Alarm sirens

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By JEAN MARC VON DER WEID*

How can we explain the drop in popularity of the government and President Lula?

Three opinion polls coincided in their assessments, turning on the red light for members of the government and for the activism of progressive parties and social movements. I will not comment here on the published data set, but I want to highlight the one that seems most worrying to me: among Lula's voters in 2022, 8% withdrew their support between December and March, accentuating a significant loss since the election.

Lula today has the support (great and good) of just 61% of his voters from 16 months ago. I was unable to obtain complete data from this survey (in this case from Ipec) and previous ones to find out the evolution of this support since the elections. I imagine that even on election day Lula would not have 100% support among his voters, since an important portion gave him the vote to stop Jair Bolsonaro, but without any PT or progressive nonsense. But to turn on the alarm sirens the above data is enough.

On the other hand, the energúmeno who “governed” us for four years of incessant actions aimed at undermining democracy, showed his mobilization capacity in the demonstration on February 25th, taking 180 thousand vociferous activists to Paulista. It was the greatest manifestation of Bolsonarism to date, greater even than those in which he used public resources and the government machinery for his purposes. The demonstration showed two important things: (i) that Jair Bolsonaro is cornered and afraid and (ii) that his followers have the knife between their teeth and are ready to fight.

How to explain this phenomenon? Lula's bet in his first year in government was a Brazilian replica of the slogan of the American Democrats in the elections that led Bill Clinton to the US presidency: “it's the economy, stupid!”. Resuming his social programs from the years 2004/2010, Lula believed that the benefits would bring a comfortable majority of public opinion to support his government. On the other hand, several initiatives in the field of promoting development, necessary to raise resources for public investments as well as to guarantee more jobs and increase family income throughout his mandate, fell far short of what was necessary.

Yes, there was a recovery in employment, but a drop in investments. There was a small recovery in family spending, but it was still limited by the extreme indebtedness inherited from the previous period (which began in Dilma's second government, don't forget), partially addressed by the Desenrola program. Inflation has fallen to the center of the target and the dollar is a little weaker, but food prices remain at a high level and consumers have not yet felt the statistical bonanza in their pockets. And the jobs regained are low-paying and informal. In short, for the economy to positively define the electorate's sentiment, there is still a lot left to do, although this start has been better than Faria Lima expected.

On the other hand, it is necessary to note another phenomenon in public opinion: themes identified as ideological (“customs”) were very important in the last elections and gave a disastrous government in the economy an electoral breath unexpected by analysts and the permanent campaign on social media of Bolsonarism has been beating the drum and accentuating criticism in this aspect.

There are also old themes that are resurfacing with force, in particular the public perception of the dismantling of corruption control devices. Although facts abound that demonstrate widespread corruption in the energúmeno government (including several lawsuits accusing the president, his family and his associates) and the contribution of Bolsonarism to the dismantling of the fight against corruption, public opinion directs its anger at Lula and his government. And an issue that is nothing new, but which is getting worse every day, has caused wear and tear on the government, even without it having direct powers to face it: the issue of security, experienced dramatically by the poorest (Lula's base of voters), subjected to the control of large urban and rural territories by militias and drug traffickers and ravaged by violent police who prey preferentially on black people.

Finally, two facts impacted public opinion at the beginning of the year, both relating to Lula's actions in the international field. The first was the unreasonable comparison made by Lula, equating the Israeli government's murderous policy with the Holocaust promoted by Hitler before and during the Second World War. Brazilian diplomacy and Lula himself were well on the record until this statement, but the verbal “slip-up” opened a front of debate that allowed a counteroffensive by Benjamin Netanyahu and Zionism, distracting attention from the horrors perpetrated by his government and army.

Under any circumstances, the comparison would be a mistake, but in the Brazilian political context, where the mass of evangelicals, buffeted by the (hypocritical) indignation of Bolsonaro pastors, perceive the phrase as an attack on Israel. It is still strange to me, this blind defense of the Israeli government by evangelicals. I heard a surprising explanation, I don't remember the source: the second return of the Messiah was prophesied to occur in the kingdom of Israel, today identified as this warlike Zionist state. In other words, for the kingdom of God to come to earth, this State must exist. And the preaching of this end of the world and the coming of the perfect world of redemption is a mark of neo-Pentecostalism. Whatever the reason, the fact is that it was among evangelicals that Lula lost the most points.

The second theme to impact public opinion was Lula's statement affirming his support for the government of Nicolás Maduro, the most notorious dictatorship on the American continent. Declaring that he trusts the Venezuelan dictator's promises that the elections will be clean was not a mistake by Lula. This position has always been assumed by him, against all the evidence reported in Brazil and around the world.

Admitting a “relativity” of the concept of democracy to gloss over the violations committed against the human and political rights of Venezuelans is an insult to the democrats here in Brazil and weakens the stance of defender of democracy assumed by Lula in his difficult battle with the energúmeno in the last elections. And the most surprising thing is to see the left-wing militancy supporting Lula in this regard. Lula had already made unbelievable statements in favor of the other evil dictatorship in the Americas, Ortega's Nicaragua. This standard of double standards in the evaluation of these dictatorial regimes recalls the cynicism of American governments since the beginning, supporting criminal military governments around the world, including in Brazil, as long as they adhered to the Cold War playbook.

I still have to understand the logic of Lula and a large part of the Brazilian left in dealing with the issue of democracy. The impression remains, widely disseminated by the right, that Lula and the left's adherence to democracy is only cyclical, when it suits their political goals. It is clear that Lula's critics, especially the Bolsonarists, have no commitment to democratic values, but they use this weakness of Lula to remove the support of the Democrats and Republicans who gave our president the vote that led him to win the elections. .

Without this center and even a part of the right, committed to democracy, Lula would have lost the elections and we would have Bolsonaro re-elected and preparing the final blow to the institutions. But the loss of trust in Lula in this regard could have a fatal effect on the 2026 elections, bringing Jair Bolsonaro's political heirs into government; Tarcisio de Freitas, Michelle Bolsonaro or another liberticidal Beelzebub.

To complete this partial assessment of this first year of government, it is necessary to remember that we are tied and increasingly hampered by multiple factors that I addressed in a series of articles entitled “The Trap”, in March/April last year. I am not going to go over all the themes of the articles here, but I want to remember that all the dangers I highlighted are being confirmed and even worsened over the course of almost a year. Briefly and in no order of importance, I will deal with just some of the topics:

The environmental issue continues to be treated more as propaganda and declarations of intent than in a concrete way. The government is committed to promoting the sale of cars and trucks and expanding the use of fossil fuels in the country. This is to ignore the scientific world, which demands the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions from transport as a central element of controlling global warming. The pressure on Petrobras to reduce gasoline and diesel prices goes in the same direction. Global warming is accelerating uncontrollably.

The government touts the reduction in deforestation and fires in the Amazon as a success to call its own. Despite the decline, the number of square kilometers devastated was so high in Jair Bolsonaro's last year that the current situation is still far from desirable. On the other hand, the removal of hardwood remains uncontrolled and, above all, deforestation and fires have expanded in all other biomes, with the increase of 50% in the Cerrado. For those who promised to eliminate deforestation in all biomes, at the COP in Sharm-el-Sheik in December 2022, the result is disappointing.

(ii) The situation of the Yanomami continues at the same tragic level that preceded the federal government's intervention in the reserve, in January 2023. As always happens, the illegal miners partially withdrew from the indigenous land without being bothered, simply abandoning the mining infrastructure , which was burned. But they are back, with new dredgers financed by drug traffickers who use the illegal sale of gold to launder money from drugs and other illicit activities. Indigenous people continue to die from disease and malnutrition, with numbers similar to those during the Bolsonaro years. Was it just an act, that great apparatus of the Yanomami operation?

(iii) The government has the approval of the Tax Reform in its favor, but this success has to be assessed with a grain of salt. What was approved boiled down to the (necessary and important) simplification of taxes on products and services. Even this had a high price charged by negotiations with both houses of Congress, extending countless exemptions to different sectors of the economy, notably agribusiness. These concessions weaken the result and force the government to increase the VAT rate, doubly penalizing the sectors that do not benefit. And this was the easiest part of the reform to achieve, as it had the support of the industrial and services sector. What is missing, and is much more difficult to achieve, is the redefinition of income and wealth taxes.

(v) The most important of the government's social programs, Bolsa Família, today much more boosted than during the Lula I and II governments, is presented as a super success, but requires more careful analysis. 20 million families benefiting (in rounded numbers), or almost 60 million people, receiving at least 600,00 reais per month, should guarantee a strong impact on the food and nutritional condition of the most needy. However, high food costs and a range of other needs of beneficiaries reduced the effect of the program. Specifically, “Bolsa Família” could be renamed “Enche Barriga” and, if the government wants to effectively improve the people's nutrition, it will be necessary to profoundly change the program. Reading the many pages of the Brazil Without Hunger plan, we can count on many proposals, some quite radical and important, but there is little definition about how all this will be accomplished. Furthermore, in many programs there are no forecasts of goals and budgets and one does not know what and how much will actually be done.

In particular, the production necessary to guarantee food and nutritional security for the most needy (not to mention a broad layer of less needy but still malnourished people) is being promised through the repetition of the Ministry of Agrarian Development's programs between 2004 and 2016. Without an assessment of the impact of these policies, we are betting on their repetition and we can expect a failure similar to that of the past when they led to a relative decrease in the food supply and an increase in the production of commodities.

At this point in the article, the government's uncritical defenders must already be sharpening their hatchets to chop me into pieces. The main argument against the criticisms made here is the obvious problem of the minority government in Congress and I have no doubt that this is a very significant obstacle for the government. However, in addition to the gigantic waste of public resources required by purchasing the votes of parliamentarians focused on their parishes, through various types of amendments, maintained without transparency despite the STF's injunctions, the impression remains that the government spends little that you have under your control.

*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).


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