“Brazil, country of the future?”
In the context of the current political crises, I would like to share a piece of an interview I gave recently, to appear in a book published in Poland (in Polish) later this year, called “Brazil, country of the future?”.
I believe there are some considerations there that should be taken under consideration now with the possibility of a right-wing government, or the new phase of the Dilma Rousseff’s term.
(please ignore language mistakes, it was written for immediate translation to Polish)
QUESTION: Nowadays Brazil is facing political turmoil. At the moment of our conversation (March 2015) impeachment proceedings against president Dilma Rousseff is opened and, moreover, the icon of the changes, the most popular president in the history, Luiz Inacío Lula da Silva is being questioned by police as part of a huge fraud inquiry into the state oil company Petrobras. Do you think that Brazil can lose much of what the country has reached during last 13 years?
ANSWER: Unfortunately, my answer to this question is contradictory, because I honestly can’t see much ahead in the Bolsa Familia Program (BFP)’s future. On the one hand, I’d say we shouldn’t fear for what we have conquered, in which the PT has played a major role. That’s the beauty of democracy: if a step is given in the right direction by one government, the next one, even if not agreeing, can’t simply go back. If the society sees it as important, this new government will be punished if it jeopardises these advancements. Being more specific: no opposition party in Brazil is officially against the BFP. To do so is to commit political suicide.
Although no major candidate declares to be against the BFP, from time to time right-wing politicians come publicly against the program. A right-wing government post-PT could in fact jeopardise social advances made, specially in a context of economic crises, that are usually used to justify social cuts. At the same time, the opposition constantly complains that false rumours are spread during elections saying that a non-PT government would end the BFP. To avoid that, even the main right-wing presidential candidate for the 2014 elections, Senator Aécio Neves tried to pass a bill in the congress transforming the BFP in a constitutional right, even though it was clear the bill would be rejected by deputies allied to the government. His goal was to put the PT in delicate position, risking letting the opposition part to take credit for the BFP advancement while being opposed to the program since its creation. Legit or not, since the 2006 elections (when Lula was reelected) the opposition tries to decrease the influence of the program in electing the PT candidates. This personalisation of the program (who is commonly seen by the beneficiaries as a Lula’s creation and responsibility) undoubtedly undermines citizenship construction, but that never seemed to be a preoccupation of the PT.
In this context I proceed to the second part of my answer: we should fear to lose the advancements made, and the PT has a great responsibility in that. The BFP was created by a presidential measure and its legal base can’t be mistaken with the establishment of an acquired right: ‘the granting of BFP benefits has a temporary nature and does not generate an acquired right. The eligibility of families, to receive such benefits, should be mandatorily reviewed every two years’ (Article 21 of Decree 6.392, own translation). The BFP is a federal government programme, and not a constitutional social policy (in Brazil we use to say it is a “government program”, not a State program). Its beneficiaries are not entitled to the benefit, which would mean an unrestricted access to those qualifying for the programme. Since the program’s coverage is not a current problem, not much is said about that. But it does mean that the government can suspend or change the rules of the programme at any moment, with a simple majority in the congress.
After 13 years holding the federal government, the PT should have used the moments when it enjoyed great support to pass a stronger legislation to protect the BFP. Many inside the party worked in that direction, the most known being the former Senator Eduardo Suplicy, known for his work on Basic Citizenship Income (which was one of the inspirations of CCT pilots in Brazil). Nowadays, with an uncertain future and with the lowest support recorded, such ambitions are unreal, and probably will remain like that for a very long time. With the president Dilma Rousseff’s impeachment becoming a real possibility, even the PMDB, the vice-president’s party (who is likely to take the office if the impeachment happens), already gave signs of reducing the BFP, focusing on the program’s poorest.