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The coup in Brazil: Context, process and paths forward

This article is based on a presentation given by the author at a forum on June 26, “Honduras & the U.S. Threat to Latin American Independence” sponsored by the Bay Area Latin American Solidarity Coalition.

I decided to break this presentation into 3 pieces.

Because sometimes it is hard to talk about something in motion, like the coup in Brazil right now.

Every day there are new events that influence the outcome of this coup in one way or another.

First, I want to present what this coup is within the global context. We can’t think that what is happening in Brazil is separate from what is happening here in the U.S. and in the other countries that we will be hearing about here today.

Second, I will layout the coup process in Brazil, and where it stands now.

And finally, I will try to bring some perspectives about what are the possible paths in the near future in Brazil.

Global context

Capitalism has been under a very severe crisis that started in 2008.

And in moments of crisis, the capitalist empire will extend its attacks in order to retain power and get itself out of the crisis.

What we are seeing in Latin America right now is a movement to break the influence of a progressive and radical force that came with the Bolivarian governments, and their supporters like Brazil and Argentina.

Especially during the moment that preceded the big crisis of 2008, we all remember how great those years were—the unity between those governments, their strength against the ‘status quo order’ like the Organization of American States.

The significance of the OAS became very small in relationship to other forces that exist now, where the Latin American governments can meet and negotiate without the U.S. and Canada dictating things. These are places like UnaSur, CELAC, ALBA, and even Mercosur.

How many countries in the South saw an alternative for trade with the BRICS instead of Europe and the U.S.?

The world was starting to change and that monopoly created by the empire after the fall of the Soviet Union was being challenged. Other forces were rising in the world.

And that is not something the empire would like to see, especially in a moment of crisis.

You can see it clearly in the years that followed the 2008 financial crisis, how the U.S. capitalist forces start acting with two major offensives towards Latin America—an economic offensive and the typical destabilization.

We saw it with the 2009 coup in Honduras, as comrades have exposed here already. That was the first ‘white coup’ test in the region, which later was followed by Fernando Lugo’s impeachment in 2012—an impeachment that took only 48 hours to occur.

And we will hear more about how the U.S. has a big influence in the destabilization of the region in everyone’s talks today.

In Latin America, we are calling it the new Plan Condor. Pay attention to our talks today and you will understand what is this new Plan Condor.

We also saw the oil prices scam put in place by the United States with Saudi Arabia’s help. This was where they kept the prices super low,  directly hurting countries which depend on this revenue for their economy like Venezuela, Iran and Russia.

But this also hurt Brazil, which found the biggest oil reserve in the deeper sea by its coast. Remember Snowden’s documents showing the U.S. was spying on Brazil’s national oil company Petrobras?

Brazil’s reserve is bigger than Venezuela’s or Saudi Arabia’s. So it hurt Brazil because we bet on it—on being a big player in the ‘global oil market—but if  we increase our production the price might stay low and we will lose more money more than we will make.

The price is down because of super production from the U.S. especially, which has invested and increased its production in the past 30 years.

With this over production and lower prices, Venezuela and Brazil have been hurt much more than they should have been during this crisis.

So we need to look at what is happening in the world and in the region to understand what is happening in Brazil. Nothing is isolated.

This is a reaction of this capitalist crisis, where the empire is trying terribly to retain power, and in the case of Brazi, wants to take it away from the BRICS and Latin America and realign it with the United States.

So I would like to ask you to keep this global context in mind while I talk about Brazil.

 The coup in Brazil

Why do we have a coup in the 7th largest economy of the world (according with the World Bank and the UN) in the 21st century?

First, this is not just a coup against Dilma Rousseff and/or the Workers Party. Like I said, this is part of a broader movement that aims to get Brazil realigned with the United States. It aims to lower the minimum salary, so it can regain the conditions for the capitalists to profit again. It aims to restrain even more our democracy, a classic problem for Brazil, which is now living the longest democratic period of it’s history—and I am older than that period.

And with this point of view, the coup has as its goal to bring Brazil’s capitalism to its normal state, which is without the little changes that we have gained recently. This means undoing all the advances gained from 2003 until now. This means undoing all the positive changes gained with the 1988 constitution. This means losing all the labor rights consolidated in the legislation in the 1930s. This means making Brazil become the ‘farm and miner’ state that it was in the 1920s.

So this coup means a strong setback for the country, which also means a strong offensive against the left, the social movement, democracy and human rights.

So how did it happen?

Well, let’s take a look at what always happens in Brazil whenever there are any gains for the working class.

Getulio Vargas consolidated all the labor laws in the constitution during his dictatorship in the 1930s.

Later on, when he became president again via the direct vote of the people in 1951, he was more of a populist, progressive guy than the fascist supporter from the 1930s.

Anyways, Getulio committed “suicide” with a shot to the heart after a 100 percent increase to the minimum wage.

His government created powerful national institutions such as Petrobras. It also passed laws that gave more control to the state over the private sector, like a law where if Brazil was experiencing the crisis of Venezuela today, the state would be able to appropriate food from the private sector to give to the people.

He was attacked like crazy by a very similar smear campaign with the ‘anti-corruption’ flag, just like we saw against Dilma and the Workers Party in recent years.

And the “shot in the heart suicide” was justified in a sense by all the accusations against him in the media.

That’s what happened with the guy who gave most of the workers’ rights we have today in Brazil in order for capitalism to come back to its ‘normal state.’

Then in the 1960s, we had another progressive president Juscelino Kubitschek who was forced out of his seat while his vice president was out of the country.

Juscelino was forced out by the same type of accusations. People even compared one of the stories used against him with one being used now against Lula, which is related to buying an apartment to launder corruption money, apartments that then as well as now were never proven to really be what the anti-corruption investigations claims they were.

Joao Goulart, his vice president, returned in time to take the seat before the military. But then, in 1964, after a speech in Rio de Janeiro, where he announced the first ‘agrarian reform’ steps, the military decided that was enough and took over the presidential palace.

There was no resistance, Goulart left the country and we were immersed in 21 years of military dictatorship.

So with torture and killing, with censorship and indirect elections, with restrained rights imposed on everyone, capitalism went back to its normal state in Brazil.

During all this time, the people’s struggle was what drove Brazil out of this ‘normal state.’ For capitalism, what is ‘normal’ is the extreme exploitation of the people.

In the 1980s, all the left was dispersed making the decades of oppression that forced many leftists to operate underground. In the 1980s during the redemocratization process, the Workers Party was created and at the time it was a very important force for the left to reorganize itself.

In Brazil, during this time the main point of struggle raised by the left was socialism. And you can see the influence of that on all the positive gains of the 1988 constitution.

And during our first elections for president in 1989, the Workers Party would have won if it wasn’t for the media manipulation of the debates. Globo didn’t broadcast it live, but showed an edited version promoting the pro-neoliberalism candidate, Collor de Melo.

It’s important to point out the role of the media over and over again in all these coups.

The military coup ended with a distribution of ‘public concessions’ for TV and radio stations around the country to politicians and to the Globo media monopoly. And before the dictatorship was over, they also passed a law prohibiting any new concessions. So the military coup was a great deal for the media in Brazil. The return on investment there helped them build their empire, an empire that now acts as if it is a political party itself.

So the Workers Party lost in 1989 and a huge neoliberalist wave came into the country, bringing something the capitalists in Brazil accepted till now—the coexistence with democracy, the election of the president by people’s direct vote. They accepted that even when the Workers Party was elected in 2003.

And the reason they did so was because of Lula’s famous letter to the people, where it showed to the capitalists that nothing would really change for them. Lula jokes around saying this ‘new version of him’ was the “Lula, peace and love.’

But what he really meant was the conciliation with the ruling class, to create a coalition with the PMDB party (which is leading the coup now) and other old capitalists forces of the country, while also doing something for the poor working class.

And Lula did do something. No one can deny that. Lula managed to take millions out of poverty, managed to change Brazilian society for the better in many deep ways—while also giving the ruling class lots of money.

I am not saying he had it easy because of that. If you don’t remember, in 2006 during his reelection there was a rain of accusations against him and his party as well. These were accusations that took two of the main leaders of the workers party down and sent them to jail.

Jose Dirceu, chief of staff for Lula, a great figure of the struggle against the military and co-founder of the Workers Party, was sent to jail and I quote one of the supreme judges who did it, she said: “Even though there is no evidence against you, I will condemn you.” He was sentenced to over 20 years in jail, set to leave when he is 103 years old.

But until the end of Lula’s second mandate, Brazil had a lot of money circulating.

So the ruling class was getting its cut and they were also pretty sure that it would be really hard for the Workers Party to stay in power, since Lula couldn’t run as a candidate anymore and they managed to target and remove from the game any other Workers Party possible choice.

But to their surprise, Lula and the Workers Party not only found a candidate, but was capable of electing her.

And then came the second phase of the Workers Party era—different from Lula’s time. Brazil was no longer growing. The economic crisis had arrived.

There was a strategic mistake on the part of the PT and Dilma’s government. They thought they would be able to continue to grow by hosting big events like the World Cup and the Olympics. They also thought the elite would allow them to govern if they gave them more and more concessions.

And none of that happened. Dilma created a government with more concessions to the opposition forces than Lula while pushing away the social movements, which are a great part of its base.

The crisis hurt the poor, unemployment went up, food prices went up. And then you had the protests of 2013, before the World Cup.

And from there the offensive forces started the same script they did in Venezuela—seeking to create a state of destabilization in the country, to make it ungovernable.

The media used all its power calling people to go out in the streets against Dilma and the PT.

This woke up a group that is extremely intolerant and violent—this upper middle class that is super extreme right wing.

The protests continued along with the corruption scandal propaganda and the right thought that in 2014 they would win the elections. But they lost it by a small margin with Dilma getting 52 percent of the votes.

And that just pissed them off completely. They left the elections already calling them invalid, and they started building up the impeachment idea continuing throughout 2015. In December, the president of the lower House accepted the request for impeachment of Dilma in retaliation against the PT, which had voted for his deposition due to corruption.

Now we saw the audio recordings leaked that reveal the plot behind the impeachment votes in the congress. All the recordings show that Dilma refused to accept agreements that would save this elite from going to jail because of corruption.

For the first time in Brazil, the rich were literally going to jail because of corruption. The audio reveals a complete panic state in the 1 percent of Brazil.

They set up the coup to regain power, save themselves from jail, build more power by re-aligning with the United States and giving to them our oil and anything they want.

The coup forces are not a united front. They are united against the Workers Party and the left, but they will cut each others head in order to stay in power or obtain power. They are the media, the finance capital—national and international—the judiciary system, the militaries, and the police as a more active armed force. The traditional right wing parties and this radical right middle class as their ‘force of support in the streets’.

Fighting the coup we have two major coalitions—Frente Brasil Popular and Frente Brasil Sem Medo. Together they unified all the unions, social movements, left parties, student movements and others from the organized left. They have been protesting every day since March. Recently they have been able to bring the unions closer to the struggle after being away due to attacks from Dilma’s government against workers rights.

Another very important component of resistance has been the women’s movement. The whole process of attack against Dilma to legitimize the coup was full of misogynist attacks exposing the sexist face of this coup.

The whole world spoke of the ‘white men only’ composition of Temer’s government— the first men-only government since 1979! The whole world saw how the first thing he did was to shut down the Ministry of Women’s Equality, Afro-Brazilians Rights, and Human Rights.

The day Dilma left and Temer was supposed to walk up the Palace ramp to take power, the women’s movement took over the ramp and forced him to go through the back door.

There has been a feminist revolution in process for many years in Brazil, empowered in a certain way by the reforms made by the Workers Party.

Let me give you examples:

  1. Distribution of wealth program: the women (not the men) of the family control the ATM card where they can take out money every month, and all she has to do to get this money is to keep her kids in school and take them for their check-ups in the public hospital. This gave a salary to many women who had nothing. This salary gave independence to many women who were in abusive situations due to the inability to independently sustain herself and her children.
  2. The housing program created by the Workers Party tied the house papers to the women leader of the family name, not the men.
  3. House cleaners were given workers’ rights just like any other member of the working class.

The impact of these actions in Brazil’s machista society has been enormous. And when these reforms are attacked with many misogynists messages like we are seeing now, we see a huge reaction of working class women against this coup and all that it represents.

In the middle of it all, we had a rape case where 30 men raped a 16-year-old girl, which exposed the rape culture in Brazil, in which every 11 minutes a woman is abused in the country. This created an explosion of protests and actions led by women.

So we are now entering the second month of the coup government and what can we say about the first month?

The first month of the coup government showed that they have no intentions of ‘taking it easy.’ There was a big change in the layout of ministries created by Temer—immediately we saw all social justice ministries removed or their role decreased.

Our diplomacy changed completed with Serra as the new Minister of Foreign relations, who started by attacking all Bolivarian countries. He recently traveled to Argentina to meet Macri to discuss the future of Mercosur. He received Capriles in Brazil to discuss the referendum against Maduro. Serra ran for president twice against the PT and lost. Both times he met with Chevron while campaigning to set up deals in case he won.

Temer himself was revealed by the Wikileaks diplomatic cables to be serving as an informant for the United States. But all of them are servants of U.S. interests.

And to bring it back to the global context, or better, the regional context, the new Plan Condor context—while still Dilma’s vice president, Temer was leading a project of militarization and surveillance of Brazil’s border. This was a plan that involves U.S. drones and satellites. And recently the first ‘training test’ of this apparatus was done on the border with Bolivia.

Internally, we are already suffering oppression on different fronts. The Landless Movement was declared a criminal organization in the state of Goias, which lead to police action in cooperation with another state (Rio Grande do Sul) where they arrested members of the leadership of the movement.

The Landless Movement has existed for many years in Brazil. Decades ago they won in the Supreme Court a fight against the attempt to criminalize their movement, and the Supreme Court ruled that the struggle for the land is not a crime.

The coup president has the intelligence service monitoring the Workers Party, changes that will affect labor rights are being approved, an economic plan that will hurt the working class is being passed by the national bank and meetings to start privatization negotiations have started. They are definitely not waiting to take action, and probably will do so without any hesitation or limitation.

What is happening right now, what are the possibilities for the near future in Brazil

Right now, it has been a month in which the coup has been completely exposed by the golpistas (the coup plotters) themselves, and by the people being in the streets mobilizing against it.

Temer’s government has no support, its legitimacy is going down hill. Already 4 ministers had to resign and many of them now have prison warrants against them.

A sector of Brazil’s population, and it is a big one, hasn’t yet manifested its position about the coup. But is clear that the people against it are winning this sector over.

But that will only continue and grow into something interesting if the mobilization continues. And that will only work if there is a radicalization from the Workers Party to finally break apart from this elite.

I say this because to be honest, there is no other left organization that could fill the vacuum if the Workers Party is out of the picture. That is why the right wants to destroy it.

There is clear danger of Lula being arrested, Dilma being arrested and of the Workers Party being impeded legally from running any candidate in the next elections.

If that happens, the left would have a hard time building something to take this place. What is more certain is that the right will take it over and there will be an increase of the oppression. And this oppression will break the left apart which will be a replay of what happened in the 1960s and 1970s. It took a long time for it to regain force again.

But what are the real possibilities here? And that takes us to the third part of this presentation. What is there in the near future for Brazil?

In August, the Senate will vote again on Dilma’s impeachment. This can go two ways:

The vote is in favor of Dilma and she comes back to the presidency. For this scenario to be a meaningful change, Dilma has to come back and break from the PMDB party and the rest of the elite that they kept as part of a coalition built to govern the country since Lula’s first election in 2003.

For her to come back and stay stable, it will be necessary for her and the Workers Party to change. And if they do change, to maintain power while this change happens, they will depend on having the people in the streets supporting them. One depends on the other, I would say.

Or the vote can be in favor of the impeachment and coup government stays. And in that scenario there are two possibilities:

Temer can manage to regain power and keep himself in the presidency. But this scenario is getting weaker every day with more and more information coming out about the corruption associated with him and his government leaders.

He has already lost four ministers, and with one digit popular support no one wants to be associated with him and his gang.

So, in this case, we have the other possibility where the coup kicks Temer out as well and puts all the power in the congress. The
congress will govern the country and decide how the 2018 elections will turn out.

And that can mean many things.

For instance, by then they could have destroyed the Workers Party and built their own candidate and therefore allow us to have an election where the ‘people decide’ because it will be safe for them.

Or they can complete the coup and establish a parliamentary system in Brazil, where they will decide who governs the country.

And because of this threat, they might seek a referendum where there will be a vote for a recall or not. They want the people to decide what to do with the bad government of Dilma and the bad government of Temer. This would depend on what the Congress wishes as well because only the Congress can call a referendum.

Why is this not supported by the majority of the movement? Because that would give legitimacy to those who pushed Dilma away from the presidency.

Again, what happened in Brazil was a coup against our democracy. It is beyond Dilma and the PT. To not like a government doesn’t give you the right to take it out like that.

And if we don’t confront this, by accepting the fact that Dilma is out of the government and calling a referendum, we will create a terrible precedent for the democracy we are building.

The great majority wants to go through the voting in August first and if we lose there, then campaign for the referendum and the recall.

So a lot depends on the voting in August. What will influence that is the permanent presence of the people in the streets in actions that expose the coup.

These permanent actions of resistance at this early stages of the coup is what will determine the extension of this coup.

Temer had already had to step back on some policies and changes his government tried to implement like the ones against the housing program, ‘minha casa minha vida,’ because of the intense presence of social movements in the streets, in front of his house, his office, everywhere.

And we will be in solidarity with the people in Brazil by building the struggle here and fighting as well.

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