Brazil is busy preparing for the World Cup, from newly flush construction workers to real estate speculators and military police. Critics of the ru…
I have a deep respect for NACLA dating back to the pre-internet days in the 1980s when they were one of the best sources of information on covert action in Central America. I wrote this because in the lead up to the World Cup and presidential elections everyone, even in supposedly progressive media like the New York Times and the Guardian seems to be unethically smearing Brazil. There are serious problems with the World Cup, but these have to be put into context of a scenario where 15 million new jobs have been generated in the last decade and the incumbent president is polling 25 points above the nearest competition in the election polls. NACLA’s editors required me to provide 20 footnotes for this short article.
My latest article for Vice, about the World Cup in Manaus.
Brazilian Social Movements Organize for Political Reform
On January 25, during the 3rd Social Thematic Forum in Porto Alegre, representatives of urban social movements affiliated with the National Urban Reform Forum started a campaign to support a referendum for removing political reform power from Congress, passing authority over to a newly created, democratically elected and sovereign body.
The referendum represents the largest concession that President Dilma Rouseff announced after last year’s June and July protests. Although critics say that it could end up giving too much power to the incumbent PT party, it is supported by 76 social movements and labor unions because it addresses one of the most important problems in Brazil: the fact that a full transition to democracy was never made when the military dictatorship ended in 1985.
Unlike other former dictatorships in South America, the Brazilian government refused to disband the brutal military police. It also gave full amnesty to the military and its puppet government. This meant that most congressmen and senators from the two legal political parties of the dictatorship era, ARENA and MDB, were able to stay in power and benefit from the advantage of incumbency in future elections. ARENA changed its name to PFL and then to DEM, and MDB changed its name to PMDB. Every president between 1985 and 2002 governed in coalition with these two parties. President Lula broke with DEM but was only able to maintain a majority block in the house and senate with PMDB, led by the widely hated former President Jose Sarney.
The social movements believe that, due to the inherent structural problem of a congress that is controlled by representatives of the former military dictatorship, the current system is incapable of reforming itself. They believe that the referendum will enable a bottom-up process of change. Therefore, during the next few months they will organize a series of national protests for political reform. On April 1, on the 50th anniversary of the US-supported military coup of 1964, the social movements will create neighborhood and village committees across the country to discuss the referendum.
For Evaniza Rodrigues from the National People’s Housing Union (União Nacional de Moradia Popular, or UNMP), “The referendum is important because it doesn’t just deal with electoral issues. It proposes reflection about society’s participation in the political process. Political participation should become part of the people’s daily lives. It should be part of all of the important political decisions in Brazil. The only way for the majority of our society who are excluded from formal spaces of political participation to have a voice is through deep organizational and representational changes.” She says that the UNMP is meeting later this week to create a national mobilization plan for the referendum.
Gegê, from the People’s Movements Central (Central de Movimentos Popular, or CMP) says, “There is no way that we can fail to take part in this important referendum. It is the key to ending corruption, guaranteeing rights for workers and especially to guarantee a life of dignity in the cities and in the countryside and guarantee our right to live as citizens. We know that there are many congressmen who are against this referendum because it will put an end to private campaign funding and if the field is leveled they will never be reelected.”
Although referendums in Brazil are not legally binding, they wield strong political pressure. The most memorable referendum in recent history took place in 2002 when President Fernando Henrique Cardoso wanted Brazil to enter the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA). The social movements, that unanimously opposed it, organized a referendum. 150,000 people volunteered to work the polling stations, over 10 million people turned out and 98.3% of them voted against entering the FTAA, effectively killing the proposal.
More forced evictions in Rio de Janeiro: what happened to the Statute of the City?
On the night of January 7 another series of forced evictions took place in the Metrô-Manguiera favela slum in Rio de Janeiro. Approximately 500 meters from Maracaná stadium, site of the 2014 World Cup final match, 40 families were brutally kicked out of their homes by the military police who used pepper spray and tear gas grenades.
Unfortunately, this did not come as a surprise to anyone who has been following preparations for Olympics and World Cup in Rio de Janeiro. Thousands of people have already been evicted due to event-related construction projects and real estate speculation activities. They have received compensation settlements well below market rates or have been relocated to the far outskirts of the city, in violation of the City’s Organic Law which stipulates that victims of forced evictions have to be relocated close their previous residences. How can these types of activities still happen 12 years after the national Statute of the City was passed?
The Statute of the City of 2001 mandates that all cities of over 20,000 implement a Master Plan that follows a series of norms to guarantee effective public participation in all city government spending and project implementation. When the Statute was passed, cities were given a grace period of 5 years to either facilitate new Master Plans or revise their current plans to abide by the new directives. At the time, Rio de Janeiro’s 1992, 10- year plan was still in effect. With the 5 year grace period granted by the Statute of the City, it remained legally binding until 2006. The City Council passed a further, 2 year extension, however the new Master Plan was only ratified in February, 2011.
During the legislative vacuum between the expiration of the old Plan and the ratification of the new one, the City Council passed a series of laws to facilitate real estate speculation related to the World Cup and the Olympics. Furthermore, Mayor Eduardo Paes issued Decree N. 32080 on April 7, 2010, which authorizes forced evictions in all areas that the City Government decides are at risk for natural disasters. This decree is being used as a political tool to clear out areas of interest for the real estate industry in places like Providencia Favela, located in the newly gentrifying port area, where the City is building a cable car system for tourists and over 800 families are targeted for eviction. Since there was no Master Plan in effect during this period, are these new laws and decrees legal?
During a recent interview, Alex Magalhães, lawyer and professor at Universidade Federal de Rio de Janeiro’s urban planning department, commented on this apparent legal vacuum.
“The Statue of the City is a national urban policy, so all master plans have to act in line with it. The master plans are one of the moments in which the Statute is concretized and put into action. Therefore, it can be argued from a technical, legal standpoint that there is a lack of compatibility between Rio’s Plan and the Statute, turning Rio’s Plan illegal according to national law.”
Dr. Magalhães says that during the Master Plan’s revision process social movements and a few city councilors filed a series of legal complaints to the District Attorney’s office, but it refused to take any measure against the City Government. “It didn’t make a case of administrative impropriety against the Mayor and City Council due to delays in revising the Plan,” he said, “this did not happen in Rio de Janeiro despite happening in many other Brazilian cities.”
Marcelo Edmundo from the Central de Movimentos Populares social movement thinks that despite the legal questions about the City Government’s actions, it is hard to imagine that there is a legal solution to guarantee anyone’s rights. “Nothing that was done up to now has produced any kind of results. There is a certain level of complacency on the issue of human rights that is caused by a big deal that’s been made between the government and the judiciary. We see it in the court system, the District Attorney’s office and in the public defendant’s office. I don’t see how within the legal system, at least at the local level, we can preserve anyone’s human rights. The only way to confront these violations is through a change on the part of the population. If we have to rely on the Court system the only thing guaranteed is more gentrification and evictions. The only way we can guarantee anything is through organizing people to protest.”
By Brian Mier, originally published in the Fórum Nacional de Reforma Urbana newsletter. Translated from the Portuguese by Brian Mier
Photo: Francisco Chaves, Image source: Mídia Informal
I was on This is Hell again yesterday here is the link
Today’s Progressive Brazil podcast looks at Dilma Rouseff’s prospects for reelection in 2014 as well as a few issues that may cause problems for the PT party down the line.
This is Hell
I was a guest on the Chicago radio show “This is Hell” yesterday, here is the link: http://thisishell.net/shows/779/#.UrcOwPSTaSo
Progressive Brazil, my weekly podcast, returns with a look at the upcoming World Cup and human abuses in Brazil.
I have been slacking off on the podcasts of late due to frustration with Soundcloud. But on Saturday I will be live streaming video and making commentary about the Rio de Janeiro protests all day for VIce