There’s a Coup d’État Underway in Brazil, and We Congressmen Are to Blame

Brazil's House of RepresentativesIn an interview for Magno Martins’ blog, I responded that, in brief, I could suggest a plebiscite proposal to decide if Brazil wants Congress to remain open or not. Some lessons can be learned from what happened after this sentence was divulged via the blog. 

The first lesson is how one sentence, uttered on the telephone, spread throughout Brazil. Some years ago, a sentence would delay so long in spreading that it would arrive dead. This lesson shows us that the politicians, like me, are ill prepared for these new times of universal, instantaneous communications.

Despite universal, instantaneous information and the immediate manifestations of the population’s will, our projects of law delay years, or decades, before arriving at the end of the process – be it approval or rejection. When compared to the Executive, the Legislature has become a slow power.

The second lesson is that none of the critics of my sentence raised the hypothesis that the plebiscite might bring a result favorable to keeping the Congress. Everyone interpreted the idea of a plebiscite as if the people’s response would be clear, decisive support for closing the Congress, not for keeping it open.

The formulators of opinion showed their conviction that the people desire to close the Congress. Were it not so, they would have seized upon the idea as an opportunity for an affirmation of the Congress, which would receive popular support.

Another lesson is how my words were transformed into something not present at their origin. I want to open the Congress, not close it. People have already forgotten that, during the 21 years of military rule, the Congress remained closed only for a few weeks. It stayed open the rest of the time but was irrelevant, disrespected by public opinion.

This lasted until 1978, when new members of Congress began to speak out against the regime and call for the end of the dictatorship. Immediately, they received the people’s respect and recognition. It pays to remember that the majority of the congresspeople rejected the amendment calling for a direct presidential election. Had there been a plebiscite in that epoch, the people would have approved direct elections, but the Congress voted it down.

It is useless to imagine that the crisis of Congress’s relationship with the people will be resolved without taking into account the desire of the people. Until recently, the people remained silent between elections. Now, however, the press, with its modern media, puts the people into demonstrations on the “virtual street.”

It will not be long until this “street” manifests itself. Perhaps this will occur in electoral form, replacing the present members of Congress who, like me, are at the end of their terms. Perhaps it will occur in non-electoral, still-unknown forms because we presently have no idea how the “virtual street” will behave in the future.

There is no way to keep open a Congress that is neither respected nor in sync with public opinion. There are noisy golpescoups d’état – and silent ones; golpes that close the Congress and others that keep it open but irrelevant, out of sync with the people.

This silent golpe is underway, and we, the members of Congress, are to blame. All of us. Let us not blame only some members of Congress. And one of the reasons for this blame is the silence. But it is better to appear to be a golpista, pointing out the risk that the golpe may happen, than it is to maintain the appearance of a supporter of democracy who keeps silent about the golpe that may occur.

One last lesson is that the skillful politician is the one who does not risk making polemic statements. From the electoral point of view, the polemic can lead to difficulties of fatal dimensions. This lesson I will not heed.

It is not worthwhile to recognize problems without raising the commotion that must be made, that must go down in history.

Cristovam Buarque is a professor at the University of Brasília and a PDT senator for the Federal District. You can visit his website – www.cristovam.org.br – and write to him at cristovam@senado.gov.br.

Translated from the Portuguese by Linda Jerome LinJerome@cs.com.

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