Brazil to Put the Brakes to Consolidate New Middle Class

Gilberto Carvalho One of the Brazilian president’s top aides, Gilberto Carvalho (“Secretaria-Geral da Presidência da República”), told Brazil’s official press agency Agência Brasil that the challenge this year is for Brazil to continue growing, but to do so at a more “modest” rate and consolidate the new middle class.

“We know this so-called new middle class is a little controversial. They are people with new jobs, in a position that is not consolidated, so we have to work to keep the model operating,” he declared.

Carvalho admitted he is not responsible for making economic policy or explaining it, but that he did have to present governmental lines of action to social movements.

“Now it is a fact that not all social movements agree with our policies,” the minister said, “but our position is that without putting the brakes on at this moment, many people stand to lose the gains of the past few years.”

Carvalho explained that the “brake” was very much in the center of the debate on the minimum wage [the government insisted on, and got, an increase of less than 7%]

“It was a brake to allow us to get our act together and it was important not to permit a larger increase at this moment,” said the minister, as he pointed out that for next year, according to the rules of salary minimum increases, the adjustment could be 12%.

“That will be a very pretty increase, but we must have fiscal responsibility,” said the minister.

Carvalho went on to declare that the government’s number one battle was to keep inflation under control. The second priority was jobs.

“Jobs of quality and income distribution,” said Carvalho. “We need to maintain this atmosphere of growth, of expansion, intact. That is why we are being very prudent at this time. We are not looking for growth that is spectacular. Our aim is growth of 4% to 5% for the near future. In my opinion, that seems to be quite adequate, although I am not an economist or the minister of Finance,” he declared.

Carvalho is the man responsible for liaison with social movements. As the head of the Presidential General Secretariat he represents the Dilma Rousseff administration in the important area of welfare and social assistance.

With regard to his work with social movements, Carvalho summed up the situation good-humoredly by saying that at least now everybody is sitting on the same side of the table.

“Some tension is inevitable. But the fact is that the goals of this government are the same as those of the activists in social movements. We push as hard as possible against budgetary limitations all the time in order to meet the demands in the social areas,” declared the minister.

“And when the president says that the priority of her administration is to overcome misery, you just know that social welfare programs will get plenty of attention in the budget. On the other hand, people in the movements know that this is a government that has the political will to actively contribute.”

Carvalho emphasized the way members of social groups have undergone a process of growth and development. “Nowadays they come to the government with broad projects involving women’s rights, protection of children and respect for the environment. Even the Landless Rural Worker Movement (“MST”) has moved beyond endless demands for land and is now calling for literacy classes and reforestation projects. The fact is that social movements have become schools for citizenship. Their objectives are characterized by an environmental and social conscience.”

According to Carvalho, Brazilian social movements have matured and evolved over the past few decades better than political parties have. Unlike Brazilian politicians, social organizations have trained and educated their members, he said. “When we talk to social activists, we talk to people who are informed, conscience citizens. That is not true of politicians,” he said.

Carvalho said the country needs a political reform that, in his opinion, should consist of candidate lists for voters and public financing. He said the present system produces corruption.

“Social movements take care of their people, educate them. Our political parties do not do that and it is a grave fault. We have a political structure, an election process that is almost an invitation to corruption. Nowadays you have to have a lot of money to run for any elective office. And where do you get the money from? I was a candidate back in 1986, with a salary of three minimum wages. At that time, we had parties, bingo games and things like that. Now a political campaign is very expensive.”

Carvalho said that people in social movements seemed to have a broader, more generous vision. They tend to see power from the point of view of the citizen. On the other hand, everything is more personal for politicians.

The minister also pondered that the political reform under discussion was attempting to move the political focus away from the personal to the collective.

“We want people to vote for lists of candidates for this reason. Instead of elections being won by people who can raise the most money, we can get people who actually work hard in serious political parties, people who have a constituency.”

As for illegal campaign financing (“caixa 2”), Carvalho said it was important not to be ingenuous. Some fraud was always possible, he admitted, but with candidate lists it would be easier to control and the candidates themselves would be running less as individuals and more as part of party tickets.

“That changes the whole logic,” said Carvalho. “You will campaign for a party and the financing will be collective, not individualized. I think that will be a shock to the present mentality that dominates the electoral process.”

ABr

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