Brasil’s Democracy Under New Siege

We should be looking for viable alternatives to an archaic, arbitrary, failing and schizophrenic system. The issue that we are seeing in Brasil today is a democracy where those who represent, or attempt to represent, ordinary people are demonised as if unfit to govern.

This is a problem that is happening in other places such as with Corbyn’s Labour party and the Sanders’ democratic campaign. They are depicted as outright ‘unelectable’. Is democracy too important to be left to those that claim they represent or aim to represent ordinary people? We should be discussing systems that aren’t based on oppression, on an unrealistic aim of endless growth. It seems there is not scope for administration outside of the capitalist remits of punishing the poor when the system crashes. When the system crashes the acceptable oppressive discourse is that of cuts from the poor and make ordinary people pay. For example, it has been noted that a central target of Brasil’s recovery should be a cut to pensions which have risen by nearly 90% in real terms over the past decade. Brasil’s government pays almost 12% of GDP to pensioners. Basically, the idea seems to be that if you cut from pensioners and give to businessmen then your democracy makes sense, otherwise votes won’t count.

Oppression has been noted as a social issue based on highly uneven power relations in terms of superiority and control by those with power  over those without power, controlling them. In other words, significant parts of the population are being ruled by the movements of the free market, experimental politics, which under Neoliberalism pursues an ideal of profitability in a savage apathy. The last two political administrations in Brasil have reduced poverty by 76%. The World Bank reported on Brazil’s significant achievement in reducing poverty: A New Lesson from Brazil for the World. But let’s be honest here: Was that any good for the Neoliberal capitalist system? Or in contemporary Brasil when applied to the Casa Grande Vs Senzala conflict?

The process of a progressive democracy ought to be non-hierarchical and its reformulations must be based on the presupposition of equality as the starting point. Thus, the notion of ‘unelectable’ politicians or democratically elected administrations that are not suitable to govern is arbitrary political rhetoric that is anti-democratic. Or that is the end of democracy as we know it. What is happening in Brasil is an indicative of the overrule of democracy, as the elected president Rousseff is being pursued for impeachment without evidence. The irony is that Rousseff will be judged by very few who are not themselves  being accused of some form of corruption.

For example, Laclau argues that “the minimal unit of our social analysis is the category of demand”. Namely, contemporary democracy ‘supposes’ that those oppressed by the unelectable rhetoric shouldn’t be seen as an articulation of a diverse group but as a diverse group that is bonded by a given time and space demanding a specific social change.

Arguably, contemporary democracy is aiming at the disruption of the political order under capitalism and the set of practices through which the ‘gathering and consent of collectivities are achieved, the organisation of powers, the distribution of places and roles, and the systems for legitimising this distribution’. The disruption of Rousseff’s administration is a based on highly uneven power relations in terms of dominance and restraint of those with power to possess and to dictate ‘democracy’ by an anti-democratic organisation such as Globo Media. For Laclau, there is a growing complexity and fragmentation of advanced industrial societies in which is constituted around a fundamental asymmetry. This asymmetry emerges between a forming reproduction of differences, an excess of meaning of ‘democracy’, and the predicament faced by any discourse attempting to frame those contrasts as a period of lasting structure.

Rousseff’s impeachment is concerning because it is a Coup and that highlights that people’s votes aren’t there to be respected. Democracy seems to be entirely upsetting, and therefore it must ultimately seek to transgress. It is a Coup and a softer analysis would be making yet another concession to the power of those transgressing the Brazilian constitution.

In Brasil, democracy is a thing that must satisfy the few and the special interests of the elites and not the people.

I should note that if the senate votes for Rousseff’s impeachment Brasil can’t be seen as a democratic nation anymore. It needs to be seen as a case study for plutocracy ruled by the ‘Casa-Grande’.

For example, about a third of the House of Representatives Members or are under investigation or accused of crimes. It should be noted that Cunha, President of the Chamber of Deputies of Brazil, is acting motivated by vested interests and defendants in the Supreme Court. By demanding and receiving bribes in Petrobras contracts, Cunha is also seriously accused of other crimes such as corruption, money laundering and channelling millions through illegal accounts in Switzerland for his own benefit. The vote on the presidential impeachment without evidence is a painful spot in the history of the House of Representatives and Brasil, a deep cut in a young democracy. The historical low point was when Bolsonaro dedicated his vote yes to Carlos Brilhante Ustra. Ustra became the military first in Brazil to be recognised by the courts as a torturer during the dictatorship. Being against torturers is strictly to do with not defending authoritarian regimes and violation of fundamental rights of the people. Would that be enough to historically remember Bolsonaro as a fascist?

The tragedy can be highlighted by Dep. Raquel Muniz holding a flag of Brazil, Ms Muniz (PSD-MG) cited her husband as an example of public management, voted against corruption and ‘for a Brasil that has a new direction’. Her vote has been one of the most representative of that session (she was seen jumping and shouting ‘yes’ in excitement). Meanwhile, the morning after the vote, the Federal Police arrested her husband on corruption charges. Ruy Muniz is investigated by the Federal Police on suspicion of defrauding the operation of a public hospital in the city.

Members who are targets of Operation Lava Jato (Car Wash) voted on Sunday for the impeachment. Of the 23 investigated or already denounced by the Attorney General of the Republic for alleged bribe-taking in corruption at Petrobras and other areas of government, 17 said yes to the impeachment process of President Rousseff. Four others were against, one abstained and missed the session.

This could be seen as the worst Coup in Brazilian history. It is a Coup in favour of corruption it seems. Brasil is losing the respect as a democratic country, which will take years to regain, and all Brazilians stand to be losers. It is a sad day to see the constitution ripped apart, sending a country back decades.

The establishment of the ‘unelectable’ is the barking dog that defines acceptable ways of behaviour, existance and language. It is manifested in society as the right to govern assigned to a particular frame. Thus, emancipation starts as requests of those oppressed and, when demands are not met by those in charge of the political order, the resulting claims are validated (or not) by those with the right to govern. Today in Brasil, that emancipation is perhaps an ongoing attempt to disrupt and change the oppression, injustices or inequalities caused by exclusions and restrictions of those left at the margins of a democracy under the last days of capitalism. It is a visible case study of who has the ‘valid’ right to govern which won’t be decided by votes.

Brasil, our democracy is under a new siege.

Miserere Nobis:  Ou Panis et Circencis.

Photo: Karina Rocha

By Bruno De Oliveira

Bruno De Oliveira is a Ph.D. student at the University of Brighton. His research is based on analyzing the life experience of homeless people through participatory research. He has worked with the NGO Emmaus Brighton on homeless issues and has produced several publications on the subject.