Published on June 24, 2013
By Pablo Canelo
Sociologist of Local Development Area of ICAL
Brazil is living rather convulsed days. The massive spontaneous mobilizations carried out by the youth product of the crisis of the public transportation system, the increase of the transportation fare in 20 cents (about 45 Chilean pesos approximately) and the enormous public expenses to finance the Football World Cup of 2014 put an end to 20 years of lethargy and they install a questioning of the main features of the Brazilian development pattern. To understand this uneasiness it is necessary to clear up some antecedents.
Very similar to the Chilean case, the Brazilian dictatorship finishes (year 1985) product of enormous mass mobilizations that not only searched for a change in government but of generating deep reforms postponed for many years (agrarian reforms, tributary reforms, urban reforms, etc.). This process of democratization of the Brazilian society was interrupted by the inclination of the scale toward the neoliberal sectors during the years 90´s, who imposed the neoliberal recipe book that not even the dictatorship had applied: opening to the transnational companies, labor deregulation, privatization of companies, financiarizing of the economy, liberalization of the lands, etc.
With the electoral defeat of the neoliberal forces in 2002 at the hands of the Workers Party (PT) with Lula at the head, begins a slight turn from the neoliberal pattern. However, after 10 years of PT conduction the changes were few and the structural reformations were still pending. Although the privatization wave is halted, state control increases over the main productive activities, and in the last years of Lula government the enormous social debt of the Brazilian democracy diminishes slightly, the government continues betting on an economy more and more sustained in the production, extraction and exportation of raw materials without added value, the health services undergo a terrible situation, the classist segregation in the education increases, the public transportation system has leaks in all sides, and growing government corruption exacerbates the crisis of political society. During these years, a definite bet for a productively unsustainable in the long term energy matrix, which destroys communities and which contributes to worsening climate change and promotes from state (mainly through BNDES, one of the larger social banks of the world) the inclusion of Brazilian multinationals in Latin America. All of this has led to a worsening of social confrontations in Brazil and even outside it. An example of this is the Brazilian megamining projects of VALE company being developed throughout Latin America with their subsecuent conflicts with communities, or Eike Batista, Brazilian capitalist, who planned to install in Castilla a thermoelectric plant but was stopped by the struggle of the Totoral community in Chile.
With the arrival of Dilma in 2013, begins a dangerous right turn. She reduces the social budget preferring the payment of a growing public debt (42% of the annual budget for this year); stops the slow process of agrarian reform initiated by Lula together with putting an end to the process of demarcation of indigenous lands, and there is a setback respecting abortion law prohibiting it in rape cases in exchange for financial compensation from birth to 18 years (does not this proposal sound familiar). This is reflected in the decrease of 8 points in the polls for the first time since she took office, and the growing economic inequality and wealth concentration show that the myth of the “new middle class” promoted by the Brazilian model collapses.
In this context it is not difficult to understand that the mobilizations are not explained only by a rise in the price of transportation. The demobilizing perspective that the PT impelled after its victory in 2002 which was supported on the macroeconomic successes and on the social programs (such as ”Family Bag”) was torn into bits this week, which reveals little historical memory on the part of the dominant class and its representatives who forgot that the ascent of the PT to power was product of the popular struggles against the neoliberal policies in 90´s. Very similar to the process of exit of the dictatorship in Chile, the unsuccessful transition which demobilized and the broad questioning of the Chilean model 20 years later started from the student mobilizations. With certain shades, in both countries the control and contention of the masses’ mobilizations and the aspirations of change brought consequences in the medium term with social explosions that question the pattern of “development” impelled by the elites.
Those 7 historical days that shook up Brazil demonstrated also a dangerous distancing between the civil society and the political society. The political parties and even the union trade unions such as the CUT Brazil (close to the government) were strongly criticized and even expelled from the mobilizations. The main challenge of the popular forces and of the left is to pick up the mobilizing potential of the masses that has returned to scene during these days in Brazil and to channel it toward the deepening of the process of overcoming the neoliberalism policies, opening up a new period of social conquests. On the other sidewalk is the neoliberal restoration impelled by the right that exists both inside as outside of Dilma´s government, and that it also looks to dispute the directionality of the protests to return to the government. In the resolution of that contradiction the PT plays a fundamental part since it is the biggest party of the working class. To redefine its role in the administration of the state, to deepen the discussion on the pattern of Brazilian development, and to enlarge its influence toward the social movements and not solely trade unions is necessary for the “defense of the conquests” (main punch line of the PT in these days).
And as main lesson so much for Brazil as Chile, is an error to think that the changes should be driven only and exclusively from the political society. To demobilize the civil society is an error that sooner or later will pay its consequences.