Curtain Raiser

What May Not Change for Brazil, Colltalers

A little over a week from the final month before the October 5 Brazilian presidential election, what’d been a relatively easy ride to reelection for President Dilma Rousseff has turned into turmoil after the shocking death of former Pernambuco State Governor Eduardo Campos.
But even as the fateful plane crash has moved some vital pieces on the chessboard of Brazil’s politics, the essence of the game is slated to remain pretty much the same, with seasoned players reaching out to their well-known bag of tricks to prevent neophytes to get pass the front door.
Campos was a distant third in the race, a curiously mild candidate coming from a combative political dynasty – his grandfather, Miguel Arraes, a charismatic former governor deposed and driven to exile in 1964 by the military coup, also died in the same August 13, nine years before.
As it happens in politics, Campos’s Veep, Marina Silva, a former environment minister in the Lula administration, has jumped in the pools since his death, and now threatens to take the incumbent to a second round, when presumably, her chances for winning may even increase.
The accident also caused another unexpected development in the race: the apparent derailment of the campaign of Aécio Neves, also a former governor with a famous grandfather, Tancredo Neves, and the candidate of former President Fernando Henrique Cardoso’s party, the PSDB.
Before going further, let’s quickly review the acronyms soup that characterizes Brazil’s party politics: Rousseff is a member of PT, the Workers’ Party, a dominant force in Brazilian politics even before President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva was elected in 2003 for the first of his two terms.
He succeeded PSDB’s Cardoso, also a two-term president, who despite claims of having tamed the hyper-inflation or stabilized the real currency, of which nevertheless he was instrumental, will be remembered mostly for having presided over a period of political stability, a relief for a nation that was, and to some it still is, reeling from 20-plus hard years of dictatorship. Cardoso did usher back a better country to Brazilians.
His Brazilian Social Democracy Party has been the other major political force in the country politics, representing the upper elites, which once again are jockeying to regain some of the power they once enjoyed and have been somehow deflated by Lula’s brand of populism.
In reality, while both emerged from the old warhorse PMDB of dictatorship times, the PT has ruled with the same pragmatic zeal, and at times, spurious alliances with more conservative forces, that marked Cardoso’s years in Brasília. Beside scandals that singed both administrations, and those that also spilled over to Rousseff’s, both continued better attuned to their constituencies than to ideology and the old left-right signposts.
As a party perceived to favor corporations and privatization, flags tirelessly waved during the rallies for Neves, one of its most wide ranging policy accomplishments was the establishment of early programs of income distribution that the PT’s gladly took ownership of afterwards.
The PT, on the other hand, while redefining and extending such programs into national policies designed to focus on the so-called Class C, or lower income Brazilians, has been criticized for its opening to foreign capital and relatively high reliance on its banking system.
Despite its inability to cleanse itself from corruption and political compromising, its lack of a fresh set of ideas to move the country forward, and an over-ambitious gumption to remain in power, there’s little doubt that the PT has effectively promoted tremendous social change in Brazil.
But whereas both parties differ in the candidates’ rhetoric, and some superficial points of their platforms, they’ve recognized early on the importance of a strong finance system and an independent central bank. Taken together, these were two of the most crucial reasons why Brazil was hardly affected by the U.S. subprime crisis of 2008 and following Great Recession that wrecked havoc with the global financial system.
Then there are the new realities of this election cycle, with Campos’s Brazilian Socialist Party now poised to make strides toward a political representation it lacked even when Marina Silva left PT and joined it, in 2009, and early this year, was nominated vice-president candidate.
Among the other contenders to the high office, who’ll likely be stopped on the first round, there’s an assortment of candidates supported openly or not by the Evangelical right, which may consolidate its power as one of the richest and most influential political forces in Brazil right now.
Not swayed by such a dangerous trend, we’d singled out PSOL, the Socialism and Freedom Party formed by PT politicians expelled in 2004 for opposing Lula’s pension fund reforms. It’s Brazil’s most leftist party today but is far from being a political force to be reckoned with.
And Partido Verde, the Green Party, which after notable progresses in the 1990s, along with its European counterparts, has faded arguably for lack of talented leaders and/or a common global agenda in defense of the environment. Not unlikely to what happened in the U.S., by the way.
The issue of the environment, and the fate of the Amazon rainforest, have been the missing themes in Brazil’s politics, even though they may offer a lot of perspective about both Rousseff’s tenure and Marina Silva’s credentials. They don’t explain, however, why most Brazilians don’t seem to care about them.
Amazon’s rate of deforestation has slowed down but it may have been less a result of Rousseff’s policies and more due to factors outside her sphere of influence. In fact, under the president’s watch, Brazil’s has passed a deeply troubling Forest Code, deemed a backwards move by environmentalists as it lessens penalties and accountability for old culprits of the deforestation, and increases the forest peoples’ vulnerability.
As an Environment Minister, Marina Silva has fought powerful agribusiness interests, and gained fame and enemies for being resistant to compromises on that front, until she stepped down in 2008, during Lula’s second term. But now, with her vice president running mate, Beto Albuquerque, having close ties with farming interests, she may tone down considerably her fervor. Which would be a loss to Brazil.
Apart from that, her own links to the Evangelical right may be a handicap in this election, as she’s likely to be questioned about crucial themes related to working women, reproductive rights, and sexuality, compared to the more tough-minded and politically capable Rousseff.
As for the president, whose personality as an abrasive and straight talking politician stands in contrast with her timid efforts, in the political realm, to imprint Brazil with causes dear to her, she’s been nonetheless successful in navigating the country through diminishing economic returns and Lula’s shadow, which can be counted both as a powerful protection and an emasculating presence, hindering her efforts to stand out.
Neves, stunned in the past months by intense scrutiny over his personal conduct, family fortune, and surprising hesitancy affirming his leadership strengths, has also being the target of a vicious campaign that threatens to divert all attention from his proposals. Brazilian politics are tough, but to Neves, they’ve been particularly nasty; just check his slur-ridden Wikipedia page, which seems to have been hijacked by enemies.
Public record manipulation is not exclusive to Brazil, of course, and the line between what’s a fact and what’s a downright lie gets blurred as often there as anywhere else. But it’s still startling that a major presidential candidate’s campaign hasn’t been able to revise his Wikipedia bio yet.
As the choice for a new leader of Latin America’s largest economy hits the homestretch, there are already two certainties about what’s next for Brazil, regardless of who wins, or what party will control the most congressional seats, apart from the fact that none will be able to rule alone.
PT and PSDB are set to remain the two dominant forces in Brazilian politics, the major strains through which runs the bulk of political ideas to animate the outlook for Brazil in the next four years. No other party comes close to their political and economical clout.
But, and that will be a first, there’s now a legion of contenders to lead the nation, if not in this election, at least in the next, who did not live through the dictatorship and some weren’t even born before it ended, in the mid 1980s. They may set the tone for a big change going forward.
At 49, Campos was the youngest among those with chances to win the presidency: Rousseff will be 67 in December, and Marina Silva is 58. So even though many called out his age as a compounding loss in his untimely death, neither he, nor the next president will be part of the generation that grew up with the Internet, or is someone who’s never made a call using a rotary phone.
A wide-scope demographics analysis puts at over 16% the percentage of Brazilians between 15 and 24 years old, among the estimated 194 million population. Some of them will be voting now, as it is obligatory in Brazil. But all are expected to vote four years from now.
As we witness the astounding power of the Internet and social networks in contemporary politics, and how the new trend’s catapulted President Obama to the White House in 2010, it’s fair to expect that a generation more in synch with global themes of environmental protection, climate change, and alternative sources of energy, all relatively absent in this campaign, may demand a more substantive change in Brazilian politics.
We’re not holding our breath for that to happen, of course, but the rise of Marina Silva, despite her shortcomings as a politician and religion allegiances, may represent the push Rousseff needs to veer the country into a new, less insular and parochial, direction.
As the election approaches, we’ll get back to the subject, possibly finding new angles to discuss in a way you can relate to it, as usual. In the meantime, have a great week. WC


2 thoughts on “Curtain Raiser

  1. colltales says:

    Thanks Bryan. More to come.


  2. Thanks for that, Wesley. Though the Spanish media does cover Latin America reasonably well (unlike the British press, which suffers from an almost unhealthy obsession with the US, considering Britain has been part of the EU since 1973, which seemed about the only anniversary it didn’t celebrate last year) for colonial reasons, Spain’s journalists concentrate more on the Spanish-speaking countries.

    Considering the present (and growing) importance of Brazil on the world stage, it seems rather remiss not to hear much of what’s going on there, except when it comes to football.

    You seem to be covering a gap, as I’m not convinced the US media is that concerned with Latin America, unless reporting endlessly on the illegal immigrants the 1% secretly welcome in order to keep labor costs down for very wealthy farmers, and those rich enough to employ domestic servants to treat like dirt.

    I look forward to learning more.



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