Brazil: MST leader says 'we can stop the coup'

May 6, 2016

A National Day of Action to Defend Democracy was held on March 31, to oppose the coup plot against Dilma and mark the anniversary of the 1964 military coup.

Right-wing forces in Brazil are seeking to impeach Workers' Party (PT) President Dilma Rousseff in what has been widely condemned as an “institutional coup”.

João Pedro Stédile is an economist and leader of Brazil's Landless Rural Workers (MST), one of the world's largest social movements. He told LibreRed that the left would not allow the right to remove the president and fully restore the neoliberal order. However, the MST leader also criticised Dilma's rightward shift and said her biggest error was pushing “class conciliation”.

An abridged version of LibreRed's interview with Pedro Stédile — translated by The Dawn — is below.

For more discussion on the struggle in Latin America, come to the “Socialism for the 21st Century” conference in Sydney over May 13-15. It features left-wing Latin American author and activist Marta Harnecker, Venezuelan ambassador to Australia Nelson Davila and Green Left Weekly journalist and co-author of Latin America's Turbulent Transitions Federico Fuentes.


What will be the reaction of the Brazilian people and the MST in particular if Dilma Rousseff is removed?

First of all, we're confident that it's possible to stop the coup in process now that it has reached the Senate.

We believe that the government has a greater representation in the Senate than in the Chamber of Deputies [where the vote was in favour of impeachment].

The Senators are more experienced in politics and know that a parliamentary coup like the ones that took place in Honduras or Paraguay would lead Brazil to a deeper crisis.

But if this coup is consolidated in the Senate, we, as part of the movements organised in the Popular Brazil Front won't hesitate in denying any kind of legitimacy to a Michel Temer-Eduardo Cunha government. It would be an illegitimate government completely stained by corruption.

It's now public that they gave out a lot of money to get the votes of the deputies. We will keep taking to the streets to exert pressure.

Of the eight main unions, only one supports the coup. We are in discussions with the seven unions that are with the people about the possibility of a general strike before the vote in the Senate.

We want to point out to the businesspeople that despite their money and their plan to impose neoliberalism and the subordination of our economy to the interests of Yankee companies, the working class are the ones that produce riches.

A general strike would be a signal to them that says: “You may want to increase your profits and your exploitation again, but we are the ones who produce the riches in this country and we won't allow a coup that destroys democracy.”

The right, in Brazil and globally, says this is not a coup, but the mere application of Constitutional laws.

That is what they said in Honduras [with the 2009 coup against President Manuel Zelaya], as well as in Paraguay [with the 2012 coup against Fernando Lugo]. It is a trap.

In Brazilian law, there is a provision that says that if a president commits a crime of responsibility or corruption against the country, the parliament can punish and expel them. But in fact, Dilma is not accused of committing any crime. The accusation they used against her has to do with a mechanism of public accounting that the government uses to meet its social obligations.

But this is not a crime, it is an artifice of any government, even Vice-President Michel Temer [who is backing the impeachment of Dilma] did it himself when he stood in as president. There are 34 state governors in Brazil — several from the right — that use the form of accounting Dilma faces impeachment over.

But the bottom of the issue is not about removing the president. The problem is that we are going through a serious economic crisis and the capitalists' way to deal with that crisis and restore their profit rate is to return to the neoliberal model.

That is, they want to take away workers' rights, hand over our resources — such as oil, mining, water and biodiversity — to transnational companies and keep interest rates high. Dilma has been an obstacle to that.

Temer has already announced his government plan, which is completely neoliberal. That's why the Brazilian people's organisations say that Temer is to Brazil what [new right-wing president] Mauricio Macri is to Argentina. But the difference resides in that Macri earned the votes to become president and Temer hasn't.

Not only that, but he's so unpopular that in recent polls 80% of the people said that they don't want him. If he ran for president, he'd get only 1% of the vote in Brazil. That's the state of affairs: it's a coup against democracy.

Why did Dilma chose Temer as vice-president?

That was the sort of move that we in the MST always criticised. In reality, [former PT president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva] in both of his terms and Dilma in hers always proposed a formula for class conciliation. There were always seats reserved for sectors of the Brazilian capitalists.

When Lula was president, that strategy worked well because his vice-president was a nationalist — a serious and even honest businessperson from the textile industry, whose business depended on the internal market. Therefore he was interested in having wealth distribution because that way he could sell more.

But Temer's only role is to defend the capitalists. He is not actually a capitalist per se. Because of that, he betrayed the president.

As an economist, could you explain how much the current economic crisis weighed in the current political crisis of Brazil?

The economic crisis is the reason why the class conciliation ceased to be possible. When Lula was president, he designed a conciliation based on three pillars: firstly, to make the economy grow through industry (which he accomplished); secondly, to recover the role of the state of making productive investments such as education and health to improve the living conditions of the population; and thirdly, to distribute income through an increase in the minimum wage.

But with the international crisis of capitalism, the economy of Brazil, as a country on the periphery of capitalism, suffered greatly. For three years, the economy hasn't grown.

Twenty years ago, industry accounted for 50% of our GDP. Now, due to deindustrialisation and competition from Chinese and US companies, national industry accounts for only 9% of GDP.

There's a deep economic crisis that can only be solved by recovering, again, the role of the state. We must control financial capital so that instead of accumulating wealth through speculation, the state can use that money to make productive investments in the industry and agriculture sectors, oriented toward the internal market.

With that, the economy would grow again. We would reverse the 10% unemployment rate and could have social programs again.

The political crisis we're going through is a consequence of the elites trying to win back control over the state and restore neoliberalism. But the working class isn't going to accept that.

It's going to take years to get out of this, because the only way out of a crisis of this magnitude is through an agreement between social classes — not just parties — over a new model of the country, that can be hegemonic in most of society.

At this moment, there's no project being discussed in the country, not even within any of the classes — neither the capitalists, nor the middle class nor the working class have a clear project for the country.

This is why we're in this confusion and why the capitalists are stupid enough — because they're subordinated to the interests of imperialism — to think it's enough to change the president to magically solve the problems of the economy.

But that would deepen the contradictions of inequality and the institutional crisis. It would, hopefully, send the masses back to the streets.

Have some sectors of the working class, that benefited from the social policies of Dilma and Lula, been co-opted by the right?

It wouldn't be fair to say they've been co-opted. But the masses are still silent, still afraid. They haven't mobilised yet.

Why? We have to be self-critical, because during the eight years that Lula governed, there was almost no work to elevate the level of political and cultural consciousness of those masses. They got better policies and better salaries but without a change in their views.

Unlike Venezuela, Ecuador and Bolivia, the government did nothing to change that.

Let's conclude with a message from you to the people of Latin America. What would you like to say to them?

Times are hard but we mustn't be discouraged or pessimistic. We have to be pessimistic in our analysis but optimistic toward the future. It's true that our continent, as everywhere, is in crisis, but that's not the fault of a leader, a government or a party.

Capitalism is to blame — the capitalist way of organising production and life in society is in crisis around the world. Because we in Latin America are in the periphery of world capitalism, capitalists see our continent as a bigger opportunity to dominate natural resources, markets and the workforce.

These are hard times because we have to confront the empire, but this brings contradictions. It's time to put more energy into bringing awareness and organising people, because in the coming years we'll see a new, rising, mass movement on our continent.

In this movement there will be new liberation projects and new leaders, and we'll surely see the dream of Hugo Chavez, Jose Marti and Che Guevara come to life again.

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