Latin America

Ten Suggestions for Lula, New President of Brazil

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9 mins read

Dear President Lula,

When I visited you (Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva) in prison on August 30, 2018, in the brief time that the visit lasted, I experienced a whirlwind of ideas and emotions that remain as vivid today as they were then. A short time before, we had been together at the World Social Forum in Salvador da Bahia. In the penthouse of the hotel where you were staying, we exchanged ideas with Brazilian politician Jacques Wagner about your imprisonment. You still had some hope that the judicial system would suspend the persecutory vertigo that had descended upon you. I, perhaps because I am a legal sociologist, was convinced that this would not happen, but I did not insist. At one point, I had the feeling that you and I were actually thinking and fearing the same thing. A short time later, they were arresting you with the same arrogant and compulsive indifference with which they had been treating you up to that point. Judge Sergio Moro, who had links with the U.S. (it is too late to be naive), had accomplished the first part of his mission by putting you behind bars. The second part would be to keep you locked up and isolated until “his” candidate (Jair Bolsonaro) was elected, one who would give Moro a platform to get to the presidency of the republic later on. This is the third phase of the mission, still underway.

When I entered the premises of Brazil’s federal police, I felt a chill when I read the plaque marking that President Lula da Silva had inaugurated those facilities 11 years earlier as part of his vast program to upgrade the federal police and criminal investigation system in the country. A whirlwind of questions assaulted me. Had the plaque remained there out of oblivion? Out of cruelty? Or to show that the spell had turned against the sorcerer? That a bona fide president had handed the gold to the bandit?

I was accompanied by a pleasant young federal police officer who turned to me and said, “We read your books a lot.” I was shocked. If my books were read and the message understood, neither Lula nor I would be there. I babbled something to this effect, and the answer was instantaneous: “We are following orders.” Suddenly, the Nazi legal theorist Carl Schmitt came to my mind. To be a sovereign is to have the prerogative to declare that something is legal even if is not, and to impose your will bureaucratically with the normality of functional obedience and the consequent trivialization of state terror.

This is how I arrived at your cell, and surely you did not even suspect the storm that was going on inside me. Upon seeing you, I calmed down. I was faced with dignity and humanity that gave me hope for mankind. Everything was normal within the totalitarian abnormality that had enclosed you there: The windows, the gym apparatus, the books, and the television. Our conversation was as normal as everything around us, including your lawyers and Gleisi Hoffmann, who was then the general secretary of the Workers’ Party. We talked about the situation in Latin America, the new (old) aggressiveness of the empire, and the judicial system that had converted into an ersatz military coup.

When the door closed behind me, the weight of the illegal will of a state held hostage by criminals armed with legal manipulations fell back on me once again. I braced myself between revolt and anger and the well-behaved performance expected of a public intellectual who on his way out has to make statements to the press. I did everything, but what I truly felt was that I had left behind Brazil’s freedom and dignity imprisoned so that the empire and the elites in its service could fulfill their objectives of guaranteeing access to Brazil’s immense natural resources, privatization of social security, and unconditional alignment with the geopolitics of rivalry with China.

The serenity and dignity with which you faced a year of confinement is proof that empires, especially decadent ones, often miscalculate, precisely because they only think in the short term. The immense and growing national and international solidarity, which would make you the most famous political prisoner in the world, showed that the Brazilian people were beginning to believe that at least part of what was destroyed in the short term might be rebuilt in the medium and long term. Your imprisonment was the price of the credibility of this conviction; your subsequent freedom was proof that the conviction has become reality.

I am writing to you today first to congratulate you on your victory in the October 30 election. It is an extraordinary achievement without precedent in the history of democracy. I often say that sociologists are good at predicting the past, not the future, but this time I was not wrong. That does not make me feel any more certain about what I must tell you today. Take these considerations as an expression of my best wishes for you personally and for the office you are about to take on as the president of Brazil.

1. It would be a serious mistake to think that with your victory in Brazil’s presidential election everything is back to normal in the country. First, the normal situation prior to former President Jair Bolsonaro was very precarious for the most vulnerable populations, even if it was less so than it is now. Second, Bolsonaro inflicted such damage on Brazilian society that is difficult to repair. He has produced a civilizational regression by rekindling the embers of violence typical of a society that was subjected to European colonialism: the idolatry of individual property and the consequent social exclusion, racism, and sexism; the privatization of the state so that the rule of law coexists with the rule of illegality; and an excluding of religion this time in the form of neo-Pentecostal evangelism. The colonial divide is reactivated in the pattern of friend/enemy, us/them polarization, typical of the extreme right. With this, Bolsonaro has created a radical rupture that makes educational and democratic mediation difficult. Recovery will take years.

2. If the previous note points to the medium term, the truth is that your presidency will be dominated by the short term. Bolsonaro has brought back hunger, broken the state financially, deindustrialized the country, let hundreds of thousands of COVID victims die needlessly, and promised to put an end to the Amazon. The emergency camp is the one in which you move best and in which I am sure you will be most successful. Just two caveats. You will no doubt return to the policies you have successfully spearheaded, but mind you, the conditions are now vastly different and more adverse. On the other hand, everything has to be done without expecting political gratitude from the social classes benefiting from the emergency measures. The impersonal way of benefiting, which is proper to the state, makes people see their personal merit or right in the benefits, and not the merit or benevolence of those who make them possible. There is only one way of showing that such measures result neither from personal merit nor from the benevolence of donors but are rather the product of political alternatives: ensuring education for citizenship.

3. One of the most harmful aspects of the backlash brought about by Bolsonaro is the anti-rights ideology ingrained in the social fabric, targeting previously marginalized social groups (poor, Black, Indigenous, Roma, and LGBTQI+ people). Holding on firmly to a policy of social, economic, and cultural rights as a guarantee of ample dignity in a very unequal society should be the basic principle of democratic governments today.

4. The international context is dominated by three mega-threats: recurring pandemics, ecological collapse, and a possible third world war. Each of these threats is global in scope, but political solutions remain predominantly limited to the national scale. Brazilian diplomacy has traditionally been exemplary in the search for agreements, whether regional (Latin American cooperation) or global (BRICS). We live in a time of interregnum between a unipolar world dominated by the United States that has not yet fully disappeared and a multipolar world that has not yet been fully born. The interregnum is seen, for example, in the deceleration of globalization and the return of protectionism, the partial replacement of free trade with trade by friendly partners. All states remain formally independent, but only a few are sovereign. And among the latter, not even the countries of the European Union are to be counted. You left the government when China was the great partner of the United States and return when China is the great rival of the United States. You have always been a supporter of the multipolar world and China cannot but be today a partner of Brazil. Given the growing cold war between the United States and China, I predict that the honeymoon period between U.S. President Joe Biden and yourself will not last long.

5. You today have a world credibility that enables you to be an effective mediator in a world mined by increasingly tense conflicts. You can be a mediator in the Russia/Ukraine conflict, two countries whose people urgently need peace, at a time when the countries of the European Union have embraced the U.S. version of the conflict without a Plan B; they have therefore condemned themselves to the same fate as the U.S.-dominated unipolar world. You will also be a credible mediator in the case of Venezuela’s isolation and in bringing the shameful embargo against Cuba to an end. To accomplish all this, you must have the internal front pacified, and here lies the greatest difficulty.

6. You will have to live with the permanent threat of destabilization. This is the mark of the extreme right. It is a global movement that corresponds to the inability of neoliberal capitalism to coexist in the next period in a minimal democratic way. Although global, it takes on specific characteristics in each country. The general aim is to convert cultural or ethnic diversity into political or religious polarization. In Brazil, as in India, there is the risk of attributing to such polarization the character of a religious war, be it between Catholics and Evangelicals, or between fundamentalist Christians and religions of African origin (Brazil), or between Hindus and Muslims (India). In religious wars, conciliation is almost impossible. The extreme right creates a parallel reality immune to any confrontation with the actual reality. On that basis, it can justify the cruelest violence. Its main objective is to prevent you, President Lula, from peacefully finishing your term.

7. You currently have the support of the United States in your favor. It is well known that all U.S. foreign policy is determined by domestic political reasons. President Biden knows that, by defending you, he is defending himself against former President Trump, his possible rival in 2024. It so happens that the United States today is the most fractured society in the world, where the democratic game coexists with a plutocratic far right strong enough to make about 25 percent of the U.S. population still believe that Joe Biden’s victory in the 2020 presidential election was the result of an electoral fraud. This far right is willing to do anything. Their aggressiveness is demonstrated by the attempt by one of their followers to kidnap and torture Nancy Pelosi, leader of the Democrats in the House of Representatives. Furthermore, right after the attack, a battery of fake news was put into circulation to justify the act—something that can very well happen in Brazil as well. So, today the United States is a dual country: the official country that promises to defend Brazilian democracy, and the unofficial country that promises to subvert it in order to rehearse what it wants to achieve in the United States. Let us remember that the extreme right started as the official policy of the country. Hyper-conservative evangelicalism started as an American project (see the Rockefeller report of 1969) to combat “the insurrectionary potential” of liberation theology. And let it be said, in fairness, that for a long time its main ally was former Pope John Paul II.

8. Since 2014, Brazil has been living through a continued coup process, the elites’ response to the progress that the popular classes achieved with your governments. That coup process did not end with your victory. It only changed rhythm and tactics. Throughout these years and especially in the last electoral period we have witnessed multiple illegalities and even political crimes committed with an almost naturalized impunity. Besides the many committed by the head of the government, we have seen, for example, senior members of the armed forces and security forces calling for a coup d’état and publicly siding with a presidential candidate while in office. Such behavior should be punished by the judiciary or by compulsory retirement. Any idea of amnesty, no matter how noble its motives may be, will be a trap in the path of your presidency. The consequences could be fatal.

9. It is well known that you do not place a high priority on characterizing your politics as being left or right. Curiously, shortly before being elected president of Colombia, Gustavo Petro stated that the important distinction for him was not between left and right, but between politics of life and politics of death. The politics of life today in Brazil is sincere ecological politics, the continuation and deepening of policies of racial and sexual justice, labor rights, investment in public health care and education, respect for the demarcated lands of Indigenous peoples, and the enactment of pending demarcations. A gradual but firm transition is needed from agrarian monoculture and natural resource extractivism to a diversified economy that allows respect for different socioeconomic logics and virtuous articulations between the capitalist economy and the peasant, family, cooperative, social-solidarity, Indigenous, riverine, and quilombola economies that have so much vitality in Brazil.

10. The state of grace is short. It does not even last 100 days (see President Gabriel Boric in Chile). You have to do everything not to lose the people that elected you. Symbolic politics is fundamental in the early days. One suggestion: immediately reinstate the national conferences (built on bottom-up participatory democracy) to give an unequivocal sign that there is another, more democratic, and more participative way of doing politics.

Source: Globetrotter

Lessons from the Maya: Changing the World and Your Life

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2 mins read

When I first traveled to the Mayan lands of Central America and learned about the collapse of an ancient civilization that built breathtaking pyramids, temples, and plazas, I had no idea that the modern world was setting itself up to follow in those tragic footsteps.

During my days as an economic hit man in Guatemala, I learned that around 900 AD the wealthy and powerful elites of Mayan city-states forced the people to build magnificent cities and pyramids in Guatemala’s Peten and Mexico’s Yucatan. By draining swamps, decimating forests, and exploiting resources, they destroyed their economies and changed the climate.

In the ‘70s, those of us in America did not understand that we were doing the very same thing. It took several decades to fully comprehend the consequences of our activities.

Now, another similarity between this tragic period of Mayan history and current events has become apparent. On trips I lead to the Mayan sacred sites, the shamans tell us that the droughts and floods, crop failures and starvation brought on by their environmental destruction caused radical socio-political changes. City-states sought to conquer their neighbors. Former trading partners imposed sanctions on each other. Wars erupted. Mass migrations of people tried to escape from the famine and violence.

Sound familiar?

It should. Our modern world has suffered similar monumental changes during the brief time since the publication of my last book, Touching the Jaguar, in 2019. We’ve experienced a global pandemic, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine (one of the world’s most important suppliers of grain), increased famine, growing animosity between the West and China, huge waves of migration, massive supply chain disruptions, more and more sanctions, and threats of nuclear war.

In my new book Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, 3rd Edition: China’s EHM Strategy; Ways to Stop the Global Takeover (preorder by clicking here), I write about these recent events and the roles each of us can play in turning this doomsday situation around, reversing the march toward the precipice of disaster. The Mayan city states fell off that precipice. The magnificent pyramids and temples were abandoned; the people retreated into the mountains – and survived.

Today, many Mayan shamans (“Nanas” and “Tatas”) see their history as a harbinger, and they have chosen to devote their lives to walking us back from the precipice. In upcoming trips, they will continue to guide us into the abandoned cities – where towering tree-studded pyramids are warnings of our own future. The shamans teach us about the power of their transformative fire ceremonies. They share their prophecies, interpret our individual calendars, and offer personal “cleansings” that open us to better health and empower us to embrace the challenges of this ever-changing world. Perhaps, most important of all, they inspire us each to live lives that will bring us the greatest satisfaction and at the same time give future generations a world they will want to inhabit.

The shamans tell us that the political and climatic turmoil that currently sweeps our planet is a sign that we’ve entered a portal to the way back from the precipice. While traveling with these shamans and sharing ceremonies, personal readings and healings in their sacred sites, the groups I’ve brought over the years have learned that it’s now time for us to pass through that portal – to reshape the present and the future.

As I stood late one afternoon in a circle with a group of fellow travelers at the edge of Guatemala’s Lake Peten Itza, participating with two Mayan shamans in a fire ceremony to empower us to heed these lessons of the Mayan city-states, I recalled the words of the poet and philosopher George Santayana (and paraphrased by Winston Churchill): “Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” The shaman handed us bowls of flowers and seeds and instructed us to wade into the water and offer them to the setting sun. “The flowers,” he said, “represent the past, the things we want to release. The seeds are the future we intend to create for ourselves and the world. . . .”

After Victory, What Will Lula’s Foreign Policy Look Like?

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5 mins read

The tenure of President Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil is defined by the deforestation of the Amazon, the return of 33 million Brazilians to hunger, and the terrible governance of the country during the pandemic.

But it also marked a radical turning point on a subject that receives little public attention in general: foreign policy. It’s not just that the Bolsonaro government has transformed Brazil, a giant in land area and population, into a kind of diplomatic dwarf. Nor is it just the fact that Bolsonaro turned the country’s back to Latin America and Africa. The most serious thing is that in his pursuit of aligning Brazil to the United States, Bolsonaro broke with a long tradition of Brazilian foreign policy: the respect for constitutional principles of national independence, self-determination of the peoples, non-intervention, equality between States, defense of peace, and peaceful solution of conflicts.

Despite the different foreign policies adopted by Brazilian governments over the years, no president had ever so openly broken with these principles. Never had a Brazilian president expressed such open support for a candidate in a U.S. election, as Bolsonaro did to Trump and against Biden in 2020. Never had a president so openly despised Brazil’s main trading partner, as Bolsonaro did with China on different occasions. Never had a Brazilian president offended the wife of another president as Jair Bolsonaro, his Economy Minister Paulo Guedes, and his son Representative Eduardo Bolsonaro did in relation to Emmanuel Macron’s wife, Brigitte. And never, at least since re-democratization in the 1980s, has a president talked so openly about invading a neighboring country as Bolsonaro did toward Venezuela.

This attitude has thrown Brazil into a position of unprecedented diplomatic isolation for a country recognized for its absence of conflicts with other countries and its capacity for diplomatic mediation. As a result, during the campaign for the 2022 elections—won by Lula da Silva on Sunday, October 30, by a narrow margin of 2.1 million votes, with 50.9 percent of the votes for Lula against 49.1 percent for Bolsonaro—the topic of foreign policy appeared frequently, with Lula promising to resume Brazil’s leading role in international politics.

“We are lucky that the Chinese see Brazil as a historic entity, which will exist with or without Bolsonaro. Otherwise, the possibility of having had problems of various types would be great. … [For example, China] could simply not give us vaccines,” professor of economics at Rio de Janeiro State University (UERJ) Elias Jabbour tells me. “Brazil should once again play a decisive role in major international issues,” he adds.

The Return of ‘Active and Assertive’ Foreign Policy?

International relations during the first Lula administrations, from 2003 to 2011, were marked by Celso Amorim, minister of foreign affairs. He called for an “active and assertive” foreign policy. By “assertive,” Amorim meant a firmer attitude to refuse outside pressure and place Brazil’s interests on the international agenda. By “active,” he was referring to a decisive pursuit of Brazil’s interests. This view was “meant to not only defend certain positions, but also attract other countries to Brazil’s positions,” Amorim said.

This policy meant a commitment to Latin American integration, with the strengthening of Mercosur (also known as the Southern Common Market) and the creation of institutions such as Unasur, the South American Institute of Government in Health, the South American Defense Council, and CELAC. The IBSA forum (India, Brazil, and South Africa) and the BRICS bloc (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) were also established. During this period, Brazil also advanced its relations with the European Union, Africa, and the Middle East. Due to Brazil’s size and the diplomatic weight it took on by increasing its diplomatic representation worldwide, Brazil came to be an important player in international forums, seeking to advance discussions toward multilateralism and greater democratization of these forums, effectively mediating sensitive issues such as the Iran nuclear agreement with the UN and tensions between Venezuela and the U.S. during the Bush administration.

So Far From God and So Close to the U.S.

There is a popular phrase throughout Latin America, originally said by Mexican General Porfirio Díaz, overthrown by the Mexican Revolution in 1911: “Poor Mexico! So far from God and so close to the United States.” It applies outside the bounds of its original time and place. Today’s Latin Americans could easily swap out “poor Mexico” for their own country, whether that’s Colombia, Guatemala, Argentina, or even Brazil—a country where a Christ the Redeemer statue is an international tourist attraction.

In a scenario where nations are heading toward war and confrontation, the return of a diplomatically active Brazil may be exactly what the world, and Latin America in particular, needs. “For the past 40 days, the war in Ukraine has been heading toward a point of no return. Diplomatic exits are no longer on the agenda and the use of brute military force has increased,” says Rose Martins, a doctoral candidate in international economic relations at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ). “In this scenario, the BRICS and its New Development Bank offer alternatives for economic development distinct from the neoliberal terms.”

The question, perhaps, is which “world” actually looks forward to an active Brazil. This resumption may interest the Third World, for example, but there are doubts about whether it would interest the so-called Western world. “In this global situation, in which there is a dispute over ‘cosmotechnics’ and among which the exercise of force is in place, Brazil will have to play in a very balanced way, with great caution,” says Professor Héctor Luís Saint-Pierre, coordinator of the Defense and International Security Study Group (GEDES). “I can imagine two possible attitudes: from the point of view of the dispute over cosmotechnical hegemonies, it would be the pragmatic non-alignment. In other words, entering into commercial, economic, and technological relationships in a pragmatic way, non-aligned: neither with one nor with the other,” he says. “And with regard to the U.S., a certain precaution, because they are at war—we are not. We don’t need to go to war to defend U.S. interests: the right thing to do, to defend Brazilian interests, is not going to war. Sometimes national interests are defended by not going to war.”

In addition to the external challenge, Lula arrives at the presidency in a very different situation from that found in his first term. Not only will he have to deal with all the institutional destruction left by Jair Bolsonaro, but he will also have to deal with the members of his own “broad front” coalition—many of whom had been radical opponents during his previous governments. One of the most sensitive topics, however, is how the armed forces will act. Since the coup against Dilma Rousseff, in 2016, the generals have returned to the Brazilian political scene, expanding their domains to the point of conquering thousands of positions under Bolsonaro—a scenario that puts a country that only left its last military dictatorship 37 years ago on alert. “More than paradoxical, it is aporetic. It’s a dead-end situation,” says Saint-Pierre, when I ask him whether the way to disarm military power internally would be to carry out a consistent foreign policy, or if, in order to carry out a consistent foreign policy, it would first be necessary to disarm military power. He believes that Lula will have to establish some kind of pact with the military, in which their demands are respected, so that he can effectively govern. But for all the challenges, Saint-Pierre, Martins, and Jabbour all seem to agree on one point: the Lula government’s foreign policy will definitely be better for Brazil, Latin America, and the world than Bolsonaro’s. So do the Brazilian people.

This article was produced by Globetrotter in partnership with Revista Opera.

Brazil’s Lula Reemerges — in a Very Different Political World

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4 mins read

Brazil’s first round of elections, held on October 2, yielded a major victory for the man who held the presidency from 2003 to 2010, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. Winning 48 percent of the vote in a multicandidate race, Lula now heads to a runoff against incumbent president Jair Bolsonaro, who won 43 percent. It’s the first chapter of a dramatic comeback for a leader who was once hailed as the epitome of Latin America’s resurgent left, who was then imprisoned on corruption charges by a politicized judiciary, eventually was released, and has now emerged onto the political scene in a very different nation than the one he once led.

A founding member of Brazil’s Workers’ Party (PT), Lula ran for president several times before winning in 2002. A year later I recall sitting in a huge stadium in Porto Alegre for the second annual World Social Forum (WSF), getting ready alongside tens of thousands of people to hear the new president speak. The WSF was an organized response to the World Economic Forum held in Davos, Switzerland, where world leaders annually hobnob with corporate executives to explore capitalist solutions to the problems created by capitalism.

In 2003, the crowds that had gathered in a Porto Alegre stadium to explore alternatives to capitalism greeted Lula with coordinated roars of “olè olè olè Lula!” It seemed at that moment that everything could change for the better, and that, in the words of Indian writer Arundhati Roy, who also addressed the WSF, “another world is not only possible, she is on her way.” Indeed, Lula’s rewriting of Brazil’s economic priorities emphasizing benefits for low-income communities was a welcome change in a world seduced by neoliberalism. He went on to win reelection in 2006.

In subsequent years, Lula moved closer toward the political center. Maria Luisa Mendonça, director of Brazil’s Network for Social Justice and Human Rights, says, “I don’t think Lula is this radical left-wing person” today. In an interview she explains, “many social movements had criticisms of the Workers’ Party before because they thought [the party] could move to make structural changes in Brazil.” Still, she maintains that Lula’s changes to Brazil were profound. “The amount of investment that the Workers’ Party did, in education for example, [was] unprecedented.” She asserts that “they really made concrete improvements in the lives of people.”

Fast-forward to 2018 and Bolsonaro swept into power, glorifying the ugliest aspects of bigoted conservatism and making them central to his rule, and decimating Lula’s legacy of economic investments in the poor. Business executives in the U.S. celebrated his win, excited at the prospect of a deregulated economy in which they could invest, and from which they could extract wealth.

Today Latin America’s largest democracy has been shattered by the COVID-19 pandemic, during which Bolsonaro’s fascist and conspiracy-fueled leadership elevated snake oil cures above commonsense scientific mitigation. The Amazon rainforest has suffered the ravages of unfettered deforestation, and its Indigenous inhabitants have been exploited beyond measure.

Bizarrely, some corporate media pundits in the United States place equal blame on Bolsonaro and Lula for Brazil’s worrisome status quo. Arick Wierson writes on NBCNews.com, “these pressing problems are the result of the policies and actions of Brazilian leadership over the past two decades—inextricably linked to both the Lula and Bolsonaro administrations.”

The Economist advises Lula to “move to the center” in order to win the election, implying that his social and economic agenda is too leftist. A PT spokesperson told the Financial Times that if Lula wins a third term in the October 30 runoff election, he plans to focus on the “popular economy,” meaning that “the Brazilian state will have to fulfill a strong agenda in inducing economic development,” which would be achieved with “jobs, social programs, and the presence of the state.”

It speaks to the severe conservative skewing of the world political spectrum that a leader like Lula is still considered left of center. According to Mendonça, “I don’t think that investing in education and health care, in job creation, is a radical idea.” She views Lula as “a moderate politician,” and says that now, “after a very disastrous administration of Bolsonaro, Lula again is the most popular politician in the country.”

Most Brazilians appear to have tired of Bolsonarismo. A Reuters poll found that Lula now enjoys 51 percent support to Bolsonaro’s 43 percent ahead of the October 30 runoff race. But, just as the 2016 U.S. presidential race yielded a win for Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton, the candidate who had been widely expected to win, there is no guarantee that Lula will prevail.

And Bolsonaro, who has been dubbed the “Tropical Trump,” has worryingly taken a page out of the disgraced American leader’s 2020 election playbook in claiming ahead of the first round of elections that Lula loyalists plan to steal the election. “Bolsonaro has been threatening not to accept the result of the election,” says Mendonça. “His discourse is very similar to Trump’s discourse.”

Just as Trump—in spite of damning and overwhelming evidence of his unfitness for office—remains disconcertingly popular among a significant minority of Americans, Bolsonaro enjoys a stubborn level of allegiance within Brazil. He has reshaped the political landscape so deeply that the lines between reality and propaganda remain blurred.

“We had years and years of attacks against the Workers’ Party,” says Mendonça. She asks us to “imagine if all mainstream media [in Brazil] were like Fox News.” Additionally, Bolsonaro has built what she calls “a huge infrastructure to spread fake news on social media.” And, like Trump, Bolsonaro enjoys support from evangelical churches.

“The challenge is how you resist that type of message,” worries Mendonça. She dismisses claims that Brazil is politically polarized as too simplistic, saying that it “doesn’t really explain that there was this orchestrated effort to attack democracy in Brazil.” Putting Brazil into an international context, she sees Bolsonaro as “part of this global far-right movement that uses those types of mechanisms to manipulate public opinion and to discredit democracy.”

The nation and the world that a resurgent Lula faces are ones that require far more sophisticated opposition and organized resistance than when he last held office more than a decade ago.

Ultimately, the challenges facing Lula, the PT, and Brazilians in general are the same ones that we all face: how do we prioritize people’s needs over corporate greed, and how do we elevate the rights of human beings, of women, people of color, Indigenous communities, LGBTQ individuals, and the earth’s environment, in the face of a rising fascism that deploys organized disinformation so effectively?

This article was produced by Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

How Cuba Is Dealing With the Devastation of Hurricane Ian

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3 mins read

On September 27, 2022, a tropical cyclone—Hurricane Ian—struck Cuba’s western province of Pinar del Río. Sustained winds of around 125 miles per hour lingered over Cuba for more than eight hours, bringing down trees and power lines, and causing damage not seen during previous tropical cyclones. The hurricane then lingered over the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico, picking up energy before striking the U.S. island of Cayo Costa, Florida, with approximately 155 mph winds. The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) called it “one of the worst hurricanes to hit the area in a century.”

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Prediction Center said that this year will be the “seventh consecutive above-average hurricane season.” Both Cuba and Florida have faced the wrath of the waters and winds, but beneath this lies the ferocity of the climate catastrophe. “Climate science is increasingly able to show that many of the extreme weather events that we are experiencing have become more likely and more intense due to human-induced climate change,” said WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas.

Prepare and Relieve

Cuba, said the WMO, is one of the “world leaders in terms of hurricane preparedness and disaster management.” This was not always the case. Hurricane Flora hit the eastern coast of the island on October 4, 1963. When news of the approaching hurricane reached Fidel Castro, he immediately ordered the evacuation of the homes of people who lived in the projected path of the storm (in Haiti, former dictator François Duvalier did not call for an evacuation, which led to the death of more than 5,000 people). Castro rushed to Camagüey, almost dying in the Cauto River as his amphibious vehicle was struck by a drifting log. Two years later, in his Socialism and Man in Cuba, Che Guevara wrote the Cuban people showed “exceptional deeds of valor and sacrifice” as they rebuilt the country after the devastation caused by Flora.

In 1966, the Cuban government created the Civil Defense System to prepare for not only extreme weather events such as hurricanes but also the outbreak of epidemics. Using science as the foundation for its hurricane preparedness, the Cuban government was able to evacuate 2 million people as Hurricane Ivan moved toward the island in 2004. As part of disaster management, the entire Cuban population participates in drills, and the Cuban mass organizations (the Federation of Cuban Women and the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution) work in an integrated manner to mobilize the population to respond to disasters.

The day before Hurricane Ian hit Cuba, 50,000 people were evacuated and taken to 55 shelters. No private vehicles or public transportation was visible on the streets. Work brigades were mobilized to work on the resumption of electricity supply after the storm had passed. In Artemisa, for instance, the Provincial Defense Council met to discuss how to react to the inevitable flooding. Despite the best efforts made by Cubans, three people died because of the hurricane, and the electrical grid suffered significant damage.

Damage

The entire island—including Havana—had no power for more than three days. The electrical grid, which was already suffering from a lack of major repairs, collapsed. Without power, Cubans had to throw away food that needed to be refrigerated and faced difficulty in preparing meals, among other hardships. By October 1, less than five days after landfall, 82 percent of the residents of Havana had their power restored with work ongoing for the western part of the island (the amount of time without power in Puerto Rico, which was hit by Hurricane Fiona on September 18, is longer—a quarter of a million people remain without power more than two weeks later).

The long-term impact of Hurricane Ian is yet to be assessed, although some believe the cost of damages will surpass $1 billion. More than 8,500 hectares of cropland have been hit by the flooding, with the banana crop most impacted. The most dramatic problem will be faced by Cuba’s tobacco industry since Pinar del Río—where 5,000 farms were destroyed—is its heartland (with 65 percent of the country’s tobacco production). Hirochi Robaina, a tobacco farmer in Pinar del Río, wrote, “It was apocalyptic. A real disaster.”

Blockade

Mexico and Venezuela immediately pledged to send materials to assist in the reconstruction of the electrical grid on the island.

All eyes turned to Washington—not only to see whether it would send aid, which would be welcome, but also if it would remove Cuba from the state sponsors of terrorism list and end sanctions imposed by the United States. These measures cause banks in both the United States and elsewhere to be reluctant to process any financial transactions, including humanitarian donations. The U.S. has a mixed record regarding humanitarian aid to Cuba. After Hurricane Michelle (2001), Hurricane Charley (2004), and Hurricane Wilma (2005), the U.S. did offer assistance, but would not even temporarily lift the blockade. After the fire at a Matanzas oil storage facility in August 2022, the U.S. did offer to join Mexico and Venezuela to help the Cubans put out the fire. Cuba’s Deputy Foreign Minister Carlos Fernández de Cossio offered “profound gratitude” for the gesture, but the administration of U.S. President Joe Biden did not follow through.

Rather than lift the sanctions even for a limited period, the U.S. government sat back and watched as mysterious forces from Miami unleashed a torrent of Facebook and WhatsApp messages to drive desperate Cubans onto the street. Not a moment is wasted by Washington to use even a natural disaster to try to destabilize the situation in Cuba (a history that goes back to 1963, when the Central Intelligence Agency reflected on how to leverage natural disasters for political gains). “Most people don’t shout out freedom,” a person who observed one of these protests told us. “They ask for power and food.”

This article was produced by Globetrotter.

Four Straight Years of Nonstop Street Protest in Haiti

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A cycle of protests began in Haiti in July 2018, and—despite the pandemic—has carried on since then. The core reason for the protest in 2018 was that in March of that year the government of Venezuela—due to the illegal sanctions imposed by the United States—could no longer ship discounted oil to Haiti through the PetroCaribe scheme. Fuel prices soared by up to 50 percent. On August 14, 2018, filmmaker Gilbert Mirambeau Jr. tweeted a photograph of himself blindfolded and holding a sign that read, “Kot Kòb Petwo Karibe a???” (Where did the PetroCaribe money go?). He reflected the popular sentiment in the country that the money from the scheme had been looted by the Haitian elite, whose grip on the country had been secured by two coups d’état against the democratically elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide (once in 1991 and again in 2004). Rising oil prices made life unlivable for the vast majority of the people, whose protests created a crisis of political legitimacy for the Haitian elite.

In recent weeks, the streets of Haiti have once again been occupied by large marches and roadblocks, with the mood on edge. Banks and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs)—including Catholic charities—faced the wrath of the protesters, who painted “Down with [the] USA” on buildings that they ransacked and burned. The Creole word dechoukaj or uprooting—that was first used in the democracy movements in 1986—has come to define these protests. The government has blamed the violence on gangs such as G9 led by the former Haitian police officer Jimmy “Babekyou” (Barbecue) Chérizier. These gangs are indeed part of the protest movement, but they do not define it.

The government of Haiti—led by acting President Ariel Henry—decided to raise fuel prices during this crisis, which provoked a protest from the transport unions. Jacques Anderson Desroches, president of the Fós Sendikal pou Sove Ayiti, told the Haitian Times, “If the state does not resolve to put an end to the liberalization of the oil market in favor of the oil companies and take control of it,” nothing good will come of it. “[O]therwise,” he said, “all the measures taken by Ariel Henry will be cosmetic measures.” On September 26, trade union associations called for a strike, which paralyzed the country, including the capital of Haiti, Port-au-Prince.

The United Nations (UN) evacuated its nonessential staff from the country. UN Special Representative Helen La Lime told the UN Security Council that Haiti was paralyzed by “[a]n economic crisis, a gang crisis, and a political crisis” that have “converged into a humanitarian catastrophe.” Legitimacy for the United Nations in Haiti is limited, given the sexual abuse scandals that have wracked the UN peacekeeping missions in Haiti, and the political mandate of the United Nations that Haitian people see as oriented to protecting the corrupt elite that does the bidding of the West.

The current President Ariel Henry was installed to his post by the “Core Group” (made up of six countries, this group is led by the United States, the European Union, the UN, and the Organization of American States). Henry became the president after the still-unsolved murder of the unpopular President Jovenel Moïse (thus far, the only clarity is that Moïse was killed by Colombian mercenaries and Haitian Americans). The UN’s La Lime told the Security Council in February that the “national investigation into his [Moïse’s] murder has stalled, a situation that fuels rumors and exacerbates both suspicion and mistrust within the country.”

Haiti’s Crises

An understanding of the current cycle of protests is not possible without looking clearly at four developments in Haiti’s recent past. First, the destabilization of the country after the second coup against Aristide in 2004, which took place right after the catastrophic earthquake of 2010, led to the dismantling of the Haitian state. The Core Group of countries took advantage of these serious problems in Haiti to import onto the island a wide range of Western NGOs, which seemed to substitute for the Haitian state. The NGOs soon provided 80 percent of the public services. They “frittered” considerable amounts of the relief and aid money that had come into the country after the earthquake. Weakened state institutions have meant that the government has few tools to deal with this unresolved crisis.

Second, the illegal U.S. sanctions imposed on Venezuela crushed the PetroCaribe scheme, which had provided Haiti with concessionary oil sales and $2 billion in profits between 2008 and 2016 that was meant for the Haitian state but vanished into the bank accounts of the elite.

Third, in 2009, the Haitian parliament tried to increase minimum wages on the island to $5 per day, but the U.S. government intervened on behalf of major textile and apparel companies to block the bill. David Lindwall, former U.S. deputy chief of mission in Port-au-Prince, said that the Haitian attempt to raise the minimum wage “did not take economic reality into account” but was merely an attempt to appease “the unemployed and underpaid masses.” The bill was defeated due to U.S. government pressure. These “unemployed and underpaid masses” are now on the streets being characterized as “gangs” by the Core Group.

Fourth, the acting President Ariel Henry likes to say that he is a neurosurgeon and not a career politician. However, in the summer of 2000, Henry was part of the group that created the Convergence Démocratique (CD), set up to call for the overthrow of the democratically elected government of Aristide. The CD was set up in Haiti by the International Republican Institute, a political arm of the U.S. Republican Party, and by the U.S. government’s National Endowment for Democracy. Henry’s call for calm on September 19, 2022, resulted in the setting up of more barricades and in the intensification of the protest movement. His ear is bent more to Washington than to Petit-Goâve, a town on the northern coast that is the epicenter of the rebellion.

Waves of Invasions

At the UN, Haiti’s Foreign Minister Jean Victor Geneus said, “[T]his dilemma can only be solved with the effective support of our partners.” To many close observers of the situation unfolding in Haiti, the phrase “effective support” sounds like another military intervention by the Western powers. Indeed, the Washington Post editorial called for “muscular action by outside actors.” Ever since the Haitian Revolution, which ended in 1804, Haiti has faced waves of invasions (including a long U.S. occupation from 1915 to 1930 and a U.S.-backed dictatorship from 1957 to 1986). These invasions have prevented the island nation from securing its sovereignty and have prevented its people from building dignified lives. Another invasion, whether by U.S. troops or the United Nations peacekeeping forces, will only deepen the crisis.

At the United Nations General Assembly session on September 21, U.S. President Joe Biden said that his government continues “to stand with our neighbor in Haiti.” What this means is best understood in a new Amnesty International report that documents the racist abuse faced by Haitian asylum seekers in the United States. The United States and the Core Group might stand with people like Ariel Henry, but they do not seem to stand with the Haitian people, including those who have fled to the United States.

Options for the Haitian people will come from the entry of trade unions into the protest wave. Whether the unions and the community organizations—including student groups that have reemerged as key actors in the country—will be able to drive a dynamic change out of the anger being witnessed on the streets remains to be seen.

This article was produced by Globetrotter.