260 thousand deaths

Image: Cyrus Saurius
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By CARLA TEIXEIRA*

The pessimism of the old and the duty of hope of the young.

Brazil is going through the worst health and humanitarian crisis in the last hundred years. The growing number of deaths, the lack of direction in the economy, mass unemployment, political shocks, social misery and the successive measures of the federal government to sabotage any action by the civilized part of society to contain the advance of the pandemic, puts us in the face of a tragedy that causes deep despair, especially among the older population of our society.

There are those who predict the end of Brazil, there are the privileged middle class who lament the impossibility of leaving the country, not to mention others who, drowning in nostalgia, are incapable of seeing any way out of the bottomless pit we are in. All these feelings are understandable. The generation that participated in redemocratization and saw in the 1988 Constituent Assembly the possibility of founding a democratic country, with inclusion and social justice, is certainly left to despair and disorientation with the worshiper of torturers who today occupies the Presidency of the Republic, making them realize a past that never passes.

It is possible to state that, among other reasons, the current institutional situation is the result of the limited redemocratization agreement of the 1980s, reconciled and accommodated, which allowed the torturers and murderers, as well as the corporations and institutions they composed, to be raised to the new democratic order. without any responsibility for the violent acts committed against the population. Maintaining the coup-mongering and fanciful ideology that prevails in the Armed Forces could only happen to Bolsonaro. The elites, opportunists and parasites, who have historically shown contempt for the values ​​of democracy whenever they collided with their personal and group interests, also announced in their behavior the weaknesses of democratic institutions. So far, the outcome has been announced and we don't even have the right to be surprised.

Despite the regrets, it is undeniable that the country has made progress on important issues: public and free health and education are a reality, social development, protection of native peoples, women, the LGBTQI+ population, quilombolas and the institution of policies of affirmative actions showed a significant path towards the expansion of citizenship with rights and social justice. We are far from ideal, but it is a historic mistake to deny progress. If Brazil today seems horrible, our past shows us that the situation was much worse.

The Old Republic (1889-1930) was a time of great hardship for the population. The social liability caused by abolition without citizenship meant the emergence of a mass of marginals without rights in an excluding liberal state, whose main function was to guarantee the hegemony and privileges of the neo-republican slaveholders of coffee. The 1930 Revolution, which led to the Estado Novo Dictatorship (1937-1945), can be considered the founding event of the Brazilian State, which became concerned with the management of its natural wealth, with the construction of a national- developmentalism, national sovereignty and the institutionalization of social rights for workers.

Between the 1940s and 1960s, the country experienced an unprecedented democratic period (albeit limited, as illiterates did not have the right to vote, for example), which resulted in the advancement of workers' organization and the demand for basic reforms (reform agrarian, urban, electoral, etc) that did not come to fruition due to the 1964 coup. During the Military Dictatorship (1964-1985), we experienced our worst republican period, with the 1970s as the most dramatic political moment in the country, despite economic growth, with the persecution and murder of government opponents, increased concentration of wealth and income, and the expansion of misery from the disorderly urban growth that resulted in the emergence of large slums in the capitals.

Between successes and setbacks, a fundamental element of our entire republican trajectory is popular mobilization. It was from the organization of the people into associations, leagues and unions that all the rights that workers have today were conquered. The great mass demonstrations of the 1980s were the final straw that forced the military to relinquish power and hand it over to civilians. It's not invention, it's history.

Eduardo Galeano said that “history is a fat lady, slow and capricious”. As we thrash around in boredom and horror, she laughs at us. Our life, limited to a few decades, is incapable of individually participating in its centuries-old, sometimes millenary, cycles. History is like the course of a river: there are times when we observe its movement and it seems to make a curve going backwards, but in fact the river always goes forward, towards its mouth, and it is this certainty that allows us to navigate safely in the right direction, despite the surprises and dangers that any river harbors.

Despite the almost 260 deaths, believing that all is lost is the privilege of those who have where to sleep and what to eat. For those left in misery after the democratic pact was broken, with the 2016 coup, only the hope of a future with dignity and social justice matters. For the elderly, who have a life expectancy of another 10 or 20 years, it is understandable to imagine that the country is lost. Breaking hope was the tactic used by torturers to subdue political prisoners in the basements of the dictatorship. Knowing this practice, we cannot surrender to it.

It is up to young people to cultivate in themselves the duty of hope that mobilizes and moves in the construction of a more just, inclusive and democratic country, a nation that corresponds to the desires of its population that wants bread and housing, work and dignity, school and health, not guns and violence. Our republican history is marked by dictatorships and violations overcome in their time, according to political maturity and the capacity for popular organization. It will not be Bolsonaro and his destruction that will take away our desire to deepen democracy and promote the social revolution that Brazil needs, and history demands.

* Carla Teixeira is a doctoral candidate in History at UFMG.

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