Brazil Votes-The Opposition Steps Forward

September 25, 2007

SAO PAULO-Three weeks af- ter the November 15 elections, with 95% of the vote counted, it is clear that Brazilians gave their govern- ment a vote of no confidence for its 18 years of military rule. For the first time since the 1964 coup, voters in all 23 states were allowed to choose state governors. The elec- torate also chose federal and state representatives, mayors, city coun- cil members and one third of the Senate. Occurring "in a climate of expectation that something is going to change," as one foreign observer put it, the contest was viewed as an important plebiscite. Amid accusations of irregulari- ties in the computer system used to tally the votes, authorities have abandoned computers altogether and are continuing the count manu- ally. A Rio de Janeiro court, con- fronted with proof of fraud, ordered a recount mid-way through that state's tallying. Final results for the country are not expected for an- other two weeks. At presstime, the opposition Brazilian Democratic Movement Party (PMDB) had claimed victory in nine state governor races: Amazo- nas, Goias, Minas Gerais, Espirito Santo, Sao Paulo, Para, Acre, Mato Grosso do Sul and Parana. The popular Leonel Brizola won the gov- ernorship of Rio de Janeiro for his Democratic Labor Party (PDT). More than 67% of the Brazilian pop- ulation lives in these 10 states which account for 80% of the coun- try's gross national product. While the government main- tained the governorships in 12 states, it won only one of the major industrial states, Rio Grande do Sul, where the vote was split between two strong opposition candidates. Nationwide the governing Demo- cratic Social Party (PDS) so far has won about 38% of the vote, the PMDB, almost 50% and the PDT, 8%. There are about 56 million eligi- ble voters. Thanks to a change in the rules shortly before the election, the government also won control of the electoral college which will choose the president in 1985 Transition To Democracy? As the campaign drew to a close, there was barely a square inch left empty on walls and lamp posts in most Brazilian cities. Campaign posters and graffiti covered every- thing; cars with loudspeakers circu- lated the streets. Rallies, fund- raising concerts and T-shirts all testified to the general furor. The Two Rio opposition candidates take their campaign to Ipanema Beach. a U) Mimi Keck is a director of the Brazil La- bor Information and Resource Center. Her last contribution to the Report was "Brazilian Labor-New Tactics, New Victories" in the May-June 1982 issue X NACLA Reportupdate update update update campaign even came to the beach- es of Rio, where one candidate's daughters sported bikinis bearing his name. On the surface, Brazil's elections were not unlike those that take place in any liberal democracy. But to see them in that light alone would be to ignore the complexities and contradictions of the process that gave rise to them. Abertura-the name given to the controlled liberal- ization of Brazil's military regime- was not intended as a transition to democracy; it was designed to de- fuse the growing disenchantment with military rule among key sectors of the Brazilian elite, and to soften growing tensions within the military itself.* Yet it would also be a mistake to view the November elections as mere farce. The political ferment that has been generated by the electoral campaign will have far- reaching consequences for Brazil's political evolution. Amnesty For The Torturers Since the late 1970s, each step toward abertura has been accom- panied by safeguards protecting the regime in power from any real threat to its tenure. The repeal of the extremely repressive Institutional Act No. 5, the abolition of prior cen- sorship of the media, and a partial amnesty for political offenses which led to the return of many exiles, all represented significant advances. Included in the amnesty law, how- ever, was the stipulation that it apply as well to all those who had prac- ticed torture, thus eliminating the possibility of holding these practi- tioners responsible under the law. At the same time, the regime re- *For a more detailed analysis of liberali- zation, see "Brazil: Controlled Decom- pression," NACLA Reporton the Amer- icas (May-June 1979). NoviDec1982 Toasting his hosts in "Bolivia, " an embarrassed Reagan greets Figueiredo. tained the right to declare and ex- tend a state of emergency in trou- blesome areas, and the draconian National Security Law, whose terms are vague enough to include virtu- ally any act of opposition to the re- gime or the armed forces. And while prior censorship was abol- ished, a number of journalists and their newspapers have been charged under the Security Law for publishing articles injurious to the regime. In addition to these constraints on the full exercise of political rights, abertura has done little to protect the rights of those traditionally ex- cluded from Brazilian politics-the working class and the poor. Unions on strike continue to face violent re- pression by the military police. Per- secution of rural unions has stepped up dramatically as have the number of violent expulsions of peasants from their lands-aimed at clearing the way for multinational mining and agribusiness firms. In poor neighborhoods, the spe- cial crime squads of the military po- lice usually "shoot first and ask questions later," and civilian courts have no jurisdiction over their activi- ties. While torture is no longer used against political prisoners, it is often used in criminal cases, again, among the poor. Changing The Game's Rules In 1965, Brazil's military rulers im- posed a rigid, two-party system de- signed to perpetuate their tenure while maintaining a pretense of tol- erance for dissident voices. The 1979 law which abolished that sys- tem, opening the door to a broader spectrum of opposition, was clearly a response to the growing electoral strength of the Brazilian Democratic Movement (MDB). With the defeat of armed move- ments by the early 1970s, and the lack of alternative avenues of dis- sent, the MDB had become a mag- net for opposition forces, particu- larly disenchanted sectors of the elite and professionals. The party scored a strong victory in the 1974 senatorial elections and, for the first 37update update update update time, began to project itself as more than a "loyal opposition" to military rule. Surprised by this show of strength, Brazil's military rulers sought mechanisms to contain the opposition's challenge. Because the MDB had made effective use of the media in its campaign, the government issued the Falcao Law (named for the Minister of Justice) in 1976, prohibiting the' use of radio and television for debate among candidates for two months prior to elections. In 1977, the "April Package" changed the composi- tion of the Senate and the House of Representatives to ensure a majori- ty for the government party. As a result, the MDB did not gain much ground in the 1976 local elections and the 1978 general elections. An unanticipated consequence of the media ban, however, was that the MDB was forced to go to the people directly. By 1978, social movements in neighborhoods and unions had become increasingly organized and, for the first time, im- portant links were established be- tween elite opposition forces and the growing popular opposition to military rule. It soon became clear to the regime that to maintain the MDB as the only legal opposition vehicle was dangerous. The 1979 party reform was therefore an attempt to encourage divisions within the heterogeneous opposition forces, A jubilant Leonel Brizola flashes V for victory. X while maintaining the government party intact. Giving itself an image lift, the military/right-wing party in power changed its name from ARENA to the Democratic Social Party. Divide and Conquer As expected, the opposition did divide--into five different parts. The MDB, attempting to preserve con- tinuity in its name, became the Party of the Brazilian Democratic Move- ment (PMDB) and retained most of its original membership. A new Popular Party (PP), widely referred to as the bankers' party, drewfrom the governing party and the more conservative ranks of the old MDB. A former state governor and BRIZOLA ON TOP by Cesar Caldeira RIO DE JANEIRO-When and if democratic-socialist Leonel Brizola assumes the governorship of Rio de Janeiro next March, Bra- zilian abertura will have reached a significant milestone. A key tar- get of the 1964 military takeover, his election as leader of the coun- try's second most important state is widely viewed as one of the most significant developments in Brazil's process of political lib- eralization. During his tenure (1958-1961) as governor of the southern state of Rio Grande do Sul, Brizola had ex- propriated a local telephone com- pany which was a subsidiary of ITT. Moreover, Brizola had organ- ized mass demonstrations and promised armed resistance against the military's efforts to stop the succession of Joao Goulart to the presidency in 1961. This was one of the few occasions in contemporary Brazilian history when a civilian leader prevailed over the will of the armed forces. It was not until 1964, with the sup- port of the Johnson Administra- tion, that the Brazilian military overthrew President Goulart, and Brizola went into exile. NACLA Repedupdate update update update political exile, Leonel Brizola, tried to revive the Brazilian Workers Par- ty(PTB) and recapture the sizeable populist base it enjoyed in the six- ties. Deftly blocking Brizola's plan, the government granted the party's name to a group led by Ivete Vargas -the niece of a former president and close friend of the abertura mastermind, General Golbery do Couto e Silva. Brizola's forces became instead the Democratic Labor Party (PDT). The fifth opposition party to achieve provisional legal status under the new law was the Workers Party (PT), which grew out of the social movements and union strug- gles of the late 1970s. The national president of the party is Luis inacio 0 Lula addresses a PT campaign rally. da Silva ("Lula"), who gained notoriety as leader of the Metalworkers' Union of Sao Bernar- do do Campo and Diadema. He was removed from that position by the government in 1980 and put on trial for leading an "illegal" strike. The matter ended when a military tribunal declared itself incompetent to hear the case. The Workers Party calls itself socialist, although it refuses to espouse any existing model of socialism and includes within its ranks many different tendencies within the Left and trade union movement. Its goal is to build a mass party, based on active broad- based participation of the working class in defining its program. The Throughout his years abroad, Brizola changed significantly, eventually joining the Socialist In- ternational. Now his own organi- zation-the Democratic Labor Party (PDT)--is also associated with the international social dem- ocratic movement. Paternalistic Populist Brizola is first and foremost a charismatic mass leader. In Brazil today, there is only one other poli- tical leader with more popular ap- peal: Lula, president of the Work- ers Party (PT). Brizola's appeal Is messianic and populist. In con- trast, Lula stirs a sense of dignity and self-reliance in skilled work- ers and educated youth. Brizola's following comes mainly from the unorganized-urban poor, In partic- ular slum-dwellers who are one third of Rio's population, and those sectors of the middle class that are near despair in face of the country's most severe economic recession since 1930. To prevent police brutality against the poor and workers, Bri- zola plans to establish human rights watch groups with a direct IvID"Rlm phone link to his desk in the gov- ernor's mansion. This paternalis- tic style is even more pronounced in regard to the welfare of the thousands of abandoned children who live on Rio's streets: he prom- ises that all will be fed, schooled and placed in day care centers. The poor and sick will have ac- cess to free health care, including free medicine; secure jobs will be found for the unemployed. All these promises are what Brizola calls "moreno socialism," a catchy slogan for a type of in- digenous socialism that means something close to traditional no- tions of what Christian charity is all about. Swallowing Bitter Pills Brizola is wrongly viewed by the military elite as well as the conser- vative press as a "firebrand," to use Air Force Minister Delio de Matos' word. Asked by a journalist to comment on Brizola's victory, General Euclides de Oliveira Fi- gueiredo, the President's brother and military commander of the Amazon Region, said, "For sure we must swallow a few bitter pills. But we digest them, and when the right time comes, expel them." Brizola, meanwhile, seems inter- ested in allaying the military's fears about any residual radical- ism. After his victory was assured, he had subtly measured words for President Joao Figueiredo: "Figueiredo will be judged by his- tory less for the progress he brought than for what he pre- vented others from doing against the democratic reconstruction in Brazil." In fact, Brizola is viewed as a humane and intuitive mass leader who does have a deep commit- ment to the poor and downtrod- den. His chosen people regard him as a savior. During this past electoral campaign, it became a common scene in Rio-even in the conservative middle class neighborhood of Tijuca-to see thousands of people wait in pour- ing rain for three hours to hear the words of Brizola. Whenever he ar- rived, smiles would light up faces. It was Carnival all over again. Peo- ple would chant with emotion, endlessly. "Bri-zo-la! Bri-zo-la! Brizola on Top! Brizola for Presi- dent!" 3update update update update 1982 elections, then, were a vehicle for building the party' s base, and ar- ticulating the interests of sectors that rarely have had a voice in Brazil's politics. The PT made its strongest showing in the industrial state of Sao Paulo, where Lula was its candidate for governor, earning about 10% of the vote. Overall, the PT's electoral performance was well below the party' s expectations. The most gains were won in areas where it had concentrated grass- roots organizing efforts. Voting Straight Tickets Despite divisions within the op- position, by late 1981, it was clear to the government that the Popular Party and the PMDB were likely to win the governorships (appointed by the government since 1965) of Brazil's most important states. The regime's response was again to change the rules. Whereas the 1979 party reform had left open the possibility of coali- tions in gubernatorial and senatorial elections, the regime's "November Package" of 1981 prohibited them. Moreover, it introduced a new re- quirement into the electoral pro- cedure: voters would have to vote a straight ticket, and any ballots mark- ed for candidates from more than one party would be nullified. The government party had the most to gain from the new procedure, since its political machine is more developed and can reach into even the most remote villages. The unintended consequence of the November Package, however, was to provoke a merger of the Popular Party into the PMDB-and a strengthening of the latter, now by far the largest opposition party. While improving the PMDB's elec- toral chances, however, the new merger emphasized the front-like character of the party. Working 40 within it are independent democrats, communists of as- sorted stripes, members of the former bankers' party and more. This extreme heterogeneity makes it more than likely that the party will break apart now that the 1982 elec- tions are past. Leonel Brizola has made overtures to PMDB's left wing as well as Lula's PT about a post electoral merger toward building a mass based socialist party. The PT has rejected the proposal outright. The most recent change in the rules of the game came in August 1982, with the introduction of a new ballot designed to compound the confusion. Formerly, the names of candidates for governors, senators and mayors, and their party affilia- tions, had been clearly printed on the ballot. The new ballot was blank, requiring the voter to fill in the correct name or number of the can- didate on the correct line. Though the opposition feared (and the PDS hoped) that this would favor the government, which can maintain a presence in every voting place to make sure that PDS voters fill in the ballot correctly, pre-election educa- tion seemed to pay off. So far, only about 3% of the ballots were nullified. Policymakers from D.C. Even with the opposition's respectable showing in November, it is farfrom clear what it will portend for the future of abertura. Specula- tion that Brizola may not ever be allowed to assume office, for exam- ple, is widespread. (See sidebar.) With power heavily concentrated in the executive branch, the degree of congressional and gubernatorial initiative also remains to be tested. If the PMDB governor takes over in Para, for example, the government is expected to carve out the region around Carajas, placing it under federal administration in order to avoid opposition control over its grandiose but controversial mining project. Significant proportions of state resources are controlled by the federal government, as is the military police, which is under the direct control of the Army. And while many opposition parties favor turning the next Congress into a Constituent Assembly, it is ques- tionable whether they will have that power. But the most influential policy- makers in the next few years appear to be neither the new generation of opposition officials nor the military government. Shortly after the elec- tions, a delegation from the Interna- tional Monetary Fund (IMF) arrived in Brazil, seeking concessions from the government in exchange for much needed loans. Brazil has ap- proached the Fund-the first time it has done so since the 1960s-only reluctantly. Backed against a wall by a $90 billion foreign debt, Brazil needs $14 billion to service the debt in the next few months. It appears the Brazilians will make good use of unequivocal U.S. support to secure a better deal with the IMF. During his December trip to Brazil, President Reagan announced a $1.2 billion emergency short-term loan for the regime, emphasizing that the coun- try deserves special treatment. It is most likely that the Fund's terms will emphasize investment incentives and the development of cash crops for export. For Brazil's immediate future, power will rest where it has since 1964-with the generals who have succeeded one another in smooth succession. But with the opposi- tion's clear appetite for political ex- pression heightened by their signifi- cant gains, the generals will have a very hard time turning back the clock.

Tags: Brazil, Elections, fraud, democracy, amnesty

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