BRAZIL Lula: "We can take power

September 25, 2007

Late for our interview, presidential candidate Luis InAcio "Lula" da Silva exploded into the room like the prover- bial gangbuster. He sported a lit cigar, probably the fruit of his time spent with Fidel Castro the week before. Our meeting was wedged in between two others, giving it a sense of urgency, as if he were still campaigning. Despite his sophistication in dealing with the press, in person Lula belies his humble past, his demeanor reminiscent of many other laborers one might meet in a cor- ner bar discussing soccer over a few beers after a day of work. Last December, in Brazil's first direct presidential election since 1960, Lula received 31 million votes, roughly 47% of the total. Resting on the pillars of organized labor, the progressive Catholic Church and other social move- ments, his Workers Party (PT) has flour- ished in recent years, emerging as the leading force on the Brazilian Left. In 1988, the party won over 30 mayor- alties-including that of South Amer- ica's largest city, Sdo Paulo. Lula's background is unlike that of any other successful Latin American politician. He is from a family of poor farmers in the northeastern state of Per- nambuco. Like many from that drought- ridden, impoverished region, the fam- ily migrated to Sgo Paulo where Lula attended primary school. At the age of 11 he went to work in the factories, later earning a high school equivalency di- ploma. In 1975 Lula assumed leader- ship of the Metalworkers Union, and in 1978-1979 he led the union in a series of strikes that challenged the military dictatorship and revived the labor movement. The military removed him from office and imprisoned him. Together with other union leaders, Lula founded the Workers Party in 1980 to bring the struggle of working people to the national political arena. The fol- lowing year he helped found the Uni- fied Workers Central (CUT), which now represents 18 million workers. And in 1982 he made an unsuccessful bid for governor of Sdo Paulo state. In 1986 he was elected to Congress with more votes than any candidate had ever received for that post. Although Lula is a virtual shoo-in for re-election, he has declined to run. Instead he will travel throughout Brazil, to campaign for other PT candidates in the October state and Congressional elections and lead the PT's ongoing critique of Presi- dent Fernando Collor de Mello's dras- tic economic plan. What is the position of the PT regard- ing Collor's economic plan? We have come out against the plan. There are a number of reasons why. It will de-nationalize our economy. It also weakens small business, lowers the real wages of the working class, and hands over our state-owned companies to powerful economic interests. Besides, NACLA REPORT ON THE AMERICAS Bill Hinchberger is the editor of Third World, a bimonthly magazine published in Brazil.the president cannot play the role of emperor and retain all of the country's money in his hands, releasing it when he feels like it to those social segments that he feels like giving it to. Already, hundreds of small businesses have gone broke, thousands of workers have been laid off, large companies have an- nounced "collective vacations." But opinion polls show the public fa- vors the plan. I am not impressed by the success of the Collor Plan. Sarney's Cruzado Plan in February 1986 was more success- ful.* Sarney registered a 90% approval rate. I think you understand very well how the Collor plan is being sold in the media. For a week after its announce- ment, virtually nobody who opposed the plan was given a chance to speak out. We are not concerned that the polls showed an 80% approval rate for the plan because I am sure that the 80% of the public in favor of the plan does not understand it. They only understand it from TV Globo's perspective.** We think that the plan has an electoral ob- jective,just like the 1986 Cruzado Plan, which is to guarantee the Collor gov- * The 1986 Cruzado Plan's price freeze was so popular with Brazilian consumers that Sarney's party swept the November 1986 gubernatorial and federal and state legisla- tive elections. The plan began to be dis- mantled the week after election day. **TV Globo is Brazil's enormous private television network. ernment influence at election time in October. In your opinion then, what does the plan do? Our basic assumption is that the workers are losing. Businessmen didn't lose anything. I'll explain why. A re- search institute linked to the University of Sdo Paulo showed that prices, which were frozen on March 14, do not pro- vide an accurate standard because they had already been raised excessively. Businessmen were already charging twice the true value of their products and had been doing so since January. So the price freeze doesn't hurt busi- ness. They can even lower their prices 20% or 30% and offer sales. We're already familiar with this practice, as are people in other parts of Latin America. And while the standard for prices was set according to figures for March 12, salaries were set according to fig- ures for February 15. We already start out behind. If I understand the culture of Brazilian businessmen, they didn't have all of their money deposited in money-market and savings accounts [which were frozen]. I think lots of people had money outside the country and had invested in gold, dollars and real estate. This had been taking place since the beginning of the year. With- drawals from money-market accounts were extensive. I think the government confiscated lots of money, but in my Inllnr'Q nlin hrnllnht Innn linna fnr narnninumrnnt hannfite in .an Paidn opinion it took money from the so- called middle class and not from the rich. What's strange is that many busi- nessmen are happy with Collor's plan. I think Collor is telling businessmen, "Look, you have to lose your rings or else they're going to rip off your fin- gers." Argentina has also been going through some rough economic times, and cer- tain people in Brazil see their future reflected in events there. Are the two countries comparable? It is very difficult to passjudgement on the policies of other countries, but it appears that Menem's policies led to a certain euphoria among the population at the beginning of his term, and two months later they brought frustration. In both Brazil and Argentina, the pre- dominant thrust of economic policy is concem with international creditors. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) said that it was satisfied with Menem's measures and then with Collor's, the American government congratulated them both, and the World Bank thinks that the measures are extraordinary. Based on past experience, I am forced to conclude that the basic con- cern of the plan is to help resolve the problems of our creditors who want to receive billions of dollars. They are trying to sell a Thatcherite neo-liberal model by saying that 10 years ago England solved all of its problems by selling its state-owned companies. But today it is obvious that England's prob- lems did not disappear. We in the PT favor the privatization of all those companies not considered strategic. But we are against handing over our ports to the private sector. We are against handing over our petro- leum, steel, communications. The state has to retain absolute control over these sectors because they are strategic. They determine power. We think that Bra- zil's policy is similar to that of Argen- tina in this respect. Both start from the assumption that we must hand over our national patrimony as part of a defini- tive solution to the foreign debt prob- lem. But the opposite is true. We might minimize our problems for a few years, but they will return with even greater force-and at that point we won't have the strategic sectors in our hands. They'll all be privatized. 5What do you think are the prospects for joint action on the part of Latin Ameri- can debtors? It is very difficult to develop a con- tinent-wide policy in Latin America. First, because it is a continent governed by corrupt individuals. Second, because it is a continent with a backward-think- ing business class: The Latin American business person is stuck in the last century. He doesn't have an open mind; he doesn't favor income distribution; he isn't even able to think in terms of creating a consumer society that would guarantee his survival. Without any false modesty, I think the PT has a role to play on this issue among the Latin American Left. The independence of our countries is tied to the courage we have to resolve the foreign debt issue. We don't believe the debt can be solved on a country-by- country basis: Either it will be solved for everyone or it won't be solved at all. I think that we have to recognize that the only way out is to act collectively. And to do this, you must involve social movements, labor unions, political parties. What is your reaction to the defeat of the Sandinistas? Along with the elec- tion of Collor and the victory of the Right in Peru, does it signify a surge of the Right in Latin America? I think that so-called neo-liberalism has won important victories, even in Eastern Europe. I think that there is a process of "massification" of anti-left- ist ideas. If in the past the climate was anticommunist, today it is anti-leftist. In my opinion, Chamorro's victory over Ortega was a result of the high level of democratization in Nicaragua. But I think that the Sandinistas, from my political perspective, committed some errors. They had power in their hands and held elections in the most demo- cratic way possible without resolving certain problems already in existence. For example, if you convene free and direct elections with an inflation rate of 36,000%-that's very danger- ous, as is holding elections while there is obligatory military service opposed by all families. The Sandinistas should have first resolved these two problems and then convened free and direct elections. I think that the Nicaraguan people voted for peace. But it is impor- tant to say that even with the demo- cratic criteria that governed the elec- tions, had the Sandinista Front won, the United States still would not have ac- Lula autographs the doorman's lapel at the opera cepted the results and would have continued the blockade. The objective of the United States was not direct elections but the destruction of the Sandinista Front. The advance of the Right in Peru is due to the devastating effect of Alan Garcia's administration. I shouldn't bad-mouth Garcifa because he was the first Latin American president to call and congratulate me for getting into the runoff. But I think that Garcia went looking for a fight without a base of support, not even within his own party, APRA. When he intervened in the banks, he did not coordinate his actions with the Left, nor with APRA. He decided to go it alone-just like Collor. Impetuous and daring. But it is easy to run into a brick wall that way. The Right in Peru also advanced due to the inability of the Left to unite, the advance of Sendero Luminoso, and the fact that the Right has presented itself as capable of putting a flag of peace on each corner and a flag of development in every factory. But this is an illusion, because it begins with the assumption that if you are a good boy, the United States will throw money at you, as it did at Germany after World War II. Look at Panama. There was an invasion and then the president went on n hlnoer trike hbe in for s annre s is the political game of illusion ruling class wants to play. You stand the role that the Globo tele- network plays in forming politi- nion in Brazil. It lies 24 hours a if we lived in a fantasy world. is is Latin America's problem. is the result of a big lie. If you ber the Constitutional Assem- 987-1988), when leftist forces a footing, a battle took place in lia. It was at this time that Collor d as the "Hunter of Mahara- orrupt bureaucrats]. He was pol- p to project the image of a man ted to ending corruption. think that this lie won the ns-despite the unity of the Left unoff. Collor outspent us by far. :eived 31 million votes under tely adverse conditions without :nt resources. We weren't pre- For a presidential campaign on le of a continent-sized country azil. NACLA REPORT ON THE AMERICASPresident Fernando Collor de Mello: "The result of a big lie" Are those the principal reasons for your defeat: TV Globo and the lack of resources? In your press conference following the elections, you said that you hadn't had time to analyze your defeat. Now you've had plenty of time. I've analyzed it a thousand times. The problem is that you can't look for a single factor. There are hundreds of factors: scheduling, the lack of options and money, the media. The edited ver- sion of the debate shown on TV Globo at the end of the campaign was the work of Globo magnate Roberto Marinho. They were playing their last hand when we had no time left to react. We basically lost the elections in Sdo Paulo. If I had spent more time in Sdo Paulo, if Mario Covas (the first round candidate of the Brazilian Social Democratic Party, PSDB) had adhered to the campaign earlier.... I don't blame Sdo Paulo Mayor Luiza Erundina [of the PT]. She wasn't being judged. She wasn't the candidate. I was. Of course, the PT generated lots of expectations, and in the first year we weren't able to do what we had hoped to in Sdo Paulo, so this did hurt us. What about Cuba? Is it true that you told Castro during his visit to Brazil in March that he should call elections? No, I didn't, partially out of respect. I have a special affection for Cuba. Fidel Castro could easily convene elec- tions and I think he should. But there is something that we must take into con- sideration: Elections are not a synonym for democracy. Elections are merely an instrument of democracy. The most important instrument of democracy is not people selecting their representa- tives. It is their ability to participate in important decisions and to enjoy a pol- icy of just income distribution. Before trying to sell the idea that capitalism is defeating socialism, using Germany as an example, you should look at capital- ism on our continent. We don't need to examine capitalism in Germany but capitalism here in Sdo Paulo. I think that Fidel Castro has prob- lems; I think he's going to have a seri- ous problem. But he solved the prob- lems of education, health, the dignity of the people. That is fantastic. Of course, Cuban society is not good for an Italian who earns $3,000 a month, nor for a Brazilian who earns $2,000. But it is extraordinary for a Brazilian who earns $50 a month. You can't have three television sets, but you can have one. So our, my, concept of democracy is a bit wider. We set aside the idea of formal democracy in favor of real democracy. Real democracy goes like this: If everyone is equal before the law, everyone must eat well, have a good home, have a good salary, have the right to leisure, the right to study, the same opportunities. What opportunity does the son or daughter of a cleaning woman or a construction worker have to compete with the son or daughter of the owner of a company? None. They are predestined to be construction workers, and their children will be construction workers, and their grand- children will be construction workers and somewhere down the line some- body will turn to crime. That's their destiny. The Left appears to be in crisis in many parts of the world. How does the PTfit into this scheme of things? In the context of events in Eastern Europe and throughout the world, it is significant that a party with the charac- teristics of the PT came forth to run in elections on an equal basis [with the Right]. We overturned all of the myths of Brazilian politics. I venture to say that few times anywhere, has anyone with a leftist program like ours come as close as we did to winning. We did not compromise our socialist convictions. "Bureaucratization is an animal that should be extinct" We did not stop short of saying that we would take from the rich to give to the poor if necessary. That an income dis- tribution policy was needed, that we need a dream of ajust, egalitarian soci- ety. We are convinced that what fell in Eastern Europe was not communism. The people did not put an end to com- munism. In 1980, we were already criti- cizing bureaucracy. That's why we supported Lech Walesa and Solidarity. Because we understood that bureaucra- tization is an animal that should be extinct. Bureaucratization doesn't work anywhere, not in capitalism, not in socialism, not in the factory, not in the labor union. We don't accept that people have to ask for the boss' blessing or call him or her Sir or Madam. That's why we use the term companheiro [comrade] in the PT. Although I may be the most impor- tant figure in the PT, everyone calls me companheiro just like everybody else. That's the culture that we want to incul- cate in the rest of society. We proved that if the Left believes in what we call the social movement, if it believes in what we call base organizations, it can take power through the vote. I don't think what happened in Eastern Europe is bad. I'm not a bit sad. Human beings are not robots. The de- sire for growth is part of human nature. You can't remain stagnant for 40 years. People don't live on bread and beans alone.

Tags: Brazil, Lula, Election, Interview

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