Less than a year after being installed in power via a constitutional coup, the government of Brazilian President Michel Temer is teetering on the brink of collapse.
Plagued by corruption scandals – the same pretext used by the right-wing controlled judiciary and parliament to topple centre-left president Dilma Rousseff – and popularity figures in the single digits, the Temer regime is now facing a growing revolt from below demanding “direct elections now!”
This rebellion has involved a general strike on April 28, the largest in Brazil for decades, and a rally of 150,000 in the capital, Brasilia, on May 24, which the government responded to by declaring a state of siege and calling out the military to brutally repress protesters.
To get a sense of the current situation in Brazil, Geraldina Colott interviewed Joao Pedro Stedile, from Brazil’s Landless Rural Workers Movement (MST), for the Italian newspaper Il Manifesto.
The interview has been translated and abridged for Green Left Weekly by Federico Fuentes
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Do you think Temer will fall? How might this happen? Who currently supports him?
Yes, for all intents and purposes, Temer’s coup government is finished: it no longer has the majority support of the capitalists; it does not have the media backing of the O Globo Network, which is campaigning daily for his removal from government; and his parliamentary base is divided.
His use-life is over, but his downfall has not yet occurred because the capitalists have not found someone who could unite this bloc, be elected indirectly by Congress and push forward with the anti-popular reforms and changes to the labour laws [Temer initiated].
I think that the capitalist class is tirelessly seeking a unifying figure so that Temer can resign and this person can be elected indirectly via Congress.
For the social organisations, what interests us is that the coup-plotting forces are divided and do not agree on a common tactic.
The longer Temer is in power, the worse it is for them, because this person is a lumpen, who might even end up in jail once he leaves the presidency. That is why his removal also depends on reaching an agreement that guarantees his ability to go to Miami rather than remain behind bars.
As with other “soft coups”, Temer is no longer useful to his owners. Who could be their new servant and what would their project be?
The real purpose of the coup was not only to remove Dilma; it was an attempt by the capitalist class to take absolute control over all powers – the media, judiciary, parliament and the presidency – to impose a neoliberal plan that saves its companies from the economic crisis and makes all the cost fall on the backs of the working class.
That is why we already have 15% unemployment and more than 20 million workers out of a job.
And they are imposing various legislative measures, all aimed at taking away the rights of the working class. We are being taken back to the beginning of the 20th century in terms of social laws.
That is why the people have begun to participate in protests this year, having now sensed that the coup was against them and their historic rights.
The capitalists are now looking for a figure, but it is not easy, because it has to be someone who can unite them and at the same time has certain public credibility. That is why we are starting to see some sectors within this camp talking about early direct elections as the solution, so that the ballot box decides.
How is the situation after the general strike and recent protests?
Our reading is that the workers began mobilising on March 8 [for International Women’s Day], then we called a mass march for March 15, and built towards the April 28 general strike. Afterwards we called for solidarity with [former president Luiz Inacio] Lula [da Silva] in his court case in Curitiba and mobilised 50,000 to the Curitiba Plaza.
More recently we had the protest in Brasilia, which mobilised 150,000 people and was brutally repressed. Temer even called out the armed forces because he feared that the people would take over Congress and the presidential palace.
On the other hand, the right-wing mobilisations have stopped. They no longer have the force or courage to go out onto the streets, as they did in 2016.
For our part, the trade union confederations and the coalition of popular movements, the Popular Brazil Front, continue in our trenches, planning new mobilisations because we will only defeat the rightist coup in the streets.
That is why on June 5 we will hold a broad meeting to convene a Broad Front for Direct Elections Now, which will unite trade unions, political parties, churches, popular sectors, artists, and others, to organise a national calendar of struggle for direct presidential elections this October.
The trade union confederations have already called for a new general strike between June 26 and 29, which all the popular movements will come behind. The strike is now more politicised, because it is against the social security and labour reforms at the same time as it demands direct presidential elections.
It is important to note that all the trade union confederations are now united, even though two of them previously supported the coup.
How do you see the situation in the continent and the attacks on Venezuela?
It is too large and complex an issue to deal with in a few lines. But from Brazil and from the coalition of popular movements supporting ALBA [the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our Americas], we say that the continent and Venezuela are living through a grave economic, political, social and environmental crisis.
In the last two decades, or since [former Venezuelan president Hugo] Chavez won government in 1999, there has been a permanent struggle between three governmental projects: neoliberalism, promoted by the United States and which has Mexico, Chile, Panama and Colombia as reference points in the region; neo-developmentalism, promoted in Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay; and the ALBA project, which is promoted by Venezuela and supported by various governments such as Cuba, Nicaragua, Ecuador and Bolivia.
But the global crisis of capitalism, not only in economic terms but also in terms of the crisis of the domination of the capitalist state, the crisis of the domination of capital over nature, has provoked a crisis in each of the three projects in our continent.
As such, the current difficulties in each country are due to the fact that no project has complete hegemony and each of them is in crisis. That is why the solution has to be a long-term one.
Thankfully, in Venezuela, there is a popular hegemony in the government, in the armed forces, in the judiciary, and in the autonomous forms that people have organised their communities, which has allowed them to halt the right-wing offensive, in the face of an economic crisis that has also affected them.
They have also taken a very wise decision to call a constituent assembly, so that the people can decide what steps need to be taken to get out of the crisis. That is, as we have always learnt from all the great thinkers, when in doubt, consult the people, as only they have the genuine social solutions.
In Venezuela, there is a strong confrontation with the right, who are supported by the United States, Spain and Colombia. It may take time, and the measures perhaps should be stronger, but I believe the Venezuelan people are going in the correct direction, seeking more structural changes.