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Brazzil - Politics - May 2004

A Whiff of the 60s in Brazil

Why recall episodes from Brazil's past? Because the more the
elites try to hide it, there is a whiff of the sixties in the air. The
elites want a Lula boxed into neoliberalism, they even surrounded
him with an economic team about all that can be said is that it
is being praised by members of the previous administration.

Carlos Chagas


Picture Someone has written that the past is our greatest treasure, not because it will tell us what to do, but precisely because it always tells us what we ought to avoid. Lula needs to watch out. If, when he wakes up, he is able to look backwards, then he will be able to solidify the future in every day's journey. The president finds problems everywhere he turns.

The fact that the speculative sector is prevailing over the productive sector; the permanent foreign and public debt, with an ever-increasing dependency on foreign interests; the increase in the number not only of the hunger, but of unemployed and indigent; the loss in purchasing power for salaries faced with increases in prices for fundamental goods and services.

Brizola believed in a Constituent Assembly. João Goulart was almost prevented from being inaugurated because his past revealed his disposition for confronting similar questions, which were less acute than those of today. They pushed parliamentarianism on him, to play for time.

He needed two years to be rid of that body, which was foreign to our republican tradition, but when he got back the powers necessary for his reformist enterprise he made his first mistake.

Or rather, the second, because if he had rejected the parliamentary system of government and taken advantage of the popular push contrary to the coup, he could have surgically removed the disease, which he thought he could treat with allopathy.

It was a way of creating an unchangeable fact, to ask for a constituent assembly and change Brazil all at once. That was what Leonel Brizola, governor of Rio Grande do Sul and the leader of the democratic resistance, then 37 years old, defended.

The second mistake came, paradoxically, at the point when he thought he had the strength to make changes. He gave in, soothed and conciliated, when he didn't need to. He thought better of it and wanted to change everything at the same time. He made the error of going to the opposite extreme.

Agrarian reform, urban reform, banking reform, reform of education, reform in transportation, reform in dealing with foreign capital, reform in the production of popular medicines, reform in the system of communications and even reform in the structure of the armed forces. From a placid and accommodating president momentarily transformed into the Queen of England, he jumped to the other extreme.

He stopped taking advantage of the lessons of the past, from his great political mentor, the ex-president Getúlio Vargas. This was the signal calling the forces impacted by the reformist drive to unite against him.

Jango made the third error by not resisting at the final hour. He ended up being deposed, not without having first, in the final denouement, having flowed back to the inaction only explicable by his humanitarian feelings, whose aim was to avoid spilling blood, even when facing the executioner.

He will have had his motives that only the future will judge. It is still early to know if the image that he left behind will be that of the meeting of March 13, when he disappropriated land and nationalized petroleum refineries, or that of the governor, who, in order to spare lives, refused to bomb the revolting troops and saw the ranks of those who expelled him from Brazil grow.

Lula Balances Between Opposites

Why recall episodes from the past? Because mutatis mutandis, the more the elites try to hide it, there is a whiff of the sixties in the air. The elites want a Lula who is boxed into neoliberalism, they even surrounded him with an economic team about all that can be said is that it is being praised by members of the previous administration.

They want a reformist, but who is complacent in dealing with the privileges that have left Brazil stuck in the mud. If he were to make the popular push that brought him to Brasília prevail, there should be no illusions. The same ones as always are prepared to make him into a new Jango, even though dispensing with military support.

After all, the armed forces will not twice make the mistake of being the ones to burn their hands taking the chestnuts from the fire for the benefit of those who are ready to gobble them down.

It will not do, for very long, for the new president to oscillate between the reforms that he promised, and which were responsible for his election, and the utopia of conciliating the guillotine and the neck through the mixture of his promises with continuing to hold to neoliberal postulates.

To think that he can manage to be able to balance between these opposites will mean that he will be eroded, as has been the case, for example with president Hugo Chávez of Venezuela. With the aggravating factor that a people which is ever less present at the gates of the Alvorada to greet him will be able to show its frustration in October.

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 from the Portuguese by Tom Moore. Moore has been fascinated by the language and culture of Brazil since 1994. He translates from Portuguese, Spanish, French, Italian and German, and is also active as a musician. He is the librarian for music, modern languages and media at The College of New Jersey. Comments welcome at mooret@tcnj.edu.

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