Again? Sím! (“Yes,” in Portuguese). Yes, I’m compelled to write once again about my beloved Brazil.
It is our Brazil, together with the U.S. in the Americas. We all just finished, not so long ago, watching the 31st Olympics (and, I trust, the Paralympics).
We marveled at the simple but elegant opening show in Rio de Janeiro, the frenetic, samba-laced “clausura” (closing) environmentalist ceremonies, and all the in-between dramatic athletic events. We learned a great deal (but maybe not the right things) about the famous “favelas” (hillside slums) over-looking the fantastic city—“cidade maravilhosa.” I lived there, in one of the largest, “Little Alligator,” while researching my doctoral dissertation.
Favelados are wonderful people. They (favelados, the poor and other Afro-Brazilians) had been helped by liberal Presidents Lula and Rousseff. Democracy and gradual but fairer economic progress developed during their tenure, over the last thirteen years. Millions were lifted out of dire poverty.
Both presidents had been persecuted by the military. They survived and rose to national power and international admiration. Now, they have been deposed—Lula to face a court soon for alleged misuse of funds, Rousseff herself impeached and removed. All parties are implicated in real or alleged financial misappropriations. Was the removal legal or fair? Well, at least formal. But some call it a “soft” military coup. A hard line has taken over.
Today, poorer sectors of Brazilian society face a new crisis, as does democracy itself. The coup occurred during the Olympics, so the world did not take much notice—no Generals this time strutting on balconies (Greg Grandin, “The Nation,” Vol. 303, No. 13/14, September 26, October 3, 2016, page 3).
The Workers’ Party has been deposed; that party had integrated Brazil into the international economic system, while helping the poor and avoiding an internal social explosion. The first PT president, Luiz Inácio da Silva, “Lula,” “was seen by far-sighted globalizers not as a threat but as a hope” (”Nation”), declaring a “new balance” between growth and equity.
Such independence irked the Bush administration; Brazil refused to participate in the U.S.’s “extraordinary rendition” programs. But Brazil, under progressive Lula and Rousseff, proved pragmatic World Bank officials “correct.” Brazil became a stabilizing force in the Americas.
Within Brazil, the government helped indigenous peoples finally achieve legal title to land they had worked for centuries. With this policy now gone, multi-national corporations exploit Brazil’s rich natural resources. Water is polluted. Villages are destroyed (Bessi, Renata, “Corporations Hire Hit Men,” Truthout, 30 Aug 15).
Obama, as a man of conscience, cares for ethnic minorities, here and abroad. His administration has been less confrontational to liberal leaders. But big business rules. It seems the U.S. still prefers “free-marketeers.” And, sadly–without listening to a wider range of advice (anthropologists and social scientist experts on Latin America)–President Obama flew to Argentina, praising that country’s new right-wing president, Mauricio Macri.
Macri and Brazil’s imposed President Temer have dramatically sliced their countries’s social welfare budgets. Gone are the U.S. invasions of the late 19th century. Gone is the support for horrible dictatorships of the mid-20th century–Brazil, Chile and elsewhere. But careless coddling of right wing civilian governments remains.
What are you and I, ordinary citizens of a sister Republic of the Americas, to make of these regressive changes? As a Latin Americanist, as a lover of Brazil and its culture, as a supporter of “under-dogs,” I am sad—and fearful. I am sad about the worsening fate of the poor, of the masses. I am fearful of a return to U.S. policy of ignoring Latin America and/or support for brazen, right-wing capitalists, be they military or civilian.
Did the U.S., once again, get in bed with the wrong social class and its political party? The current president plans more privatization of public institutions, pleasing an old-fashioned capitalist class, one without the heart for the masses of a Lula or Rousseff. Moreover, Temer and his administration face charges of corruption and street protests (Simón Romero, “Americas,” New York Times, September 19, 2016).
We all should be sad and fearful. The Middle East occupies most of our attention, of course, but Brazil and Latin America should not be dismissed. No great plans for economic assistance exist. No U.S. president could be successful these days if she or he urged a needed “Marshall Plan” for Latin America. On the other hand, ominously, the Pentagon “has tripled its special-ops training in the region” (“Nation”).
Is that the best we can do—a military or counter-insurgency plan, a false “solution” to a possible up-rising of oppressed peoples? Will we never learn? We would do well to recall the oft-repeated warning from philosophers and statesmen: “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it” (George Santayana/Winston Churchill).