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Brazil — the slow but relentless death of the PT

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The demonstrations sweeping Brazil are sounding the death knell for the Workers’ Party (PT) says a leading PT analyst.

We are witnessing today in Brazil the melancholic end of the Lula–PT era, the exhaustion of the economic model of social inclusion and, most important of all, in a broader historical arc, the end of the long political cycle of re-democratisation, which has, in fact, never been completed as its crimes have not been punished, the state apparatus of the dictatorship has not been purged, and the armed forces have not reformulated their national security doctrine.

The right has managed to become the hegemonic force in the recent large-scale protests against corruption. The impeachment of Dilma Rousseff is within the realm of possibilities because this was the dominant slogan (although not the majority one) in the demonstrations. Impeachment is also the recurring proposal of the overwhelming majority of the entities that promoted, or were helping to promote, the protests. Two political parties are also calling for it – the PSDB (Partido da Social Democracia Brasileira/ Brazilian Social Democratic Party), headed by Fernando Henrique Cardoso, which has petitioned the Supreme Court for an enquiry into Dilma’s possible involvement in corruption, and the PPS (Partido Popular Socialista/Socialist Popular Party), the heir to the Brazilian Communist Party and a historic enemy of the PT.

Furthermore, the call for impeachment is a very strong and simple slogan and could succeed just because of this. It also seems to offer a way out of a crisis, suggesting that the protests will have achieved their goal if the president is demoted and expelled from the presidential palace. It is, in fact an illusory solution, because the legal replacement for Dilma would be Michel Temer, the vice-president, who is much worse than Dilma. She at least is personally honest, which is by no means guaranteed with Temer. Furthermore, in this change for the worse, the way the political parties choose their representatives and the electoral system, both of them almost entirely fuelled by corruption, will remain unchanged. 

What is more likely, however, is that Dilma and the PT will be left simmering away on a gentle heat, so that all that is left of the PT is completely destroyed and the way is cleared for the advance of the right and the extreme right in next year’s municipal elections. Among the new forces will be small parties of the extreme right, one of them headed by an outspoken defender of the dictatorship and its practices, federal deputy Jair Bolsonaro, in alliance with the evangelicals. The next step will an overwhelming victory for the right, perhaps hiding behind a PSDB mask, in the 2018 presidential elections.

The numbers of the scandal are frightening, and this is why it has become an institutional crisis: it’s not millions of reais siphoned off, but hundreds of millions. It all began in 1977, if not before; it expanded from 2000 during Fernando Henrique Cardoso’s government and became systemic and wider from 2003 during Lula’s government. It is being reported that 2.1 billion reais (£251 million/ US$650 million/) were diverted from Petrobrás alone. One of those implicated – just one – has offered to return 330 million reais (£70 million/US$103 million) deposited abroad. At times I think that there’s been a typo, that an extra zero has crept in. But then there are more disclosures: a few days ago dozens of valuable paintings were found hidden in a secret room in one of their houses.

A task force made up of federal policemen and prosecutors is in charge of the investigation, which is somewhat similar to the “clean hands” operation in Italy (which brought Berlusconi to power). It’s a huge body that acts like an avenger. If Sérgio Moro, the federal judge of Curitiba who is head of the task force, is so inclined, he can denounce Dilma and have her impeached. It’s clear that Dilma’s campaign must have received illegal money, so nothing is stopping him. Indeed, very recently the newspapers reported on money being siphoned off in this way, and a few days later the PT treasurer was also formally included in the list of suspects. The near future doesn’t depend on Dilma, or Lula or FHC, but on the task force judge Sérgio Moro.

This task force has become a kind of fifth estate, acting with total autonomy, in synergy with the fourth estate (the big press). It works this way: through selective leaks to the press, it fans public opinion, which in turn gives it the support to continue the operation and to deepen it, despite the pressures that certainly come from politicians and big business to go easy. The fifth estate has become already so powerful and so independent in the use of its power, that we may speculate that we are witnessing the birth of a Brazilian style FBI. As we know the FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation) would not have existed in the USA had it not been for Prohibition. And we also know, when Prohibition came to an end, Edgar Hoover had already amassed sufficient defamatory material to blackmail most American politicians, including some Presidents.

The PT’s death throes began with the mensalão trial (the trial of certain PT politicians charged with making secret payments to federal deputies in return for votes), when the Supreme Court used the juridical principle of domínio do fato, never used before or since in Brazil, and rarely used in other countries, to convict Zé Dirceu (a former PT president and co-ordinator of Lula’s presidential campaign in 2002). Under this principle, the Supreme Court decided that, although there was no proof of Zé Dirceu’s involvement, it was impossible for him, due to the position he held, not to have known the alleged malpractices. The arbitrary powers used today are different: providing selective leaks to the press of unproven accusations or even mere suppositions and suspicions; preventing lawyers from seeing the charges; holding suspects in prison for long periods before their trials (some for over three months) in clear violation of the legal conditions for refusing bail. Leading businessmen have been held and subjected to pressure to force them to collaborate with the authorities in return for shorter sentences, which is why there have been such remarkable revelations.

The scandal in itself is huge and will continue to grow. Powerful players are involved – the large engineering companies, seven political parties (but mainly the Partido Popular, PMDB and the PT), and about 50 former and current members of Congress. And the other large state companies may also be implicated, along with those involved in the building of big infrastructure projects, such as hydroelectric dams in the Amazon, as has already been leaked to the press. More recently a far larger corruption net was disclosed with moles inside the Federal Tax Board and involving nearly all large Brazilian companies that had a tax dispute with the Board.

In the streets the mood is one of anger towards the PT and of aggression towards the left and Dilma. In one small town the PT headquarters were burnt down. In another they dangled figures of Dilma and Lula as if they had been hanged. If you were to go on to the street in São Paulo with a little red PT star on your lapel, you would almost certainly be attacked. I was told recently that my website had been invaded by Nazi and extreme right-wing hackers. The press has had a decisive role in transforming the legitimate anger against corruption of the common man and woman into a politically dangerous mass hate directed exclusively towards the PT and the left. While the press systematically dedicates its front pages to accusations of corruption against the PT, it ignores or relegates to small print trials of other politicians in other political parties for similar or even worse malpractices. The most blatant example of this is the case against the PSDB under Fernando Henrique Cardoso for the so-called mensalão mineiro, or valerioduto ,  corruption scandal, which preceded and in fact inspired the mensalão petista, but which remains until today paralysed in the courts. My guess is that it will eventually be shelved. There are other similar cases, among them that of the cartel of suppliers to the São Paulo metro, also involving Fernando Henrique Cardoso´s PSDB.

It has been a great ideological victory for the right, and I fear that it has come to stay. It stems from years and years of steady poisoning of public opinion by the media. Years of   ridiculing Lula, and portraying him as a coarse and ignorant person unfit to rule in all and every way; years of reporting in a totally critical and unbalanced manner his public policies of social inclusion; years of obliterating the achievements of these policies. The PT knew about this and frequently complained about it; everybody knew and it, in fact, became a national scandal. But out of arrogance the PT never really engaged in the battle of communication, in the dispute for the minds and hearts of the people. The current media-task force joint operation for publicising the corruption of the PT while hiding that of other parties is also the consequence of over two decades of the PT´s ideological negligence.

This time the corruption gained a strategic importance because of the barefaced effrontery with which PT leaders and Petrobrás directors adopted the corrupt practices they themselves said they were going to combat. The “Fora Collor” (Collor Out) campaign, which reflected grassroots disenchantment with the hypocrisy and cynicism of the way the President had promoted himself as Collor Caçador de Marajás (Collor Hunter of Maharajas), has turned into a much bigger “Fora Dilma” (Dilma Out) campaign, because Dilma was elected by a party that claimed to be different from the others, to have an ethical code of behaviour. The right is appealing to the old hypocritical moralism of the Brazilian middle classes, which elected Jânio Quadros and Collor.

There are isolated bright spots in the scenario. The poorest classes (those earning less than three minimum wages) did not play a substantial role in the protests, and the organised working class, though fearful of the direction in which the Dilma government is heading, especially the threat of a neo-liberal “adjustment”, has said “no” to impeachment. And many young people repudiate any open attempt at a coup against democracy. 

But in my opinion the coup has already happened, in the realms of hegemony, and it was victorious. There is no need for military coup – that is a thing of the past. The left was defeated in the most shameful way possible, buried by accusations of cynicism, venality and corruption. The PT is today a corpse waiting to be buried.  Perhaps a new left will emerge from the cinders, but I have my doubts. And the left that already exists – PSOL (Partido Socialismo e Liberdade/Socialism and Freedom Party) and PSTU (Partido Socialista dos Trabalhadores Unificado/Unified Workers’ Socialist Party) – they all look exactly like yesterday´s PT. Political parties from yesterday. *Bernardo Kucinski is a Brazilian journalist and writer. He has published numerous books on politics and journalism, along with an award-winning novel, titled “K”, which has been translated into English, Spanish, Catalan, German, Hebrew, Japanese and Italian. He helped to set up the PT, worked on many occasions and various capacities as an aide to Lula. A selection of the reports he wrote for the president, called “Cartas a Lula”, was published early this year by Edições Janeiro, Rio de Janeiro.