Cup and Culture

ArgentineColorsPiaui

Source:Altivo Neto,  http://www.180graus.com

The World Cup is underway and Brazilians have painted their neighborhoods in the national colors.  However, as the Folha de Sao Paulo reports, residents have used Argentina’s sky blue and white instead of Brazil’s green and yellow.  Although perhaps partially in jest, the paint job reflects Brazil’s perplexing and difficult moment. Indeed, Brazil played a disappointing 1 x1 tie in its opener against Switzerland and President Temer is officially Brazil’s least popular President with a rejection rating above 80%.  So not much room for optimism.   The electoral campaign for the general elections in October will not officially start until after the end of the Cup but the field of candidates, if one can believe the polls, comes down to right wing former military captain Jair Bolsonaro, leftist former governor Ciro Gomes, environmentalist and former candidate in 2014, Marina Silva and Sao Paulo’s former governor and perennial presidential candidate Geraldo Alckmin of the PSDB.

Former President Lula has watched from jail in Curitiba over the last 2 months but continues to insist he is candidate although his corruption conviction excludes his running.  If he is included in the polling, he leads all candidates by a good margin.  Lula also has an appeal pending and it is being judged on June 26 in Brazil’s Supreme Court.  A favorable ruling could lead to his release but he would still be forbidden from running according to election rules.

While the Cup and Carnaval usually bring out Brazil’s well known creativity and light hearted improvisation, things seem to be different this time around as the blue and white paint job in Teresina seems to show.  The economy has barely pulled out of the two-year recession which started in earnest in 2015 and the current estimates for growth will perhaps, at best, keep up with Brazil’s demographics at 1.7 percent per year.  The Temer administration adopted a slogan that Brazil had come back 20 years in 2”.  The population, of course, understood this to mean that Brazil had gone back 20 years in the 2 years since Temer replaced impeached President Dilma Rousseff.

Brazilians are upset.  They have rejected the entrenched politicians and their support of populists to the right (Bolsonaro) or to the left (Ciro) indicate not so much their love of the candidates but mainly the despair of the old political system and the corruption.  Faith and favor in democracy is at an all-time low as Brazilians perceive that politicians have manipulated the system to their exclusive benefit.  While the vote is mandatory, close to 40% of the electorate are likely to null their ballots showing their revolt and consternation.

The foul mood correlates closely with the economic stagnation.  Those with resources are seeking opportunities in Portugal, other European countries and the US even in the face of Trump’s anti-immigration policy.  Brazilians love traveling abroad but only leave definitively when they feel the doors of opportunity have closed and they need to find hope (a defining characteristic of the Brazilian personality) outside the country.  Veja, one of Brazil’s leading news weeklies, reports that some 62% of Brazil’s young people would abandon the country if they could.

Brazilian essayist and play write Nelson Rodrigues during the World Cup of 1958 identified Brazil’s “stray dog” complex as a result of the monumental Maracanazo loss to Uruguay in the World Cup Final of 1950.  He also noted Brazil’s countervailing extreme in the feeling that with Brazil’s first Cup win in 1958, no other country can match skill and innate creativity of the Selecao as evidenced by its unmatched 5 Cup trophies.  Still, moods swing to extremes.   When the national team performs well, everyone takes part with exuberance and solidarity.  When things go poorly, people lament, complain and cry collectively.

Fernando Lanzer and Jussara P. Souza, in their recent book Para Entender a Cultura Brasileira, use Gerd Hofstede’s cultural dimension methodology to interpret.  Indeed, Brazilians score high on Hofstede’s collectivism measure where individuals define themselves as members of a collective group.  They also score high the “power distance” or acceptance of authority and authoritarian aspects of society which affect the individual.  A third dimension deals with “uncertainty avoidance” and here Brazilians also score relatively high demonstrating a desire for predictable and stable situations.  The combination of these measures might help explain the popularity of Bolsonaro or Ciro Gomes or even Lula’s popularity as a benevolent, yet strong, paternalistic figure.

Of course, culture challenges sociological measures and even using all 5 of Hofstede’s dimension in combination, it is still impossible to accurately predict what factors will lead to mass protests or even lasting celebrations.  Everyone knows that carnival lasts less than a week but Brazil’s skepticism regarding the national team will only be alleviated if Marcelo and his companions can kiss the trophy again and even such a victory is pyrrhic  Certainly more is needed to cure and mature the national psyche.

Brazil’s needs are clear and they go beyond the Cup, futbol and partying.  These are diversions and the real demands are for economic growth with less inequality, better basic education, more individual responsibility and respect for others.  While simple, their achievement requires consistent investments in the basics (education, health, water and sewage).  However as long as there is no consensus and polarization continues, Brazil relegates itself to stray dog status, a country with potential but without success.  On the other hand, as Brazilians leave the country, and get increased exposure to the rest of the world, there is also the possibility of broadening participation, greater access to mobility through individual initiative and a recognition of the good readily available in the Brazilian mind, heart and soul.  Mexico’s great educator, Jose Vasconcellos, called Brazil’s mixture the great universal race and It is still possible that this great mestizo country may yet find a way out its quandary.

 

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Lula in Jail: Hope, Despair and Elections

LulaPresoELPaisPhoto from El Pais: Lula Arriving at Federal Police Prison in Curitiba

Former President Lula, Brazil’s best loved and most hated personality is sitting in jail, hoping for and probably expecting an early release. But it is too soon to tell when this might happen.  While the PT insists that he is their candidate, it is also obvious that he will not be allowed to run for another term as president.  The polls place Jair Bolsonaro in first place in a race without Lula. But Bolsonaro has no party and his support will likely shrink.  Marina Silva has entered the race again and will attract the green vote and some on the left.  She has to compete against the Cearense Ciro Gomes.  So in the center or center right, we have the Governor of Sao Paulo, Geraldo Alckmin.  Former Supreme Court President, Joaquim Barbosa, has also joined the race and currently ranks higher than Alckmin with 8 percent in voter intent.  Obviously, it is still early and much has yet to happen before the first round of voting on October 7.  Barbosa’s entry is fascinating as it will test Brazil’s mythical racial equality and pits him neatly against the racist/sexist epitaph spewing Bolsonaro.

Because the PT has won the last four presidential elections, there is an illusion on the left about support for the ideology of the worker’s party.  The problem is that the left did not win; Lula WON, as a populist willing to offer something for all.  While Lula’s popularity is his major strength, it has also turned into a millstone.  He is no longer acceptable to the elite and the media. This has hastened his conviction although the malfeasance of his governments is unquestionable.  His “expedited” removal from the election reflects establishment fear of his return and the rejection of PT’s statist economic policy (New Economic Matrix) as dysfunctional for Brazil.  Of course, the PT’s burden of corruption also played a role even while “morality” is only relative in contemporary politics. Trump, for example, refuses to show his tax returns and comingles business and government.  While Macron, in France, is seeking to reduce the role of the state, his administration has also been questioned for its honesty in negotiating the rail strike and his handling of his cabinet.

While the upcoming presidential election is the marquee event, it also is only a part of the puzzle.  The make up of Congress after the vote will have equal or perhaps greater weight.  Brazil’s political parties have never been about ideologies but instead personalities.  Such is the case even of the supposedly ideal driven PT, which has little support without Lula. The same applies to all other parties.  The many parties represent regional and local alignments of those wielding economic power.  Because these competing forces control Congress, funds from the central government have been essential for assuring governability.  President Temer, for example, comes from the “Centrao” or a coalition of specific economic and local interests.  He has lost his political capital trading benefits for support in escaping trial by Congress on inevitable and obvious cases of corruption.  These same politicians – in order to preserve their office and benefits – have protectively ensconced themselves.  They may voice support for reform but fail to act or promote change in party structure, the electoral process and campaign finance.  As things currently stand, the status quo will prevail in the next Congress and the new president will again be faced with having to “buy off” a venal and fractious set of legislators.

Given the popularity of the anti-corruption movement, the Lava Jato, and the demands for reform, one could speculate that there might be an opening for a new set of less tainted political actors.  However, this is not exactly the case.  Rio de Janeiro is probably the most obvious example of the systemic shortcomings, which inhibit reform.  A little over a month ago, the popular Councilwoman Marielle Franco was brutally executed by professional hit men.  Police, under army supervision, have made little headway in solving the case. In the meantime, another community leader with whom councilwoman had contact was also shot down.  These deaths come about because powerful economic forces tied to organized crime dominate significant areas of Rio. They have their hands in many activities both legal and illegal.  The weakness of public authority has allowed organized criminal gangs and interests to effectively replace it and control large swaths of voters.  In addition, lack of literacy and the inability to see through false promises makes the electorate prey for opportunists of all types including criminals.  Marielle was perceived as a threat to these interests and paid dearly.  Her example makes others fearful to enter the fray.  Overall, the homicide rate continues unabated.

Brazil needs and deserves change. It is important to note that politics as reported in the news fails to show the whole picture.  Brazil’s economy is improving after the long recession.  Civil society is alive and active in spite of the backward obtuseness of the educational system and the quasi-monopoly Globo TV holds on the mass media.  But, Brazil is bigger than its government and officialdom. The productive possibilities in the country contradict and outstrip the fiscal and employment limitations of the state.  Clearly politics and the economy interlink but anyone on the ground also knows there are degrees of freedom and multiple opportunities.  Progress is slow and halting, but it still happens.  The mood is not good but there is still life on the beach and hope for the Selecao.

 

Cultura Politica, Cultura e Passagens

Tunga

Tunga, “a luz de dois mundos” no Palacete das Artes Rodin Bahia. Foto de Márcio Lima

Vi hoje que faleceu o artista Tunga. Eu o conheci de forma superficial quando éramos jovens por volta de 1973. Na época fiquei no Rio na casa de seu pai Gerardo Melo Mourão. Como Gerardo se hospedou em minha casa enquanto nos Estados Unidos, ele me convidou para ficar no seu apartamento. Era uma coisa de permuta, reciprocidade e a cordialidade brasileira de antigamente.

A cultura política, como as pessoas, tem também sua evolução natural. As pessoas morrem mas a cultura continua e transforma. Embora o Tunga foi um artista de renome, só as pessoas digamos “cultas” e interessadas o conhecem. Da mesma forma, Melo Mourão foi um grande poeta, mas poucas pessoas que não são das áreas de política e cultura já ouviram falar. Seu livro principal de poesia “O Pais dos Mourões” e’ conhecido por connoisseurs, mas o publico geral desconhece. Assim, a arte de Tunga talvez pareça esquisita para a maioria das pessoas.

Na cultura política, atualmente estamos com um poeta bem menor na presidência e a sua volta um montão de pessoas suspeitas. Ele mesmo também e’ ficha suja. O problema, entretanto, não e’ corrupção. O problema e’ cultura e cultura política. Da mesma forma que ha’ uma vasta separação entre a cultura artística de elite e o povo, ha também a mesma separação entre o povo e o político. A cultura tradicional que era orgânica e praticamente de fazenda e casa grande acabou. A cordialidade vinha da relação do pai e do patrão e do patrimonialismo condescendente. Nessa cultura era possível resolver os problemas através de uma incorporação estratégica com base na oferta de benesses e na manutenção de um contrato informal entre o dono da fazenda ou coronel e de seus agregados.

Ao longo do século 20 a herança escravagista permaneceu e ainda ha’ os elevadores de serviço e os uniformes de domesticas para garantir e manter a “correta” separação.

Só que o pais chegou ao século 21 e, em 2016, temos mais de 200 milhões de pessoas, todo mundo morando nos centros urbanos. A escravidão acabou e não ha’ mais como manter a relação patriarcal direta. Se bem que o Estado tenta e os partidos no poder também. Por exemplo, a Constituição de 1988 sacramentou e incorporou os interesses de grupos organicamente estruturados. O governo de Temer, por sua vez, acaba de anunciar a criação de mais 14 mil empregos federais.   Mas hoje o pais não tem mais como pagar os empregos, a estrutura e os “direitos” adquiridos. Alem disso, ha’ o problema sistêmico onde os “Donos do Poder”, na expressão do Raymundo Faoro, acostumados a aproveitar do sistema como se fossem proprietários, acabam de lentamente descobrir que tal manipulação já não e’ mais aceitável. A estrutura esta’ ruindo e esta’ levando quem se julgou acima de tudo.   E’ interessante observar a indignação dos políticos tradicionais ameaçados pelo Ministério Publico.

A cultura do povo e a cultura política estão completamente defasadas. A economia por sua vez sofre com as amarras das estruturas da cultura e do sistema de poder. A atual administração talvez esteja engatinhando em liberar e “liberalizar” a economia, as restrições, regras e burocracias. Mas enquanto não mudar a cultura, o Brasil seguira’ aos trancos e barrancos. Todos sabemos que e’ preciso reformar e ampliar a educação, de forma que realmente alfabetize, capacite e ensine a pensar. Isto não esta’ acontecendo. Ampliou-se o alcance mas perdeu-se na qualidade. A cultura de elite segue, mas todavia dependente dos benesses. A política continua também sem reforma e o custo da campanha praticamente exige praticas ilícitas. Como mudar? E’ um trabalho de gerações. Pena que não começou antes.