Progressive Brazil

The problem with most English language reporting on Brazilian news is that it is based on sources, such as O Globo, Veja and Folha de São Paulo, that supported the Military Dictatorship. The purpose of this blog is to summarize news from Brazil as reported by the major progressive news agencies and provide original analysis.

My name is Brian Mier. I am a native Chicagoan who has lived and worked in Brazil for 18 years. I am a member and former coordinator of the Fórum Nacional de Reforma Urbana- the Brazilian National Urban Reform Forum. From 2007-2011, I managed a partnership between ActionAid Brazil and the Landless Peasants' Movement, or MST. I currently work as a freelance writer and producer for Vice Brasil, and am also the author of a travel novel called Slow Ride.

Salvador Allende, deposed by the US government 41 years ago today, isn’t just a martyr, he was a great president. One interesting thing he did was to create a Museum of Solidarity. He invited all of the best modern artists in the world to produce something for free for the museum, which was also free to the public. One of the first things that Pinochet did after seizing power was to shut down the museum and throw most of the art in the garbage. In 2005 Allende’s niece, Michelle Bachelat, who is the current president, decided to hunt down all the old artwork and reopen the museum. Some of the work found was in pretty bad shape and needed to be restored. Before the museum opened, the art toured South America. I went to the exhibition in São Paulo, bought this Calder print there and hung it on my wall.

— 4 days ago with 1 note
On this day in 1973, the US government deposed the democratically elected president of Chile, Salvador Allende, as a favor to Nixon campaign funder ITT Corporation. ITT didn’t like the fact that Allende refused to privatize the state copper industry. On that day, Chilean troops rounded up hundreds of students and union members, held them in the Santiago stadium, and shot them one by one. The US put a puppet military dictator in Allende’s place, Augusto Pinochet, and provided his top staff with free training on torture at the School of the Americas in Georgia. Pinochet went on to assassinate thousands of labor union members, students and leftist activists and torture tens of thousands more. At the same time, he became the darling of the libertarians. Ronald Reagan’s hero, Freidrich Hayek flew down to visit and compliment Augusto Pinochet personally, and Reaganomics father Milton Friedman set up his economic team, called The Chicago Boys. It was around this time that the smug crooks over at the Cato Institute started arguing that it was necessary to repress personal freedoms until economic freedom was established, and that between the two goals, economic freedom was more important. Despite all of the praise heaped on the neofascist dictator Pinochet, even he refused to privatize the state copper industry. Nevertheless, all economic indicators improved after he was thrown out. In 1988, after years of pressure from activists in Chile and around the world, they held a referendum on whether Pinochet should stay in power or not. The vote was simple: Si or No. I spent a month in Chile that year and one of my great memories is of sitting at an outdoor bar table with a guy who was playing guitar. As a group of jack-booted fascist military police walked by with their Uzi’s he started singing “Cambio tudo cambio” “(everything changes) and everyone started banging the rhythm on their tables and singing along. Pinochet lost the referendum and now Salvador Allende’s niece, a social democrat, is president.

On this day in 1973, the US government deposed the democratically elected president of Chile, Salvador Allende, as a favor to Nixon campaign funder ITT Corporation. ITT didn’t like the fact that Allende refused to privatize the state copper industry. On that day, Chilean troops rounded up hundreds of students and union members, held them in the Santiago stadium, and shot them one by one. The US put a puppet military dictator in Allende’s place, Augusto Pinochet, and provided his top staff with free training on torture at the School of the Americas in Georgia. Pinochet went on to assassinate thousands of labor union members, students and leftist activists and torture tens of thousands more. At the same time, he became the darling of the libertarians. Ronald Reagan’s hero, Freidrich Hayek flew down to visit and compliment Augusto Pinochet personally, and Reaganomics father Milton Friedman set up his economic team, called The Chicago Boys. It was around this time that the smug crooks over at the Cato Institute started arguing that it was necessary to repress personal freedoms until economic freedom was established, and that between the two goals, economic freedom was more important. Despite all of the praise heaped on the neofascist dictator Pinochet, even he refused to privatize the state copper industry. Nevertheless, all economic indicators improved after he was thrown out. In 1988, after years of pressure from activists in Chile and around the world, they held a referendum on whether Pinochet should stay in power or not. The vote was simple: Si or No. I spent a month in Chile that year and one of my great memories is of sitting at an outdoor bar table with a guy who was playing guitar. As a group of jack-booted fascist military police walked by with their Uzi’s he started singing “Cambio tudo cambio” “(everything changes) and everyone started banging the rhythm on their tables and singing along. Pinochet lost the referendum and now Salvador Allende’s niece, a social democrat, is president.

— 4 days ago with 5 notes
David Harvey at the World Social Forum in Belém in 2009, in front of a banner that reads, “For more low income housing”.

David Harvey at the World Social Forum in Belém in 2009, in front of a banner that reads, “For more low income housing”.

— 4 days ago with 1 note
86% of Brazilians say that the public health system has improved after President Dilma imported 17,000 Cuban doctors →

President Dilma Rouseff imported 17,000 doctors from Cuba last year, much to the disdain of the conservative rich and middle classes. The problem wasn’t that there was a shortage of doctors in Brazil, but that doctor is a traditional elite, white profession in Brazil and the government was unable to fill 17,000 positions in the public health system in clinics in favelas and in country towns. Dilma was attacked all last year by the corrupt and conservative corporate media institutions like Globo and Veja for this program, but a new study released by Minas Gerais Federal University shows that 86% of public health system users say that treatment has improved since the arrival of the Cubans.

— 4 days ago with 6 notes
A strange afternoon with the Brazilian Royal Family

The Brazilian Royal Family are related to all the other European Royal families. Basically this one big extended royal family that spans Western Europe has been breeding cousins with cousins for hundreds of years and has weak DNA, lower than average intelligence levels and unusual genetic diseases. The Brazilian faction of this family escaped Portugal and took over Brazil in the early 1800s, had its property confiscated and was kicked out of the country in the 1890s and only allowed back in 1920. They were living in Bavaria at the time and decided to stay there, only returning to Brazil in 1945 after their German properties were confiscated. This guy pictured here, “His Royal and Imperial Highness Senhor Dom Bertrand, Imperial Prince of Brazil” who claims to have a God-given right to rule the nation, was born in Germany and speaks Portuguese with a German accent. Me and my friend Mattias went to the Monarchists national congress yesterday for a Vice story and listened to hours and hours of mad rantings against democracy, marijuana, abortion (“the first step towards legalizing infanticide”), PT socialists, “savage Indians”, and gays. I was living in Brazil in 1993 when they had a referendum to bring back the monarchy. 13% of Brazilians voted in favor of it. The Royal Family has a long history of support for a fascist, pro-military dictatorship group called Tradition, Family and Prosperity. The TFP invented the slogan “The giant has awakened” that was adapted by the Brazilian corporate media to describe/ideologically hijack last years’ July protests. The Brazilian Royal Family may be the weakest of the traditional royal families but they are still a factor in Brazilian politics. We left after the Royal coffee break, while this prince stood at a podium draped with the royal standard ranting, in a German accent,against gay marriage.

— 1 week ago with 2 notes
Brazil: Destination of choice for Africans →

It’s rare to see positive news in the Anglophone media about Brazil during this election year, but Sam Cowie’s Al-Jazeera article about African Asylum seekers emphasizes a lot of positive things about it.

— 1 week ago
Nota da Direção Executiva da CONAM: →

CONAM  (Confederação Nacional das Associações de Moradores, or National Residents’ Association Federation)  is the 3rd largest social movement in Brazil, after the MST and the UNMP. In this policy document, it announces its’ support for Dilma Rouseff in the upcoming presidential elections.

reforma-urbana:


A CONAM – Confederação Nacional das Associações de Moradores, através da sua Direção Executiva, reunida em São Paulo, em 30 e 31 de agosto de 2014, aprova nota com avaliação da conjuntura eleitoral, reafirmando os pontos centrais aprovados em maio, no 12º Congresso da CONAM, em João Pessoa/PB,…

— 1 week ago with 1 note
Don’t Believe the Hype: Marina Silva is no Environmentalist

During the 1970s and 1980s a group of loggers and cattle ranchers moved in to Acre State, in the Brazilian Amazon and started ripping down the forest. They showed no respect to the thousands of people who were already living there and making their living off of two environmentally friendly economic activities: rubber tapping and Brazil nut harvesting. Unlike in other states, where the loggers and ranchers won, the rubber tappers led by tappers’ union leader Chico Mendes held a series of protests, blocked off roads and ground deforestation to a halt. Mendes was assassinated by the loggers, but the movement he helped start carried on, led in part by his right-hand woman, Marina Silva. Together, the workers created a coalition called, “the forest people” and took over the state government in 1998, for the PT party. They created huge forest reserves, eliminated middlemen in Brazil nut production, raising forest people’s earnings so they no longer had to move to the cities to survive, and today, 87% of the rainforest is still standing. Presidential candidate Marina Silva came out of this movement, which is why she is mistakingly labeled as an environmentalist today, for example, in a recent Guardian article. What most people in the English language press don`t know is that she turned her back on the Forest People coalition years ago and is widely viewed as a traitor to the environmentalist cause in her home state, where she was only the third-highest voted candidate in the last presidential elections. As Lula`s environmental minister, she oversaw the legalisation of GMOs in Brazil. In the last presidential elections, she positioned herself as business friendly, “green capitalist”. Her candidacy is currently supported by the same ranching, agribusiness and logging elites who she used to fight in the 1980s. When she was asked about why all the elites support her in the last debates, she said, “there is nothing wrong with elites, Chico Mendes was an elite”. As any serious environmentalist could tell you, this was a lie. He was a poor rubber tapper. The “green capitalist” platform she adapted is the same that was unanimously rejected by the social and environmentalist movements during Rio+20 two years ago. To add to that, she is a member of the ultra-conservative Assembly of God church and bases all of her important decisions on opening up random parts of her bible beforehand and reading them for guidance.

— 2 weeks ago with 4 notes
Os integrantes do FNRU reafirmam seus compromissos com a luta pela reforma urbana →

reforma-urbana:

Com o lema “Cidade para as pessoas, não para os negócios privados”, aproximadamente 300 representantes de mais de 50 entidades da sociedade civil organizada debateram os desafios da reforma urbana durante o Encontro do Fórum Nacional de Reforma Urbana, articulação que é integrada também pela Terra…

— 2 weeks ago with 2 notes
Review of Dave Zirin’s Brazil’s Dance with the Devil: The World Cup, the Olympics, and the Fight for Democracy

Speaking as someone who has lived in Brazil for nearly 20 years, who has worked with the Landless Peasants’ Movement (MST) and has been a member of the Brazilian National Urban Reform Forum for the last 8 years, this book is full of exaggerations and outright lies about Brazil, the center-left PT party and ex-President Lula. Zirin, who normally gets it right, apparently came down here for a few weeks, talked to many of the wrong people - mostly from the upper middle class - in the most politically unusual big city in Brazil, Rio de Janeiro, where the tiny PSOL party has several elected officials and neither PT nor PSDB are a major factor in local politics. In his zeal to accuse the Brazilian government of being “neoliberal”, he failed to ask any representatives of the organized left why they still support PT, despite their frustration with the World Cup. 

I could list over a dozen things that are completely incorrect in this book, but here are a few examples of misinformation on important points: 1) President Lula did not ever implement austerity measures. To the contrary, he raised retirement pension funding, health and education spending and more than doubled the size and budget of the welfare system; 2) In the half-truths department, he calls PT’s 190% real term minimum wage increase 50%; and 3) He mischaracterizes the relationship between the PT government, the unions and the poor people’s social movements, omitting the fact that, despite vocal criticism, the vast majority of these organizations still support Dilma Rouseff for re-election. 

To illustrate why most of the poor and working class left still support PT, despite their many, vocal criticisms, I will give a few examples of how the roughly 1.2 million small farmers in the Landless Peasants’ Movement (MST) have benefited from 12 years of PT government. Zirin rightfully points out that the granting of land titles for squatting farmers has slowed down during PT’s 12 years in office, compared to the neoliberal predecessors. He omits mentioning, however, that PT set up a program called PAA, in which all school lunch and hospital food in rural areas is now purchased by the government directly from family farmers. This is one reason 70% of the food consumed in Brazil still comes, in a very non-neoliberal fashion, from small farmers. He omits mentioning that the PT administration turned over control of the public school management in agrarian reform settlement villages to the MST. He omits that, thanks to a federal university outreach program, thousands of MST members are now studying in public universities. 

The fact is that, although it is possible to cherry-pick examples of neoliberal policies that have been implemented by the PT-led coalition government over the past 12 years to build an argument that Lula, the most loved president in Brazilian history, was a neoliberal, Darth Vader style bogeyman who “dances with the devil”, the reality of the Brazilian context is more complex. As I wrote in a recent blog at the Center for Economic and Policy Research:

“João Pedro Stedile, one of the national leaders of the Landless Peasants’ Movement (MST), breaks down the choices that voters have this October in the following manner: “Dilma Rousseff and (third-most-popular candidate) Eduardo Campos represent neo-developmentalism, and Aécio Neves represents neoliberalism.” Neo-developmentalism is a term that people on the Brazilian left use to describe the PT’s modern version of developmentalism. Developmentalism is a Keynesian-influenced economic strategy first developed in the 1940s in the Third World by economists like Raúl Prebisch and Celso Furtado based on income redistribution through social welfare initiatives, government stimulus for national industrial production and consumption, maintaining key sectors of the economy under control of state companies, and a high minimum wage. It was employed at varying levels by Brazilian president João (Jango) Goulart before the U.S.-supported military coup of 1964. Many people on the Brazilian left apply the “neo” prefix to the 12 years of PT government due to the neoliberal policies initiated in the Fernando Henrique Cardoso administration, such as an independent and monetarist Central Bank , that the PT has done little to revert and that blend with traditional developmentalist policies such as large minimum wage hikes, high social spending on welfare programs, maintaining state control over the petroleum industry and mortgage market and subsidizing the construction and manufacturing industries.” 

In “Dance with the Devil”, Zirin did not give the right to response to the historic actors on the Brazilian left who he attacked. In leaving that huge, gaping hole in the book, he loses the opportunity to explain how, while inequality increased and millions of people lost their jobs in the northern capitalist countries, Brazil gained 19.5 million jobs, lowered its GINI coefficient significantly, eradicated hunger and lifted 36 million people above the poverty line. The largest study of its kind on the causes of this poverty reduction was conducted by IPEA, the Brazilian Applied Economic Research Institute, covering the years 2005-2009. It built a linear regression model establishing causality levels for over a dozen indicators. The two biggest causes, by far, were the huge and very non-neoliberal minimum wage increases and the locking of the federal pension program into this, increased minimum wage. One of the most misleading things about “Dance with the Devil” is that the reader could easily put down the book thinking that it was Lula’s “diabolical” neoliberalism, and not the creation of a developmentalist social democracy that caused this to happen. 

— 2 weeks ago with 7 notes