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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