RenovaBR: Wall Street Gets ‘Em While They’re Young

RenovaBR is the latest in Washington and Wall Street’s ongoing efforts to manipulate Brazilian politics by grooming its “future leaders”.

On May 13, a joint AS/COA RenovaBR event was held in New York featuring 25 year old Brazilian Congresswoman Tabata Amaral as speaker, alongside AS/COA VP and Americas Quarterly Editor in Chief, Brian Winter.

The event was held in partnership with the Brazilian-American Chamber of Commerce (facing intense criticism for its plan to honour Jair Bolsonaro), and the Brazil Foundation. Introductory remarks were from “the most influential woman in the Americas”, Susan Segal, president of Americas Society/Council of the Americas, and Claudio Szajman, boardmember of RenovaBR and Executive President of VR Investments, which according to its website:

“…is a Brazilian family-owned firm that invests in private and public equity across a range of sectors, regions, and asset classes such as debt instruments, hedge funds and others. Its focus is to develop businesses and enduring partnerships through a long-term investment horizon. Based in New York, VR Investments leverages its depth of resources as a strategic partner with experience in applying technological innovation, and succeeding through volatile financial conditions.”

The day of the event, Americas Quarterly launched an article framing Amaral as Brazil’s answer to AOC (Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez), the 29 year old Democratic Socialist Congresswoman who has proposed a raft of legislation in her short time in office, including progressive taxation and the headline-grabbing plan for a green new deal.

The comparison that Americas Quarterly made between Amaral and Ocasio-Cortez is not at all realistic, beyond that they are both young, female, newly elected officials.

Tabata Amaral has entered politics with the financial backing of Swiss-Brazilian billionaire Jorge Paulo Lemann, head of brewing giant Ambev and one of Brazil’s richest men, who is considered on of the key business figures behind the coup to oust President Dilma Rousseff. Based in the PDT party headed by 1998, 2002 & 2018 centre-left Presidential Candidate Ciro Gomes, Amaral attracted attention and praise since taking office for confronting Bolsonaro’s Education minister – with Education being one of the key self-inflicted crises of the new far-right government. Yet, politically Amaral represents the kind of centrism that AOC has herself attacked, and the last gasp of democratic neoliberalism – which failed to win an election in Brazil since 1998. Amaral says that she’s neither left nor right (which in Latin America traditionally identifies you as right) and blames political polarisation, rather than the rupture of democracy for Brazil’s current problems.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez meanwhile, has recognised the 2016 Coup, and herself signed a letter protesting against the politically motivated imprisonment of former President Lula da Silva, carried out by Bolsonaro’s own Justice Minister to be Sérgio Moro (another AS/COA muse), which notoriously enabled the election of the neofascist through removing Lula from the race.

Acknowledgement of these historical facts will exclude anyone from an AS/COA platform, as would any recognition of the organisation’s own disturbing history. Founded as “Business Group for Latin America” in order to interfere in Brazil’s 1962 legislative elections, it funded anti-Goulart candidates and civil society organisations such as IBAD and IPES, which helped foment the 1964 coup. Council of the Americas role in the 1973 coup in Chile which saw the death of Salvador Allende and like Brazil, repression and genocide in the dictatorship that followed, was documented by pulitzer winning journalist Seymour Hersh in his book “The Price of Power”.

Support from AS/COA means only one thing: that they believe Tabata Amaral and her RenovaBR colleagues will ably represent US corporate and government interests in Brazil. The singling out of Amaral by the Wall Street lobby publication Americas Quarterly is unsurprising, as she backs the brutal pension reform being forced through under Bolsonaro and Chicago Boy Economy Minister Paulo Guedes. These reforms, if passed, will see many Brazilians work until they die, with retirement an impossibility. Neoliberal reform of Brazil’s pension system has been one of the top priorities for both AS/COA and Atlantic Council for years, which is reflected in sometimes hysterical English-language media coverage of it.

The Atlantic Council also has its own Millenium Leadership Program active in Latin America. During the coup, and whilst focus was on Koch Brothers Atlas Network, largely unspoken was that the NATO adjunct think tank, specifically its Latin America Centre founded in 2013, the State Department itself and AS/COA had far more extensive and ongoing efforts to distort the political landscape of Brazil towards their interests. In the past, AS/COA relative the Rockefeller Foundation’s LEAD programme was home to Wall Street’s future “progressive light” pick, Marina Silva.

So these kind of programs are of course not new; AS/COA has its young professionals of Latin America, also founded in 2013, and the U.S. State Department has a long running “Brazilian Youth Ambassadors” programme, as featured in the video below.

What is new about RenovaBR is that it appears to be an attempt to use this kind of grooming to create a cross-party parliamentary bloc in Brazil, wrapped in the language of renewal and progress, to serve U.S. interests.

This NYT puff piece, timed to coincide with an AS/COA hosted May 2018 forum for RenovaBR candidates, promoted the organisation with photos of young Brazilians in an almost completely depoliticised corporate framing.

“RenovaBR, an organization with a $3 million budget funded by entrepreneurs, has provided stipends to 133 Brazilians from across the political spectrum who plan to run for Congress. The money covers living expenses while participants take intensive courses in electoral and Constitutional law, the legislative processes, and campaign finance and marketing.”  The piece, by ex-CNN correspondent Shasta Darlington further reduced progress in Brazilian politics to “anti-corruption” and continued “Many new candidates are also being aided by Agora, or Now, a group created in 2016 to get the general public more involved in policy issues like pension reform and crime reduction.”

Americas Quarterly has cynically used an intellectually dishonest comparison with what AOC represents politically in the United States, in order to further its patrons’ exploitation of Brazil and Brazilians.

RenovaBR is a hologram; slick corporate packaging of feelgood, progressive-seeming economically liberal politics in Brazil. This is the type of progress that will rarely benefit the working class, protect any aspect of Brazilian sovereignty, nor threaten the interests of Wall Street – the patrons of organisations like AS/COA, Brazil Institute, and Brazilian-American chamber of commerce.

This is not to say that those elected are not honest, well-intentioned or acting in good faith. On the contrary.

But RenovaBR bears no relation whatsoever to the real, violent, and worsening political struggles that Brazilian progressives face today, within which the new imperialism of United States corporatocracy is firmly on the enemy’s side.