The extremely positive economic numbers from the past 12 years of PT rule are finally coming into the English language, exposing Dave Zirin’s fake-leftist book, “Dance with the Devil” and a series of pre-world cup Brazil-bashing articles in the Anglophone media as the bullshit that they are.

During 12 years of PT rule: 1) Poverty shrunk by 55%; 2) The minimum wage rose by 76%; 3) Unemployment and inequality have hit all-time lows; and 4) Education and other forms of social spending increased dramatically in real terms.

As the Center for Economic and Policy Research shows in this excellent report, these positive changes are for the most part, not the result of the legacy of the Fernando Henrique Cardoso administration but from the dramatic shifts in the way the Lula and Dilma administrations managed the macro-economy .As it says in the conclusion:

"Brazil’s progress on social indicators for poverty and inequality since 2003, as well as the pronounced increase in economic growth and reduced unemployment appear to have resulted from significant policy changes that have begun to transform the economy. These include increases in social spending and targeted programs, large real increases in the minimum wage, positive changes in macroeconomic policy for most of the period, and changes in the labor market that have increased the bargaining power of labor. Most of these changes appear to be durable; they do not seem to be solely a product of a cyclical upswing. Although the economy has slowed over the last three years, as compared with 2003-2010, this appears to be partly a result of pro-cyclical macroeconomic policies, including overly tight monetary and fiscal policies. If these policies are adjusted, and with continued progress in industrial policy and public investment to increase productivity, it should be possible for the Brazilian economy to maintain and possibly increase its growth rates from the past decade, and further reduce poverty and inequality."

Source alert: Do not believe anything you see in the Anglophone media that  uses Veja magazine as a source. Veja, Brazil’s largest magazine is frequently cited in publications like the New York Times, Guardian, Economist, etc, but it’s success is a product of the neo-fascist military dictatorship that it supported and its circulation and relevance have been waning ever since. Brazil has very weak laws against slander - another product of the dictatorship - and everytime anyone complains about that they whine about “freedom of the press”. There is an election going on and after blowing countless money on lawyers and appeals,Yesterday, Veja lost a supreme court decision 7-0 for completely fabricating a series of lies about ex-president Lula and members of PT party involving a scandal with the state petroleum company. 

Progressive urban governance in Brazil part 1: Working around the loopholes

Cabo de Santo Agostino is a poor suburban municipality, outside of Recife, that has a population of around 170,000. In 2005 local residents’ associations, NGOs and social movements got together and created the Forum of Poor People’s Entities of Cabo (Forum de Entidades Populares do Cabo).  The objective of the Forum, which has a membership of around 20 organizations, is to monitor local public policies in the areas of housing, sanitation, transportation and environment and also to influence the city planning process.  During its first five years of existence it has become a significant political actor in Cabo.

Starting from the first meetings of the Forum, participants demanded that a strategy be developed to influence the City’s budget.  Nivete Azevedo is the director of a local civil society organization called the Centro das Mulheres do Cabo, and a founding member of the Forum. “It wasn’t enough to protest,” she says, , “we wanted to act within the local budgeting process.”

This turned out to be trickier than they first expected. To understand how the Forum managed to achieve its goals  one needs to know a bit about the local government budgetary process in Brazil.  According to a law passed in 2001, called the “Statute of the City,” all towns over 20,000 have to create a participatory development plan which orients/ the annual budget.  Participation is guaranteed by law in the form of public debates and hearings during which the annual budget is presented, and by allowing “people’s legal initiatives” in which any budget line can be altered through a petition as long as it doesn’t shrink the size of certain federally mandated disbursements for areas like Health and Education.  Although the Statute of the City  represented a huge step forward, the Forum soon discovered that there was enough flexibility in the law for local governments to effectively limit participation.

In a typical Brazilian city the mayor’s cabinet prepares the annual budget before submitting it for analysis and ratification by the City Council.  According to Brazilian law the public  has to have access to the budget and time to participate before it is submitted to the Council. In Cabo de Santo Agostino, however, the mayor only opens the budget for public scrutiny for two hours each year, allowing exactly one day for the public to suggest alterations. After it is submitted to the city council it is opened for public scrutiny for one month so that City Council members can suggest modifications and bring it up for vote. According to Ms. Azevedo, 30 days proved to be too short of a time period for the Forum to analyze the budget proposal and gather together the 10,000 signatures needed (based on population of the city) in order to submit a people’s amendment. In this case, participation in the city budget process was merely symbolic. 

In order to bypass this obstacle, the Forum came up with a new strategy. Every year when the budget is opened to the public, the Forum meets and creates its own budget amendments. Then it searches for allies in the City Council to submit them for vote. During the year the Forum holds a series of monthly meetings in which an annual plan is made that establishes priorities for the following year’s budget. Once the objectives are established Forum members decide whether they want to create a full amendment or merely suggest line item alterations in a manner that will strengthen their objectives. The alterations are drafted and then Forum members look for an ally in the City Council to sponsor the changes and go door to door asking for all the City Council members to vote on the initiative.

In 2010, the Forum decided to give priority to low income housing in their annual plan. An amendment was drafted up, allocating more money for low income housing, guaranteeing that the social movements would be able to decide who receives a percentage of the housing and, in accord with the women’s rights’ objectives of the Forum, designated a priority in housing allocations for domestic workers.

In the 5 years since the Forum was created, it has become a significant political force in Cabo de Santo Agostino. Now, once a year, an extraordinary session of the City Council is held in which the Forum presents its ideas in an attempt to build recognition and supporty for the suggested changes and convince the councilors to ratify them.

After its success at the local level the Forum was invited to help develop a strategy with the Pernambuco Urban Reform Forum to influence the state budget on urban poverty issues.

According to Nivete Azevedo, the biggest challenge faced by the Forum de Entidades Populares do Cabo is to pressure the government to implement the budget after it has passed in the city council. “Our strategy is working in the sense that we are able to influence our proposals to be included in the annual budget”, she says, “but although we have been partially successful, we are still having problems guaranteeing that all of the money is allocated properly”. 

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.

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.

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”.