latin America.
Breaking with long-standing diplomatic tradition, Brazil adopted aggressive and interventionist foreign policies in South America. Always marked by ambiguity – which became its principal strength – this policy tirelessly advocated a much-trumpeted “integration” of the continent while actually seeking to organize an ideological front of leftist governments.
Through this ambiguity, many saw Lula as a source of “moderation.” An alliance with Brazil was seen as way of containing the ever more radical antics of Hugo Chavez (seconded by Fidel Castro).
Despite those who still believe in the myth of Lula’s supposed “moderation,” the facts show the contrary.
At the end of his third year, Lula not only did not contain Hugo Chavez but was his main ally and support.
In 2005, The Chavez’ agenda progressed on all fronts: Venezuela’s growing totalitarianism, the victory of Evo Morales in Bolivia, his influence in regional politics, and the admission of Venezuela into the trade group Mercosul, and soon of Bolivia, at the insistence of Lula and Kirchner.
Naively believing that the Lula government is a moderating influence is a grave and dangerous mistake. This mistake opened the way for putting together a strongly anti-American bloc of leftist governments in South America led by Hugo Chavez. This bloc aims to impose socialist economics and cozy up to China as a trade partner and ideological ally, much to the detriment of the United States. Finally, this bloc is establishing closer ties with the axis of terror (Iran-Syria). If a world war breaks out, this can seriously harm the political stability of Latin America and become a nightmare for American foreign policy.
This overall slide of Latin America to the left, known as “Chavezization,” under the influence and protection of pseudo-moderate Lula DA Silva, might be the object of a future Lula Watch. However, the Iranian crisis is a revealing and recent example of the Brazilian government’s foreign policy and its dangerous orientation.
Feigning neutrality, covertly supporting the Iranian regime
The Iranian government’s insistence on resuming its nuclear program has generated an international crisis considered by some observers as the most grave since the end of the Cold War.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and the European Union’s commissioner for foreign relations, Javier Solana, decided in Washington not to resume negotiations with Iran. The United States and the European Union intend to refer the case to the U.N. Security Council, and Miss Rice is seeking international support for the plan.
Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorim publicly adopted a position of more or less veiled protection of the Iranian regime. With duplicity typical of the Lula government’s foreign policy, Amorim declared to the newspaper O Estado de S. Paulo that taking the matter to the UN Security Council “involves risks,” for “the Council generates its own dynamics that generally tend to escalation.” It might be noted that such concerns did not seem to stop Brazil’s efforts to obtain a permanent seat on the UN Security Council.
The decision to refer to the Security Council will be made at a meeting of the governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). As a voting member of the agency, it appears Brazil will abstain, thus aligning itself with China and Russia (which provides Iran with nuclear technology).
An editorial in O Estado de S. Paulo issued a strong warning about the announced position. After saying that a Brazilian abstention could scarcely be considered neutrality, the editorial adds:
<“It is time for Brazil to change its policy in this area. Ambiguous positions are inconsistent with the provisions of the Constitution and the treaties signed by the Brazilian government and merely reflect the lack of realism inspired by a misguided nationalism of some sectors that still believe Brazil will be a great power only when it has the bomb. A return to General Geisel’s ideas of a grand Brazil would only bring the country international isolation and hostility” (“O Brasil e a não-proliferação,” 1/19/2006).
About nuclear matters, the Lula government has been markedly ambiguous, causing many to see it as favorable to proliferation and thus potentially dangerous.
When the President inaugurated the Resende uranium enrichment facility, it generated controversy locally and even abroad.
As a signatory of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, Brazil was expected to renounce its capacity to enrich uranium, thus setting an example that would increase international pressure on the clandestine programs of Iran and North Korea.
The Lula government did not take that position and even reacted negatively to the insistence of the IAEA that Brazil sign an additional treaty protocol allowing inspections without previous warning.
In October, President Hugo Chavez – a close ally of Iran – confirmed he was negotiating an agreement of nuclear cooperation with Brazil and Argentina. He believes it necessary for South American “integration.”]
Right in the beginning, the Lula government’s then Minister of Science and Technology, Roberto Amaral, stated that Brazil should master the technology for producing the atomic bomb, causing strong international repercussions.
Regarding Iran, the Lula government’s reaction to the extreme declarations of President Mahmoud Ahamadinedjad about the elimination of the Jewish state reflect an ill-disguised hostility that has characterized Lula’s relations with Israel. Brazil did not formally and categorically condemn Ahmadinejad’s statements and limited itself through foreign minister Celso Amorim to condemn violence and recall the need for a “peaceful and respectful coexistence between the states of Israel and Palestine.” Amorim also tried to disconnect the Iranian leader’s threats against Israel from the nuclear enrichment issue.
It is well to recall that, in his visit to the Middle East, Pres. Lula da Silva skipped Israel and began with Syria, where, alongside dictator Bashar Assad, he attacked the Jewish State.