Capital’s class war in Brazil: An interview with Brian Mier

An interview with Brasil Wire editor Brian Mier.

In the following interview, which first appeared on the Chicago radio program This is Hell on Radio WNUR, Brasil Wire editor Brian Mier talks about underrepresentation of the Brazilian organized left in the Northern and Brazilian corporate media, the racial divide and how the United States is benifiting from last years’ judicial-parlamentary-mediatic coup in Brazil.  This article represents an edited transcript from a radio program which also included former Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis and can be heard in its entirety here.

Chuck Mertz: The New York Times does not talk to the Brazilian left. Why? I don’t know.  Here to help us figure out why and to find out what the left is up to in Brazil, because you are not going to read about it in the Times,  is Brian Mier our correspondant in Brazil. He is an editor at Brasil Wire, a free lance writer and producer who lives in Sâo Paulo. Listen I want to get to this as quick as possible. I’ve been getting the Times lately because I can write it off so it’s cheaper. But I get the times and I’ve been reading a lot of the international coverage which is always like nails on a chalkboard. If you hear our interview with Lucas Kerner from Venezuela he has the exact same problem with New York times coverage in Venezuela. You write about how the New York Times ignores Brazil’s left.  Is the middle class then not a significant portion of the left in Brazil? Because I am trying to figure out how much Brazil’s politics are essentially a class war, that it is the middle class and more wealthy on the right, and everybody who is below middle class on the left. Is it a class war and what does the New York Times miss if they don’t talk to the left in a class war?

Brian Mier: Yeah, it is a class war. There are some people in the middle class who are leftist, there are some prominante middle class left intellectuals. In fact most of the university professors in Brazil are on the left which creates a huge problem for foreign correspondants for the mainstream media down here.  I’ve socialized in some of those circles over the years and its common to hear people complaining about not being able to find an ideologically aligned professor to give them any commentary about anything. But outside of this middle class intellectual left which might represent 10 or 15% of the middle class, the middle class is much more conservative than the working class. Now, because of evangelical churches unfortunately, we have a growing population of working class conservatives. But in general if you looked at the pro-impeachment or pro-coup protests of last year it was just a sea of white people. And if you looked at the protests that were held against the impeachment, against the coup, they were 85-90% black. Brazil is 51% black, it has the largest population of African decendents in the World outside of Africa. So it is not just class lines, it’s also color lines, and its very rare to ever see anyone talking to anyone of color in the mainstream media as well.  So the repercussions of never talking to people on the Brazilian left is that you don’t provide an accurate portrayal of the Brazilian people, and you don’t provide an accurate portrayal of the Brazilian racial dynamic.

Chuck: Do you show an accurate portrayal of Brazilian politics, because what I was trying to figure out was while the left may be ignored by Western media how aware are Brazilians themselves of the people you interviewed on Brazil’s left?  Is the Brazilain left also marginalized by Brazil’s media as they are by the outside Western media outlets and so therefore there might be some disconnect between the Brazilian public and the Brazilian left? Or is the Brazilian public fully aware of the Brazilian left and they are not that shunned from popular discourse?

Brian:  I’ve worked on a series of television productions this year for Al Jazeera’s The Listening Post about Brazilian media and one of the glaring things that is always pointed out is that if you look at the Brazilian media it’s over 95% white middle class. And so if you ever see any leftist commentary appearing in some of the Brazilian media outlets its usually a white middle class intellectual, but that is also very rare. Reporters Without Borders, who I have some criticisms about as an organization, produced a very good report about the Brazilian media called “the Country of 30 Berlussconis”. Basically you have a few very rich families that control all of the major media outlets in Brazil and they are ideologically aligned, they are all neoliberals, and if you look at Brazilian television, racially the balance of the newscasters and cast of television shows looks less ethnically mixed than American TV, but the problem is that the US is 13% black and Brazil is 51% black. So there is an absurd lack of people of color in the television media and in the print media in Brazil.

Chuck: You write that there is no doubt that the so-called pink tide of radical and center left governments that spread throughout Latin America and South America under the George W. Bush administration is being pushed back, supported by international capital and the US government. While many members of the OAS, the Organization of American States, did not initially recognize coup governments in Honduras, Paraguay and Brazil, the quick approval that came from Washington afforded what you call the coup governments’ international legitimization.  So as you have lived in one of those countries that has what you call a coup government that has been legitimized not only by neighbors but by US approval, how much do you get a sense that the people of Brazil feel their country is influenced by, for lack of a less objective term, the US. How much do Brazilians perceive any impact of the US on their national politics? How much is there a sense that the reason that the pink tide was crushed was simply US challenges to local and national politics? 

Brian: I think that feeling is very strong in Brazil and as time moves forwards  there is more and more evidence that this was actually the case. A coup doesn’t just happen overnight. Normally in the Americas, in the history of US-sponsored coups that happened dozens of times in the last 100 years in the Americas, there is a period in which the economy is destabilized. We know this happened in Chile in 1973 when the ITT corporation together with the Nixon administration worked to create an international boycott of Chile’s largest industry, Copper, which caused the economy to go into a tailspin. And we see similar things that happened in Brazil in the lead up to the coup.  There is a judicial investigation against many of Brazil’s largest construction companies for corruption, which got all kinds of coverage in the New York Times. They hailed this Judge – he is both the judge and the prosecutor in a legal arrangement that goes back to the Spanish Inquisition- as a hero. In most countries the prosecutor is not allowed to judge on his own prosecution but in the case of Brazil its still legal.  So we have this judge named Sergio Moro who we know from leaked state department cables has been working on collaborative efforts to combat corruption with the US State Department and FBI since at least 2009, who launched this massive anti-corruption investigation called Lava Jato. Now in Northern countries when there is a big corporate corruption investigation, normally they consider the companies under investigation to be to big to fail as was the case in the sub-prime mortgage crisis in the US where sleazy companies like Goldman Sachs received billions of dollars from the US government to guarantee that they would still operate during the corruption investigation.  You see that in Germany there were big corruption scandals with Siemens and Volkswagen. The German government considered those companies too big to fail and although they jailed some of the culprits they did everything they could to ensure that the companies continued running. In the case of the Lava Jato investigation the prosecutor froze all activities of the five largest construction companies in the country.  This caused an immediate 500,000 layoffs in the construction industry and hundreds of thousands of layoffs in companies that depend on the construction industry, like the steel industry.  Some econmists say that this action of Lava Jato counted for a 2.5% drop in the GDP in 2015 during the lead up to the coup.  The fact that Sergio Moro is working together with the US seems to imply that the US collaborated to destablilize the economy before Dilma Rousseff’s impeachment, causing her popularity to plummet. So that is one clear example. Secondly, when you look at a coup, any intelligence analyst would tell you that you have to look at who benefits from it.  The fact that Brazil is one of the World’s largest petroleum nations, with the largest off-shore oil deposits in the World called the pre-salt reserves that now after the coup are being sold off and privatized… They are selling petroleum to companies like Shell, which is hardly a paradigm of transparency and good business practicies, which just invested $10 billion dollars down here. They are selling petroleum to these northern companies for 1 cent/liter. And this is petroleum that had previously had its profits allocated to the public education and health systems. And this is not happening anymore, so just from the privatization of petroleum you can see how Northern capital is benifiting from this coup. Another geopolitical interest that the United States had was to weaken the BRICS countries, which are Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.  Together those economies are bigger than the US and they were talking about abandoning the use of the dolllar to buy petroleum from Iran. They were creating a development bank to rival the World Bank and doing a lot of things that would irritate or challenge United States hegemony in the World. And so I think those are two clear factors in which the US has benifited from the coup in Brazil.

Chuck: And as you are saying the United States has been asking for privatization of oil which is now being done by the Temer presidency which has taken power through an impeachment process that a lot of outsiders are calling a coup, that you call a coup. The Temer administration wants to bring about this privatization of oil that the United States wanted, is bringing about the elimination of energy self-sufficiency in Brazil that the United States wanted. Is US policy  for growing democracy, rights and the law in Brazil in order to get profits for US energy corporations? Is it that simple, Brian, is there more to it than that or is it just that barebones, bottom line simple: the United States supported an impeachment process that seems to be at the best, extralegal, looks like a coup, undermined democracy, brought in a government that is opposed to civil rights and undermined the law within Brazil  simply to get more profits for energy corporations in the United States? Is it that simple or is there more to it than that?

Brian: First of all I want to say something- it’s not just outsiders like myself who are calling it a coup.  President Michel Temer gave a speech at AS/COA, Americas Society/Council of the Americas, a Rockefeller funded corporate think tank that has been involved in many coups in Latin America since its founding in 1962, including the first coup in Brazil in ’64. He gave a speech there in October 2016 in which he said that Dilma Rousseff was impeached because of her economic platform, because she didn’t support Temer’s PMDB party’s neoliberal platform called “Bridge to the Future” which seems to have been originally written in English and is 100% Washington Consensus. So even the president himself is admitting that it was a coup.  Because she wasn’t impeached over her economic policy legally, she was impeached over an infraction- a non-impeachable offence called fiscal peddling which she was subsequently exonerated from. So the first point is that even the president is now admitting that it was a coup. The second point is that just petroleum alone is a reason to justify US actions in overthrowing a foreign government because if you look at the world’s largest petroleum suppliers, how many of them haven’t suffered from US intervention, aside from Saudi Arabia? So the fact that it is one of the top ten oil producing nations is an argument enough to explain why the US would do something like that but I think there are other factors at stake. Obviously it wasn’t just the United States because some of the benificiaries from the oil privatization include companies that are based outside of the US. The Norwegian government was one of the first groups to purchase a lot of this offshore oil. But there are other factors and I think that one of the factors that Fidel Castro used to always talk about is hegemony. Brazil as the second largest economy in the Americas. At the time of the coup it was the 6th or 7th largest economy in the World. What kind of example does it make to the United States to have another major economy in the Americas that doesn’t follow the neoliberal economic policies of the US, that provides some kind of alternative, a country that raised its minimum wage by over 100% in real terms, where public university is free, where they have a relatively good public health system by third world standards. This is a thorn in the side of the United States from a hegemony perspective because the US is very interested in always promoting the idea that “we are the best, we have the best economic model”. So in that sense it’s more than just oil. It is hegemony, its the BRICS and other related factors.