Lula the Enigma

(01-09-2007) The long interview given by Brazilian President Lula to the Sao Paulo O Estado newspaper on August 26th shows the enigma, the contradiction he and his government represent, in all its dimensions. Whether they agree with the government, or radically criticise it, from the right, or from the left, anyone can pick out some or other reply to confirm their own view. Taking into account the interview’s complete five pages, no one can fail to see that it seeks to square the circle for a government that attracts, at one and the same time, the most relentless  opposition from the mainstream Brazilian press, the support of the great majority of the impoverished classes, criticism from an important part of the left and support from big business.

Lula likes to use the expression of the Brazilian singer Raul Seixas “walking metamorphosis” to try and define himself, to suggest that in this way he has managed to reject the temptations of what he calls “principle-ism”, referring to what in his judgement would be dogmatic opinions. This manages to capture his political and ideological transformation since he erupted into Brazil‘s political life as a labour leader in opposition to the military dictatorship, 30 years ago now. However, it does make very clear that while Lula adapted to material conditions so as to exercise power for all Brazilians, that same move may be interpreted as being an authentic ideological conversion to the operative conditions for the reproduction of capitalism in Brazil.

The first thing to note in relation to that is the consolidation of the monopolistic, anti-democratic nature of the Brazilian press. This, even though he won majority support from the people, according to the electoral results nine months ago that led to his re-election, and even though the opinion polls confirm – despite new crises thoroughly exploited by the press – the huge support he enjoys especially among the impoverished, who are the great majority of the population. Despite this, the government’s point of view is not presented on a daily basis in the mainstream press, which is monolithic in its fierce opposition, totally excluding a plurality of views.

Lula does not conceal that what he considers his government’s greatest success is exactly the thing for which he has taken most criticism from the left: economic policy. But immediately he adds on his foreign policy priorities: alliances in Latin America and with the world’s South. When he is asked to what extent these policies are his own rather than ones inherited from his predecessor (Fernando Henrique Cardoso), he questions that, saying that to have sustained the policies he inherited would have bankrupted the country.

In his vision, that economic leadership has been the precondition for the great success of his social policies. An indispensable part of his programme of government stems from the Letter to Brazilians, in which he undertook to maintain inherited commitments – above all with financial capital, which had  mounted a strong speculative attack in 2002 when faced then with Lula’s electoral win. This allowed him to do better than the 35% support obtained in his previous presidential candidacies to reach, in the end, 61%.

With this he tries to justify the sacrifices he imposed in his first year of government, when he increased the primary surplus above that demanded by the IMF. Lula tries to play down recent conflicts in Brazil‘s foreign policy by confirming Brazil‘s interest in building the South American gas pipeline and arguing that the nature of the Bank of the South is still under discussion. He repeats Brazil‘s willingness to be more generous towards the region’s less developed countries (Bolivia, Paraguay and Uruguay)

He concedes that concerns over the argument about ethanol and food production are not without foundation. He says,  “In a country like Mexico, for example, the high price of maize, causes a serious problem because its people eat so much tortilla”, concluding “fuel policy cannot conflict with food policy”. Discounting disputes with Hugo Chavez suggested in the press, he points out that Venezuela is buying three tanker loads of ethanol from Brazil.

Still, Lula does not mention the nature of new relations with the United States based on mutual visits with Bush, nor does he touch on other issues for which he has been criticised from more left wing sectors in Brazil, like genetically manipulated crops, the closed classification of files from the dictatorship, repression of community radios, slow progress on land reform and, likewise, the de facto independence of the Central Bank and unrestricted capital flows in financial sphere.

translation copyleft Tortilla con Sal

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