After Re-election, Rousseff Faces A Conservative Congress in Brazil
Michael Fox of teleSUR says Dilma’s campaign was won by building on Lula’s legacy of social inclusion and supporting political reform
SHARMINI PERIES, EXEC. PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries, coming to you from Baltimore.
President Dilma Rousseff has promised to reunite Brazil after narrowly winning reelection to a second term of office with 51.6 percent of the vote. She said dialog would be her top priority after a bitterly fought campaign against a center-right candidate, Aécio Neves, who got 48.4 percent of the vote.
Now with us to discuss the elections is Michael Fox. Michael is with teleSUR English. He’s coming to us from Quito, Ecuador. He is the co-author of Latin America’s Turbulent Transitions: The Future of Twenty-First Century Socialism.
Thank you so much for joining us, Michael.
MICHAEL FOX, TELESUR ENGLISH: Thank you so much for having me.
PERIES: Michael, I remember the last time Dilma Rousseff won her election. I remember the L.A. Times that read guerrilla, revolutionary guerrilla wins presidency in Brazil. Had she lived up to her expectations?
FOX: That’s a great question. I mean, in a lot of ways she has. She was just reelected. And if you see where the vote’s coming from, she ran on a campaign that was kind of following in her predecessor Lula da Silva’s steps, which was really focused on trying to lift up the poor. He had this whole program that was Zero Hunger. And she followed in those footsteps of really trying to really make a difference, social inclusion, create social programs for those people that didn’t have it before, and really focusing on kind of the center to the northeastern part Brazil, where you have kind of the lower economic class of the country. And if you look at where–the election yesterday, where she got the majority of votes, the states where she won is kind of all up the north, northeast, this whole section of the country. And so she’s kind of followed in those same footsteps as Lula. She’s been able to–under the PT government since 2002, 2003, they’ve been able to decrease poverty by half, extreme poverty by two-thirds, increase the minimum wage by 300 percent, and so on and so forth. So it’s been largely due to a lot of these social programs, which have really lifted up tens of millions of people out of poverty and into the middle class.
PERIES: Now, one thing I understand she hadn’t done–and I was in Brazil not too long ago, where people in social movements and MST, for example (that’s the landless People’s movement), had complained that unlike Lula, she actually hadn’t taken the time to hear their concerns, do the kinds of changes she had promised to do in the campaign, and she wasn’t so great at carrying out Lula’s legacy. How do you respond to that?
FOX: I think obviously agrarian reform has been an issue, not just under Dilma, but also under the Lula years, if you talk with folks in the MST compared with, say, support for the agro industry, and also larger development in Brazil.
At the same time, the same folks from the MST and social movements understand that the PT governments and Dilma herself was kind of the only option for real political change. Aécio Neves was a candidate, a right-wing candidate, that wanted to roll back these same things. If you look at his policies under his governorship Minas Gerais for seven or eight years, he spent under the minimum that he should have on education and on health and other spending like that. And that’s how come folks like the MST or the MTST, which is kind of the urban version of the Landless Peoples, obviously came out in support of Dilma.
But things aren’t perfect. But they’re a lot better than they would have been under Aécio.
PERIES: I realize social movements really had no choice here. They had to support Rousseff’s candidacy and presidency. Yet did she make any promises in terms of being more open to social movements and addressing their concerns in the next presidency?
FOX: I think the really big thing (and she mentioned this shortly after her victory last night) that she really is going to be pushing for in the next few years is political reform. And this comes out of a really important referendum that happened about two or three months ago, in which roughly 8 million people voted in a referendum saying, we want some political reform, we want some sort of constituent assembly to come out of it. It was nonbinding, and it was actually run and led by the social movements in Brazil and supported by Lula and eventually by Dilma. And I think that this is a really important thing, because basically what they’re saying is: we want money out of politics, we have to change what politics looks like in Brazil, particularly in the Senate and Congress; we need to ensure that there’s accountability.
Basically what you have right now–and this is according to an organization, a transparency organization based in Brazil–just in the second-round elections, right, of the governors–and I don’t have all of the figures, but of the governors that were running, I think something like 10 or 12 candidates were under investigation for corruption and other illegal acts. And this is, like, a very common thing in Brazil, and this is something that folks are really, really concerned about is: how can we really create political reform from below? And that’s what the grassroots movements have been kind of calling for, and that’s something that Dilma was really clear in coming out just over the last day in saying this is going to be one of the first things they really want to focus on.
PERIES: Right. And besides corruption, which I agree is a major issue for Brazil to tackle, when she said unite Brazil, what did she mean by this? Because when we had more neoliberal and liberal–say, President Obama, for example, when he says, I’m not Democrat or a Republican, I am the president of the United States of America, this notion of unity usually means a shift to the right, not left.
FOX: That’s really good question. I mean, I think that at the same time that she says that, she’s also really clear–and most people are–that another term for Dilma Rousseff means continued social inclusion policies, continual economic policies that Brazil’s been pushing, continued kind of international integration across the region that you’ve been seeing between Brazil and these other countries. And so it’s a really good question about exactly what this does mean.
You also have a situation in the Congress which I think might be another reason why she’s also saying we really need to unite. The Congress is one of the most conservative that you’ve had in recent years. And it’s really broken up within a lot of different parties. But it’s also made up of a lot of folks that come from big business elite, the big agricultural sector and whatnot. And so it’s going to be hard to see how to push things through within the Congress at this point, ’cause it is one of the most conservative in years. And so I think there’s a lot of things to look at and understand within the next couple of years and see where things go.
PERIES: Right. And we will be keeping a watch. And I hope you join us in that endeavor, Michael.
FOX: Definitely. Thank you so much for having me.
PERIES: And thank you for joining us.
And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.
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