A Lesson We Need To Learn

Bernie Sanders need people to back him up. There will be no Socialist initiatives if we back Liberal and Blue Dog Democrats. Look at Brazil.

Brazil’s legislators are now trying to reverse not simply some of the most important social achievements of the PT federal governments but also some of the rights won by Brazilian workers in the era of Getúlio Vargas. To their credit, anthropologists are playing an important role alongside other intellectuals in providing the evidence needed to undermine the case in favour of some of this reactionary legislation. One of the anthropological contributions mentioned by Rodrigo Martins is that of Debora Diniz, of the University of Brasilia, who describes the new efforts to impose further restrictions on legal abortion as “perverse” in the light of her recent research, which shows, inter alia, that more than a third of the women who seek legal abortion are children or adolescents, very frequently victims of sexual violence within their own families. Those of us who have worked ethnographically on crime and public security issues can offer well-grounded arguments against filling prisons (veritable schools of crime) with yet more, and younger, inmates, even if the transnational capitalist corporations eager to capture this business are generous towards their local lobbyists, and it is equally difficult not to be appalled by current congressional efforts to diminish rather than extend control over private possession and use of firearms. Brazilian anthropologists have, of course, been especially active in supporting the efforts of indigenous and Afro-descendant Brazilians to secure land rights and defend themselves against mining and energy projects. This makes the profession especially unpopular with the BBB lobby.

Unfortunately, efforts to base public policy decisions on evidence-based independent academic research have some difficulty thriving in the present political climate. One of Dilma Rousseff’s biggest problems has been Eduardo Cunha, leader of the lower house of Congress, and an Evangelical Christian of the most businesslike kind. Cunha belongs to the PMDB, supposedly a government ally at federal level: he has not simply promoted reactionary legislation but impeded the executive’s efforts to govern at every turn. Cunha has been shown to be the beneficiary of large deposits in Swiss bank accounts, but has been maintained in his key position to date by the opposition in the interests of furthering the campaign to force President Dilma out of office, destroy the credibility of her party, and effect an undemocratic transfer of power (to the PMDB Vice-President) that will improve the chances of the losers of the Presidential elections of 2014 doing better next time and fully returning Brazil to the path of capitalist orthodoxy. But for many of the actors, this is perhaps too globally systematic a perspective. It seems that a large part of Brazil’s political class is willing to plunge the country into an ever deeper economic crisis simply in order to achieve a greater share of power and the spoils of office.

Lula put social programs at the top of his agenda during the campaign and since being elected. Lula’s leading program since very early on has been a campaign to eradicate hunger, following the lead of projects already put into practice by the Fernando Henrique Cardoso administration, but expanded within the new Fome Zero (“Zero Hunger”).[22] This program brings together a series of programs with the goal to end hunger in Brazil: the creation of water cisterns in Brazil’s semi-arid region of Sertão, plus actions to counter teenage pregnancy, to strengthen family agriculture, to distribute a minimum amount of cash to the poor, and many other measures.

Brazil’s largest assistance program, however, is Bolsa Família (“Family Allowance”), which is an expansion based upon the previous Bolsa Escola (“School Allowance”), which was conditional on school attendance, first introduced in the city of Campinas by then-mayor José Roberto Magalhães Teixeira. Not long thereafter, other municipalities and states adopted similar programs. President Fernando Henrique Cardoso later federalized the program in 2001. In 2003, Lula formed Bolsa Família by combining Bolsa Escola with additional allowances for food and kitchen gas. This was preceded by the creation of a new ministry – the Ministry of Social Development and Eradication of Hunger. This merger reduced administrative costs and bureaucratic complexity for both the families involved and the administration of the program.

Now Imagine Bernie sanders with a Hostile Congress. How many of us will back a Bernie Friendly Congressman? Will we let the Revolution slip through our fingers? We must vote for the right people.


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