Why the programme of the Brazilian Worker’s Party gets up the noses of the status quo

What has the Brazilian Worker’s Party done or promise to do that gets up so many people’s noses? The answer is both simple and complex. The simple answer is that they wish to change the way things have been done here ever since Brazil was colonised by the Portuguese over 500 years ago.

The Portuguese colonists established a system of royal patronage of appointed positions and revenue earning from such positions that survives more or less intact to this day. Families who have land or assets resulting from such privilege naturally are loath to give up such benefits that derive from their inherited positions.

The Worker’s Party was largely organised by middle-class student and teacher, artists and intellectual activists who were essential in getting the party legalised under the then military dictatorship. Once they got into power with the election of Lula, but especially during the first and the current term of his successor, Dilma Rousseff, these people became in large part disillusioned and the middle-class were neglected or overly suffered the burden of government policy.

When the investigations into the Lava Jato operation meant that Petrobras and several large engineering contractors had their funds for current or future projects blocked, the country stalled economically, hurting bastions of the stability and growth and job generation that had been a continuous part of the national economy since Lula was able to invest in many infra-structure projects both in Brazil and in Africa, for example.

Brazilian law requires that a good percentage of such projects be carried out by Brazilian companies, and it is with an eye to these contracts and markets that the U.S. is now pushing for the removal of this President and her party from government.

With support for their “free market” policies already on hand in Congress, should impeachment go ahead, many of these markets would be opened up to U.S. companies.

Opposition politician José Serra of the PSDB has already promised the Chevron oil company that he will back deregulation of the Brazilian oil fields, should he achieve suitable power. He has already introduced bills to Congress to that effect, but if President Dilma is impeached, forces against the current government see the way clear to opening up markets to U.S. friendly corporate and diplomatic policies. If impeachment is successful, her nominated successor and Vice President Michel Temer, has already alluded that there will be a return to market-friendly corporate policies.

Once the economy faltered with the anti-corruption investigations restricting investment, with the loss of many jobs for engineers, managers, accountants and economists, it was a relatively easy task to turn the climate of opinion against the government by heavy-handed use of selective reporting of scandals, launching opinion as fact in such large and repeated quantities, that many middle-class people now believe such accusations as the truth.

The fact that many of these schemes have been operating since at least the 1990’s are largely ignored by the mass media, when the government of Fernando Henrique Cardoso was in power, privatising many lucrative state industries in the name of good management.

This is the policy that those already manoeuvring for power openly seek, and which the backers of the current government are trying to avoid. The costs of dividing society along lines of material wealth are heavy, although the numbers actually wanting that to happen are turning in favour of the Dilma government. Internet activists and bloggers have rallied behind the pro-democracy cause, counteracting the social media campaign that brought millions of the disaffected middle-classes into the streets to call for her impeachment. However, Brazil will have to mobilise if it is to turn the tide to counteract the negative influence that is currently appearing to be winning.

Even if Dilma is able to hold onto power, the problems she will face of governability and the questions of how to bring the Judiciary, the legislature and media under control remain. If this painful process of truthfulness, looking into the mirror and seeing the reflection as not being a pretty one, this could be the step needed for the country to finally make the reforms necessary a reality, only time will tell.

Brazil and BRICS – Geopolitics and the wider picture

Ever since Luis Ignacio Lula da Silva, the ex-President of Brazil, won power in 2002, the foreign policy of this once slumbering giant changed the face of global geopolitics.

The battle for the impeachment of the current President, his chosen successor, Dilma Rousseff, is also about attempting to reverse this policy.

Lula’s foreign policy was to strengthen ties with neighbours in Latin America, and to forge strong ties with the BRICS countries, Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. This has created a much stronger more active Mercosur, the Southern Common Market. President Lula’s and Dilma’s foreign policy has led to the admission of Venezuela, soon to be followed by Bolivia, with associate countries Chile, Peru, Colombia, Ecuador and Suriname.

Perhaps more importantly, in terms of the global balance of power, is the co-operation between Russia, China and Brazil, who have formed the backbone of an alliance that unseats the Washington Consensus as the basis of international politics.

An  agreement in 2015 set up an alternative international bank of finance to the World bank, the New Development Bank, which members and other emerging or developing countries may apply to for funding of infra-structure and sustainable development projects, thus sidestepping the World Bank-I.M.F. monopoly of international finance. Together with the weight of India, this has become a viable multi-polar alternative to the unipolar imbalance that the U.S. has held since the fall of the Soviet Union.

Thus China is able to obtain the raw materials it badly lacks in its domestic production, such as oil and gas from Russia, minerals and food from Brazil. In exchange, China invests in infra-structure projects, such as the rail link between Russia and China, the trans-continental rail link from the Brazilian eastern Atlantic seaboard to the Pacific and the second Panama Canal, bypassing the U.S. hegemony of the first canal.

These agreements and trade deals have outplayed the U.S. at their own game, who are more used to getting their way through the C.I.A. interference in national and regional interests, than by sitting down to negotiate. They prefer pressure tactics to negotiating. Latin America learned the hard way that assassinations, coups, torture and manipulation of the media through U.S. trained and placed editors of newspapers and media outlets was not the way forward. With their independently minded view, the U.S. has reacted strongly to defame it.

The discovery of the first mega-oil field off the coast of Brazil since the North Sea in the 1970’s, called the pre-salt because it is buried in ultra-deep waters beneath a layer of salt deposits, means that Brazil has become a strategic player and target because of this. Just as Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan became targets of the oil industry and so-called U.S. interests, supposedly of terrorism, so has Brazil become the target of a campaign to unseat the progressive Worker’s Party government, which holds a state controlled oil industry giant, and which has refused to conform to the U.S. calls for a deregulated oil industry.

This has led to renewed interest by the U.S.A. in the Latin American region, which had been receiving less attention after the invasions into Afghanistan and Iraq. The Fourth U.S. Navy Fleet was reformed after many years of being disbanded, when the U.S. had its military dictatorships in place, who would do their bidding with no arguments. More recently, more independently minded governments have been elected who do not always agree with or cede to what the U.S. wishes. The free-trade zone of the Americas, ALCA, is a prime example, which was roundly rejected by Latin America. Presidents Kirchner in Argentina and Lula in Brazil, have strengthened the Mercosur economic community and implemented policies to lift the poor out of poverty and distribute wealth. This has not sat well with the traditional elites or the ruling neo-liberals in the U.S. who are more used to compliant southern neighbours, implementing corporation friendly policies.

In Argentina, Cristina Kirchner had managed to implement the Ley dos Medios, or Media Law, regulating the media industry. There was a big outcry that this was to limit freedom of the press, led by Clarin who would have to share their qausi-monopoly in the diversified media market. There are calls for the same to be implemented in Brazil where the Globo private domination of 16.2% of the print media , 56% of broadcast TV and 44% of the paid TV market. These media outlets have been leading players in the calls for corporation friendly governments and have called unfair when regulation is discussed. That, with other associated reasons as outlined in this series of articles, is why the coup against Dilma has been launched.

Brazil, although not alone in this, has been targeted by forces not wishing that their domination be challenged, hence the move for impeachment.

Lessons from the Mensalão scandal

The Mensalão or Big Monthly Pay-off scandal rocked the first Lula government in 2005, just as the campaign for his re-election was starting. It began with the denunciation by one of the party leaders within the government coalition, but not of Lula’s Worker’s party, that many members of the Congress in that coalition were receiving large payouts to vote through legislation. In exchange for support of the government, this party was given the freedom to place their men in positions within the Post Office in posts of trust.

To go back to an earlier point in the story, Lula had swept to power in 2002, to change the face of Brazil from one of feudalism into the great nation that it was destined to be. That was his and his party’s vision, and was the mandate he received at the ballot box, but this was to cause great opposition, which is why these scandals are surfacing now.

However, the key players in this scandal, not the ones who were vilified by the media, had been put in their respective positions in the previous government, which was a conventional neo-liberal monetarist one, privatising many of the huge key industries for multi-billion sums and generating many new billionaires. The scandals of this previous government in fact only came to light after it had left office, and have largely been untouched by either the Judiciary or the traditional mass media.

In fact, the video that caused a huge outcry that soon followed the first denunciation, showing the supposed paying out of large sums of cash by an ex-official of the Brazilian Post Office to two businessmen stuffing it into their underpants, was false. It was in fact made by the lawyer of the ex-Post Office executive in order to pressure for payment.

These  and other media outcry tactics led to convictions of 25 of the 40 defendants, despite the lack of concrete evidence on the concocted charges. However, the mass media continue to push the message that these convictions were part of a pattern of corruption of that government, which both the media and elements of the Judiciary wished to see ended and replaced. As the Americans say, the elephant in the room is that there was no evidence. Only the bloggers and a handful of journalists actually tell the truth, with the rest prancing about like the emperor with no clothes.

There has been a consistent pattern during the Mensalão episode, the Lava Jato operation and the whole impeachment effort, of distortion of the truth, of a coordinated campaign by the mass media, elements of the Judiciary and a targeted social media campaign to implicate the PT and Lula at any cost. The desperation to find evidence has become obvious to many people now, of judicial abuse of power, of media bias against the truth, a media which is controlled by five or nine families, depending on the breadth of scope of inquiry.

This mass media has a vested interest in defeating democracy, because they control an oversize proportion of revenue and of opinion-forming capacity, and a less democratic government would enable exchange of favours as they have always been used here, as well as Globo, the largest of these media organisations being investigated for tax evasion through tax havens and offshore companies in the Panama leaks, to give but one example. This information is only available through the bloggers, who are hounded and persecuted judicially, and can be censored in this manner, because the truth is ugly, from the point of view of the mass media at least. These few families receive a large amount of advertising revenue from government and public companies which they are not anxious to lose or share out, much less lose that power of influence over opinion-forming, which is a powerful mixture, and the reality is that it has gone to their heads.

Just as in the impeachment farce, the mensalão convictions were obtained through lies uttered by Supreme Court Judges and the Chief Prosecutor, that there was in this case illicit use of public funds from the Chamber of Deputies and from the Banco do Brasil for use by the PT. These have been shown by various official reports and by documents from Banco do Brasil to have been all perfectly legal, and was a regular bank loan taken out to finance the Party`s election campaign, but the lie that was propagated was preferred, because it served the purpose of dirtying the image of the PT and of Lula.

One can conclude from examination of the evidence and the facts that, at best, the Judiciary, the Prosecutor and Judges were negligent with the truth, which would lead one to expect that for Justice to be done, this would be admitted and corrected. But that is not so. Not one of these people have come forward to express even a doubt about the conclusion, from which we have to conclude that these people choose to believe in the correctness of their conclusions, and are therefore fully responsible for having chosen sides already, not with the truth, but in accordance with a pattern that has repeated itself in the Lava Jato operation and the effort for impeachment of the President.

So consistent is the bias, that we are obliged to conclude that this is by choice. The characters involved have shown by their conduct and absence of backing of their words that they are not concerned with ascertaining the truth, but prefer to convict on the basis of concoctions of untruths. Such blindness or bias, gives Justice a bad name.

One of the key persons and witness in this circumstance fled to Italy to avoid persecution, but was successfully extradited back to Brazil in October 2015. This, of course, is very embarrassing to Brazilian Justice, when justice has neither been served or seen, when the only hope is that the country wakes up and rectifies such patterns of injustice.

The question remains, if that consistent pattern of injustice, repeated and criticised by legal experts in Brazil in the handling of the Lava Jato “scandal”, who is behind it and what is there to be gained or lost by such handling?

The Lessons of Operation Lava Jato

This operation to investigate a money laundering case was officially launched in March 2014, and within a week reached the preventive detention of a procurement director of Petrobras, the Brazilian state oil company. The operation is still ongoing and has resulted in many convictions and many more preventive detentions, with suspects being involved from large state and private companies, and many politicians from a wide variety of government and opposition parties.

The result has been a wave of popular outcry and highly emotional accusations being raised by the established media and corporation backed opposition groups against the government and the Worker’s Party, leading to widespread cynicism about politicians of all colours.

A few cooler heads have likened the situation to the Mani Pulite (Clean Hands) operation in Italy, where the Judiciary mounted a similar operation to this one in Brazil, successfully convicting many leading politicians, including former Prime Ministers. The effect was to change the face of Italian politics drastically, with the two leading parties that had alternatively shared power over the last 45 years being reduced to very minor players. However, in the aftermath, the leading judge, who had meanwhile enjoyed huge popularity, himself entered politics and was eventually accused of corruption, facing disgrace, with the allegation that the new Prime Minister, Silvio Berluscone, based in Milan which was the centre of the scandal, owner of one of the leading Milan football clubs and a dominant media holding, being said to have brought this about.

The aftermath of all this judiciary operation was only that corruption became more sophisticated, remaining endemic in Italian society. I conclude from this that corruption can not be cleaned up by any one single branch of the state, in this case the judiciary, but requires all three, the executive, the legislature and the judiciary to be fully involved in reform. Society learns from these examples, and the failure of Italian society in this case, means that no country has to repeat the same lesson, or rather that once any society sees this being repeated in their own situation, that they can then apply that lesson and make the appropriate adjustments. This is the great hope for the Brazilian situation, that the Brazilians, who are engaged on a massive and widespread scale, will realise this and organise to cancel out this negative element.

The positive side-effect of the military dictatorship in Brazil, was the organisation of civil society, based on the already widespread movement that included the Catholic Church pastoral movement, the literacy and the land reform movements, was that the resistance movement against the repression was successful, but of which the Worker’s Party was only the most high profile component. I consider this to have been the downfall of this party, who considered itself to be the sole component. The result was that this party neglected the other important elements in the recipe, which was the middle-class, one key element of its very own support base. This was evident in the campaign carried out by civil society for direct voting of the President in a mass organisation of public support. With the establishment media actively siding against this campaign, the country was successfully able make the Constitution a legal basis for direct elections of the executive power. All this took place before the internet was available, and this is important, because the Brazilian people learned the value of democracy through actively building it.

The value of the educated classes cannot be underestimated in carrying the torch of human enlightenment forward through the generations. The very success of the Brazilian poverty eradication programme implemented by the Lula government, was to considerably broaden the middle-class, with new layers of families being included in the university educated categories. However, the government did not realise that its economic policies were also strangling the growth it had sought and successfully implemented. In fact, the balance of the national accounts austerity cuts and high indirect taxes on the middle-class, through education fees and costs, health costs not covered by the problematic public health system, transport, in part, led to the shrivelling of the very basis of the Brazilian success

That is why the Brazilian case is so important to watch. The middle classes have turned against the previously popular government. In my assessment, this is partially quite justified, but the elements involved still have to be weighed and judged, because there are other factors in the mix that are not yet fully appreciated. I believe that the weight of the media bias in reporting issues, such as these corruption cases, and reporting or lack  of it, of successes and failures, is one of these.

There have been cases of tax avoidance, including by the Globo media empire, that amount to billions of dollars. Of course, Globo does not advertise this fact, but the blogosphere does. There is a loosely knit network of journalists and bloggers who publish, organise and discuss these questions. When the documents proving the Globo tax scheme came to light, they organised 30 bloggers to publish at the same time, so that no one person or site could be targeted successfully and eliminated from the picture. This is a tactic that was learned by resistance movement during the dictatorship, when trust was a matter of life and death. Humanity has recognised this necessity of sharing, and the whole internet phenomena and communication between humans, is dimly acknowledged by many in this recent innovation.

However, in the Brazilian case, this has resulted in the known persecution of  bloggers and the freedom of the internet, by both employment of the judiciary, allied with media campaign of disinformation against the bloggers. Other corruption scandals and reporting of wealth accumulation from the privatisation programme have been documented, with journalists being persecuted through the courts and the traditional media actively participating to denigrate these alternative sources of information.

The blogosphere has naturally accompanied this whole Lava Jato revelation and reporting process. They have been labelled the ‘dirty press’ by the conventional media and opposing political players. Tactics employed including smear attacks on family members, including small children, physical assault, and the full onslaught through the courts, where judges are able to impose injunctions on reporting of information and impose huge prohibitive fines for having spoken out (http://www.ocafezinho.com/2016/04/21/os-senhores-da-lei-fundamentos-e-funcoes-da-operacao-lava-jato/).

The Daniel Dantas story is a case in point. Already referred to in this series of articles, I shall expand on it to illustrate the difficulties faced. Daniel Dantas was a key figure in the privatisation programme, whereby all the nationalised industries were obliged by law to go through his private company, and he was initially placed on the board of the newly privatised companies with a hugely disproportionate share of the controlling votes. This resulted in the epic court battle for control of the board, between the Brazilian shareholders, that included the public banking sector pension funds and Telecom Italia.

As explained elsewhere in this series, Dantas was able to walk free through judicial intervention, although he ultimately lost his control of the board. However, the judiciary was able to persecute journalists who reported this process, counteracted by financial support garnered through the internet. This is important, because this freedom of information and backing that the internet provides is a new factor, that was not present in the Italian case, for example.

The neglect of the middle-class in Brazil is a key element, because these people are overwhelmingly the users and beneficiaries of the internet. They are literate in the broadest sense of the word, in terms of reading and digesting information, but also of passing this on and influencing the atmosphere within their society. Literacy has many levels, but in the Brazilian case, literacy in the strictest sense of the word, has improved hugely since the first Lula government, as a priority target of government policy, in marked contrast to previous governments. One requirement for receiving the state anti-poverty support, was that all children must be attending school. Such incentives had never existed before, and real disincentives weighed heavily against children going to school, because they could help the family earn some kind of a living, however frugal.

One of the Supreme  Court Judges that so hounded the Worker’s Party has since retired and is now under a deepening cloud of suspicion, most recently in the Panama Papers leak. Joaquim Barbosa, was a negro judge, who enjoyed the limelight of the Mensalão scandal. Only the future can confirm such a role.

However, the Lava Jato pay-off scheme has recently been shown to have been working since the 1980’s, thus spoiling the game, as the target of preference was to have been ex-President Lula and President Dilma Rousseff.