It is one year since Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, the former metalworker and leader of Brazil’s left-wing Workers Party, was elected president of the country. I am in Rio de Janeiro, trying to find out what the people think about the country today and the president after his first year in office.
I have interviewed 30 people from a variety of backgrounds. All of them say they would vote for Lula today, including those (about a third) who did not vote for him the first time around.
I asked, “What is the most significant thing Lula has done in his first year?”
Most said that retirement reform was the most important thing he’s done. This was a contentious move, involving the curtailment of some pension benefits to newly-hired civil servants. The measure was largely forced on the government by the International Monetary Fund and Brazil’s $240 billion debt burden.
A retired schoolteacher, Dona Mimi, said, “The securing of our retirement and health insurance allow us to enjoy our lives as well as helping our children.”
All said that the campaign to feed Brazil was the government’s biggest failure, but most support the continuing campaign against hunger. The northern part of Brazil, especially, has a large unemployment problem as well as a huge hunger problem.
A taxi driver by the name of Carlos said, “The campaign to end hunger is a good idea but jobs are the most important thing today.” Isis, a member of the steelworkers union, said that “power in the hands of labor will move Brazil into the 21st century,” but if the power remains in the hands of international investment capital, “Brazil will stay in the past and people will have nothing.”
All were proud of the foreign policy of the country, a policy characterized by refusing to go along with the U.S. war on Iraq and the advocacy of a stronger, more independent regional bloc of South American states.
All asked if I would return to the United States and work to defeat George W. Bush. They believe that if the U.S. were not so bogged down in the Middle East, the Bush administration would be working even harder to defeat Lula’s efforts to build a better and independent Brazil.
Joao, a shoe-shiner on the Copacabana Beach, said, “Brazil is a better place today after Lula became president and my business is better, but I do not vote at all. I just work to feed my children. It takes me one-and-a-half hours to get here to work everyday. I have no time to vote.” But Lula has helped Brazil, he said, and “if the USA will just let us live, we will live better.”
Most people agree that Lula’s government has stabilized the government and the economy. He has made the country governable again. He created a standardized taxing system and returned faith in the central government. He has given ordinary people a pride in the country as well as the government. People in general believe the country is better today then before Lula’s government.
The national celebration of the end of slavery 150 years ago is happening all year. Lula’s government is running a campaign against racism in a series of television ads and programs. On top of that, advertisements against wage slavery are all over the television.
The Communist Party of Brazil (PCdoB) is an important part of Lula’s coalition government, and its members are striving to provide leadership on both domestic and foreign policies.
The political power of the party can be seen in its growth. Marco Costa, PCdoB secretary of finance, tells us that the party has grown by 35,000 new, consolidated members in the past four months. The party may be able to elect a new mayor in Rio de Janeiro in 2004.
Fear of the Bush administration is very much on the minds of the working class of Brazil. On the other hand, hope for the future is great and belief in Lula is solid.
Gary Dotterman is a peace and solidarity activist in Massachusetts. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.