In Brazil, Finding a Replacement for the Agonizing Democracy

Pope John Paul IIIn the Brazilian magazine Caros Amigos (Dear Friends), one of the last bastions of the left tupiniquim (a common term in Brazil, which refers to native Tupiniquim Indians, often used in a self-deprecating, mocking context), we read an emblematic article by Elaine Tavares, titled “The agonizing democracy”.

The writer, considering that mankind develops new forms of power, does a quick rundown on restrictions from the Left toward the idea of democracy, expressed at the last jamboree of mad, mad utopians in Porto Alegre, in the Brazilian South, which also goes by the pompous name of World Social Forum.

The concept of democracy was a dominant theme throughout the debates, and Tavares wraps up some of the opinions from the forum’s brightest stars.  To Nobel Prize winner, Portuguese writer José Saramago, it’s about time to cut away from this false notion that places democracy as “saint at the altar”.

It’s in the name of democracy that the United States conducts wars, for example, or that financial capital rules the world. “The people didn’t decide this, therefore, what kind of democracy is this?”, inquired the Portuguese writer.

To Peruvian Professor Anibal Quijano, a new kind of knowledge must come to life, born out of social practices. In his view, Latin America needs to step out of its euro-centrism, create another way to implement social science, and re-invent the concept of democracy that, today, is nothing more than an equality of unequals.

“Only 20% of the six billion people have access to goods produced in the world. This is an accumulation never seen.” The professor doesn’t seem to yet understand that democracy is a political system and not an economic regime.

With him agreed Saramago who, claiming to be a non-utopian, took punches at democracy alleging that – from it – no one expects miracles any longer. To him, democracy has for long been kidnapped and amputated by the financial capital that rules the world. Of course it never was kidnapped or amputated by the soviet democratic (sic!) republics.

Edgardo Lander, from Venezuela, also positions himself in favor of a new system of knowledge other than this brought forth by modern times, which meant achievements, slavery, submission, and genocide.

To Lander, liberal democracy and its achievements are in a steep decline. The social-democrat model is treading water, the public sphere, freedom of thinking, vested rights, it’s all deteriorating.

Control over communication means hinders new ways of thinking. “The democracy model in effect is the power system. It negates the diversity in history, culture, and ways of living and being in the world. A re-thinking of democracy and the scope of power operations is needed, including in personal relationships.”

To him, it is evident that the communist regime that ruled in the past century has nothing to do with subjugation, slavery, submission, or genocide, despite the hundred million deaths it caused along history.

James Petras also criticized the bourgeois democracy stating that, in it, all is bound by financial power. There are boundaries and policies very clearly defined to the electoral power.

We choose – and we all know how – our leaders, but the system does not check with the people about changes in social security, intervention in the Amazon, nor any relevant national issue.

“If the people cross the line, the bourgeois State steps in. Therefore, the State can only be defeated if the people organize.” As if in communist regimes anyone ever consulted the people about any change.

The magazine writer, in her poetic artistic enthusiasm, speaks of new lyres that “emit the initial chords and propose alternative communal decision making and coinhabitance forms”.

She cites as example the new Zapatistas in the Chiapas region, Mexico, where the method to conduct the use of power flows through Juntas of Good Government.

“There, people gather in groups of four, five, and bring the issue out for discussion until a consensus is reached. Later, they go on to larger groups to reach new consensus. (…) No one calls the shots. Everything is decided in communion. It doesn’t go through elections, for example. According to the Chiapaneca representative at the Forum, “all we want is to change this world, step out of this capitalist, oppressive logic.”

Other decision making formats marching toward the replacement of the agonizing democracy would be proclaimed by the so-called Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, led by the continent’s last guru from the Left, Colonel Hugo Chavez.

The 1998 constitution instituted plebiscites, in which the people have a chance to change what they wish, from the President (as long as the President isn’t Hugo Chavez, of course) to legislative decisions, as long as they aren’t in conflict with President Chavez’s decisions, of course.

Within the community organizational sphere, the Bolivarian Circles and the Missions also present new ways to implement the use of power that arise in small direct democracy collectives.

The journalist must be young and probably never heard of the soviets, after all, the Union of the Soviet Social Republics sunk fourteen years ago and this immeasurable time lapse might have escaped the young lady’s scarce memory.

Another alternative to the bourgeois democracy would be the Bolivian workers of El Alto, with their giant marches and protests, the cocaleiros (coca leaf growers), the Argentinean picketers, the Indians in Ecuador, the peasants in Paraguay, all these are experiments of new forms of organization and reaction to the one-mindedness world. “New lyres to new realities.”

Liberal democracy is in its last gasps. It has no use any longer, concludes the journalist, herald of a new era. So far all quite cohesive with the Forum’s propositions, since that was the purpose in gathering the defeated from the XX century, to redirect their resentment toward the democratic world’s victory with last decade’s downfall of the Soviet Union.

What is astonishing and escapes cohesiveness is to see one of the planet’s leaders – who thanks to a providential tracheotomy will spare us from his nonsense in the coming weeks – lining up alongside lunatics at the Forum.

Case in point, no more no less, but his Holiness Pope John Paul II, who believes that democracy cannot be understood as a value on its own, disconnected from “God’s law”.

This brilliant perception, which reveals a theocratic bias that John Paul never was able to hide, is in his book Memory and Identity, launched recently in many countries, including Brazil.

To the pope, moral permissiveness – in other words, each one’s right to make use of his/her body at his/her own pleasure – is a program that relies on “enormous financial means” in a world scale, imposing itself on developing nations. In face of all that, it is legitimate to question whether we are before a new form of totalitarianism, painfully hidden under democracy’s façade.”

In a confused manner, John Paul questions himself whether the marriage between homosexuals wouldn’t be motivated “by another evil ideology, perhaps even more astute and covered up” and suggests that democracy may bring in risks often ignored. To him, “natural law” must be the boundary to man’s law, and the legislators, like Moses, should be vehicles to God’s determinations.

In good English: by natural law the Pope sees what the ecclesiastical dogmas believe natural law to be. And contemporary states ought to guide themselves by the determinations of a mythical creature from more than 20 centuries ago, whose known work is far from being proven as his creation.

But what does this prodigious man from Rome have to do with human sexuality? On which plank or parchments is written such natural law? Even if it were written, what do we, XXI century people, have in common with it? Despite the agony, John Paul still fights for a theocratic State.

“When a Parliament authorizes the interruption of a pregnancy,” declared the Pope, “it commits a serious transgression against an innocent human being. Parliaments that approve and pass similar legislations must be aware of having overstepped their own jurisdictions, placing God’s Law and natural law in open conflict.”

That is, His Holiness considers himself the “know it all” and – based on such pretense – determines that the whole world ought to be submitted to his scepter. As if all human beings were raised on Christian god and had to be obedient to the Vatican’s sovereign will. No Ayatollah would ever hope for more than this.

The Pope still warns that democracy cannot be canonized and says that other forms of government, such as aristocracy and monarchy, can, under certain conditions, serve toward the achievement of power’s essential objective, that is, the common good, respecting “fundamental ethical norms”.

He forgot to clarify that there are monarchies and monarchies, and that European monarchies have a parliament that build laws in accordance to the will of the electors; except the Vatican’s monarchy, where only he – His Holiness – has the vote power and still poses as infallible. No different from the Cuban monarchy.  Not by chance, a few years ago Castro and John Paul II had an affable tête-à-tête.

To His agonizing Holiness, I can only wish long live, so that he still participates in the next Social World Forum and shows clearly the motives for his visit, aligning himself with democracy’s enemies.

Janer Cristaldo—he holds a PhD from University of Paris, Sorbonne—is an author, translator, lawyer, philosopher and journalist and lives in São Paulo. His e-mail address is

Translated from the Portuguese by Eduardo Assumpção de Queiroz. He is a freelance translator, with a degree in Business and almost 20 years of experience working in the fields of economics, communications, social and political sciences, and sports. He lives in São Paulo, Brazil. His email:


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