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Brazzil - Politics - May 2004

Brazil: What Lula Needs Now Is Guts

Brazil has the resources, it knows how to proceed, and has
leadership that is prepared. It needs only to leave the prison in
which hope has been held captive since 2003. Lula's government
has to be economically and financially responsible, but it cannot
be frightened of social progressiveness, as it was during its first year.

Cristovam Buarque


Picture Born in 1944, Cristovam Buarque was 20 years old when the military coup took place. He finished the mechanical engineering course at the Federal University of Pernambuco and received a doctorate in economics at the University of Paris.

Between 1973 and 1979 he worked at the Inter-American Development Bank. At the end of his term as rector of the University of Brasília (1985-1989), he joined Leonel Brizola's campaign for the presidency.

Migrating to the Workers' Party (PT), he was elected governor of the Federal District by the Party (1995-1998). A candidate for reelection, he was defeated. He was elected to the Senate in 2002 and diverted into the Lula government Ministry of Education, where he entered into a confrontation with the hard nucleus of power commanded by José Dirceu.

He was dismissed by President Lula and assumed his seat in the Senate. In the following article, the Senator reflects upon the military coup and the Campaign for the Direct Election of the President in light of Lula's election and of some landmarks, for him symbolic, of the many ruptures occurring in Brazilian history.

History is made continuously but is marked by outstanding dates. In the second half of the 20th century, Brazilian history had five of these: the suicide of President Getúlio Vargas (1954), the military coup (1964), the clarification of the political opening (1974), the end of the military regime (1984), and the affirmation of liberalism (1994).

Behind each of these dates are signs of the exhaustion of one road and the attempt to take another, yet undiscovered, one. In spite of the revolution signified by the election of Lula and the Workers Party government, the year 2004 has not yet clarified the new course that the country needs and has been awaiting since 1954.

On the eve of August of that year, Brazil was experiencing two crises: the visible, short-term one of the corruption surrounding Vargas; and the long-term one of the exhaustion of the model he had initiated in the 1930s. Vargas was victim of a regime incapable of taking hold of the country and of persons, surrounding him, without a national accord.

The acts committed by his aides were the pretext for his fall, which in fact was due to the lack of a national project acceptable to the country's elite that would unite Brazil and seduce its people.

Juscelino Kubitschek (JK) was successful in taking hold of the country by making abundant use of the public resources, thanks to a growing debt and inflation to support consumer goods manufacturing, like the automotive industry and the establishment of the economic infrastructure.

Within the democratic system he undertook projects, like a new capital, freeways, and hydroelectric plants. He mobilized Brazil for five years, but left a country drained—with latent inflation and in no condition to continue incurring debt—and with a demand limited to its small consumer elite.

Moreover, the country was divided ideologically between those who wanted to retain that exclusion model without attending to the needs of the masses, and those in favor of making the continuously postponed profound social reforms.

Some still wanted to embark on the socialist revolution, which, at that time, was inspiring progressives all over the world, given the Soviet Union's successes and the Cuban example.

In the long run, the JK model was not viable. Either the reforms would be made, shifting the axis of progress to a project that would benefit the masses and sacrificing liberty; or the regime model would exist in a deepened exclusion project, sacrificing democracy.

The fragile position of the ideologues who desired to implement an unclearly defined model with imported touches—including what is referred to as the authoritarianism of the Left—and the international reality of the Cold War—which at that moment would not permit the establishment of a leftist system in Brazil—bought the crisis to a conclusion in 1964 with the conservative military coup.

Assessing the Military

Much can be said about the military governments that began in 1964, but both adversaries and allies alike can agree on some points. First, the military presidents were not corrupt. Compared with similar regimes in the rest of Latin America, no military president left office wealthy and neither did the majority of their collaborators.

Second, they had the clear project of making Brazil a nation, although this implied the construction of a nation for the few, with concentration of wealth, preference for economic infrastructure, and disdain for social infrastructure.

Third, they committed shameful political crimes, such as political repression, torture, censorship, interdiction of the democratic debate.

Fourth, they set up an efficient economic model based upon the concentration of wealth as a way of creating demand, restricted to the rich and the almost-rich, but sufficient, in a country with such a large population, to dynamize the new Brazilian industrial economy.

Fifth, the model was depredatory in every sense of the word: socially because it abandoned the poor; ecologically because it destroyed nature; financially because it indebted the country under the monetary system of the inflationary, financial dynamic of debt to the banks; and politically because it impeded the emergence of leadership with alternative propositions for the future.

The authoritarian-developmentalist-statist-protectionist-concentrationalist-depredatory model was bound to exhaust itself, especially considering the world crisis brought on by the increase in oil prices beginning in 1973.

The military and civilian leaders of the epoch were committed to a peaceful solution of the crisis by means of a transition without either great disruptions or national bitterness. But that solution did not take into account other alternatives.

The authoritarian crisis was avoided but this was done without installing a model that was unconcentrative, liberalizing, responsible, balanced, national-globalizing and capable of formulating and establishing a new type of development.

When a civilian government replaced the military regime in 1984, the transition was political but not economic. The new government left behind the authoritarian model but continued the same economic one: It was concentrative, protectionist, statist, irresponsible, developmentalist, nationalist, depredatory.

But it now had a civilian president, no censorship, a new Constitution, and freedom of the press and of party politics. The situation was aggravated by a tragic corporative power, created during the military regime, which could only expand and demonstrate its tragic ability to destroy nationhood after the return to democracy. Everything was the same except for the words used and the civilian suits worn by those doing the governing.

National Divide

The year 1994 marked the first true national change since the 1930s or since the crisis that led to the suicide of Vargas. Forty years after the President's suicide (thirty since the military coup), Brazil, which had already abandoned the authoritarian political model, would leave behind the statist, nationalist, protectionist, developmentalist model, but would continue to be depredatory, concentrationist, and, above all, lacking a clear national alternative.

In the last ten years what has once again been seen is the transposition of the international model to Brazil. This time it is not through the intermediary of closed borders with the goal of protecting industries to dynamize the economy with multinational investments. It is, rather, through the intermediary of opening borders to the direct importation of international products.

With this came all that was positive for the dynamic of a new industrial reality that was competitive internationally and the interruption of the inflationary perversion. With it, too, came all that was negative: the worsening of societal inequalities; the degradation of all sectors of the State apparatus; the dependency upon other countries; the reduction of growth; as well as the continuation of the model's depredatory tendency, especially now, through the societal depredation, violence, unemployment, and the lack of hope.

We abandoned monarchist slavery for republican abolition, the rural for the urban, backwardness for development, dictatorship for democracy, fiscal irresponsibility for super-surpluses, without any substantial societal change, without abandoning exclusion for inclusion.

The political democracy came to coexist with the most brutal of dictatorships: development with separation between the poor and nearly poor and the rich and nearly rich. The 2002 movement was as strong as that of 1964. What the people sought with the election of Lula was a change with as much impact as that sought by the military and the dominant classes with the military coup.

Lula's election marked a date as significant in Brazil's course changes as 1822 (independence from Portugal), 1888 (abolition of slavery), 1889 (establishment of the Republic), 1930 (Vargas coup) and 1964 (military coup).

A country that maintained an aristocracy for nearly 200 years, scorning its people, for the first time elected a president from the poorer classes without his having paid any tribute to the elites. He did not study at either the university or the military academy, like some of his predecessors who began life in poverty.

He did not reach the presidency through a conservative party or by making a fortune. Lula is the expression of peoples' power; he has a personal history allied to the Workers' Party. With him, Brazil exchanged its fear of giving national leadership to a people's leader for the hope that a people's leader could make changes in the country.

But this hope has still not been transformed into change. Brazil has still not found its national project since it abolished the slave-ocratic, agriculturalist, exportation regime in 1888. With the exception of short periods, like that of JK, the last stable, inspiring moment in Brazil occurred in the second half of the 19th century with the Pedro II regime.

The monarchy-or-republic debate, that of abolition or the slow death of slavery was made without great spasms, without the sense of a change of course. One hundred fifteen years later, Brazil has still not been able to complete the abolition of slavery or to establish a republican society.

We removed the Pedro II regime and put nothing in its place that would incorporate the interests of the great national masses. Brazil continues to be a country divided between an opulent consumerist aristocracy and an immense mass excluded from the most essential services. And our government, that of the Workers Party, has still not presented a new, different, alternative project capable of attracting all of Brazil.

We have still not abandoned the concentrative, internationalist, economistic, depredatory model in favor of a model that would inspire the nation: abolitionist of poverty; constructor of a republican society; guarantor of ecological balance; amplifier of wealth; integrator into globalization while maintaining our national identity.

The Next 20 Years

In less than 20 years, we will be celebrating our Bicentennial, thus completing the second century of our independence. Perhaps we will do this without changing the true character of Brazil: We will retain the bankruptcy of social apartness, which did not disappear in 1888; the incomplete republican society, which we have not achieved since 1889; the inability to complete the economic development that we have not yet achieved since 1930, 1956, l964, 1994.

The challenge of our government, of the Workers Party, and of Lula, is to transform 2004 into the year in which we leave behind the hope for change and set out on the long road that we began in 1822 to transform the country into a nation in 2022. For that, two decisions are necessary and must be made immediately.

In the first place, it is clearly necessary to state that our objective will not be realized merely by means of the economy. Economic growth is the road to increasing wealth, but the Workers Party government must contradict the historic lie that this automatically leads to the end of poverty.

Lula is obliged to be the divulger of a new ideology demonstrating the difference between increasing wealth and diminishing poverty, one beckoning not merely to the growth of the economy, which, in a globalized world, does not depend merely upon us, but also to a reorientation of society.

Disposable wealth must turn towards development without poverty, with respect for ecology, monetary stability and a democratic system that is in fact republican, in which everyone feels a part of the same Brazil, without the gold curtain that separates the included from the excluded.

The greatest frustration with our government will not come from its administration of the same old thing, but with its lack of a dream for a new country, with an abolition and a Republic that are complete.

In second place, there is a necessity to define—and to begin to implement—the public politics instruments that work upon the panorama of poverty to carry out a second abolition in Brazil, the abolition of poverty, guaranteeing essential social services to all Brazilians, and upon the political panorama to eliminate corruption and increase societal participation.

In January of 2002, the magazine Primeira Leitura presented a project for confronting the panorama of poverty without waiting for economic growth, proposing how to grow through a strategy of eradicating poverty. Quality universal education for all Brazilians would be the most important of the steps but not the only one. It is necessary to guarantee food, health care, housing with drinking water, garbage collection and sewerage and quality public transportation.

Freeing Hope

Brazil has the resources, it knows how to proceed, and has leadership that is prepared. It needs only to leave the prison in which hope has been held captive since 2003. Lula's government has to be economically and financially responsible but it cannot be frightened of social progressiveness, as it was during its first year.

There are diverse ambitious but responsible proposals. Some ministers have already presented them. All that is lacking is for the government to leave its castle of fear. Lula liberated Brazil from fear and carried it to hope, but our government appears to be fettered with fear of the party alliances, of the mayors' and governors' desires, of the economic agents' interests. In 2002 hope triumphed over fear; in 2003, fear imprisoned hope.

Losing the fear of debate is the first step to liberating hope. The military coup of 1964 occurred because the military and the conservative forces were afraid to let the debate continue until the elections of 1965. Now, once again, it appears that our government is afraid of ideological debate.

This is why the government remains divided between those who only defend the changes that were inherited from Social Services and the judiciary, and those reactionaries who fear even those changes because they are considered leftist but who defend corporative interests as anti-popular as the interests of the old sectors.

Lula's government needs a Left that makes proposals and carries on within itself the ideological debate that is taking place at the street level—before it reaches the heads of the intellectuals and the speeches of the politicians—between continuing the old model, under the leadership of a worker, and constructing of the new social model that Brazil has been waiting to complete since 1888-1889, when it set a republican regime in place while maintaining a society divided between the excluded poor and the consumerist aristocracy, and created abolition without giving land or schools to the slaves and the poor.

The eve of the military coup of 1964 was a time rich in debate. The year 2004 is beginning with the fear of debate, or with an impossible debate, given the success of the establishment of a single truth to which even the government of workers itself would have to be submitted.

The worst frustration of the Brazilian nation will be the Workers Party's inability to inspire the country with a new dream that is possible for Brazil to fulfill before the 2022 Bicentennial, beginning in 2004. There is still time.

The great leader and person responsible for such a task, alongside the Workers' Party, is President Lula. Depending upon him, we will commemorate the Bicentennial as a country even more socially defeated, ecologically depredated and internationally dependent than it is today, or as a complete republic with a second abolition that has been carried out.

That can be Lula's legacy. If not, we can reach 2022 with no legacy, different only in the origin of the President's class but not in the beneficiaries of his government.

In that case, 2022 will be the year we commemorate the Bicentennial of our independence and of social apartheid, of apartness. There is still time to change, to reorient Brazil. Remembering the past in general is the best step to begin to construct the future. The future of the continuation of the same, of the last fifty years, or of the construction of the new for the 21st century.

Cristovam Buarque - mensagem@cristovam.com.br - is a Workers' Party (PT) senator for the Federal District. He was also Brazil's Education Minister during the first year of the Lula administration.
Translated by Linda Jerome - LinJerome@cs.com.

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