Orlando Hill looks at the mass opposition demonstrations against President Dilma Rousseff just four months after her party's election victory
On Sunday 15th March, Brazil saw the largest demonstrations against President Dilma Rousseff. Thousands of people took to the streets of the main cities making demands of impeachment and even military intervention and an end to all political parties. There were banners written in poor English asking for the armed forces to intervene and clean the state of anything that resembles progressive policies. There was even a banner demanding the end of the Marxist doctrine of Paul Freire, even though there isn’t much of Freire in the schools.
So what has happened to Brazil? How can a political party that won the presidential election with over 54 million votes be facing mass oppositional demonstrations four months later?
The first problem is that the Workers’ Party (PT) won the election in the second round by a small margin – 3.3%. Furthermore, the left lost seats in the federal congress. It is now the most conservative congress since democracy was reinstated in 1985. It is controlled by representatives of the agribusiness and financial sector, and religious fundamentalists.
Secondly PT, the only political party that has won four consecutive presidential elections and therefore the only one with the capacity of organising and engaging the social movement nationwide, has been crushed by party bureaucracy and lost this ability. Consequently, it has seen its militants in the centre of political scandals – carefully selected by the oppositional media. Instead of facing these scandals head on, the party bureaucracy has chosen to distance itself from its militancy, voters and social movements. Ironically, it was the militancy, voters and social movements that saved Dilma from a knock out in the second round.
Finally, the media in Brazil is controlled by a handful of powerful families. They have created an atmosphere of hate towards PT and anything that is remotely progressive, specially the anti-poverty programme Bolsa Familia.
Faced with a strong opposition in congress, a bureaucratic party and a campaign of hate orchestrated by a media oligopoly, Dilma gives in to the pressure and hands the ministry of finance to Joaquim Levy, a neoliberal economist. The poor have had to endure seeing the government that they campaigned for and elected produce a package of contractionary fiscal policies with the objective of curbing inflation and generating a primary fiscal surplus. Unemployment benefits have been cut at a moment when there is a real threat of the economy falling into a recession.
That is one side of what is going on in Brazil. There are two Brazils. This other side should not be treated with neglect. On Friday 13th, fifty thousand mostly poor marched in the rain along Avenida Paulista in São Paulo - the heart of Brazilian conservatism. Who was present could testify the joy shared by those who came from distant neighbourhoods of Greater São Paulo. The expression on the faces of those who went was one of accomplishment. This demonstration took everyone by surprise: the PT leadership, whose most senior members were inexplicably absent, trade unionists and most of all those who bet on a coup.
Everything was stacked up against the demo on Friday. It was ambiguously called to show critical support for the government; in favour of the progressive banners with which DIlma was elected, but critical of her austerity measures. The PT leadership was in doubt whether to participate or not. It was called on a Friday afternoon with a forecast of heavy rain. The media kept hammering the threat of a reprisal from right-wing demonstrators.
Some said that there were 100 thousand. Aerial photos show the march three kilometres long. The media tried to downplay it by reporting 33 thousand in 24 states. Whether there were 100 thousand, 50 thousand or 41 thousand as reported by polling institute Datafolha, the truth is that there has been a change in the correlation of forces with which the left can build on. It was crucial that the left and progressive forces took to the streets and massively affronted the agenda of the coup where it was strongest and in 23 other cities. Friday the 13th was a demonstration of the power that CUT (the main national trade union), MST (Landless Rural Workers’ Movement) and other social movements have in mobilizing. It demonstrated the importance of the courage of taking the political initiative. The importance of losing the fear of the streets.
CUT has planned mass demonstrations on 7th April in defence of workers’ rights and against a law that regulates outsourcing of services by corporations which would see workers losing their rights (PL 4330). This law will be voted on this day. Enormous rallies are also being organized to celebrate International Labour Day on 1st May.
Orlando was born in Brazil and was involved in the successful struggle for democracy in the late 1970s and 80s in that country. He teaches A level Economics. He is a member of the NEU, Counterfire and Stop the War.
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