Monday, 1 November 2010


Brazil wins with Dilma Rousseff

It's not the result Washington wanted, but Dilma's victory creates the chance to consolidate Brazil's social progress under Lula

Mark Weisbrot
01 Nov 2010

Like the rally led by Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert of Comedy
Central that brought hundreds of thousands of people into the streets
of Washington, DC on Saturday, Brazil's election on Sunday was a
contest of "Restore Sanity" versus "Keep Fear Alive" – but with the
fate of millions of Brazilians seriously at stake.

Dilma Rousseff of the governing Workers' party coasted to victory
against the opposition candidate José Serra, with a comfortable
margin of 56 to 44%. It had been a bitter and ugly campaign, marked
by allegations of corruption and malfeasance on both sides, ending
with Serra's wife calling Dilma a "baby-killer."

Religious groups and leaders mobilised for the Serra campaign and
accused Dilma of wanting to legalise abortion, ban religious symbols,
being "anti-Christian", and a "terrorist" for her resistance to the
military dictatorship during the late 1960s. The whole campaign was
all too reminiscent of Republican strategies in the United States,
going back to the rise of the religious right in the 1980s, through
the "Swift Boat" politics and Karl Rove's "Weapons of Mass
Distraction" of recent years.

Serra even had a rightwing foreign policy strategy that prompted one
critic to label him "Serra Palin". His campaign threatened to
alienate Brazil from most of its neighbours by accusing the Bolivian
government of being "complicit" in drug trafficking and Venezuela of
"sheltering" the Farc (the main guerrilla group) in Colombia.

He attacked outgoing President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva for his
refusal – along with most of the rest of South America – to recognise
the government of Honduras. The Honduran government was "elected"
following a military coup last year, under conditions of censorship
and human rights abuses such that only the United States and a
handful of mostly rightwing allies recognised it as "free and fair".

But in the end, sanity triumphed over fear, as voters proved to have
been more convinced by the substantial improvements in their
well-being during the Lula years than anything Serra had to offer.

It is perhaps not surprising that Serra, an economist, would try to
find a way to avoid the most important economic issues that affect
the lives of the majority of Brazilians. The economy has performed
much better during the Lula years than during the eight years of rule
by Serra's Social Democratic party (PSDB): per capita income grew by
23% from 2002 to 2010, as opposed to just 3.5% for 1994 to 2002.
Measured unemployment is now at a record low of 6.2%.

Perhaps even more importantly, the majority of Brazilians enjoyed
substantial gains: the minimum wage, adjusted for inflation, grew by
about 65% during Lula's presidency. This is more than three times the
increase during the prior eight years (that is, the presidency of
Fernando Henrique Cardoso, of Serra's party). This affects not only
minimum-wage workers, but tens of millions of others whose income is
tied to the minimum wage.

In addition, the government has expanded the Bolsa Familia programme,
which provides small cash grants to poor families on condition of
school attendance and health immunisation compliance. The programme
has been successful in reducing illiteracy, and now reaches about 13m
families. More than 19 million people have been shifted across the
poverty line since 2003. And a new scheme of subsidies for home
ownership has benefitted hundreds of thousands of families, with
millions likely to take part, as it expands.

Although the brand of Republican campaign strategy borrowed by Serra
was effective for most of the last four decades in the United States,
it hasn't performed all that well as an export. The Brazilian
electorate tired quickly of the mudslinging; and swing voters wanted
to know what Serra would do for them that would be better than what
the Workers' party had done. When he couldn't tell them, he lost
their votes.

On the down side, the negative campaigning prevented the election
campaign generally from addressing some of the vital issues of
Brazil's future. Brazil's financial elite, which dominates the
central bank, has an influence on economic policy that is at least as
bad – and as powerful – as that of Wall Street in the United States.
This is one reason why Brazil, even under Lula, has had, for many
years, the highest or near-highest real interest rates in the world.
Brazil's growth performance has still not been on a par with the
other "Bric" countries (Russia, India, China), and the country will
have to move away from some of the neoliberal policies of previous
governments in order to achieve its potential.

Capital formation during the Lula years was not much different from
during the Cardoso years, and was relatively low compared to many
developing countries. Public investment was even lower, although it
has recently begun to accelerate. The country will need a development
strategy, and one that establishes new patterns of investment and
consumption to advance the interests of the majority of Brazilians –
some 50 million of whom remain in poverty.

The election has enormous implications for the western hemisphere,
where the Obama State Department has continued, with barely a
stutter, the Bush administration's strategy of "rollback" against the
unprecedented independence that the left governments of South America
have won over the last decade. A defeat of the Workers' party would
have been a big victory for the DC establishment reactionaries.

It also has implications for the rest of the world. In May, Brazil
and Turkey broke new ground in the world of international diplomacy,
by negotiating a nuclear fuel swap arrangement for Iran, in an
attempt to resolve the standoff over Iran's nuclear programme. The
State Department was probably more upset about this than anything
that Brazil had done in the region, including Lula's strong and
consistent support for the government of President Hugo Chavéz in
Venezuela. Serra, for his part, had attacked the Iran deal during his

Outside of Washington, then, Dilma Rousseff's win in this election,
consolidating President Lula's achievements, will be greeted as good

pictured below: Dilma Rousseff's arrest document when she was in the
revolutionary armed struggle against the Brazilian dictatorship

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