A Coup In Brazil

DILMA Rousseff, President of Brazil, has been impeached by the country’s Senate on allegations of corruption. She stands suspended from Presidency, and has to face a trial. Dilma Rousseff has been undoubtedly a thoroughly honest person in her professional life and this fact is not disputed even by her detractors.

Her interim successor Michel Temer was Vice President in Dilma's government till a month ago, when he resigned and gave a call to oust Dilma. He is a known proponent of right wing economic policies. His party Brazilian Democratic Movement Party (PMDB) was in alliance with the government led by Dilma as her Workers Party (PT) does not enjoy a majority in the Congress. Temer has been charged with bribery and kickbacks in the past, and is under the scanner in a scam popularly called Operation Lava Jato (Operation Car Wash). His name also figured in the Wikileaks cables as an informant for the US embassy who criticised Lula for "excessive focus on social safety programmes that don't promote growth or development". This impeachment is being termed a ‘soft coup’ in Brazil. Temer along with Eduardo Cunha, the Speaker of the lower House who is suspended by the Supreme Court and facing corruption and perjury charges, are the lead actors behind this coup. Now people like Temer and Cunha will decide the future of Dilma Rousseff and the course of Brazilian politics.

What are 'corruption' charges against Dilma? She is accused of using accounting 'tricks' to divert central funds towards various government departments - and thereby failing to maintain proper fiscal prudence. This is something which the governments all over the world do to serve their priorities; and sometime to hide their financial weakness but this is merely an accounting exercise - not a valid reason for an impeachment motion. Dilma Rousseff has not been charged with amassing personal property by illegal means. Ironically, a large number of the legislators in Brazil are facing corruption charges including the Speaker of the House and Michel Temer himself who is now interim President.

Michel Temer was barred by Court from contesting the next elections for committing electoral malpractices in last elections, and is so unpopular among Brazilians that he can't win elections even if he were allowed to contest. His right-wing, all-white, no-women Cabinet, filled with business magnates and backed with political clout from the US, has made a slew of anti-people moves within a week of taking charge.

His Cabinet has moved to curtail workers' rights by deleting terms like "degrading conditions" and "exhausting shifts" from the definition of slavery. The land demarcation policy is being changed to facilitate the grab of forest, conservation and indigenous peoples' lands. The Culture Ministry's independent existence has been abolished; social spending is being slashed; housing and health services are being curtailed; private health insurance companies are being encouraged; and state assets including airports and post offices are being sold to private parties. Significantly, the new Cabinet has made it clear that given its way, Brazil's close relations with other Latin American countries having Left or Left-to-Centre governments (as in Venezuela, Ecuador and Bolivia) will be a thing of the past.

The impeachment process was preceded by countrywide protests by right wing organizations and groups demanding to increase the pace of neoliberal reforms, which were to some extent slowed down during Dilma’s and Lula’s Presidencies since 2002.

There have also been large demonstrations by people in support of Dilma, opposing the designs of the Brazilian elite and big corporates who not only want to see Dilma ousted, but also seek a complete decimation of the Workers’ Party (PT) which has been in government since Lula de Silva was first elected President in 2002 after a nationwide movement against corruption and neoliberal austerity measures.

Left-to-Centre parties, trade unions as well as parties that are Left of the PT, in spite of being critical of PT’s policies and the government, came in support with full strength, because they are aware of the imminent danger of reverting back to the old anti-people regime and increased US imperialist intervention. The Landless Workers Movement (MST) has declared, 'now it's time for a permanent mobilisation against the coup'. A Senator of the Communist Party of Brazil said this coup is intended "to change the political-economic plan for the nation".

However, Dilma’s popular mass support has declined, and a section of people who might have voted PT in the last elections are not yet coming to defend her. She withdrew many social security measures, implemented a wage freeze and backtracked from her electoral promises under the kind of economic slump being faced by Brazil. There is growing unemployment, inflation, collapsing public services, and degradation of environment as a result of the so-called 'developmental model' which has been adopted. The Lula-Dilma regime had not really broken with the neoliberal policy framework, and had sought to make a balance between delivering promises made to people and making big business happy by letting them give an opportunity to expand businesses and profits. This strategy succeeded as long as there was scope for it thanks to higher prices for Brazilian oil exports; Brazilian exports of soy and mining products to China; and also an expanded internal market for Brazilian companies due to wage increases done in Lula’s tenure. This balancing act collapsed with the low oil prices, declining exports to China, downfall of the country's currency, and more importantly, the Dilma Government's own move towards austerity measures. A large support base has been lost which is evident by the initial indifference of people towards the impeachment proceedings.

The Brazilian media, totally controlled by big business, is consistently and systematically working against the PT government since its inception and is now playing a crucial role in building domestic and international opinion against Dilma Rousseff.

The anti-Dilma protesters mainly comprised white people from higher income groups, in a country where more than half the population is black, and poverty is still high. Presence of women and under-privileged sections in these protests was very low. Emboldened by the ongoing crisis and political situation such protesters even dared to carry placards demanding military intervention and curbing democratic institutions, revealing their fascist right-wing mentality. These protests were clearly aimed at defending inequality, not demanding greater equity.

Artists and cultural activists occupied government building in 12 states in protest against the closing down of the Culture Minstry. MST mobilised peasants to occupy a farm associated with Temer. Feminist activists protested at the gates of the Presidential palace against a 'racist' cabinet devoid of women, blacks and indigenous people's representatives. Some Brazilian filmmakers held a protest at Cannes with the banners of 'A coup took place in Brazil' and 'We will resist'.

Compared to 2002 when Lula was elected for the first time, PT has been alienated from a large section of its working class support base in the course of four presidential terms. This loss of confidence among its own class base is being felt acutely now. Dilma won her second presidential term only by a very thin majority while PT commands only fifteen percent legislators in Brazil. Her government rested on a ten-party alliance which includes right wing parties. The government imposed hardships on its own supporters. Had the PT instead opted for burdening the rich and powerful in order to solve the current economic crisis, even at the risk of isolation inside the Senate, it would have rejuvenated the confidence of the working classes in the Government, which would have fought the impeachment with greater vigour.

Still, the movement against Dilma's impeachment is steadily growing and people are coming to protests in more numbers each succeeding day. The interim President Temer is not at all being seen by people as a creditable alternative, and the ruling elite who backed this silent coup are very well aware of this reality. Hence there is valid apprehensions that democratic institutions may be demolished, civil liberties curtailed, the economy now more brazenly be controlled by corporates, and people at lower economic strata will be forced to take cuts in social security, health, education and pensions as well as wages in the name of strengthening economy. Brazil has a long history of military dictatorship backed by United States, but this time there are apprehensions of attempts to install a puppet autocratic regime with democratic institutions rendered ineffective. There are also apprehensions that some legal-constitutional pretext may be used to prevent Lula – who still enjoys considerable popular support - from contesting elections in 2018.

Many Latin American governments including Venezuela, Nicaragua and El Salvador have not recognised the Temer government. Bolivarian alliance countries have issued a statement rejecting the coup. Public demonstrations have been held in many Latin American countries in solidarity with Brazilian people.

The impeachment has sharpened the socio-political ideological divide which had got blurred gradually during the last fourteen years. The PT can take this juncture as a blessing in disguise if it critically introspects and tries to regain the confidence of the working people and finding its allies in left and progressive forces in Brazil.

-- Sanjay Sharma

Liberation Archive