Lula May Fall but Brazil Can’t, Colltalers
Very few people in Brazil could’ve honestly claimed they didn’t see it coming. When the still immensely popular two-term former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva was sentenced last week to nearly 10 years of prison, to be appealed in freedom, almost no Brazilian was surprised.
For the opposition, which for 14 years has been consistently crushed by Lula and his Workers’ Party, the PT, in polls, popularity, and global stature, it was the exhilarating culmination of a process that also included the spurious 2016 impeachment of his successor, Dilma Rousseff.
Neither her ouster nor Lula’s condemnation were based on solid proof. But that also doesn’t come as a shock to a weary citizenry still reeling from the young democracy’s painful learning curve it’s been living through since the end of the 21-year military dictatorship, in 1985.
And, in yet another fact that doesn’t disrupt sleep for the 200-million plus population, most of those who orchestrated the thinly-disguised political coup, not just have criminal evidence weighting against them, but also remain in power. Corrupt, unpopular, but still in charge.
Needless to say, the mood of this once briefly proud nation is currently very dark indeed. Given that the coalition of right-wing parties, powerful broadcasters, influential religious and land-owner groups, is running a quasi-tight ship, it’s unlike that mass protests will avert such fast back-to-the-past curse. As the economy returns to appalling 1970s and 80s performance figures, Brazil is bracing for a long penumbra.
As it stands, the political elite in power has effectively achieved what it was long seeking: the neutralizing of Lula’s candidacy for next year’s presidential election – of which he’s dominating the polls as a front runner – and crippling any chances for PT to become a contender again.
Brazil, which has now stepped down from the express train it’d boarded in the early 2000s, which raced past the 6th-largest economy position in the world, can no longer claim the status of interlocutor of Western nations in global affairs or even leadership atop the G20, Brick, and Mercosur groups. Diminishing foreign investments and technology budgets will likely restore Brazil’s role as a merely agricultural producer.
The 2007 discovery of huge offshore oil deposits, which even before being explored, gave Brazil a powerful economical leverage tool, and placed it closer than ever to fully oil independence,
was an interesting turning point in the country’s fortunes, but not for what it’d hoped for.
The findings threatened a long settled international order and corporate interests, as it shot state-run Petrobras to a global dominant position. So it’s at least curious that the oil giant was at the epicenter of the corruption scandal that wound up befalling both Rousseff and Lula.
That’s because, while the country was transfixed by its constitutional crisis, and with discrete media coverage, the Temer administration took a series of legislative steps that effectively stripped away Petrobras’ sole control over the oil fields exploration, as it was once entitled to. Such loss of billions in revenue badly needed to fund Brazil’s growth all but turned its world prominence aspirations into an (oil) pipe dream.
Also, recent ‘reforms’ of labor legislation and social security may hinder its workforce’s ability to boost domestic consumption. Longer hours, shrinking wages, depleted retirement packages, and rising healthcare costs, will, in effect, prevent most from being able to afford retiring.
In fact, it’s hard to overestimate, or even accurately measure, the impact that the thorough dismantling of the socialist-tinged approach to governing by the PT may cause in the long run. For in its decade and a half rule, the party founded during the campaign that finally ended the military adventure, accumulated an impressive list of social achievements, that radically changed the country and raised its global profile.
With a number of subsidizing programs, funding meals, literacy, and public health to the poor, it successfully brought into taxable payrolls and out of poverty, over 20 million people. It also promoted lower high-education costs, more opportunities to Brazil’s majority non-white population, protected sex minorities and woman reproductive rights, created local mechanisms to boost community efforts and a lot more.
What PT didn’t do was what its critics point as the main reasons for its spectacular downfall, even as it continued to performed well at the polls: it didn’t reign in on ingrained corruption from top down to the party’s file and rank, and perhaps more importantly, failed to promote new fresh, young political leaderships. Even at a managerial level, it did not support political instruction as a crucial component of education.
Some say that, when it sought to boost quality and affordability of education, it also turned its ideological back to important thinkers and innovators such as Paulo Freire and others. Latin America has a rich tradition of critical pedagogy, and many educators took upon the revolutionary task of teaching the hungry and the destitute, not just how to read and write, but also to think critically and engage socially.
Despite the sophisticated mix of union workers and intellectuals at its base, which in just a few years, catapulted the party to become a contender for political relevance, many believe that PT adopted a too pragmatic approach to power. Drive and mobilization became key words in order for that to be accomplished; education and dissent have not. Soon it started to resemble the ideologies it was confronting.
That, of course, has little to do with Lula’s apparent, and according to his supporters, temporary setback. In the end, he was sentenced to almost a decade in jail, if it all goes according to the master plan, not for being a revolutionary, but for the suspicion of owning a far from attractive apartment, the ‘Guarujá Triplex,’ even as the prosecution’s failed to prove that he’s ever live there, and a modest country house.
Combined, they’re likely to be worthy less than shopping sprees the current First Lady, or other powerful politician wives, regularly promote in New York, Miami, or Paris. And certainly less than the foreign accounts her 43-year older husband is alleged to own in Swiss banks.
The U.S., by the way, and some big corporations, are often mentioned as being behind, at least circumstantially, the fall from grace of not just Brazil, but most of Latin America. It’s hard to remember now, but there was a period, in the early 2000, that the entire continent seemed on a verge of turning a historical cycle of discretionary rules and dictatorships, and faulty economics, with a series of elected leftist presidents.
That’s all water under the bridge, of course. As for the U.S., such fears are justified, as it’s now common knowledge that multiple American administrations were in fact afraid South American would turn ‘red,’ and actively conspired to depose Chile’s Salvador Allende, for instance.
In Brazil, rumor mills are creaking overtime, as expected, and in some ways, resemble a machine gun of conspiracy theories and outstanding claims. Take the Amazon, for instance, which right-wing nuts have long believed it was under the threat of being taken over by ‘foreigners.’
All because it seems difficult to Brazilians to assume their own responsibility not just for a reducing forest, but for rampant lawlessness promoted by big landowners, some of which are in parliament; summary executions of green activists and indigenous peoples; environmental damaging energy mega-projects; illegal logging, the list goes on and on. It’s always easier to blame the ‘other,’ – or the poor- for anything.
What’s happening to Lula, and specially the way it’s happening, is truly disturbing and should give everyone nightmares, not only Brazilians. (Insert here your own spoonful of Trump’s contagion at will.) But let’s not be naive. Just as a president is not a ‘savior,’ and doesn’t even define the nation under his or her charge, no dictator or mass murderer ruler rose to power by himself, without consent, or at least omission.
Just next door to Brazil, in Venezuela, once Latin America’s richest nation, the upper elites have been waging war against a not always gifted populist leadership, first Hugo Chavez, and now Nicolás Maduro, and the end result may not be long or hard to guess. They may get the initially submissive despot they seek to do their bidding. But they’d better not come on knocking for help, when he turns on them.
Let’s hope that Brazilians drop the predictable befuddled look, and start acting as if in charge of their own destiny. Otherwise, they may as well ask one of the billionaire, media-owner pastors in their midst to pray for them. Charges may apply. And Lula should start supporting, and funding, some young bucks to be tomorrow’s leaders. Now, there’s money worth going to jail for. Keep it positive and enjoy July. WC