Why Brazil’s Democracy Is in Danger

Protest march in BrazilBolivian President Carlos Mesa’s offer to resign his office and the crisis this generated in Bolivia should serve as a warning to all Latin American countries. What happened in that country is an example of what can happen in any other, despite the stability that the rest seem to have attained.

The Bolivian crisis does not only reflect the undoing of the political structure. It also results from something that is occurring in Brazil.

In the last decades, military dictatorships in Latin America have given way to democratic civilian governments, but the social reality still has not been democratized.

Anyone who believes that democracy is consolidating in Latin America fails to perceive that it takes more than laws, speeches, and political accords to sustain it. Democracy is only maintained if it is founded upon two pillars – political freedom and social justice.

Stable democracy does not exist where there is social exclusion and no political freedom, except in the most ancient democracies where the excludeds were slaves with no civil rights. They did not vote; they did not form part of the democratic space.

Democracy is a system of participation, and, because of this, the distribution system must also be democratic. When distribution is concentrated, dictatorship or slavery is necessary.

In these decades of democracy, the Bolivian social elite attempted to stay the course in the country without incorporating its excluded population.

Sooner or later that process will be interrupted, whether by the clamor of the people putting pressure upon the presidential mandates, or by the risk of military takeover that would make popular participation impossible.

The behavior of the Bolivian managerial elite is no different from what is occurring in the continent’s other countries. In none of them has democracy brought an improvement in the people’s quality of life, or a reduction of privileges accompanied by an increase of rights.

The result is an instability that is camouflaged. Sometimes it is even explicit, as seen in Bolivia during this month of March.

Brazil is an example of this camouflaged instability. How long can the country with the world’s greatest concentration of wealth maintain a democratic regime?

How long will our democracy last if we do not educate the entire population, create the necessary jobs, guarantee housing with running water, electricity and sanitation? How long can we allow elderly people to die in lines while waiting for their retirement?

Our economic growth and our election of a working-class president make our democracy in Brazil appears more stable than Bolivia’s. But if the President does not show determination and the ability to change the social reality and construct a new social pact that incorporates the masses, the illusion of stability will collapse.

What happened in Bolivia should concern us because it is here within us. We are very similar; both countries have a regime of political freedom without social justice.

Lula’s election demonstrated the maturity of the Brazilian democracy; it represented a leap to evolve from a free-political-organization regime to a social-justice-organization system. In 30 years, Bolivia has not succeeded in uniting freedom with justice; this turned the democracy inviable.

Brazil has been a democracy for fewer years than Bolivia. This month we commemorate twenty years of Brazilian redemocratization, a period in which we took substantial steps to set a high-water mark of full freedom.

Nevertheless, the social advance we made during this same time was very small. Nor did we take much greater steps than Bolivia’s in achieving the union of social justice with political freedom.

We have stayed merely on the latter pillar of democracy. And everyone knows that a building is not sustained upon a single pillar. This is something engineering has taught politics.

Cristovam Buarque has a Ph.D. in economics. He is a PT senator for the Federal District and was Governor of the Federal District (1995-98) and Minister of Education (2003-04). You can visit his homepage – www.cristovam.com.br – and write to him at cristovam@senador.gov.br.

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

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