The Brazilian Economist Marcos Arruda, from the PACS Institute (Alternative Policies for the Southern Cone) in Rio de Janeiro, and the Transnational Institute in Amsterdam, makes a political economy analysis of possible scenarios in the 2018 presidential elections.
By Marcos Arruda
Published on Brasil Wire, Oct 5, 2018
Understanding a very complex historical situation, like that of Brazil today, is not an easy task. What happens to Brazil if Fernando Haddad or Ciro Gomes wins the election? What challenges will they face? And what if the winner is Jair Bolsonaro, the extreme right-wing candidate promoted by the mainstream media and a public angered by the hate syndrome created against Lula and the PT?
Is it possible for sectors of the extreme right to rebel against the will of the majority and articulate a military coup? What preventive measures would be available to the population to defend the electoral and representative democracy that prevails in Brazil?
These are some of the issues that I examine in this article.
Capital’s Historic Bloc and its Neoliberal Extremism
There are two opinions about the most urgent challenge of these elections: one, the need for a “shock of order” presented by the mainstream media, which says of the current situation, “it’s all a big mess.” They focus on corruption and violence as the only facets of the country’s reality, and of police and military interventions as the only way to combat them. The other opinion recognizes that violence is part of the current reality but that inequality of income, wealth, and access to decent living conditions affects the lives of the population with much more virulence and are themselves a form of violence. Policies that contribute to deepening inequalities are neither denounced nor opposed by the mainstream media. Nor does the media raise crucial questions about the systemic nature of these inequalities. Never do they examine how these inequalities arise structurally from the globalized oligopolistic capitalist system. Public debt already exceeds R $5 trillion (roughly US$1.2 trillion) and annually sucks a large portion of public budget expenditures (roughly US$ 100 billion), guaranteeing usurious gains to its approximately 10,000 creditors, according to economist Marcio Pochmann. And this debt remains unaudited. The fact that the six richest billionaires hold the same wealth as the poorest half of Brazil’s population is an indisputable indicator of the barbaric character of Brazilian capitalism.
The “Bridge to the Future” economic project represents the global offensive of capital aiming to install a neoliberal revolution throughout the Americas. According to golpista President Temer, President Dilma’s refusal to carry out this project was the main reason she was ousted in a parliamentary coup in 2016. The ultra neoliberal government resulting from this coup has ensured that capital is the main beneficiary of its reforms. In the current elections, former captain Jair Bolsonaro, former governor Geraldo Alckmin, and banker Henrique Meirelles are the main representatives of these interests. It is therefore likely that the electoral victory of the Center-Left candidates will open a stage of intense pressure on them to continue pushing neoliberal economic reforms, offering in return the guarantee of respect for governability; a kind of Pax Americana. If not, the new government will risk provocation, slander, and actions aimed at creating instability, fear and chaos. That is, an environment conducive to a military coup or other coercive regime.
Lula’s leadership and the threat of Bolsonaro
The evolution of the electoral process reveals some peculiar characteristics of this election:
- Not even the pro-coup big media doubts that the Workers’ Party’s (PT) ‘natural’ candidate, former President Lula, if not prevented by the baseless, spurious decisions of Operation Car Wash with the complicity of the Federal Supreme Court (FSC), would win the elections–maybe even in the first round. The respect of tens of millions of voters reveals that Lula remains the most expressive and influential leader in this country.
- The army of lawyers and jurists allied to Congress and the Federal Police who investigated Lula and Dilma failed to present effective evidence of crimes by either one. Judge Moro’s decision to convict and imprison Lula had the stamp of political persecution, and he is described as a political prisoner in Brazil and abroad. This does not prevent the mainstream media, in particular the two largest oligopolistic groups of information, Rede Globo and Bandeirantes, from systematic disinformation, slander, half-truths and fake news in attempt to convince the public that the PT is the only party responsible for the corruption between politicians and big businessmen.
- The fact that the PT allied itself with the chief coup forces throughout its mandates is one reason for its current wear and tear. But what led to the polarization and rise of an extreme right candidate was that the population lost confidence in the traditional way of doing politics. In Brazil this has meant that the Legislative and Judiciary Powers became profitable business centers, and the ministries, government secretariats, and management of State-owned enterprises became bargaining chips. This current political system of Poderes podres (“Rotten Powers”) that has privatized the State must be defeated, for it is a corrupting and corrupt system. It is responsible for the State’s failure to fulfill its constitutional mandate, leading to the deepening of inequalities in income and wealth. All major parties have played a part. It is up to the PT and the PDT (the Democratic Labor Party) to make their self-criticisms and inaugurate a new form of governance: the practice of governing with the people!
- The great bourgeoisie does not forgive Lula for his worker-peasant origin. The rotten powers, who also benefited from the conciliatory PT governments, chose to betray him. If the PT failed to acknowledge the errors of its mandates, it might still, like the Phoenix, benefit from the extremism of those who tried to exclude it from Brazilian politics. The selective treatment given by Operation Car Wash and the Supreme Court to indict PT politicians, shelving cases of suspected crime from other parties, gained the attention of impoverished classes in Brazil as well as the international media. And, against the will of his enemies, Lula gained a symbolic power of planetary magnitude.
- The erosion of the image of Lula, Dilma and the PT by the coup media did not fully achieve its objective. Lula’s popularity continues to grow, especially among the lower-income electorate, which more directly benefited from the PT social programs. The middle classes and an expressive part of the Center-Left joined in. The openly anti-democratic candidate, Jair Bolsonaro, has managed to gain surprising support, and with Lula declared ineligible by the Electoral Supreme Court, has maintained the lead in opinion polls. The same candidate leads the rate of rejection by the electorate. Looking closely, we realize that if Bolsonaro visited sectors of the country early in the year and gained increasing support from the military, the media’s erosive action against the PT, coupled with Bolsonaro’s anti-PT speech, assisted the increasing polarization expressed today in the so-called “wave of hatred.” Assisted by propaganda, workers with low purchasing power, women, including black women, large sectors of the middle and high classes, became indignant about the “corruption” and violence attributed to the PT governments and adopted the language of hatred against the PT, Lula, and Dilma. The mainstream media said nothing about the systemic nature of corruption, choosing to focus on the PT as the main culprit in the recessionary policy of fiscal adjustment, which is responsible for the economic crisis that plagues Brazil. This policy, begun under Dilma’s rule, was aggravated in a perverse and irresponsible manner by the gang of corrupt politicians who seized the Brazilian State with the coup of 2016.
- The knife attack against Bolsonaro raises serious suspicions. Who does it benefit? First, he was treated as a victim and even as a hero by some (for example: journalist Merval Pereira of Jornal O Globo and commentator of TV GloboNews). Second, it benefits the interests of the far-Right bloc, who use the long-defunct (and false) banner of anti-communism to spread a visceral hatred toward the PT. The unfounded accusation of PSL deputy General Mourão that a PT supporter was responsible for the attack, followed by the thinly veiled threat that the Armed Forces are the true “violence professionals,” is strong evidence that those with Bolsonaro seek to generate a climate of fear and insecurity conducive to military intervention. Bolsonaro’s speeches (both old and new) resemble the aggressive Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte. Some speeches reveal his Nazi-fascist and coupist values:
“I am in favor of a dictatorship” (1993, speech in Congress)
“Voting does not solve anything, it does not change anything. This country only changes with … civil war.”
“I am in favor of torture.” “Chico Lopes should hang from the perrot’s perch!” [The parrot’s perch was a common and cruel torture method of the dictatorship.] “Winning the government, we’ll kill 30,000, starting with the FHC…I would close the Congress, yes. I would make a (military) coup the same day.” (1999, Bolsonaro in a TV interview )
“Let’s shoot the gang of PT here from Acre” (campaigning in the Acre state in 2018) …
“I can not speak for the [military] commanders. From what I see in the streets, I will not accept a result different from my election” (9/28/2018)
On Sep 25, 2018, the results of IBOPE’s recently published research clearly agitated right-wing currents. IBOPE revealed that Bolsonaro had stagnated at 28% and Haddad was at 22%. The rejection rate of Bolsonaro continues to rise, already reaching 46% against 30% for Haddad and 18% for Ciro Gomes; the number of women who would never vote for Bolsonaro is now 54 percent. IBOPE’s forecast for the second round is: 43% for Haddad and 37% for Bolsonaro, or 46% for Ciro and 35% for Bolsonaro. Perhaps in response, jurist Miguel Reale Jr., juridical coordinator of the 2016 coup, convened a meeting to propose to the four right-wing candidates–Marina Silva, Henrique Meirelles, João Amoedo and Álvaro Dias–to give up and recommend their votes give their “useful votes” to Geraldo Alckmin. It did not work. The latest poll reveals the sum of votes from these four candidates is only 13%.
Before closing this article, a new coup appears to reduce Haddad’s probability of victory by the banning of 3.3 million voters, most of them in the Northeast, where Haddad has greater support. The justification is that they did not complete a biometric re-registration. FSC Judge Luiz Fux illegally cancelled the right of journalists to interview Lula. And IBOPE and Datafolha issued the results of a the new weekly poll inverting the trends in such a way that arises suspicion about the integrity of their data. In the meantime, Judge Sergio Moro released parts of a classified statement of one of the former Ministers of Lula, Antonio Palloci entitled to plea bargaining. What other tricks will they make up to weaken Haddad’s candidacy?
US Empire and the subversion of democracy
The U.S. government, mega-companies, and banks were invisible but very real actors in the conspiracy that led to the coup of 2016. They are all part of an entity called AS/COA (Americas Society / Council of the Americas), founded by David Rockefeller to influence politics in Latin America. AS/COA brings together representatives of major U.S.-based transnational corporations and banks. The change in the U.S. empire’s interventionist strategy dates from the first decade of this century. The coups of Haiti (2004), Honduras (2009) and Paraguay (2012), toppled the presidencies of Jean-Bertrand Aristide, Manuel Zelaya and Fernando Lugo, respectively, and were performed by judicial means rather than military coups. Considered “soft” coups, these interventions replaced democratically-elected presidents with puppets serving the interests of the U.S. empire.
The 2016 coup in Brazil follows the prototype: lawfare instead of warfare. Philosopher Euclides Mance analyzes in detail this change in strategy of the American capitalist empire in his book The Coup – BRICS, Dollar and Oil. Full text available here .
Mance opens the book with two quotes about U.S. involvement in the 2016 media-sponsored parliamentary coup. The first is from the global articulator of the Students for Liberty (SFL) organization, Alexander McCobin, showing how this group, renamed “Estudantes pela Liberdade” in Brazil (who were also the initiators of Movimento Brasil Livre movement), worked across the continent to mobilize middle class youth in ousting the President-elect and achieving the privatization of Petrobrás.
The second opens with the title: “The Brazilian President of BRICS, next target of Washington.” Mance quotes an American journalist: “The reason Washington wants to get rid of Rousseff is clear. As President, she is one of five BRICS leaders who signed the formation of the BRICS Development Bank with a $100 billion capitalization and a reserve currency coalition worth an additional $100 billion. It also supports a new International Reserve Currency to supplement and eventually replace the dollar (as international currency). (…) Brazil is also distancing itself from the Anglo-American domination of the exploitation of its oil and gas.”
These and other proof of interventionist action by agents of the U.S. empire in Brazil suggest the need to evaluate the probable positioning of the empire in the 2018 elections process.
An article from Brasil Wire quotes journalist James Brooke, who wrote, in the New York Times (July 1993), the article “A Soldier Who Became Political Wants to return Brazil to the military domain.” The ex-soldier was Bolsonaro. While many comprehend the significant role the U.S. played in the coup of 1964, new documents released by the U.S. government show that the Brazilian military and the U.S. government had plans to carry out another coup in 1989, in case the result of the presidential election was inconsistent with U.S. financial and geopolitical interests. Nothing prevents the U.S. from colluding now to avoid seeing a Brazilian president who cancels the petroleum auctions, puts the Pre-Salt oil deposits in the hands of a fully State-controlled Petrobras, reverses the sales of refineries and other subsidiaries, prevents the privatization of Eletrobrás and the sale of Embraer to Boeing, defends Brazilian minerals, promotes redistributive tax reform and Social Security reform, promotes auditing and renegotiation of the public debt, and imposes limits on the remittance of profits and dividends. In other words, candidates like Haddad.
If Haddad’s trend continues, his victory in the second round will give the federal government back to PT. If the winner is Bolsonaro, Brazil will be turned over to the right-wing military, and an age of darkness will once again subsume this country.
Scenario 1 – Haddad and Bolsonaro move to the second round. The Right divides: most of them pass their votes to Bolsonaro, and a minority rejects Bolsonaro to vote for Haddad. But most voters of Gomes and Boulos, and a large portion from Marina and Alckmin, migrate their votes to Haddad. Something similar could happen if Gomes becomes the candidate with the best chance of beating Bolsonaro. Worried about the likely victory of the PT (or PDT) in the second round, the extreme Right articulates a possible military coup.
a) The national and global political environment is not conducive to a military coup. But it is not impossible for the far-Right to mount actions to justify it. There is suspicion that the stabbing of Bolsonaro in early September may have been one of those actions. Other terrorist actions may be launched. If these actions are avenged, a military coup would go from possible to probable. The “hypothesis” of General Mourão, running mate of Bolsonaro, is that a situation of anomie and anarchy would justify a unilateral action of the Army to install a shock of order.
b) The liberal sector of the AS/COA entity is opposed to the coup and insists on maintaining the lawfare strategy and negotiating with those who benefit from a democratic image of Brazil, which after all guarantees the ongoing implementation of neoliberal reforms and protection of U.S. interests in Brazil. Meanwhile, the “hawks” of U.S. foreign policy support a military coup.
c) The far-Right in Brazil and the U.S. hawks prefer that the coup occurs as soon as possible (even before the first round). That’s because it will be very difficult to justify the coup after the possible victory of the Center-Left has been consummated.
Scenario 2 – Bolsonaro wins the first round. The anti-PT group rejoices. Center-Left candidates flock to defeat Bolsonaro in the second round. The far-Right is encouraged to express its violent streak, even though it maintains the “democratic” discourse and works to gain control of the State by the vote. What would it mean if most voters elected an anti-democratic figure and general, both outspokenly in favor of a military coup, ready to violate the Constitution and outlaw democracy? Bolsonaro has insisted that most people want a dictatorship. With the endorsement of voters, he would be in a position to fulfill his nightmare.
Scenario 3 – Haddad (or Gomes) wins the election in the second round.
a) The economic elites, the mainstream media, and the guardians of the U.S. empire will endure an historic defeat. The return of the PT to national politics will be surprising. Police investigations and prosecutions will continue, reaching the (now former) coup president Temer and the gangs that have occupied the federal government since the coup in 2016.
b) Bolsonaro, defeated, can join the generals in a conspiracy to carry out a coup, in accordance with General Mourão’s statement that “we will not accept a PT victory.”
c) If they realize that a military coup is not feasible at this time, they will wait for an auspicious occasion to articulate the coup. In fact, a military candidacy is becoming more likely; there are 71 military candidates for government posts in 2018, and perhaps soon a “military bench” in the legislative bodies will form.
d) For the new president, the greatest challenge will be governance. There is an urgent need to scrutinize the Judiciary, removing judges, prosecutors and High Court Judges, as well as and members of the Public Ministry, whose decisions have damaged current legislation and the Constitution. Even if the new president and his team reconfigure the Judiciary, it is likely that the Legislature will oppose profound changes and insist the new Executive follow the neoliberal agenda. It will count on the support of the mass media, which will continue to present corruption as a normal pathology rather than a systemic vice derived from capitalist ethics.
e) Without a mobilizing action of the population to amend the economic and social disaster of the last 4-5 years, PT or PDT and its allies will not make changes beyond welfare policies.
Scenario 4 – Bolsonaro wins the Presidency. Unless his victory is questioned, it would mean that Brazil will be engulfed in an era of far-Right rule, perhaps similar to Chile’s brutal era of the Pinochet dictatorship (1973-1990), the only way the elites and the U.S. Empire could impose an ultra-Right economic program on the country. Paulo Guedes, Bolsonaro’s economic aide, was also formed by the Chicago University School of Economics, and advocates an ultra-neoliberal reform aimed at privatizing everything and converting the right to live into a mere commodity.
a) Bolsonaro might implement his promises of making a coup-d’état the next day, “killing 30,000” to begin with and imposing a reign of terror for as long as his hegemony remains. In my opinion this is the least likely scenario.
b) Bolsonaro might be called to order by less extremist leaders of the Armed Forces and the U.S. imperial doves, and would try to reshape institutions using the law as his main weapon. His economic counter-reforms – beginning with the total privatization of Petrobrás and the Pre-Salt oil and gas deposits, Eletrobrás, the two largest State banks, and the country’s underground waters – will require strong alliances in Congress and a society under control – whether by intimidation or by violent coercion.
What challenges would this scenario pose to democracy and to the nation’s sovereignty?
It is hoped that the new government learns from both the mistakes and successes of 13 years of PT government, overcomes any populist tendency, re-unites ethics and politics and joins the masses who elect it to create a government with authentic popular participation capable of convincing even opponents that: (1) democracy is much better and more effective than dictatorship; (2) democracy is a holistic project of power, which must encompass the economic, political, cultural and ecological realms; and (3) democracy is like swimming: you only learn by doing.
Present trends point to the victory of the so-called Center-Left bloc. But this bloc will come to power aware that society is divided, with a strong rejection of the old way of doing politics. This is what explains the polarization in these elections. Many people will vote for PSL candidates simply because they see the need for a radical change in how Brazil does politics, and not because they understand what matters most to the agents of current political power: the continuation of the ultra-neoliberal revolution initiated by the coup of 2016. This was the motivation to bar Lula, the PT and its allies in State power. They are seen as hindrances to the project.
The more likely the victory of Haddad and the PT, the more pressured their government will be to commit to the ultra-neoliberal revolution in order to guarantee some governability. If it is not possible to defeat PT, the Right will join them, as they did in 2002, with the goal of co-opting them to govern within the rules of the neoliberal game, even if they have to tolerate some compensatory social policies. This happened when Lula was elected for the first time, and the PT gave in. The name of the project already under way is “Bridge to the Future”. The authors of these pressures, from the ranks of the Right, were those who articulated the coup in 2016 – businessmen and bankers, agribusiness, the mainstream media (Globo and Bandeirantes networks), the Right wing of the Armed Forces and the conservative evangelicals. Along with them, the agents of the American empire: AS/COA, CIA, the Department of Justice of Washington D.C. and the Department of State, whose neoliberal project has a global horizon. AS/COA includes all major U.S.-based transnational corporate groups, including IT, telematics and robotics, petroleum, automotive, chemical, pharmaceutical, food, and armaments production chains. They want to keep the veins of Latin America open, manipulating the sold-out elites, sucking Brazil’s riches like vampires and keeping the continent in a pre-industrial condition.
This set of actors is known as Financial-Industrial-Military Complex. Joined with the conservative elites of Brazil, this bloc initiated with the 2016 coup an ultra-neoliberal “revolution” and they are determined to continue at any price. Will Haddad-Lula-PT allies adhere to it? Or will they be victims of some form of coercion, one that best suits the ultra-neoliberal revolution – a tutored government, murders, terrorist actions in the name of fighting the left, and a military coup? The form doesn’t matter. It is important that this “revolution” guarantees a subordinate role to the “sleeping giant” within the planetary geopolitics of globalized capital, led by the U.S. empire, until some climatic/environmental, financial, social or civilizational megacatastrophe spins the kaleidoscope of history and introduces the Biocene Age. Here, the remnants of humanity may finally realize that they are only one among millions of species of life, whose livelihood must be established in harmony with nature.
In this context, who will the new government serve? And how can the Brazilian people avoid such a political and social disaster?
To avoid accusations of electoral fraud, parties defending democracy, the Brazilian Bar Association (OAB), and other professional and religious bodies should unite to invite outside observers to assist in monitoring the October elections.
To prevent a coup, all parties should engage in the defense of democracy by carrying out marches in the streets in defense of their rights, of policies and institutions that make corruption unfeasible, and of Brazil’s wealth.
Parties and other groups should contact commanders and officials of the three armed forces in order to mobilize them for the defense of representative democracy and the sovereignty of Brazil over its territory, wealth, and culture.
Shows of resistance from the population abound already. The emergence of women in social networks organizing themselves around #EleNão (#nothim) have flooded the streets of Brazil and other countries, demonstrating a strength, integrity and capacity for unity that inaugurates a new era of Brazilian politics. We need a multiplication of alternative communication media, community radio stations, independent media, and progressive bloggers, and the recovery and strengthening of the public radio and TV networks.
Elected president Haddad (or Gomes) should not hesitate to call TV and Radio national networks to dialogue with the people; and they should use other instances of direct democracy, such as plebiscites and referenda, to consult the people on matters of national and strategic interest. It is also urgent to break the information monopoly exercised by Rede Globo and the Marinho family, a monopoly that would be inconceivable according to the legislation of the countries of North America and Europe, countries the Rotten Powers ironically so admire.
Winning the election, Haddad will be harshly tested by a reality shock, which will come with the pressure to concede to the interests of big capital. This occurred in 2002, and the PT gave in. It happened again in 2013, and the PT gave in. Will Haddad’s millions of voters provide him the courage not to give in? The only way to resist will be to patiently build a new social bloc centered on the millions who have chosen him. And this implies a systematic and massive educational and informative work with the majority of workers.
The new government will be nourished by the strategic vision of overcoming all oppression. To ensure the continuity of this transition, people need to be organized and educated for self-management. As a first step, they must focus on the rights and needs of the majority, rescue what’s best in the Constitution and the law, and dismantle everything the coup government did to push Brazil backwards. It must adopt policies capable of establishing Brazil’s majority not in a project of the future but in one of a new present.
It will also be urgent to dialogue with society about a political reform that will dismantle the systems of corruption and debt, and make possible new rules for making Politics (with capital P) that rescue its original sense as the art of managing power for the good of all. May this government have the courage to use the power of the Constitution to punish officers of the three armed forces who transgress their constitutional obligations.
On the subjective level, Haddad will have to deepen his knowledge of and harmony with the working people, including the majority of women, indigenous and quilombola peoples, public employees, educators, and the artists and scientists who remain in Brazil. This harmony will temper Haddad’s heart so that he will be strong enough to resist the pressures and threats of the Rotten Powers and face these challenges, despite the risks, without abandoning the oppressed women, men and children of our rich Brazil.
Translated from Portuguese by Kathy Swart