Teodor Ajder: What kind of national elections are there in Brazil? And how are they organized?
Ana Euler*: Mandates, in general, are of four years, with the unique exception of Senators. Every Brazilian State has three Senators, one of them with 8 years of mandate, the other two follow the normal mandate period of 4 years.
T.A.: The Senate impeached the President, but how are the members of the Senate elected?
A.E.: In Brazil we have three senators per federative unit, but one should not confuse federative unit with the states. There are 26 states in Brazil and 27 federative units. This is because the Federal District, although not a state, is a federative unit. Therefore we have 81 senators all together. Elections are organized in such a way that two-thirds of the upper house is up for election at one time and the remaining one-third four years later. When one seat is up for election in each State, each voter casts one vote for the Senate; when two seats are up for election, each voter casts two votes, and the voter cannot give his two votes for the same candidate. In the elections for the renewal of two-thirds of the Senate, each party can present two candidates for election. The candidates who achieve the greatest plurality of votes are elected.
T.A.: Is the Brazilian president actively partaking in the activity of the government? The recent impeachment of the president Dilma Rousseff was linked to the way the budgetary deficit was recorded by the government, Rousseff allegedly attempted to conceal this amount.
A.E.: We now face a pseudoparliamentarism. In theory, the President is the head of the nation, but for that, he or she needs the popular support. In the case of Dilma, massive attacks from media corporations (Rede Globo Television), the Federation of Industries (representing patronage) and the right wing, have driven the people into the streets against corruption, but she was not tried for a crime of corruption. They used an improbity committed routinely by all presidents and governors to justify Dilma’s removal. Now that we have a new president (former vice-president) with a clear indictment of corruption, the parliament blocks his investigation into the protection of the National Congress of Brazil, of which both houses – the upper Federal Senate and the lower Chamber of Deputies are completely sunk in corruption.
T.A.: Do you have a court in Brazil, like a Constitutional Court, that is responsible for overseeing the constitutionality of the executive? If yes, could they decree that the impeachment of the president was unconstitutional?
A.E.: Yes, but they did not do so. They accepted the improbity allegation, even though many other presidents have done the same without ever being contested before.
T.A.: In Poland, the governing right wing PiS party just attempted a multi-layered reform by rewriting three main laws, through which it might be able to control the judiciary power in the state, by appointing the judges at all levels. This triggered mass protests in numerous Polish cities. There were thousands of people on the streets night and day. The protests probably forced the president to veto two out of the three laws. Although it is not a total victory of the protesters, it is something significant in many ways. The atmosphere here seems to be great. Meanwhile in Brazil, the former socialist president – Inácio Lula – by the way I remember well how excited you were in 2003, when he won the presidential elections – who seemed to be a great example of well-functional left-wing politics, combining good economical results, decrease in poverty levels, an increase in mass education (an increase in the literacy levels of the population) and with profound prosocial reforms like Bolsa Família, Luz para Todos and Fome Zero – is currently under investigation. A 9 year prison sentence is hanging over his head linked to a corruption scandal, while his successor – Dilma Rousseff, in office since 2011, from the same Working party, lost the presidential seat due to an impeachment. The power is in the hands of all male, all white neoliberals headed by a Rousseff former coalition partner – Michel Temer, who, in fact has no right of occupying a public position due to his involvement in another corruption scandal. How come this was possible? What went wrong in the last 13 and a half years?
A.E. Putz… Brazil has never been so divided, since the resumption of democracy in the 80’s. Lula made an excellent coalition government, and had to make the pact with the devil (far right wing groups) to rule, and above all maintain the status quo allowing a neoliberal policy of the financial system. On the other hand, it strengthened important areas of the state, such as the federal police, distributed wealth allowing the increase of consumption power of the poorest, and strengthened affirmative policies aimed at minorities (blacks, Indians, homosexuals, etc.). He finished his second mandate with 85% of popular approval, historical index.
Lula decided to indicate as successor a woman with great management skills but ZERO political ability – Dilma Rousseff. Unfortunately, we found that his opponents have perpetrated and extended major corruption schemes. Obviously, these schemes always existed but were limited to few political groups. Now all political parties are included, even the left wing, with the justification of maintaining power. In my opinion, they chose the WORST of the partners as an ally and the seat for vice-presidency. Temer is a Machiavellian politician, who did not have the slightest modesty to cheerfully betray Dilma to save himself and his allies in the Congress.
T.A.: Would you say that Brazilian politics is linked to certain cycles? In a recent interview published in Poland, a Brazilian activist and a counselor of Lula – Ladislau Dowbor – talks about democratic breakthroughs interrupted by coup-de-etats. Juscelino Kubitschka began it in 1957, in 1964 it was stopped by a military coup, that put down the president João Goularta, and now, 13 and a half of years of democracy were interrupted by this impeachment, which in his opinion was also a (peaceful) coup d’etat. Would you agree?
A.E.: This Brazilian overview is very good, taking that you reside in Poland. I must admit I know very little about what happens in Poland or other Central, or Eastern European countries for that matter.
T.A.: What is worse in your opinion – the corruption of the political elites of all colors, or the so called “optimizations” that allow the richest to avoid paying taxes? According to Dowbor the Brazilian elites managed to save in off-shores some 500 billions of dollars, which is a third of the Brazilian GDP.
A.E.: One thing is linked to another. The protection of the elites occurs through the great schemes of corruption in the Congress. The congressmen receive money (bribes) to perpetrate this system of protection for the great fortunes, amnesty of the great public debts, concession of loans to the great industrial conglomerates.
T.A.: President Lula was an experienced syndicate worker. His party definitely had and probably still has (albeit the corruption scandal) the support of the people and he managed to work well with the elites, offering well-paid positions in the government. His party did not destroy the big fortunes, no property or significant progressive taxes were introduced and did not reform the financial system with its very high rates on credits. Why is that the elites wanted so badly Rousseff and the Working Party out of the government?
A.E. Again, Rousseff did not have the political ability to negotiate. Even the Working Party being involved in corruption schemes, it has strengthened and made room for the Federal Police and the Public Prosecutor’s Office to investigate corruption schemes. They would never expect that the government would lose its support in Congress, the only institution capable to take over the Presidential Mandate. But a political coalition led by Rousseff’s vice president – Temer – in collusion with two thirds of National Congress (all are claimed to be involved in corruption scandals) and aided by the President of the Congress (who currently is serving a prison term of more than 15 years for corruption, conspiracy and non-declaration of money deposited in foreign accounts) made this all legit.
T.A.: What is the role of the catholic church or other religious groups in the Brazilian politics?
A.E. Today the largest congressional bench in Brazil is Evangelical Christianity. Protestants elect pastors and bishops in the Congress. They support the agribusiness and the weapon industry – the Bible, the Bullets, and the Cattle. The Catholic Church has a more left-wing position, mainly critical on the issues related to the loss of labor rights and the increasing concentration of lands in the rural areas in the hands of private landowners. We are talking about millions of hectares in the property of few economic groups. The catholics do not seem to want their priests enter high politics, so they are not pushing for representation in the Congress. The Catholic Church still has a great impact on the population, but it is progressively losing its hegemony during the last decades.
T.A.: Temer declared that Lula’s reforms would be suspended for years to come. Should we expect a revolt of the masses in Brazil?
A,E. I don’t think so. We have not yet reached this point of political and educational maturity. What is happening is that we are living an undeclared civil war (60,000 homicides a year). With an explosion of violence due to the high rate of unemployment and exclusion of the poor. This is society’s response, rather than joining forces against this government, we create sectarianism between the rich and the poor.
T.A.: I decided to illustrate this interview with images from an exhibition by the Brazilian artist Laura Lima, held in Warsaw, in Zamek Ujazdowski Center for Contemporary Arts, as we speak. (Exhibition opened till September, 30th). From the curatorial text, we learn that Lima is relating to Brazilian arts from the 60s and 70s, to names like Flavio de Carvalho, Lygia Clark, Helio Oiticica, Lygia Pape – pioneers of the so called participatory art. The idea is to transform the role of the viewer in an exhibition from passive to active. One could also recollect the practice of the Augusto Boal’s “Theater of the Oppressed”. Keeping this in mind, how much was and is the contemporary art of Brazil for the people? And how present is it in the public discourse?
A.E.: The level of the public discourse is shallow, polarized between those who are against and in favor of Lula. With very little or no capacity for reflection. There is a Brazilian saying that „the Brazilian people have short memories”. Brazilian art exhibitions are difficult to read, especially if the viewers are not schooled in arts.
T.A.: How often do you visit contemporary art exhibitions?
A.E.: Not very often. There are almost no contemporary art exhibitions in the Amazon State, where I live. Also, the vast majority of Brazilian people, have little access what is called contemporary art. The most influential are the TV artists, musicians and footballers. Many Brazilians wore the Brazilian National Soccer team t-shirts and went into the streets to protest against Dilma. But now that we have Temer, who is infinitely worse, in my opinion, there are no more street movements, because there is no support from the big corporate TV groups, Federation of Industries from Sao Paulo (FIESP), and the right.
T.A.: Would you say that engaging the common people in the works of art might increase their participation levels in civil issues, or even political movements?
A.E.: Yes, but this should come along with an improved access to better education.
T.A.: Here in Poland, the artists engaged to quite a high degree in the protest against the overtaking of the judicial power in the state by the ruling party PiS. Many of them produced objects and disputatious actions. Was it the same in Brazil? Did visual artists, as a group, contested or contest in some organized way the Terner government and its practices?
A.E.: Very few artists, compared with the media stars involved in Dilma’s Impeachment campaign.
*Ana Euler has been working for over twenty years in the Amazon, dealing with community forestry, protected areas management, public policy advocacy, and environmental services. A forest engineer, she is currently involved in a research unit that deals with natural resource management at the Brazilian National Agriculture Research Enterprise – Embrapa. She also holds a PhD in forestry and environmental science.