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Brazil’s PT: Between Loyalty and Independence

 Brazil's PT: Between Loyalty 
  and Independence

The Lula Administration
has to work hard to form the majority in
the Brazilian Congress and this is a must. There is no other
alternative. Either the government gets a majority or governing
will be even more difficult. I am not only referring to Congress.
I am talking about those who have money invested in Brazil.
by: Ricardo
de Azevedo

Arlindo
Chinaglia

Arlindo Chinaglia, elected leader of PT’s (Partido dos Trabalhadores—Workers’
Party) backbenchers for the House of Representatives earlier this year, now
evaluates the Lula Government, the Party and the relationship between backbenchers
and the cabinet.

President Lula is now
a third of the way through his mandate. What is your assessment so far?

We cannot separate our
government, or our policies from the reality of the country. But, we have
to note that we inherited a national debt, which had risen from 61 billion
reais (US$ 20.3 billion) in January 1995 to over 800 billion reais (US$ 270
billion) by December 2002.

This debt imposes commitments
and forces us to realize a surplus of 4.25 percent, and maintain high interest
rates. This has compromised our ability to deliver on the high expectations
our government created nationally and internationally.

During the first third
of the mandate, our government emphasised keeping public borrowing in check.
This was a clear change in economic policy from the previous Cardoso administration.

However, many of the central
elements of Cardoso’s policies have been maintained, which caused discontent
with militant elements of the party. With the more radical left-wingers raising
their voices, foreign investors got frightened, punishing us because we are
so vulnerable to the outside world’s expectations.

So this situation demands
all members of parliament, radicals and leaders alike, to act with solidarity,
at same time as we have to constantly push the boundaries of our country and
government’s direction.

This initial phase has
passed, for good or for bad. Today the President’s popularity is very high
despite absurdly disrespectful attacks from the opposition and part of the
press.

The PT is and has been
a party committed to workers, engaged in social issues. However, promises
made during the campaign like creating jobs and doubling the minimum wage,
have not yet materialized. Results so far, if any, have been poor. What are
the chances of achieving these goals during this mandate if present economic
policy is maintained?

Unemployment is Brazil’s
biggest problem. I believe that ideas of compensatory policies are correct,
if we consider that people have no alternatives at this time. I think we should
cater for the aged and children who have no chance to survive.

Apart from these objectives,
I believe we should focus on generating jobs, using all possible resources
available, even through creating task forces or any other precarious form
of work. These measures will increase consumption and stimulate production.

It should be interpreted
as a national pact to generate jobs, in which the reduction of working hours
or elimination of extra-working hours should form part of the agenda; child
labour should be eliminated.

Retired people should
only be allowed to return to work in exceptional circumstances, for example,
if they are the sole family bread earner. But if we had a choice—to generate
jobs or implement compensatory policy, I would create more jobs.

We all know jobs can only
be created through economic growth and this will happen by reducing interest
rates, or, perhaps, an eventual change in economic policy. We have been very
careful about this point, because the crisis of confidence was triggered by
the current policy—avoiding rising inflation to reduce Brazil’s so-called
risk rating.

All of that we know and
celebrate. A window that can be opened and give us courage is scrap state
investments when calculating the Government’s budget surplus, which, according
to what I read in the press, could generate additional growth in the Brazilian
economy of up to 3 percent. I wonder if a better way would be not renewing
the agreement with the IMF, allowing us more freedom of action.

I do think that, in any
case, the way the economy is to be conducted ought to be agreed by re-establishing
pacts with society. I feel there is a dichotomy- The President’s authority
in one hand and, on another, the claim from entrepreneur and trade union movements,
the militancy of PT and evidently seeing the despair of joblessness, we will
have to reach a stage for new definitions from our Government.

I do not pretend to have
more authority than anybody else, either the Government, or Lula. What I mean
is this tension felt by everybody damages the Government. We should be careful,
we must not make the market suspicious, we cannot afford to scare off investment.

I believe public-private
partnerships should be encouraged and clear rules spelled out including questions
concerning public concessions. These measures are correct. But, at the same
time, I believe it is right to change the rules through agreement, based on
public debate.

We have to support the
government, to believe in its vision, and, at the same time, to carry out
our duty by warning the government, as is the nature of debate in a political
party, to draw up and present specific proposals.

Don’t you agree that
the resolution approved at the last meeting of the national assembly should
alert the Government by defining the problems and suggesting solutions—and
does not represent official policy.

This was a result of previous
experience. During the meeting of the National Executive, just a sentence
was added, asking for a change in economic policy. This draft was approved
and used by other parties, in particular by the PT alliance in Congress, reinforcing
the need to make change.

The press will always
try to spot conflicts between the PT and the Government, and, obviously, it
immediately damages the economy due to its vulnerability. It is not a question
of having or not included the proposal for changes in the document of the
national assembly that invalidates the President’s statement.

During his campaign he
said, "If I believe in the proposal, I will take action to implement
it." So, if all of us from the PT and society have good proposals, I
am sure the President will embrace them.

By saying that I mean
that the Government, the PT and backbenchers have passed the point for mere
analysis. When I was a candidate for leader of the backbenchers, I focused
on the creating jobs. Many comrades, naturally, would like to discuss economic
policy.

To debate is OK, but I
am convinced that, be we government, backbenchers, or the PT or Teoria
e Debate magazine, we can no longer just discuss, we must focus on presenting
proposals.

Is this the main role
of the backbenchers today?

The backbenchers do not
chose their role because Congress’s agenda was always defined by the Executive.
Then, the backbenchers must respond. For example, the issue of genetically
modified food, public-private partnership, re-structuring of the power sector,
of rights of the aged, questions of deforestation, etc. Whatever comes from
the Executive the backbenchers have to respond to.

Concerning the Government’s
strategy, the backbenchers’ role is to discuss and, if possible, come up with
proposals. The Government cannot just analyse and promise, it does not make
sense.

Concerning the minimum
wage, therefore, if the present situation continues, I cannot see any possibility
of implementing it. I have said it publicly, because I believe it is a collective
responsibility to review this promise .

I think the government
made a mistake about it because, if expectations are not lowered and it keeps
giving the idea that, after four years, Brazil will suddenly be a different
country, this is risky, because our actions do not meet these high hopes.

My personal opinion is
it would be better to start with low expectations and, through hard work and
realistic action direct people’s expectations. I feel this would be better
and safer.

At the moment, I don’t
visualize the possibility of doubling the minimum wage, as a result of measures
taken during the first and second years of government, although an adjustment,
slightly above inflation, was granted—almost negligible, but above inflation.

It should be noted, however,
that during Fernando Henrique’s mandate, especially in the second and third
year of his government, the adjustments made were below inflation. And, during
the last year of his first mandate, he did not recover the 1995 value of the
minimum wage but today, in the second year of Lula’s government, we are proposing
and will pay a minimum wage higher than 1995.

Concerning the generation
of jobs I have already commented. This is the biggest challenge.

How is it to be leader
of the PT backbenchers in the House of Representatives in this new situation,
I mean, leader of the government and also the biggest party?

Firstly, to lead the PT
backbenchers is always a source of honour and pride, in any situation. To
be leader of backbenchers who form a support base for the government, is an
historical moment which we all fought to achieve. I am not complaining about
it.

Now it is obvious that
it is complex because the members of parliament are no different to the militants.
We have desires, wishes and aspirations so all of us would like to do more
than we are doing. There is no exception.

The backbenchers have
the task of political confrontation through daily debate. Just to mention
a minor example, when an opposition leader like José Carlos Aleluia
of PFL (Partido da Frente Liberal—Liberal Front Party) criticises the
government because President Lula went to Ribeirão Preto to deliver
new ambulances, the opposition claimed these ambulances had just been painted
but were in fact old ones.

Such a situation creates
a climate of irritability among backbenchers. Or when we are confronted with
the question of unemployment or the minimum wage, these are major issues.

It is difficult and sometimes
complex but I do not despair because the opposition has no authority—social,
political or historical to attack our government. Our responsibility is to
respond to society.

I have peace of mind to
argue with our political opponents in the House of Representatives, because
our concern and aims must be directed towards society.

We can’t lose the House
of Representatives’ debate, or allow these attacks to go unanswered. The best
attitude for the backbenchers, PT and Government is to be tuned to Brazilian
people’s aspirations.

After every weekend when
each member of parliament returns, having listened to criticisms and suggestions
from their base, the backbenchers return with renewed energy, and are, therefore
a useful tool for the government due to these links, because the members of
parliament not only talk directly to local PT representatives and the militants
but to various segments of society. This is an important factor: continuous
and updated contact networking.

So, in this particular
moment, I think it is important to fight the pessimism. I feel a wave of pessimism
in the country and believe we have to fight it through concrete actions much
more than pure talks.

Despite being the largest
backbenchers in the House of Representatives, with 90 parliamentarians, as
a whole it is still a minority. How could one build a Pro-government majority?
Does it depend on Government or action within Congress?

It depends on both, but
depends much more on the Government. Conditions to support or oppose the government
are created by those who later changed their mind to support the government.
It can welcome or not.

And due to the country’s
economic instability, is essential for the market that the government has
a majority in the Congress. Each time the government wins with small margin
or even loses such as with the provisional measure of bingo, it scares the
market because it is interpreted as if the government has no control over
the situation.

This is the main reason
for having a majority in Congress. It does not depend on any deeper ideological
or political analysis. This does not depend on political or ideological analysis.

The need of the majority
is imposed by the manner the cabinet leads the discussion. And so PT members
of parliament surely have a different vision about this question to PT militants
who analyse based on political, ideological and ethical affinity.

The Government has to
work hard to form the majority and this is a must. So I am in agreement with
the Government when its policy is directed towards gaining the majority.

Because there is no other
alternative, it either goes for majority or governing will be even more difficult.
Much more difficult. I am not only referring to problems in Congress, I am
speaking of the market—those who have money invested in Brazil.

According to your line
of reasoning, the PT backbenchers could never vote against the government?
Or do you admit that there could be some exception?

I believe we should not
vote against the government, but there have been some cases. For example the
provisory health plan Act, where the backbenchers voted against what was agreed
between the government and Congressional coalition.

I blew the whistle in
time and there was no crisis, but it happened. Then I believe the best attitude
for the backbenchers is understanding and loyalty to the government but the
government has to assume that the biggest, most loyal, most important backbenchers
are from the PT.

If backbenchers feel entitled
to protect themselves, in a situation where government is worn out, nobody
will be able to hold on to the ruling coalition, not even the government.
In this sense, the PT backbenchers determine the composition of the majority.

Do you think that the
Government is paying due importance to PT backbenchers and its role?

Yes the government knows
it. But its actions seem to ignore it. Precisely because the backbenchers
would like a more important role in defining some policies. And don’t. This
is evident. Everybody in the government knows it. The difference is between
understanding and acting. The government has not yet done this completely.

In this situation how
do you see the role of PT?

Institutionally speaking,
the PT has more power than the backbenchers, so one of our concerns is to
stay in tune with the party, and, with the PT, work with the government.

But, I dare say, the PT
itself has no clear idea about it—this always happens when the government
wins local, provincial and, mainly, the election at national level. The PT
backbenchers cannot speak from the heart because it will create problems.
The PT is in the same situation.

Don’t you think we
run the risk of repeating the same-old, historical experience of left wing
parties which all went wrong, when they became the government the party changes
into machinery of government and loses its autonomy?

Any PT city mayor’s speech
sounds more like a PT message than that of president of a local assembly.
Do I believe we face risks? Yes I think so. We are undergoing different historical
moments but there is this external factor.

We have lived such an
experience in SP, when Erundina was the mayor of São Paulo. At that
time the party had an attitude of being independent of the government. And
the government at the time used to say the municipal PT was in opposition
to the government.

So we have had all kind
of experiences in government-party relations. In the federal government, it
would pose a serious lack of care for the PT to adopt an attitude of not being
in solidarity with government.

It is a difficult political
operation to be loyal and have independence. Because the party has acquired
a characteristic which is not good, it is difficult to have a closed meeting
nowadays with the PT.

Always someone lets the
press know. I think this is not a crucial factor but it is irritating. It
makes it difficult to have an open discussion because everything is made public.
This, no doubt, limits the debate. It cannot be otherwise, or, instead of
helping, we create more problems.

Do you think these
cases are related to losses of internal solidarity in the Party?

Surely. And when solidarity
is lost, more than personal fault, it shows a lack of commitment to the party
because, when a person feels bigger than the whole, the whole must take action
or confess that it has lost control and authority.

I think there are several
issues in the party, communication for example, which, more than question
of discipline, is really a political matter. There are issues which the PT
has to focus on and really reflect over or the damage will be enormous. Not
only will it affect its image, but we will lose values and principles…

I also want to say that
backbenchers must clearly concern themselves with the political reform of
the party due to its bureaucracy, to financing of campaign, because today
the nature of disputes within the party has changed, as many militants have
become professionals. Then the use of machinery of government by civil servants
at any level, be it municipal, provincial or federal can be extremely dangerous
for the PT.

Ricardo de Azevedo is the vice-president of the Perseu
Abramo Foundation, a Workers’ Party think tank. He is also
editorial coordinator for the magazine Teoria e Debate
www.fpabramo.org.br,
where this interview originally appeared. You may contact
him at internacional@fpabramo.org.br.

Translated
from the Portuguese by Sayuri Carbonnier.

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