Global battles on the Brazilian front

Development Policy,Inclusive Politics24 Jun 2013Denise Ferreira da Silva

Throughout Brazil’s history, but ever more dramatically in the second half of the last century, there were frequent and significant expressions of discontent with the economic policies that fail to address the country’s notoriously high socioeconomic disparities.

In June 1968, at the beginning of the previous Brazilian ‘economic miracle’, overseen by a bloody military regime, a generation radicalised and confronted the military in the famous Passeata dos Cem Mil (The Hundred Thousand March) in Rio de Janeiro. In June 1987, nearly 20 years later, a friend and I joined protests against (guess what?) an increase in bus tariffs; in the course of which, store windows were broken and buses burnt. In Rio’s downtown streets, hundreds shouted against President José Sarney’s Plano Cruzado (1980s), which was one among many IMF-mandated inflation control measures that expectedly didn’t solve the economic crisis or reduce inflation rates, but did ensure financial capitals’ flow to foreign creditors.

A new generation takes to the streets 25 years later in response to the excessive police repression of a protest against an increase in bus tariffs, in light of the government’s expending £9 billion to host the 2014 World Cup. Of notice are the extreme social inequalities, highlighted by Human Rights researcher Conor Foley, that Brazil’s celebrated economic success has not solved. What about the political aspects? Legal theorist, Boaventura de Souza Santos, touches this question when he moves to isolate Dilma Rousseff’s administration by associating it with Brazil’s conservative (colonial) ‘temporality’, while stating that Lula da Silva’s administration reflected the new democratic (socially just) inclusive ’temporalities’ of recognition of indigenous and black claims, participatory democracy and social inclusion.

Let me propose a different take on the present political circumstances. What about a global one? What Santos calls Lula’s and Dilma’s ‘temporalities’, I find, exemplify how the deployment of security, like austerity measures, demonstrate that the state works for the needs of global capital. For about 20 years, countries across the world have amended existing or promulgated new constitutions, as well as created mechanisms for addressing black and indigenous claims for redress and promoting social inclusion and poverty alleviation measures. To be sure, multilateral bodies, global corporations, and states even have, if only on paper, policies that follow the two principles of the global human rights mandate, namely social inclusion and non-discrimination. For instance, Lula’s inclusive temporality of 2003 (racial and gender inclusion and poverty alleviation policies) basically implemented determinations from the several human rights conferences, such as the 1993 Vienna Human Rights conference, the 1995 Beijing Women’s Rights conference, and the 2001 Durban Racism conference. Further, these coincided with other measures that completed the neoliberal rearrangement of the economy started by President Fernando Henrique Cardoso and the building of a national security architecture, which included the creation of the Força Nacional de Segurança (National Security Force) in 2004.

Not surprisingly, this week’s scenes in Brazil’s cityscapes, the police repression and impact of social media, mirrored anti-globalization protests everywhere – the Arab Spring, the 2011 students’ austerity protests and youth revolts in UK cities, and recent protests in Turkey. In every one of them, the state promptly deployed its security apparatus and had no qualms about using brutal force in defence of economic (development or stability) projects that attend the interests of capital.

Throughout Brazil, indigenous communities, students, women, youth, men, black people, adults, white folks, the retired, the homeless, drug dealers, landless peasants, favelados, and journalists confront the state-managed security of global capital, as they expose the excess of the state’s deployments of police force. Let us not forget, however, that these rural and urban battlefronts have been open for a while now, but mostly only on one side; the state has been doing the shooting. In rural areas, anti-colonial events, landless workers’ and indigenous’ occupations and invasions (reclamation) of farms, construction sites (Belo Monte) and government buildings respond to Dilma’s project that once again move to expropriate indigenous lands and resources for biofuel and agricultural production. In urban areas, lethal policing practices (invasions, occupations, and pacifications) signal the state’s presence in black and brown economically dispossessed communities. Many foreign and local observers of these scenes, I believe, appreciate the human rights’ violations and welcome these events’ demands for redress. Few (if any), I am afraid, will comprehend the political significance of the global battles now being fought on the Brazilian front.

What will these and other recent major global political events lead to? I doubt anyone can tell. Every prediction is guesswork, usually supported by fear or hope, or both. My bet is on hope.