Lost Sambista

A Brazil never seen.

Archive for the tag “protests in Brazil”

The war against the World Cup and the Olympics


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It must be strange for people who are used to see Brazilians as a smiley and youthful nation, proud of its country’s sporting exploits, to learn that most of them are hating to host the Olympics and the World Cup. While the costs are astronomical and no one knows for sure who actually benefits from these soulless mega-events centred on big business, very few countries get the privilege of hosting them and doing so usually is a matter of big national pride. Brazil seems to be an exception, and the question that comes to mind is why.

Ask the average Brazilian and he will give you the standard answer: The anger is because the government decided to throw money on these useless events instead of investing in hospitals, schools and infrastructure. You will also hear accusations of corruption together with some strange complaints about the ruling Workers Party’s (PT) programs for instituting financial help packages for poor families who send their children to school and for allowing Cuban doctors in the country to work in areas where urban middle class doctors refuse to go. What also will strike as strange is that the discontent took years to surface and that the apparent lack of investment in infrastructure has been happening since the 1970’s and only now have Brazilians awakened to this fact.

However, whoever bothers to study the numbers closer will be surprised at what they reveal. The 8 Billion Reais ( 3.6 billion US dollars ) spent of the construction of stadiums is tiny when compared with the 825 Billion Reais spent in the health system since the works began while the investment in education only in 2014 is predicted to be 115 Billion Reais. This is without taking into consideration that there will be a return on the investment in the both mega events, not only with the selling of tickets and with tourism but also in jobs and in the construction of infrastructure related to the events and the rippling effect that economic activities always have.

Havinf got this out of the way, the question remais, where does this anger come from? Ask an angry Brazilian if he would be happy if the Olympics and the World Cup would happen under another government and he will most probably say yes. He will also say probably say that, as a matter of principal, he has nothing against these mega-events taking in his country; what he doesn’t like is the government that is handling it nor the way it is doing it. Which kind of government would he like instead? Not sure, but definitely not this hateful PT one.

Based on the above, we can say with a degree of certainty that the problem is with the Government and not with the events per se. If this is so, we have to ask ourselves what is so evil in the ruling party that makes people take the streets, and almost dedicate their lives on a political crusade against it? Corruption? Well… this has been a national institution for at least the past eight decades, and is due to the way the Brazilian economy works. The engineer of this mechanism was the dictator Getulio Vargas who started ruling Brazil in the 1930’s, and who stayed in power for more than twenty years. His strategy was to set up a strong interventionist government that would support the country’s development together with local capital. Simply put, this means that the government would come up with big projects such as setting up oil companies, constructing roads, building hydroelectric plants, ports etc… which would open opportunities for Brazilian and sometimes for international investors as well as generate jobs and stimulate the economy as a whole. In broad line this is similar to the American President Roosevelt’s New Deal and to the Marshall plan in post-war Europe. This all sounds great in paper, and Vargas set it up with the best of intentions, but the system would generate unlimited possibilities for corruption.

The reason for this is that the result is that the most important economic deals in Brazil are related to the government and who is heading it makes a huge difference in terms of which project will go ahead and who benefit from the, ultimately who will get rich and who will not. It is important to remember this and that although the PT is a left wing government and defends state intervention, this system was in place long before it ever ruled Brazil.

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Some people will also blame the police brutality, not only towards the protesters but also, and mainly, towards the poor population on a daily basis. The police is there to serve the state so, according to this way of thinking; the exaggerated use of force would reflect the willingness of the PT to transform itself in a left wing dictatorship. This is worthwhile examining; the brutality of the Brazilian police dates from before the PT’s ascension to power, actually of its older members experienced this brutality when they were in the opposition. The public security forces’ ethos is an inheritance of Brazil’s slavery past and has traditionally been brutal. Also, with the exception of the elite Federal Police, they are under the control of local governments. In this context, they are almost self-serving organizations with a history of protecting the local powerful, and that are very hard to control from the outside. In fact, their greatest fear is being supervised by outsiders who could make them respond for their excesses, or at least limit them. As a corporation, they are by no means immune from corruption and tackling them is a touchy business that any government is the world tries to avoid. In any case, it is very hard to sustain that the interests of the police and of the PT are the same, and it would be insane to suppose that the Brazilian police would collaborate in installing a Left Wing dictatorship in the country.

The strongest argument against the Government is that it is using both the Olympics and the World Cup as a political card. There is an undeniable truth in this, but we point out that any political party in the world would. If things go well the opposition will look stupid and Dilma’s popularity will be restored. We do not hear this accusation so much because the opposition is using these mega events as much as they can to do anti-PT propaganda. They are actually using all the weight they can to promote an anti-Government crusade that now resembles a public lynching. The attacks are constant in almost all the media, social media included, and are vicious.

There is a war going on against the World Cup and the Olympics. The opposition is frustrated in realizing that the Government has absorbed most of the punches and is still set to win the upcoming elections despite the economic downturn and all the PR efforts against it. This discontent has set a wide portion of the Brazilian society to want these two mega-events to fail. They prefer the country to look bad in the eyes of the world and investors to run away, rather than to give support to a government that may damage some of their private interests. This reminds us of the story of the genie who comes up to a man and says. “Tell me what you desire and it will be yours, but bear in mind that your enemy will have double”, the man responds “Take out one of my eyes”.

So what is it in this government that they dislike so much? It is our view that what angers the middle class is that after more than ten years in the government the ruling party has privileged the poor rather than business. This is serious, as it was the more instructed Brazilians who put the PT in power and not the lower classes. These voters feel entitled to policies in their favour. While there has been an undeniable improvement in the standards of living of the poorest segments, in many cases over-taxation has made the middle class see their standards of living lower. One issue that is emblematic of this anger is that now households must treat domestic workers as office workers and must pay regular taxes to employ them.

As in most countries under left wing governments, people are paying high taxes but are not seeing this money return to them in services or any other benefits. The construction of big stadiums and the hosting of big events has been an easy target to catalyze this anger.

For us there are deeper layers to this war on the Olympics and on the World Cup. Internationally this is a moment of great changes. We have seen the US and its allies fail to impress the world with their invasion of Iraq and their intervention in Afghanistan. Although they have moved away from their failed tactics of direct intervention, it seems obvious to us that they have tried to cling on to their receding supremacy by using indirect pressure. By this we mean that they have incited and made allegiances with locals to carry out their strategies. The recent examples are plenty, some with happy endings and others with tragic consequences: Libya, Tunisia, Turkey, Syria, Iran, Egypt, Ukraine, Venezuela… What all of these countries had in common was the threat of abandoning the American “mentoring” and ended up having “spontaneous” uprisings, which were supposed to be sympathetic to the Western dominance.

In a time when Brazil has abdicated its status of being one of the darlings of global investors to become closer to emerging Russia and China via the BRICS, it would be reasonable to expect that the West would react. Brazil is by no means an insignificant country and its success or its failure, the paths it chooses, will affect the world’s power brokerage and relevant on how the international economic machinery develops. It is reasonable to believe that it would not only be the Brazilian political opposition who would benefit from a possible failure in the two biggest sporting events in the World?

In its quest to “deliver the goods” Brazil has two unlikely allies FIFA and the IOC. Both of these organizations are aware that over-commercialization is turning their events dull and are making a great effort to maintain a business as usual approach for the events to be a success. The IOC has already threatened to make the next Olympics in London, which is highly improbable, but FIFA is the one who has more to lose, if a world cup in Brazil, the country of football, is a flop they will not be able to do much to keep the audiences for the next one.

All in all, the heated debate on the advantages of a state administered economy versus one ruled by “business” that will happen in Brazil during the interlude of FIFA’s World Cup and the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics promises to be more interesting than what will happen inside the stadiums.

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What are the protests in Brazil about?

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While Brazil’s economic well being looks promising in the short and in the medium run, things have been strange in the political arena. Earlier this year, during the Confederations football Cup, there was a raging wave of protests while, under the surface, there is political unrest that may erupt during the World Cup.

Any uninformed person would jump to the conclusion that the protests come from the hungry masses who are discontent with the government for privileging big contracts instead of spending money on hospitals, education, housing etc… It is true that many are not happy but no, this is not where the anger is coming from. The discontent is coming from the middle and upper middle classes. The typical protester is a young, white male with a good level of education and no economic upheaval to deal with.

In other words, the protests are coming from the right rather than from the left. In general, the vast majority of the Brazilians, the working class, do not have strong reasons to protest, a proof of this is that there are very few working class people in the protests. The statistics show that there has been an improvement in their standards of living; more jobs, more education, more consumption… the list is long. They have benefited from the policies of the current left wing party, the PT, that has been in power for around a decade and that will most probably win the next elections.

So what are the protests about? Ask the average middle class Brazilian, and he will answer that they are about corruption in the government, more specifically among members of the PT. This is where the argumentation gets bizarre, they do not mention corruption in other parties, which in many cases is more severe than in the PT and if you listen closely, they will describe corruption as an exclusivity of the Lula and the Dilma governments, a clear fallacy for anyone who knows anything about Brazil.

There will also be the technocrats who will say that they are annoyed at the enormous presence of the State in the economy. They will defend Brazil adopting an economic model closer to the precepts of Wall Street and of the City of London: leave everything to private enterprise; they have the most qualified people and they know what they are doing. However, this is not what the protest are about, the young people in the streets do not carry neo-conservative nor monetarists flags. These arguments are only being heard now when the economy is beginning to dip. It was not so when Brazil paid their gigantic external debt, fixed the hyperinflation that corroded Brazil in the 80’s and in the 90’s and when it became the darling of international investors. In fact, the last time anyone heard these voices was when they gave terrible advice to the military regime in tackling the economic crisis. Everyone knows that if it were for these people Brazil would never have climbed out of that hole.

The question still begs an answer, what are the protests about? It is our understanding that they are about anxiety and powerlessness in the middle classes. The moralistic crusade, the hatred towards the left, the privileging of the technical over the democratic process reverts us to the rise of fascism and Nazism in the 1930’s. The country that the PT constructed during its large mandate has helped the rich to get richer and has taken a huge portion of Brazilians out of poverty. Meanwhile, the PT’s traditional voting base, the urban middle class, has not received the benefits of the economic growth. In many ways, they feel betrayed and are now worried about what will happen after the World Cup and the Olympic Games.

Justified or not, the poison is in the air. The protests were violent and there may be an escalation during the World Cup, when the embarrassment for the Government and the international exposure will be at its greatest. There are many questions: No one knows what this new right wants, not even themselves. All we know is that there is a lot of irrational anger and that they want the PT out. Apart from this, there is no party behind them nor do they have any leadership or any defined goal. Never the less problems may arise when some better organized group or power will appropriate this energy and use it for nonconstructive purposes.

Diretas Ja, Fora Collor and the Brazilian Spring.

Anonymous

It was Karl Marx who said that when history repeats itself, it repeats itself as a farce.

As a politically conscious person, this is the third protest en masse against the Brazilian government that I have witness. The first one was the Diretas Ja, in the early eighties. This was a movement demanding the vote for president from the military regime. Slumping into economic hard times and after enduring fifteen years of dictatorship, the country was hungry for democracy and for regime change. Many of the politicians who the current protesters hate were the voices of freedom of those rallies, in particular the ex-president Lula who at the time a true working class hero who had defied the military by stopping the powerful foreign based automotive industry in Sao Paulo. Still a central figure in Brazilian politics he would disappoint the country when in power for refusing to prosecute corrupt allies. Much of the current discontent falls back on him, although one must never loose sight that the success of his left wing party’s governments may guarantee them a fourth term, they are the favorites.

The second wave of protests my generation witnessed was the Fora Collor! (Out Collor!) one, where the country united to oust its corrupt president. Fernando Collor had confiscated the population’s savings accounts in order to end hyperinflation while he himself was constructing mansions with public funds. The Brazilian nation was again in the streets throwing huge pressure for his impeachment and was finally successful, despite the many questions that remain unanswered. During the campaign, the first presidential race in 25 years, he was the young, good looking and energetic candidate who was brought in to hold the left’s certain victory after a series of catastrophic old school and right wing, military sponsored governments. His opponents were Lula and the late Leonel Brizola, two heavyweight champions in the struggle against the Brazilian privileged. After his victory, when Collor started to change things and excluded traditional power brokers from important deals, his former allies turned against him and opened the doors for the popular will to be fulfilled, generously supplying the press with all possible incriminating details and not moving a finger to save him. The final step in this episode was the very badly explained assassination of his treasurer, PC Farias, when he seemed disposed to talk to the press.

This year, once again, protesters flooded Brazil’s streets. The underlying theme was the same as always: impunity, corruption and injustice; plagues that time, new parties and new governments seem unable to eradicate, not only in Brazil but all over the world. The reasons are clear and need addressing and young people are the best to do the job.  It is very healthy that they are alert to what is happening and that they are renewing the country’s political blood. However there are questions, the biggest one is that we know what they are against but what are they proposing? what do they want?

Before there were clear issues: we wanted to vote for president, we wanted a corrupt leader who confiscated our savings out, but now what is it about? Trials? That suspect politicians should be tried and put into jail? That money should go to hospitals and schools instead to the construction of stadiums? A moralization of the country?

OK, Brazil is far from perfect; there are thousands of reasons to protests and a population has the obligation to stand against the wrong doings of their authorities, no one would ever question this, but it seems weird to us that a tropical “anonymous”  uprising should erupt in the wake of the failed Arab springs. OK, there are people being dislodged from their houses to build new stadiums. OK there is A LOT of money going into the wrong pockets at the moment, OK politicians have gone too far by voting laws that make them immune to public investigations. This is wrong and it is right to protest against this.

However there are other aspects to take into consideration. The first one is that, under the two previous administrations, apart from having paid out there gigantic external debt and having growth rates that popped the world’s eyes, Brazil has been derailing out of the American sphere of influence and is becoming an independent world power with ever closer ties to China, who is challenging the western formulas of economic administration . The second point to consider is that although the Dilma administration is being considered by Brazilians as too open to foreign pressure the truth is quite the opposite and that other parties would facilitate even further the intervention of foreign big money. Whoever has tried to do business with Brazil, or even tried to get working permits in Brazil, knows how protective its regulations are and one has to be very naive not to consider that there are powerful forces wanting to “open Brazil up” who would be very happy if the current ruling party changed or, even better, if the democratic regime that the Brazilian people managed to obtain though many sacrifices disappeared.

The fact that these movements, similar to the tragedy of the Syrian “spring”, do not have a defined leadership nor a defined goal other than destabilization, leads us to pose the following question: are they just spontaneous and innocent initiatives of nerdy kids wanting to change the world? We would like to believe that the answer is yes..

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