FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

A Left Challenge to Lula

by LEE SUSTAR

When Lula won the presidential elections in late 2002, Brazil’s workers and poor looked forward to a new era. After a history of extreme social inequality, reinforced by long periods of military dictatorship in the 20th century, Brazil had elected as president a former metalworker and union leader raised in poverty, who became a leader on the left.

But even during the campaign, Lula signaled his direction by choosing as his vice president José Alencar, a textile industry CEO from the right-wing Liberal Party.

Once in office, Lula’s performance pleased Wall Street, Washington and Brazil’s world-class agribusiness interests. As Latin America expert and author James Petras noted, Lula’s early “achievements” included slashing pensions for public-sector workers by 30 percent, cutting spending for health and education by 5 percent, and pushing through legislation making it easier to fire workers.

Social spending now runs at $8 billion annually–a threefold increase since Lula took office, but only a fraction of the amount his government has spent on repaying Brazil’s $150 billion in foreign debt, much of which was accumulated during the military dictatorships of the 1980s.

One of the consequences is that Brazil’s Family Allowance cash subsidy for the poor has reached only about a quarter of the 40 million of Brazil’s population of 181 million who live below the poverty line. Meanwhile, high interest rates have engorged bankers’ profits.
* * *

Nevertheless, Lula did manage to boost the PT’s vote in the 2004 municipal elections from 12 million to 16 million, nearly doubling the number of mayoralities the party controls, from 187 to 300.

Much of the gains came in the impoverished, rural Northeast, an area still shaped by the enslavement of, and racism against, Afro-Brazilians. These advances for the PT were not, however, the result of long-promised land reform.

Despite Lula’s pledge that 100,000 families would receive land each year–a small enough number itself–the total has only been 25,000 annually, compared to the average of 48,000 families per year who got land under the previous neoliberal government of Fernando Henrique Cardoso.

Rather the PT’s gains in the North came by using the Family Allowance program to promote clientalism and patronage, thereby outflanking some traditional parties of the big landowners, while making alliances with others. Nevertheless, João Pedro Stedile, leader of the Landless Workers Movement (MST), continues to support Lula as a “lesser evil.”

At the same time, the PT’s traditional vote in the industrial heartlands around Sao Paolo dropped off. This disillusionment was caused not only by Lula’s conservative polices, but a series of scandals that have engulfed the heart of the PT apparatus.

In the latest episode, two PT officials were arrested with currency worth $792,000, allegedly intended for payoffs. The PT was also found to have funneled money to right-wing legislators to buy their votes in the Brazilian Congress.

Lula seems to have recovered from the scandal by distancing himself from the PT and remaining above the fray in the presidential campaign, refusing to participate in debates.

Internationally, Lula is a reliable collaborator with the U.S. While he invokes populist slogans against the Free Trade Area of the Americas proposed by the U.S., this reflects the agenda of Brazil’s corporate agricultural exporters, who want an end to U.S. farm subsidies as the precondition for any deal.

Tellingly, Brazil signed on to help lead the United Nations-authorized occupation of Haiti after the U.S.-backed coup ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 2004. More recently, Lula has curbed the ambitions of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez to create an anti-U.S. economic bloc in South America.

And Lula has pressured Bolivian President Evo Morales to moderate his plan to nationalize Bolivia’s hydrocarbon resources, in which Brazil’s Petrobras oil company has a substantial stake–with Brazil playing a “subimperialist” role for the U.S., as radical journalist Raúl Zibechi put it.

As James Petras concludes, “The empirical data on all the key indicators demonstrate that Lula fits closer to the profile of a right-wing neoliberal politician rather than a ‘center-leftist’ president.”
* * *

It is in this context that Heloísa Helena’s presidential candidacy emerged on Brazil’s left. A nurse and longtime activist for agrarian reform, Helena was elected as federal senator from the poor Northeastern state of Alagoas on the PT ticket in 1998.

Soon after Lula took office, Helena was among several legislators expelled for opposing the PT’s right turn. She became a founder of PSOL. This year, the PC do B and the PSTU joined PSOL in an electoral front, giving Helena’s presidential campaign a broader activist base.

Recent opinion polls put Helena’s standing at between 7 to 10 percent, compared to less than 30 percent for the conservative Geraldo Alckmin of the Brazilian Social Democratic Party and around 50 percent for Lula. Lula needs over 50 percent to avoid a second-round runoff.

Helena’s showing is especially impressive considering the overwhelming financial advantages of Lula and Alckmin. As speculation mounted in August that Helena could pass Alckmin for second place in the first round of the election, the Brazilian corporate media drastically curtailed coverage of her campaign.

Even if Lula does win on the first round, Helena’s campaign has already provided the Brazilian left with a crucial national profile. This, in turn, can give a boost to activism by landless workers’ groups to the left of the MST–and, in the labor movement, to the Conlutas grouping of militant trade unions opposed to Lula’s policies.

Helena has, however, been criticized on the left for her personal opposition to abortion. But, in a recent press conference, she stressed that she is against measures to criminalize women who have the procedure.

Helena’s campaign does put forward the need for a socialist alternative. Lula, she told an interviewer recently, “cowardly kneels before capital, and afterward goes to Venezuela or Africa with financial aid with the aim of cleaning up his image. What we want is the democratization of the wealth, culture, health and education. We are not heirs of the tradition of totalitarian European socialism. I do not defend socialism by decree. I do not want totalitarian socialism, nor only capitalist thinking. In Brazil, capitalism has been very ugly, cruel and violent.”

As Pedro Fuentes, a leading member of the PSOL put it in an interview, Helena’s campaign “represents a struggle against the treason of the PT, the struggle against corruption, the struggle on behalf of the exploited. In addition, she’s a woman of the Northeast, the poorest region of the country.”

A strong electoral result for Helena, he said, “would affirm a socialist alternative in Brazil after the crisis in the PT. It would recover from and supercede the PT as a new tool of struggle, which would be important for Brazil and also in the Latin American context.”

LEE SUSTAR is a regular contributor to CounterPunch and the Socialist Worker. He can be reached at: lsustar@ameritech.net

 

 

 

LEE SUSTAR is the labor editor of Socialist Worker

More articles by:
June 29, 2016
Diana Johnstone
European Unification Divides Europeans: How Forcing People Together Tears Them Apart
Andrew Smolski
To My Less-Evilism Haters: A Rejoinder to Halle and Chomsky
Jeffrey St. Clair
Noam Chomsky, John Halle and a Confederacy of Lampreys: a Note on Lesser Evil Voting
David Rosen
Birth-Control Wars: Two Centuries of Struggle
Sheldon Richman
Brexit: What Kind of Dependence Now?
Yves Engler
“Canadian” Corporate Capitalism
Lawrence Davidson
Return to the Gilded Age: Paul Ryan’s Deregulated Dystopia
Priti Gulati Cox
All That Glitters is Feardom: Whatever Happens, Don’t Blame Jill Stein
Franklin Lamb
About the Accusation that Syrian and Russian Troops are Looting Palmyra
Binoy Kampmark
Texas, Abortion and the US Supreme Court
Anhvinh Doanvo
Justice Thomas’s Abortion Dissent Tolerates Discrimination
Victor Grossman
Brexit Pro and Con: the View From Germany
Manuel E. Yepe
Brazil: the Southern Giant Will Have to Fight
Rivera Sun
The Nonviolent History of American Independence
Adjoa Agyeiwaa
Is Western Aid Destroying Nigeria’s Future?
Jesse Jackson
What Clinton Should Learn From Brexit
Mel Gurtov
Is Brexit the End of the World?
June 28, 2016
Jonathan Cook
The Neoliberal Prison: Brexit Hysteria and the Liberal Mind
Paul Street
Bernie, Bakken, and Electoral Delusion: Letting Rich Guys Ruin Iowa and the World
Anthony DiMaggio
Fatally Flawed: the Bi-Partisan Travesty of American Health Care Reform
Mike King
The “Free State of Jones” in Trump’s America: Freedom Beyond White Imagination
Antonis Vradis
Stop Shedding Tears for the EU Monster: Brexit, the View From the Peloponnese
Omar Kassem
The End of the Atlantic Project: Slamming the Brakes on the Neoliberal Order
Binoy Kampmark
Brexit and the Neoliberal Revolt Against Jeremy Corbyn
Doug Johnson Hatlem
Alabama Democratic Primary Proves New York Times’ Nate Cohn Wrong about Exit Polling
Ruth Hopkins
Save Bear Butte: Mecca of the Lakota
Celestino Gusmao
Time to End Impunity for Suharto’’s Crimes in Indonesia and Timor-Leste
Thomas Knapp
SCOTUS: Amply Serving Law Enforcement’s Interests versus Society’s
Manuel E. Yepe
Capitalism is the Opposite of Democracy
Winslow Myers
Up Against the Wall
Chris Ernesto
Bernie’s “Political Revolution” = Vote for Clinton and the Neocons
Stephanie Van Hook
The Time for Silence is Over
Ajamu Nangwaya
Toronto’s Bathhouse Raids: Racialized, Queer Solidarity and Police Violence
June 27, 2016
Robin Hahnel
Brexit: Establishment Freak Out
James Bradley
Omar’s Motive
Gregory Wilpert – Michael Hudson
How Western Military Interventions Shaped the Brexit Vote
Leonard Peltier
41 Years Since Jumping Bull (But 500 Years of Trauma)
Rev. William Alberts
Orlando: the Latest Victim of Radicalizing American Imperialism
Patrick Cockburn
Brexiteers Have Much in Common With Arab Spring Protesters
Franklin Lamb
How 100 Syrians, 200 Russians and 11 Dogs Out-Witted ISIS and Saved Palmyra
John Grant
Omar Mateen: The Answers are All Around Us
Dean Baker
In the Wake of Brexit Will the EU Finally Turn Away From Austerity?
Ralph Nader
The IRS and the Self-Minimization of Congressman Jason Chaffetz
Johan Galtung
Goodbye UK, Goodbye Great Britain: What Next?
Martha Pskowski
Detained in Dilley: Deportation and Asylum in Texas
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail