the rest of us think President Luiz In¶cio Lula da Silva has
been behaving responsibly, his own party’s extreme left-wingers
think he has betrayed their cause. They want the government
to tax and spend. They want higher taxes on industry
and commerce and high-income individuals.
President Luiz In¶cio
Lula da Silva has shown that he wants to get his reform program on the
road shortly. April 30, he went to Congress personally, along with 27
state governors, and handed over his government’s proposals to reform
the pension and tax systems. On Thursday, May Day, he took part in a traditional
Workers Mass in his old trade union stronghold at S¤o Bernardo do Campo,
outside S¤o Paulo, and again reforms were the highlight of his speech.
At a rally later that
day, Lula was hailed by Jo¤o Antonio Felicio, the leader of CUT (Central
nica dos Trabalhadores)Brazil’s second-largest trade union federation
and a traditional ally of Lula’s party, the PTas having achieved more
in four months than his predecessor, Fernando Henrique Cardoso, had done
in eight years. The leader of the larger ForÍa Sindical union federation,
Paulo Pereira da Silvaa candidate for vice-president last year on the
slate led by Ciro Gomeswas more critical but, at the same time, said
he supported the reforms. Two days later, Lula claimed that more than
90 percent of the people, workers and employers alike, supported him in
"doing what needs to be done" in Brazil.
The week also saw
the government leader in the Lower House, Congressman Aldo Rebelo, outline
an ambitious agenda which aims to have the first round of voting on pension
and tax reform ready by July 23. The government is betting it can bring
this about because of the combination of Lula’s phenomenal popular support,
and the broad coalition supporting his administration. Should this happen,
it would be a fantastic victory for Lula, who until only a few months
ago was spooking the markets, pushing down Brazil’s currency and way up
its country risk rating.
Flies in the Ointment
However, there are
some flies in the ointment, and they have the PT logo stamped on their
wings. And these wings will now be picked. The irony is that while Lula
can rely on allies as disparate as the mainly evangelical PL partyof
his Vice-President JosÙ Alencarand the Communist Party of Rebelo, he
cannot depend on the support of the radical wing of the PT, a party he
himself created just over 20 years ago. It is beginning to look as though
he has lost his patience with the so-called "radicals", and
is about to kick them out of the party.
The radicals have
been claiming, correctly in fact, that Lula’s policies are basically a
continuation of what was in place during the previous administration,
under President Fernando Henrique Cardoso. While the rest of us think
the government has been behaving responsibly, and have been surprised
at Lula’s zeal and courage to take on pension reform, the PT’s extreme
left-wingers think he has betrayed their cause. They have no time for
fiscal restraint, the IMF or market-friendly policies.
Instead, they want
the government to tax and spend. They want higher taxes on industry and
commerce and high-income individuals. They are against moves to give the
Central Bank greater autonomy or independence. They are also against almost
anything the United States is for, and can usually be relied on to blame
Washington for most of Brazil’s and the world’s ills. They seem incapable
of understanding that Lula won a massive victory because he persuaded
the people there would be no radical change. "Peace and Love"
was Lula’s somewhat tongue-in-cheek slogan, not "The People United
Will Never be Defeated".
Joan of Arc
The government has
made it plain that it will no longer tolerate public dissent from the
PT rebels. Lula’s right-hand man, Chief of Staff JosÙ Dirceu, has been
particularly scathing about the dissenters, especially Senator Helo"sa
Helena from Alagoas state in the Northeast.
She has been playing
the self-imposed role of a Brazilian Joan of Arc for the last few months,
and embarrassing the administration. She has the earnest look of the "lesbo-fem-Trot"
kind of female lefty frequently found in Europe, but rare in Brazil: little
granny glasses, hair scraped back in a bun, well meaning earnestness oozing
from every pore. One can imagine her pushing a pram in an anti-war march,
or chaining herself to the fence of an American airbase.
Along with two CongressmenJo¤o
Batista de Ara¿jo (another wearer of granny glasses) from the northern
state of Par¶, and Luciana Genro from Rio Grande do Sulshe appears to
be on the way out. According to Brazilian media reports, the decision
to expel them has already been made, and just needs to be rubber stamped
by the PT’s national executive committee. Some voices against the expulsion
have been raised, including that of S¤o Paulo Senator Eduardo Suplicy,
but it seems that only a public act of contrition and pledge to back the
government can save them.
Quo Vadis? Brizola,
here we comež
If as expected they
are expelled, the radicals may move towards the PDT party, of the veteran
populist Leonel Brizola. He was a constant critic of Cardoso, and although
he supported Lula in the election, he has now turned on him as well. Some
news reports say that the last straw for the government was a recent meeting
between the PT "radicals" and Brizola, at which they decided
to join forces to oppose pension reform.
It will be interesting
to see how much real supportvotes, that isthe leftists have within Congress
and their own party, and also whether they will be joined by other PT
defectors if they are pushed out. Before the election, it was generally
felt that the radicals wing of the PT accounted for about 25 percent of
its membership, but this figure is considered to be much lower now. Lula
has managed to impose himself so strongly on the country, that one cannot
imagine Helena and her comrades taking a quarter of the party with them.
The PT is the largest
party in the Lower House, but does not have a majority, and there is no
way Dirceu would be planning to move against the radicals had he felt
their expulsion would weaken support there. There is also likely to be
little popular resistance since, despite their claims to represent the
people, none of the radicals has mass appeal. As for the media, it is
totally hostile to them, so Lula will get an easy ride there.
By acting so toughly,
the government is showing that it is in charge and running the show. Let
us hope this firmness remains. Cardoso may have slain the dragon of inflation,
but he never came near tackling the problems caused by Brazil’s unfair,
costly and inefficient pension or tax systems. And even with the government
and a popular president behind them, the reforms will require extensive
negotiations behind closed doors if the July 23 deadline for a first vote
is to be met.
is a Scottish journalist who first visited Brazil in 1987 and has
lived in S¤o Paulo since 1995. He writes on politics and finance and
runs his own company, Celtic ComunicaÍšes www.celt.com.br,
which specializes in editorial and translation services for Brazilian
and foreign clients. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org
© John Fitzpatrick
This article appeared
originally in Infobrazil, at www.infobrazil.com