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We must stand for democracy and social progress in Brazil

The labour movement and all progressives must do more to expose the gutting of democracy and workers’ rights in Brazil, writes KEN LIVINGSTONE

TWO  years ago this week, President Dilma Rousseff was removed through a “parliamentary coup” in Brazil. The most extraordinary thing about it was that just 55 senators overturned the will of 54 million Brazilians at the ballot box who had re-elected her.

For those of us who expressed solidarity with activists against the US-backed dictatorship in Brazil from 1964-1985,and stood with the Chilean people against General Augusto Pinochet following the 1973 coup, alarm bells immediately rung at this right-wing attempt at regime change.

It’s important to understand that, despite the country’s largest media corporations labelling Dilma corrupt, she was not impeached for corruption.

In fact, the elected president was removed for budgetary manoeuvres similar to those carried out by the Barack Obama administration in the US. 

The acclaimed US analyst on Latin America Mark Weisbrot is worth quoting at length on the issue. He argues that the impeachment process was “an attempt by Brazil’s traditional elite — which includes, as one of the most important players, most of the major media — to reverse the outcome of Brazil’s 2014 presidential elections … it has nothing to do with corruption, or any serious offence.

“The charge is that the government used borrowed money in 2014 to maintain the appearance that the primary budget surplus was within its target. But this is something that other presidents had done, and is hardly a serious offence.”

What was truly shocking is that key coup-orchestrator Eduardo Cunha was later arrested for corruption, money laundering and tax evasion while the current coup president, Michel Temer was condemned by a regional court for having a “dirty record” in previous elections.  

Much of the world had been conned — this was not about tackling corruption but about changing the course of the country, and the real reason for the coup was unveiled when Temer set about implementing hard-line austerity measures.

Temer’s first major cuts package was a 20-year freeze on healthcare and education spending that led the UN special rapporteur on human rights to label it ‘a radical measure, lacking in all nuance and compassion’.”

That was just the start. They relaxed the definition of modern slavery, scrapped indigenous protections, decimated environmental protections, rolled back workers’ rights, sold off public assets and slashed the country’s popular social programme Bolsa Familia, which was largely credited with lifting 50 million from poverty. 

The Temer government has consistently shown it is determined to overturn the legacy of Dilma and her predecessor Lula da Silva. The country undoubtedly faced many difficulties in their years, but these left-wing presidents achieved a narrowing of the equality gap while it widened globally, alongside falling rates of poverty and illiteracy. 

In contrast, Temer’s approval rating has fluctuated between 3 and 5 per cent, the lowest in Brazilian history outside of the military dictatorship.

His policies would have never been accepted at the ballot box, as has been shown by the strikes, demonstrations and other forms of resistance at this neoliberal agenda. But they were never meant to be.

Brazil then has already seen one progressive president removed and over the last two years there has been a concerted media, legal and political campaign to discredit Dilma’s predecessor, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva in order to stop him becoming president again in elections scheduled for October. 

Lula, who I met and supported when I was mayor of London, came to power in 2003 and lifted millions from poverty. Social programmes implemented in his time are still being used as models by the UN. He left office with an 87 per cent approval rating. 

In January, a travesty of justice occurred when Lula was sentenced to 12 years in jail, with evidence of his innocence blatantly ignored. At the time he was ahead in every single poll, having toured the country fighting against the coup government. But even after his arrest in April, his popularity grows. 

Lula’s legal team have labelled the process against him “lawfare” and as more evidence of the bias and abuse of the legal system surfaces, more people globally are realising that Lula’s arrest is about stopping a popular politician from participating in an election. 

Among those who have spoken out are US politician and socialist Bernie Sanders and 27 other US lawmakers. Here in Europe former French president Francois Holland and former Spanish PM Jose Luis Rodriguez have raised the alarm. In Britain, there has been a wide range of support from the labour movement and beyond.

They know that it is not just the freedom of an innocent man that is at stake, it is the future of Brazilian democracy. 

If an election were held today, Lula would win. But convicted candidates cannot run in Brazil, and that is one reason why Lula and Dilma’s party, the Brazilian Workers’ Party (PT) decided to take the case to the UN. And last week, the UN Human Rights Commission declared Lula must be allowed to run, and have access to the media and his party.

It is not clear however whether he will be allowed to stand. Make no mistake though, Lula is the most popular candidate. 

One of the unforeseen effects of the coup is that, because of the immense unpopularity of Temer and his party and the arrest of Lula, Brazil’s extreme right have risen, meaning that second in the polls is Jair Bolsonaro, a man who has publicly praised the torturers of the country’s past military dictatorship.

If Lula is kept off the ballot, the worrying prospect of Bolsonaro in power could become a reality. 

Thankfully, Lula is still leading every poll and was registered as the candidate this month while hundreds of thousands strong demonstrations took place in support.

In a worst-case scenario the Brazilian left have found a potential replacement, with former Sao Paulo mayor Fernando Haddad becoming Lula’s running mate, saying he will travel Brazil “carrying Lula’s voice.”

Our battle against neoliberalism is more international than ever in today’s increasingly globalized economy — two years on from the coup, the labour movement globally must raise our voices loudly in solidarity with Lula, democracy and social progress in Brazil.

You can follow Ken on Twitter on @ken4london and Facebook onfacebook.com/KenLivingstoneOfficial.

Find out more at an event from the No coup in Brazil Initiative marking two years since the coup. Join Richard Burgon MP, Julia Felmanas (PT) and Stephen Russell (TUC) at Unite, 128 Theobalds Road, WC1X 8TN  on September 13, 6.30pm. Tickets and more info at: bit.ly/standwithbrazil.

Follow the latest at twitter.com/nocoupinbrazil and facebook.com/nocoupinbrazil.

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