The pitfalls for Lula – part 5



The productive model adopted, with a high level of negative impacts in several areas, implies a great conflict to be corrected

A questno securityit

It is frequent, in Brazilian politics, for ghosts to arise that would threaten our future. The most common negative prototypes are our neighbors like Venezuela and Argentina. Or more distant, like Cuba and Nicaragua. Critics from the right always accuse the left of wanting to lead Brazil to these models seen as infamous or failed.

However, the model towards which Brazil seems to be heading is the Colombia of a few years ago, when drug trafficking ruled the country. For more than a decade, it seemed that the cartels controlled everything: the police, the army, the judiciary, parties, the economy. It was a huge effort, nationally and internationally, to bring the country back to a situation of relative normality.

The security situation in Brazil is beyond dramatic. The police force is huge, with more than 500 MPs, not to mention civil police officers. However, organized crime controls impressive territories, the two most shocking examples being the domination of more than half of the area of ​​the municipality of Rio de Janeiro, the second city in the country, and large areas of mining in the Amazon. It is less obvious to the public that many of the family farmers in the Northeast no longer live in houses in their productive areas, moving to the “ends of the street” of villages and towns, for fear of bandit violence.

With all this police apparatus, crime is rampant across the country. There is a war worthy of the numbers of the one waged by the Americans in Vietnam, with tens of thousands of victims, many among the police themselves, but many more among the population, especially in the poorest neighborhoods, such as the slums of Rio de Janeiro or São Paulo. . Many bandits die, but more innocent residents die. The victims are mainly blacks and browns, young people and the poor.

The police are infiltrated and corrupted by organized crime, and have become irregularly politicized over the last few decades. Police unionism provokes confrontations with the civil governments that should control it, with unbelievable strikes that lead the population to a state of terror, totally vulnerable to the action of criminal organizations. The prisons, with a prison population ranked among the largest in the world, are under the control of the Commandos (PCC, CV, AdA, others), which make them a space for recruitment and formation of gangs. Even in those with maximum security, gang leaders act without constraints to command their “soldiers” from the outside. Events such as the two weeks of criminal attacks on dozens of cities in Rio Grande do Norte have been occurring with increasing frequency.

And when it's not the gangs, the territory controllers are the militias, made up of former police officers. These two forms of criminal control imply having important urban or rural spaces without the presence of the State. Organized crime prevents public services from being remunerated, as it intercepts and diverts payments for water, electricity, internet, and others. The entire economy of these territories is subject to a “protection” tax. Companies like Light, in Rio de Janeiro, charge more to users residing outside the areas controlled by gangs or militias, to compensate for charges for these services intercepted by organized crime in their territories.

The firepower of these characters only grows, due to the measures taken by the government of Jair Bolsonaro, releasing the possession and carrying of weapons, including those that were, until this government, for the exclusive use of the Armed Forces. This policy led to a vertiginous growth in the number of supposed hunters, shooters and collectors (the “CAC”), reaching today more than 700 thousand. Not only did this huge increase in the sale of arms facilitate access by criminals to more and more powerful weapons and ammunition, but it also placed in the hands of Bolsonar fanatics an extremely dangerous firepower for the future of democracy.

The military police are a focus of activists and supporters of Jair Bolsonaro, and this is also a threat to democracy. Research carried out during the last government indicated that close to 66% of the military police were Bolsonarists, and the leaders (who operate with more power than the officers) were identified as activists supporting the former president's anti-democratic rants.

I do not believe that this contingent is capable of taking the initiative in a coup, as happened in Bolivia, but it could create countless problems for the Lula government. As they are outside the control of the federal sphere and subordinate to governors (mostly from the right and Bolsonarists), the police can cause great political trauma through the violent repression of social movements. The federal government can intervene, as it successfully did in Brasília, in the case of the January 8 attempt. But these interventions are extreme resources and can be contested by governors and the courts. The limits of federal action can be much greater in cases of repression, for example, of the landless movement.

In addition to not providing security for the population, PMs are seen by the poorest, black and young people as a constant threat. And they have a political agenda that Jair Bolsonaro used to gain supporters. He did not get everything he wanted to benefit this audience, such as the iniquitous “unlawful exclusion”. On the other hand, they are at war against the use of cameras that film their actions. And they will not stop pressing for greater laxity in the control of their activities. With right-wing governors in most states and a base of deputies and senators from the so-called “bullet bench”, the risks of confrontations, in Congress and on the streets, will be permanent.

A test of nine will occur in the application of measures to control illegal mining areas, as well as areas of illegal deforestation. Of course, this effort cannot all be done by federal agents alone. We will see how the PMs will behave if and when they are summoned to act in the Amazon.

The confrontation with the agribusinesscio

In previous articles in this series, I have already mentioned some of the contradictions between agribusiness and the new government of President Lula. I will here explain the causes of this shock, which comes from afar, but which has everything to intensify in this administration.

The agribusiness agenda went through the following points:

In the first place, this sector demands the maintenance and even expansion of generous tax benefits, such as the amnesty of debts with FUNRURAL, the maintenance of the very low rates of the ITR, Rural Territorial Tax, in fact generally evaded by companies and rural landowners, tax exemption on imports of agricultural inputs and subsidized interest on credits. Tax reform will have to discuss all these privileges and this will not occur without conflicts.

Secondly, agribusiness demands repression of landless movements in cases of occupation of uncultivated land, companies violating environmental laws and those that use slave labor. With Jair Bolsonaro, agribusiness armed itself to face these occupations head on, and did not stop using its henchmen, not only to expel invaders, but to assassinate or attempt to assassinate peasant and indigenous leaders and defenders of the rights of rural workers. Disarming agribusiness and applying the law in cases of irregular deforestation and the use of slave labor will not happen without conflicts with agribusiness.

Thirdly, agribusiness wants even greater facilitation of the release of new pesticides and transgenics, moving ANVISA away from assessing the risks of these products and handing it over to MAPA. This is despite the fact that ANVISA's evaluation rules have already been more than relaxed in the past. The defense of the environment and public health will not be well accepted by agribusiness, of course.

Fourthly, and this is a crucial point in this analysis, agribusiness wants to do away with natural, indigenous and quilombola reserves, defending their territorial expansion. It goes without saying that this agenda is in direct conflict with the rights of indigenous peoples and quilombolas and with the government's environmental agenda, supported by the governments of countries that import our products.

How important is this hunger for agribusiness land to its economic success? After all, all the propaganda from the National Confederation of Agriculture (CNA), and other agribusiness organizations, points to the great advance in the productivity of their productive systems in the expansion of Brazilian agriculture, compared to a much smaller expansion in the area of ​​crops and pastures. If we analyze the comparative data of Brazilian cultures and creations with that of their international competitors, in particular with the United States, we verify that the competitors have greater productivity in land use, with lower costs in the use of technology and also have lower costs in handling and transport of products.

What is our comparative advantage to be among the largest exporters in the world? Our advantages lie in the limits of the United States (and other exporters) to expand its supply, in the face of an expansion in world demand, in particular that of China. On the other hand, American environmental legislation, despite being quite lax, is stricter than ours or, at least, is applied more rigorously. The lower value of the real against the dollar also weighs on the scale. However, this factor has a higher cost of agricultural inputs (fertilizers and pesticides), most of them imported by Brazil. But in the balance of losses and gains, our soy has an advantage in exports. But the big differences between our production costs and those of the Americans are in the price of land and labor, which are much lower here.

The low price of land in Brazil has to do with the existence of large unoccupied areas for agricultural use. It is true that we are reaching a limit in this expansion of land use for this purpose. The ecosystems in which this expansion still takes place are, above all, the Cerrado and the Amazon. It is well known that the natural productivity of the soils in these biomes is low and that the response in terms of production decreases in a few years. This means that, in order to maintain reasonable levels of soil productivity, agribusiness has to continuously occupy new land. This process has evolved over the last 20 years, leading to the displacement of livestock production ever further north, while the former pastures in the south and southeast have been replaced by soy and sugar cane crops.

In the regions, more suitable for agriculture, in the south and southeast, agribusiness is more technical and even has areas of excellence with high productivity, but the whole is dependent on this movement of occupation of new areas. In the occupation of the Amazon by agribusiness, the process begins with selective deforestation to exploit hardwood, followed by clear cutting, clearing all native vegetation to grow soybeans.

When productivity rates begin to drop, the land is turned over to extensive cattle raising until, at the limit, the abandonment of enterprises and the emergence of what came to be called degraded areas. This process also occurs in the Cerrado and the Pantanal, with variations depending on the ecosystems. Today we have degraded areas whose size oscillates, depending on the assessment, between 80 and 120 million hectares. None of this exists in the United States and other exporting countries. Our comparative economic advantage is measured in terms of environmental destruction.

This picture points to a structural conflict between the agribusiness agenda and the environmental agenda and makes this sector a fierce enemy of a government that declares itself willing to eliminate deforestation in all biomes, cutting off the expansion process of land use by agribusiness .

The Lula government is seeking alliances with “more rational” or “more modern” sectors of agribusiness, but seems to ignore the strong unity of the sector and its parliamentary expression, the powerful ruralist caucus. It appeals to the threat to our exports represented by the restrictive legislation of the European Union, aiming to stop imports of any agricultural products originating, directly or indirectly, from deforested areas.

This is ignoring the fact that our exports in this sector are increasingly focused on the Chinese market, whose demand continues to grow, despite a relative slowdown. The Chinese don't have environmental restrictions like those of the European Union, which are also growing ominously to exclude transgenic products. All these threats, however, are not leading to changes in national agribusiness procedures. On the contrary, what the sector asks the government is to put pressure on importers so that they are not applied in trade agreements that have been negotiated for many years now. How will Brazilian diplomacy behave? Are you going to take on the defense of agribusiness?

There is another conflicting factor in perspective. Where will the defense of peasants' right to land go? Will the government use the legislation to expropriate farms where there is written work or where illegal deforestation has been carried out? This is provided for in legislation, but has never been applied. And there are already bills to change the legislation and avoid expropriation.

The MST and other peasant organizations lost the power of action they had, especially during the FHC government, but they did not disappear, just as the peasants' demand for more land did not disappear. Where to carry out agrarian reform? The government gave a hint in a sentence by Lula, mentioning the possibility of promoting extensive reforestation in degraded areas with agrarian reform settlements. It is a complex and difficult proposition.

Reforestation is not the same as establishing settlements of peasant producers to grow maize, beans, cassava or whatever. The cost of this operation will not be small. Degraded areas are located in isolated regions with little social and economic infrastructure. On the other hand, what is the possible income from a reforestation settlement? Even if the properties are partly used for agricultural production along with investment in reforestation, the settlers will be responsible for planting and maintaining the reforested areas.

And don't think that just letting nature work for native forests to recover naturally. If that were the case, these lands, abandoned for cultivation or pasture years ago, would already have been recovered. Degradation may have reached such a point that only human intervention for some time can lead to some level of recovery. In other words, farmers eventually settled in these recovery areas will have to be remunerated for their reforestation services. They will be what, in France, are called “jardiniers de la nature” – the gardeners of nature. I think the idea is excellent, but unless there is massive foreign investment for this purpose, it does not seem to me to be an undertaking within the reach of the Brazilian State in the conditions in which it finds itself.

And there's more. Peasants without land prefer to obtain it in their regions of origin, not only for cultural, affective and family reasons, but because that is where they have experience in agricultural knowledge. All those who study forced or induced migration processes during the military dictatorship (relocating those affected by dams or inducing the migration of gauchos to occupy the Amazon) are aware of the enormous number of individual and collective disasters that occurred in these undertakings. The gauchos didn't know what or how to plant in that ecosystem so different from the pampas, they weren't used to the climate and they went bankrupt and died in droves.

The great pressure for agrarian reform will come from the children of small landowners who prefer not to migrate to the cities or from the almost two million minifundistas with areas of less than five hectares, located mainly in the northeast and in pockets of rural poverty in the southeast, especially in Minas Gerais. , and in the south and midwest. Agrarian reform is not the same as the colonization of the Amazon or the Cerrado, the “solution” of the military in the 1970s.

The decision, if taken, to promote a true agrarian reform will demand the application of the Constitution, which defined the concept of social land use. This means checking whether large landowners make their land produce within technical parameters, according to productivity indices that were defined in 1988 and which are completely out of date. The complementary law indicated the need for a permanent readjustment of these indexes and the objective was to suppress the large underutilized landholdings, but they have never been revised in these 35 years. If the government follows this path, it can expect a brutal confrontation with agribusiness.

To finish this analysis of the government's problems with agribusiness, we have to look at the urgent need to face the domestic market demand for food. I have already written in other articles that the discourse that points to family farming as the one capable of responding to this demand has no basis in reality. Agribusiness is already responsible for most of the food production for the domestic market, although it is mainly focused on exports. In addition, this emphasis on exports has been accelerating among agribusiness producers and family farmers themselves, especially the most capitalized, progressively reducing supply for the domestic market.

To make food production more attractive, it will be necessary to tax exports to make the domestic market more attractive. It is not an easy operation because the concentration of exports in a few products aimed mainly at animal feed will not allow for an increase in the supply of food with taxation alone. We are not in Vietnam where the main production is rice, a product of high national consumption and also the biggest export product. When there was the 2008/2009 food crisis, the Vietnamese government held back exports to guarantee supply in the domestic market.

Holding back soy exports from Brazil would not improve domestic supplies unless it greatly increased tofu consumption. But meat consumption could be expanded in Brazil, partially limiting exports. This is happening now due to the withholding of beef exports to China due to sanitary issues. The price of beef has dropped significantly and slaughterhouses are far from being in crisis. There are not many alternatives for taxable products other than, eventually, rice and maize. Massively converting agribusiness production to the internal market will require broader policies of minimum prices guaranteed by the State, and the results will not be immediate. And, certainly, the agribusiness revolt will be brutal.

However, it is good to look at the internal market supply policies adopted by all European Union and North American countries. In all of them, the primacy of the internal market is the golden rule and exports are complementary.

This set of problems posed by the role assumed by agribusiness in Brazil, brought our country back to the cycle of export monocultures and dollarizing our food production, pushing prices in the internal market to align with the markets of commodities. The productive model adopted, with a high level of negative impacts on the environment, public health and income distribution, implies a great conflict to be corrected.

This is the biggest trap that threatens the new government and it does not seem to be aware of the conflict that lies ahead, not only for the objective reasons mentioned above, but also for the already consolidated ideological and political roots, with agribusiness implicated both in political support for Jair Bolsonaro and in support of attempts to destabilize democracy in Brazil.

*Jean Marc von der Weid is a former president of the UNE (1969-71). Founder of the non-governmental organization Family Agriculture and Agroecology (ASTA).

To read the first article in this series click on

To read the second article in this series click on

To read the third article in this series click on

To read the fourth article in this series click on

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