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Pluralism versus Populism – The Battle Rages On

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 11/08/2022 - 10:33pm in

In his editorial from the August 2022 print edition of Byline Times, Peter Jukes explores the big new political battle shaping the world



With the assassination of the al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri by a US drone strike in Kabul, this July marked the end of an era. Al-Zawahiri was killed 21 years after he helped plan the attacks on the US Pentagon and World Trade Centre, and 11 years after his predecessor, Osama bin Laden, was shot dead in a US raid in Pakistan. Combined with the US retreat from Afghanistan last year, the period defined by 9/11 and the global ‘War on Terror’ appears to be coming to a close. What has replaced it?

For at least six years, the threat to democracy seems to have come less from violent non-state actors, but from the warring elites within some of the world’s largest democracies. Modi in India, Erdoğan in Turkey, Bolsonaro in Brazil and – of course – Trump in the US and Johnson in the UK show that the rise of authoritarian populism is no flash in the pan. 

Most of the disruption caused by this has been non-violent and has not spilled across borders. But the spike in violent far-right terrorism shows that the threats aren’t mere ‘culture wars’. And the populist Brexit project destabilised the EU just as much as Donald Trump’s ‘America First’ isolationism undermined NATO and the UN. 

The elevated threat this poses to the post-war rules-based order came into starker relief this February, with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Like Trump and Johnson, Putin invoked the language of ‘national sovereignty’ above international law in his justifications for the unprovoked assault – tying up his “special military operation” to ‘de-Nazify’ Ukraine with a wider global war on ‘cancel culture’. Some of his speeches could have been written by far-right ideologue and Trump campaign manager Steve Bannon (who claimed to have helped our outgoing Prime Minister write his).  

Though the six-month-long invasion has made Russia an international pariah, it has certainly not dented Putin’s popularity in Russia itself. In a sense, this is the ultimate success of authoritarian populism. So what is wrong with being popular? 

The problem with populism – an appeal to the majority for the sake of that appeal – is that it cannot keep its promises. One example of this mismatch between being ‘for the people’ but not actually helping them, is the higher level of Coronavirus deaths in countries led by populist authoritarians. 

Another came to me recently while watching the late 90s disaster movie Deep Impact – the precursor to the recent hit Netflix satire Don’t Look Up starring Leonardo DiCaprio. In both film scenarios, an asteroid is heading towards Earth with the potential to create an ‘extinction level event’. 

In the 1998 version, the US President – played by Morgan Freeman – co-operates with international scientists and governments across the world, to provide an active response and carefully thought-through back up plans. They don’t end up entirely diverting disaster, but a combination of collective action and individual initiative saves the planet from the worst and most people survive. 

In the 2021 remake, the US – led by a populist president played by Meryl Streep in the style of Donald Trump – panders to the media and her lazily sceptical voter base. The response is to either ignore the impending catastrophe (“don’t look up!”) or to somehow profit from it. The result is that the planet is destroyed and virtually nobody survives. 

The metaphor of climate change denial is all too clear, and the August 2022 print edition of Byline Times looks at the wider impact of the climate emergency, with a special investigation led by Nafeez Ahmed. As Nafeez points out, the rise of far-right politics is connected to the devastating impacts of climate change and its effect on migration. But, as always with populism, since it never addresses the real cause, the reaction is to blame minority groups or threatening ‘outsiders’ – migrants, asylum seekers, Muslims, terrorists.

Because populist policies are only designed to evoke outrage rather than solve problems, they provoke a spiral of ever-more disturbing narratives that soon turn against ‘insiders’ too: the ‘stab in the back’ by ‘enemies of the people’, ending in conspiracy theories about globalist ‘elites’ or an undefined ‘deep state’. 

Ultimately, this cycle of broken promise does threaten the ‘deep’ state – in other words, independent institutions, governance, and the rule of law. 

Because populism is so predicated on lies, the only way to maintain its mythic structures is to make sure reality never breaks through, and to keep a firm grip on the state so the spiralling authoritarian wrongs are never exposed. 

This is the trajectory writ large by Donald Trump’s incitement of the Capitol insurrection of 6 January 2021, in which he hoped to overturn the democratic vote for Joe Biden. There is also an echo of this in Boris Johnson’s constant challenges to parliamentary and police scrutiny over his time in Number 10. Both parties – the Republicans in the US and the Conservatives in the UK – now appear more or less wedded to this rhetoric of rule-breaking and cultural polarisation of their societies through the ‘war on woke’.

For all its disturbing trends, the rise of populism does remind us – like a photographic negative – of those elements which actually have made democracies succeed throughout the 20th Century, which can be summed up in one word: pluralism.

The danger of any democracy is always the tyranny of the majority and, as was witnessed in Germany in the 1930s or can be seen in Russia today, a popular movement with the support of more than 50% of the population can decide on a trajectory of repression, censorship, imperial war, genocide and widespread destruction. 

That is because the only thing that has made democracies function in the past is the combination of popular rule with the protection of individual and minority rights, especially when it comes to free speech and assembly; and clear, fair rules about the succession of power. 

In Xi Jinping's China, in Putin’s Russia, and (almost) in Donald Trump’s America, the peaceful transfer of power has been broken, with ‘presidents for life’ equating the success of the state with their own lives and livelihoods. Britain is not exempt from this danger, as we face the third change of prime minister mid-term without a mandate from the electorate. 

Pluralism also guards us against the other knee-jerk reaction of the populists: demonisation of others to create ‘in group’-‘out group’ fears. Rising out of a fight against religious intolerance, pluralism is the only way to fight back against the sectarian divisions provoked by demagogues like Modi. 

As Hardeep Matharu explains in a profound and searching essay in these pages, the 'culture wars' seek to divide-and-rule by fixing individuals in mutually exclusive, and often mutually hostile, single identities – whereas the reality is we all have multiple, overlapping identities, and the pluralism we seek in society is actually a liberation of the pluralism and choice within us all. 

Finally, in the battle between pluralism and populism, whether metaphorical or literal, the former shows more signs of adaptiveness and strength.

In this month's print edition, Tom Mutch explains how his journey to the frontlines of the Donbas in Ukraine began with his work on Arron Banks’ book, The Bad Boys of Brexit, and an investigation into how Russia may have intervened in the EU Referendum. We’ve seen the tense, litigious and expensive battles over allegations of Russia interference dominate our courts, with high-profile legal battles against investigative journalists like Carole Cadwalladr and Catherine Belton. 

But, more than anything, this struggle is playing out in real time, measured in human cost, on the frontlines of the war in Ukraine. Ever since the much smaller Ukrainian military forces managed to beat the much larger Russian Army in the siege of Kyiv, the power of pluralistic society collaborating with a wider European community of nations, has proved itself more powerful, blow by blow, than the top-down controlled dictatorial structures of Putin’s military and managed authoritarian democracy. 

The sinking of the flagship Russian Cruiser Moskva, the recapturing of the strategic Snake Island in the Black Sea, and the recent devastating explosions at the Saki Russian air force base in Crimea, show a depth of group ingenuity – not to mention collective motivation of a smaller force against a much larger one. 

With Russia having failed in its secondary objective to capture the Donetsk Oblast, Putin has moved most of his forces into a defence of Kherson –  the one large city which fell quickly during the initial invasion. This is looking increasingly like a trap, as there are only two bridges to supply his forces, and both have been badly damaged by Ukrainian rocket attacks.  

Whatever happens, the battle for Kherson will be a crucial turning point in this third phase of the war. If Putin loses and is forced to withdraw, his own domestic situation could well become precarious. And if so, for the people of Russia as much as those in Ukraine or the rest of Europe, the empty promises of populism will have been exposed once again by the wider forces of pluralism.

This article was published as an editorial in the August 2022 print edition of Byline Times. Buy your copy now




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Bruised Fruit

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 16/06/2022 - 11:30pm in

Uncrowding the mantel of gay saints.

Bolsonaro e seus generais são golpistas demais até para os padrões da CIA

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 07/05/2022 - 8:00pm in




Ilustração: João Brizzi para o Intercept Brasil

Transformar as Forças Armadas em um dos poderes da República é parte do projeto de destruição da democracia em curso. Como se já não bastasse termos um governo federal apinhado de militares comandando ministérios e aproximadamente 7 mil ocupando cargos civis, agora o bolsonarismo pretende transformar as Forças Armadas em um poder revisor e moderador dos demais poderes constituídos.

Hoje, os líderes dos militares se sentem à vontade para marcar reuniões com chefes de outros poderes para propor, cobrar e fiscalizar. Trata-se de mais um ataque velado à Constituição, que determina que as Forças Armadas devem garantir a existência dos poderes Executivo, Legislativo e Judiciário, e não atuar como se fosse um deles.

Na teoria, as Forças Armadas estão constitucionalmente subordinadas aos três poderes. Na prática, os militares já atuam informalmente como se fossem um poder, sendo o único armado e com tropas. Eles querem conversar de igual para igual com outros poderes exibindo um revólver na cintura.

Nesta semana, a milicada estava especialmente ouriçada. A eleição vai se aproximando, e as Forças Armadas já estão em campo para garantir a reeleição de Bolsonaro e, consequentemente, as generosas mamatas conquistadas nesses quase quatro anos.

Líderes militares têm se reunido com chefes do Legislativo e do Judiciário para tratar das eleições. O presidente do Senado, Rodrigo Pacheco, por exemplo, se reuniu com o general Luis Carlos Gomes Mattos, que preside o Superior Tribunal Militar, o STM. Para quem não se lembra, Mattos é aquele valoroso cristão que há poucos dias disse ter desfrutado tranquilamente da Páscoa mesmo após a revelação de que o tribunal que hoje preside sempre soube das torturas cometidas nos porões da ditadura.

Um dos temas tratados foi justamente o processo eleitoral. Pacheco saiu da reunião dizendo que foi uma “conversa institucional necessária para o alinhamento das instituições”. Afirmou ainda que foi importante “para que não haja essa situação de um acirramento eleitoral, de uma disputa eleitoral contaminar as boas relações que devem, os presidentes e membros dessas instituições, ter entre si”.

A fala de Pacheco é compreensível, mas equivocada. Compreensível porque pretende baixar a temperatura do fogo que Bolsonaro colocou entre as instituições. Equivocada porque um presidente de uma corte militar não tem nada que se meter com assuntos dos poderes constituídos, muito menos com as eleições. Um presidente do STM trata exclusivamente de assuntos jurídicos-militares. Reunir-se com um chefe do Legislativo para tratar do processo eleitoral não faz parte das suas atribuições. Ainda mais dentro do contexto atual, em que militares fazem ameaças golpistas de maneira permanente. A normalização dessa reunião, portanto, é um péssimo sinal para a democracia.

Um dia antes, o presidente do STF, Luiz Fux, recebeu a visita do general Paulo Sérgio Nogueira de Oliveira, ministro da Defesa. Uma nota emitida pelo STF após a reunião revelou que o assunto central foram as eleições brasileiras: “[o general] afirmou que as Forças Armadas estão comprometidas com a democracia brasileira e que os militares atuarão, no âmbito de suas competências, para que o processo eleitoral transcorra normalmente e sem incidentes.” Aqui temos o presidente de um poder constituído tratando de eleições com um militar nomeado pelo presidente para liderar as Forças Armadas. A normalidade com que se trata isso é preocupante.

O encontro aconteceu logo após o ministro da Defesa participar de uma reunião do Alto Comando do Exército com Bolsonaro e Braga Netto — o ex-ministro da Defesa que foi descompatibilizado para concorrer como vice de Bolsonaro, mas que ganhou o cargo de assessor especial do gabinete do presidente da República para não perder a mamata. Ou seja, o ministro da Defesa se reuniu com Bolsonaro e a cúpula dos militares às vésperas de uma reunião com o presidente do STF cujo assunto seria as eleições. A reunião acontece dentro de um contexto em que o presidente e os militares emitem sinais golpistas diariamente ao contestarem a lisura do processo eleitoral. A roupagem de mera reunião institucional que ambos tentam dar ao encontro é mais uma tentativa de naturalizar o absurdo.

O presidente e os militares já deixaram claro que desejam participar e interferir no trabalho do TSE durante o processo eleitoral. O deputado federal bolsonarista Coronel Tadeu, do PL de São Paulo, declarou que as Forças Armadas devem interferir no processo eleitoral caso o TSE não resolva supostas falhas no modelo de votação. “As Forças Armadas estão praticamente de plantão esperando as ações do TSE”, afirmou o bolsonarista como se fosse a coisa mais normal do mundo. Bolsonaro reiterou na última quinta que “as Forças Armadas não vão apenas participar como espectadores das eleições”.

Essa promiscuidade entre os militares e o TSE é culpa também do próprio TSE, que abriu as portas do tribunal para os militares entrarem. O tribunal convidou um representante das Forças Armadas para integrar a Comissão de Transparência Eleitoral. A intenção, claro, era boa: comprovar para os generais a lisura do processo eleitoral e colocar panos quentes no golpismo, o que não aconteceu.

A intenção é tumultuar. Quando o TSE realizou um teste público de segurança das urnas, as FFAA decidiram não participar. Segundo apurou a CNN Brasil, a avaliação entre os militares é “a de que uma eventual participação das Forças daria credibilidade ao teste”. Claro, assim é possível manter a carta da fraude nas urnas na manga.

O nome indicado pelos militares para integrar a comissão do TSE foi o do general Heber Garcia Portella, chefe de Defesa Cibernética do Exército Brasileiro, que recentemente contratou uma empresa de cibersegurança israelense. Um dos executivos dessa empresa, vejam só, é um analista que até pouco tempo figurava como diretor de Tecnologia da Informação da Secretaria-Geral da Presidência da República no governo Bolsonaro.

Nesta semana, o presidente afirmou que as urnas precisam ser auditadas — como se elas já não fossem super auditadas — e que o seu partido contratará uma empresa para isso. Não devemos nos espantar caso a contratada seja a empresa isralense representada pelo parça bolsonarista. Sabemos que não há a menor preocupação em disfarçar o golpismo.

Os fatos não importam. O que importa é manter a chama da dúvida sobre as eleições acesa e o golpismo vivo.

Também nesta semana, Portella cobrou do TSE a divulgação urgente das “consequências para o processo eleitoral, caso seja identificada alguma irregularidade”, como se isso já não estivesse definido pelas regras do tribunal. Foi ele também que assinou os 88 questionamentos feitos pelas forças ao TSE apontando riscos e fragilidades do processo. A corte respondeu apresentando uma série de medidas legais e procedimentos que são adotados quando as urnas apresentam problemas.

Mesmo assim, Bolsonaro tem repetido nos últimos dias que o TSE está ignorando as sugestões dos militares para reforçar a segurança no processo eleitoral. Os fatos não importam. O que importa é manter a chama da dúvida sobre as eleições acesa e o golpismo vivo.

Na quinta-feira, no bojo da escalada golpista, o ministro da Defesa encaminhou um ofício ao presidente do TSE, Edson Fachin, pedindo que todos os documentos trocados entre a corte e as Forças Armadas fossem divulgados. No documento, o general aumentou a tensão entre as instituições ao registrar que o presidente do TSE não atendeu a um pedido de audiência.

É evidente que os militares estão buscando pelo em ovo no processo eleitoral para municiar as narrativas golpistas de Bolsonaro. Se de fato houvesse preocupação com a lisura do sistema, o presidente não teria pressionado o Itamaraty para impedir a vinda de observadores internacionais da União Europeia para as próximas eleições. O TSE negociava a vinda desses observadores mas, sem o aval do ministério responsável pelas relações exteriores do país, teve que parar.

mesmo que Bolsonaro não consiga executar um golpe plenamente, só a tentativa já será terrivelmente danosa à democracia e ao povo brasileiro. É um erro subestimar esse cenário.

No ano passado, em uma reunião de portas fechadas com Bolsonaro, representantes da CIA pediram a ele parar de minar a confiança no processo eleitoral brasileiro. Bolsonaro é golpista demais até para os padrões da CIA, conhecida por fomentar golpes de estado mundo afora. O pedido não foi atendido, claro, porque agora, depois da saída do colega golpista, Donald Trump, Bolsonaro não balança mais o rabinho para o governo americano. Agora ele prefere balançar para o seu colega autocrata Putin.

Registre-se que tramita no TSE um inquérito administrativo para apurar os ataques infundados de Bolsonaro às urnas eletrônicas. De acordo com o ministro do STJ Luis Felipe Salomão, a depender das provas colhidas, existe a possibilidade de Bolsonaro se tornar inelegível através do indeferimento do registro da candidatura ou com a cassação de seu mandato. As provas dos ataques ao sistema eleitoral são fartas e escancaradas. Vejamos se o tribunal terá a coragem necessária para enquadrar o golpismo.

Parece inacreditável, mas há ainda quem no colunismo brasileiro acredite que boa parte da cúpula dos militares não endossa os radicalismos do presidente e que estaria incomodada com seu golpismo. É triste ter que lembrar mais uma vez do óbvio: Bolsonaro e as Forças Armadas se tornaram uma coisa só.

Há também quem diga que, caso Bolsonaro perca as eleições, não haverá condições materiais para um golpe. Hoje, de fato, essas condições não existem, mas podem vir a existir. E mesmo que Bolsonaro não consiga executar um golpe plenamente, só a tentativa já será terrivelmente danosa à democracia e ao povo brasileiro. É um erro subestimar esse cenário.

Todas as movimentações das Forças Armadas em relação ao processo eleitoral já são o início de um processo de tentativa de golpe. A degradação permanente das instituições faz parte da preparação do terreno. Não sabemos se o golpe vingará, mas podemos ter a certeza absoluta que a democracia enfrentará problemas graves pela frente, qualquer que seja o vencedor das eleições.

The post Bolsonaro e seus generais são golpistas demais até para os padrões da CIA appeared first on The Intercept.

Lula Counters FBI-Backed “Corruption” Prosecution to Lead Brazil’s 2022 Presidential Race

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 22/03/2022 - 4:08am in

RIO DE JANEIRO – Former Brazilian president, and frontrunner in the upcoming October 2022 presidential election, Luíz Inácio Lula da Silva is putting four of his one-time accusers of corruption and money laundering in the dock. The initial charges and inquiries — all 25 of them — were completely dismissed earlier this month.

Lula’s legal battles — including his sentence of 12 years and 11 months in prison, a sentence that was later increased to 17 years — are part of the infamous and multifaceted “Car Wash” investigations into corruption at state and private companies, such as Petrobras and Odebrecht, as well as among businessmen and politicians. In fact, it was during Lula’s administration that Brazil’s federal police were provided with the legal tools and mechanisms to initiate the Car Wash operations. As years went by, FBI agents operating from the U.S. Embassy in Brasilia became party to these investigations.


Four heading to the dock

Deltan Dallagnol, former head of the Car Wash Task Force in Curitiba, is accused by Lula’s legal team, headed by Cristiano Zanin Martins, of abuse of power. On September 14, 2016, via a PowePoint presentation during a press conference broadcast on national TV, Dallagnol accused the ex-president of corruption and being the ringleader of a criminal organization. Apart from providing no proof to support his claims, the PowePoint had grammatical errors and resembled a solar system with numerous corrupt planets rotating around an almighty corrupt sun named Lula. Brazil’s Supreme Court of Justice will preside over the case.

Deltan Dallagnol accuses former Lula da Silva of corruption and heading a criminal enterprise. Geraldo Bubniak | Estado

Delcídio do Amaral, a former senator from the state of Mato Grosso do Sul and employee of British multinational oil company Shell, is accused of falsely testifying during a plea bargain that Lula attempted to buy the silence of a Petrobras director involved in a corruption scandal.

Federal Police Deputy Filipe Pace is accused of causing moral damages to the former president. While interrogating former Chief of Staff and ex-Finance Minister Antonio Palocci, Pace claimed that the word “amigo” (friend), encountered on a spreadsheet, referred to Lula.

Finally, Lula accuses Congressman Eduardo Bolsonaro — son of Brazil’s current president, Jair Bolsonaro — of publishing false information about Lula’s late wife, Marisa Letícia. In 2020, Eduardo — as well as Brazil’s minister of culture, Regina Duarte — posted on their social media accounts that Letícia held personal investments totaling R$256 million (approximately $49 million USD at today’s exchange rate). After judicial review, it was discovered that Letícia’s total investments amounted to R$26,000.

The social media posts have “publicly tarnished the memory of Marisa Letícia Lula da Silva,” said the heirs of the former first lady, and are a “clear attempt to subvert the image of the deceased.”

Supporters attend the wake of Marisa Leticia Lula da Silva in Sao Bernardo do Campo. Andre Penner | AP


Former Judge Sergio Moro escapes counter-charges

Not in the dock is Sergio Moro, the former federal judge who initially convicted Lula, the most popular president in Brazil’s history, to one month shy of 13 years in prison. The sentence was handed down by the 13th Federal Court of Curitiba (many simplified the name to “Moro’s Court”) in the state of Paraná.

In a document published by WikiLeaks, Moro’s name is listed as a participant in a conference titled Bridges Project held in Rio de Janeiro. Associated with the U.S. State Department, this project aimed to consolidate bilateral training between the United States and Brazil in order to apply the law. During the conference, Moro was called on to discuss 15 common issues involving money laundering cases in Brazilian courts.

Moro was seated as Brazil’s new minister of justice shortly after Jair Bolsonaro was sworn in as president in 2019. During his 16-month stint in office, he — along with the former director of Brazil’s federal police, Mauricio Valeixo — signed agreements with the FBI that increased the United States’ footprint on the Brazilian judicial system. This cooperation included support for a surveillance unit operating on the Triple Frontier, investigations into cooperation scandals, and access to biometric data of Brazilian citizens. The FBI office in Brazil requested more resources from the U.S. government to increase its number of agents from 10 to 30, in order to facilitate more cooperation requests.


FBI looms over Brazil

In 2004, Carlos Costa, former director of the FBI in Brazil, revealed that the bureau was operating in the South American giant. While testifying before the Public Prosecutor’s Office (MPF), he affirmed that the FBI financed and directed Brazilian Federal Police operations, which resulted in their “subordination to U.S. authorities.”

The year 2014 marked the beginning of the FBI’s cooperation with the Car Wash investigations, with its support increasing over the next two years. George “Ren” McEachern led the bureau’s International Corruption Squad, overseeing most of the investigations in the name of the U.S. DOJ. In a 2018 interview titled “Car Wash Operation Is an Example for the World,” McEachern stated, “What is occurring in Brazil is changing the way we see business and corruption all across the world,” adding specifically that “the courts in Curitiba sent out the message that Brazil is becoming clean.” While participating in an event hosted by the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC), McEachern underscored that Car Wash investigations could result in the loss of jobs; however, “in the long term, it generates a lot more sustainable businesses.”

During the Fourth Annual International Compliance Congress and Regulator Summit, hosted in São Paulo in May 2016 and attended by 90 members of São Paulo’s Federal Public Prosecutor’s Office,  McEachern emphasized that the FBI was offering technical support to investigators in relation to “encryption, mobile telephones, and cloud data,” with a cybernetic analyst headquartered in Brasília.

FBI investigations in Brazil, as of August 2017, were overseen by David Brassanini, current head of the FBI in the country. Agents from the Bureau come to São Paulo “every week to address cases involving FCPA (Foreign Corrupt Practices Act) and money laundering,” said Brassanini during his presentation at the Seventh International Congress on Compliance, held in São Paulo in May 2019, adding: “Brazilian federal police agents have recently told me that even if they had no more additional information, nor conducted investigative work, they’ll still have material to conduct corruption and money laundering inquiries for the next five years.” The career FBI chief conducts his work from the U.S. Embassy in Brasilia, coordinating with colleagues in the U.S. embassies in São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Recife, Belo Horizonte, and Porto Alegre.

Brassanini described the cooperation between U.S. and Brazilian authorities as being “fluid, without problems, and transparent.… The ability to develop and understand local peculiarities is great, not only in regards to the language but to really understand how Brazil functions — comprehending the nuances.”


Lawfare precursor(s): Africa to South America?

The multifaceted legal case that culminated in Lula’s imprisonment comprises what is referred to as “lawfare,” a strategy employed to attack, undermine, weaken, and unseat political opponents through manipulative legal and judicial maneuvers. Lawfare, a seemingly more advanced version of political blackmail, has become an efficient tool targeting progressive leaders in the global south. Its use has precedent in Africa.

In a precursor to lawfare’s present-day iteration, former Liberian President Charles Taylor was found guilty of 11 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court (ICC) in April 2012. Sentenced to 50 years in HM Prison Frankland in Britain, he had become the first former head of state since the Nuremberg trials to be convicted by an international court.

Taylor’s offenses were alleged to have been committed in a neighboring state, Sierra Leone, during that country’s civil war. Many viewed the case as a corrupt, politically motivated ICC trial, especially considering that, unlike known dictators and despotic regimes of the past — Rhodesia’s Ian Smith, Portuguese colonialism, and Apartheid, to name a few — Taylor, adhering to a deal brokered by African leaders, voluntarily resigned as president on August 11, 2003, in pursuit of a peaceful resolution to a civil war in his country. “I have accepted this role as the sacrificial lamb,” Taylor said during his resignation speech.

Former U.S. President George W. Bush, in May 2001, signed an executive order (No. 13213) stating:

The government of Liberia’s complicity in the RUF (Revolutionary United Front) illicit trade in diamonds, and its other forms of support for the RUF are direct challenges to the United States foreign policy objectives in the region, as well as the rule-based international order that is critical to the peace and prosperity of the United States. Therefore, I find these actions by the government of Liberia contribute to the unusual and extraordinary threat to the foreign policy of the United States described in executive order 13194, with the respect to which the president has declared a national emergency.

Several former intelligence agents, headed by the first lead prosecutor, David Crane, a former U.S. defense intelligence official for 30 years, led the case against Taylor. This, despite the fact that the United States was not a signatory to the formation and function of the ICC, thus rendering its own military and political leaders exempt from any and all litigation.

Charles Taylor

Charles Taylor, center rear, is flanked by security guards as he waits for the start of a hearing in The Hague, April 26, 2012. Peter Dejong | Pool | AP

Taylor’s defense team, headed by Dr. Courtenay Griffith QC, revealed that Crane unlawfully opened the court’s sealed indictment, revealing it to U.S. government officials at its embassy in Freetown. On February 8, 2006, in a footnote to a statement presented to a hearing presided over by the U.S. House Subcommittee on Africa, Crane noted that “the unsealing of the indictment against Charles Taylor on the day he arrived in Accra, Ghana for the peace talks in June of 2003 was a calculated move on my part… [M]y intent was to…humiliate him before his peers, the leaders of Africa, and to serve notice to Taylor and others that the days of impunity in Africa were over.”

Dubbed the United States’ prodigal “slave child” by Griffith, Taylor was pursued by the UN even after former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo offered the recently-resigned president asylum on July 6, 2003. Three years later, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Liberia’s newly-elected president, pressured incessantly by Human Rights Watch and U.S. authorities — Bush was quoted as saying, “Bring Nigeria to its knees if Taylor [is] not turned over to the special court” — requested Taylor’s extradition to Sierra Leone’s special court. After the request was fulfilled, the former head of state was flown to the Hague to be tried by the ICC.

Following Taylor’s conviction, Western diplomats and political operatives openly pondered the fate of other African leaders, particularly Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe and Libyan head of state Muammar Qaddafi.

“Robert Mugabe is at one of those points where dictators have to consider whether if they press on they don’t fall into the category of committing crimes against humanity on the sort of scale that the law proscribes,” said Britain’s then-Foreign Office Minister David Triesman. “Charles Taylor presented quite a difficult target in the sense of coming to trial. No impunity is a baseline we shouldn’t cross. Those who commit terrible crimes will come to trial and be convicted and go to prison,” he told reporters.

Western leaders would resort to NATO and other unconventional means in Qaddafi’s case, the aftermath of which has led to terrorist groups and slave ports popping up throughout the country.

Expanding outward from target Africa — as the overwhelming majority of people indicted and brought before the ICC have been leaders from the former colonies on the continent — lawfare has also taken root in South America, represented in Brazil by the one-and-a-half years Lula spent in federal prison, and legal cases brought against former Argentine President Cristina Kirchner and former Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa. In the latter, after going into self-imposed exile with his wife in Belgium, Correa stated, “I left Ecuador without a single traffic ticket and today I have 33 accusations against me.”



Having survived his encounter with lawfare, released from prison in November 2019 after serving one-and-a-half years of his sentence, Lula is the undisputed frontrunner in the October 2022 presidential election. The latest poll conducted by Ipespe, published on March 11, shows him leading the field with 42% of the votes. Bolsonaro appears in second place with 28%. Lula’s advantage over the incumbent president echoes his sentiments after being released from federal police headquarters in Curitiba. “I leave here without hate. At the age of 74, my heart only has room for love,” Lula told a crowd of supporters from an impromptu stage, adding that as a migrant from the poor, underserved northeast region, “there’s nothing that can beat me.”

Lula da Silva

Large crowds surround and carry Lula at the Metalworkers Union in São Paulo, attempting to prevent him from turning himself in to federal police in April. 2018. Francisco Proner | Farpa Coletivo

After having run, unsuccessfully, for president on three separate occasions; after having mobilized workers through the perils of the military dictatorship; having lost his first unborn child and wife, Maria de Lourdes da Silva, who, seven months pregnant and suffering from hepatitis and anemia, received inadequate medical care at a public hospital; having barely completed the fourth grade; and having been born into abject poverty, regional drought and disease in the northeastern state of Pernambuco, Lula was not to be denied in the 2002 presidential campaign. On January 1, 2003, he was sworn in as Brazil’s thirty-fifth president.

Cognizant of his more than unlikely political trajectory, Lula smacked the table before the judge awarding his presidential credentials and literally fell into his embrace. His raspy voice crackling under the weight of trying to hold back tears, Lula said:

If anyone in Brazil doubted that a metal lathe worker would emerge from a factory plant and ascend to the presidency of the Republic, I, in 2002, proved them wrong. And I, who on so many occasions was accused of not having a university degree, earn, as my very first diploma, my country’s presidential Republic diploma.”

Dilma Rousseff, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva

Lula da Silva, right, Dilma Rousseff at her inauguration in Brasilia, Brazil, Jan. 1, 2011. Silvia Izquierdo | AP

Riding on the experience of his background to the pomp of the Planalto Palace, the president’s official workplace, Lula began implementing policies geared toward the masses. Social programs established during his two presidential terms (2003 – 2011) ended historical poverty for millions. The country was taken off the UN World Hunger Map. Bolsa Familia (Family Grant), started just two years into his presidency, provided monthly allowances to guarantee basic needs of impoverished families, such as food, hygiene and transportation. Tack on his presidential successor, Dilma Rousseff, also a Workers’ Party (PT) member, and Brazil’s government, over thirteen-and-a-half years, built 422 technical schools, 18 public universities, and 173 new university campuses — more educational institutions than built in the country’s history.

“Humanity must understand that the only just war is the war against inequality,” Lula said while speaking in Mexico’s House of Representatives earlier this month. “However, some people in positions of power do everything to produce even more inequality and more suffering.” In the shadow of the past three-and-a-half years — marked by a Brazilian judicial system and presidency that reversed social and political gains during Lula’s two terms in office, as well as during the term of his successor, Dilma Rousseff — a resurgence of the South American giant, internally and internationally, hangs in the balance of the October 2022 general elections. If re-elected for a third term in office, Lula has vowed to resume where he left off — a “peaceful revolution,” as he puts it:

We [will] combine development with social inclusion, economic stability, total respect for the rule of law, human rights and individual and collective freedoms. We [will] govern for everyone, implementing public policies aimed, particularly, for the poorest.”

Feature photo | A giant cutout of Brazil’s former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva depicted wearing a protective face mask, towers over demonstrators during a protest against Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, calling for his impeachment over his government’s handling of the pandemic and accusations of corruption in the purchases of COVID-19 vaccines, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Oct. 2, 2021. Bruna Prado | AP

Julian Cola is a translator (Brazilian-Portuguese to English). A former staff writer at the pan-Latin American news outlet, teleSUR, his articles and essays also appear in Africa is a Country, Black Agenda Report, Truthout, Counterpunch and elsewhere.

The post Lula Counters FBI-Backed “Corruption” Prosecution to Lead Brazil’s 2022 Presidential Race appeared first on MintPress News.

Behind the Azov-Brazil Connection: How Neo-Nazis Are Pushing to “Ukrainize” Brazil

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 16/03/2022 - 9:14am in

SÃO PAULO – During the last two weeks, a small group of Brazilian bolsonaristas became social media celebrities as they crossed the border into Ukraine to fight against Russia – posing with assault rifles on Instagram, reciting prayers to the special forces, and sharing video monologues praising the brotherhood of people from around the world who had gathered in a training base near the Ukrainian city of Lviv to kill Russian “communists.” The group’s inexperience was demonstrated by the fact that most of their social media posts included their geo-location information.

This all changed following a missile attack on the training base near Lviv on March 13, after which a series of more humble photos and videos began cropping up on their Twitter and Instagram feeds.

From across the Polish border, Jefferson Kleidian posted a selfie brandishing an injured pinky finger and thanking God for one more day on Earth.

Jefferson Kleidian Ukraine

Former combatant Jefferson Kleidian thanks God for one more day on Earth from a safe place in Poland

Andre Hack posted that he had lost friends at the base. Twenty-eight-year-old shooting-range instructor and Bolsonaro fanatic Tiago Rossi tweeted a video saying he had fled the base immediately before the missile strike. “Our entire legion was destroyed, the information I have is that everyone died. You don’t understand what it’s like to have a fighter jet fire a missile at you. I didn’t think it was a real war,” he said.

What were these Brazilians doing in Ukraine in the first place? In order to answer that question, one has to look back at the resurgence of Nazi ideology in Brazil and the deepening relationship between Brazil’s neo-Nazi groups, which have grown by a staggering 270% since Jair Bolsonaro took office in 2019, and Ukrainian neo-Nazi organizations like Azov.

During the 1930s, Brazil was home to the largest German Nazi party outside of Europe and had a much larger indigenous fascist movement, called the integralistas, that tried to enact a coup in 1938. The coup was crushed but the ideology lived on in a country that already suffered from severe structural racism as the last place in the Americas to eradicate slavery.

Brazil’s current president, Jair Bolsonaro – who made it into power only after a joint U.S. DOJ/Brazilian Public Prosecutors operation jailed the leading 2018 presidential candidate on false charges — began his career as an army captain during a sub-fascist military dictatorship, which employed Gestapo tactics like death squads and torture against labor union leaders, intellectuals and communists.

As a congressman in 2004, Bolsonaro wrote a series of letters to neo-Nazi websites, saying things like “you guys are the reason I am in politics.” Grounded on a platform of anti-communist hate speech, his presidency unleashed a flood of public support for fascism, which had been latent since the end of the dictatorship. According to Brazilian law, Nazi organizations are illegal, but according to anthropology professor and Nazi researcher Adriana Dias, there are currently 530 neo-Nazi cells operating in Brazil. Since 2012, these organizations have had increasing interactions with Ukrainian Nazi organizations, which have resulted in Brazilian Nazis gaining combat experience with Azov in Donbas and a campaign to “Ukraine Brazil” run by a right-wing extremist faction of Bolsonaro supporters.


The role of a FEMENazi

Sara Fernanda Giromini was a teenager involved in Nazi skinhead gangs in Sao Paulo when she opened a VK account and made friends with Russian and Ukrainian neo-Nazis and learned about  FEMEN after reading about it on Facebook. VK is a popular Russia-run social media platform.

Giromini first visited Ukraine in 2011, where she met and trained with FEMEN leaders and other actors from the Ukrainian far-right. After returning to Brazil in 2012, she started calling herself Sarah Winter in homage to the English fascist of the 1920s.

After a series of topless protests transformed Giromini into a celebrity, FEMEN Brazil imploded in less than a year. Bruna Themis, number two in the organization, resigned and gave a series of whistleblowing interviews, saying that the Ukrainians demanded they kick out any Brazilian woman who didn’t meet their sexist physical appearance and weight standards; that the real leader of the group was a minor far-right politician named Andrey Cuia, who frequently traveled back and forth to Ukraine; and that Cuia and Giromini were ripping off donors and keeping the money for themselves.

Sara Giromoni

After posing with guns while threatening violence against Supreme Court Ministers, Giromoni was put under house arrest

Shortly afterward, FEMEN Ukraine announced that FEMEN Brazil had nothing to do with them, despite the fact that Giromini was arrested during a FEMEN protest in Kiev in 2012. Giromini now says that during her time in FEMEN, they paid her $2,000 per protest.

According to Professor Dias, after FEMEN folded, Giromini, who remains friends with several leaders of Azov and the Phoenix Battalion on her VK account to this day, began inviting Ukrainian neo-Nazis to Brazil.

In 2016, civil police in the southern state of Rio Grande do Sul, home to several waves of German and Italian immigration and a long fascist tradition of its own, carried out an investigation against neo-Nazi groups that were planning violent attacks against Afro-Brazilians, Jews, and LGBT+ and discovered that the Ukrainian neo-Nazi militia Misanthropic Division was recruiting Brazilian Nazis in seven cities in the state to serve as volunteer combatants with Azov in the Donbas region. The investigation, which was dubbed “Operation Azov,” received ample coverage in the Brazilian and  Israeli press at the time.

After leading candidate Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva was arbitrarily imprisoned during the 2018 election campaign, Bolsonaro was swept into office on a wave of Nazi-influenced anti-communist propaganda that led him to label any person or organization that ever criticized him as a communist. At one point he even called the oldest conservative magazine in the world, The Economist, “The Communist.”

Giromini, by this time a vocal member of the anti-abortion movement, campaigned heavily for Bolsonaro. After he took office in 2019, she began a public call to “Ukrainize Brazil.” Many of the most reactionary public figures associated with Bolsonaro, like openly fascist Rio de Janeiro lawmaker Daniel Silveira, joined the campaign. Professor Dias says, “Azov’s tactic has always been to bring a group of 300 people to a city and, through training activities with locals, start a right-wing extremist movement.” Giromini relocated to Brasilia and started an organization called the “group of 300” to help build support for the Ukrainization of Brazil.

In 2020, after the Brazilian Supreme Court blocked one of Bolsonaro’s attempts to bypass the Constitution, Giromini’s group of 300 camped out on the national esplanade, held a series of tiki torch-wielding protests in front of the court building and shot fireworks at it. Posing for selfies with guns, she cited for violence against Supreme Court Ministers; on July 15, 2020, the Supreme Court ordered her arrest. After two weeks in jail, she was given an ankle bracelet, transferred to house arrest, and ordered to stay off social media. She has been there ever since.

Sara Giromini

Sara Giromini AKA Winter, leading a protest in front of the Supreme Court

Meanwhile, Ukrainian flags and symbols of the Ukrainian far-right became more and more popular at pro-Bolsonaro rallies. In 2020, a former soldier and security consultant named Alex Silva, who has been living in Kiev since 2014 and says he is a member of an “auxiliary volunteer police force” there, triggered a media controversy that led to an official disclaimer from the Ukrainian Embassy when he hoisted a red and black Pravyi Sektor flag onto a sound truck at a Bolsonaro rally and was photographed walking through the crowd wearing it like a cape. Silva, now back in Kyiv, has become another internet celebrity to the Brazilian far-right, posting videos of his armed voluntary patrols of Kyiv as recently as this week.


Ukrainizing Brazil

Leonel Radde is a Porto Alegre city councilor who spends a lot of his time investigating neo-Nazi groups in Rio Grande do Sul. Asked about connections between Brazilian and Ukrainian neo-Nazi groups, he said:

We see clearly that the majority of Nazi groups here use Ukrainian design elements. They are using the same symbols – mainly the black sun — and they all use this discourse of Ukrainizing Brazil. They also talk among themselves about adapting Ukrainian tactics for setting up camps and occupying public squares and things like that. They are definitely trying to copy what happened in Ukraine in 2014. We are trying to figure out how much they are just copying things they see on the internet or if they are being financed from the Ukraine, although Sarah Winter spent time near Porto Alegre doing organizing work and she started this whole thing.”

Far-right influencer Alex Silva, a former soldier and “voluntary auxiliary policeman” in Kiev, draped in a Pravyi Sektor flag at a 2020 protest in Sao Paulo

Meanwhile, far-right social media influencers like Alex Silva are still sending reports from Ukraine. Last week the Ukrainian Embassy in Brasilia said it received 100 requests from Brazilians asking to volunteer for the Ukrainian army, and UOL reports that analysis of bolsonarista social media groups shows that 500 others are planning to go.

Whether the missile attack near Lviv and reports coming in from scared-looking former Brazilian combatants who have escaped to Poland will change any of that has yet to be seen. Regardless, it is clear that political indoctrination from Ukrainian Nazis has taken hold among Brazil’s growing far-right and will be a factor in this year’s presidential election season.

Feature photo | MintPress News | Associated Press

Brian Mier (@BrianMteleSUR) is Brazil correspondent for TeleSur English TV news program From the South, co-editor of Brasil Wire and co-host of the Portuguese language WebTV program Globalistas on Brasil 247. He has lived in Brazil for 26 years. 

The post Behind the Azov-Brazil Connection: How Neo-Nazis Are Pushing to “Ukrainize” Brazil appeared first on MintPress News.

Beyond Vulgar Economics: Conceição Tavares and Heteredox Economics

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 11/03/2022 - 3:41am in

My paper (in Spanish) for a book on social thinkers in Latin America edited by Marcelo Rougier and Juan Odisio, and that I presented in a few venues since 2020, is now revised and done. The book includes chapters on Raúl Prebisch, Aníbal Pinto, Víctor Urquidi, Celso Furtado, Juan Noyola Vázquez, Helio Jaguaribe, Aldo Ferrer, and Osvaldo Sunkel, besides mine on Maria da Conceição Tavares. A version available here.

Overthrowing Dilma Rousseff: It’s Class War, and Their Class is Winning

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 26/03/2016 - 4:13am in

The judicial coup against President Dilma Rousseff is the culmination of the deepest political crisis in Brazil for 50 years.

Every so often, the bourgeois political system runs into crisis. The machinery of the state jams; the veils of consent are torn asunder and the tools of power appear disturbingly naked. Brazil is living through one of those moments: it is dreamland for social scientists; a nightmare for everyone else.

Dilma Rousseff was elected President in 2010, with a 56-44 per cent majority against the right-wing neoliberal PSDB (Brazilian Social Democratic Party) opposition candidate. She was re-elected four years later with a diminished yet convincing majority of 52-48 per cent, or a difference of 3.5 million votes.

Dilma’s second victory sparked a heated panic among the neoliberal and US-aligned opposition. The fourth consecutive election of a President affiliated to the centre-left PT (Workers’ Party) was bad news for the opposition, among other reasons because it suggested that PT founder Luís Inácio Lula da Silva could return in 2018. Lula had been President between 2003 and 2010 and, when he left office, his approval ratings hit 90 per cent, making him the most popular leader in Brazilian history. This threat of continuity suggested that the opposition could be out of federal office for a generation. They immediately rejected the outcome of the vote. No credible complaints could be made, but no matter; it was resolved that Dilma Rousseff would be overthrown by any means necessary. To understand what happened next, we must return to 2011.

Dilma inherited from Lula a booming economy. Alongside China and other middle-income countries, Brazil bounced back vigorously after the global crisis. GDP expanded by 7.5 per cent in 2010, the fastest rate in decades, and Lula’s hybrid neoliberal-neodevelopmental economic policies seemed to have hit the perfect balance: sufficiently orthodox to enjoy the confidence of large sections of the internal bourgeoisie and the formal and informal working class, and heterodox enough to deliver the greatest redistribution of income and privilege in Brazil’s recorded history. For example, the real minimum wage rose by 70 per cent and 21 million (mostly low-paid) jobs were created in the 2000s. Social provision increased significantly, including the world-famous Bolsa Família conditional cash transfer programme, and the Government supported a dramatic expansion of higher education, including quotas for blacks and state school pupils. For the first time, the poor could access education as well as income and bank loans. They proceeded to study, earn and borrow, and to occupy spaces, literally, previously the preserve of the upper-middle class: airports, shopping malls, banks, private health facilities and roads, with the latter clogged up by cheap cars purchased on 72 easy payments. The Government enjoyed a comfortable majority in a highly fragmented Congress, and Lula’s legendary political skills managed to keep most of the political elite on side.

Then everything started to go wrong. Dilma Rousseff was chosen by Lula as his successor. She was a steady pair of hands and a competent manager and enforcer. She was also the most left-wing President of Brazil since João Goulart, who was overthrown by a military coup in 1964. However, she had no political track record and, it will soon become evident, lacked essential qualities for the job.

Once elected, Dilma shifted economic policies further away from neoliberalism. The Government intervened in several sectors seeking to promote investment and output, and put intense pressure on the financial system to reduce interest rates, which lowered credit costs and the Government’s debt service, releasing funds for consumption and investment. A virtuous circle of growth and distribution seemed possible. Unfortunately, the Government miscalculated the lasting impact of the global crisis. The US and European economies stagnated, China’s growth faltered, and the so-called commodity super-cycle vanished. Brazil’s current account was ruined. Even worse, the US, UK, Japan and the Eurozone introduced quantitative easing policies that led to massive capital outflows towards middle-income countries. Brazil faced a tsunami of foreign exchange, that overvalued the currency and bred deindustrialisation. Economic growth rates fell precipitously.

The Government doubled its interventionism through public investment, subsidised loans and tax rebates, which ravaged the public accounts. Their frantic and seemingly random interventionism scared away the internal bourgeoisie: local magnates were content to run Government through the Workers’ Party, but would not be managed by a former political prisoner who overtly despised them. And her antipathy was not only reserved for the capitalists: the President had little inclination to speak to social movements, left organisations, lobbies, allied parties, elected politicians, or her own ministers. The economy stalled and Dilma’s political alliances shrank, in a fast-moving dance of destruction. The neoliberal opposition scented blood.

For years, the opposition to the PT had been rudderless. The PSDB had nothing appealing to offer while, as is traditional in Brazil, most other parties were gangs of bandits extorting the Government for selfish gain. The situation was so desperate that the mainstream media overtly took the mantle of opposition, driving the anti-PT agenda and literally instructing politicians what to do next. In the meantime, the radical left remained small and relatively powerless. It was despised by the hegemonic ambitions of the PT.

The confluence of dissatisfactions became an irresistible force in 2013. The mainstream media is rabidly neoliberal and utterly ruthless: it is as if Fox News and its clones dominated the entire US media, including all TV chains and the main newspapers. The upper-middle class was their obliging target, as they had economic, social and political reasons to be unhappy. Upper-middle class jobs were declining, with 4.3 million posts paying between 5 and 10 minimum wages vanishing in the 2000s. In the meantime, the bourgeoisie was doing well, and the poor advanced fast: even domestic servants got labour rights. The upper-middle class felt squeezed economically, and excluded from their privileged spaces. It was also dislocated from the state. Since Lula’s election, the state bureaucracy had been populated by thousands of cadres appointed by the PT and the left, to the detriment of ‘better-educated’, whiter and, presumably, more deserving upper-middle class competitors. Mass demonstrations erupted for the first time in June 2013, triggered by left-wing opposition against a bus fare increase in São Paulo. Those demonstrations were fanned by the media and captured by the upper middle-class and the right, and they shook the Government – but, clearly, not enough to motivate them to save themselves. The demonstrations returned two years later. And then in 2016.

Now, reader, follow this. After the decimation of the state apparatus by the pre-Lula neoliberal administrations, the PT sought to rebuild selected areas of the bureaucracy. Among them, for reasons that Lula may soon have plenty of time to review and to regret, the Federal Police and the Federal Prosecution Office (FPO). In addition, for overtly ‘democratic’ reasons, but more likely related to corporatism and capacity to make media-friendly noises, the Federal Police and the FPO were granted inordinate autonomy; the former through mismanagement, while the latter has become the fourth power in the Republic, separate from – and checking – the Executive, the Legislature and the Judiciary. The abundance of qualified jobseekers led to the colonisation of these well-paying jobs by upper-middle class cadres. They were now in a constitutionally secure position, and could chew the hand that had fed them, while loudly demanding, through the media, additional resources to maul the rest of the PT’s body.

Corruption was the ideal pretext. Since it lost the first democratic presidential elections, in 1989, the PT moved steadily towards the political centre. In order to lure the upper-middle class and the internal bourgeoisie, the PT neutralised or expelled the party’s left wing, disarmed the trade unions and social movements, signed up to the neoliberal economic policies pursued by the previous administration, and imposed a dour conformity that killed off any alternative leadership. Only Lula’s sun can shine in the party; everything else was incinerated. This strategy was eventually successful and, in 2002, ‘Little Lula Peace and Love’ was elected President. (I kid you not, reader: this was one of his campaign slogans.)

For years the PT had thrived in opposition as the only honest political party in Brazil. This strategy worked, but it contained a lethal contradiction: in order to win expensive elections, manage the Executive and build a workable majority in Congress, the PT would have to get its hands dirty. There is no other way to ‘do’ politics in Brazilian ‘democracy’.

We only need one more element, and our mixture will be ready to combust. Petrobras is Brazil’s largest corporation and one of the world’s largest oil companies. The firm has considerable technical and economic capacity, and it was responsible for the discovery, in 2006, of gigantic ‘pre-salt’ deep sea oilfields hundreds of miles from the Brazilian coast. Dilma Rousseff, as Lula’s Minister of Mines and Energy, was responsible for handling exploration contracts in these areas including large privileges for Petrobras. The enabling legislation was vigorously opposed by PSDB, the media, the oil majors and the US Government.

In 2014, Sergio Moro, a previously unknown judge in Curitiba, a Southern state capital, started investigating a currency dealer involved in tax evasion. This case eventually spiralled into a deadly threat against Dilma Rousseff’s Government. Judge Moro is good-looking, well-educated, white and well-paid. He is also very close to the PSDB. His Lavajato (Carwash) operation unveiled an extraordinary tale of large-scale bribery, plunder of public assets and funding for all major political parties, centred on the relationship between Petrobras and some of its main suppliers – precisely the stalwarts of the PT in the oil, shipbuiding and construction industries. It was the perfect combination, at the right time. Judge Moro’s cause was picked up by the media, and he obligingly steered it to inflict maximum damage on the PT, while shielding the other parties. Politicians connected to the PT and some of Brazil’s wealthiest businessmen were summarily jailed, and would remain locked up until they agreed a plea bargain implicating others. A new phase of Lavajato would ensnare them, and so on. The operation is now in its 26th phase; many have already collaborated, and those who refused to do so have received long prison sentences, to coerce them back into line while their appeals are pending. The media turned Judge Moro into a hero; he can do no wrong, and attempts to contest his sprawling powers are met with derision or worse. He is now the most powerful person in the Republic, above Dilma, Lula, the speakers of the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate (both sinking in corruption and other scandals), and even the Supreme Court Justices, who have either been silenced or are quietly supportive of Moro’s crusade.

Petrobras has been paralysed by the scandal, bringing down the entire oil chain. Private investment has collapsed because of political uncertainty and the politically-driven investment strike against Dilma’s Government. Congress has turned against the Government, and the Judiciary is overwhelmingly hostile. After years of sniping, the media has been delighted to see Lula fall under the Lavajato juggernaut, even if the allegations are often far-fetched: does he actually own a beach-side apartment that his family does not use, is that small farm really his, who paid for the lake and the mobile phone masts nearby, and how about those pedalos? No matter: in a display of bravado and power, Moro even detained Lula for questioning on 4 March. He was taken to São Paulo airport and would have been flown to Curitiba, but the Judge’s plan was halted by fear of the political fallout. Lula was questioned at the airport, then released. He was livid.

In order to shore up her crumbling administration and protect Lula from prosecution, Dilma Rousseff appointed Lula her Chief of Staff (the President’s Chief of Staff has ministerial status and can be prosecuted only by the Supreme Court). The right-wing conspiracy went into overdrive. Moro (illegally) released the (illegal) recording of a conversation between President Dilma and Lula, pertaining to his investiture. Once suitably misinterpreted, their dialogue was presented as ‘proof’ of a conspiracy to protect Lula from Moro’s determination to jail him. Large right-wing upper-middle class masses poured into the streets, furiously, on 13 March. Five days later, the left responded with not quite as large demonstrations of its own against the unfolding coup. In the meantime, Lula’s appointment was suspended by a judicial measure, then restored, then suspended again. The case is now in the Supreme Court. At the moment, he is not a Minister, and his head is posed above the block. Moro can arrest him at short notice.

Why is this a coup? Because, despite aggressive scrutiny no Presidential crime warranting impeachment proceedings has emerged. Nevertheless, the political right has thrown the kitchen sink at Dilma Rousseff. They rejected the outcome of the 2014 elections and appealed against her alleged campaign finance violations, which would remove from power both Dilma and Vice-President Michel Temer, now the effective leader of the impeachment drive (and strangely enough, this case has been parked). The right simultaneously started impeachment procedures in Congress. The media has attacked the Government viciously, neoliberal economists ‘impartially’ beg for a new administration ‘to restore market confidence’, and the right will resort to street violence as necessary. Finally, the judicial charade against the PT has broken all the rules of legality, yet it is cheered on by the media, the right and even by the Supreme Court Justices.

Yet… the coup de grâce is taking a long time coming. In the olden days, the military would have already moved in. Today, the Brazilian military are defined more by their nationalism (a danger to the neoliberal onslaught) than by their right-wing faith and, anyway, the Soviet Union is no more. Under neoliberalism, coups d’état must follow legal niceties, as was shown in Honduras, in 2009, and in Paraguay, in 2012.

Brazil is likely to join their company, but not just now: large sections of capital want to restore the hegemony of neoliberalism; those who once supported the PT’s national development strategy have fallen into line; the media is howling so loudly it has become impossible to think clearly, and most of the upper-middle class has descended into a fascist odium for the PT, the left, the poor, and blacks. Their disorderly hatred has become so intense that even PSDB politicians are booed in anti-Government demonstrations. And, despite the relentless attack, the left remains reasonably strong, as was demonstrated on 18th March. The right and the elite are powerful and ruthless – but they are also afraid of the consequences of their own daring.

There is no simple resolution to the political, economic and social crises in Brazil. Dilma Rousseff has lost political support and the confidence of capital, and she is likely to be removed from office in the coming days. However, attempts to imprison Lula could have unpredictable implications and, even if Dilma and Lula are struck off the political map, a renewed neoliberal hegemony cannot automatically restore political stability or economic growth, nor secure the social prominence that the upper-middle class craves. Despite strong media support for the impending coup, the PT, other left parties and many radical social movements remain strong. Further escalation is inevitable. Watch this space.

Democracy in the Crucible: Impeachment or Coup d’État in Brazil?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 02/02/2016 - 9:00am in

As first posted on E-International Relations, Brazil is the world’s sixth largest economy, a prominent member of the G-20 and the BRICS group of large emerging countries, and the host of the 2014 Football World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics. The country has also attracted attention since the Presidential election of PT (Workers’ Party) candidates Luís Inácio Lula da Silva, in 2002 and 2006, and Dilma Rousseff, in 2010 and 2014. Their administrations have played a leading role in the Latin American ‘Pink Tide’; Brazil has also achieved considerable gains in employment and distribution, and was one of the few nations where social spending rose in the current ‘Age of Neoliberalism’.

Yet, Brazil finds itself enmeshed in the worst economic contraction in a generation, coupled with a political deadlock fuelled by a parade of corruption scandals. A particularly grotesque one has engulfed the Speaker of the Chamber of Deputies, who is struggling for his political life while, simultaneously, leading impeachment procedures against President Rousseff. Even if her administration survives, Rousseff is unlikely to regain the ability to pass legislation through a bitterly hostile Congress, further impairing the country’s economic prospects.

This is calamitous for Brazil, and potentially lethal for the PT. At the end of his second administration, Lula enjoyed approval rates bordering on 90 per cent, and Dilma Rousseff’s approvals hovered around 70 per cent until 2013. The collapse has been relentless: her popularity is now stuck in single digits. There is profound cross-class discontent, a mass-based political right has emerged for the first time since the 1960s, and the mainstream media has been promoting a vicious campaign against the PT and anything approaching even social democracy. If they succeed, there may be a long-term shift to the right in the largest country in Latin America. 

Lula’s search for political hegemony

The forces driving today’s economic and political crises can be traced back to the incompatibility between two transitions taking place in last 30 years: the political transition from military rule to democracy, that was sealed by the progressive Constitution of 1988, and the economic transition from import-substitution industrialisation to neoliberalism, that was consolidated by the macroeconomic policy ‘tripod’ imposed in 1999, including inflation targeting and Central Bank independence, liberalisation of capital flows, and permanently contractionary fiscal and monetary policies.

The Constitution is socially inclusive; it has democratised and decentralised power and mandated the creation of a Swedish-style welfare state, including extensive social rights and income guarantees. In contrast, neoliberalism promotes the interests of internationalised capital in general and finance in particular, concentrates economic and political power and imposes an exclusionary democracy cloaked as ‘macroeconomic stability’. The friction between incompatible principles of social organisation – democracy or neoliberalism – helps to explain both the election of Lula, and the destruction of his successor.

Correspondingly, for 25 years Brazilian political life has been structured by the conflict between the social-democratic PT and the hardline neoliberal Social Democratic Party, PSDB. In Poulantzian fashion, these parties are closely aligned with two fractions of capital. Domestic capital is based primarily on construction, shipbuilding, the capital goods industry, agribusiness and national banks. They have supported the PT in exchange for subsidised state finance and institutional protection supporting their complex relationship of competition and co-operation with global capital. Internationalised capital includes foreign firms and their associates across finance, insurance, globally-integrated manufacturing and the mainstream media which, although overwhelmingly owned by domestic capital, is committed to neoliberalism and rejects the notion of a ‘national’ development strategy. This group is represented by the PSDB.

The PT administrations promoted the interests of domestic capital and the workers with considerable success during the period of prosperity afforded by the commodity boom pulled by the USA and, subsequently, by China. For example, these administrations supported the expansion of the oil chain through the state-owned Petrobras, the country’s largest firm; the shipbuilding industry recovered from the disaster imposed in the 1990s by the PSDB administration of F.H. Cardoso that reduced it to 5,000 workers. Under Lula, profits ballooned and employment in the shipyards rose to 105,000. The PT administrations reduced real interest rates from a peak of 22 per cent, under Cardoso, to 3 per cent, under Dilma, and dramatically expanded subsidised finance through the Brazilian Development Bank (BNDES), that became the largest development bank in the world.

These governments also benefitted the organised workers and the poor, both indirectly through the expansion of the economy, and directly through the government’s wage, employment and transfer policies. The minimum wage rose by 72 per cent in real terms between 2005 and 2012, and social provision increased through pensions, benefits and the flagship Bolsa Família cash transfer programme. Economic prosperity and a supportive administration also facilitated social struggles. There were around 300 strikes in 2003, and less than 20 per cent of collective actions led to real wage gains; in 2013 there were 2,000 strikes, and 95 per cent of agreements increased real wages.

Yet social and economic achievements did not create a stable political hegemony. For example, the PT and its close allies never controlled more than one-third of seats in Congress. Instead, they always depended on broad alliances with unreliable parties and opportunistic groups in order to pass legislation. In the meantime, the mainstream media remained ravenously hostile to Lula and Dilma, often orchestrating the parliamentary opposition. The Judiciary is also firmly aligned with the political right. Finally, corruption remains an essential link between politics and business life. Thievery and underhand transfers supplement the machinery of the state, democratic processes and the institutional modalities of representation of the elite. It is only natural that, in the 1990s, the PT decided that in order to win elections instead of being honourably defeated, it needed to begin distributing favours to its business supporters, and reward unprincipled politicians in exchange for their support. There is no other way to govern the country. These crooked circumstances were incompatible with political coherence, and the PT was always tripping on the verge of calamity.

The favourable winds of the global commodity boom supported Lula’s programme of income distribution, but his economic ambitions were constrained by the neoliberal policy tripod. Fiscal and monetary austerity, large capital movements and incoherent industrial policies overvalued the currency and promoted economic precarisation. Brazil created millions of jobs in the 2000s, but they were mostly precarious and poorly paid posts in urban services. Infrastructure funding was always lagging, creating a yawning gap between rising consumption levels within the household and the provision of public goods and services, especially transport, water, sanitation, security, schooling and health. Mass frustration crept in. In the meantime, the upper middle classes felt increasingly alienated from the government, because of their exclusion from power and the feeling that ‘their’ taxes were funding feckless hordes and arrogant arrivistes, who insisted on their right of admission to shopping centres, airports and private clinics.

Brazil recovered rapidly from the global crisis through bold monetary and fiscal policies. However, the scope for success was limited because growth was driven by commodity exports, for which demand was bound to decline, backed up by fickle capital inflows. Since the economy is permanently hampered by the neoliberal policy tripod, if the external engine splutters domestic growth will falter, regardless of fiscal tweaks or bombastic attacks on corruption. If, in addition, the government is isolated politically, demoralised, and beset by an investment strike, the economy must fall off a cliff. Let us see how it happened.

The cracks are showing: Dilma’s fall, and the emboldening of the Right                             

Dilma Rousseff was never a politician, nor was she a member of the PT until recently. She was a manager and a fixer, and was offered the Ministry of Energy in 2003. There, she oversaw the massive expansion of the country’s oil industry. She subsequently became President Lula’s Chief of Staff. Dilma succeeded in both posts and Lula, at the height of his powers, anointed her PT candidate to his succession.

Once elected, Dilma tilted economic policy further away from neoliberalism. She introduced more expansionary fiscal policies, lowered interest rates, imposed marginal capital controls, funded additional state investment, expanded transfers and intervened in multiple sectors. The outcome was ruinous. The government expected the global crisis to peter out but, instead, it deepened. Quantitative easing in the advanced economies wreaked havoc with the Brazilian real; the media intensified its attacks, and domestic capital refused to invest since it could neither control the government nor claim easy profits. The current account deficit ballooned, and the economy tanked. The government lost the ability to conciliate conflicting interests. The urban poor rebelled in 2013, but their protests were hijacked by the right-wing media and a bitterly hostile upper middle class.

Dilma campaigned for re-election with a left-wing message, warning against the neoliberal adjustment planned by her PSDB rival. However, once victorious, Dilma appointed as Finance Minister a banker connected to the PSDB, and gave him free rein to restore the government’s ‘credibility’ through a sharp fiscal and monetary contraction. The left cried foul, and Rousseff’s working class supporters felt betrayed. The retraction of demand during a protracted global crisis triggered the collapse of investment. Output nose-dived and unemployment mounted. The economy contracted 3.5 per cent in 2015, and 2016 can be just as bad. The gains from the 2000s are being wiped out as we speak. International capital is waiting for Dilma’s fall; domestic capital is cowering, and the formal sector workers are dumbfounded by their losses. The informal workers suffer heavily, through the evaporation of opportunities for income, employment, education and social advancement.

The media, the (PSDB-controlled) Federal Police and the Judiciary tightened the screws in 2014, and successive corruption scandals have come to light. The Federal Police’s ongoing Lava Jato operation has unveiled a large corruption network centred on Petrobras and including cartels, fraud and illegal funding for several parties. Blanket media coverage focusing on the PT alone badly dented the government’s credibility. Several politicians and party cadres were jailed, followed by some of the country’s most prominent businessmen, but only those supporting the government. A two-pronged campaign was launched to restore the right to power regardless of the elections. On the one hand, the media suggested that the PT was uniquely corrupt and corrupting, and that the businesses aligned with it had violated the law and perverted democracy. On the other hand, the police and the judicial system have sought to throttle the party. The message was clear: anyone funding the PT illegally will be imprisoned; their companies will be destroyed and the shareholders will pay dearly. Having survived for years through the favours of the rich at the expense of the militancy of the poor, the PT was in a bind. It had no explanation to offer, no programme to advance, and no strategy to climb out of the hole.

The attack against Rousseff and the PT forged a right-wing mass opposition demanding the ‘end of corruption’ and ‘Dilma’s impeachment’, even though there is no legal justification for it. Examination of the opposition’s grievances leads to a laundry list of unfocused and conflicting dissatisfactions articulated by expletives rather than logic: the demand for the President’s impeachment has no legal substance. The process is an attempted political coup d’état: the PSDB and the media refuse to accept the outcome of the 2014 elections and they have decided to depose the President and restore the hegemony of globalised neoliberalism regardless of Constitutional niceties.

At this point in time, it is impossible to predict whether or not Dilma will be impeached or forced to resign. Underpinning this uncertainty is the impasse between social forces defending an inclusive Constitution and those imposing an excluding neoliberal system of accumulation. These disputes emerge through a dysfunctional political system, a distorted economy and a regressive social structure: a democracy without legitimate sources of party funds, a hollowed out manufacturing base supported by large-scale agribusiness, an economy without prospects of generating quality jobs for its workers or capacity to distribute income in a fiscally sustainable manner, and élites clinging to their privileges and resenting any attempt to build an inclusive citizenship. A political hegemony resolving these impasses will not be built easily or rapidly. The agony is not over. The end is not even close.

The set image is by thierry ehrmann [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons.