April 2002

Red or Pink?

The Workers' Party does not want to see any extra
pressure on interest rates, the Brazilian currency or
the stock market. Any such instability would
benefit the government's candidate.

John Fitzpatrick

The PT (Partido dos Trabalhadores—Workers' Party) is in confident mood as its presidential candidate, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, remains well ahead of the field in the presidential opinion polls and more and more people are starting to think that three-times loser Lula could win this time round. If Lula is to succeed he will have to convince the electorate that he has put his militant past behind him and can represent the whole country, not just a vested interest.

In April the PT took the step of appointing an official spokesman for Lula, an academic from the University of São Paulo called André Singer. Perhaps this showed signs of the party's growing confidence or perhaps Singer was brought in to make sure Lula does not deviate too much from the script and revert to his less disciplined ways.

Apparently Lula was not allowed to speak about the recent failed coup in Venezuela off the cuff and his final statement, backing Hugo Chavez, was made with the party's approval. Despite this, within days of Singer's appointment when Lula, in an address to students, said there could be a coup mounted against him if he were president and he hoped the people would demonstrate on the streets to save him, as had happened to Chavez.

However, the PT is more than Lula even though the presidential candidate does not think so. On Friday, April 19, daily newspaper O Estado de S. Paulo quoted an unnamed PT congressman (what happened to the official spokesman talking on the record?) as saying that the party was drawing up a strategy to try and calm down the financial markets while Lula's ratings rise.

The PT does not want to see any extra pressure on interest rates—the Central Bank kept interests at their sky-high levels of 18.5 percent with no sign of any upcoming reduction—the Real or the stock market. Any such instability would benefit the government's probable candidate, former health minister José Serra, and the PT would get the blame. The paper said that many PT congressmen do not want to jeopardize the party's real chances of winning and, for this reason, have cooperated with the government in negotiating an end to the impasse over the blocked CPMF financial movement tax.

Does this augur a new beginning for the PT? For several years I have been bewailing the PT's failure to join European socialist parties, like the UK Labor Party, and ditch its hard-left baggage. No-one who has visited Brazil and seen the huge social differences between the rich and poor could doubt that a moderate PT could win great support. I have also pointed out the similarities between the aims of President Fernando Henrique Cardoso's PSDB and the PT. So I would love to think that the PT has reformed itself but, unfortunately, it is far too early to accept that it has.

At the moment, the financial markets are fairly stable but that is because the election is still a long way off. At the same time, the market does not have much faith in the opinion polls and is waiting for the start of the television propaganda to see if Serra picks up support. As for image, Serra is not the most photogenic person and he is still very far behind Lula, so a bet on television saving the day is risky.

It does not take much to make markets nervous and a few conciliatory gestures in Congress and soothing words from a PT spokesman will mean nothing if the market starts getting ants in its pants. It is also a bit difficult to imagine someone like Lula not saying or doing something which could upset the markets in coming months. His traditional supporters expect him to be a strong leader offering attractive policies and not a muted lapdog.

I have another reason for doubting that the PT has changed its colors. On April 11, I attended a day-long conference in São Paulo on the outlook for the Brazilian economy. Over 400 people took part in the event, which was addressed by leading politicians and economists. One speaker was Guido Mantega who is Lula's economic adviser and a possible finance minister in a PT government. He told the meeting that the PT was a moderate party and pointed to the recent first primary in which party members had voted overwhelmingly for Lula as their candidate. He also dismissed the idea that a PT government would renegotiate Brazil's foreign debt. In any case, he said most debt was from the private sector and government debt due this year amounted to only U$ 5 billion.

He gave a plausible performance but, a few hours later, none other than André Singer gave a presentation in which he stressed the PT's radical side. Singer, who had not been made official spokesman at the time of the event, outlined the party's manifesto and stressed that, under a PT government, there would be no continuation of the policies of the Cardoso administration but a complete rupture. These seeming contradictions do not mean, of course, that Mantega and Singer are trying to hoodwink the public or are even at odds with each other. However, the fact that Singer highlighted the manifesto, which bears the fingerprints of the militant wing of the party, shows that one cannot just accept that the PT has changed its policies or will change them.

MST & Lula

Reality shows are all the rage on Brazilian television at the moment with millions glued to the screen watching "real" people in "real" situations and how they react to each other. In fact these shows are far removed from reality and the people far from real. In one show 12 actors were locked away together in a house for 45 days and left to get on each other's nerves.

This non event certainly got on this writer's nerves as it became a national talking point. It was impossible to have a conversation with anyone without some reference to it. Several of the participants have become "celebrities" and their faces peer at us from countless magazine covers and advertisements.

One "star" who emerged from this particular show was the son of the Worker Party's Senator Eduardo Suplicy and his estranged wife Marta, the mayor of São Paulo. The younger Suplicy and his mother share the same taste in blonde hairstyles and black eye shadow. Suplicy the younger—who calls himself Supla—dresses like a punk from the mid-70s, although he is nearly 40, and his chances of achieving international rock stardom are as likely as his father's were of becoming the PT's presidential candidate.

As we now know Suplicy's attempt to assume the PT mantle failed at the PT's first primary convention. Lula triumphed, as expected, but Suplicy's performance was quite impressive and he notched up a respectable tally of around 15 percent of votes. These were, of course, protest votes by PT members opposed to moves by Lula to form an electoral alliance with the evangelical PL party.

Suplicy is far too eccentric a character to hold high office although the Brazilian political scene would be poorer without his antics. His public behavior since his wife abandoned him for a chic French-Argentinean heartthrob, such as pledging his undying love to Marta (who incidentally voted for Lula) and hiring a young sexy personal trainer, have been more entertaining than any television soap opera or reality show.

After the primary, Lula was riding high although he was still aggrieved at having to go through the humiliation of a vote. This is because he sees himself as the embodiment of the PT, which he founded over 20 years ago. Lula was still riding high when the cash scandal over state governor and presidential hopeful Roseana Sarney broke a few weeks ago. This scandal pushed her from her lofty position in the opinion polls where she was challenging the PT leader. Lula must have enjoyed the sight of Sarney's PFL party accusing the PSDB of the probable government candidate, José Serra, of plotting against her and organizing a police raid on a company she owns which turned up R$ 1.3 million (US$ 558.000) in an office safe.

However, Lula is not chuckling any more thanks to a real reality show which glued Brazilians to the television recently, when members of the MST landless peasant movement broke into the holiday ranch owned by the sons of President Fernando Henrique Cardoso. The MST supporters made themselves at home and were filmed relaxing on sofas and helping themselves to drinks. The sight of this unwashed riffraff, with grimy tee shirts and dirty baseball caps littering up a respectable household, drove Brazil's middle class to fury. Many middle class families own small second homes in the countryside and an occupation by MST militants is the embodiment of their worst nightmare.

The normally placid Cardoso was reported to have been livid about the incident which, thankfully, ended peacefully with the arrest of 16 squatters. Instead of killing the MST members (as they have done in the past) the police merely tied them up and threw them on the ground to let them eat dirt for a while before taking them away. They now face possible charges ranging from trespass to conspiracy.

Cardoso was understandably furious for personal reasons, but one does not have to be a cynic to see why he could be pleased for political reasons. Why? Because the MST shares many of the beliefs of the PT and in the eyes of many outraged viewers they are the same thing. The Justice Minister even accused the PT of being responsible. If you read some of the press reports you would think Lula had been behind the occupation.

Just as Roseana Sarney was quick to suggest that the government was behind the police raid on her company so Lula saw a hidden hand behind the occupation. He wondered publicly who would benefit by such an action, leaving no doubt that it was the government. However, Lula has to do more than half blame the government if he is not to be tarred by the MST brush. Although the PT and MST have no official links most voters are not aware of this. Several national PT leaders have publicly condemned the latest MST action but if Lula were to make a credible public condemnation he could reassure some floating voters and, at the same time, show some qualities of leadership. One wonders if he is up to facing real reality.

John Fitzpatrick is a Scottish journalist who first visited Brazil in 1987 and has lived in São Paulo since 1995. He writes on politics and finance and runs his own company, Celtic Comunicações, which specializes in editorial and translation services for Brazilian and foreign clients. You can reach him at  

This article was originally published in Infobrazil (, an E-zine on Brazilian culture and current events.

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