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Brazzil - Politics - June 2003

Cutting Brazil to the Bone

A Brazilian senator wants to drastically reduce the number of Brazil's
congressmen, both senators and representatives. He also wants to create
new states and eliminate ministries and departments. The purpose
is undoing the strategy of the neo-liberals, who for eight years
have been trying to demoralize the state by swelling it.

Carlos Chagas


Let's decrease the number of Representatives in Congress from 513 to 394, reduce from three to two the number of Senators per state, cut 25 percent of state representatives in each State Assembly and limit to five, not nine, the number of council members in cities with population of less than 200 thousand.

Enough? Not in your dreams. Let's divide Amazonas, Pará, Bahia, Piauí, Minas, Mato Grosso and Mato Grosso do Sul up into smaller states. Not without outlawing Tribunais de Contas (Audit Courts) and limiting the number of desembargadores (associate justices) to five. And let's establish that no local or state government can have more than five departments. The federal government itself can only have up to nine departments.

These proposals are part of the constitutional amendment proposed recently by Senator Almeida Lima, PDT- Sergipe, whose aim is to trim the fat of public administration and reinforce it at the same time. The magic trick has the purpose of undoing the strategy of the neo-liberals, who for eight years have been trying to demoralize the state by swelling it. For the Senator and former mayor of Aracaju, the priority is to remodel the federation, making it more agile and less expensive, but ready to intervene in the economy and to act in defense of the interests of the population, not the elites.

Making Enemies

For Almeida Lima, this is the macropolitical reform that Brazil needs, but there are other changes, too, such as decentralization. Brazil is a continental country. Albeit one and indivisible, it is a mosaic of cultural, economic, political and social realities. What may be a solution for southern and southeastern states may have nothing to do with what happens in the ones up north and in the northeast.

Therefore, the Senator moves forward and talks about the possibility of a diversity of penal and civil legislation for the country. A law may be essential for some and innocuous for others, even in matters of public safety. His fundamental proposal is to reinforce the Federation and eliminate the farce that makes us a single state, with rules and provisions dictated by Brasília and valid for the whole land.

What may be good for Rio Grande do Sul and São Paulo may not be good for Amazonas or Pernambuco. Why not adapt each group of states to its own reality? The idea is not national fragmentation, not even by a long shot. To the contrary, it would serve to amalgamate our unity even further. Despite having obtained more signatures than he needed for submitting the constitutional amendments, Almeida Lima is aware that he is stirring up a hornet's nest. He knows he will provoke reaction from Senators themselves.

Reducing from three to two the representation of each state in the High Chamber means displeasing and dismantling an array of oligarchical and partisan schemes. Decreasing the number of federal representatives in Congress may mean increased representation powers for each one of them, but what will be the reaction of the São Paulo block, for example, which has 74 representatives today, while Piauí has only eight? The reduction will be proportional to the number.

The Senator is aware that he is making a reasonable number of adversaries, but he sustains that the moment has arrived for the grand reformulation of public power, one that will prevent its final disaggregation and complete surrender to the economic and financial forces which have already been weakening it.

Off-field and Out on the Field

The main lesson to be learned with the rally of twenty thousand union leaders held recently at the Esplanada (main mall in Brasília with all Federal Department buildings) is that the government will approve the tax and welfare reforms as it pleases. The fact that only 16 of the 92 PT representatives made it to the rally on the Congress lawn is itself proof of how the Palácio do Planalto (seat of the Executive) dominates the majority in Congress. Few dared to challenge the ban from José Dirceu, the President's Chief of Staff, which means that no one wanted to lose the benefits and favors of the government in exchange for the chance to voice their principles. In this case, the victory was off-field, but the winner was the administration. In the field, however—which is the Brazilian street—the holders of power lost big time.

There is no other explanation for the phenomenon of such a big crowd, who had voted in huge numbers for Lula, now rising up against the welfare reform bill and showing its disagreement in such a large rally. If anyone could have imagined, just six months ago, the biggest and most solid base of the PT administration parading against its own directives, that person would have been detained as a mental case. The conclusion is that the government will win off-field, in the House and Senate sessions, but it will lose on the field, if it continues to follow the neo-liberal guidelines and economic model of the Fernando Henrique administration.

Carlos Chagas writes for the Rio's daily Tribuna da Imprensa and is a representative of the Brazilian Press Association, in Brasília. He welcomes your comments at carloschagas@hotmail.com

This article appeared originally at Tribuna da Imprensa - http://www.tribuna.inf.br

Tereza Braga is a freelance Portuguese translator and interpreter based in Dallas. She is an accredited member of the American Translators Association. Contact: tbragaling@cs.com





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