Brazil's liberal right rehearsal of a coup d'état

Just a few months after President Dilma Rousseff’s coming to office for a second term, the opposition began an intense campaign of attacks against her administration and her political party Partido dos Trabalhadores (Brazil's Workers' Party, better known by its Portuguese acronym PT), a campaign which soon gained the features of a coup. Such coup has its actors and players.

Former opposition presidential candidate Aecio Neves (Party of Brazilian Social Democracy – PSDB)  played the role of poster boy – and former president Fernando Henrique Cardoso (PSDB), by its turn, reappeared in the political arena to urge Neves' supporters. Despite its party's name, Social-democrat Cardoso's administration was heavily influenced by neoliberalism and the Washington Consensus market fundamentalism. The campaign managed to push some PMDB (Brazilian Democratic Movement Party) members off the fence (PMDB can be described as a big tent party which has no defined ideology) and to call demonstrations which, rather unexpectedly, managed to fill streets around the country and to generate apprehension. By mid-year  we and many Brazilians were already seriously considering the possibility that the PT administration was going down and that something even worse than its sloppy “neo-developmentalism” (aligned with usury financism1) would take its place.

That impression was somewhat intensified last week when the Speaker of Brazil's lower house of Congress, Eduardo Cunha, accepted the opposition's motion to open impeachment proceedings against President Dilma Rousseff. The irony is that Eduardo Cunha himself is linked to a laundering scheme and faces ethic hearings over a secret Swiss bank account. Cunha's PMDB party is the party of the Rousseff's Vice-President Michel Temer, who has just sent Rousseff a personal letter accusing her of having no confidence in him or his party (the letter has been leaked to the press). If the media and general opinion is to be believed, the PT administration is over. Despite all such developments, we get the feeling that the story is far from over and to oust Rousseff will not be so simple.

The coup plot might be at a lose end and the clue to it is in the series of public statements against the overthrow of the President, coming from notorious representatives of Atlantist interests, from banks to media moguls2. Brazilian people, it is true, no longer have the will to defend PT's administration after its infamous austerity measures, and that opens the door to other actors – those very actors which in Western democracies are obviously very important, such as the beneficiaries of (PT's) austerity measures themselves, that is, the state creditors. Paradoxically, those very forces are the ones that may prevent an impeachment. The questions that arise then, and which we try to answer, are: why is it that globalist finance, already in an advantageous position under the PT administration, initially fed the rehearsal of this coup? What about the recent developments of this offensive? What are the possible strategies behind them? And, most important, what’s the appropriate position to be taken at this juncture by those who, like us, seek to make Brazil a really sovereign country?

We have reasons to believe the answers are largely found in the particular political conditions of Brazil. Among dozens of active political parties, there are few prominent figures in the political arena with original projects pertinent to Brazilian reality, and those few (truly, only a few) are often unknown to the general public. The political institutions in general and those who compose it are often the target of a depressing (though understandable) discredit from the population. And if it is true that people are dissatisfied with PT, PSDB, on the other hand, (PT's main opponent), does not enjoy greater prestige. In that way, the democratic game is increasingly becoming a spectacle of empty political party propaganda without popular legitimacy for Brazilians. One could say Brazil suffers from a lack of leaders and authentic ideas. On the other hand, this situation translates itself into a greater involvement of people in political issues, especially the young (non-partisan demonstrations and the like). That signals a tendency to instability, which could very well turn into an atmosphere favourable to an organized political dissent, but that also carries risks with it and a high dose of unpredictability. With that in mind, let us examine what kind of coup is more likely in our situation.

A military coup?

The opposition’s eagerness to overthrow Rousseff seemed to be so intense as to make many consider the possibility  of direct military intervention in the national crisis. It is true that there are national oligarchic groups supporting this scenario since the overthrow of the military regime (in the 1980's). Those groups cheer every crisis and every moment of political effervescence in Brazil, seeming to grow more and more impatient each year the Workers Party remains in power (since President Lula's first term in 2002, followed by Dilma Rousseff).

However, those pro-military elements in the domestic bourgeoisie have lost much of their strength even inside military corporations. Their power of mobilization today is quite null and they are too obsolete to actually influence US officials, which they naively consider their potential allies. That's because during the very pro-American military regime which those Brazilian oligarchs supported, their influence was somewhat diminished by the presence of multinational corporations, now acting with much more freedom in the Brazilian political scene. Although that national oligarchy still has local influence to some extent, nowadays American imperialism can very often dispense the use of intermediaries in matters of American interests. This situation's only got worse during the post-1988’s Constitution times of neoliberalism.

Looking at the present conditions and the historic record, it seems that a coup along the lines of the sixties coup (i.e. perpetrated by the direct intervention of the Armed Forces) is unlikely to be repeated. Brazilian President then, João Goulart, was deposed by a military coup in 1964 and he is considered to have been the the last left-wing President before Lula da Silva took office in 2003. At the time of Goulart, however, there was no room for a democratic alternative, legal or institutional, that could represent an alignment with the Anglo-American power. The US then, in the context of the Cold War, demanded collaboration and support from all countries in the continent – the Operation Condor (to support Latin American military regimes) was already being planned. This Operation had the endorsement and support of many political sectors in Brazil as well as civil associations linked, directly or indirectly to Big Business (we could also mention, in the Brazilian case, the Opus Dei, Freemasonry and other  such circles). Goulart himself, enjoying some popular support, operated under the slogan “land reform by law or by force”. The political ethos then was thus much more authoritarian.

            Under Goulart, we had the Brazilian Ministry of Finance in the hands of an economist such as Celso Furtado (of the ECLAC school of economic structuralism) and we also had Darcy Ribeiro as Minister of Education. Both Goulart and Ribeiro were exponents of trabalhismo (Brazilian labourism)3. What is more, back then we had a fierce nationalist in the influential State of Rio Grande do Sul local government, Leonel Brizola. Governor Brizola was actually willing to co-opt the local division of the  Brazilian army operating in his state for an anti-imperialist struggle in Brazilian territory. The perspective that nationalist projects could advance and thus confront US interests was therefore very palpable, especially in that Cold War context when very little was needed to arouse American suspicions.

With the victory of the American model over the Soviet, the bipolar order that prevailed during the Cold War collapsed and so the ideological representatives of the West could advance much of their agenda towards an unipolar world order, being fully aware that emerging countries seeking to counter Western influence had no longer another great power such as the USSR to support them in the geopolitical scenario. In Latin America, the effects of the new US stance were soon felt, as the neoliberal wave followed and those effects still persist. The intensity of American government and American corporation interests influence in Brazil may vary (in a back-and-forth manner) but it is a historic factor. For example, Brazil's Finance Minister today, even under a supposedly left-wing PT administration, is Chicago-trained Joaquim Levy. Prior to his appointment, Mr. Levy was the President of a division of Bradesco, Brazil's second largest private bank (it has, by the way, recently acquired the Brazilian operations of J.P. Morgan Fleming Asset Management, American Express and HSBC). Mr. Levy held several positions at the IMF in the nineties and was also a Vice-President at the Inter-American Development Bank. Between 1999 and 2000, Levy was a visiting economist at the European Central Bank. He is the man behind Rousseff austerity measures.

Furthermore, Brazil's leftist government has nevertheless privatized national goods, made several concessions and even recently supported the demonization of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad (voting against his government at the United Nations). 

The Brazilian political opposition today, which is the largest vehicle of the coup threat against PT, would not like to share its role with the military taking the risk of weakening our current liberal democratic system. From the point of view of Atlantist foreign interest, it would also be undesirable to shake a political system that has guaranteed their interests in our continent so well – a military “hard line” in power could mean more investments in, say, the defence area, a change of attitude towards culture – and even patriotic outbursts, which for Atlantist interests would be pure regression.

In addition, amongst Brazilian Army officers, few aspire to getting involved in politics. A legalist attitude is emphasized in military institutions since day one and ideological discussions are discouraged. This comes largely from the fact that the military suffers the bitter consequences of the former 1964 coup until this day, in a double sense: on one hand, there is a post-1988 political tendency to condemn the military regime leaders not as Fatherland traitors (that they actually were then), but as violators of "human rights". It is a tendency that leads to lawsuits, investigations, harassment and scathing repudiation actions by leftist movements mainly (but not only). The National Truth Commission, created by Dilma Rousseff and guided by a "humanitarian" moral, has pretty much ignored the role played by the business community (and international corporations) in the manoeuvres that led to the collapse of then President Joao Goulart (nicknamed Jango). The Commission, focusing on military government agents exclusively and (ignoring the role played by civilians, institutions and enterprises) raised a number of troublesome issues for the military, involving the widespread use of torture during the regime and the like. The Commission also ignored the actions of the anti-regime left-wing guerrillas that operated in the sixties and seventies (often resorting to terrorist bombings). The military thus usually perceive this tendencies and policies as a sort of anti-military ideological campaign. It could have escalated to a much more critical situation, though, with a multitude of lawsuits and criminal charges being filed against senior Armed Forces' members, as has happened in neighbour countries such as Argentina. That was the goal of some Brazilian social movements anyway. Let's say these recent moves certainly angered many in the Brazilian Army, but instead of inciting a vindictive reaction, they made those guys wish to keep away from headaches for some time.

On the other hand, the process itself of a “Revolution” through a military coup and military dictatorship created a “depoliticized” culture in the Brazilian military, distancing them from the broad public debate (the topic of the military question has become a sort of a taboo in the post-1988 period). Before the 1964 coup, there were military internal political divisions: there were military nationalist groups, communists and left-wing and also Atlantist liberals (of a pro-American persuasion). With the victory of the liberal sector by means of a coup, military individuals linked to nationalist of left-wing circles were purged from the defense establishment, leading to, one could say, the relative hegemony of certain groups and, consequently, some degree of depoliticization. In this aspect, we can recall the expulsions of captain Ivan Cavalcanti Proença and colonel Nelson Werneck Sodré, a nationalist and a communist, respectively. Both were persecuted by revocation of political rights.

In light of those consideration we can say a military coup in Brazil is not the most likely course of action to be taken by opposition forces.

Amarílis Demartini, Caimmy de Sá (CEM)

To be continued