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Defending Democracy in Brazil

April 2016

Right wing forces in Brazil are using all kinds of sneaky tricks to remove the democratically elected President Dilma Rousseff and take power. They have the backing (both official and unofficial) of major corporations, the Brazilian elite and the media (especially the Globo Network who monopolizes media in Brazil.)

The right-wing oppositional forces are seeking to exploit the economic recession and the widespread corruption scandal to remove President Rouseff from office. Ironically, while Brazilian Congress is voting to impeach Dilma, more than 318 of the 594 members of Congress are under investigation or face charges for the corruption scandal. At the same time, there are in fact no links between the corruption scandal and President Rouseff.

On Sunday, April 17, Brazil’s Lower House of Congress voted in favor of impeaching President Rousseff, which means that she could be removed from office despite having been democratically elected in 2014 with 52% of the votes. The charge to impeach has been led by the House speaker, Eduardo Cunha, who is widely considered one of the most corrupt politicians in Brazil and currently is being investigated for taking millions of dollars in illegal payments from the scheme at state-owned oil company Petrobras. He was also recently discovered to have millions of dollars in secret Swiss bank accounts, a fact that he earlier denied to Congressional investigators.

Many of Brazil’s social movements, including our partners the Landless Workers Movement (MST), the Movement of People Affected by Dams (MAB) and the Popular Peasant Movement (MCP), are calling the impeachment proceedings an attempted “institutional coup.” If successful, this coup would reverse the democracy gained through hard-fought grassroots struggles, including significant sacrifices and lives lost.

As pointed out by the Landless Workers Movement (MST), political analysis is important to take into account that this crisis is not exclusive to Brazil. MST explained “Rather, the political crisis is a result of an economic crisis that started in 2008 and affected many of the engines of international capitalism; countries went bankrupt and the world’s economies became unbalanced. What is now in dispute is how precisely to reorganize the economy for the years ahead.”

Capital Interests Behind the Coup
According to the MST, the pro-capitalist and neoliberal forces are seeking to design an economic system that realigns Latin American governments with the United States’ agenda, and that ensures higher corporate profits through through lower commodity prices for agricultural products, oil, etc., lower wages, and fewer workers’ rights. These are the factors motivating that current right wing institutional coup in Brazil, which resembles what we have seen in other Latin American countries.

The MST statement points out the ways that a successful coup would further advance the neoliberal project that has already been underway in Brazil: “It means reducing gains and social rights such as retirement, lowering wages, ending the labor portfolio. It also means suspending social projects and handing over important mineral resources such as oil from the pre-salt layer to foreign companies, as well as hydroelectric power plants and public banks.”

From the social movements’ perspective, Congress in Brazil was elected by large corporations through millions in campaign donations, handing over decision-making and political power to recently elected members aligned with the neoliberal corporate agenda. In 2015, the National Congress flexed its newfound power by pushing through an agenda that benefits corporations with actions such as outsourcing jobs, reducing the age of criminal responsibility for children (which will disproportionately impact the poor), and withdrawing the exclusive right of Petrobras to explore for oil in the pre-salt layer.

João Pedro Stedile from the MST explains, “Those who think that it is enough to change the government, through a coup or a repeat election, to address the severity of the crisis, are being duped.This [change] will only be possible through structural reforms.” The solution presented by the social movements to create transformative change in Brazil is broad political reform which will come only with a constituent assembly to change the Brazilian Constitution. This will need to include political reforms to end the influence of economic power in the electoral process, an end to corporate funding of election campaigns and of political activity in general; democratization of the media to prevent monopoly; tax reform to make sure that the rich pay their fair share and to remove the burden from the workers; and peoples’ urban and agrarian reforms, among other things.

“The struggle for agrarian reform is a way to confront the coup that is underway in our country. The coup is not only against the Dilma government, but against the majority of the Brazilian people. The coup may intensify the withdrawal of the historically won rights and start a conservative and fascist process against the poor, Black communities, Indigenous Peoples, the landless, LGBT community members, youth and women. So for that reason we are on the frontline against this [coup] process and at the same time, [we will continue] the struggle for land, for agrarian reform, and the structural reforms that will benefit the people,” said Kelli Mafort, from the MST National Coordination .

Day of Peasant Struggle – April 17 – Meaningful Choice
The date that Congress chose to start the impeachment process and thus undermine democracy in Brazil holds great symbolic meaning for Brazil’s social movements. That same day — April 17 — marks the date 20 years earlier when 19 landless workers were killed in the state of Pará in the Eldorado dos Carajás massacre for defending their right to land.

While the right wing forces were voting against democracy, the MST and other social movements were in the streets celebrating the International Day of the Peasant Struggle and honoring those who died in the Eldorado de Carajás massacre in Parana, and others that had offered their lives for justice and democracy- chanting No Vai ter Golpe, Vai ter Luta! (There Will Be No Coup, There Will Be a Struggle!)

According to the MST, incidents of hatred and violence by the right wing forces protecting corporations are increasing, along with threats to activists and organizations that are defending democracy and opposing an institutional coup. “There’s a persecution of social sectors by right-wing, racist, reactionary, pro-coup sectors, which generates insecurity among our country’s social activists,” says Joaquin Piñero from the MST.

In fact, on Thursday, April 7th, just 10 days before the impeachment vote in the Lower House of Congress, the State Military Police and private security guards from the lumber company Araupel attacked families from the Landless Workers’ Movement (MST) who were organized and living in the encampment Dom Tomás Baudino in Quedas do Iguaçu, Paraná. Two rural landless workers were murdered in the attack and at least six others were wounded.

While acknowledging the pain of losing companheros in the struggle, the MST added in their statement: “These are difficult times, but also times of struggle. The tasks ahead are large and are not short-term.” The MST understands that the conservative forces of the right wing will become more aggressive, and stressed, “it is important to guarantee the safety of all activists, taking care not to fall into provocations and [making sure to] preserve the heritage that we have built.”

These are difficult times of repression and violence against the MST and all social movements in Brazil. The MST’s response will be in the streets, through land occupations, road blockades, and other mobilizations and actions for People’s Agrarian Reform and against the coup.

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