South America’s largest country, Brazil, has been rocked in recent months by a political crisis, partly fuelled by mass protests calling for the removal of centre-left President Dilma Rousseff. The protests come as the country officially moves into recession, with Brazil’s economy expected to contract by 2% this year.
Brazil has been governed by a Workers’ Party (PT)-led coalition for over a decade, firstly under Luiz Ignacio “Lula” da Silva and now Dilma, as she is commonly known.
One of several left parties elected in Latin America since 2000, the PT has been particularly important to the process of regional integration due to Brazil’s large economy and strategic role.
The PT – which emerged out of the anti-dictatorship and trade union struggles of the 1970s – is facing possibly its biggest crisis yet, and there are strong signs it is shifting rightwards.
In response, sections of the left, such as the Landless Rural Workers Movement (MST) – the largest social movement in Latin America – are reorganising and preparing to fight.
Green Left Weekly’s Federico Fuentes interviewed Alexandre Conceição, a national leader of the MST, on the situation in Brazil and the left’s response.
* * *
Dilma was re-elected as president one year ago. Yet recent polls have shown her support dipping below 10% and there have been large mobilisations calling for her impeachment. What explains this?
Neoliberal forces have launched an offensive in a bid to impose their economic program across the globe. Through this, they hope to solve the problems capitalism's crisis has created for them.
In Brazil, international financial capital is pressuring the government to implement a program that was defeated at the ballot box in October last year. They are pushing for more austerity, in particular cuts to social spending, removing workers’ rights, handing over our natural resources such as oil and minerals, and privatising public companies.
At the same time, conservative sectors are using the crisis to weaken the government, even raising the spectre of a military coup. They have organised mass demonstrations and worked to undermine the government in Congress.
In response, the government has caved to this pressure and is becoming weaker each day.
The pressure to implement austerity and calls to impeach president Dilma are two sides of the same coin. By implementing austerity, the government is breaking away from its base and becoming weaker in the face of any potential coup.
As the coup-plotters advance, the government becomes more frightened and deepens austerity.
Why has the Dilma government taken the path of austerity? Can it be said that the government is shifting to the right?
The government has shifted to the right.
The governments of Lula and Dilma were characterised by their neo-developmentalist agenda. This was based on economic growth, public investment as a means of state intervention in the economy, increased profit margins for capitalists, minimum wage rises for workers and social policies to benefit the poor.
Now the government is implementing a regressive economic program based on high interest rates and cuts to spending. This has led to falling investment, removing workers’ rights, cuts to social spending for the poor and a downsizing of the role of the state.
The finance minister is implementing a neoliberal policy. We are opposed to this economic program that is taking away the rights of workers.
What does the reappearance of Lula as a possible PT presidential candidate for 2018 represent?
Lula still maintains high popular support and will always be remembered for what his government represented. However, a lot can happen between now and 2018.
We know that the reactionary right never accepted the fact that a migrant from the country’s north-east [the poorest region in the country] became president. They will do whatever they can to ensure that Lula does not win again.
The Dilma government is also not helping the situation, given its low approval rating.
What is the relationship between the left and the government? What has been the left’s response, in particular the MST?
The Brazilian left is divided into three camps.
One is made up of those who blindly defend the government and accept austerity measures as necessary for guaranteeing stability. This position is mistaken because austerity will not help the government get out of this crisis.
Another camp is those who see the struggle against the government as the main priority, and in some cases have even flirted with those proposing a coup. They ignore the actions of the right and the consequences for popular forces and the left if the Dilma government was deposed.
A third camp, which the MST is part of and articulates the aspirations of most popular forces, says we need to simultaneously fight against the coup plotters and for a shift in the government’s economic program. Together with many other movements, parties and social sectors, we recently formed the Popular Brazil Front.
What can you tell us about the Popular Brazil Front?
The Popular Brazil Front brings together popular, democratic and nationalist sectors in order to fight back. In early September, we brought together 1500 activists from all across the country in Belo Horizonte and launched the Front on the basis of fighting to defend democracy and for a change in economic policy.
We do not accept austerity, which shifts the burden of the crisis onto workers, and we do not accept coups by those cannot accept the fact they were defeated at the ballot box.
We believe this crisis will not be resolved in the short term. We need to prepare and reorganise ourselves behind a strategic perspective. Our perspective must be to carry out important structural reforms.
That is why we are working across the country to build the Front, advancing a programmatic debate and uniting struggles that can help place the historic project of the working class at the heart of the country’s political debate.
We already have an important schedule of events to help organise the Front in the different states and an important schedule of mobilisations, starting with marches on October 2 and 3 in defence of [state oil company] Petobras, our sovereignty, and for using oil wealth to fund increases in education spending.
We oppose attempts by the right-wing Brazilian Social Democratic Party (PSDB) to use its power in the Senate to block the pre-salt oil deposits law that seeks to channel oil wealth towards education spending. Instead, it wants to hand the deposits over to US transnationals to exploit our energy resources.