Missing in the Streets of Brazil, Colltalers
Thousands of protesters demanded Sunday Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff to step down before her second term in office expires in 2018. That caps another week of political turmoil in Brazil, already reeling from a severe economic slowdown.
Even Rousseff’s mentor and predecessor, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, is under scrutiny for a possible role in a graft scheme. On Friday 4th, he was briefly detained and even paraded by the federal police into a local version of a perk walk, on his way to a deposition.
It was a sad, and unnecessary, public humiliation for a leader who presided over Brazil’s best period of stability and growth of its history. Both events are also a measure of popular discontent with the two presidents’ Workers’ Party and its 13-year rule.
The party Lula has helped to create has indeed been implicated in a wide range of corruption and unethical practices, specially at state and municipal government levels. Before his second mandate was out, though, charges had already hit his administration, with accusations of corruption and graft against some of his key strategists and most loyal friends, inside and out his cabinet.
Despite all of that, when he handed over the presidency to Rousseff, he was not only Brazil’s most popular leader ever, but the most recognizable face of the unprecedented wave of democratization and economic growth of Latin America of the early 2000s.
The world is a different place these days, and its short-span attention has moved on to somewhere else. Besides, much of the continent’s populist euphoria has been already replaced by the sober realization that some of its woes won’t go away so easily.
If the PT, as it’s known, is to be replaced in power now, and not in 2018 as the constitution prescribes, it’ll represent the second time Brazil demands a president to step down, since it returned to democracy in 1985. That’s when a popular movement led by Lula and
others, and not unlike current street protests, overcame the military elite that had deposed President João Goulart in a 1964 coup.
Helped by high agricultural commodity prices, an expanded industrial park, and new trade partners, Brazil’s sailed relatively unscathed through the two major crisis of the new century: the 9/11 attacks and the financial industry’s 2008 near global collapse.
It was a period when the Lula administration displayed rare shrewdness, allowing a fully independent central bank’s to dictate monetary policy and control external capital inflows, while focusing on populist social projects. As those benefited millions of low income workers, they also helped creating a new, emergent consumer market, with strong demand for credit and durable goods.
Such conditions sustained growth and stability, helped by many corporations and banks, which thrived with such far-from-leftist economic model. Suddenly, and apparently way too briefly, Brazil had a vibrant middle class with disposable cash to spend.
But just as the country started receiving the global acknowledgment it had longed for so long, factors were already at play to conspire against it: among them, PT, which metastasized and created its own monsters, as graft allegations began to surface. And the party’s opposition, led by the Social Democrats of PSDB, that got ready for an attack on the presidency, which was aching to regain.
By then, state-run oil giant Petrobras, which became the biggest catalyst for the current crisis, had rosy prospects, boosted by reserves discovered in the Campos basis. That would assure, it said at the time, Brazil’s complete oil self-reliance, which seemed an entirely credible premise, since the country has a considerable hydropower potential, and was an early adopter of ethanol as fuel.
As it turned out, it wasn’t to be. Besides huge investments required to extract oil from sub-salt depths, the world was going in another direction, away from fossil fuel. Oil prices headed south, while Petrobras got stuck with costly expansion plans.
Worse of all, as previous administrations had done, the PT was also helping itself and its allies with the company’s profits, and not in the most kosher way. That’s when Rousseff was caught deer-in-the-headlines like, as she had been a board member at the time.
Her adversaries – ironically much of that same ascending middle class that had enormous material gains with PT policies – found there their stronger argument to replace her with one of their own. They failed twice, however, in two highly contested elections.
The big street rallies that have been staged by the opposition for over two years now may finally produce what the polls have denied it, this time with open support of powerful allies, mainly, major media conglomerates, and the ever expanding religious right.
Curiously, for as much as political dissatisfaction is not to be dismissed, and the strength of Brazil’s democratic process, which hasn’t been affected by the surrounding political turmoil, there’s a level of insularity, of missing the big picture in the current events.
Internally, both PT, PSDB, the old PMDB and a myriad of other political parties, haven’t come up with fresh, exciting ideas for governability, or promoted young, progressive political leadership ready to take on the onslaught of right wing and conservative proposals flooding the legislature. And as far as the rest of world is concerned, Brazil became oblivious to the great themes of our age.
The environment, climate change, alternative sources of energy, issues that the country would seem naturally inclined to lead, are not part of the political discourse in contemporary Brazil. Talk about protection of the Amazon Rainforest, and survival of its indigenous communities, would probably draw a blank from political leaders and even most participants of Sunday’s street rallies.
That’s but one issue that have taken center stage, and ignited passionate debates worldwide, even if there’s much to be done in the race to save the planet. But in Brazil, it’s been moved instead, to a back burner of political posturing and grandstanding.
And that’s one of the arguably biggest flaws of PT’s project for the country, as neither Lula nor Rousseff seemed willing to bet their mandates for making a dent in the status quo. Even considering that more land was marked to Brazilian indians in the past decade than ever before, it meant little, as there’s been little or no government effort to enforce and guarantee respect to the new laws.
The safety and physical integrity of Amazon’s green activists and rural environmentalists are worth as much as the tons of flyers of yesterday’s march, that underpaid Brazilian sanitation workers are picking up and disposing right at this moment. To be an advocate for preservation of the forests in Brazil, as in much of Latin America, is one of the world’s deadliest occupations. Check the stats.
Being born in the 20th century, we’re partial to masses taking it to the streets and affirm their right to express their discontentment. Many a revolution has started with the spark of rallies, forcing unjust leaders to either lead or step down.
That’s not exactly what’s happening in Brazil, however. While the demonstrations should, and may as well, continue, to demand change and fight corruption, they’re mostly driven by the side of the political spectrum that’d hate seeing Lula being re-elected.
In other words, this is not a fight of people against an oblivious or repressive government; this is the dispute between one political faction, relegated to the opposition, against another, which has been democratically elected to office for eight straight terms.
In the end, there must be an alternative to what the PT has come to represent, and there’s not much honor in its fight for survival at this moment. But Brazilians would do a better job for themselves by demanding a more concrete, progressive idea of government.
Slogans and rallies can go only too far. But it’s in the local, institutional, democratic process that sustainable change is achieved. No political proposal for a country can be serious if it’s not designed to engage it in the concert of other nations. Have a good one. WC