conquest and reconquest

Sculpture José Resende/ “Calota" Manipulation 1: house / Rio de Janeiro


What fits us, in short, in the current historical period? Nothing more and nothing less than undertaking a Reconquest, which will have to be spiritual, economic, political

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………… ……….To Manoel Bomfim

All great nations go through great crises. France had Pétain, Laval and Vichy. Germany, Hitler and Nazism. Japan, Hiroshima and Nagasaki. They all recovered and regained their place in the world. It will not be different with Brazil.

The current federal government constitutes our greatest and most dangerous crisis. We really run the risk of a terminal crisis. But Brazil is likely to survive. The country will rise again and resume its place in the world, following the example of nations that have gone through crises even worse than ours.

a nightmare scenario

In two years of Bolsonaro, a lot of destruction has already happened. The pandemic and the inability to face it accelerated the process in 2020. I don't need to recap, the disaster is in plain sight. Schumpeter spoke of creative destruction, but what we have in Brazil today is destructive destruction, pure and simple.

In the third year of the government and in the fourth (if any), the national breakdown will continue. If we don't get rid of this plague sooner – God willing! – we will have the opportunity to do so in the 2022 elections.

It will not be easy. The government still enjoys considerable support, oddly enough. The results of three opinion polls carried out in December are shocking and show, after all that has happened, a third or more of those interviewed attributing “great” or “good” to the government. It is unlikely that there will be parliamentary support for impeachment with polls of this nature.

We will see if this support is sustained after the end of emergency aid. Under the conditions in force until the end of 2020, Bolsonaro will arrive competitive in the 2022 elections, with good chances of moving to the second round and even of being re-elected. Nightmare scenario.

Factors weakening the Brazilian government

But there are also government weakening factors. Not negligible factors. Trump's defeat was the most important fact abroad. Bolsonaro lost his main external foothold, persistently cultivated through numerous unilateral concessions to the United States throughout 2019 and 2020. It can even be doubted whether the concessions brought any practical payoff for Bolsonaro. For Brazil, certainly not.

In any case, with the departure of Trump, the international isolation of the Brazilian government is virtually total. Abroad, the Brazilian president is seen almost unanimously with a mixture of concern, contempt and mockery. “The last Trumpist” is the most polite designation. At the moment, none of the major countries, not one member of the G20 for example, is following the Trump line, this toxic mixture of folklore and proto-fascism. Boris Johnson, the other leading member of the extreme right in the world, jumped that boat in 2020.

Furthermore, domestically, opposition to the government grew among the middle and upper classes. Not always for the best reasons, true. One obvious reason is that Brazilians cannot stand to be looked down upon abroad, especially in the United States and Europe. Confronted with American or European scorn, the national mongrel trembles from head to toe.

To a large extent, therefore, one can already speak of rejection of the establishment Brazilian to Bolsonaro, something that seems to mirror what happened to Trump in the US. The moneyed locals dream of repeating the feat achieved by their American counterparts – defeating the nutcase in 2022 with a moderate candidate, like middle of the road. Joe Biden, not Bernie Sanders.

Two types of opposition (or “better late than never”)

Thus, a situation was configured in which the Brazilian government faces two major types of opposition. The first hour, which is left or center-left. And a second opposition, more recent and half-assed, which comes from the traditional right and includes a large part of businessmen, rentiers and the corporate media. It is not by chance that “organic intellectuals” from the traditional right, always at your beck and call, take turns in harshly criticizing the government. People who voted 17 or were neutral in the second round in 2018 now present themselves as anti-Bolsonaro since childhood.

It doesn't matter that much. As that motel sign in Barra da Tijuca said, “better in the afternoon than never”. The Brazilian left is overwhelmingly moderate and prone to conciliation, perhaps too much so. But you won't be fooled again. If you deceive yourself again, you can close for balance. How can we ignore the fact that many current companions on the anti-Bolsonaro journey do not deserve the slightest confidence? To begin with, most of them have little or no real commitment to democracy. Their professions of democratic faith are worth little, very little indeed. Migrated, and somewhat reluctantly, from the ranks of the 2016 coup to the opposition supposedly democracy to the current government. They gave birth to Mateus, but they don't want to rock him anymore.

I note, in passing, that it is not appropriate to speak of opposition from the center. At least not yet. The political center has practically disappeared in Brazil since the Dilma Rousseff government. It may be reconstituted until the 2022 elections. There is room for that. It would be necessary, however, for new names to appear, who could credibly present themselves as leaders of the center. A minimum requirement: not having participated in the 2016 coup pajelança.

The precariousness of the traditional Brazilian right is not limited to a lack of democratic credentials, unfortunately. The lack of commitment is also with the country and with the Brazilian people. The rarest thing in Brazil is a right-wing nationalist. If it depends on establishment locally, the country will continue to lie eternally in a splendid cradle, subservient internationally and excluding internally, framed in our well-rooted secular tradition, which dates back to the colonial period.

Conquest and spiritual reconquest

We need to prepare ourselves, therefore, from the outset, to continue the polemic against backwardness and the intellectual subservience of the hegemonic factions of the Brazilian elites. Delay and subservience that led us to the current disaster. Before Bolsonaro, the country was not doing well. Obvious. After all, the people would not have voted for the current president if it weren't for the deplorable conditions of the Brazilian economy, society and politics. The winning vote in 2018 was a protest vote, a misguided hope for renewal.

It's no use trying to restore the status quo ante. In the field of economics, for example, Brazil's loss of dynamism since the foreign debt crisis of the 1980s is obvious. Brazilian economy fell into several consecutive decades of stagnation or semi-stagnation. This dormant picture was interrupted a few times and for a short time by experiments in economic growth with income distribution – notably the Cruzado plan of 1986 and the years of rapid expansion in the Lula government. However, they were exceptions in an environment marked by low dynamism and income concentration.

I am one of those who believe that the intellectual disarmament has been a key factor in the stagnation of recent decades. The country incorporated an imported economic agenda as its own, which primarily favors foreign interests and a “globalized” minority of Brazilians, connected with external priorities and prejudices. We adopted a supposed international scientific consensus as a national agenda, an agenda anti-national, in truth. This supposed consensus usually generates external and fiscal vulnerability, is hostile to economic growth and tends to concentrate income and wealth.

I would venture to say that the country, through its internationalized ruling classes, has developed a kind of false consciousness, a profoundly distorted conception of national and international conditions, which has resulted in the implementation, since the 1990s, of a narrow policy framework and horizon short. The Tupiniquim financial and rentier elites accommodated themselves as smaller, inexpressive partners in the imperial project. Brazil suffered, as a result, an unexpected degradation for those who observed its previous trajectory in the 20th century.

Compare this with what happened in other countries and regions of the world over the same period. Successful emerging countries, notably those in Asia, systematically resisted this external agenda, sometimes referred to as the “Washington Consensus”. And not by chance, it was in Asia that the cases of success in development took place, with sustained economic growth, modernization and poverty reduction. In Latin America, chasse gardee of the Washington Consensus, what was seen, in general, was mediocre growth and persistence of acute social inequality.

It is not surprising, strictly speaking. We were victims of a well-known process, very familiar indeed. A spiritual conquest it is a central aspect of every imperial project – now as ever. What used to be religious catechization now becomes secular, ideological catechization – the export of supposed economic consensus, supported by arguments of authority. Its absorption is only possible where the usual inhibitions of relatively backward peoples, marked, like us, by a long colonial history, predominate. Like traditional catechization, the new catechism does not essentially depend on rational procedures, argumentation or appeal to facts. In both types of catechesis, the role of trust, of belief, weighs above all. Slogans replace commandments - comfortably and even advantageously. Economists are the new Jesuits and deserve, like them, reasonable persecution.

What fits us, in short, in the current historical period? Nothing more and nothing less than undertaking a Reconquest, which will have to be spiritual, economic, political. Reconquista that will find inspiration in our most remote roots, in the Iberian Reconquista, especially of our Portuguese ancestors, the Reconquista that was the forerunner of the Great Navigations and that even inspired the Brazilian reaction to the French and Dutch occupation attempts in the 16th and 17.

As the great Manoel Bomfim, among other historians, noted, the Brazilians who defeated and expelled the French, Dutch and their local cronies found energy and self-confidence in the Reconquista, the unification of Portugal and the conquest of the Atlantic. They are the creators of the country-continent that it is up to us to recover and reconquer.

*Paulo Nogueira Batista Jr. fhi vice-president of the New Development Bank, established by the BRICS in Shanghai, and executive director at the IMF for Brazil and ten other countries. Author, among other books, of Brazil doesn't fit in anyone's backyard: backstage of the life of a Brazilian economist in the IMF and the BRICS and other texts on nationalism and our mongrel complex (LeYa).

Extended and updated version of an article published in the journal capital letter, on January 8, 2021.


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