Brazil's MST: 'Our challenge is to fight for structural reforms'

November 9, 2014
Alexandre Conceicao.

In an interview with Pagina do MST's Iris Pacheco, Alexandre Conceicao, a national leader of the Movement of Rural Landless Workers (MST), said social movements played a fundamental role in the October 26 re-election of President Dilma Rousseff, the candidate of the Workers' Party (PT). Dilma won 51%, defeating her main rival, Aecio Neves.

The interview, below, was translated by Federico Fuentes.

* * *

How would you evaluate the contest in the second round of the elections, in which two antagonistic projects faced off against each other: that of neoliberalism, represented by the candidature of Aecio Neves, and neo-developmentalism, represented by Dilma Rousseff?

First, I want to acknowledge the role played by social activists who, having looked at the two different projects, consciously took to the streets and in the end were the difference. Because this election was won on the streets as a result of a collective effort involving tested activists and a people organised to fight for democracy.

In this context, where the streets and social networks became important arenas of the dispute, the right mobilised all its power. This included financial capital, agribusiness and, most importantly, the media, which played the role of fomenting hatred towards a project of change that leaned towards benefiting Brazil's working class.

That is why Dilma, who had already had to confront a military dictatorship, had to confront a media dictatorship.

What did this dispute mean for the social movements and working class of this country?

This election contest was extremely fierce, given the hatred that the right tried to mobilise to defeat the PT and the social movements.

The hatred became even more intense in the second round, converting the contest into a struggle between classes, between a change towards more rights for the Brazilian people and an emblematic program for neoliberal restoration that promoted privatisation, casualisation of the public sector workforce and the criminalisation of the struggle for land.

You said that a “media dictatorship” supported the conservative candidate in this election. What do you think the government should do to change this situation? Given Dilma’s criticisms of Veja magazine, do you think the issue of media democratisation will come up?

Now that Dilma has been re-elected, she cannot put the issue of media democratisation to one side. To build a democratic and developed country, we must promote the right to information, by broadening out freedom of speech and guaranteeing diversity and plurality on radio and TV.

The government should no longer tolerate Globo [Brazil's largest TV network] and Veja, which continuously spout their hatred towards the working class.

This second term in government must be used to carry out a project for democratising the media. It is unacceptable that the government continues to hand over 70% of its publicity budget to monopolies that attack and demonise the struggles of the Brazilian people in order to maintain their privileges.

Social movements and groups have already come up with a proposal for media laws that challenge the concentration of media ownership and support regulation of Brazilian TV and radio stations, along the lines already set out in the constitution.

We can no longer remain hostage to a small number of families that control the media and use it to spread disinformation.

Dilma won by a small margin, and her victory was in large part due to the decision by sections of the left to support her in the second round. Do you think this might push PT activists and the government further to the left?

Given the tight nature of this contest, social movements played a vital role by coming out onto the streets with their demands, thereby guaranteeing a victory for Dilma. More importantly, to ratify in the polls what we already achieved in 2002: the defeat of neoliberalism.

In this context, the social movements played a fundamental role, despite the fact that their demands have not been met. We only need to look at the weak results in terms of land reform carried out during the past four years of government.

That is why we continue to struggle and raise our demands. We came out onto the streets to win the elections and, of course, to push the candidate to the left. Now, we need to continue building up our forces and occupying land in favour of a more just and egalitarian society.

In her victory speech, Dilma said she did not believe the election campaign had divided the country, and that she was going to seek dialogue with all sectors of society. Can we view this as an indication of what her second term in government will be like?

In Latin America, the right continues with its aim of destabilising popular governments. Brazil is no different.

Now, the idea promoted after the elections that the country is divided is really a bid to discredit the work of the government.
The electoral process was educational because of the sharp nature of the class struggle it entailed.

That is why I believe that the president, having seen the antagonism that existed between the two projects, was inevitably pushed a little further to the left.

For example, despite having benefited under the current government, the agribusiness sector, because of its class ties, supported Neves’ campaign and was roundly defeated on all sides.

How can this second term harness the widespread yearning for change that exists all across the country?

Dilma was democratically elected as the president of all Brazilians. As such, we hope that during her second term, she will carry out structural reforms that attend to the needs of the working class, farmers, and students, and guarantee individual rights for LGBTI people, those from African-based religions, women, etc.

To implement these demands, the president will have to govern with the people in the streets, because the conservative-controlled Congress will be able to defeat her government in parliament and her party’s allies are not very reliable.

On the issue of reforms, the president said political reform and a referendum on the issue of constitutional reform was a priority for her new term in government. How do you think this could improve the lives of the people?

The peoples’ referendum, which was held in September, was a successful movement. About 7.7 million people voted in favour of a referendum for constitutional reform, and Dilma agreed to take up this issue.

The basic demands of the Brazilian people have not been attended to because the structures of political power in Brazil and its rules of functioning work against radical changes.

Although we have the right to vote in elections, there are many factors that have the power to influence the result and ensure the candidates who win are not committed to the needs of the people.

We need to create the conditions in which we can build a broad national unity around an official referendum for a sovereign and free constituent assembly. That is why we are going to organise ourselves, prepare our fight and make sure she keeps her promise.

At the same time, the re-elected president has made reference to land reform, even if her program was vague on this issue. How will the movement act from now on to demand progress on this front?

Alongside the struggle for a Constituent Assembly, we remain steadfast in our struggle for land and for the democratisation of access and use of land. We will continue the fight to ensure the production of healthy food that reaches the tables of workers in the city, at a low price ― something that would also help the government contain inflation on food prices.

Land reform is urgent and needed, and the re-elected president must recognise this fact and allow the more than 120,000 families to settle on the land they are now occupying in Brazil.

We defeated neoliberalism at the polls, and now we must continue the fight to defeat landlordism and agribusiness, which does not produce food or employment for the people. It does not create opportunities for young people, but pushes the people off the land and into the cities.

What are the main challenges from now on?

Social movements face the big challenge of continuing the fight for structural reforms in Brazil. We have to continue the struggle for land, continue pushing for a referendum for a constituent assembly and demand that the government democratise the media.

We also need to reform the judicial system, which in the past few years has criminalised the struggle for land, paralysed the creation of new land settlements by filing away cases, blocked the demarcation of lands for indigenous peoples and quilombolas [descendants of Afro-Brazilian slaves], and acted as the main accomplice of impunity in the countryside.

All of these issues have emerged out of the desires of the working class, and not because of actions of a movement or party.

They are demands raised by the organised people, who are conscious of their role in the street mobilisations, of the need to pressure the government to guarantee structural reforms that can enable us to build a more just and egalitarian Brazil.

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