• Categories
  • Archives

The Moral Implosion of the Workers’ Party Left Brazil’s Left Without a Project

Lula mingles with people - Ricardo Stuckert/Instituto Lula

In a recent interview, Noam Chomsky took stock of the main successes and failures of the so-called “progressive left” in Latin America. As for the mistakes, he criticized economic projects that had entered the region, as ever, through global trade and production chains.

Their entering the market was, as always, to Latin America’s disadvantage, as its economies became little more than auction sites for raw materials destined for the industrialized countries of the North, China and other emerging powers.

According to Chomsky, increased exports of primary products initially created better conditions for countries like Venezuela, Argentina, Brazil, Ecuador and Bolivia to increase their spending on social policies.

So, intensive investment in infrastructure and accelerated export of natural resources made it possible to remedy some of the ills of the neoliberal agenda, in force in the 1990s.

During this period, poverty and destitution would advance at a metastatic rate, declining only from the first decade of the 2000s, during the leftist governments’ peak.

Despite poverty reduction during the “progressive left” era, Chomsky wonders whether this reality is a result of the structural reduction of inequality, of sustainable development policies or of a circumstantial boom dependent on favorable demand cycle for raw materials.

Clearly, the increase in international demand for oil, natural gas, minerals and monocultures was mainly responsible for Latin American left-wing countries’ boom decade. With the end of it, these countries must now face the social, economic, political and environmental costs of irrational extraction of natural resources, a phenomenon usually termed “neo-extractivism”.

Latin American neo-extractivism brought with it some manifestations of the so-called “resource curse”. This is the paradox that countries abundant in natural resources tend to have weaker democratic institutions and, in general, worse economic performance rates, compared to those of industrialized countries deprived of such resources1.

To a greater or lesser extent, all Latin American countries have undergone a severe deindustrialization process and, in extreme cases like Venezuela, the only industrial activity still going is linked to the extraction and processing of oil.

From the political point of view, neo-extractivism developed with the capture of the State by construction companies and companies in the mining-energy sector as its backdrop.

Before the corruption scandals that tainted several leftist parties in the region, a considerable part of the Latin American electorate made a distinction between the political projects led by Lula, Kirchner, Chávez, Correa and Morales, and the political projects of a right-wing accustomed to contesting elections through corruption.

This is probably the most damaging legacy of the embrace between the “progressive left” and neo-extractivism: the impression that no matter the ideological shirt of those who dispute the election, the winners will always be accountable to the corporations that finance the electoral game.

Traditionally, when symbolic mechanisms for preserving the hegemony of an economic elite were at risk in Latin America, there was the possibility of seizing de facto control of the state and silencing leftist leaders who came to power democratically (Jacobo Árbenz in Guatemala, João Goulart in Brazil and Salvador Allende in Chile) or those who had all conditions in place to do so (Jorge E. Gaitán in Colombia).

To Antonio Gramsci’s disappointment, the new economic elite no longer need mechanisms as vulgar as dictatorships or murders in Latin America. In fact, they can dispense with political hegemony in order to continue to exercise economic power.

It is interesting to observe how the recent history of Latin America can be told by way of great cycles of discursive idioms. Between the 1950s and 1980s, expressions rooted in the “national security doctrine” inspired the discourse of dictators and their sympathizers.

“Restoration of the internal order and process of national reorganization” were some expressions that army generals turned self-proclaimed presidents used to justify their usurpation of democracy and state terrorism.

With the end of the Cold War, idioms were imported not from the School of the Americas, but from the Chicago School. Terms such as “macroeconomic stabilization, management shock (choque de gestão) and trade openness” came to dominate the speech of Heads of State, Ministers and Presidents of Central Banks throughout the continent.

From the second half of the 1990’s, a new idiom was incorporated into the left and right’s political discourse. It was the neoextractivist idiom, adaptable to any ideological aspect. As a result of this modism, infrastructure megaprojects were multiplied, both for energy production and transportation of raw materials, to Chinese ports or the global north.

In the middle of the extractivist boom, representatives of the “progressive left” such as Rafael Correa, Evo Morales and Daniel Ortega used a discrediting discourse against those who defend traditional forms of occupation and use of the territory.

“Developmental enemies and dogmatic environmentalists” were some expressions used to disqualify those who oppose large-scale extraction models. On the other hand, “public utility, national interest and development” are some terms that conform to the mantra of the economic models characterized by intensive extraction of natural resources.

The undeniable benefits of social development and environmentally sustainable projects aside, the core of the controversy seems to lie in the meaning of this word so worn out by the game of political discourse: development.

From Mexico to Chile, through Ecuador and Brazil, this term has been used as a synonym for two things: a) the satisfaction of social demands, with income and employment generated by megaprojects being an ideal means to achieve such a noble purpose; and b) a majestic growth of gross domestic product.

In general, while self-appointed leftist governments emphasize the first definition, those who avoid such a label or directly assume the stamp of the right embrace the second definition.

In the case of Brazil, piecing together the remains following the moral implosion of the Workers’ Party (PT) and, more importantly, reconstructing a leftist political project, require the design of a truly emancipating development model.

Such a process must begin with the recognition that the PT governments were indifferent to and, particularly in the case of Dilma Rousseff, aggressive to the demands of indigenous peoples.

Suffice it to mention the use of state intelligence devices to spy on and criminalize indigenous leaders, NGOs and opponents of ecologically disastrous “development” projects, such as the Belo Monte and Tapajós hydroelectric plants.

It is not appropriate to discuss at length the instrumentalization of economic policy for construction companies’ and large extractive companies’ benefit during the PT governments.

However, it is important to emphasize the need for a new discourse in which the overcoming of poverty does not come with irreparable environmental liabilities and the denial of fundamental rights of indigenous peoples, Afro-descendants and traditional communities.

There is no denying that the emancipation of Brazil in the face of the asymmetries of the global production and trade chain will go alongside the reduction of poverty.

Nevertheless, it is evident that the ideological appeal to redistributive justice was defrauded by the “progressive left”, both in Brazil and in other Latin American countries, where the poorest population strata managed to consolidate themselves, at most, as occasional consumers and not as citizens.

In the process of piecing itself together again, the “progressive left” should renew its discourse on development, with a view of the objective as not only overcoming poverty, but while recognizing the differentiated way of life of certain sectors of the population, such as indigenous peoples.

Defending the concession of the interoceanic canal to a Chinese tycoon, Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega paraphrased, in his own way, an address by Augusto César Sandino, for whom sovereignty would never be achieved as long as poverty persists in Nicaragua.

For Ortega, a bizarre project that connects two oceans and salinizes the largest freshwater lake in Central America is the only way to bring his country out from underdevelopment.

It is clear, however, that the concession of a pharaonic channel, socially and environmentally unviable, will only contribute to the enrichment of the presidential endogamy of the Ortegas, in power since 2006, and to sink Nicaragua into the tangle of corruption, injustice and dependence that characterizes the transnational investment in infrastructure.

This symbiosis between corruption and development policy is one of the toxic trademarks that must be eradicated from the Latin American left in general and the Brazilian left in particular.

Referring to the PT’s redirection post-2016 impeachment, Chomsky said: “I don’t think the game is over by any means. There were real successes achieved, and I think a lot of those will be sustained. But there is a regression.

“They’ll have to pick up again with, one hopes, more honest forces that will, first of all, recognize the need to develop the economy in a way which has a solid foundation, not just based on raw material exports.”

Thus, it can be affirmed that development policies based on neo-extractivism only contributed to excavating the ethical and political abyss in which we find a considerable part of the leftist parties that won electoral victories in recent years in Latin America.

To escape from this abyss, according to Boaventura, a new intercultural left must be put together, ready to raise the flag of environmental justice and give a voice, a vote and priority to the traditional peoples for decisions related to their territory.

If the mark of the left is individual and collective emancipation when faced with unjust social structures, there is no human group more accustomed to resisting cultural and material domination than those mentioned peoples. Their history of resistance to the commodification of nature must be an example for the Latin American left.

Daniel Cerqueira is a Lawyer, Senior Program Officer at the Due Process for Law Foundation (DPLF). Twitter: @dlcerqueira

Translated from its original in Spanish by Katie Oliver

This article appeared originally in https://www.opendemocracy.net/

Tags:

  • Show Comments (0)

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

comment *

  • name *

  • email *

  • website *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Ads

You May Also Like

Protesting against reform of Social Security - Rovena Rosa/ABr

Brazil Gives Up Reforming Social Security Under Popular Pressure

The Political Affairs Minister Carlos Marun said today that the bill intended to overhaul ...

It seems the future never arrives in Brazil What Lies Ahead in Brazil? Brazil Has No Exemplary Past or Present. But What Lies Ahead for the Country? Europeans, US, developed country, developing country. Bolsonaro, future B. Michael Rubin For years, experts have debated what separates a developing country from a developed one. The GDP (Gross Domestic Product) of a country is one simple way to measure its economic development. Another way to measure a country's progress is the extent of public education, e.g. how many citizens complete high school. A country's health may be measured by the effectiveness of its healthcare system, for example, life expectancy and infant mortality. With these measurement tools, it's easier to gauge the difference between a country like Brazil and one like the U.S. What's not easy to gauge is how these two countries developed so differently when they were both "discovered" at the same time. In 1492 and 1500 respectively, the U.S. and Brazil fell under the spell of white Europeans for the first time. While the British and Portuguese had the same modus operandi, namely, to exploit their discoveries for whatever they had to offer, not to mention extinguishing the native Americans already living there if they got in the way, the end result turned out significantly different in the U.S. than in Brazil. There are several theories on how/why the U.S. developed at a faster pace than Brazil. The theories originate via contrasting perspectives – from psychology to economics to geography. One of the most popular theories suggests the divergence between the two countries is linked to politics, i.e. the U.S. established a democratic government in 1776, while Brazil's democracy it could be said began only in earnest in the 1980s. This theory states that the Portuguese monarchy, as well as the 19th and 20th century oligarchies that followed it, had no motivation to invest in industrial development or education of the masses. Rather, Brazil was prized for its cheap and plentiful labor to mine the rich soil of its vast land. There is another theory based on collective psychology that says the first U.S. colonizers from England were workaholic Puritans, who avoided dancing and music in place of work and religious devotion. They labored six days a week then spent all of Sunday in church. Meanwhile, the white settlers in Brazil were unambitious criminals who had been freed from prison in Portugal in exchange for settling in Brazil. The Marxist interpretation of why Brazil lags behind the U.S. was best summarized by Eduardo Galeano, the Uruguayan writer, in 1970. Galeano said five hundred years ago the U.S. had the good fortune of bad fortune. What he meant was the natural riches of Brazil – gold, silver, and diamonds – made it ripe for exploitation by western Europe. Whereas in the U.S., lacking such riches, the thirteen colonies were economically insignificant to the British. Instead, U.S. industrialization had official encouragement from England, resulting in early diversification of its exports and rapid development of manufacturing. II Leaving this debate to the historians, let us turn our focus to the future. According to global projections by several economic strategists, what lies ahead for Brazil, the U.S., and the rest of the world is startling. Projections forecast that based on GDP growth, in 2050 the world's largest economy will be China, not the U.S. In third place will be India, and in fourth – Brazil. With the ascendency of three-fourths of the BRIC countries over the next decades, it will be important to reevaluate the terms developed and developing. In thirty years, it may no longer be necessary to accept the label characterized by Nelson Rodrigues's famous phrase "complexo de vira-lata," for Brazil's national inferiority complex. For Brazilians, this future scenario presents glistening hope. A country with stronger economic power would mean the government has greater wealth to expend on infrastructure, crime control, education, healthcare, etc. What many Brazilians are not cognizant of are the pitfalls of economic prosperity. While Brazilians today may be envious of their wealthier northern neighbors, there are some aspects of a developed country's profile that are not worth envying. For example, the U.S. today far exceeds Brazil in the number of suicides, prescription drug overdoses, and mass shootings. GDP growth and economic projections depend on multiple variables, chief among them the global economic situation and worldwide political stability. A war in the Middle East, for example, can affect oil production and have global ramifications. Political stability within a country is also essential to its economic health. Elected presidents play a crucial role in a country's progress, especially as presidents may differ radically in their worldview. The political paths of the U.S. and Brazil are parallel today. In both countries, we've seen a left-wing regime (Obama/PT) followed by a far-right populist one (Trump/Bolsonaro), surprising many outside observers, and in the U.S. contradicting every political pollster, all of whom predicted a Trump loss to Hillary Clinton in 2016. In Brazil, although Bolsonaro was elected by a clear majority, his triumph has created a powerful emotional polarization in the country similar to what is happening in the U.S. Families, friends, and colleagues have split in a love/hate relationship toward the current presidents in the U.S. and Brazil, leaving broken friendships and family ties. Both presidents face enormous challenges to keep their campaign promises. In Brazil, a sluggish economy just recovering from a recession shows no signs of robust GDP growth for at least the next two years. High unemployment continues to devastate the consumer confidence index in Brazil, and Bolsonaro is suffering under his campaign boasts that his Economy Minister, Paulo Guedes, has all the answers to fix Brazil's slump. Additionally, there is no end to the destruction caused by corruption in Brazil. Some experts believe corruption to be the main reason why Brazil has one of the world's largest wealth inequality gaps. Political corruption robs government coffers of desperately needed funds for education and infrastructure, in addition to creating an atmosphere that encourages everyday citizens to underreport income and engage in the shadow economy, thereby sidestepping tax collectors and regulators. "Why should I be honest about reporting my income when nobody else is? The politicians are only going to steal the tax money anyway," one Brazilian doctor told me. While Bolsonaro has promised a housecleaning of corrupt officials, this is a cry Brazilians have heard from every previous administration. In only the first half-year of his presidency, he has made several missteps, such as nominating one of his sons to be the new ambassador to the U.S., despite the congressman's lack of diplomatic credentials. A June poll found that 51 percent of Brazilians now lack confidence in Bolsonaro's leadership. Just this week, Brazil issued regulations that open a fast-track to deport foreigners who are dangerous or have violated the constitution. The rules published on July 26 by Justice Minister Sérgio Moro define a dangerous person as anyone associated with terrorism or organized crime, in addition to football fans with a violent history. Journalists noted that this new regulation had coincidental timing for an American journalist who has come under fire from Moro for publishing private communications of Moro's. Nevertheless, despite overselling his leadership skills, Bolsonaro has made some economic progress. With the help of congressional leader Rodrigo Maia, a bill is moving forward in congress for the restructuring of Brazil's generous pension system. Most Brazilians recognize the long-term value of such a change, which can save the government billions of dollars over the next decade. At merely the possibility of pension reform, outside investors have responded positively, and the São Paulo stock exchange has performed brilliantly, reaching an all-time high earlier this month. In efforts to boost the economy, Bolsonaro and Paulo Guedes have taken the short-term approach advocated by the Chicago school of economics championed by Milton Friedman, who claimed the key to boosting a slugging economy was to cut government spending. Unfortunately many economists, such as Nobel Prize winner Paul Krugman, disagree with this approach. They believe the most effective way to revive a slow economy is exactly the opposite, to spend more money not less. They say the government should be investing money in education and infrastructure projects, which can help put people back to work. Bolsonaro/Guedes have also talked about reducing business bureaucracy and revising the absurdly complex Brazilian tax system, which inhibits foreign and domestic business investment. It remains to be seen whether Bolsonaro has the political acumen to tackle this Godzilla-sized issue. Should Bolsonaro find a way to reform the tax system, the pension system, and curb the most egregious villains of political bribery and kickbacks – a tall order – his efforts could indeed show strong economic results in time for the next election in 2022. Meanwhile, some prominent leaders have already lost faith in Bolsonaro's efforts. The veteran of political/economic affairs, Joaquim Levy, has parted company with the president after being appointed head of the government's powerful development bank, BNDES. Levy and Bolsonaro butted heads over an appointment Levy made of a former employee of Lula's. When neither man refused to back down, Levy resigned his position at BNDES. Many observers believe Bolsonaro's biggest misstep has been his short-term approach to fixing the economy by loosening the laws protecting the Amazon rainforest. He and Guedes believe that by opening up more of the Amazon to logging, mining, and farming, we will see immediate economic stimulation. On July 28, the lead article of The New York Times detailed the vastly increased deforestation in the Amazon taking place under Bolsonaro's leadership. Environmental experts argue that the economic benefits of increased logging and mining in the Amazon are microscopic compared to the long-term damage to the environment. After pressure from European leaders at the recent G-20 meeting to do more to protect the world's largest rainforest, Bolsonaro echoed a patriotic response demanding that no one has the right to an opinion about the Amazon except Brazilians. In retaliation to worldwide criticism, Bolsonaro threatened to follow Trump's example and pull out of the Paris climate accord; however, Bolsonaro was persuaded by cooler heads to retract his threat. To prove who was in control of Brazil's Amazon region, he appointed a federal police officer with strong ties to agribusiness as head of FUNAI, the country's indigenous agency. In a further insult to the world's environmental leaders, not to mention common sense, Paulo Guedes held a news conference on July 25 in Manaus, the largest city in the rainforest, where he declared that since the Amazon forest is known for being the "lungs" of the world, Brazil should charge other countries for all the oxygen the forest produces. Bolsonaro/Guedes also have promised to finish paving BR-319, a controversial highway that cuts through the Amazon forest, linking Manaus to the state of Rondônia and the rest of the country. Inaugurated in 1976, BR-319 was abandoned by federal governments in the 1980s and again in the 1990s as far too costly and risky. Environmentalists believe the highway's completion will seal a death knoll on many indigenous populations by vastly facilitating the growth of the logging and mining industries. Several dozen heavily armed miners dressed in military fatigues invaded a Wajãpi village recently in the state of Amapá near the border of French Guiana and fatally stabbed one of the community's leaders. While Brazil's environmental protection policies are desperately lacking these days, not all the news here was bad. On the opening day of the 2019 Pan America Games in Lima, Peru, Brazilian Luisa Baptista, swam, biked, and ran her way to the gold medal in the women's triathlon. The silver medal went to Vittoria Lopes, another Brazilian. B. Michael Rubin is an American writer living in Brazil.

Brazil Has No Exemplary Past or Present. But What Lies Ahead for the Country?

For years, experts have debated what separates a developing country from a developed one. ...

Former president of Brazil, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva

Lula Already Talking on How He Will Rule Brazil as President in a Third Term

During a ceremonial launch of the second phase of the Lula Institute Democracy Memorial, ...

Brazilians Slightly More Confident in the Economy

Brazilian consumers are more confident at the start of this year, according to data ...

Brazil President Says She’s Victim of a Coup by Sore Losers

Talking to a packed theater at the Bank Workers’ Union of Brasília, Brazil’s suspended ...

World Bank Praises Brazil for Anti-Corruption Effort

Daniel Kaufmann, director of Global Programs at the World Bank (IBRD), considers Brazil one ...