Right Confronts Lula as Movements Smolder


murder in Rio de Janeiro of Dorothy Stang, a 73-year-old U.S. nun
who helped peasants engage in sustainable agriculture in the Amazonian
rain forest, comes as oligarchic interests and the parliamentary
right are on a political offensive against the government of Luis
Inacio “Lula” da Silva. This takes place as fissures are
opening up within Lula’s governing Workers Party while social
organizations are mobilizing to demand the implementation of reforms
Lula aligned himself with before he became president. 

is a low-point of Lula’s presidency,” says Marcos Arruda
of PACS, a political and social research institute based in Rio
de Janeiro. “There is no excuse for his failure to implement
major social reforms, especially land redistribution, as he continues
to follow the neo-liberal recipes dictated by the International
Monetary Fund and Washington.” The government has maintained
budget surpluses of 4 percent or more each of his 2 years in office
to pay off international debts. The IMF alone has received over
$40 billion in interest and principal repayments under Lula on a
loan package of $58 billion initiated in 1998. 

Dorothy’s assassination reflects the continued assault by landed
and logging interests on those who stand in the way of their plundering
of the Amazon. Stang, a naturalized Brazilian citizen, worked in
the Amazonian state of Para with 600 families involved in cultivating
native fruits and vegetables while tending dairy cattle that feed
on local forage. During the past year in Para alone more than 20
people have been murdered in land disputes.

did respond dramatically to Stang’s assassination. He established
a cabinet level task force, set aside two huge preservation parks,
declared that large “land usurpers” in the Amazon would
not be tolerated anymore, and sent over 2,000 federal police to
pursue the assassins and their backers. 

this scene was unfolding, an upheaval took place in the elections
for the president of the lower house of the Brazilian Congress.
In the previous two years Lula’s Worker’s Party had secured
the post by pasting together a coalition of parties. This year,
however, the Worker’s Party was deeply divided between those
backing Lula and those who were fed up with the slow pace of social
reforms. As a result the right wing, along with the centrist parties,
maneuvered to put their own candidate in the presidency, Severino
Cavalcantia.  He is known as “the king of the lower clergy”
because of his alignment with right-wing oligarchic and religious
interests. One of his first actions was to increase congressional
salaries and extend vacation times. 

takeover comes as a campaign is taking place to roll back even the
limited reforms of Lula’s early years. A few paltry taxes were
levied on the rich and a modest—some would say “very meager”—anti-hunger
program was launched. Headlines in the right wing-dominated press
now scream about the high taxes that Brazilians supposedly pay while
proclaiming that the Brazilian government, unlike the rest of the
world, is not in lockstep with neo-liberalism by cutting back on
“wasteful” and “corrupt” federal spending programs. 

the Workers Party, the dissidents are divided. A limited group is
opting to abandon the party and calling for the formation of a new
political organization. Most believe a struggle should be waged
within the party to reclaim its historic agenda of fighting for
the poor, the workers, and the dispossessed. 

largest social organization in Brazil, the Landless Workers Movement,
with strong links to the Workers Party going back to the 1980s,
is following the second strategy. It has not broken with Lula, but
is engaged in a process of mobilization from below. At present over
200,000 landless people are camped out along the major highways
in Brazil, demanding access to idle lands. Francisco Meneses, who
sits on the National Council on Nutrition and Food Security, proclaims:
“If Brazil really wants to deal with hunger, the best solution
is to undertake an accelerated agrarian reform program. The landless
movement has very effective approaches that draw on past agrarian
reform experiences from Latin America and the world in order to
carry out sustainable development.” 

Landless Workers Movement is calling for an “April Offensive.”
Starting in mid-month landless people and their sympathizers from
divergent parts of the country will launch a massive march on the
capital of Brazilia. 

Arruda, a friend of Lula’s since the 1970s, who numbers among
the dissidents fighting within the Workers Party, says: “We
can’t give up to the opportunists surrounding Lula who are
only interested in power. They are cutting deals just like any other
traditional party in Brazil. A really visionary and sustainable
agrarian reform program can transform the country in memory of Sister
Dorothy and the other martyrs. There is no excuse for our party
and country to be aligned with the same power brokers who are traumatizing
the world with conflict, repression, and economic policies that
ravage the earth.”


Roger Burbach
is the director of the Center for the Study of the Americas (CENSA)
and a Visiting Scholar at the Institute of International Studies,
University of California, Berkeley.