Ricardo Antunes is a Brazilian sociologist consulted by socialist movements and trade unions around the world. He’s written books about work translated into multiple languages and calls himself a “militant, independent intellectual,” close to Brazil’s Socialism and Liberty Party. He has a deep knowledge of his own country, and he was formerly a member of the Worker’s Party, (PT in Portuguese), which also includes Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, the former president now embroiled in a corruption scandal, and President Dilma Rousseff. Antunes recently spoke with il manifesto.
Rousseff appointed Lula head of her cabinet, but a judge has blocked the appointment. What is the situation in Brazil?
Deeply critical, dramatic. There is an economic, social and political crisis, and a profound articulation among the three levels. Brazil has registered a contraction of almost 4 percent, a tragedy which has caused an increase in unemployment, after a positive period between 2002 and 2012. From 2014 to the beginning of 2015, especially in January and February, unemployment has taken on worrying proportions, affecting mainly young people between 18 and 25 years of age. Twenty percent of today’s youth is out of work, a situation that is increasingly resembling that of Europe. The measures taken by Dilma’s government in January 2015 were against working men and women, with severe austerity measures and the highest banking interest rates in the world, which unavoidably brought 60 million people into debt. It’s a deep, structural crisis.
The second element was the explosion of the “Car Wash” scandal, a court investigation initiated by the state of Parana. The operation has reached the core of the PT and the government. The right has dealt in corruption in Brazil since its inception, since the days of the colonial empire and the Portuguese domination. But the PT was born in 1980 with a promise of a sharp break with the practiced [lack of] ethics, and presenting itself as a classy left-wing party. Unfortunately, 36 years later, it is going through a profound corruption. The only person who did not have a personal involvement is Dilma. She is being attacked because of an accusation that during her election campaigns in 2010 and 2014 she allegedly used the proceeds of bribes related to the corruption in Petrobras [national energy corporation].
Since [Thursday], the political framework has gotten more complicated because the Federal Police, following the order of Judge Sergio Moro, released telephone intercepts of the president’s cell phone and Lula’s. These recordings do not show any evidence that Dilma asked Lula to join her government to hinder the judicial action. But in the fastest action ever accomplished by the Brazilian Federal Police, these records were disseminated to all the largest media outlets after Lula’s appointment. The constitution expressly forbids the interception of the president’s conversations, and this type of leak has never happened before.
But is it true that Lula is untouchable by the judiciary if he is in the government?
It is true that he can avoid being judged by the state of Parana, and he can only be judged by the Supreme Court, the highest court in the country. A case against Lula is being brought by the Public Prosecutor of Sao Paulo, who does not have any judiciary powers, but he can provide elements for another trial.
But now, in this highly arbitrary situation of exception, anything can happen. If it is proven that the appointment was made to thwart the judiciary, no impunity will hold. Judge Sergio Moro has vowed to do away with Lula and the PT: He does not make accusations up, but he directs them one way. Dilma has proposed Lula’s appointment because her government is in a deep crisis and she hopes to take advantage of the prestige Lula has in some popular sectors. It’s a much diminished prestige, but still big and with messianic traits that the former trade unionist has fueled.
Let me be clear. We are at the limit of an institutional coup situation. There is a strong politicization of the judiciary, which imprisons the accused, pressing on them until they repent. That is how they gain notoriety and enjoy rewarding legislation.
Last Sunday, there were massive demonstrations against the government. Who took to the streets?
As reports from opposition newspapers indicated, mostly the middle-class, the right-wing. Young people from the suburbs were not there, even though they are unhappy. Because of this, like other movements critical of the PT, I will take to the streets to prevent the situation from precipitating the fall of the government. But I will not take to the streets to defend the PT’s policies.
Today, the positive parts [of the PT] that existed in the past are almost nonexistent. True, there is the Bolsa Familia, which pulled 70 million people out of poverty, but it was a care plan. The PT has been the obedient servant of the worst kind of financial, industrial, agricultural and trade bourgeoisie, with which he had great affinities. Lula was right when he said that during his government, the banks have become richer than ever before. He had an umbilical relationship with the bourgeoisie of the great works. The tragedy for the PT was that this situation coincided with the Car Wash operation, which brought the big manufacturers to prison. The PT wanted to flirt with the devil, but now the devil has taken over and is trying to drag it to hell. And this, unfortunately, given the state of weakness on the left, penalizes us all.
Judge Moro struck at the highest levels, and not only on the left. Why?
He has a right-wing morals. He believes in a clean capitalism, as if corruption and malfeasance were not a constitutive feature.
What can happen with Rousseff? Is the right calling for her impeachment?
The Brazilian parliament is going through its worst moment, affected by reactionary and corrupt Pentecostalism. And from there, the commission that must decide whether to proceed with the impeachment has to come out, and make a decision with a two-thirds majority. But the right is pushing for Dilma to leave before that.
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