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Brazzil - Politics - June 2004

Brazil: Congress Wants New Economic Model

Brazilian President Lula's recent defeat in the House could be the
first step to disassemble the model responsible for our national
problems. It will be increasingly difficult to justify a law forcing
workers to survive on a miserable minimum wage while we send
US$ 61 billion abroad to pay the external and the public debts.

Carlos Chagas


Picture Now that the dust is beginning to settle, it's time to realize that it was neither the end of the world nor one last defeat for the government. Losing elections is a natural thing in democracies.

More important than naming the winners and losers of Thursday night in the Senate is realizing that an alert signal has been sent to the people in power: the elections are coming and the people whose lives depend on votes are not running against the national sentiment—neither is the Congress, in spite of all its mistakes, excesses and omissions.

By opposing the R$ 260 (US$ 83) minimum wage bill and favoring the equally obscene R$ 275 (US$ 88) figure, the intention of the Senate was not to defeat President Lula but to make the case for the need for change in the economic model.

If there was a real loser, that person was Finance Minister Antônio Palocci, who lost much, much more than even Political Affairs Minister Aldo Rebelo. Palocci was the drafter of the offensive R$ 260. Any single cent more would express, as it did, the disagreement spreading among the political class about the economic model afflicting us.

It does not serve the government to keep trying to assign blame and, even worse, to punish those it calls traitors. The bursting of the lock gates has started. If we don't find a conduit immediately and there is no drainage, the October ballot boxes will inundate the good intentions of the Planalto Palace.

It's useless to try to hold the national feeling of rejection for this economic policy. The minimum wage itself is just emblematic in this whole story. Lula had better accept reality and tell his leaders in the House not to oppose the R$ 275.

This could be the first step on the way to disassemble the model responsible for our national problems—probably after the elections. It will be increasingly difficult to justify a law forcing workers to survive on this miserable minimum wage while we send US$ 61 billion abroad this year to pay the external and the public debts. We already have too much as far as wealth is concerned; no reason to go on multiplying poverty...

Bad Amendments

Decisions made in the heat of emotions always become fuel for future regrets. There are those in the government who want the President to strip Minister Aldo Rebelo from his position as political coordinator. We should not commit the injustice of visualizing Chief of Staff José Dirceu, donned with Dr. Silvana's apron, milimetrically plotting defeat in the Senate, only to regain lost space.

The Chief of Staff does not usually act with such subtlety. He is even less likely to expect the most important decisions in the government to return to his hands, now that he has shot gunned his comrade in the ministry. The true confrontation coming out of the most important inner circle of power is far from being between Dirceu and Aldo.

The problem actually resides in the economic team and the rest of the administration. Or, if you prefer, between the nation and those who are choking it. Until this issue is resolved, preferably with a change in the model, the ditch between Planalto and society will only grow deeper and deeper and be eventually represented by the vote of 44 senators against the symbolic R$ 260.

Senators José Sarney and Antônio Carlos Magalhães, or even Paulo Paim, for that matter, cannot be made into heroes and be counted among those who contributed to the victory of the R$ 275. Neither can the people from PFL and PSDB. Actually, deep inside, as senator Heloísa Helena said, they are all wines from the same barrel. They simply noticed where the wind was, and still is, blowing.

Indications are that the President will only and finally wake up to the importance of fundamental change after all election results from both capital and major cities are announced.

The national tendency to defeat all candidates who are identified with the government will either lead Lula to rethink the economic model or serve to leave him alone. Sorry, not alone—actually, accompanied by all the speculators, those who profit from the misery of others and their representatives.

Transitory Glory

Senator Paulo Paim should be careful. He was revered during a whole weekend as the great hero of the decision made Thursday by the Senate, defeating the minimum wage bill. There are those wanting to burn him, so many are the festive screams. And it's not only in the PT; nobody in the opposing parties wants the competition.

PT president José Genoíno was inelegant and even rude when referring to the senator from Rio Grande do Sul and the other two senators from the party who insurged against the official bill. If he insists in punishing his comrades, even without the absurdity of the expulsion, Paim's stature in the present scenario will grow even higher.

This is where the danger lurks. The Senator would be well advised to remember history and what happened to the Roman generals arriving in triumph to the Empire's capital to be honored by the crowds.

In the carriage they were always accompanied by a slave whose job was to incessantly repeat a saying about how transitory is glory in this world. They want to take advantage of Paulo Paim, but he needs to be aware that his fight needs to stay within the PT. Even if it adds to the rows of those who want to change our economic policies.

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.
Translated by Tereza Braga. Braga is a freelance Portuguese translator and interpreter based in Dallas. She is an accredited member of the American Translators Association. Contact: terezab@sbcglobal.net.

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