Interview with João Pedro Stédile of the Landless Workers Movement (MST) of Brazil, published on Libre Red, April 20, 2016, translated from Portuguese to English by The Dawn News.org.
What will be the reaction of the Brazilian people and the MST in particular if Dilma Rousseff is removed from office?
First of all, we’re confident that it’s possible to stop the coup in process now that it has reached the Senate. We believe that the government has a greater representation in the Senate than in the Chamber of Deputies [which voted on April 17 to recommend to the Senate an impeachment investigation]. The Senators themselves are older, more experienced in politics. They know that a Parliamentary coup like the ones that took place in Honduras  or Paraguay  would lead Brazil to a deeper crisis.
But if this coup is consolidated in the Senate, we, as part of the movements that are organized in the Popular Front of Brazil won’t hesitate in denying any kind of legitimacy to a Temer-Cunha government, it would be an illegitimate government completely stained by corruption. It’s now public that they gave out a lot of money to get the votes of the deputies. Besides denying their legitimacy, and not participating in any process, we will keep taking to the streets to exert pressure and lead people to become conscious of what will happen.
As for now, on April 29 – next Friday – there will be mobilizations in several cities and on May 1 we want massive protest actions. For that, we almost certainly will coordinate with several union organizations – there are eight of them, and only one supports the coup. With the seven unions that are with the people, we are discussing the possibility of doing a general strike before the vote in the Senate. We will point out to businessmen that despite their money and their plan to impose the comeback of neoliberalism and the subordination of our economy to the interests of yankee companies, we the working class are the ones that produce riches and if we make a general stoppage, it’s a signal for them that says ‘You may want to increase your profits and your exploitation again, but those who produce the riches in this country in the industry and agriculture won’t allow a coup that destroys democracy in our country.’
The right-wing is saying in Brazil and to the rest of the continent and the world that this is not a coup but the mere application of constitutional laws.
Sure, that’s what they said in Honduras, as well as in Paraguay, and it’s a trap. In Brazilian law, there is a provision that says that if a president commits a crime or corruption against the country, the National Congress [Senate and Chamber of Deputies] can punish and expel him or her. But in fact, President Dilma didn’t commit any crime at all. The accusation they used against her in the process undertaken in the Chamber of Deputies has to do with a mechanism of public accounting that the government uses to meet its social obligations in health, education and funding from the public banks for other areas, but this is not a crime. It’s a duty of any government. Even Michel Temer [vice-president of Brazil since 2011] did it when he was in the presidency of the Chamber Republic. There are 24 state governors of Brazil and several of them – from the right, the center and the left used such a form of accounting.
Therefore, there is no crime, and if there were, then Temer would have to be outed too. That’s why we denounce that a single person [Dilma Rousseff] cannot be judged for an action that was made by two partners – the president and the vice-president. The heart of the issue is not whether to remove the president or not. Apart from such a removal being a true blow to democracy, the problem is that we are going through a serious economic crisis. The capitalists’ way to deal with that crisis and restore their profit rate is to return to the neoliberal model, that is, to take away workers’ rights, hand out our resources, such as oil, mining, water and biodiversity to transnational companies, and keep interest rates high. President Dilma is an obstacle to that.
Temer has already announced a plan for a government he would lead, which is completely neoliberal. That’s why the Brazilian people’s organizations say that Temer is to Brazil what Macri [president of Argentina, elected on Oct 25, 2015] is to Argentina. But the difference resides in that Macri earned the votes to become president and Temer hasn’t. Not only that, but Temer is so unpopular that in recent polls, 80 per cent of the people said that they don’t want him and that if he ran for president, he would receive only one per cent of the vote in Brazil. That’s the state of affairs: it’s a coup against democracy.
How come President Dilma chose him as vice president?
That’s the sort of moves that we in the MST always criticized. In reality, during the two terms that Lula served [Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, President of Brazil from 2003-2011] and during Dilma’s presidency, they always proposed a formula for class conciliation, as in Chile. There were always places reserved for sectors of the Brazilian bourgeoisie.
When Lula was president, that strategy worked well because his vice president was a nationalist, a serious and even honest businessman from the textile industry. His business depended also on the internal market and therefore he was interested in having wealth distribution. That way, he could sell more of his products. But Temer is a lumpen bourgeoise. His only role is to defend the bourgeoisie. He is not actually a bourgeoise per se, and because of that, because he’s a lumpen, he betrayed the President. When the President publicly spoke to denounce that betrayal, the right-wing went to the Supreme Federal Court to prevent her speech from being broadcast in the national media networks, to silence her denunciation of this man and the whole coup being plotted by more than 100 corrupt Parliamentarians, who are themselves being investigated by the Supreme Federal Court. There’s no explanation as to why, to this day, the judicial power hasn’t had the courage to accelerate those processes. That’s because most of the Parliamentarians that voted against Dilma could even go to jail for the millions they stole from public funds or for the bribes they have taken from companies.
As an economist and a leader of the movement of peasants, could you explain how much of the current economic crisis is weighing in the current political crisis of Brazil?
The economic crisis is the reason why class conciliation ceased to be possible. When Lula was president, he designed a conciliation that was based on three pillars: firstly, to make the economy grow through industry (which he accomplished); secondly, to recover the role of the state in making productive investments such as education and health, to better the living conditions of the population; and thirdly, to distribute incomes through an increase in the minimum wage. What happened? With the international crisis of capitalism, the economy of Brazil, as a country in the periphery of capitalism, suffered greatly and for the past three years, the economy hasn’t grown.
Twenty years ago, industry represented 50 per cent of our GNP. Now, due to deindustrialization and the arrival of Chinese and U.S. companies, national industry is only nine per cent of the GNP. There is a deep economic crisis that can only be solved by recovering, again, the role of the state, controlling financial capital so that instead of accumulating wealth through speculation, the state can use that money to make productive investments in industry and agriculture, oriented towards the internal market. With that, the economy would grow again, and we’d have a new role for the workforce. Nowadays, we have an unemployment rate of 10 per cent and there is a need again to expand social programs.
The political crisis we’re going through is a consequence of the elites trying to recover the state and restore neoliberalism. But the working class isn’t going to accept that. It’s going to take years to get out of this because the only way out of a crisis of this magnitude is through an agreement between social classes – not just parties – over a new model for the country.
At this time, there is no project being discussed in the country, not even within any of the classes. Neither the bourgeoisie, the petite bourgeoisie or the working class have a clear project for the country. That’s why we’re in this confusion and why the bourgeoisie is stupid enough – because they are subordinated to the interests of imperialism – to think it’s enough to change the president of the Republic and thereby magically solve the problems of the economy. Bu that’s not true. On the contrary, that will deepen the contradictions of inequality, deepen the institutional crisis and, hopefully, send the masses back on the streets so that they, with their political force, debate a new project for the country.
Have some sectors of the working class that had been benefited by the social policies of Dilma and Lula been co-opted by the right in Brazil?
It wouldn’t be fair to say they’ve been co-opted, because in that process of mobilization there was a sector of the petite bourgeoisie that went out on the streets to defend the coup. However, they are only eight per cent of the population. We, the left, went out on the streets in superior numbers, but we were all militants, organized sectors, a mediation between the masses and the leaders. The masses are still silent, still afraid. They haven’t mobilized yet and they are also not co-opted by the right.
But why is this so? At a certain point, we have to make a self-criticism because during the eight years that Lula governed, there was almost no work to elevate the level of political and cultural consciousness of those masses. They received better policies and better salaries but without a change in their views and the government did nothing to change that. Unlike in Venezuela, Ecuador and Bolivia, there was no effort to break with the monopoly in the power of mass communication. TV station O Globo puts garbage in the people’s heads every day and the people remain perplexed as they watch the political game, as if it was just another soap opera.
Let’s conclude with a message from you to the peoples of Latin America. What would you like to say to them?
Times are hard but we mustn’t be discouraged or pessimistic, as the great thinkers of Latin America told us. We have to be pessimistic in our analysis but optimistic towards the future. It’s true that our continent, as everything else, is in crisis, but that’s not the fault of a leader, a government or a party.
Capitalism is to blame – the capitalist way of organizing production and life in society is in crisis around the world and because we in Latin America are in the periphery of world capitalism, capitalists see our continent as a bigger opportunity to dominate natural resource, markets and workforce, then these are hard times because we have to confront the empire, but this brings contradictions.
It’s time to put more energy into bringing awareness and organizing people. In the coming years, we will see a new raise in the mass movement in our continent and in this movement there will be new liberation projects and new leaderships. We will surely see the dream of Chavez, Martí, and Che come to life again. A project that unifies the dreams of Latin America. We must have hope and we have to fight every day because those who fight always win.
Joao Pedro Stédile is an economist and leader of the Landless Workers Movement (MST) of Brazil.
Brazil’s Landless Workers Movement (MST) on the political crisis engulfing the Dilma government, two articles published in Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal, April 16, 2016
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