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Toward the democratic opening in Latin America: the case of Brazil.

Dictatorship, authoritarianism, corporatism, fascism, and repression characterize much of the past and present history of Latin America. Reinforcing these tendencies has been the hegemony of domestic ruling classes in league with U.S. policymakers and multinational corporations. Over the years the involvement of the United States in Latin American affairs has assumed several forms of intervention: overt, including hundreds of incidents of direct attack by military force--before Grenada most notably the invasion by 25,000 U.S. marines of the Dominican Republic in 1965; covert, including the CIA organization of the 1954 coup in Guatemala, in Chile during the early 1970s, and current destabilization activities along the Nicaraguan border; and corporate, including efforts by ITT to depose Salvador Allende in 1970 and thereafter the invisible blockade of Chilean copper exports by Kennecott. Popular forces and classes have opposed these tendencies and the old order through numerous movements of resistance, for example, abortive military uprisings in Brazil during the 1920s; electoral strategies, resulting in social democratic regimes; and revolutions in Cuba and Nicaragua.

During the 1950s and 1960s a wave of popular movements contributed to the fall of military dictatorship, including those of Batista in Cuba, Peron in Argentina, Rojas Pinilla in Colombia, Perez Jimenez in Venezuela, and Trujillo in the Dominican Republic. With the overthrow of Somoza in Nicaragua in 1979, a second wave has appeared to challenge military rule elsewhere in Latin America. The struggle of Latin Americans is toward a democratic opening in the search for human rights, provision for basic needs of the people, and a rise in the material level of life. The upsurge of pressure in some countries and the revolutionary fervor elsewhere are evident, particularly in the Southern Cone of South America.

In Argentina, political exiles returned to participate in the elections of October 1983. Argentines succeeded in their demands to end military rule and repression and are seeking retribution for the thousands of cases of pesons tortured or missing, a process that has accelerated since the defeat over the Malvinas or Falkland Islands.

In chile the political party structure and a once powerful labor movement are intact, although weak, as popular forces rally around the opposition to the Pinochet dictatorship and the struggle to end military rule in effect since September 1973. A broad coalition of opposition parties, ranging from right to left, has appeared; while the Catholic Church, conciliatory in its relations with the military over the years, has gone on the offensive against the regime.

In Uruguay in a 1980 plebiscite voters rejected the proposition that the military should remain in power, and in late 1982 also expressed their opposition to a regime that since 1973 has brutally repressed the people. Both legal and illegal parties have aligned in opposition.

During November 1982, elections in Brazil signaled an effort on the part of the military to legitimize its rule and contend with the rising opposition, especially in the labor movement but also in a new party system.

What are the implications of these democratic openings? First, the period of severe repression and torture in these countries together with the legitimacy of strong, authoritarian governments are being seriously challenged. Second, with the demise of urban and rural guerrilla movements (the Tupamaros in Uruguay, Montoneros in Argentina, and diverse Communist and Marxist splinter groups in Brazil), the challenge is now taking a peaceful course. Finally, the challenge is rooted in a deteriorating economic situation. In Argentina and Brazil long-term foreign debt is well above $100 billion, and the international banking community has applied monetary and fiscal constraints, while in Chile the free market program of Milton Friedman and the "Chicago boys" has collapsed in the face of unemployment of about 25 percent, inflation of over 50 percent, a decline in GNP of 13 percent, and a foreign debt of $18 billion. Against this background the prospects for the opening in Brazil can be examined in detail.

For nearly two decades the military has dominated the Brazilian political system. Today three elements are important in any analysis of this system. First, the dominant authoritarian order functions under the doctrine, ideology, and organization of the national security state. Second, a fragile, somewhat superficial bourgeois democratic or parliamentary system serves both to legitimize the military-controlled state and to provide space for dissent and opposition. Finally, there is the challenge of mass society, including an increasingly independent labor movement, a popular and progressive Catholic Church, and thousands of grass-roots groups.

The Doctrine of National Security

Envisaged a decade prior to the 1964 coup and promulgated through the Superior War College in Rio de Janeiro, the national security state became a reality with the coup. The take-over of the state and the imposition of the doctrine of national security was guided by General Golbery de Couto e Silva, the eminence grise of the regime, until his resignation in late 1981. The principal tenets of this doctrine included the belief that Latin America is under the sphere of U.S. influence in a world oriented to inevitable war between the United States and the Soviet union. Thus no third way or neutral position is possible, and Brazil must serve as a junior partner of the United States. Further, Communist subversion in Latin America must be countered from within, necessitating the establishment of a large repressive apparatus. Thus some 700,000 persons were organized into a network of intelligence agencies that operate outside congressional control and under the direction of the military executive. In addition, the state implemented an exploitative model of capitalist development; the state would collaborate with multi-national enterprise, continue to manipulate the labor unions, and intervene in internal affairs at any time. No individual personality would dominate the state apparatus, thus allowing the state to be pervasive in every respect.

After 15 years of repression, constraints on freedoms of expression, censorship, disappearances, and torture, the consolidated state and its regime had to provide space in an attempt to legitimize and expand its base of authority and power. In 1978 and 1979 some 4 million workers in 15 states participated in strikes in order to recoup lost wages and gain control from the government over the union structure. At the same time intellectuals throughout the country demanded an end to the repression and torture of political prisoners, a return to parliamentary democracy, and an amnesty for the thousands who had lost their political rights. Officially, the military accepted these changes and began to promote a period of liberalization. Only an official government party and an opposition party had been permitted to contest electins since the breakup of the multiparty system in 1965, but by 1978 the opposition party had won in the large industrial states of Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, and elsewhere, so the military devised a strategy to permit several parties to emerge and at the same time to splinter the majority opposition. Elections were set for November 15, 1982, for federal deputies and senators, municipal councillors and mayors, and, for the first time since 1965, for sate governors. An amnesty permitted exiled politicians to return from abroad, to participate in debate and campaigning, and to denounce the practices of the government.

While space was given the opposition to participate, the ultimate objective of the liberalization was to ensure dominance. In the

November voting the opposition was victorious in 10 of 22 states and now holds a majority in the Chamber of Deputies. In 1985 a president will be elected indirectly through an electoral college consisting of the members of congress and six delegates from each of the states. Thus the military is assured control of Brazil for the remainder of the decade.

The Parliamentary Opposition

Once exiled politicians and intellectuals returned, they joined with opposition elements that had remained in the country. Five parties participated in the November elections, including four in the opposition and one supporting the government. These parties represent new political alignments, and they also have ties to the earlier party systems. For example, the two main parties, the pro-government Social Democratic Pary (PDS) and the opposition party of the Brazilian Democratic Movement (PMDB), drew their main support from the previous military-imposed two-party system of 1965 to 1978. Another opposition party, the Brazilian Workers' Party (PTB), using the name of a party founded in 1945, was led by Ivette Vargas, niece of Getulio Vargas, the party's original founder.

The strength of the PDS was in the rural Northeast states where patriarchal families continue to give support to the established order and the military. The party suffered from the defection of conservative politicians and businesspeople who had become frustrated with government policies and formed the Popular Party (PP), known as the "bankers' party." Early in 1982 the PP merged with the PMDB, and its representatives were able to win victories in several disputed states; for example, Tancredo Neves is now governor of Minas Gerais. The PDS, however, controls 12 state governorships, 234 of 479 seats in the Chamber of Deputies, and 40 of 69 Senate seats.

The PMDB, with control over nine states, represents a broad coalition of forces, including the conservative PP, moderates represented by Franco Montoro, victorious governor of the state of Sao Paulo, and progressive and socialist-oriented elements led by Fernando Henrique Cardoso, well-known social scientist and now senator from Sao Paulo, and Miguel Arraes, former leftist governor of Pernambuco during the early 1960s and now federal deputy. The party also includes the mainstream "Eurocommunists" of the Brazilian Communist Party (PCB), along with the main faction of the dissident, pro-Albanian Communist Party of Brazil (PC do B).

The Democratic Workers Party (PDT) is a splinter of the PTB, the consequence of a dispute between its leader, Leonel Brizola, and Ivette Vargas. A former governor of Rio Grande do Sul and brother-in-law of the late Joao Goulart, the president deposed by the 1964 coup, Brizola today is governor of Rio de Janeiro. A nationalist and socialist and follower of the Second International, Brizola is perhaps representative of the most serious threat to the conservative regime.

The most interesting of the opposition parties, the Workers' Party (PT), is headed by Luis Inacio da Silva or "Lula," known for his leadership of the Sao Paulo strikes. Lula was an unsuccessful candidate for governor of Sao Paulo, and his party won only a handful of congressional seats. However, it clearly is the only grass-roots, working-class-oriented, and socialist party.

In addition to its labor leadership, its ranks include intellectuals such as Francisco Weffort and Jose Alvaro Moises as well as Eduaro Suplicy, a socialist economist and federal deputy from Sao Paulo. The PT is bolstered by support from thousands of popular movement at the neighborhood level, among women's groups, and in the 80,000 community base groups organized through the progressive Church. Additionally, small Trotskyist and dissident Communist groups work through the party.

What are the prospects for this parliamentary opposition? It controls a majority in the Chamber, along with ten states that produce four fifths of the gross national product, three fifths of the land mass, and a majority of the population. Control over the relevant states ensures the appointment of the mayors of important cities such as Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo, as well as administration of some important enterprises such as the VASP airline of Sao Paulo and some state banks. The opposition is free to legislate in areas of health, education, and public transportation. It is able to expose the political police and the indiscriminate killing by death squads.

Nevertheless, the possibility of any substantial reform through the Congress is not great, for a number of reasons. First, the party system is unstable and fragmented. The PMDB seems to be moving toward a center position under the former PP leadership of Tancredo Neves (for example, the PMDB governors refuse to form a united front against the government, and some of them seem inclined to re-establish their former ties to the government and the PDS). Regional differences continue to divide efforts to unify national parties. Parties also tend to revolve around personalities such as Brizola and Arraes. Further, there is a possibility that the PDT and PTB will seek a coalition, although there are also indications of a PTB alliance with the PDS which would give the government its majority in the Chamber. Brizola also talks of the possibility of a new socialist party comprised of his PDT, left elements of the PMDB, the PT, and perhaps the PTB. The caudillo style of political leadership, represented by Brizola, is resented by the mass orientation of the PT, however. The PT finds itself in struggle with the PCB over control of the labor movement, for Communist leaders allegedly cooperate with the government to ensure their control over labor and perhaps to attain legality for the party; while independent labor leaders tied to the PT seek autonomy for the labor movement. The illegal PCB is deepy divided. Luis Carlos Prestes, expelled from the Central Committee, supported Brizola and the PDT rather than the PMDB under which many Communists ran as candidates; in Rio Prestes-supported candidates won under the PDT, while PMDB candidates fared poorly. There is also the problem that Brazil has no tradition of national parties: there were no legal national parties until 1945, and since 1922 only the PCB has shown itself capable of functioning in a disciplined way at the national level, although it has been illegal all but two years during that time.

Government manipulation ensures perpetual weaknesses in the party system. Since 1964 there has occurred the restructuring of the parties, a series of institutional acts that purged dissidents, and constraints on political activity. Even today deputies and senators do not have full parliamentary immunity, and a member of Congress who makes an offensive speech can be tried by the Supreme Court and if found guilty loses his mandate. Further, the executive can legislate through a procedure known as decurso de prazo, under which Congress is given only 45 days to examine a proposal; any bill not put to a vote in this period becomes law. Congress is forbidden to legislate on economic and financial matters. It can hold only five investigative hearings per session, and access to evidence is limited, thus placing limits on its ability to monitor the actions of the executive. Candidates for political office are unable to debate on television and radio during a period of 60 days prior to elections.

From time to time the government introduces "electoral packages" to ensure its majority. In November 1981 a chane required voters to choose only one party slate of candidates, thereby consolidating the government vote through its rural-based network in the Northeast where votes are dependent on local political bosses. In May 1982 the government decreed a two thirds vote for amendments to the constitution, once it became clear that an opposition majority could undo existing constraints. A recent government proposal to create three new rural states is a move to expand its base.

Another dilemma may be that domination of the party system by politicians and intellectual tends to obscure a potentially powerful opposition. The role of the popular Church and The labor movement, for instance, may be overlooked in attention to seemingly important, yet superficial, parties. In particular, the underlying class differences and class struggle may be obscured by the side-show of electoral politics and parliamentary maneuver.

The Mass Opposition

During the early 1960s and the late 1970s and to the present time, the labor movement has struggled for autonomy and independence from government controls, originally established under Vargas' "New State" regime. Widespread strikes in the industrial centers of the state of Sao Paulo constituted a serious confrontation with the military regime. The thousands of popular organizations that have appeared in the period of liberalization revealed a broad mobilization of people opposed to the national security state. The potential for real change most likely is within these organizations and the labor movement, rather than through the parliamentary opposition.

Analysis of the future is speculative, but several aspects must be considered. First, there is the split in the labor movement over leadership ties to the PT and the PCB, as well as the question whether unions will be independent or tied to the government apparatus. It also will be interesting to observe to what extent the labor leadership will continue to work through the party system, at both party and union levels simultaneously, or exclusively through the unions. Lula, for example, is both an articulate labor leader and politician. For the time being, his role is primarily political, leading his party, while others within the metallurgical unions have emerged to take his place in the union.

There is also the appearance of new leadership in the popular, mass-based organizations. Many of these organizations have emerged spontaneously, within the neighborhood bairros and the base communities. Much of this mobilization has been inspired by the popular segment of the Catholic Church which has encouraged people to seek solutions to spiritual as well as everyday needs through new forms of mobilization. It is clear that these activities are largely unconnected to prevailing bourgeois structures, and that they manifest a genuine commitment to change and to solutions of problems of the people.

While the popular Church has stimulated the formation of tens of thousands of base communities and the mobilization of millions of activists, is also stands apart from traditional and conservative elements of the Church, especially in the hierarchy and the ruling classes. Over recent months these elements have manifested their sentiments, but it is clear that the survival of the Church in Brazil depends on its containing to attempt to deal with human needs at the social, political, and economic levels. The Church has become one of the most powerful institutions to oppose military rule, and many of its members have been victims of the repression. It would appear that there will be no turning away from this progressive course.

It will be interesting to observe the impact of the political opposition at the local level. Will Brizola mobilize an opposition to take action in Rio and what are the potential outcomes? Will Montoro and a competent group of technicians around him be able to contend with some of the serious economic and social problems of Sao Paulo, e.g., unemployment, inadequate wages in the face of rampant inflation, and the like? The PT was victorious in the municipality of Diadema near Sao Paulo. Diadema has high unemployment and an illiteracy rate of 38 percent, extraordinary in an industrial center. The new mayor intends to implement a literacy program similar to that used in revolutionary Nicaragua and under the direction of Paulo Freire, whose techniques are internationally known. Given the inadequate resources and federal neglect of municipalities, what are the prospects for solving these problems?

Finally, to what extent will there be any convergence of intellectual and working-class leadership? The PT represents an effort in this direction, and apparently the effort to maintain a grass-roots organization has been somewhat successful, in spite of the amorphous character of that organization and the difficulty it has in imposing political discipline. It is apparent, however, that most Brazilian intellectuals are isolated from the real problems of Brazil. During the period of the opening, they have not done well in relating theory to practice. This may be a reflection of their own class roots, their personal ambitions, or a system that has not permitted them much space.

In the light of this analysis, it is obvious that while an opening has appeared in contemporary Brazil, a transition to democracy has not been achieved, and the prospects for democracy are not bright. This should not diminish our interest in Brazilian politics as long as a hard-line military chooses not to intervene with another coup but seeks instead to resolve the contradictions of its authoritarian national security state and to find ways of legitimizing its existence by permitting space for an emerging opposition to operate and for a mobilizing labor movement to mature.
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Author:Chilcote, Ronald H.
Publication:Monthly Review
Date:Feb 1, 1984
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