By: Benny Kuruvilla / Source: NewsClick & TRNN productions / The Dawn News / February 13, 2017
Marco Aurelio, prominent leader of the MST (Brazilian Landless Workers Movement), spoke to Newsclick on current developments in Brazil. Since the constitutional coup in September 2016, that deposed President Dilma Rousseff, Brazil’s rightwing politicians have been busy cutting allocations in social sectors, revising labour laws and undermining the progressive Constitution. Social movements such as MST have been in the forefront in creating broad based progressive platforms to oppose the Temer Government. With the rightwing increasingly losing legitimacy, Former President Lula of the Workers Party is widely expected to win the 2018 elections.
Benny Kuruvilla (Benny): Hello and welcome to The Real News Network and Newsclick. After losing four consecutive elections since 2002, Brazil’s right wing politicians are now back in power. In September 2016 they engineered a constitutional coup that removed President Dilma Rousseff from power. And today we speak with Marco of the Brazilian Landless Worker’s movement to get a sense of what has happened in the last 5 months since the coup.
Marco, welcome to the program. Since Michel Temer has assumed power in September 2016, there are reports that he has managed in such a short while, to engineer a sharp right turn in Brazilian politics. Can you give us a snapshot of what has happened in the last 5 months in Brazil?
Marco Aurelio (Marco): So actually, first of all about the speed of the other reforms in the acts of the president, of course this has to do with the fact that the right wing knows that they cannot win elections with this kind of program. So they had to rush to be able to implement the reforms that they think are the best now for the country. But actually what’s happening is a total destruction of the little advance or progresses that we had in terms of social welfare and even economics in the country in the last 10-12 years with the workers party government. So for instance, they are now approving labour reforms that will make it possible for a worker to work for even 12 hours a day or 60 hours a week. The current law is 8 hours maximum in a day and 44 hours maximum in a week. In terms of the pensions also they are now with the project in the congress trying to force people to work at least for 49 years in order to be able to retire with 100% of the salary. Which makes it absolutely impossible for anyone. Just for you to know, right now if this law was already working, only 2% of the workers retire after 49 years of work. In terms of investment in health and education, they have just approved in the congress, one law that even the IMF criticized. Saying, that they are going to freeze all the investments for 20 years. I mean of course the population will grow a lot in 20 years but there’s not going to be more investments in health and education.
Benny: And there are reports that along with the agrarian reform ministry, the human rights ministry is also being shut down. They tried to shut down the culture ministry but there was opposition to stop that. But in terms of representing the Brazilian Landless workers movement, one of the largest social movement and which has a strong program of agrarian reform, of food sovereignty, what has been the response of the progressive movements in challenging some of these regressive steps.
Marco: We’re doing what we know – struggle, mobilizing people. But it’s true that not only MST but I would say the left forces as a whole, we are not being able to mobilize enough people right now in order to stop the implementation of the reforms of the government. This has to do with what many variables; it’s a very complex issue. But it’s true that in the last 20 year, most of the left kind of detached from the grassroots organised. So, I guess now it’s reflecting this incapacity of having huge mobilizations against the neo-liberal agenda that’s been forced again to the population. But I would say in MST, we are doing a lot of mobilizations, occupations as always, blocking roads and we are also part of the so called Frente Brasil Popular, Popular Brazil, People’s Brazil Front which is sort of a platform of many social movements, people’s movement, Unions, even Parties, PT is also a part of this front. It is an effort of the whole progressive forces of the country to counter react the attacks of the right.
Benny: And ironically the current President, Temer, also faces serious charges of corruption and I want you to give us a sense of how was the Judiciary responding to ongoing cases of corruption against the Right Wing and how the Judiciary is being manipulated.
Marco: Yeah Benny, that is actually I would say this, one of the most important and gravest things that’s going on the country right now. Looks like the elite of Latin America at least, they have realized, they have learned with their history and have realized that military coup as we experience so many times in our continent in the last 40-50 years is no longer so efficient. So what they have done, they have started these experiences on Honduras, then they have done this in Paraguay, with Hugo in the last years and now they have done this with Dilma. They are using the Judiciary as the main weapon to organise and realize coup d’etat. What’s going on in the country right now is that we have a part of the Judiciary, very politically active, I would say. And very selective in terms of, how to deal with the denouncements of corruption. It’s also important to underline the role of the media. There’s Judiciary and the media working together to create also a sense of political corruption and ‘who is supposed to be punished’. So for instance, every time that you have one denouncement against Lula or Dilma, this is in the headlines of every newspaper, this is for minutes and minutes in the television, in news and television. And right after, you have investigations started. But at the end of the day, after at least two years of huge investigation, there is no evidence at all against Dilma or Lula in any one of these so called “corruption accusations”. But at the other side, with the right wing, President Temer, for instance was already quoted 43 times in just one of the plea bargains that are now being revealed. So this has been clear right now, for us that Judiciary is now the center of the right wing operations in the country.
Benny: I want to focus on José Serra , the Foreign Affairs’ Minister. He’s spoken about the challenges within the state of Brazil. But I want to take you back to 2003 when Lula was instrumental in stopping the free trade area of the Americas and then you had an attempt with other progressive governments to further regional integration. But now with Serra as Foreign Minister you see far more sort of pronounced free trade agenda and also undermining Brazil’s role in the BRICS. Can you speak a bit about the foreign policy changes under Temer and Serra?
Marco: So yeah, it’s a very critical figure in the last years to the right wing. We have just found out by a leaked document that Serra has been working or operating to U.S. interests’ in Brazil. This is public. So as Minister of Foreign Relations of Temer Government, he already is establishing a very clear agenda. First, to establish the subservient relations with the U.S. Something that clearly the Worker’s Party government has broken this tradition in Brazilian politics. If Serra had lost to Lula in 2002, but if he wanted, the FTTA would have been signing in the first day of the government. So now they are doing this, they’re undermining the Mercosul, which is the South American platform of the trade agreements and also political agreements, he’s undermined that. He’s undermining the role of Brazil in BRICS. Actually, as you know, he didn’t even know what BRICS was, there’s like a famous video of him.
Benny: To sort of conclude, you’ve spoken about the response of social movement. I wanted to sort of reflect a bit about the more institutional Left Party response to the crisis that you see in Brazil. Not just in Brazil, but across Latin America now where you have an upsurge of Right-wing Parties. And there was a certain level of criticism towards the Worker’s Party. You’ve seen splinters; you’ve seen some politicians form more Left Parties. But in terms of, in the next elections a more institutional response which is a more radical progressive socialist platform on which the left can fight elections. Can you give us a sense about it?
Marco: I think so, I believe so not only the Worker’s Party because I guess this is a task for the whole left of the country, for the social, people’s movements to the Unions to the other Left Parties. Not only the Worker’s Party but one thing that is interesting right now, you know that the main fear of the Right Wing right now, it’s Lula, still Lula. Because right now, he seems to be the only person to be able to defeat the Right in 2018. Just for you to know, in the polls, all the polls, he is by far the first place. 35% of the intentions of votes and the second one has 18% or even less. We still don’t know what’s going to happen. There’s many speculations that Worker’s Party should not run alone but as part of a front of Parties and movements. I think this is maybe more likely to happen. But Lula is still the name. And it’s not by chance that the main tactics of Right-wing right now, regarding the next elections, is to put Lula in jail. Every day they try, they think about one strategy or different strategy but they know that if Lula is not in jail, it’s very hard to defeat him in the next elections. But one thing of course, is having Lula. The other thing is the program. I think this is the main task for the Left right now.
Benny: So it’s clearly a very critical juncture in Brazilian politics and very interesting and challenging times for the left. Thank you very much for speaking with us.
Disclaimer: Please note that transcripts for Newsclick are typed from a recording of the program. Newsclick cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.