Curtain Raiser

Brazil’s 3-Decade Democracy, Colltalers

For at least one reason, Brazilians could be celebrating tomorrow the 30 years since the military dictatorship got bumped down from power: there hasn’t been any threat to Brazil’s constitution ever since. Instead, there may be no party as many are angry at their democratically elected government, and a minority has even asked for another coup to depose President Dilma Rousseff and her ruling Workers’ Party, the PT.
Credit that to the majority of the population, not yet born in 1964 and with no memory of what the military did then. Or to a staggering string of corruption scandals plaguing the PT. Or even to the apparent inability by Dilma, as she’s known in Brazil, to provide economic relief and fresh ideas for the country. Either one or all of the above, plus other factors, the fact is that there’s a distinctly sour mood permeating Brazil nowadays.
Granted, to some corners of the world, Brazilians not willing to party is sort of an oxymoron. But even if much of what’s going on is still growing pains of a young democracy, with opposition parties typically engaging to magnify PT’s woes, there is the underlying reality that, for a country with such a gargantuan ambition to play a bigger global role, these days it’s simply not looking the part with the confidence it requires.
Thus as Dilma fights for political survival, just as her mentor, and Brazil’s arguably most popular politician, former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, struggles to protect his own legacy, Brazilians look as if on the verge of reaching a risky boiling point. They’re still unsure whether showing discontentment in the streets is enough to force change, and restore morality in all levels of power, that they see crucially necessary.
But whereas the most visible part of such discontent is political and involves painful reforms the congress seems incapable to promote (Americans can certainly relate to that), it’s in the economic front that the situation seems bleaker, and directly impacts large swaths of the population. Many have pointed to similarities between now and the pre-1964 military coup, when the middle class also took to the streets, and openly espoused conservative causes against the João Goulart administration. The memory of the terrible 21 years that followed his ouster is what now seems conspicuously absent from the national debate.
The Brazilian economy, slated to remain contracted for at least another quarter, has been the most concrete sign that the PT’s proposals for the country may have run their course, and have now lost their universal appeal, despite undeniable achievements in the social realm, income redistribution, and civil rights. One fears that if too abrupt a change materializes, even those good governance practices may be reversed or nullified.
It’d be like throwing out the baby with the dirty water, of course, but even the higher echelons of the party are far from engaged in defending them from the onslaught of criticism. On the contrary, the PT leadership is willing to double-down in the face of the evidence, and has sent out the wagons to circle its inner core, rather than take the initiative of cleaning up its house, only way it could possibly disarm its political rivals.
Again, Brazilians are impatient too, and not likely to offer the party yet another lifeline to recoup and preserve its clout. It’s been already a while since PT’s lost its mandate as the most popular, and inclusive, political platform in Brazil’s politics. What’s really troubling, however, is that the leftist and liberal ideals it used to represent are nowhere close to be taken over by the opposition parties jockeying to replace it in power.
If the economy has run out of gas, with declining exports of durable goods, and over dependence on its agricultural output, Brazil’s political spectrum has also experienced an astounding contraction, which unlike its GDP, cannot be blamed on external factors. Somehow, progressive parties, such as the socialist PSOL and the Green Party, have lost resonance with voters, and their demographics are on a receding path.
Even more disturbing is the rise, on the other side of the political spectrum, of the religious right, as messianic faiths and sects continue to gather power and influence on their rise to power. While some now control a respectable share of Brazil’s media organizations, to ostensibly proselytize their conservative agenda and elect politicians in sync with their views, others are openly promoting a form of neo-fascism, with the creation of private armies, and a shameless agenda against the civil rights of minorities, in special, women’s reproductive rights, racism and homophobia. Worse: their cavalcade has encountered few obstacles.
For if there are two major issues that don’t seem to awake passion in Brazilians, or drive them to the streets to protest, they are the rise of political intolerance and obscurantism, of which the religious right serves as its most formidable and organized supporter, and the almost absolute lack of discussion about the environment, the Amazon and climate change, in the current national debate. To flip the stereotype upside down, Brazilians could be excused for refusing to party if it were all in the name of these two crucial issues, directly connected to the future of the country’s institutions and its oh so desired enhanced role in the concert of nations.
Instead, more than a fight for morality, and the exercising of citizenry by all, Brazil’s national discussions are reduced to a parochial debate between two conflicting social views, none of which completely identified with the realities of the country, circa 2015. Neither the PT’s the purveyor of a socialist ideal of equality and justice, as it once claimed to be, nor PSDB, its main opponent, the dictatorship-era classic opposition party PMDB, or the smaller, mostly pro-forma denominations, represent the political and economic changes most Brazilians are desperately seeking and are, ultimately, entitled to achieve.
Tomorrow marks the 51th year since the military deposed the president, restricted individual freedom, persecuted with salvage zeal its enemies, and threw the country into an increasingly debt spiral that became unsustainable by the time it was peacefully driven away by popular forces. But Brazilians won’t be celebrating much the fact that it’s been an accident-prone but relatively steady run ever since. Democratic institutions being taken for granted as they are, people will be instead most likely arguing over the constitutionality of a presidential impeachment, without much thought about what kind of Pandora box that might open.
But it’s all part of the chaotic, at times, unpleasant, frustrating, and ultimately, caustic democratic process that was hard earned in 1985, all casualties and personal tragedies included. It’s been said that compared to other South American dictatorships of the time, Brazil was one of the mildest. But, for such a spurious end, even if it had cost one life, it’d have been one life too many. The fact that a few even dare to ask for a return to that dark era, as understandable as it may be, is also nothing short of an insult to those who perished or lost loved ones, and the institutions that had to be arduously rebuilt so that a new country could emerge.
Certain lessons are hard to learn, goes the cliche, and many a relatively young nation had to spend an inordinate amount of time going backwards twice as far as going forward, until it accomplished its full potential. As much as any other country, Brazil also deserves the respect and time to resolve its basic internal turmoils and fulfill its destiny. It just can’t take too long or too much of its already over extended and righteously indignant society. While others may choose to blame Brazilians for not knowing exactly where to push or when to slack, a more productive attitude is one of support and understanding.
Perhaps a lot of changes have already taken place, or are in the process of opening new venues, without many realizing it. It’s also possible that these massive rallies of outrage may breed a new sense of accountability from the country’s political elites. plus a whole new generation of leaders with effective, and even optimist, forward views. Here’s hoping that at least a fraction of them show up tomorrow to celebrate the end of a nefarious and cruel political regime, not to ask it to come back. For they’ll be cheering for the only Brazil worth rallying behind, the inclusive and democratic kind. Enjoy April. WC

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