Brazilian turmoil deepens
One year has passed since Brazil's first woman President Dilma Rousseff of the Brazilian Workers Party (PT) was removed from office by an unconstitutional coup of the right wing parties with the encouragement of the corporate media and US business interests. During this period, the new president, Michel Temer, who is known as one of the most corrupt politicians has undertaken all efforts to undo the pro-people measures introduced by the left-wing government under Rousseff and earlier by Lula de Silva, during his two terms as President. The unelected President Temer's actions have been strongly opposed by Brazil's workers and the lower middle classes who have held massive demonstrations.
In the process, the veteran leader Lula has emerged as the most popular in the eyes of the Brazilians and with his announcement that he will be contesting for the Presidential position in the 2018 elections, Brazilians feel more secure. PT veteran Lula is now on a campaign trail throughout the country and thousands of people are attending every meeting of Lula, declaring in unequivocal terms that the former President and friend of the poor is their only candidate for the next President. Wearing their best red t-shirts, carrying flags and banners and buzzing with excitement, people in massive numbers, are lining up to hear their dear leader extending him full support.
President Temer and his party colleagues are apprehensive of the huge popularity of their leftist rival and its likely impact if he stands for the crucial presidential elections in 2018. They have thus organised corruption charges against him, trying to ensure that he is debarred. In July this year, he was handed a prison sentence of nine years and six months for corruption and money laundering—which are all fake and concocted charges, strongly repudiated by Lula. A frightened Temer is depending on the higher court to confirm the decision so that it debars him from contesting the elections.
On his part, former President Lula has organised a group of lawyers including internationally acclaimed human rights lawyers and he is confident of coming out of the charges in the higher court. Lula was already leading in early polls for next year's elections and his support has grown further since the sentencing. The Brazilian people believe that he has been targeted and the charges are framed up as the right-wingers can never match Lula's popularity.
Unlike some who were jailed during Operation Car Wash, including Eduardo Cunha, the former speaker of the lower house of Brazil's congress, who kept millions of dollars in offshore accounts, the sums involved in Lula's case are relatively modest. His sentence was related to accusations that Lula benefited from about £590,000 in bribes from a construction company, paid in the shape of a seaside duplex apartment. Lula has denied ever owning the apartment. Lula started work as a street vendor at eight, became a metal worker, joined the union and emerged as a charismatic leader who led a series of debilitating strikes in the last years of Brazil's dying military dictatorship. In 1980, he founded the Workers' party and lost three elections before winning in 2002.
Brazil rode a commodities boom during his reign, and as consumer spending grew, half the population joined a new lower middle class. In 2010, Lula's last year in office, Brazil's economy grew by a spectacular 7.5 per cent. That same year, he got his successor, a former Marxist guerrilla, Dilma Rousseff, elected. But the commodities boom ended. Dilma Rousseff lacked the ability to seal deals with the mercenary regional barons, who hold sway in Brazil's fractious Congress and after narrowly winning re-election in 2014, with the public spending soaring, she oversaw Brazil's first deficit in more than a decade. The country lost its investment grade as its economy began to shrink.
In government, Lula enjoyed the support of financial markets. Now he is fiercely critical of Rousseff's successor, Michel Temer, whose savage austerity programme has slashed benefits to poorer Brazilians, and Lula argues that Brazil should spend its way out of its crippling recession because developed countries such as Britain also run public deficits. "What makes the nation grow is the purchasing power of the people at the bottom, not the rich," he said.
The PT leadership is working confidently for the 2018 elections as the adverse impact of the Temer regime's anti-poor measures, is now visible. Last year in the light of the corporate media's campaign against President Dilma Rousseff, there was confusion among a section of the poor who have benefitted by the PT rule. But now, they are witnessing how the welfare measures are being taken away, jeopardizing their standard of living. Temer's popularity is now in single digit as against Lula whom the former US President had called, the most popular president in the world during his tenure.
The Temer regime has removed the rights enjoyed for decades by the workers. The health and safety regulations have been changed against the interests of the workers. A huge privatisation agenda was announced last month by this unelected President and that has created apprehensions about job losses and lowering of wages.
The battle lines in Brazil are now drawn. Those people who were with PT in the Lula years but were misled by the media and right-wing propaganda against Dilma Rousseff in 2015 and 2016, are back now to the Lula camp. That has galvanised the anti- Temer movement. The right wing members of Brazil's parliament are so corrupt that they cannot face the electorate. Lula and his comrades have a much better image and despite some lapses in the functioning of the Government during Dilma's tenure, the PT's record is far more attractive than Temer's right-wing group. Lula has won the people's minds but he still has to win his legal war.
(The author is Editor-in-Chief of IPA. The views expressed are strictly personal.)