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Brazzil - Interview - July 2004

Brazil's PT: Between Loyalty and Independence

The Lula Administration has to work hard to form the majority in
the Brazilian Congress and this is a must. There is no other
alternative. Either the government gets a majority or governing
will be even more difficult. I am not only referring to Congress.
I am talking about those who have money invested in Brazil.

Ricardo de Azevedo

Arlindo Chinaglia

Picture Arlindo Chinaglia, elected leader of PT's (Partido dos Trabalhadores—Workers' Party) backbenchers for the House of Representatives earlier this year, now evaluates the Lula Government, the Party and the relationship between backbenchers and the cabinet.

President Lula is now a third of the way through his mandate. What is your assessment so far?

We cannot separate our government, or our policies from the reality of the country. But, we have to note that we inherited a national debt, which had risen from 61 billion reais (US$ 20.3 billion) in January 1995 to over 800 billion reais (US$ 270 billion) by December 2002.

This debt imposes commitments and forces us to realize a surplus of 4.25 percent, and maintain high interest rates. This has compromised our ability to deliver on the high expectations our government created nationally and internationally.

During the first third of the mandate, our government emphasised keeping public borrowing in check. This was a clear change in economic policy from the previous Cardoso administration.

However, many of the central elements of Cardoso's policies have been maintained, which caused discontent with militant elements of the party. With the more radical left-wingers raising their voices, foreign investors got frightened, punishing us because we are so vulnerable to the outside world's expectations.

So this situation demands all members of parliament, radicals and leaders alike, to act with solidarity, at same time as we have to constantly push the boundaries of our country and government's direction.

This initial phase has passed, for good or for bad. Today the President's popularity is very high despite absurdly disrespectful attacks from the opposition and part of the press.

The PT is and has been a party committed to workers, engaged in social issues. However, promises made during the campaign like creating jobs and doubling the minimum wage, have not yet materialized. Results so far, if any, have been poor. What are the chances of achieving these goals during this mandate if present economic policy is maintained?

Unemployment is Brazil's biggest problem. I believe that ideas of compensatory policies are correct, if we consider that people have no alternatives at this time. I think we should cater for the aged and children who have no chance to survive.

Apart from these objectives, I believe we should focus on generating jobs, using all possible resources available, even through creating task forces or any other precarious form of work. These measures will increase consumption and stimulate production.

It should be interpreted as a national pact to generate jobs, in which the reduction of working hours or elimination of extra-working hours should form part of the agenda; child labour should be eliminated.

Retired people should only be allowed to return to work in exceptional circumstances, for example, if they are the sole family bread earner. But if we had a choice—to generate jobs or implement compensatory policy, I would create more jobs.

We all know jobs can only be created through economic growth and this will happen by reducing interest rates, or, perhaps, an eventual change in economic policy. We have been very careful about this point, because the crisis of confidence was triggered by the current policy—avoiding rising inflation to reduce Brazil's so-called risk rating.

All of that we know and celebrate. A window that can be opened and give us courage is scrap state investments when calculating the Government's budget surplus, which, according to what I read in the press, could generate additional growth in the Brazilian economy of up to 3 percent. I wonder if a better way would be not renewing the agreement with the IMF, allowing us more freedom of action.

I do think that, in any case, the way the economy is to be conducted ought to be agreed by re-establishing pacts with society. I feel there is a dichotomy- The President's authority in one hand and, on another, the claim from entrepreneur and trade union movements, the militancy of PT and evidently seeing the despair of joblessness, we will have to reach a stage for new definitions from our Government.

I do not pretend to have more authority than anybody else, either the Government, or Lula. What I mean is this tension felt by everybody damages the Government. We should be careful, we must not make the market suspicious, we cannot afford to scare off investment.

I believe public-private partnerships should be encouraged and clear rules spelled out including questions concerning public concessions. These measures are correct. But, at the same time, I believe it is right to change the rules through agreement, based on public debate.

We have to support the government, to believe in its vision, and, at the same time, to carry out our duty by warning the government, as is the nature of debate in a political party, to draw up and present specific proposals.

Don't you agree that the resolution approved at the last meeting of the national assembly should alert the Government by defining the problems and suggesting solutions—and does not represent official policy.

This was a result of previous experience. During the meeting of the National Executive, just a sentence was added, asking for a change in economic policy. This draft was approved and used by other parties, in particular by the PT alliance in Congress, reinforcing the need to make change.

The press will always try to spot conflicts between the PT and the Government, and, obviously, it immediately damages the economy due to its vulnerability. It is not a question of having or not included the proposal for changes in the document of the national assembly that invalidates the President's statement.

During his campaign he said, "If I believe in the proposal, I will take action to implement it." So, if all of us from the PT and society have good proposals, I am sure the President will embrace them.

By saying that I mean that the Government, the PT and backbenchers have passed the point for mere analysis. When I was a candidate for leader of the backbenchers, I focused on the creating jobs. Many comrades, naturally, would like to discuss economic policy.

To debate is OK, but I am convinced that, be we government, backbenchers, or the PT or Teoria e Debate magazine, we can no longer just discuss, we must focus on presenting proposals.

Is this the main role of the backbenchers today?

The backbenchers do not chose their role because Congress's agenda was always defined by the Executive. Then, the backbenchers must respond. For example, the issue of genetically modified food, public-private partnership, re-structuring of the power sector, of rights of the aged, questions of deforestation, etc. Whatever comes from the Executive the backbenchers have to respond to.

Concerning the Government's strategy, the backbenchers' role is to discuss and, if possible, come up with proposals. The Government cannot just analyse and promise, it does not make sense.

Concerning the minimum wage, therefore, if the present situation continues, I cannot see any possibility of implementing it. I have said it publicly, because I believe it is a collective responsibility to review this promise .

I think the government made a mistake about it because, if expectations are not lowered and it keeps giving the idea that, after four years, Brazil will suddenly be a different country, this is risky, because our actions do not meet these high hopes.

My personal opinion is it would be better to start with low expectations and, through hard work and realistic action direct people's expectations. I feel this would be better and safer.

At the moment, I don't visualize the possibility of doubling the minimum wage, as a result of measures taken during the first and second years of government, although an adjustment, slightly above inflation, was granted—almost negligible, but above inflation.

It should be noted, however, that during Fernando Henrique's mandate, especially in the second and third year of his government, the adjustments made were below inflation. And, during the last year of his first mandate, he did not recover the 1995 value of the minimum wage but today, in the second year of Lula's government, we are proposing and will pay a minimum wage higher than 1995.

Concerning the generation of jobs I have already commented. This is the biggest challenge.

How is it to be leader of the PT backbenchers in the House of Representatives in this new situation, I mean, leader of the government and also the biggest party?

Firstly, to lead the PT backbenchers is always a source of honour and pride, in any situation. To be leader of backbenchers who form a support base for the government, is an historical moment which we all fought to achieve. I am not complaining about it.

Now it is obvious that it is complex because the members of parliament are no different to the militants. We have desires, wishes and aspirations so all of us would like to do more than we are doing. There is no exception.

The backbenchers have the task of political confrontation through daily debate. Just to mention a minor example, when an opposition leader like José Carlos Aleluia of PFL (Partido da Frente Liberal—Liberal Front Party) criticises the government because President Lula went to Ribeirão Preto to deliver new ambulances, the opposition claimed these ambulances had just been painted but were in fact old ones.

Such a situation creates a climate of irritability among backbenchers. Or when we are confronted with the question of unemployment or the minimum wage, these are major issues.

It is difficult and sometimes complex but I do not despair because the opposition has no authority—social, political or historical to attack our government. Our responsibility is to respond to society.

I have peace of mind to argue with our political opponents in the House of Representatives, because our concern and aims must be directed towards society.

We can't lose the House of Representatives' debate, or allow these attacks to go unanswered. The best attitude for the backbenchers, PT and Government is to be tuned to Brazilian people's aspirations.

After every weekend when each member of parliament returns, having listened to criticisms and suggestions from their base, the backbenchers return with renewed energy, and are, therefore a useful tool for the government due to these links, because the members of parliament not only talk directly to local PT representatives and the militants but to various segments of society. This is an important factor: continuous and updated contact networking.

So, in this particular moment, I think it is important to fight the pessimism. I feel a wave of pessimism in the country and believe we have to fight it through concrete actions much more than pure talks.

Despite being the largest backbenchers in the House of Representatives, with 90 parliamentarians, as a whole it is still a minority. How could one build a Pro-government majority? Does it depend on Government or action within Congress?

It depends on both, but depends much more on the Government. Conditions to support or oppose the government are created by those who later changed their mind to support the government. It can welcome or not.

And due to the country's economic instability, is essential for the market that the government has a majority in the Congress. Each time the government wins with small margin or even loses such as with the provisional measure of bingo, it scares the market because it is interpreted as if the government has no control over the situation.

This is the main reason for having a majority in Congress. It does not depend on any deeper ideological or political analysis. This does not depend on political or ideological analysis.

The need of the majority is imposed by the manner the cabinet leads the discussion. And so PT members of parliament surely have a different vision about this question to PT militants who analyse based on political, ideological and ethical affinity.

The Government has to work hard to form the majority and this is a must. So I am in agreement with the Government when its policy is directed towards gaining the majority.

Because there is no other alternative, it either goes for majority or governing will be even more difficult. Much more difficult. I am not only referring to problems in Congress, I am speaking of the market—those who have money invested in Brazil.

According to your line of reasoning, the PT backbenchers could never vote against the government? Or do you admit that there could be some exception?

I believe we should not vote against the government, but there have been some cases. For example the provisory health plan Act, where the backbenchers voted against what was agreed between the government and Congressional coalition.

I blew the whistle in time and there was no crisis, but it happened. Then I believe the best attitude for the backbenchers is understanding and loyalty to the government but the government has to assume that the biggest, most loyal, most important backbenchers are from the PT.

If backbenchers feel entitled to protect themselves, in a situation where government is worn out, nobody will be able to hold on to the ruling coalition, not even the government. In this sense, the PT backbenchers determine the composition of the majority.

Do you think that the Government is paying due importance to PT backbenchers and its role?

Yes the government knows it. But its actions seem to ignore it. Precisely because the backbenchers would like a more important role in defining some policies. And don't. This is evident. Everybody in the government knows it. The difference is between understanding and acting. The government has not yet done this completely.

In this situation how do you see the role of PT?

Institutionally speaking, the PT has more power than the backbenchers, so one of our concerns is to stay in tune with the party, and, with the PT, work with the government.

But, I dare say, the PT itself has no clear idea about it—this always happens when the government wins local, provincial and, mainly, the election at national level. The PT backbenchers cannot speak from the heart because it will create problems. The PT is in the same situation.

Don't you think we run the risk of repeating the same-old, historical experience of left wing parties which all went wrong, when they became the government the party changes into machinery of government and loses its autonomy?

Any PT city mayor's speech sounds more like a PT message than that of president of a local assembly. Do I believe we face risks? Yes I think so. We are undergoing different historical moments but there is this external factor.

We have lived such an experience in SP, when Erundina was the mayor of São Paulo. At that time the party had an attitude of being independent of the government. And the government at the time used to say the municipal PT was in opposition to the government.

So we have had all kind of experiences in government-party relations. In the federal government, it would pose a serious lack of care for the PT to adopt an attitude of not being in solidarity with government.

It is a difficult political operation to be loyal and have independence. Because the party has acquired a characteristic which is not good, it is difficult to have a closed meeting nowadays with the PT.

Always someone lets the press know. I think this is not a crucial factor but it is irritating. It makes it difficult to have an open discussion because everything is made public. This, no doubt, limits the debate. It cannot be otherwise, or, instead of helping, we create more problems.

Do you think these cases are related to losses of internal solidarity in the Party?

Surely. And when solidarity is lost, more than personal fault, it shows a lack of commitment to the party because, when a person feels bigger than the whole, the whole must take action or confess that it has lost control and authority.

I think there are several issues in the party, communication for example, which, more than question of discipline, is really a political matter. There are issues which the PT has to focus on and really reflect over or the damage will be enormous. Not only will it affect its image, but we will lose values and principles...

I also want to say that backbenchers must clearly concern themselves with the political reform of the party due to its bureaucracy, to financing of campaign, because today the nature of disputes within the party has changed, as many militants have become professionals. Then the use of machinery of government by civil servants at any level, be it municipal, provincial or federal can be extremely dangerous for the PT.

Ricardo de Azevedo is the vice-president of the Perseu Abramo Foundation, a Workers' Party think tank. He is also editorial coordinator for the magazine Teoria e Debate - www.fpabramo.org.br, where this interview originally appeared. You may contact him at internacional@fpabramo.org.br.
Translated from the Portuguese by Sayuri Carbonnier.

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