Brazil’s communists: Dilma’s reelection sets stage for “historic advance”

In the interview below, the chair of the Communist Party of Brazil (PCdoB), Renato Rabelo, discusses the reelection of Dilma Rousseff of the Workers’ Party to the presidency of Brazil in a highly polarized political environment last fall. The victory of Dilma, as she is popularly known, was also a victory of the democratic, progressive, popular, and patriotic movement throughout Latin America as well as in Brazil.

Rabelo also addresses the challenges facing Dilma, the governing coalition, and the Brazilian people in the period ahead. In her campaign for reelection to the presidency, Dilma spoke of the need for a “new cycle of transformations.” The significance of this process and the struggles around it extends far beyond Brazil, holding important lessons for Americans.

In the first round of voting in early October, Dilma Rousseff won 41.6 percent of the vote and her two opponents Aecio Neves 33.6 percent and Marina Silva 21.3 percent. Rousseff then beat Neves 51.6 percent to 48.4 percent in the runoff in late October.

The interview below was conducted by Sam Webb for the People’s World.

People’s World: How do you assess the October 2014 victory of President Dilma Rousseff? It was reported in the press here that she was in trouble in the early stages of the elections, but came back to score the victory.

Renato Rabelo: President Dilma Rousseff achieved, in October 2014, the fourth consecutive victory of the Brazilian people, with the majority of votes in the nation. [Rabelo is referring to the previous election victories of Workers’ Party leader Luíz Inácio Lula da Silva (popularly known as Lula) in 2002 and 2006, and Rousseff’s first election win in 2010.] But it was an election fought in a hard and acrimonious atmosphere, of intense polarization, marked by twists and turns and surprises. The people of our country want more democracy, more knowledge and more opportunities, more social justice.

PW: What is the significance of her victory for the people of Brazil? For the people of Latin America? For the socialist project?

Rabelo: It was a historic victory, because this is the third longest government since the second reign of Pedro II [Emperor of Brazil from 1831 to 1889]. When Lula became president – in 2003 – we didn’t have on the political horizon that it was possible for the democratic and progressive forces, left-wing forces, to achieve this level. In relation to Latin America, our president reaffirmed the commitment to strengthen the emerging forms of Latin American cooperation and independence from the United States: Mercosur – the South American Common Market, Unasur – the Union of South American Nations, and the Community of the Countries of Latin America and the Caribbean (Celac).

The Communist Party, PCdoB, is now faced with new and greater challenges. The conditions for achieving our socialist mission and the great Communist ideal necessarily involve building large, varied and growing coalitions. We are convinced that in contemporary conditions – at the age of 93 – the Communist Party of Brazil is positioned to be a protagonist and driver of advancement, of the struggle for a new society – socialism in our country!

PW: What were the main issues on which the outcome of the election turned?

Rabelo: The presidential victory has the dimension of a great historical event. The level of acute polarization, demarcating more clearly two political camps, has paved the way for a “new cycle of transformations,” as formulated by our President Dilma Rousseff. The democratic, progressive, popular and patriotic side triumphed and succeeded in the second round in more widely uniting the left. Other victories achieved by the same political forces in the world, more specifically in Latin America, demonstrate the victory’s international dimension in strengthening the struggle for Latin American and Caribbean integration, the struggle for a new world order of peace, cooperation among nations, the right to sovereignty and national development.

PW: Can you say a word or two about Dilma’s two challengers?

Rabelo: President Dilma and her allies led the campaign from the beginning to the end. And she always led the campaign firmly and without setbacks, even in the most difficult moments. In fact, she had to face two elections in the 2014 presidential election, against the two candidates of the conservative forces: first, Dilma had to face and defeat Marina Silva and then face and defeat Aecio Neves in the second round. These two big matches demonstrated her campaign’s commitment to the wide majority of the nation: workers and the poor. The result of the presidential election is that most of the people responded and put their confidence in the policies of the Rousseff government.

PW: What are the main challenges facing President Rousseff and the electoral coalition that supported her in the post-election period? What will be the main political and legislative priorities?

Rabelo: It becomes urgent to unitedly support President Dilma. All political forces that participated in the big alliance to reelect Dilma should work to guarantee the fulfillment of the program of change and reform, and prevent assaults on it. Street mobilizations of democratic and popular forces grow in importance. In short, a new situation has emerged, with new components resulting from the big election clash of 2014. It demarcated the struggle between the advance of changes and reforms in the current stage versus backtracking to the old paradigms and neoliberal pacts of the early 1990s.

With the convergence among left and progressive movements that is under way, Brazil is able to begin to live a “new historic cycle of transformation” (in the words of President Dilma Rousseff), of “opening of a new cycle of changes.” And, to generalize, the concerns and proposals to strengthen and enlarge the left include: formation of a broad left front, “where social movements, parties, party sectors, intellectuals, youths, unionists may in a common action (…) fight for democratic popular reforms.” And to “transform Brazil’s need to combine institutional action, social action and cultural revolution.” On legislative priorities, the government will concentrate on big reforms, especially of the political system. The proposed changes are: prohibiting electoral campaigns from receiving donations from business; electing members of parliament in two rounds (one for parties and the second for candidates); and gender equality on party slates.

PW: What was the role and results of the Communist Party of Brazil in the elections and what will its posture be now?

Rabelo: The PCdoB has been one of the builders of this fourth victory –  of great dimension for advanced forces. Since our 2013 Congress, and the decisions that came out of it, the PCdoB entered in the presidential campaign across the country and had a leading role in the re-election of Dilma Rousseff – a fact recognized publicly by the president. Rousseff has been striving to continue the progressive political project initiated by Lula in 2003. Despite the limits and major obstacles, the president is the most advanced in a democratic-popular sense. The result, inevitably, is a more acute and more acrimonious clash with the conservative forces on the right and its extremist appendages coming out of the shadows – the financial oligarchy, which is the dominant strata of the contemporary capitalist system.

In the present moment, the PCdoB has an important role of helping President Dilma in organizing the government team, defining priorities and especially building a majority in the parliament that can provide the fundamental support for the success of the government. The PCdoB also has a big influence among the youth and workers, trade unions and social movements, and this is crucial for winning public opinion to support the government, and reinforces the needed social, political and economical transformations.

PW: How do international economic conditions affect the situation in Brazil? How do the policies of the U.S. government bear on Brazil’s prospects?

Within a globalized system, international economic conditions impact heavily on national economic dynamics. In Brazil it is no different. Since 2007, with the start of the global economic crisis triggered from Wall Street through the mortgage debt bubble that caused a real “tsunami” whose effects continue until today, the Brazilian government has made efforts to ensure the good fundamentals of our economy. The priority has been to make sure that the economic slowdown does not harm the levels of employment, wages and access to general consumer goods.

The most affected sector of our economy was the industrial one, and it is clear that its economic growth was hampered in recent years. This was one of the great debates of the election period and may be the biggest challenge facing Dilma´s government at the outset. In this context, all measures taken by the U.S. government must be watched closely, mainly because they indicate the global economic mood. As an example, right now there may be an increase in interest rates by the Federal Reserve. This fact alone should profoundly impact the flow of investments into the global market and the decline in commodity prices in general and oil in particular.

PW: How about the issue of balancing development with the need to protect the environment and address the warming planet and its potentially dire consequences for humankind if left unattended?

Rabelo: There is an explicit commitment of President Dilma to environmental sustainability of our economic development. She recalled in her inauguration speech that in the last four years the country had the four lowest rates of deforestation in the Amazonia. It was also in her first term that the National Congress approved a new Forestry Code – which was led by a leader of the Communist Party of Brazil, the current Minister of Science and Technology, Aldo Rebelo – and implemented the Rural Environmental Record. This year Brazil is engaging heavily in international climate negotiations so that our interests are included in the process of establishment of global parameters to reduce CO2 emissions.

Photo: Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff (in red) draws cheers at the Communist Party of Brazil’s (PCdoB) national electoral convention during her reelection campaign, June 27, 2014 in Brasilia. On her right, in white jacket, is PCdoB chair Renato Rabelo. The banner reads: “PCdoB with Dilma, to renew hope.”