Crisis in Brazil: what lies ahead

10.10.2016

Michel Temer, Dilma's formerly-decorative VP, was confirmed as president of Brazil after Dilma's impeachment trial on August 31st. Temer ruled as the acting president for three months during the impeachment process before the trial. As soon as he was confirmed as acting president (on May, 12th), Temer went on to act and proceed as a de jure president would, as if Dilma Rousseff had already been removed, which was not the case yet – after all, she could still return if acquitted. The very day Temer took office as acting president, he went so far as to appoint a whole new cabinet, even reducing the number of ministries from 31 to 22.

Temer also appointed Mr. José Serra as Minister of Foreign Relations, even though Mr. Serra has no diplomatic experience whatsoever. But who is Serra? He is the same politician whose campaign (he lost to Dilma Rousseff in the presidential race in 2010) was supported by American oil companies such as Chevron and the same man who secretly promised to sell the rights to Brazil's petroleum discoveries in the “Pre-salt” layer to those very companies, thereby reversing the model created by former president Lula [1]. As chancellor under Temer, Serra has shifted Brazilian foreign policy to a pro-American orientation, much more so than Dilma Rousseff had already started doing (in comparison to Lula's administration).

For now, we shall not go into details here (such would be tedious), but suffice it to say that Temer's administration has sped up the neoliberalizing process that had started under the cornered Dilma Rousseff. If Dilma Rousseff’s appointment of Chicago-educated Joaquim Levy as finance minister represented a neoliberal turn (with disastrous results for the economy, as is always the case with neoliberal policies in Latin America), then Mr. Temer and his ministers went so far as to go on record suggesting to “review” Brazilian labour and pension laws. This is all part of Temer's reform, which means cutting education and social spending and, predictably, making several pro-big business and pro-banking moves [2]. The list goes on and on.

Michel Temer apparently conspired against his own president (Dilma Rousseff and Michel Temer were, after all, part of the same PT-PMDB electoral coalition) and took office after Dilma Rousseff's removal to destroy her entire government plan and programs which were, of course, the plan and programs which got him elected as Rousseff's VP,i.e., his own plan and programs! It is in this sense that many in Brazil describe the whole affair as a coup, no matter how "legal" and "constitutional" the whole thing might have been (even that is debatable).

For a glimpse of what Brazil's future might be if such a trend continues, one might take a look at Macri's Argentina. It is the same show: anti-corruption, "anti-populist", neoliberal rhetoric serve pro-big business Atlanticist powers and interests all under the mask of "modernization" and "globalization"/Westernization. In a way, it is the 1980’s all over again. Reagan and Thatcher are back, but now they have Latin American accents. Conservative philosopher Roger Scruton's 1998 piece Where Marx was right and Thatcher wrong might be as good a read today as it was back then.

We've just mentioned Scruton. Speaking of conservative thinkers, it was the great G. K. Chesterton who wrote:

It cannot be too often repeated that what destroyed the Family in the modern world was Capitalism. (...) so far as we are concerned, what has broken up households and encouraged divorces, and treated the old domestic virtues with more and more open contempt, is the epoch and Power of Capitalism. It is Capitalism that has forced a moral feud and a commercial competition between the sexes; that has destroyed the influence of the parent in favour of the influence of the employer; that has driven men from their homes to look for jobs; that has forced them to live near their factories or their firms instead of near their families; and, above all, that has encouraged, for commercial reasons, a parade of publicity and garish novelty, which is in its nature the death of all that was called dignity and modesty by our mothers and fathers. It is not the Bolshevist but the Boss, the publicity man, the salesman and the commercial advertiser who have, like a rush and riot of barbarians, thrown down and trampled under foot the ancient Roman statue of Verecundia (Three Foes of the Family. From The Well and the Shallows).

It was also Chesterton, by the way, who echoed the Distributist slogan for land reform saying "Three acres and a cow" [for every citizen] and who wrote:

A little while ago certain doctors and other persons permitted by modern law to dictate to their shabbier fellow-citizens, sent out an order that all little girls should have their hair cut short. I mean, of course, all little girls whose parents were poor. Many very unhealthy habits are common among rich little girls, but it will be long before any doctors interfere forcibly with them. Now, the case for this particular interference was this, that the poor are pressed down from above into such stinking and suffocating underworlds of squalor, that poor people must not be allowed to have hair, because in their case it must mean lice in the hair. Therefore, the doctors propose to abolish the hair. It never seems to have occurred to them to abolish the lice. Yet it could be done. (...) But what is the excuse they would urge, what is the plausible argument they would use, for thus cutting and clipping poor children and not rich? Their argument would be that the disease is more likely to be in the hair of poor people than of rich. And why? Because the poor children are forced (against all the instincts of the highly domestic working classes) to crowd together in close rooms under a wildly inefficient system of public instruction; and because in one out of the forty children there may be offense. And why? Because the poor man is so ground down by the great rents of the great ground landlords that his wife often has to work as well as he. Therefore she has no time to look after the children, therefore one in forty of them is dirty. Because the workingman has these two persons on top of him, the landlord sitting (literally) on his stomach, and the schoolmaster sitting (literally) on his head, the workingman must allow his little girl's hair, first to be neglected from poverty, next to be poisoned by promiscuity, and, lastly, to be abolished by hygiene. He, perhaps, was proud of his little girl's hair. But he does not count. (...)
Now the whole parable and purpose of these last pages, and indeed of all these pages, is this: to assert that we must instantly begin all over again, and begin at the other end. I begin with a little girl's hair. That I know is a good thing at any rate. Whatever else is evil, the pride of a good mother in the beauty of her daughter is good. It is one of those adamantine tendernesses which are the touchstones of every age and race. If other things are against it, other things must go down. If landlords and laws and sciences are against it, landlords and laws and sciences must go down. With the red hair of one she-urchin in the gutter I will set fire to all modern civilization. Because a girl should have long hair, she should have clean hair; because she should have clean hair, she should not have an unclean home: because she should not have an unclean home, she should have a free and leisured mother; because she should have a free mother, she should not have an usurious landlord; because there should not be an usurious landlord, there should be a redistribution of property; because there should be a redistribution of property, there shall be a revolution. That little urchin with the gold-red hair, whom I have just watched toddling past my house, she shall not be lopped and lamed and altered; her hair shall not be cut short like a convict's; no, all the kingdoms of the earth shall be hacked about and mutilated to suit her. She is the human and sacred image; all around her the social fabric shall sway and split and fall; the pillars of society shall be shaken, and the roofs of ages come rushing down, and not one hair of her head shall be harmed (What's Wrong With The World, by G.K. Chesterton).

Thus wrote Chesterton, the great Catholic writer and conservative. And so have written and spoken many Brazilian patriots and conservatives, and more than one Pope, speaking on social doctrine. The great irony of today's Brazilian political circus is that many conservatives, religious folks, and "pro-family" persons and groups (Brazil has the largest Catholic population in the world) have been hijacked by neoliberals and by a very nasty Atlanticist Right, which also includes some very corrupt Pentecostal Evangelical pastors and preachers (some of which are also Congressmen, such as the infamous Marco Feliciano, who faces accusations of rape, corruption and other misdeeds).

Many conservative Brazilians demonstrated against the so-called "socialist"/"communist" PT. The irony (again) is that the Brazilian Workers' Party (PT) is in fact a largely Catholic party. It was launched by a heterogeneous bunch made up of some Marxist intellectuals, trade unionists, and militant social justice Catholics. It was officially founded in a meeting that took place (on February 10th, 1980) at Colégio Sion in São Paulo, a private Catholic school for girls. The PT has always been supported by the National Conference of Bishops of Brazil. Spanish historian Luis Mir will go as far as to claim in his book (which is called ”The Party of God”) that PT is a direct child of the Catholic Church, and a very dear child at that.

The Catholic Church in Brazil has actually been supporting land reform for over half a century. Pope John Paull II  supported it vocally in the ‘80’s while visiting Brazil. But this is where things get [more] complicated. During the two PT administrations (especially Lula's), there were some advances in this regard for sure, but president Dilma Rousseff did cater to big farmers [3], thus alienating her Catholic base and social movements. The truth is that most of the farming land in Brazil is in fact still owned by a tiny minority of oligarch-farmers (latifundium owners - they like to call it "agrobusiness"), many of whom are in Congress and part of the same gang who impeached Dilma Rousseff even though she did try to appease them. They typically take advantage of slave labour and employ armed thugs to expel or murder peasants and indigenous people. Sister Dorothy Stang, for instance, was murdered by ranchers (in 2005) because of her social militancy. Chesterton's "three acres and a cow" is a far cry in Brazil.

President Temer, in his turn (although a Catholic himself), has sought rapprochement with the pro-Israel/pro-US Pentecostal and Evangelical churches, as well as Freemasonry (many Lodges supported the anti-PT demonstrations). He's gotten closer to agrobusiness as well. Many in Brazil talk of a "Bible, beef and bullets" caucus.  Eduardo Cunha, Temer's henchman and co-conspirator, is very much loved among many Brazilian Evangelicals. Mr. Cunha, by the way, has recently been expelled from Congress in an interesting twist of events - this is the same Cunha who had a central role in Dima Rousseff's impeachment. Both Cunha and Temer support Israeli and American interests over those of Brazil and both support the destruction of labour rights. Israel seems to be actually taking over parts of the Brazilian industry after they were destroyed as part of the Car Wash Operation [4].

This anti-worker and anti-family neoliberal agenda is thus "sold" to Brazil's generally conservative population, especially the more Americanized urban middle class. Evangelical and Pentecostal Christians seem to be more vulnerable to such trap in the same way that ordinary Jews, for instance, are often manipulated into supporting Israeli policies and ordinary Americans are "brain-washed" into accepting and supporting US wars worldwide.

The thing is: if Dilma Rousseff's popularity was very low, then Michel Temer's is now even lower. People seem to have realized that this "cure" is worse than the disease. But Temer can keep pushing neoliberal reforms as drastic measures needed in times of crisis - measures that will actually worsen the crisis. No wonder former president Lula still leads polls for 2018 elections; that is precisely why he and his wife are under severe judicial harassment and are now finally facing charges. The goal is to stop him from running for president. This makes things very unpredictable. After what was left by the Car Wash Operation, the entire Brazilian political class has lost the little credibility it still had. But one cannot even be sure whether there will be a presidential election in 2018 or not. Temer's PMDB and Serra's PSDB parties might try pulling the parliamentarism card, as such a proposal has been voiced already. That would be very much against Brazilian political culture: Brazilians are “personalists”, i.e., they vote for candidates and normally do not care much about political parties per se (in 2013, during the Brazilian Spring, Senator Cristovam Buarque went so far as to suggest abolishing political parties altogether).

It gets even more complicated: there is now talk of a return to monarchy among some circles [5]. This may have sounded insane a few months ago, but monarchists have been taking part in street demonstrations. Brazilian Prince Luiz Phillipe de Orleans e Bragança in fact sat in the Senate’s guest gallery during Dilma Rousseff's trial among other high profile individuals who were in favour of her removal. He sat near Nilton Masi Caccaos Junior of the Sao Paulo Masonic Grande Oriente (analogous to a Great Lodge) and near Kim Kataguiri, the famous teenage blogger and leader of the neoliberal MBL - but that is stuff for the Brazilian circus articles. A 2015 news report mentions the same pprince as one of the leaders of the Acorda Brasil (Wake Up Brazil) movement, an anti-Dilma group. 

But Dom Luiz Phillipe de Orleans e Bragança is not the only prince who has wormed into politics to back the coup against Dilma Rousseff. Prince Dom Joao de Orleans e Braganca, the surfer Prince, also has taken it to the streets in a slightly more vocal manner than his relative. He actually calls for a return to the monarchy.

Dom Bertrand in a street demonstration for the removal of president Dilma Roussef. Next to him, people are waving the old Brazilian Empire flag with its Imperial coat of arms, whose colours represent the dynastic houses of Pedro I and his Empress consort Maria Leopoldina of Austria.

Talk of secession has also popped up. To the average Brazilian, this also might seem insane, but a southern group has called an (illegal) referendum. Similar actions are taking place in Sao Paulo state, the Northeast and elsewhere.

In other words, the situation is one of great instability.

As many observers have noticed, Brazil was starting to rise as a world player. Temer, Cunha, Serra and his comrades (Pentecostal radio hosts, decadent princes, corrupt Freemasons, teenager bloggers and former porn-stars) are busy trying to make sure Brazil will back down or even become a full-fledged US satellite - a neoliberal paradise like Haiti [6] or Paraguay if it does not break down into several seceded ruined states first.

One could say that, right now, Brazil faces the Hamletian dilemma: to be or not to be.

Notes:

[1] See <http://www.dailykos.com/story/2010/12/14/928858>. See also: <https://tupiwire.wordpress.com/2010/12/13/wikileaks-the-this-oil-is-ours-factor/>.

[2] "The central bank board needs to be replaced. To regain confidence, it is crucial that we bring people from the market who are not susceptible to political meddling," said a source who is part of Temer's inner circle of advisers. The central bank, under the leadership of Alexandre Tombini since 2011, started on Tuesday a two-day meeting to decide on its benchmark Selic interest rate. The bank's board, which is made up mostly of career technocrats with little experience in the private sector, is expected to keep the Selic on hold for the sixth straight time. The candidates for the new board includes Itau chief economist Ilan Goldfajn, former treasury chief Carlos Kawall and former central bankers Mario Mesquita and Luiz Fernando Figueiredo, as well as Goldman Sachs executive Paulo Leme, the sources said. Mesquita, Goldfajn and Kawall declined to comment while Figueiredo and Leme did not answer emails (...). Temer plans to send Congress bills to limit costly pension benefits, make the rigid labor market flexible and simplify the country's tax system, the three sources said, declining to be named because they were not allowed to speak publicly. As part of the economic overhaul Temer will also slash the number of ministries to less than 25 from 31 currently and reduce current costs by firing of thousands of public jobs, one of the sources said". <http://www.reuters.com/article/us-brazil-politics-exclusive-idUSKCN0XN2EV>

[3] "According to official data, 1% of Brazilian large entrepreneur-farmers own almost half the good farming land in Brazil and at the other end 90.000 peasants are still camped waiting for the government to comply with the promise of granting them plots of land." <http://en.mercopress.com/2015/01/07/land-possession-and-peasants-the-first-strong-clash-in-rousseff-s-cabinet>

[4] "The Odebrecht SA unit known as ODT has seen revenue drop after the government cut spending on its nuclear-submarine program by half as policy makers work to tamp down a widening budget deficit amid the country’s worst recession in a century. The parent company, Latin America’s largest construction conglomerate, announced a freeze on new investments in Brazil last year as a credit crunch tightened access to financing after then-Chief Executive Officer Marcelo Odebrecht was arrested in June 2015 as part of Brazil’s biggest-ever corruption scandal. The CEO stepped down from his position to focus on his defense and remains in jail. He has denied any wrongdoing.
Elbit, which got about 11 percent of its revenue from Latin America last year, has won contracts in Brazil as the government shifts capabilities away from conventional warfare to surveillance and protection of infrastructure and natural resources, particularly in the Amazon and oil-rich offshore regions." <http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-07-22/israeli-drone-maker-elbit-said-close-to-buying-odebrecht-assets>

[5] See <http://www.wsj.com/articles/new-plan-to-fix-brazils-royal-mess-restore-the-monarchy-1466187675>.
See also <https://globalvoices.org/2016/06/17/as-president-faces-impeachment-brazils-royal-family-wants-to-play-game-of-thrones-for-real/> and <https://www.ft.com/content/e135da74-179a-11e6-b197-a4af20d5575e>.

[6] "Haiti is a free market economy with low labor costs and tariff-free access to the US for many of its exports", according to the CIA World Factbook.