Last week, (see April 18 blog below), I published Loira Inteigente’s long list of complaints targeting mainly the PT administration but also reflecting problems inherent in Brazil’s ongoing nation and citizenship building process. I want to address some of the issues “Loira” posed. I certainly have no mandate or much desire to defend Dilma’s administration and the government of the last decade or so. It is interesting to note that while the military ruled Brazil from 1964 to 1985 for 21 years, civilian governments have been in power since 1985 with direct election from 1990 to the present. So we actually have had more years of civilian government since the coup than we did of military rule.
Smart Blond starts her Jeremiad with Lula and the founding of the PT in the union movement. She correctly notes that the union movement in Brazil has long focused on social and economic gains and Lula came out of this tradition. In her view, (item 1) Jose Dirceu mentored and tutored Lula and has really been the power behind the throne. She states that Dirceu was the starting point for everything. Personally, I am not sure how far back Dirceu and Lula go, but suffice it to say Dirceu is in prison today and Lula has done to my knowledge absolutely nothing to attenuate his situation. So it looks like Smart Blond may be attributing more power to Dirceu than he actually has or had. Dirceu was forced to resign from the inner circle as Lula’s Chief of Staff and he was condemned in the “mensalao”, a vote-buying scandal by a Supreme Court with a majority of PT nominees. It is an absolute novelty to see members of Brazil’s political elite in prison now and especially with their coreligionists in power.
In her second point 2, Smart Blond alleges that Lula is illiterate, meaning that he can neither read or write. While Lula admittedly does not have a formal university degree, he is a very intelligent man and a great communicator especially for and with the average Brazilian. According to Smart Blonde, Lula appointed Antonio Palocci to the Ministry of Planning at the behest of Dirceu. However, again we remember that Palocci was also forced to resign his post. He did have power but his power was not beyond the reach of pressure from civil society, the press and political pressure.
Point 3 highlights maintaining Congressional support and passing favorable legislation and appointments. She states that the Mensalao vote-buying scheme was the way that the PT was able to gain and maintain a Congressional majority. That the vote-buying scheme existed and worked is not in doubt. Nevertheless, the institutional weakness and the political culture has lived with this problem for a long time. Fernando Henrique Cardoso’s reelection in 1998 was tainted by similar behavior albeit perhaps not as egregious. The election system and lack of Congressional accountability all contribute to this long standing problem. Loira Inteligente has a stronger case in pointing out how the PT has used the patronage system and swollen the public bureaucracy. This is true but also very problematic for the PT as a party. The PT today is no longer the “worker’s party” but really an aggregation of individuals some well ideologically consistent and well intentioned but the majority simply those who joined the band wagon in search of political and personal gain. The graft and ideological divisions in the PT bear this out.
Loira’s item 4 praises the press and the judiciary. This gets interesting. Brazil’s justice system is notoriously slow, suffers from favoritism and insider influence and contradictory at the different levels with overlapping areas of competence and authority. The press on the other hand is free in the sense that it can publish pretty much anything it wants but it is economically controlled by an oligarchical elite. The Globo empire in particular has a tremendous role in shaping public opinion through its broadcast network. While free, it is certainly controlled and guided. Having said this, the press and the justice system did play a role in stopping some of Lula and the PT’s more radical ideas directed at reforming the press and the political system. The end result has been the status quo which in reality needs to change but cannot be changed without challenging the position of entrenched interests. So many in society, especially among those who have a voice, have carved out protected niches within the state and even in the Constitution that they cannot be challenged without a change to the 900-page law of the land.
I will stop here and pick up at item 5 in a future comment.