Brazil’s elections: deepening reaction, anger and fear

A woman spits on a picture of Jair Messias Bolsonaro

On 7 October general elections were held in Brazil for the four-yearly Presidential and Vice Presidential offices plus National Congress seats. From 13 presidential candidates, the result revealed a menacing 47% of the ballot, 46 million votes, cast for the openly neo-fascist Jair Bolsonaro (Social Liberal Party - PSL), an ex-army captain, and his deputy ex-General Hamilton Mourão  (Brazilian Labour Renewal Party).  His attacks on corruption, mixed with racist, misogynistic and homophobic outbursts, an anti-abortion stance, praise for the dictatorship of 1964-85, a promise to place military men in cabinet posts and to reduce gun controls, his approval of police shootings and his support for the death penalty, hit all the headlines. ALVARO MICHAELS reports.

 

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Brazil: Lorry drivers halt the country

Striking lorry drivers protest against rising fuel costs in Duque de Caxias, Brazil

On 21 May, one million lorry drivers stopped work in Brazil and brought the country to practically a stand still within four days. Blockading highways in 24 states as part of their protest against a continuous rise in diesel and petrol prices, drivers stood firm for four days. The drivers are split between those who work as employees for haulage firms – some 300,000 who had effectively been locked out as their employers sought cuts in the cost of fuel – and the 700,000 self-employed drivers organised in the Brazilian Association of Truckers (Abcam). By the fourth day of the stoppage, the government had capitulated in a deal which the government can ill afford, given the economic crisis gripping Brazil expressed in a steady fall in the exchange rate of the Brazilian real. While the employers’ associations almost immediately agreed the terms on offer from Prime Minister Temer’s coup government, Abcam to date has not. Temer is expected to offer further concessions at a meeting on 27 May.

 

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Brazil: Marielle Franco assassinated

On 14 March, Marielle Franco, an outspoken representative of the Brazilian poor, was murdered with her driver in Rio de Janeiro after she had spoken at an event to empower black women. A city council member elected in 2016, she campaigned against police brutality. She became an expert on police violence at a time when one presidential candidate, Jair Bolsonaro – now second in the polls for October’s election – declared that ‘a policeman who doesn’t kill isn’t a policeman’. Tens of thousands of people in Rio de Janeiro and other cities across Brazil demonstrated in the days following her murder, demanding answers to the killing.

 

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Brazil: Lula’s appeal rejected, electoral tensions rise

lula
Former president of Brazil, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, also known simply as Lula

On Wednesday 24 January a Federal appeals court upheld the conviction of former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva on corruption charges – on the word of a construction company executive engaged in plea bargaining over his own corrupt practices. That this trial is the result of machinations by corrupt establishment politicians is undoubtable, and started when they manoeuvred to expel Dilma Rousseff as president in 2016.

 

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Brazil: ‘Pet food’ for the poor

petfood

In Sao Paulo prosecutors have opened an enquiry into plans to feed school children and poor people with a flour – farinata – made of freeze-dried leftover food, often processed near its sell-by-date, dubbed ‘human pet food’. It also comes in pellet form.

The conservative mayor Joao Doria, of the Brazilian Social Democracy Party (PSDB), and Catholic cardinal Dom Odilo Schere, said the scheme would alleviate hunger at no cost to the city when they defended the plans on 18 October. It has not met safety or nutritional standards.

 

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Brazil: corrupt president forces the pace of exploitation

temer brazil

On 14 September Brazil’s prosecutor general’s office laid new charges of bribery against President Michel Temer and six other leading politicians from his Brazilian Democratic Movement Party, involving $188m. Three are already in jail. Temer and two other men are further accused of obstructing justice. The day before, the prosecutor general Rodrigo Janot survived a challenge in the Supreme Court to remove him from leading the Temer investigations. Temer is now accused of having acted as the leader of a criminal organisationsince May 2016. Denying all charges, Temer publically insulted Janot as a personal failure, and has shamelessly ploughed on with his scheme to plunder the country.

 

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Brazil: increasing exploitation

 brazil protests.jpg 1718483346

On 12 July, Lula, ex-President of Brazil (2003-2010), was convicted of being gifted an apartment in São Paulo valued at $300,000 by a business contractor. The use of the apartment against Lula was one of five cases prepared against him. This is another huge blow against the Workers’ Party (PT) following the expulsion of Dilma Rousseff as president, and hits its chance of winning the presidency again with Lula in 2018. The PT has called Lula's conviction and sentence ‘an attack on democracy’. Lula has denied all charges and was given leave to appeal and released.

Two weeks before Lula’s sentencing, the same judge, Moro, sentenced Antonio Palocci to 12 years in prison for corruption. He had been a minister in the Lula and Rousseff governments. Palocci was named in the giant corporation Odebrecht’s list of politicians regularly taking bribes in exchange for lucrative contracts with the state oil corporation Petrobras. This ‘Operation Car Wash’ scheme mostly developed when Lula's PT was in power, from 2003 to 2016. $10m of this was directed to Lula’s PT campaign finances.

The last three years of deep economic crisis, working class austerity and political scandals has created a situation where the candidates from the big political parties like the conservative Brazilian Social Democratic Party (PSDB) are widely detested. On 6 June police arrested the former tourism minister, Henrique Eduardo Alves, of the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party (PMDB), charged with bribery in the construction of a 2014 World Cup stadium in Natal. The previous weekend President Temer’s aide, Rodrigo Rocha Loures (PMDB), was arrested having previously been stripped of his congressional seat and consequently of parliamentary immunity, for being caught with a suitcase containing 500,000Reais (over $100,000) of alleged bribe money received from the meat packing giant corporation JBS. It is claimed that he was acting as Temer’s interlocutor with JBS to ‘resolve’ its problems. In mid-June Temer (PMDB), the current unelected replacement president, was acquitted of financial irregularities in the 2014 election campaign, when he ran as vice president, in the Superior Electoral Court by a four to three vote. The day after, he was forced to deny damaging press allegations that the country's secret security service, ABIN, had spied on the justice overseeing the ‘Operation Car Wash’ investigation. He still faces charges of corruption and obstruction of justice. He received a miserable 7% public approval rating in the June opinion polls.

 

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Brazil: Ruling class in crisis

fora temer

On 17 May, in the latest blow to the Brazilian ruling class, unelected President Temer was finally exposed in the establishment newspaper O Globo, caught on tape in March endorsing the payment of hush money to ex-speaker of the lower house of Congress, Eduardo Cunha. Joesley Batista, chairman of JBS, the world’s biggest beef exporter, was paying Cunha monthly to keep quiet about JBS’s role in the associated ‘Car Wash’ scandal, the payment of a percentage of state contract monies to political parties in return for receiving contracts. Cunha is already serving 15 years for taking $1.6m in bribes in the Petrobras scandal. Alvaro Michaels reports.

Brazilian politicians are absolutely discredited. The revelations now emerging have highlighted the shameless hypocrisy of those who forced Dilma Rousseff out of office last year. Rousseff was impeached on charges concerning manipulation of government budgetary accounts; a minor offence compared to those committed by the gang now clinging to office.

 

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Brazil: growing resistance

Capital can no longer accumulate in Brazil without removing even those small gains for the poor made possible by the commodity boom prior to 2015.  The new austerity imposed by the government of the unelected President Temer on the working class is fast bringing rebellion. Unemployment and poverty have risen dramatically.

In the 12 months to January 2017, more than 1.28 million jobs were lost, with a dramatic increase of 608,000 from November 2016.  The unemployment rate hit 12.6% in January, with 12.9 million people out of work. Industrial production fell 6.6% last year, after falling 8.3% in 2015, all in all 17% over the last three years.  Overall GDP fell 3.6% last year. Lower commodity prices, for oil and iron ore, hit the state’s budget, provoking aggressive cuts to spending.

 

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Brazil: drained of its wealth

brazil prison

Brazil’s new coalition government, now shorn of any Workers Party members, has increased the maximum permitted working hours to 12 per day and sharply reduced regulations on temporary worker employment. A widespread attack is underway against the Brazilian working class which is being made to pay for the crisis of a system rooted in the drive for private profit. Meanwhile, Teori Zavascki, the Supreme Court judge running Brazil’s enormous Lava Jato (Car Wash) political corruption probe, was killed as his plane inexplicably crashed into the sea off the Rio de Janeiro state coast, conveniently stalling the investigation.

 

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Brazil: renewed onslaught against the poor

brazil temer

The October 2016 Brazilian municipal elections saw the bloodiest campaign in the country’s democratic history, set in the worst recession in Brazil since the 1930s. At the same time the largest anti-corruption investigation in history has been running, inflaming the fractious impeachment process against former President Dilma Rousseff, which reduced the electoral campaign from 90 to 45 days. At least 20 candidates have been murdered since August. The state of Rio de Janeiro leads the list of places where candidates were shot at, threatened and killed.

These elections, in the 27 states with more 144 million voters in over 5,500 municipalities, confirmed the strength of the reactionary mass media campaign directed by a ruling class in the grip of international capital. The demonisation of the Worker’s Party (PT) by the millionaire mass media has had a profound effect. By the second round of votes, at the end of October, the left was comprehensively defeated, with the PT reaping their worst results in 20 years.

 

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Brazil a legal ‘coup d’etat’

Brazil

On 12 May 2016 the Brazilian Senate voted 55-22 to start impeachment proceedings against President Rousseff, halting 13 years of politically fragmented coalitions led by the Workers’ Party (PT). Vice President Michel Temer, of the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party (PMDB) under investigation for allegedly receiving more than $1.5m in illegal campaign contributions, has taken on the interim presidency, even though impeachment proceedings against him were also ordered the same day as those against Rousseff. His first coalition cabinet of 13 May was made up of 23 white males, despite the majority of the population being of African descent.

Polling shows the majority of the country wants Temer impeached. WikiLeaks revealed him to be a US Embassy informant since 2006. Temer’s finance minister is Henrique Meirelles, former chief executive of the Bank of Boston. Ilan Goldfajn, from Brazil’s largest private bank Itaú Unibanco, is the new central bank governor. The new Minister of Agriculture is Senator Blairo Maggi (Party of the Republic), ex-Governor of Matto Grosso State, who received Green Peace’s ‘Golden Chainsaw’ award for deforestation in 2005.

 

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The Crises in Brazil

The current political battles both within and between the governing Workers' Party coalition and the opposition parties centre on the Petrobras corruption charges (see FRFI Web October 2015). Payments extorted by Petrobras managers in return for awarding private contracts, were passed to the governing parties. Such scandals erupt regularly as the Brazilian ruling classes finance their own positions as imperialism drains Brazil’s resources.

The deepening global economic crisis has exposed both the country’s greater dependence on raw material and agricultural sector exports, and the tightening noose of international finance on its cash flows. Brazil is facing its worst recession since at least the 1930s. Industrial production plunged 12.4% in 2015. The economy shrank nearly 4% and it will contract another 3% in 2016.

 

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Brazil: recession and corruption

Between April and June 2015, Brazil’s economy fell into recession; GDP contracted 1.9% compared to the previous three months, the country’s worst downturn in 25 years, expected to become the worst since the 1930s. Compelled to find a way out of a deteriorating economic and social environment, the bourgeoisie are using the revelations of one of their own largest corruption scandals to hammer the Workers’ Party coalition government into moving from placating the working class to openly attacking it. Behind this stand the global investors.

To punish the government’s August proposals for a 2016 budget deficit of 0.5% of GDP ($Reals30.5bn or US$8.1bn), Standard and Poor’s aggressively downgraded Brazil’s investment grade rating to ‘junk’ on 15 September. With ‘junk’ ratings, global pension and insurance funds automatically start removing capital from a country. The ratings agency insolently demanded ‘unwavering cabinet support’ for the surplus’s planned by the former investment banker and new Finance Minister Joaquim Levy.

 

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Workers protest against Brazil’s sports circus

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 239 June/July 2014

On 15 May protests again erupted against the Brazilian state’s huge spending on the FIFA 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympic projects. Police attacked demonstrators in 12 main cities, and teachers were joined by bus drivers and street cleaners seeking wage increases in a broader wave of strikes and protests around Brazil. The current demonstrations started on 26 January, with the Anonymous group’s ‘Operation Stop the World Cup’ campaign, when 2,500 protesters marched in Sao Paulo, of whom 100 were arrested. Then on 6 February a cameraman was killed by a police smoke canister in a separate protest in the city. On 22 February, police again fired tear gas and stun grenades at over 1,000 protesters against World Cup spending, making over 230 arrests.

 

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Brazil unrest: two million join protests in 100 cities

On Thursday 20 June, two million students, unemployed, lower middle class and poor workers demonstrated in 100 towns and cities throughout Brazil against poverty, for jobs, proper state health and education services. This was not simply the culmination of two weeks protests started by campaigners protesting against bus fare increases in São Paulo. Protests took place in August last year in Natal, and then this May and early June in Goiânia where buses were burned and stoned. They now grew dramatically after brutal attacks by police on peaceful protests in São Paulo. Mass demonstrations have now forced the fare rises to be dropped. President Rousseff abandoned a visit to Japan and made a public statement in response to demands for better transport, health and education spending. On 24 June, she opened up the political game by further proposing a referendum on political change. ALVARO MICHAELS reports.

 

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Brazil: accelerating exploitation

FRFI 218 December 2010/January 2011

Dilma Rousseff became Brazil’s first female president in the first elections in Brazilian history to be based on full universal suffrage. Following the votes on 3 and 31 October, her Workers’ Party now holds more state governorships than it did under former President Lula (2002-10). His designated successor won 56.05% of votes against 43.95% for Jose Serra (Party of Brazilian Democracy); winning most of the impoverished poor northern and north eastern regions. The central and southern areas voted for Serra.

The Workers’s Party has damped down protests by providing the 11 million very poorest families with the Bolsa Familia – a family allowance of $12 per month or $0.39 per day, per family – tied to attendance by their children in the abysmal state school system. This has created a political balance and social peace which allows foreign investors to buy the country’s resources on a grand scale. The boom in worldwide demand for raw materials over the last six years means more workers are being exploited and Brazil is now the world’s seventh largest capitalist economy, with an official 10% of workers destitute. A loose budgetary policy – Federal State spending is up 18% this year – is aimed at placating a strategic section of the working and small middle class.

 

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Brazil: US fixes outcome of October elections

FRFI 169 October / November 2002

The Brazilian masses are demanding political solutions to their misery and a congressional shift to the ‘left’ is predicted for the October election. So the USA has changed its foreign debt tactics. It has massively increased loans to the Brazilian banking system with the aim of tying the hands of the next Brazilian government. All party leaders in the coming election have publicly agreed to stick to the current financial policy after the election in return for the massive sums offered!

In July the Brazilian real fell by 20% whilst in the first three weeks of the month, $1.1 billion was removed from the country, double that sent abroad in June. Total Brazilian public debt is now 55% of GDP, up from 49% three years ago. Brazil had a $264 billion external debt in July, nearly twice that of Argentina. However, although the country is currently short of cash, it is not yet insolvent like Argentina.

 

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