Interview. Joao Pedro Stedile, leader of Brazil’s Landless Workers’ Movement, tells il manifesto that President Dilma Rousseff must return to the popular agenda for which she was elected.

To Brazil’s workers’ movement, the time for compromise is over

In a decisive week for the institutional crisis that grips Brazil, il manifesto spoke with Joao Pedro Stedile, leader of the Landless Workers’ Movement, known by its Portuguese acronym MST. In recent days, MST, alongside other social movements and trade unions, has camped out in sleeping bags in the streets of Brasilia, the capital, to follow the vote on the impeachment process against President Dilma Rousseff. On Monday, a congressional committee voted to recommend her impeachment.

The military police stormed an MST camp in Quedas de Iguaçu, in the state of Paraná, and killed two farmers and wounded some others there. What’s happening in this region governed by the opposition?

What happened in Paraná was the result of an alliance of the local right-wing administration, which has nominated a new Interior Minister, Mr. Valdir Rossoni, a former member of the PSDB, long funded by the forestry firm Araupel: the hoarder of public lands now occupied MST. So his appointment was an attempt to “solve” the problem and do it through violence. But they hadn’t calculated that there are over 3,000 families living there, and the entire region supports us, because the company operates a monoculture of pinus [trees] in a region that is very fertile. And so, though unfortunately we lost two comrades, the struggle continues stronger and the local government is weakened. The central [government] has designated a federal overseer for the investigation and has deployed a national police platoon to prevent the local police, along with the firm’s assassins, to continue with provocations. On April 9, at the funeral there were 10,000 people in the city of Quedas de Iguaçu.

In all border regions of Latin America — Venezuela, Colombia, Argentina — there are mafias that protect the interests of the right. In this difficult moment, are there paramilitary plans to destabilize things also in Brazil?

For us, I don’t think so. These mafias are dedicated to business and don’t like to make a fuss. Throughout Latin America, however, there is a situation of general crisis. During the neoliberal period of the ‘90s, the Reagan-Thatcher era, all the Latin American governments were subordinate to the United States. Then the model was questioned by two projects: the neosviluppista [new developmental state] — a product of a pact between workers and sectors of the bourgeoisie, especially in Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay — and the ALBA project, led by Chavez, and based on the need for a national vision, anti-imperialist and anti-neoliberal. We could pursue this anti-imperialist line just building an alliance of continental integration based, not only on governments, but on economies, energy and especially popular integration. Since the election of Chavez from ’98 to 2013, the three projects clashed: neoliberalism, neosviluppismo and ALBA. At each election, in Latin America, these three projects presented their candidates in individual countries and the balance of power was changed: Sometimes the neosviluppismo allied with neoliberalism, for example on the issue of ethanol, other times with ALBA, and from there it has created the Unasur and CELAC scenario. But in recent years, all three projects are in crisis. Neoliberalism is in crisis.

Despite the ostentatious IMF growth, Mexico is practically a state in pieces … Neosviluppismo is in crisis, both here in Brazil and in Argentina and Uruguay. And ALBA went into crisis because it revolved around the greater wealth of Venezuela: oil. Chavez, in his wisdom, used it as a strategic asset for the benefit of all, and now, with the fall in international oil prices, this cannot be done. And even ALBA has shortness of breath. In this scenario, it is natural that, in each country, when there are elections, the forces are attempting to overwhelm the government representing the project. It’s happening in Argentina, Brazil, Venezuela, but also in the neoliberal countries. There are no magic wands. It takes years, and it is necessary that the working class of each country rebuild a suitable project. Certainly, when we discuss our plan for the future we will have to prioritize the democratization of media and in particular of that great mass tool that is television. For us, it is managed by a monopoly of three groups that agree with each other. And television, especially Globo, has direct connections with the U.S. and the Latin American right through the Millennium Institute, which is actually a political articulation space. The way they treat the news in Mexico, Chile, Argentina, is the same as Globo: stigmatize the poor and the left, and ridicule popular leaders like Lula, Fidel Castro, Chavez and Maduro. On the other hand, we have to develop a real guerilla communication network, with all the cultural resources for a new battle of ideas and new symbologies.

What’s happening with the Minas Gerais environmental disaster, the largest in the history of the country? It seems that the investigation, which could have resulted in putting some senior leaders in prison, was suspended because of a conflict between federal and local judges: Where is the “desire to clean” the government that some courts flaunt with Brazilian tangentopoli and complaints against Rousseff and Lula? It’s a shame. Because it involves the Vale company, responsible for the crime and whose subsidiaries are great financiers of politicians, their process is virtually paralyzed. Apart from fines of billions of reales imposed upon them by prosecutors, up to now nothing has been done. The company is just trying to replace the 300 displaced families, and to sway the public opinion of the city, which depends upon the mine, to give its support for reopening it. The mine, meanwhile, continues to leak chemical waste into the river, which is already dead. We are organizing several mass mobilizations, to see if the politicians and judicial powers take a more resolute attitude.

This is a crucial week for Rousseff’s impeachment. And then there are the accusations against Lula da Silva, but also the legal problems of the Vice President Michel Temer, who resigned from the PMDB and would replace the president if she is suspended from office. What outcome could this political crisis have?

Following the impeachment vote, there is the plenary of the House, from the 15th to the 17th, with debate and vote. If the government and the popular forces pardon, the neoliberal right assumes command, formed by PMDB, from the PSDB and the worst sectors of our politics. Temer and Cunha would annul rights, privatize the pre-sal oil and hydroelectric industry. It would be a government of the most corrupt. And this could lead to a new wave of protests, because the majority of people who demonstrated, including those who took to the streets against Dilma, are against the corruption that these people embody. According to a survey, politicians have a 0.01 percent credibility rating. The right is not united and is also affected by the crisis. In a country of high inequality inherited from the colonial period and the slave trade, the richest 1 percent of the bourgeoisie controls 58 percent of the economy. There is an economic power, exercised by the companies, by the most reactionary entrepreneurs.

And we have an 8 percent lower-middle-class that’s wicked toward the poor, from which they always try to stand out. We are the only country in the world that still has a different elevator for domestic workers and dogs. A latent hatred that smoldered in the middle classes was encouraged by the mainstream media. It’s a racist hatred, because the majority of the poor are blacks, Afro-descendants, indigenous or mulatto. It begins with the humiliation of the black maid, the one who, with her apron, pushed the bourgeois couple’s son’s stroller in the demonstration on March 13 against the government, shouting: “Communist, invading the lands, go to Cuba…”

Then we have a very conservative parliament that’s detached from its electoral base. And a more hardline ideological core, that is driving the other forces of the right: the one formed by the Public Prosecutor, the judge Sergio Moro, associated with Globo. The media are controlled by the hardline core and are used as the main weapon against the workers and to provoke the institutional coup. If the government wins, there will be a new cabinet led by Lula, who must operate a ministerial reform that does not divide the government posts according to parties, but rather represents society.

Compromise is over. Dilma will have to return to the program for which she was elected, more attentive to popular sectors. In any case, the crisis over the model will continue, but we will have three years to discuss another program for the country. In any case, May will be a decisive month.

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