ByJimena de Garay and Lívia Alcântara*
The government of President Dilma Rousseff, who in January 2015 began her second four year term, is in a full political crisis marked by corruption scandals, as is the one linked to Petrobras in which important politicians of the Partido dos Trabalhadores (PT-Worker’s Party) and its allies are involved. This crisis is also due to a call for impeachment of the president, which is something that is currently under debate in the Senate, where the federal government has no majority, and the large demonstrations for and against her government.
The causes of this crisis can be traced to long-term processes, such as the end of the political ability of the PT to govern for the poor and for the rich at the same time and to do it with some stability. However, the demonstrations in June 2013 represented a turning point in the Brazilian political situation. Those demonstrations, which occurred in much of the country, were originally against the increase in public transport fares, and resulted in a proliferation of claims, such as the better management of resources for education and health.
Different contradictions became visible during the governments of the PT that initiated in 2003 with then President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. Glaucia Marinho, of Justiça Global (Global Justice), recognizes the social gains that were obtained, such as the reduction of hunger and poverty, and the implementation of affirmative action policies for blacks and young people from the most disadvantaged social classes. But she also denounces the errors: “The extermination of the black youth increased and our prison population grew.”
Indigenous movements have also voiced harsh criticism of the government, denouncing the negative impacts of large public works projects, such as the hydroelectric dams in the state of Pará. At a recent event against impeachment, Sônia Bone Guajajara, indigenous leader and member of the Articulação dos Povos Indígenas do Brasil (Articulation of Indigenous Peoples of Brazil), delivered a message from the indigenous peoples of Pará: “I was instructed to tell Lula and Dilma to take a step back, because the forces of water and nature are reacting against them. They need to think about a new form of development. We must walk together, respecting the communities, the nature and the environment.”
The right mobilizes
Faced with these contradictions, already visible in 2013, the right-wing decided to take to the streets.
Sandra Quintela, from the Instituto de Políticas Alternativas para o Cone Sul (Institute of Alternative Policies for the Southern Cone), says to Latinamerica Press that “at first those who took to the streets were the youth and social movements, but then the more conservative groups followed.”
This right wave is present within the population. In 2014 some right-wing youth groups emerged, such as the Movimento Brasil Livre (Free Brazil Movement), accused of getting involved with the Koch brothers, industrial financiers of ultraconservative patterns in the United States. The role of Red Globo is undeniable in this process, a media conglomerate that strongly influences public opinion, which supported the military coup in 1964 and that currently presents extremely biased information.
In this context of the advancement of the right on the streets, Rousseff faced a very tight election, requiring the left to present an uncritical defense of the candidate to keep Aécio Neves, from the Partido Social Democrata Brasileiro (PSDB-Brazilian Social Democratic Party), from obtaining the victory. To Quintela, the 2014 re-election was “depoliticized, resulting in the most conservative Congress since 1964.”
To the disappointment of the left, Rousseff adopted a regulated fiscal adjustment program upon assuming the presidency that was detrimental to social rights, such as increasing the minimum work time required for access to unemployment insurance; enacted the law that defines terrorism as a crime and, according to human rights organizations, criminalizes the social movements; and she appointed ministers unfavorable to the interests of workers.
“Dilma tore apart her propaganda of the second round and adopted the program of Aécio” said Paulo Mansan, of the Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra (MST-Landless Workers Movement) and of the Via Campesina de Pernambuco, to Latinamerica Press.
Meanwhile, chief Curupinim, coordinator of the Tapajós Arapiuns Indigenous Council, told Latinamerica Press that “Dilma gave more support to the Ruralista group [parliamentary front representing the landowners] than to the indigenous people who were supporting her, those who helped her get elected.”
Paradoxically, although the government has moved away from its leftist program, the right is trying to impeach the president and demoralize the PT. The Partido do Movimento Democrático Brasileiro (PMDB-Brazilian Democratic Movement Party) broke off with the PT and, together with other sectors, has opted for a “white coup”, meaning the exit of Rousseff using apparently constitutional and democratic measures. In the case of right-wing legislators, the solution to the crisis can be seen in the formulation of speeches in favor of the traditional family, of the impeachment and against corruption. However, according to the newspaper Jornal do Brasil, 119 of the 367 deputies who voted on Apr. 17 in favor of impeaching the president are or have been accused of a crime themselves.
One of the most emblematic cases is that of Eduardo Cunha, of the PMDB, president of the Chamber of Deputies and responsible for accepting the request for impeachment of the president.
On Dec. 2, 2015, representatives of the PT announced that they would not impede investigations of Cunha in the Ethics Council of the Chamber of Deputies on suspicion of having secret accounts in Switzerland and having received US$5 million in bribes. In clear revenge Cunha accepted the requested impeachment proceeding against Rousseff that same day.
Also, since last year, large sections of the left, especially the feminist movement and the black movement, expressed concern about the rise of Cunha, as his commitment to ignore the human rights of these sectors had already been made clear.
In the impeachment process Rousseff is accused of having committed two offenses of fiscal responsibility: the authorization of “additional appropriations” which meant, according to the indictment, an expansion of government spending; and “fiscal pedaling”, referring to the delay in the transfer of funds by the Executive to public banks for the payment of social benefits and pensions.
In her defense, José Cardozo, minister of the Attorney General’s Office, states that the additional appropriations are not changes in State finances, which would have to occur through the support of Congress, but they are only budgetary changes. Regarding the tax pedaling, Cardozo argues that the fact that the government has delayed the payment of funds to public banks does not mean that there were loans made to the Federal Government by those banks, which would constitute a violation of the Fiscal Responsibility Act.
Guilherme Boulos, coordinator of the Movimento dos Trabalhadores Sem Teto (MTST-Homeless Workers Movement) poses to Latinamerica Press that currently the challenge of the left is to “prevent this coup, this offensive of the right in the country. Besides the coup itself, the package that this brings is very bitter for the Brazilian people.”
This package is explicit in the post impeachment program launched by Vice President Michel Temer, of the PMDB, and called Bridge to the Future. In it, the program points to the realization of a series of neoliberal measures as a solution to the economic crisis, putting an end to the policy of valorization of the minimum wage (continuous real increase) conducted by the PT, and cutting public investment, including the social programs of the PT government.
However, to Boulos, “in addition to stopping the coup, we [the left] cannot remain silent. Even at this time, we must also confront the policies attacking social rights under this government [Rousseff’s].”
Another part of the left, such as the MST, and political parties like the Communist Party of Brazil, of the allied base, is closer to the government. Both fronts are very close at the moment.
“The situation forced us [the left] to jump onto a slightly larger unit, with a minimum program; in these first moments against the coup,” Mansan explains.
Other sectors and autonomist groups have deep critical opinions of the PT and consider it as reprehensible as the right. The Brazilian left faces in this manner the challenge to rearticulate around a truly leftist political program.