Brazil’s PT: Between Loyalty and Independence

     Brazil's PT: Between Loyalty 
and Independence

    The Lula Administration
    has to work hard to form the majority in
    the Brazilian Congress and this is a must. There is no other
    alternative. Either the government gets a majority or governing
    will be even more difficult. I am not only referring to Congress.
    I am talking about those who have money invested in Brazil.
    by: Ricardo
    de Azevedo

    Arlindo
    Chinaglia

    Arlindo Chinaglia, elected leader of PT’s (Partido dos Trabalhadores—Workers’
    Party) backbenchers for the House of Representatives earlier this year, now
    evaluates the Lula Government, the Party and the relationship between backbenchers
    and the cabinet.

    President Lula is now
    a third of the way through his mandate. What is your assessment so far?

    We cannot separate our
    government, or our policies from the reality of the country. But, we have
    to note that we inherited a national debt, which had risen from 61 billion
    reais (US$ 20.3 billion) in January 1995 to over 800 billion reais (US$ 270
    billion) by December 2002.

    This debt imposes commitments
    and forces us to realize a surplus of 4.25 percent, and maintain high interest
    rates. This has compromised our ability to deliver on the high expectations
    our government created nationally and internationally.

    During the first third
    of the mandate, our government emphasised keeping public borrowing in check.
    This was a clear change in economic policy from the previous Cardoso administration.

    However, many of the central
    elements of Cardoso’s policies have been maintained, which caused discontent
    with militant elements of the party. With the more radical left-wingers raising
    their voices, foreign investors got frightened, punishing us because we are
    so vulnerable to the outside world’s expectations.

    So this situation demands
    all members of parliament, radicals and leaders alike, to act with solidarity,
    at same time as we have to constantly push the boundaries of our country and
    government’s direction.

    This initial phase has
    passed, for good or for bad. Today the President’s popularity is very high
    despite absurdly disrespectful attacks from the opposition and part of the
    press.

    The PT is and has been
    a party committed to workers, engaged in social issues. However, promises
    made during the campaign like creating jobs and doubling the minimum wage,
    have not yet materialized. Results so far, if any, have been poor. What are
    the chances of achieving these goals during this mandate if present economic
    policy is maintained?

    Unemployment is Brazil’s
    biggest problem. I believe that ideas of compensatory policies are correct,
    if we consider that people have no alternatives at this time. I think we should
    cater for the aged and children who have no chance to survive.

    Apart from these objectives,
    I believe we should focus on generating jobs, using all possible resources
    available, even through creating task forces or any other precarious form
    of work. These measures will increase consumption and stimulate production.

    It should be interpreted
    as a national pact to generate jobs, in which the reduction of working hours
    or elimination of extra-working hours should form part of the agenda; child
    labour should be eliminated.

    Retired people should
    only be allowed to return to work in exceptional circumstances, for example,
    if they are the sole family bread earner. But if we had a choice—to generate
    jobs or implement compensatory policy, I would create more jobs.

    We all know jobs can only
    be created through economic growth and this will happen by reducing interest
    rates, or, perhaps, an eventual change in economic policy. We have been very
    careful about this point, because the crisis of confidence was triggered by
    the current policy—avoiding rising inflation to reduce Brazil’s so-called
    risk rating.

    All of that we know and
    celebrate. A window that can be opened and give us courage is scrap state
    investments when calculating the Government’s budget surplus, which, according
    to what I read in the press, could generate additional growth in the Brazilian
    economy of up to 3 percent. I wonder if a better way would be not renewing
    the agreement with the IMF, allowing us more freedom of action.

    I do think that, in any
    case, the way the economy is to be conducted ought to be agreed by re-establishing
    pacts with society. I feel there is a dichotomy- The President’s authority
    in one hand and, on another, the claim from entrepreneur and trade union movements,
    the militancy of PT and evidently seeing the despair of joblessness, we will
    have to reach a stage for new definitions from our Government.

    I do not pretend to have
    more authority than anybody else, either the Government, or Lula. What I mean
    is this tension felt by everybody damages the Government. We should be careful,
    we must not make the market suspicious, we cannot afford to scare off investment.

    I believe public-private
    partnerships should be encouraged and clear rules spelled out including questions
    concerning public concessions. These measures are correct. But, at the same
    time, I believe it is right to change the rules through agreement, based on
    public debate.

    We have to support the
    government, to believe in its vision, and, at the same time, to carry out
    our duty by warning the government, as is the nature of debate in a political
    party, to draw up and present specific proposals.

    Don’t you agree that
    the resolution approved at the last meeting of the national assembly should
    alert the Government by defining the problems and suggesting solutions—and
    does not represent official policy.

    This was a result of previous
    experience. During the meeting of the National Executive, just a sentence
    was added, asking for a change in economic policy. This draft was approved
    and used by other parties, in particular by the PT alliance in Congress, reinforcing
    the need to make change.

    The press will always
    try to spot conflicts between the PT and the Government, and, obviously, it
    immediately damages the economy due to its vulnerability. It is not a question
    of having or not included the proposal for changes in the document of the
    national assembly that invalidates the President’s statement.

    During his campaign he
    said, "If I believe in the proposal, I will take action to implement
    it." So, if all of us from the PT and society have good proposals, I
    am sure the President will embrace them.

    By saying that I mean
    that the Government, the PT and backbenchers have passed the point for mere
    analysis. When I was a candidate for leader of the backbenchers, I focused
    on the creating jobs. Many comrades, naturally, would like to discuss economic
    policy.

    To debate is OK, but I
    am convinced that, be we government, backbenchers, or the PT or Teoria
    e Debate magazine, we can no longer just discuss, we must focus on presenting
    proposals.

    Is this the main role
    of the backbenchers today?

    The backbenchers do not
    chose their role because Congress’s agenda was always defined by the Executive.
    Then, the backbenchers must respond. For example, the issue of genetically
    modified food, public-private partnership, re-structuring of the power sector,
    of rights of the aged, questions of deforestation, etc. Whatever comes from
    the Executive the backbenchers have to respond to.

    Concerning the Government’s
    strategy, the backbenchers’ role is to discuss and, if possible, come up with
    proposals. The Government cannot just analyse and promise, it does not make
    sense.

    Concerning the minimum
    wage, therefore, if the present situation continues, I cannot see any possibility
    of implementing it. I have said it publicly, because I believe it is a collective
    responsibility to review this promise .

    I think the government
    made a mistake about it because, if expectations are not lowered and it keeps
    giving the idea that, after four years, Brazil will suddenly be a different
    country, this is risky, because our actions do not meet these high hopes.

    My personal opinion is
    it would be better to start with low expectations and, through hard work and
    realistic action direct people’s expectations. I feel this would be better
    and safer.

    At the moment, I don’t
    visualize the possibility of doubling the minimum wage, as a result of measures
    taken during the first and second years of government, although an adjustment,
    slightly above inflation, was granted—almost negligible, but above inflation.

    It should be noted, however,
    that during Fernando Henrique’s mandate, especially in the second and third
    year of his government, the adjustments made were below inflation. And, during
    the last year of his first mandate, he did not recover the 1995 value of the
    minimum wage but today, in the second year of Lula’s government, we are proposing
    and will pay a minimum wage higher than 1995.

    Concerning the generation
    of jobs I have already commented. This is the biggest challenge.

    How is it to be leader
    of the PT backbenchers in the House of Representatives in this new situation,
    I mean, leader of the government and also the biggest party?

    Firstly, to lead the PT
    backbenchers is always a source of honour and pride, in any situation. To
    be leader of backbenchers who form a support base for the government, is an
    historical moment which we all fought to achieve. I am not complaining about
    it.

    Now it is obvious that
    it is complex because the members of parliament are no different to the militants.
    We have desires, wishes and aspirations so all of us would like to do more
    than we are doing. There is no exception.

    The backbenchers have
    the task of political confrontation through daily debate. Just to mention
    a minor example, when an opposition leader like José Carlos Aleluia
    of PFL (Partido da Frente Liberal—Liberal Front Party) criticises the
    government because President Lula went to Ribeirão Preto to deliver
    new ambulances, the opposition claimed these ambulances had just been painted
    but were in fact old ones.

    Such a situation creates
    a climate of irritability among backbenchers. Or when we are confronted with
    the question of unemployment or the minimum wage, these are major issues.

    It is difficult and sometimes
    complex but I do not despair because the opposition has no authority—social,
    political or historical to attack our government. Our responsibility is to
    respond to society.

    I have peace of mind to
    argue with our political opponents in the House of Representatives, because
    our concern and aims must be directed towards society.

    We can’t lose the House
    of Representatives’ debate, or allow these attacks to go unanswered. The best
    attitude for the backbenchers, PT and Government is to be tuned to Brazilian
    people’s aspirations.

    After every weekend when
    each member of parliament returns, having listened to criticisms and suggestions
    from their base, the backbenchers return with renewed energy, and are, therefore
    a useful tool for the government due to these links, because the members of
    parliament not only talk directly to local PT representatives and the militants
    but to various segments of society. This is an important factor: continuous
    and updated contact networking.

    So, in this particular
    moment, I think it is important to fight the pessimism. I feel a wave of pessimism
    in the country and believe we have to fight it through concrete actions much
    more than pure talks.

    Despite being the largest
    backbenchers in the House of Representatives, with 90 parliamentarians, as
    a whole it is still a minority. How could one build a Pro-government majority?
    Does it depend on Government or action within Congress?

    It depends on both, but
    depends much more on the Government. Conditions to support or oppose the government
    are created by those who later changed their mind to support the government.
    It can welcome or not.

    And due to the country’s
    economic instability, is essential for the market that the government has
    a majority in the Congress. Each time the government wins with small margin
    or even loses such as with the provisional measure of bingo, it scares the
    market because it is interpreted as if the government has no control over
    the situation.

    This is the main reason
    for having a majority in Congress. It does not depend on any deeper ideological
    or political analysis. This does not depend on political or ideological analysis.

    The need of the majority
    is imposed by the manner the cabinet leads the discussion. And so PT members
    of parliament surely have a different vision about this question to PT militants
    who analyse based on political, ideological and ethical affinity.

    The Government has to
    work hard to form the majority and this is a must. So I am in agreement with
    the Government when its policy is directed towards gaining the majority.

    Because there is no other
    alternative, it either goes for majority or governing will be even more difficult.
    Much more difficult. I am not only referring to problems in Congress, I am
    speaking of the market—those who have money invested in Brazil.

    According to your line
    of reasoning, the PT backbenchers could never vote against the government?
    Or do you admit that there could be some exception?

    I believe we should not
    vote against the government, but there have been some cases. For example the
    provisory health plan Act, where the backbenchers voted against what was agreed
    between the government and Congressional coalition.

    I blew the whistle in
    time and there was no crisis, but it happened. Then I believe the best attitude
    for the backbenchers is understanding and loyalty to the government but the
    government has to assume that the biggest, most loyal, most important backbenchers
    are from the PT.

    If backbenchers feel entitled
    to protect themselves, in a situation where government is worn out, nobody
    will be able to hold on to the ruling coalition, not even the government.
    In this sense, the PT backbenchers determine the composition of the majority.

    Do you think that the
    Government is paying due importance to PT backbenchers and its role?

    Yes the government knows
    it. But its actions seem to ignore it. Precisely because the backbenchers
    would like a more important role in defining some policies. And don’t. This
    is evident. Everybody in the government knows it. The difference is between
    understanding and acting. The government has not yet done this completely.

    In this situation how
    do you see the role of PT?

    Institutionally speaking,
    the PT has more power than the backbenchers, so one of our concerns is to
    stay in tune with the party, and, with the PT, work with the government.

    But, I dare say, the PT
    itself has no clear idea about it—this always happens when the government
    wins local, provincial and, mainly, the election at national level. The PT
    backbenchers cannot speak from the heart because it will create problems.
    The PT is in the same situation.

    Don’t you think we
    run the risk of repeating the same-old, historical experience of left wing
    parties which all went wrong, when they became the government the party changes
    into machinery of government and loses its autonomy?

    Any PT city mayor’s speech
    sounds more like a PT message than that of president of a local assembly.
    Do I believe we face risks? Yes I think so. We are undergoing different historical
    moments but there is this external factor.

    We have lived such an
    experience in SP, when Erundina was the mayor of São Paulo. At that
    time the party had an attitude of being independent of the government. And
    the government at the time used to say the municipal PT was in opposition
    to the government.

    So we have had all kind
    of experiences in government-party relations. In the federal government, it
    would pose a serious lack of care for the PT to adopt an attitude of not being
    in solidarity with government.

    It is a difficult political
    operation to be loyal and have independence. Because the party has acquired
    a characteristic which is not good, it is difficult to have a closed meeting
    nowadays with the PT.

    Always someone lets the
    press know. I think this is not a crucial factor but it is irritating. It
    makes it difficult to have an open discussion because everything is made public.
    This, no doubt, limits the debate. It cannot be otherwise, or, instead of
    helping, we create more problems.

    Do you think these
    cases are related to losses of internal solidarity in the Party?

    Surely. And when solidarity
    is lost, more than personal fault, it shows a lack of commitment to the party
    because, when a person feels bigger than the whole, the whole must take action
    or confess that it has lost control and authority.

    I think there are several
    issues in the party, communication for example, which, more than question
    of discipline, is really a political matter. There are issues which the PT
    has to focus on and really reflect over or the damage will be enormous. Not
    only will it affect its image, but we will lose values and principles…

    I also want to say that
    backbenchers must clearly concern themselves with the political reform of
    the party due to its bureaucracy, to financing of campaign, because today
    the nature of disputes within the party has changed, as many militants have
    become professionals. Then the use of machinery of government by civil servants
    at any level, be it municipal, provincial or federal can be extremely dangerous
    for the PT.

    Ricardo de Azevedo is the vice-president of the Perseu
    Abramo Foundation, a Workers’ Party think tank. He is also
    editorial coordinator for the magazine Teoria e Debate
    www.fpabramo.org.br,
    where this interview originally appeared. You may contact
    him at internacional@fpabramo.org.br.

    Translated
    from the Portuguese by Sayuri Carbonnier.

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