“Soft Coup” in Brazil is Destroying the Workers’ Party and Social Programs
Glen Ford of the Black Agenda Report says Brazil’s whole political system is corrupt and on the verge of collapse, not just the Presidency of Dilma Rousseff
SHARMINI PERIES, TRNN: Welcome to the Glen Ford Report on The Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore. In a May Day workers’ rally, President of Brazil Dilma Rousseff vowed to fight proceedings to unseat her presidency that [are] going on in the Senate saying, “This coup is not only against democracy and against my mandate, it is against the achievement of workers.” Despite her defiant rhetoric, Ms. Rousseff’s prospects are increasingly grim according to much of the press.
Joining us now from Plainfield, New Jersey, is Glen Ford. Glen is a co-founder and executive editor of the Black Agenda Report. Thank you so much for joining us, Glen.
GLEN FORD: Thank you for having me.
PERIES: Glen, your thoughts on what is going on in Brazil.
FORD: Well, obviously things do not look very good for Dilma Rousseff and her Workers’ Party, and I think things do not look good in Brazil for the left in general. And in fact, I don’t think things look good for the stability of Brazil as a country because when the left is weak, and there is instability in the system in Latin America, the conditions are rife for a rise of the political right, and for a rise, or a flexing of muscle, by the military. It does seem likely that President Rousseff will be impeached by the Brazilian Senate and that will happen in a matter of weeks. She’s not charged with any crime of personal corruption, not herself, but only with trying to hide a budget deficit in the government. That is, she’s charged with an accounting technicality, but that’s enough for the impeachment charges. However, her vice president—and I want to emphasize her vice president is from a different party—he is the person who would assume the presidency if she is impeached. He is facing similar charges. And the person who would assume if the vice president can’t take the reins of the office, that is the speaker of the lower house of the Brazilian legislature, he is facing corruption charges—real corruption—charged with trying to hide $40 million in bribes in an off-shore bank. And that’s not a very strange thing in Brazilian politics, because about two-thirds of Brazilian legislators are facing some kind of corruption charges.
So what we can say is that what is going on right now in Brazil is not an anti-corruption campaign, because many of the peoples who are involved in this trial face corruption charges themselves. What is happening is an effort to destroy the Workers’ Party of Brazil. And therefore, it is correct to call this a soft coup. However, there is no guarantee that this soft coup will have some kind of soft landing because the whole system is being shown in this sordid kind of process to be both corrupt and unstable. So when we see right-wing legislators calling for a return to military rule we should not be dismissing them as right-wing loonies, and most Brazilians do not.
It’s very important for Americans to understand that Dilma Rousseff’s Workers’ Party controls only about fifteen percent of the country’s legislature. It is a distinctly minority party in terms of its representation in the legislature. Its previous leader, Lula da Silva, won the presidency in 2002. He was a trade union leader, and he has governed like a trade union leader. He has increased greatly welfare benefits and other benefits for the poor, but at the same time he’s tried to make peace with the rich, with the capitalists. The Brazilian internal economy grew after the Workers’ Party took power, largely internally because poor people had more money in their pocket. But it also grew because at that period in time, China was buying up just about everything that the Brazilians could produce, from their agriculture sector and also their mining sector. But China has slowed down. It’s not as hungry for what the Brazilians can produce. And when this slow-down came, and this is the part where the Workers’ Party has to bear some real blame for the trouble that it’s in, when the slow-down came, when the economy starting turning badly or sour, in 2014 that was when Dilma Rousseff appointed a banker to be in charge of coping with this difficult period. And that’s when they brought in austerity measures and such. And this caused her to lose lots of support from among the lower middle class and the poor. And we saw these huge demonstrations for example, against the high costs of bus fares and such.
At that point it appears the real elite, the corporate masters and capital with ties to the United States and to Europe, they decided to pounce then, because the Workers’ Party’s weakness among its own constituency was showing. And we saw a huge proliferation of stories about corruption in Petrobras, the huge oil company. And I forgot to mention that in that boom that was able to finance much of the welfare to the war that the Workers’ Party initiated, well that boom is over as well, because oil prices have collapsed. So we see all these stories about corruption everywhere. A soft coup has begun, and there’s no way—and this is what makes it so dangerous—there’s no way to tell which way it will end, because of the massive corruption, because there are no good parties to hand power to, no legitimate forces, no good guys to satisfy the popular discontent. You have a scenario in which you have a president being impeached for crimes not of personal corruption, and her power potentially devolving to people who are credibly corrupt. And I think there’s a subtext here, as well however, and it’s not much talked about.
There was a period of upward mobility among Brazil’s lower classes, and those lower classes are heavily black. The protections from domestic workers were increased. And folks had more money in their pockets, and of course when people have more money, they carry themselves differently. And it must be understood that Brazil was the last country in Latin America, one of the last in the world to abolish slavery. It is a very violent and an extremely racist country, and there is an element of white backlash to those folks having daily demonstrations, calling for Dilma Rousseff’s head and banging pots and such. This is the kind of middle class insecurity or white middle class insecurity I think would be familiar to lots of Americans.
PERIES: Glen, in spite of what’s going on at this moment in the Senate, there is mass popular support in Brazil for Dilma Rousseff’s government and the PT [Partidos dos Trabalhodores/Workers’ Party]. Now in an interview that [inaud.], the head of MST, the Landless Peoples’ Movement, [inaud.], he will defend her in spite of the fact that the PT has not quite met all the demands that MST had had in the various PT governments that have been in power. There is a defense going on for very legitimate reasons and that is in spite of complaints they have [that] PT government has been successful at bringing about social programs, mainly the zero hunger program, the domestic workers program, as you said. Now, this kind of attack on the PT government means a rolling back of all these gains that had been made.
FORD: Well, of course MST and of course the left in general is going to come to the defense of the Workers’ Party. The Workers’ Party came out of this large and at times amorphous Brazilian left, and because the attack is actually an attack on Brazilian democracy. But the Workers’ Party did not make this easy. And when you operate, when you govern like a trade union, where you give more benefits to the workers but you want to make peace with and keep management happy—you can never keep capitalists happy enough—you create institutions that during hard times, have a hard time lasting. And that’s why when they had the economic downturn, the Rousseff administration took this austerity turn. It made the reforms, they increased pay in poor people’s pockets, and even the institutional reforms that can’t just be taken away with the blink of an eye, made them seem more temporary. And so yes, the left is going to defend the Workers’ Party. It’s like defending itself. But the Workers’ Party has made it hard for that time of defense to be mounted because it made that right turn at just precisely the wrong moment, and allowed the right to make its move.
PERIES: Alright Glen, I thank you so much, We’ll be watching the issue as I’m sure you will be and look forward to having you again. Thank you.
FORD: Thank you.
PERIES: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.
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