Tag Archives: Geopolitics

The ‘Soft Coup’ and the Attack on the Brazilian People


In 2016, when former President of Brazil Dilma Rousseff was removed from office, I asked my dad- a New Yorker who religiously reads the morning paper- what he thought about the political situation in Brazil. He had read a New York Times article about the alleged corruption scandal, about the mismanagement of money and how the greedy Workers’ Party had been stealing money from the Brazilian people. Sitting here in the US, this is the image of current Brazilian politics: greed, corruption, mismanagement, and embezzlement of funds. You hear of a leftist administration incapable of governing its people, of the poverty-stricken masses in need of salvation. That is, if you hear anything at all. According to this narrative, the new administration (the Brazilian Democratic Movement or MDB) took over to save the day and save the Brazilian people from government corruption. When Dilma was impeached on August 31, 2016, Temer- then Vice President- took over the Presidency.

Less than two years later, however, Michel Temer of the MDB holds the presidency with just a 5% approval rating. This makes Temer the least popular president in Brazilian history. Since his appointment, Temer has also been accused of corruption scandals, the alleged reason for which former president Rousseff was impeached, and the very reason that he assumed office. Every measure of social wellbeing has plummeted as Temer’s administration has passed sweeping austerity measures and cut funding the social programs implemented by the Workers’ Party that are credited with making Brazil a main power on the global stage, increasing social inclusion in higher education, growing the middle class, and decreasing hunger and homelessness (more on this later). Despite his abysmal approval rating, mass protests, public criticism, and a tanking economy, Temer is still in office. And now, the main leftist candidate, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (also known as Lula), who has consistently led in the polls by wide margins, is in prison serving a 12-year sentence for a legal proceeding that has yet to be concluded.

When we think of coups, most of us imagine an image of the past or, at the very least, a clear and undeniable use of force. Large guns. Military intervention. Blood. The brutal overthrow of an elected government. (Think: Chile in 1973, Honduras in 2009, Argentina in 1976). What has been deemed a ‘soft coup’ in Brazil in 2016 stems from the same motive—the protection of corporate, foreign, and imperialist interests over the interests of the poor and working people and their right to self-determination—but comes wrapped in more palatable packaging that makes it easier to deny the violation of democracy. As Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research discusses in their recent dossier “Lula: The Battle for Democracy in Brazil,” the foreign and national elite used a series of legally sanctioned measures to remove the Workers’ Party from office under the guise of corruption. Though the legal case against former president and current Presidential candidate Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and former President Dilma Rousseff is full of holes (a lack of evidence, unreliable and changing quid-pro-quo testimonies given in exchange for lighter sentences, illegal wiretapping, etc), it allowed the bourgeoise- operating through the Brazilian courts- a means to sentence Lula to prison and remove Dilma from power. Quoting law professor Carlos Lodi, Tricontinental defines lawfare as the ‘process of using the law to produce political results. Opponents are removed by use of the legal system rather than the constitutionally valid electoral process’. This is a major strategy behind Brazil’s ‘soft coup’ and the assault on Brazilian democracy.

During the ongoing legal battle, media giant Globo consistently and frequently produced news stories that validated the unproven corruption allegations against the Workers’ Party and presented a slanted perspective that set the stage for and legitimized the coup. According to scholar Teun A van Dijk, 45 of the 60 main front page headlines in Globo from March and April 2016- the months leading up to Dilma’s impeachment- were about Lula, Dilma, the PT, impeachment, or Dilma’s government. The slandering of the Workers’ Party, despite their vast social advances and the lack of evidence behind the legal claims, is reminiscent of other notable moments in Latin American history. Leading up to the violent overthrow of socialist Chilean president Salvador Allende in 1973, the CIA and other forces colluded to cause economic destabilization and chip away at Allende’s popularity in order to justify his removal from power and Chile’s realignment with the interests of foreign and domestic capital. Under these conditions, it was easier to oppress the masses and divert the social progress that Allende’s government had made. Forty-three years later in Brazil, the Brazilian and foreign bourgeoise- acting through media and legal channels- have sought to detract from the advances against hunger and poverty made by the Workers’ Party and use the alleged corruption scandals to regain power.

What does the right have to gain in arresting the country’s leading Presidential candidate, arguably one of the most popular historical figured in Brazilian history? What threat do Lula and the Workers’ Party represent to the Brazilian elite? The Workers’ Party dared to reclaim Brazil’s natural resources—mainly the pre-salt oil reserve—and invest it in the public good, rather than for the profit of the elite. During the thirteen years of the Workers’ Party administrations, from Lula’s election in 2002 to the ‘soft coup’ in 2016, the country experienced enormous gains in measures of social well-being. Under Lula, Brazil’s GDP increased by 20%, bringing the country from the 15th largest in 2002 to the 6th largest economy in the world by 2013. This gain was felt by Brazil’s poor and middle class and its most marginalized communities, with the per capita income increasing from $2,500 to $11,000 during the same period. Programs such as Bolsa Familia and Minha Casa, Minha Vida lifted 22 million people out of poverty, provided 2.6 million housing unit to 10 million low-income people, and halved the rate of extreme poverty. Not only did the number of public universities increase during this period (from 45 universities with 148 campuses in 2002 to 65 universities with 327 campuses in 2015), but scholarships and quotas also increased for marginalized black and indigenous communities, resulting in a 286% increase in afro-Brazilians attending institutes of higher education. The list goes on.

In a clear realignment away from a people’s agenda and towards the protection of capital interests and the status quo, since the coup in 2016 Temer’s administration has frozen investment in areas such as health and education for the next 20 years. As a result, unemployment rates, hunger, poverty, and infant mortality have already worsened, with infant mortality rates increasing for the first time in 13 years (for more on the impact of Temer’s austerity measures, read this study). In the words of Frente Brasil Popular in their Declaration to the Brazilian People,“They do not merely want to arrest Lula. They want to arrest the causes that he represents and defends: social inclusion and the promotion of the rights of the people, notably women, children, blacks, indigenous people, the LGBT population, people with special needs; the provision of living wages and the generation of jobs; support for small and medium-sized enterprises, family farming and agrarian reform; the defense of national sovereignty and the construction of a more equal and fairer country.”

Despite Lula’s popularity, his and his party’s undeniable success in improving social conditions in Brazil, and the oversights and legal breaches in the case against him, on April 5, 2018 Judge Sergio Moro denied a habeas corpus petition and demanded that Lula report to jail by 5pm the next day. Lula declared that he would turn himself in to jail to prove his innocence. Before turning himself in, Lula spoke to his supporters: “They don’t understand that there is no point in arresting me, because there are thousands and thousands of Lulas. There is no point in trying to end my ideas, they are already lingering in the air and you can’t arrest them…  They have to know that the death of a fighter cannot stop the revolution.”

To the Brazilian and foreign elite, impeaching Dilma and jailing Lula could represent a turn in the country’s investments (as we have seen with Temer’s subsequent austerity measures and labor reforms), an opening of Brazil’s resources to foreign investment and profits, and a realignment with a neoliberal agenda that places profits over people. The country has reacted with widespread protests, with Lula surrendering to Judge Moro’s prison mandate on the shoulders of thousands of Brazilian people. What will happen in the upcoming October election remains to be seen, with Lula still in prison and the people’s movements refusing the legitimize the soft coup, masked by questionable corruption allegations.

Celina Stien-della Croce is the Coordinator of Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research.

Why the current strategy by the West cannot win

Having studied World War II in depth and reflected on the difference between those times and these, I have come to some preliminary conclusions. What were the characteristics of those times that made that victory inevitable and what are the characteristics of these times that make the ‘failures’ inevitable up to this point and how can we swing the battle, as it were, in our favour?

The rise of Adolf Hitler was not democratic, unlike the elections of these times. He did however, bring about a kind of national unity after coming to power. Until May 1940, the Great Britain was not united but going through the dark days from September 1939 and then through the Battle of Britain in 1940 had the effect of uniting the whole country overwhelmingly behind the war effort. There was no alternative.

There was intensive lobbying by the Churchill government of unity of the U.S. to back their war effort against the Axis Powers, with resistance at first, but it was only after Pearl Harbor in December 1941 that the U.S. came on board fully. The tactics of Total War were used to the full, including a possible allowing of the Japanese to carry out the attack on Pearl Harbor, despite knowing beforehand that it was coming, precisely in order to bring the wider U.S. population onside. The techniques of information warfare were employed to the maximum because the possibility of an Allied defeat was unthinkable and untenable. Some of these techniques were perhaps of dubious ethical standards or, in hindsight, even advisable. I am thinking here of the bombing offensive against Germany, the betrayal of Norway.

Techniques of deception were used very cunningly and very successfully. However, towards the end of the war, it became clear to Churchill and broadly speaking to the Americans that the post-war situation would be a face-off between the western allies and the Soviet Union. The same techniques of deception, intervention in the media, in elections and economic warfare were used extensively against the perceived foe, the communist threat, usually equated with any left-wing or progressive government.

It was here that the West lost its way. Without the truth on their side, these techniques were used to oppress rather than to liberate, even though the people employing them were the same. With this, the positive effect of having whole populations behind the war effort was no longer active, and those populations became the target of those techniques, of Cointelpro, of Operation Mockingbird, of the almost total surveillance, monitoring and manipulation of the populations by avoiding talking about the truth, covering up the truth, of pushing lies, with the belief that they continued to be in the right, but which ceased to be true from about 1945.

With the political climate tending to go against state intervention in foreign conflicts, the response from the private sector has been, let us take over where the state is unable, for whatever reason, to intervene, whether that is private military or intelligence contractors. But that does not address the real legal and political questions of our time, of rights to truth and justice.

Once the field of truth had been abandoned, unity ceased to prevail, and increasingly desperate efforts and sense of unease leave the feeling of running into a swamp and of being bogged down, without that compass to steer towards a clear objective, trying to repeat the early success, using the same tactics and techniques endlessly. Unity has become a battlefield rather than of de facto existence. With that, the lies of having moral certitude pushed as ‘right’ have become increasingly ridiculous and are demonstrated every day both in the media and ordinary life.

There can be no successful satisfactory outcome without that unity or truth. The divisions and heated arguments within our societies are evidence of our disunity and lack of truth. The current engagements by the West in Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Syria cannot be won as long as the preferred methods of deception and lies are held to, however useful or right they may have been until 73 years ago.

The strategy used by the United States, the United Kingdom and many other countries is of soft power, of low-intensity warfare, because it worked during World War II. It has long ceased to be effective in solving problems and has become a liability and has to be dropped. It may work in the short term, but it can never work in the long term.

Current events are actually like growing pains

My apologies to the anti-Trumpistas and their similar equivalents in the various countries and regions, but please bear with me. One of problems has been the holding to fixed positions of what is best for us or for others, that we must be like this or that, we have to achieve this or that, although we are holding to an idea of something that is at best temporary, and it is urgent that we understand this and the perceptions of scale that are involved.

Taking a look at what is going on and the affect on people, I am drawn to the conclusion that we have misunderstood these difficult times, bemoaning the lack of resources, the withdrawal of so called rights, the lack of insight of this or that person, this or that group and so forth. There is an emerging pattern however.

As a wise man once said, opposition makes you stronger. However, it is worth reflecting that, although those opposing us are in fact helping us to grow stronger, that our opposition of another or others also makes that something or someone stronger, which may be an idea, a group, say the much vaunted elite, the cabal, the concept of the other, ‘them’.

The way I use it is that I see no point in opposing something that will be inevitable, and of course the question arises, what is not inevitable, what can be the positive influence brought to bear that will either bring about a learning situation or favour an outcome.

This was made apparent to me when I started my blog to raise awareness of the situation in Brazil as Dilma was being manoeuvred out of power. In a brash move, I repeated a phrase that was current at the time, “Não vai ter golpe’, or ‘There will be no coup’. However, events proved me wrong, but if one looks back at it and the stages of life and learning, one can see it as a process, and stop being attached to a preconceived idea of what should happen or what one must do.

There are benefits to be had from what we have taken as ‘bad’ and learning from what we have taken to be ‘good’. We have seen esteemed institutions and people being exposed as other than we thought, we have all felt disillusion at this or that. For myself, speaking personally about what I have felt and not about those I am speaking of, this has been the lack of fulfilment of the promises of Obama, the U.S. Supreme Court, the BBC, the apparent success of the bringing down of Dilma in Brazil, the exposure of widespread corruption in Brazil, and others. We are being forced to take a long hard look at our values.

However, disappointment in anything is the lack of fulfilment of an expectation that we have, and nothing more than that. It is not a reflection, necessarily in those people or institutions. That can only be ascertained after questioning, acceptance and only then deciding on how to approach something.

What we have seen is that people do not value something they have until they lose it, whether that be rights, privileges, gifts. Nor have we paid sufficient attention to that which is held to be good and already in place. We learn to value democracy when we thought it to be challenged. Was America great or any less great than before? Was it because we thought it was or it wasn’t? I suggest the answer is all of the above and none of the above, for various reasons and in different circumstances. Is he UK really united? I think these are good and useful questions to consider.

Trump is acting as a mirror for us, and to the extent that he provokes horror or a certain hope that this is for the better, we should take a more careful look at what we see and why we see it. He is showing buffoonery and dishonesty, using words that do reflect what we are like. He is like the medieval court jester, entertaining the king, but the court is also spellbound, but when those who are unable to bear what they see speak out against it, it is not that they are completely wrong, rather that the situation is so terrible that it must change, eventually finding some equilibrium and harmony.

The question of Brexit has been bothering me ever since it became obvious to some people that the bureaucracy was having a detrimental effect on the conducting of business in the broadest sense of the word, in my case about twenty years ago. However, the idea of being included in something with international scope will inevitably bring up complicated issues for many people, involving us in change, which can be uncomfortable and having to re-assess what we had taken to be true or ´right` and so forth.

I briefly celebrated the referendum decision, saying to myself or others that we, the Brits, have given the blighters a bloody nose, which we did, but a lot of people felt hurt or shocked by that result, and now we have to grow up and actually settle this like civilised people, if we are able, rather than on the school playground. Resentment is not a good basis for making decisions, although some people must see the reasons that brought the situation about.

We are in a learning situation, for the Brits that like it or not, we have a role to play in the world, for the Europeans that we have legitimate concerns, for the neoliberals and overly wealthy, that things must and will change into a more beneficially distributed system of doing things, for the anti-neoliberals, that the crystallised forms of thinking about national or class issues no longer work, for the Trumpistas, that America already is great, so why not learn that there is a whole other world out of real, actual people out there beyond the U.S. borders, for the anti-Trumpistas, that opposing something because it comes in the guise of your pet dislikes or hates does not mean that your knee-jerk reactions to it are correct or properly thought out.

On the question of national sovereignty, it is sobering to reflect that there is a kind of sovereignty already, that the Brits have the kind of government and balanced Parliament that reflects the current situation, and similarly for the U.S. and Brazil, leading us to recognise our crystallised way of thinking.

Impossible or unsustainable situations must be differentiated from the unthought of possibility that something has happened, is happening or will happen. These are often confused and although sometimes it is distasteful, we do not recognise good food unless we have known what bad food is like or its effects on us.

After I wrote this piece, I found this video by Scott Adams, the creator of Dilbert, which echoes my thoughts.


Lula, Brasil, e o Mundo


Foto: Francisco Proner

Lula liderou o mais bem sucedido projeto de redistribuição econômica democrática que o mundo moderno tem visto, mas foi condenado pelo Tribunal Superior Federal, em total descordo com a Constituição que essa Corte está encarregada de manter ou qualquer conceito de justiça natural. Por quê? Bem, qualquer um que procure entender o assunto com profundidade chega a conclusão que a condenação está relacionado com dinheiro, que aqueles que manipulam as pessoas através do dinheiro e mentiras fundamentadas nas emoções, sobre limpar a corrupção e semelhante, não querem abrir mão de ferramentas tão poderosas que lhes serviram tão bem durante os últimos quinhentos anos, seja na Europa, os Estados Unidos ou Brasil.

O problema é que as pessoas que utilizam essas ferramentas não estão preocupadas com a Verdade. Porque deveriam? Parecem funcionar muito bem. Mas, como um amigo me falou ontem, tudo mundo sabe que estão mentindo, as próprias pessoas, a mídia, os juízes, as cabeças atrás do golpe, o povo todo, tudo mundo sabe.

Uma intervenção militar foi imposta na cidade do Rio de Janeiro num esforço de manipular o eleitorado que tem talvez agora a sensação, enfim, de segurança.

Infelizmente, ninguém falou com os Russos, para os assassinos da Marielle Franco, a vereadora de esquerda, que havia acabado de ser indicada para supervisionar a intervenção militar pelo e para a cidade, e de repente os olhos do mundo voltados para o Brasil, porém a ideia não deu muito certo.

Logo em seguida, Michel Temer, o Presidente atual, anunciou sua intenção de se candidatar à Presidência na eleição de outubro. De acordo com as pesquisas de opinião Temer tem em torno de três por cento das intenções de voto, mas estão dizendo por aí que ele implementou a medida esperando que a intervenção militar pudesse aumentar sua popularidade suficientemente para ele ganhar.

O problema é que os neocons da direita não têm um candidato que esteja palatável com a população, e que o único no país com qualquer chance de ganhar acabou de ser preso sob acusações falsas e sem provas.

Quando declaram Lula sem idoneidade para se candidatar pela Presidência, que com certeza vai acontecer, independentemente de qualquer base jurídica, a pessoa que ele indicar como seu candidato preferido tem uma boa chance de ganhar. Mas isso reverteria o processo inteiro do golpe e a venda de bens públicos, uma vez que os neocons, em Washington, Londres e Brasília, que não tiveram resposta democrática aos sucessos econômicos e sociais dos governos Lula/Dilma.

Assim estão numa saia justa, sem margem de manobra, e todo mundo está esperando para os eventos que estão se desdobrando ante dos nossos olhos.

Impeachment – This Too Shall Pass

Even though the impeachment of Dilma has temporarily come to a reality, this cannot last. The situation, both in Brazil and in the wider world, is unsustainable. The Vice-President of Brazil stepping in has a very low degree of support within the country, and this will become increasingly evident in the coming days.

This absence of a any foundation for the stand-in government is not just political, it is also economic. The Vice-President’s economic policy rests on cutting back social policies that bring the less well-off into the mainstream of society, and cutting back on employment related benefits, in favour of the large industry organisations that helped organise and finance the coup.

This short-termist point of view, seeking gain for themselves to the detriment of others has to and will backfire, because it is against the laws of the Universe. When we fail to recognise others as similar to ourselves, as human beings, we really are acting against our own best interests, but it does inevitably take time for us to realise this.

But, there is no free lunch, however much anyone says or believes to the contrary.

The capitalist position is that money must rule or dominate the discussion, and this one has dominated the world stage ever since Margaret Thatcher took power in 1979. Just as there have been Marxist dictatorships in the east, so we are now under capitalist ones in the west.

The Marxist position is that labour must revolt because the capital will never cede its position.

Both these positions are to say the least, narrow-minded, each being blindly opposed to the other and not ceding their own point of view.

The true facts are that we are in this together and have to negotiate. The two sides have to get around the table and communicate. The situation illustrated in Brazil is that labour is being denied the right to be represented in government, because their position is that money should rule, that they should not support  government through paying taxes because the money is theirs, and that they have the right to take power.

But none of these governments with illegitimacy last, because eventually they realise that things are not working as they expected. Democracy is ultimately about sharing power, not taking it simply because you are unable to understand how the other feels. So neither the coup by force nor the revolution of the proletariat can work and last or be sustained.

In a coup of the right or revolution of the left, neither of these sides is recognising the existence of the right of the State to exist, a State which can hold the balance between the two sides. Once the two sides recognise that, a degree of harmony can be reached that is beneficial to all parties.

I am encouraged by the fact that the wider world is looking on with a certain degree of objectivity, seeing what is really happening and even outlets that can be let us say attached to or identified with a monetarist position, such as the weekly magazine The Economist, can see the absence of what we have come to expect from a democratic liberal state, the rule of law.

A story comes to mind that is useful in such situations.

A powerful king, ruler of many domains, was in a position of such magnificence that wise men were his mere employees. And yet one day he felt himself confused and called the sages to him. He said, “I do not know the cause, but something impels me to seek a certain ring, one that will enable me to stabilize my state. I must have such a ring. And this ring must be one which, when I am unhappy, will make me joyful. At the same time, if I am happy and look upon it, I must be made sad.”

The wise men consulted one another, and threw themselves into deep contemplation, and finally they came to a decision as to the character of this ring which would suit their king.

The ring which they had devised was one upon which was inscribed the legend:


A Saída para Brasil, e para nós

O Brasil está amordaçado ou bloqueado por um grupo que busca dar um golpe contra a democracia. Se estas pessoas que conspiram a favor do golpe dissessem realmente a verdade do que se encontra por trás de tudo isso, inclusive suas relações promíscuas com a imprensa, grupos estrangeiros e empresários locais, de acordo com a legislação brasileira, eles ficariam presos por muitos anos. Cometeram diversos crimes contra a economia e conspiram abertamente contra um governo eleito de forma democrática. Creio que a única chance destas pessoas seria de dar uma anistia contando abertamente a toda a verdade, do que realmente for dito atrás das portas fechadas.

Eles já tem as rédias de diversos poderes da república, tendo inclusive em suas mãos muitas das alavancas destes e querem tomar o resto para se salvarem, até da própria liberdade. Eles estão reagindo com animais selvagens na sua própria defesa, muito compreensivelmente, embora que suas manipulações aparecem muito grotescas para uma pessoa olhando de fora, como na votação no Congresso para a impeachment da Presidenta eleita democraticamente, Dilma Rousseff.

Outros exemplos desse desespero são a discussão na coluna de cartas dos leitores do jornal, The Guardian, sobre o em regimes da mídia oligopólio no Brasil, e do anúncio da condenação de José Dirceu pela operação Lava Jato antes mesmo da defesa ser ouvida. Era essa operação que levou a esse confronto entre o governo e um complô que busca derrubar o governo. Os golpistas estão mostrando cada vez mais desespero ao perceberem que eles terão seus privilégios contrariados caso a verdade e a democracia prevaleçam.

A saída para o Brasil ou qualquer país que está passando por uma situação similar, por exemplo o Reino Unido e os Estados Unidos, é a criação de uma Comissão Cidadã da Verdade, ou seja, uma comissão legitimamente instituída, com ampla participação de todos os setores da sociedade, especialmente da opinião pública, no sentido de fazer um acordo com os supostos envolvidos, ou seja, “nos digam a verdade e ganhem a liberdade”. Teriam que abrir publicamente suas contas bancárias, onde quer que se encontrem, devolvendo aos cofres públicos o dinheiro obtido a partir de atividades ilícitas.

Dizer que existe um Estado de Direito democrático em regimes nos Estados Unidos, no Reino Unido e no Brasil não é verdade mais. Se parar para pensar por cinco minutos verá isto como um fato. Quem está no poder tem antes de mais nada um primeiro objetivo : fazer tudo o que seja possível para encobrir qualquer ato ilícito. Partido desse pressuposto, só nós podemos pará-los através do que propus acima. Não tem mistério. É uma questão de bom senso. É só aplicar.

BRICS Under Attack: The Empire Strikes Back In Brazil

By Eric Draitser