An Interview with a Leader from Brazil’s Landless Workers Movement
MST’s Gilmar Mauro on the struggle to build a mass organization as an alternative to fascism amidst Brazil’s ongoing political crisis
GREGORY WILPERT: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Gregory Wilpert coming to you from Sao Paulo, Brazil.
During the month of November and December the Landless Workers Movement, together with many other social movement organizations in Brazil, have been mobilizing against the recently installed conservative government of Michel Temer. One of the main reasons for the protest has been the government’s effort to push through a constitutional amendment known as PEC 55, which would freeze social spending for the next 20 years, regardless of GDP or population growth.
Also another issue that has people up in arms is that the Congress is trying to dismantle the country’s anti-corruption law so that legislators could sue prosecutors for over-reach and so that they would have greater immunity from prosecution. The reform of the corruption law, though, was recently postponed, thanks to massive protests outside of the Senate in the country’s capital of Brasília.
Joining me in the office of the Landless Workers Movement or MST, is Gilmar Mauro who is part of the national coordination of the MST. Thank you, Gilmar, for being here with me today.
So let’s begin with the recent protests. Why is the MST opposed to the constitutional amendment? And what do you think the government is hoping to achieve with the PEC 55?
GILMAR MAURO: (speaking in Spanish) The coup government of Michel Temer, together with sectors of big capital in Brazil, is proposing a collection of reforms that in our judgement put the entire weight of the economic crisis onto the shoulders of the working class in general. Out of the [Federal] budget, 45 percent are used for interest payments and debt service. For them, that is [untouchable] beyond question.
The combination of all other activity of the state that require resources, for land reform, health, education, agriculture, etcetera, these would be frozen for 20 years. That is, today in Brazil we are living through a serious economic crisis, which is not a particularity of Brazil – it’s an international crisis. But the impact of the crisis in Brazil is producing an unemployment rate that already reaches 12 percent of the population. Actually, it is more that 12 percent, even though the official figures say 12 percent, and the impact of the crisis tends to become even more aggravated to the extent that the PEC 255 [constitutional amendment] is approved, which would freeze all public expenditures for 20 years.
Additionally, a labor reform is included in the Bill, which would amplify, what in Brazil we call “tercerization” [outsourcing] which in effect means a precarization of working environments. Many businesses, throughout the world, not just in Brazil, don’t even have productive factories. They rent their trademarks, pure and simple, and the entire productive process is outsourced. Many workers in Brazil are working for productivity, without any social rights whatsoever.
This increases the profit margins of the businesses and creates numerous problems for the workers, for their future, for their pensions, a series of consequences. Outsourced workers work, on average, three hours more per week and earns 35 percent less than “regular” workers. This is what they are trying to apply in Brazil to the entirety of the working class.
This situation would allow a negotiation between the owner of a business and its workers to take precedence over legislation. It’s like putting into the trash all of Brazil’s labor law, justifying it by saying that this would favor the possibility of generating work amid the crisis. It’s a very big lie.
In addition to these two measures that I mentioned, there also is an education reform that is trying to cut curriculum in Brazil in relation to social issues and topics that help the youth reflect. This is another problem, for all these reasons the Movement of Landless Workers is confronting the government.
First, it is an illegitimate government. Two, it is a government that does not care at all about social issues and is governing in favor of the upper classes in Brazil. Luckily, as there are many contradictions and the crisis is getting worse, no one is daring to imagine what Brazil would be like in the coming year — including, it’s possible, for Temer to no longer be in office.
GREGORY WILPERT: (speaking in English) This brings me to my second question: that is, what is the strategy of the MST for the coming year? Are you hoping that the mobilizations and the protests will result in early elections or are you looking more towards the presidential election of 2018 when former President Lula da Silva has already declared that he would be a candidate?
GILMAR MAURO: (speaking in Spanish) We want to construct, together with others, the popular forces in Brazil, a minimal platform and a common strategy. No organization by itself is in a condition to change the correlation of forces in Brazil – there is no chance. This construction is one that requires a lot of debate, a lot of discussion, a lot of generosity from everyone, to find an alternative that’d allow us to overcome this difficult moment, with a different political project for Brazil.
The crisis is tending towards an increasing phase. There is no short-term solution for the economic crisis, neither in Brazil nor in any other part of the world. It’s a serious situation. We are thus going to launch a process of social mobilization with a perspective for developing a political conscience about the situation in Brazil. Because, in times of crisis, clearly windows are opened for the left, the contradictions are very evident. But the crisis does not mean that the people of the country are going to move left during a time of crisis.
Humanity finds a way out with the right and ways out that bring about serious consequences for all of humanity. There is a fascist movement in the world and this isn’t any different in Brazil, which also presents itself as an alternative.
We permanently need to fight while looking for developing a political consciousness to overcome this moment. If the government of Temer leaves office before December of this year — which is improbable, not impossible for Brazilian standards, but very improbable — the elections would be indirect, via the national congress. And we all know the way things work in congress, it won’t be a better alternative than what we already have with Temer.
So [we need to start] a campaign among the entire population, to look for early elections before 2018, that election would be direct.
But 2018, assuming we get there, nothing [would be] decided then yet, because there is an ongoing corruption investigation in Brazil [named “car wash”] allegedly investigating all of the corruption; all the corruption- but today that’s not what is happening – they prioritized sectors of the left.
We believe that corruption is a serious problem that necessarily must be fought, but this implicates many politicians: primarily from the right but also progressives from the left.
So no one really know who could be a presidential candidate in 2018. This is why our priority is not to discuss a name for elections in 2018. Because we do not believe that this is the solution. It could be part of the solution, but the solution for Brazil’s problems is to strengthen the popular struggle, the social movements, and primarily the political conscience of the Brazilian people.
The solution of the Brazilian problems will not come from above to the bottom. It is necessary to construct from below towards the top, projects. We think it’s possible to conform a common platform and project to confront the situation for the coming year and that would also produce unity for the elections in 2018.
GREGORY WILPERT: (speaking in English) How do you see the situation with regard to the government’s reaction to the protests and the repression that is happening right now? Right now, recently, actually, the five different offices of MST were raided throughout the country. How do you plan to react to this type of repression?
GILMAR MAURO: (speaking in Spanish) Historically, consensus and coercion were always very related. At certain moments, such as during the military dictatorship in Brazil, coercion imposed itself over the production of consensus. During the current times we are seeing now a type of state of exception and a very intense criminalization of social movements, but it is connected to the production of consensus in society, mainly via the large mass media.
The idea is to criminalize and to produce consensus via the mass media, which would justify coercive processes and repression against social movements. But this is not just a situation of social movements. There is a very intense process of criminalization against the Brazilian marginalized, the youth, mainly; the black youth of this country suffer many of the consequences of this process of criminalization. Why? Because the Brazilian state does not offer alternatives for employment, public policies, including education for a large part of the poorest of the population of this country.
Today we are the fourth country in the world with the most people in prison and the fifth in the world with the most women in prison. When taking into account the people who are in prison, those who do not even have one conviction against them make up 40 percent of the prison population, who have not had the opportunity to defend themselves.
If we add together the first trial and the appeal — that is, those who have been convicted in a first trial, but who still have not had an appeal — they make up 70 percent of the population in prison. So this is a special situation, indeed. We confronted this repression on various occasions in Brazilian history and now we are facing it again.
Clearly, our response is to always have more organization, mass struggle, no individual or particular struggles, articulation with other sectors of society, and the effort to strengthen solidarity – this is an important aspect. This is a solidarity that has two sides, towards us and towards all sectors that are suffering from repressive processes in Brazil.
There is an old journalist, I think he was called Carlito Maya – not sure if he was journalist – but he was a historical and emblematic figure who fought a lot against the military dictatorship in Brazil, who said, “In this world, we don’t need many things. All we need is each other.” And we are in this situation now. There will be no individual exits or corporate exits, either we articulate with each other, from different sectors and social organizations, for a collective exit, including for collective self-defense, or we will be, in effect, massacred.
GREGORY WILPERT: (speaking in English) I’ve been talking to Gilmar Mauro of the National Coordination of the MST. Thank you, Gilmar, for this interview.
GILMAR MAURO: (speaking in Spanish) Thank you very much.
GREGORY WILPERT: (speaking in English) And thank you for watching The Real News Network.