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31/08/2016Editorial

Brazil’s political crisis reaches new heights

Following the breakdown of the country’s democratic constitutional order, new challenges face civil society organizations and social movements committed to defending the rights of Brazil’s population. Arenas of resistance must be occupied against new setbacks and archaic policies


Sessão deliberativa extraordinária para votar a Denúncia 1/2016. (Foto: Pedro França/Agência Senado)
Sessão deliberativa extraordinária para votar a Denúncia 1/2016. (Foto: Pedro França/Agência Senado)

With the breakdown of Brazil’s democratic constitutional order, new challenges face civil society organizations and social movements committed to defending the rights of the great majority of the population. The citizenry’s reaction to these challenges must gain a rigorous understanding of the setting of political instability, intensified by the impeachment process, and of the emergence of contradictions among the political forces that came together to depose the President re-elected in 2014.

Most political analysts see supporters of the “new” conservative restoration government roughly split into two contending blocs. One, with the political representatives of financial capital captained by the PSDB party, demands a radical economic adjustment. The other, known as the Centrão, was pulled together under Eduardo Cunha (PMDB) as an amalgam of interests dependent on access to the public pork-barrel. Issues such as wage hikes for members of the judiciary are typical of special interests defended by the Centrão, with no concern at all for fiscal austerity ideals pushed by neoliberals.

Setbacks on the agenda of the provisional government and its congressional backers include, for example, a proposal by Min. of Finance Henrique Meirelles to ignore constitutionally acquired rights in his social-security reform bill, legislative changes to labor standards, a scandalous increase in the maximum workweek, new rules for deep-sea Pre-Salt oil concessions, giving in to all demands by agribusiness, etc.

In this sense, a note issued by the President’s Office exemplifies difficulties ahead for Michel Temer (PMDB): “Debates in the Federal Senate on the impeachment process raised false accusations that the Federal Government might revoke citizens’ social, retirement and labor rights. It is not true that discussions are afoot to raise the minimum retirement age to 70 or 75 years, to abolish paid sick leaves, to regulate slave labor, to privatize the Pre-Salt reserves or to revoke the Labor Law Code (CLT). These and other fallacies have been attributed to the interim government in an irresponsible and frivolous manner.”

In fact, this government born of an illegitimate usurpation of power was not tasked by the ruling class – tired of social conciliation policies under the administrations of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and Dilma Rousseff (PT) – to do anything in favor of the population, but rather to maintain and expand the privileges of a class that will no longer tolerate the rights enshrined by the 1988 Federal Constitution. The people’s resistance to the government born of this coup will take place in the context of an on-going fray over the reins of government between those who defend the suicidal austerity defeated in the 2014 presidential elections and the corrupt Centrão.

Plenário do Senado. (Foto: Edilson Rodrigues/Agência Senado)
Plenário do Senado. (Foto: Edilson Rodrigues/Agência Senado)

The new government’s defenders now unceremoniously justify these measures, claiming that the Constitution, forged in the intense transition out of the civil-military dictatorship, no longer fits in the federal budget. This of course depends on how taxes are collected in Brazil, especially the fact that the poor pay more taxes than the rich and are denied access to the public services that should be funded by what they pay. This requires a reform of the country’s tax burden as a key democratic demand, with more taxes on the rich. Recent tax reform proposals, however, say nothing about taxes on the rich, but will mean fewer services for the rest. Criticisms of how to pay for the public debt, which consumes some 50% of the budget, according to the Citizens’ Audit of the Debt, have essentially been censured in all public debates. Meanwhile, the country’s largest social policy, social security – which accounts for 8.5% of the GDP – is at risk. Retirement is treated like a cost overrun, to be compensated through the creation of private retirement plans.

This is actually an intensification of what Lula and Dilma’s governments had already begun when, alongside the expansion of social programs and policies like the Family Stipend (Bolsa Família), they also implemented tax exemptions for major corporate groups, in what has been called a Business Stipend (Bolsa Empresário), not at all helpful in changing the structures that create inequality and human rights violations in the first place.

The lack of progress towards taxing large fortunes has benefited construction contractors, deeply involved in high-class corruption and with high rates of slave labor, food industries and agribusiness, two sectors that threaten food sovereignty and environmental justice with unhealthy practices and poisonous farming practices that pollute our food, rivers and soil. Widespread tax exemptions were also handed out to ports, chemical and oil companies, among other sectors. These are the lobbies that visit Brasília to sway lawmakers to align with their interests.

Although Congress banned corporate finance for electoral campaigns last year, there are few controls over backroom deals and the rigging of bids for public contracts. Elected officials’ and authorities’ personal relations with bankers and major executives lead to personal donations, when the politician is not a businessman himself.

In response, our challenge is to support and help mobilize, resist and educate against the two political camps whose circumstantial alliance united the ruling class around the removal of the PT from power. Their inevitable division in the 2018 general elections opens contradictions and a window of opportunity to mobilize against their modus operandi in the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government. We shall continue promoting our policies through debates and studies, in the streets, associations and cooperatives, including women, blacks, indigenous peoples, LGBTTs and all groups that resist and struggle. We must be present in all arenas fighting further reversals, against these archaic, regressive policies.

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