Dilma Rousseff is the current president of Brazil and a member of the Partido dos Trabalhadores (Workers’ Party, abbreviated here as PT). The PT, particularly under former president Lula, has an impressive track record on raising the poorest Brazilians out of poverty. They are progressive on international issues, recognizing the state of Palestine and accepting Syrian and Haitian refugees into the country.
President Rousseff, known almost exclusively by her first name within the country, was a true communist revolutionary. She engaged in open armed resistance during the dictatorship, including participating in the kidnapping of a US ambassador. Our dictatorship distinguished itself from other US-backed Latin American military dictatorships—we specialized in torture, rather than killing. And when Dilma was caught and put on trial, she was tortured like fifty thousand other labor leaders, communists, and otherwise innocent people. She did this in the name of democracy and freedom.
Today, as president, Dilma presides over an ever-growing police state that continues to arrest leftists and murder the Afro-Brazilian and indigenous populations at a frightening rate. It is safe to say that the dictatorship never ended—it was simply rebranded as a populist government. The PT has failed to seriously address the crimes against humanity committed by its own government. Dilma herself has tearfully testified to the recently released truth commission report of the dictatorship’s crimes, yet does not see the irony of a former victim of the regime presiding over an equally repressive government, disguised as a social democracy.
The PT’s popularity has plummeted, with Dilma’s approval rating hovering at around nine percent at the time of this writing. While she has continued and expanded the immensely popular and successful welfare programs initiated under Lula, such as Bolsa Família, many other areas have recently received severe cuts due to austerity.
Corruption allegations have also diminished the PT’s popularity considerably, though to the party’s credit, more politicians (including many from the PT itself) have been prosecuted for corruption in the past eight years than at any other point in Brazil’s history.
Dilma has also cracked down on dissent, particularly leading up to the World Cup. The United States has trained Brazilian police offers in various parts of the continent, instructing them on how to deal with dissent and mass protests. And until recently, the Brazilian government contracted an Israeli security company to help violate the privacy of Brazilian citizens. Not long ago, Congress passed a law that could potentially list protesters as terrorists, a charge which carries a 30-year sentence (the maximum permitted under Brazilian law). This bill was proposed by Dilma Rousseff herself.
There are—obviously—legitimate criticisms to be made of Dilma’s government, but the far right has exploited the situation. Several anti-government protests have taken place this year, which have received massive, disproportionate coverage by the right-wing media. While the left has come out in support of Dilma against charges of impeachment, the situation remains precarious. A slow coup is underway as Dilma continues to fight off impeachment charges and heavy criticism from members of Parliament.
It is no longer politically viable to defend Dilma and the PT. After eight years, they have gone from a center-left party to open collaborators with the right, enacting severe austerity measures and inviting foreign capital exploitation into the country (for example, their campaigns to host the World Cup and Olympics and the slow privatization of Petrobras). I believe that within my lifetime, Petrobras will be completely privatized and owned by foreign interests.
We cannot speak about Brazil and the left without talking about Petrobras. Our national oil industry has been attacked by the Dilma government and has already been partially privatized despite massive outcry from the public. For once, both the conservative PSDB and the PT are in agreement.
Odd that the PT was out in full force against then-president Fernando Henrique Cardoso and the PSDB’s attempts to privatize Petrobras. Odd that Lula essentially made anti-privatization part of his election campaign promises in 2002 and 2006. Odd that it was Dilma herself, a former minister in his cabinet and a former socialist revolutionary, who was able to finally partially privatize the national oil industry, and not the conservatives.
But Petrobras will not go gentle into that good night—Petrobras workers have been on strike since September 3rd to protest this recent attempt at privatization. The fear is that the scandals surrounding Petrobras will be used as fuel to further privatize the national oil industry. It is a smokescreen—the right insists that our oil will be better off in the hands of foreign interests or oligarchs than in the hands of the government. The government is corrupt, for sure, but they can be and are being held accountable. Putting control of one of the largest industries on earth into the hands of the private sector could be absolutely disastrous for Brazil’s economy.
We as leftists must be incredibly careful about where to go next. Other left parties like PSOL have been shaky at best with regards to aligning with working-class interests, and have often voted with the PT (including in favor of the law that would class protesters as terrorists). Luciana Genro, former presidential candidate and a prominent figure within the PSOL, has extended solidarity to Fernando Henrique Cardoso, former president and member of the PSDB.
I believe any alliance with the right is extremely dangerous—there is no third option. We either take power or we let others rule over us. The Brazilian left, therefore, is in an uncomfortable position. Dilma may very well be impeached—especially after it was discovered that her administration had falsified fiscal accounts. We are currently in the deepest economic recession in 25 years, with the most unpopular Brazilian president of all time at the helm of a sinking ship. It has become clear that, now more than ever, the left must unite and fight back against austerity and attempts to destabilize our democratically elected government.
Art by Rilo Harris.