New dawn in Brazil

By electing Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva with a huge majority, the Brazilian people have overwhelmingly rejected the "Washington consensus" and given a huge boost to Latin America's burgeoning emancipatory movement.

December 1, 2002
6 min read

“Lula was elected with the highest number of votes [for a single candidate] in world history.” This was the opening statement of the edition of Fantastico broadcast on Brazilian TV on Sunday, October 27. Earlier in the day, more than 52 million people had voted for former metal worker Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva in the run-off in Brazil’s presidential election, thus electing Lula as the country’s leader for the next four years.

So, why did 62 per cent of the Brazilian electorate choose Lula? Simply because they are tired of becoming poorer, of seeing their purchasing power steadily decreasing, of living in a society ever more polarised by extremes of wealth and poverty. Brazilians have finally made the connection between their plight and an economic model that only benefits the rich and foreign enterprises. They are now rejecting the continuation of the neo-liberal reforms put in place by the administration of Fernando Henrique Cardoso during the previous eight years.

Brazil is a post-colonial country. Its population carries a heritage of 380 years of colonial domination and slavery. Its elite is racist, machista and very conservative. Its people are trained in submission and dependence. This makes Lula’s election even more significant. It corresponds to the triumph of a post-neo-liberal insurrection.

Former trade union leader Lula was born in the poor north-east of Brazil. At the age of 13 he travelled with his family in the back of a truck from Pernambuco to the city of Sao Paulo. He knows what poverty and hunger mean. And his deepest commitment is to the large numbers of Brazilian people who still suffer those ills.

Lula is the first worker-president. There has been no one like him in the politics of the Americas since Abraham Lincoln. He represents a re-opening of history, a break with the one-thought-one-way model that has prevailed in the globalised world over the last two decades. By electorally rejecting neo-liberalism, the Brazilian people have asserted their aspiration to regain control over their history and development. Social, political and ideological debate and intercourse are once more the variables of a history in the making. And Lula’s victory empowers the dream of liberation of other Latin American peoples.

Dangers and opportunities

Those who have reaped wealth and power from the denationalisation and decapitalisation of Brazil are now expressing their fears and concerns. These people and institutions are the national and international bankers and financiers, the trans-national corporations and large landowners, the politicians and controllers of the mass media and the upper-middle class who have been enriched by ownership and not by their working.

In the run-up to Lula’s victory, they tried to destabilise the Brazilian economy by massively withdrawing foreign currency from the country, forcing a quick fall in the value of the Brazilian real and blaming Lula’s popularity for the devaluation. But nothing could deter the expansion of that popularity.

These national and international elites may now attempt to compromise Brazil’s governability — quietly encouraging economic and financial destabilisation. They hate the idea that capitalism is incompatible with genuine democracy and respect of human and social rights.

In the meantime, Lula presents the essence of his mandate as transformation not through war and conflict but “peace and love”. He is working to build a broad social pact around this project. Those who gain through financial speculation as opposed to productive investment are convinced they will lose their privileges. Speakers for Lula’s Workers’ Party remark that those who are willing to respect the right of the Brazilian nation to run its own socio-economic development project and who wish to adapt their corporate strategies to the priorities of that national project will soon realise that the new Brazil is a hospitable and promising place to invest.

Lula’s first priority is to eradicate hunger and malnutrition. To do so, he will need to adjust the economy in innovative ways — moving away from the policy of making debt payments the government’s first economic priority. He will also need to affect the country’s deeply unfair income and wealth concentration by means of progressive tax and effectively participatory agrarian reforms. None of these measures is highly revolutionary. They can simply make capitalism more socially and humanly efficient. They also have the potential of fulfilling Lula’s promises for sustained economic growth and high employment. But he will need to build a broad political alliance in order to face down the inevitable pressure from the IMF and the international creditors. He will also need the support of organised society as a whole.

Brazil and the rest of the world will soon be reminded that finance and trade are not ends in themselves. Rather they are means of promoting the satisfaction of human needs and social and human development — ideally through sustainable production.

The Lula administration will soon have to engage in hard negotiation with the creditor banks (Morgan, Citicorp and a few others) that hold the main Brazilian and Latin American debt bonds. Creditors and investors have no moral right to lead a country to bankruptcy. And Brazil’s project of rekindling economic growth and satisfying social needs is incompatible with the annual transfer abroad of more than $50 billion and the payment of over $70 billion to internal creditors.

Increasing the purchasing power of wages, ending the seven-year freeze on public sector pay, granting incentives to the solidarity economy (the small and medium enterprises and family agriculture), promoting agrarian reform, launching social programmes such as zero hunger tolerance — these are all priorities. The new government must prove from the start that it will make social problems its principal target.

Lula’s administration will also be an inspiration for the massive emancipatory movement in Argentina and elsewhere in Latin America and the Caribbean. Its success will boost the hopes of an integration of the continent that is based on the respect for national sovereignty and cultural identity, co-operation and solidarity. And it will strengthen the large international movement against neo-liberal globalisation. To quote the motto of this year’s World Social Forum, “another world is possible”.Brazilian economist Marcos Arruda is a researcher, educator and consultant at the Institute of Alternative Policies for the Southern Cone of Latin America, and a fellow of Amsterdam’s Transnational Institute. His books include: “External Debt: Brazil and the international financial crisis” (Pluto and TNI, £12.99)


✹ Try our new pay-as-you-feel subscription — you choose how much to pay.

Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 19 April
On April 19th, we’ll be holding the second of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.

Changing our attitude to Climate Change
Paul Allen of the Centre for Alternative Technology spells out what we need to do to break through the inaction over climate change

Introducing Trump’s Inner Circle
Donald Trump’s key allies are as alarming as the man himself

Secrets and spies of Scotland Yard
A new Espionage Act threatens whistleblowers and journalists, writes Sarah Kavanagh

#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part II: a discussion of power and privilege
In the second article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the silencing of black women and the flaws in safe spaces

How progressive is the ‘progressive alliance’?
We need an anti-austerity alliance, not a vaguely progressive alliance, argues Michael Calderbank

The YPJ: Fighting Isis on the frontline
Rahila Gupta talks to Kimmie Taylor about life on the frontline in Rojava

Joint statement on George Osborne’s appointment to the Evening Standard
'We have come together to denounce this brazen conflict of interest and to champion the growing need for independent, truthful and representative media'

Confronting Brexit
Paul O’Connell and Michael Calderbank consider the conditions that led to the Brexit vote, and how the left in Britain should respond

On the right side of history: an interview with Mijente
Marienna Pope-Weidemann speaks to Reyna Wences, co-founder of Mijente, a radical Latinx and Chincanx organising network

Disrupting the City of London Corporation elections
The City of London Corporation is one of the most secretive and least understood institutions in the world, writes Luke Walter

#AndABlackWomanAtThat: a discussion of power and privilege
In the first article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the oppression of her early life and how we must fight it, even in our own movement

Corbyn understands the needs of our communities
Ian Hodson reflects on the Copeland by-election and explains why Corbyn has the full support of The Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union

Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 15 March
On 15 March, we’ll be holding the first of Red Pepper’s Race Section open editorial meetings.

Social Workers Without Borders
Jenny Nelson speaks to Lauren Wroe about a group combining activism and social work with refugees

Growing up married
Laura Nicholson interviews Dr Eylem Atakav about her new film, Growing Up Married, which tells the stories of Turkey’s child brides

The Migrant Connections Festival: solidarity needs meaningful relationships
On March 4 & 5 Bethnal Green will host a migrant-led festival fostering community and solidarity for people of all backgrounds, writes Sohail Jannesari

Reclaiming Holloway Homes
The government is closing old, inner-city jails. Rebecca Roberts looks at what happens next

Intensification of state violence in the Kurdish provinces of Turkey
Oppression increases in the run up to Turkey’s constitutional referendum, writes Mehmet Ugur from Academics for Peace

Pass the domestic violence bill
Emma Snaith reports on the significance of the new anti-domestic violence bill

Report from the second Citizen’s Assembly of Podemos
Sol Trumbo Vila says the mandate from the Podemos Assembly is to go forwards in unity and with humility

Protect our public lands
Last summer Indigenous people travelled thousands of miles around the USA to tell their stories and build a movement. Julie Maldonado reports

From the frontlines
Red Pepper’s new race editor, Ashish Ghadiali, introduces a new space for black and minority progressive voices

How can we make the left sexy?
Jenny Nelson reports on a session at The World Transformed

In pictures: designing for change
Sana Iqbal, the designer behind the identity of The World Transformed festival and the accompanying cover of Red Pepper, talks about the importance of good design

Angry about the #MuslimBan? Here are 5 things to do
As well as protesting against Trump we have a lot of work to get on with here in the UK. Here's a list started by Platform

Who owns our land?
Guy Shrubsole gives some tips for finding out

Don’t delay – ditch coal
Take action this month with the Coal Action Network. By Anne Harris

Utopia: Work less play more
A shorter working week would benefit everyone, writes Madeleine Ellis-Petersen

Mum’s Colombian mine protest comes to London
Anne Harris reports on one woman’s fight against a multinational coal giant