sexta-feira, 19 de dezembro de 2008

Brazil's Landless Workers Movement Scores Victory

Audio report from FSRN
Friday 19, December 2008

In countries where most of the land is in the hands of a very tiny portion of the population, agrarian reform is often an uphill battle. But in Brazil, after many years of struggle, the Landless Worker's Movement – MST – achieved a tremendous victory this week in the country's Southernmost state, Rio Grande do Sul. For the first time, hundreds of families acquired land in a region which for hundreds of years, large landowners had violently defended as theirs. Mike Fox has more from Brazil.

FSRN News Report
Length: 4:32 minutes (4.15 MB)

quarta-feira, 17 de dezembro de 2008

Brazil’s Experience with Lula Offers Lessons for Obama Supporters

From Toward Freedom
Wednesday, 17 December 2008

We arrived early, but the field was already packed with an ecstatic crowd waiting to hear the one man who they believed could actually turn the country around. Nearly three months before he had won the presidency with the promise of change, and now more than a hundred thousand had descended on this grassy hillside to listen to him speak. Chants echoed from the nearby road, all the way down to the waterfront and back. Banners waved. People cheered. Hope was in the air.

And suddenly the crowd erupted. He had arrived.

There was little said that hadn't been said before, but the energy was euphoric. He spoke of agrarian reform, quality education, university access to all, universal health care, and building "a just, solidarity-based, fraternal society where the wealth produced in the country is distributed more equally for all of the country's children."

He spoke of reaching across the aisle. He spoke of his family. He spoke of the expectations, of the responsibilities and the joy of finally being able to "finish an election and yell loudly: Hope finally beat out fear."

He spoke of his dream, "everyone’s dream." He told the crowd that this dream, one day, would be fulfilled. It just "depends on our courage, it depends on our willingness," he said.

He spoke and the crowd listened. Here before us was one of us. Someone you could actually trust to do the right thing.

Luiz Inácio "Lula" da Silva was raised in a poor family by a single mother in the interior of Brazil’s Northeastern Pernambuco state. His family moved to Sao Paulo as a child and he got a job at a metal plant at the age of 14. A few years passed, he joined the union. They liked him. He ran for office and won. He was soon President of the Steelworker’s Union and within three years he was leading hundreds of thousands of Brazilian workers in the first major strikes in more than 14 years of the repressive military dictatorship. The workers won, then lost, then won again. Lula and thousands more formed the Brazilian Worker's Party (PT) in 1980. Within five years the dictatorship was over, and when open elections were held for the first time in more than two decades, Lula and his Worker's Party ran, and lost narrowly to Brazilian playboy, Fernando Collor de Mello.

Fourteen years later, on Oct. 27, 2002, in his fourth and final run at the presidency, Lula was finally victorious. On his shoulders he carried the hope of millions who had suffered through the long 20-year dictatorship, and had lived through the subsequent governments of corruption, lies, privatizations and political handouts. Lula – they knew – was different.

On this hot sunny day, speaking to more than a hundred thousand at the third World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, Lula described his first steps as President: "Cautious, calm... solid."

That's exactly what they were. He attended the World Economic Forum in Davos after his stop in Porto Alegre, and promised to continue paying Brazil's international debt. His appointments to the Ministries of Economics and Finance treaded on neoliberal, and he selected the former director of the Bank of Boston to head up the central bank.

Progressive Lula supporters were willing to give him time. After all, he had to start off "cautiously" in order to avoid scaring away investment. He had to build a solid economy first, and then he could focus on the issues he had been championing for decades.

But only a year and a half later, progressives had had enough. A block split from the PT and formed the Socialism and Liberty Party (PSOL). When I returned to Porto Alegre for the 2005 World Social Forum, instead of being received with euphoria, Lula was heckled. To be honest, it was a mixed crowd. Some were satisfied with the minor gains they had achieved in his first two years as President. But the jeers droned through the entirety of Lula's speech, reminding everyone in attendance that he had failed to live up to many expectations.

This is not to say that Lula’s presidency has not been a success. He was reelected in the fall of 2006 with more than 60% of the vote, and with more support than in 2002. He now has an impressive approval rating of 70%, and most Brazilians will tell you that he’s the best President they’ve ever had. He has lowered unemployment, made gains with social policies, and decreased poverty and malnutrition with programs like Fome Zero (Zero Hunger) and Bolsa-Família (Family Stipend).

Nevertheless, most of these improvements have been made through reforms and welfare-style programs, and not the transformative social change that many expected of a Lula presidency. The Landless Worker’s Movement (MST) continues to battle daily for the agrarian reform they had hoped would be quickly forthcoming, while genetically-modified crops are legalized and the powerful US-backed Brazilian agro-industry only continues to grow.

In many ways, this reality was destined. After seventeen years and three previous runs for President, Lula had to make some concessions and shake hands with more conservative sectors in order to take the helm. Once there, his hands were tied. The story is the same across the hemisphere.

Barack Obama’s win was a landmark victory. Joining the leftward shift across the Americas, it symbolized great change and broke with the status quo, as did Lula’s in 2002, or Frente Amplio’s 2004 triumph in Uruguay, or Michelle Bachelet’s 2006 win in Chile, or Fernando Lugo’s victory this year in Paraguay. But, like Lula, that alone does not ensure that the Obama administration will be able to embody the "change" the president-elect so enthusiastically espoused on the campaign trail.

There are great expectations. Obama has the potential to be one of the most transformative presidents in United States history, but if his countless Clinton-era cabinet picks are an indication of what is to come, we have reason to be nervous.

As the Christian Science Monitor pointed out in November, the parallels with Brazil run deep. "Like Barack Obama, Brazil's president rose to power from poverty and the political left. But during six years in office, he has ruled from the center, tapping Brazil's market strengths, earning him world respect. When the two men finally meet, it may be President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva – or "Lula" – who teaches Mr. Obama a thing or two."

Obama might not be the only one that has much to learn from our Southern neighbors. As Brasil de Fato reported shortly after Lula’s reelection, it is sometimes difficult to balance "pressuring the government without playing the game of the opposition." But that’s what many Brazilian social movements decided it was time to do, and progressives in the U.S. need to catch on quickly.

When Obama took to the stage on election night, before a hundred thousand supporters amassed in Grant Park, hope was in the air.

There was little said that hadn't been said before, but the energy was euphoric.

He spoke of reaching across the aisle. He spoke of his family. He spoke of the expectations, of the responsibilities. He spoke and the crowd listened. Here before us was one of us. Someone you could actually trust to do the right thing.

But no one can do it alone. "This is your victory." He said, "I need your help."

"Obama energized a great many people," wrote Noam Chomsky a few weeks ago. "If they fade away, or simply take instructions, we can expect little from his administration. If they become organized and active, and undertake to be independent voices in policy formation and implementation, a great deal can be achieved -- as in the past, and elsewhere today, notably South America."

terça-feira, 16 de dezembro de 2008

Events Commemorate 40th Anniversary of Brazil’s ‘Coup Within the Coup D'etat’

Tuesday, 16 December 2008


The demonstrators dressed in brightly colored outfits sang their song of protest proudly, but it was really only symbolic. Shock troops moved in waving their batons, and beating with impunity. They rounded up the dissidents and carried them off to be disposed of. In real life a few decades ago, they would have been brought in to the basement or back room of the Federal Police Department, or the DOPS (the Brazilian secret police), who would have stripped them naked and subjected them to electric shocks and countless other forms of torture. Many would never again have seen the light of day.

Today, the street performers quickly hurried around the outside of the crowd and prepared for their next character.

"You are amazing," cried one woman. "For not having lived through it, you are really good!" Most of the performers were in their twenties and thirties. She was over sixty.

Image"I lived it," she said a few minutes later, although she wouldn’t give her name for fear of repercussions. "I was a high school student and university student during that time, and it was a terrible. Then I studied at the Federal University and they said that we used guns - and that was one of the lies they told - and we had to run, and then when we came near the military barracks and they would throw bombs and say that we had thrown them. They had a system of picking you up where they would lift you from behind with your arms twisted, beating you, and I can't say I don't have back problems, from the countless beatings I got."

She was just one of hundreds in the crowd that stopped to watch Thursday’s performance of the street theater group, Atuadores Ói Nóis Aqui Traveiz. Their piece, O Amargo Santo da Purificação, told the story of Brazil, and highlighted the repression of the long twenty-year Brazilian military dictatorship.

ImageIt was just one of various activities happening across Brazil this week in commemoration of the 40th anniversary of the passage of the Institutional Act #5 (AI-5). Its decree, on December 13, 1968- four years into the Brazilian military dictatorship -is considered to have been the coup within the coup d'etat. AI-5 suspended guarantees in the 1967 Constitution, increased dictatorial powers of the President, and led to the closure of the Brazilian congress and the suspension of habeas corpus in the name of national security.

It essentially legalized torture and the death penalty, and by the end of the Brazilian dictatorship in the mid 80s, more than 40,000 people had been tortured and hundreds disappeared and murdered.

But for these street performers, the AI-5 isn’t just a thing of the past.

"I don't think it is just a historical moment that is being commemorated," said Diego Begolin, a street vendor and member of the theater group. "The Brazilian dictatorship was a dark period in our history. It threw a lot of people in to poverty, and they are there until today. It is a structure of power that was installed, and pretended to leave, but it didn't. They are still their hiding. Hiding the crimes that they committed against human rights, and that's our struggle."


While some of Brazil’s neighbors- like Argentina -have begun to try ex-torturers for crimes committed under their dictatorships, no Brazilian officials have been brought to justice. Part of the reason lies in a 1979 amnesty, which still protects officials from being tried for crimes, committed during the dictatorship.

Activists say that this culture of impunity encourages further repression against the country’s social movements. "The police apparatus of repression is very strong in the state," said Annelise- who asked to be identified by her first name only, and was one of the organizers of events this week in Porto Alegre. "We were speaking with a lawyer of the Landless Worker’s Movement (MST) and in his opinion right now in the state of Rio Grande do Sul, human rights don't exist."

Indeed, Human Rights Watch declared in its 2008 report that violations against human rights in Brazil are rarely brought to justice. The report identified police crime and impunity, forced worker camps, inhuman prison conditions, and the lack of justice for crimes under the dictatorship as major human rights concerns in Brazil.

Positive steps are being made. Last year Brazil's Human Rights Secretary published a detailed book documenting the more than 300 disappeared under the dictatorship. Brazil's first national convention on human rights is set to take place next week in Brasilia.

Nevertheless, many Brazilians agree that they have a long way to go before they completely turn this dark page in their history.

Photos by Silvia Leindecker

sexta-feira, 12 de dezembro de 2008

Human Rights Week Series: Justice for Brazil's Victims of Dictatorship

Audio Report from FSRN

Friday, 12 December 2008

We now head to Brazil – known around the world for its Carnival, beaches and soccer stars. Yet many forget that just a few decades ago, the country was ruled by a brutal military dictatorship. And as people around the world mark the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Brazilians are also commemorating the 40th anniversary of the passage of Institutional Act #5, which essentially legalized torture and the death penalty in Latin America's largest country. Mike Fox has more from Brazil.

FSRN News Report

4:46 minutes (4.37 MB)

quinta-feira, 6 de novembro de 2008

Obama Win! Pushing “Beyond Elections”

From Beyond Elections
Thursday 6, November 2008

“I just got a call from the Associated Press,” announced the speaker before the crowd of Obama supporters packed in to the Virginia Democratic Headquarters in the McLean Hilton in Northern Virginia “We just did what has not been done since 1964.” The crowd erupted in to euphoria. Presidential Candidate, Barack Obama had just taken Virginia. And with Virginia- as was announced moments later -so went the presidency. The emotion was indescribable. Strangers hugged. Tears fell. Cheers rolled through the ballroom. The United States had a new president- an African American president, bringing new hope to a Nation in difficult times.

Record numbers of Americans participated Tuesday in one of the greatest moments in U.S. history. But as Obama declared in his acceptance speech, “The road ahead will be long.” We are still in an ongoing disastrous war, and amidst a failing economy. Beltway lobbyists still inhabit the halls of Washington, and while Democrats have picked up seats in both the House and the Senate, there remains nothing to ensure voters that their elected representatives- both new and old -will actually fulfill their campaign promises and listen to the American people.

Veteran journalist, Bill Moyers says that “our democratic process is in a state of crisis.” Regardless of who’s in office, control lies not in the hands of the American people, but with the lobbyists and special interests that fund the political campaigns and ultimately control public policy.

But for the first time in memory, we are at a crossroads. Since the birth of our country, citizens have slowly struggled to increase our democracy for all- from the right to vote, through the civil rights movement to the civil rights act, and struggles even until today to ensure that everyone has the right to cast their ballot, and that everyone’s ballot will be counted. But now a new window of opportunity has opened. That which many believed impossible only a few years ago has now become reality. An African American will lead the United States as the 44th president. But that fact alone does not ensure equality, and we need to continue our mobilization. Not only when Obama or our representatives run astray, but for greater participation in our democracy, on a daily basis- not only in politics, but also in the economy, society and culture.

Democracy does not end when you cast your vote. That is where it begins. In the words of the Portuguese academic Boaventura de Souza Santos, democracy is “without end” (democracia sem fim).

While U.S. citizens voted in record numbers on Nov. 4, our democratic duty cannot stop there. Obama declared on Tuesday night, “This victory alone is not the change we seek - it is only the chance for us to make that change. And that cannot happen if we go back to the way things were. It cannot happen without you.”

We can no longer leave important local, regional or national decisions in the hands of our elected representatives alone. They should be held accountable, not to their campaign contributors, but to the citizens who they are supposed to represent. Our elected representatives should commit to fulfill their campaign promises, open up spaces of participation with decisions directly in the hands of the citizens (direct consultations, participatory budgeting, etc.), and to be willing to be held accountable by those they represent- not only during the election cycle, but throughout their entire term.

We have centuries of history to build on, and countless participatory experiences to learn from- both in the United States and across the Americas, which are blossoming with new exciting possibilities. And we too can go “beyond elections” to open up democracy in all aspects of our lives, to not only decide our political future, but our social, cultural and economic future.

“This is our moment. This is our time.” Said Obama on Tuesday evening before more than a hundred thousand supporters in Chicago’s Grant Park. “To put our people back to work and open doors of opportunity for our kids; to restore prosperity and promote the cause of peace; to reclaim the American Dream and reaffirm that fundamental truth - that out of many, we are one;”

We are one, and we have the right to participate together in the decision-making processes that govern our lives. “And those who tell us that we can't,” says Obama, “we will respond with that timeless creed that sums up the spirit of a people: Yes We Can.”