I just got back from a trip to Lula's Brazil. The sheer magnitude and sweep of what's unfolding there is staggering. In order to grasp it, we need to understand that the Lula revolution is in effect asking one of the most important questions of our times:
Can the 21st Century State be a vehicle for radical social change?
The significance of the Lula story goes well beyond the fate of Brazils poor, who effectively put him into office. The political implications of the failure of a Lula government may well be to shake the foundations of the nation-state, already swaying under the stiff wind of the international finance regime, even further. If a Lula government, staffed with its social revolutionaries backed not just by decades of political and economic experience but also of innovation in governance, all of whom are clearly hell bent on radically addressing issues such as poverty and social inequality, fails then what this does tell us about the nature of the State in our times?
If, of course, the experiment succeeds then Brazil and the Lula story will assume mythic proportions. Brazil will become the model for a country of the future and other developing countries across the world will flock to the Brasilia Model. This is already happening. Brazils approach to poverty, AIDS, energy, technology, food and even space policy is being closely watched across the world. During the course of the year Lula visited 27 countries, including ones deemed pariahs by the US, such as Syria and Libya. Brazil played a key role at the Cancun WTO talks, leading the G-20+ revolt.
Either way, its surely no exaggeration to say that the unfolding of the Lula Revolution represents nothing less than one of the greatest political dramas of our times. What Lula is trying to do is stretch the rules of the game as far as they'll possibly go. Want to get a sense of the scope of what Lula's attempting? There's no better way than to take a look at his cabinet. Here's a short tour:
Perhaps the most sensitive post on Lulas cabinet, that of Finance Minister, was given to Antonio Palocci, former mayor of the city of Ribeirao Preto and a doctor specializing in preventative medicine. Dismaying those who expected Lulas government to go to war with the IMF (Brazil has $260bn of debt), Palocci instead sealed a deal with them and then compounded the heresy by setting forth on a fiscal path that saw 14bn reals lopped off government spending. Wall Street has been pacified upon hearing that Brazil needs at least one more year of arrocho (tourniquet) and neo-liberalism in order to save [Brazil] from chaos.
It's perhaps obvious that the continued flight of the Lula revolution will depend on his and his ministers abilities to tread an increasing perilous path, trying to marry social justice with the demands of the international financial regime. Putting one foot wrong, such as a major dispute with the IMF, a moratorium of debt repayments (unlikely), the possible nationalization of the energy sector or a lack of fiscal restraint could easily trigger IMF sanctions, which would send the Brazilian economy into meltdown -- making impossible Lulas promises to tackle poverty and social inequality.
Marina Silva, 44, the Environment Minister, comes from a rubber tapping area in the Amazon state of Acre. Silva has dedicated much of her professional life to defending the forests. In one of the hottest and most controversial developments since taking power, despite opposition from Silva, Lula responded to pressure from the farm lobby and approved a temporary decree allowing genetically modified soya to be grown in Brazil. The crops are ostensibly said to be for export and not to be used in Brazil. Last month In a piece headlined "Amazon may be levelled by the humble soya" The Guardian reported that:
The leftwing president, Luiz Inácio "Lula" da Silva, has publicly expressed a belief that the Amazon is "not untouchable". But in Santarém, the figures for expansion are startling. According to local officials, this year there are around 7,500 hectares (18,500 acres) of soya in production. Next year it will more than quadruple to 35,000 (86,500 acres). A year after that, the predictions are for a further doubling."
Cargill, the US food giant, has spotted the potential and built a vast soya terminal on a river bank in the town. The company is being challenged by the Brazilian government's environment agency, which is concerned that the terminal was built without an environmental impact report; but the evidence points to an escalation in development all around.
Minister of State, Tarso Genro, who is also head of the special secretariat of the new Economic and Social Development Council, was twice Mayor of Porte Alegre (birthplace of the World Social Forum) and developed and implemented participatory budgeting during his term. Prior to that he worked as a labour lawyer for twenty-five years.
We get a taste of the intellectual pedigree of the Lula Revolution in "From Brazil to the world, or Twenty theses for a democratic theory of the state" published a few months ago on Open Democracy. Tarso maps this trajectory of the accumulated experience of a generation of Brazilian intellectuals and activists via a series of reflections on the problems and possibilities of a way of governing that is at once democratic, socialist, and popular.
Energy Minister, Dilma Rousseff, is a 55-year old former urban guerrilla who is also is an economist with extensive experience in the energy sector. Rousseff fought the 1964-85 military regime, spent three years in jail and was tortured. Later, she got a doctorate in economics from Campinas University and was the finance secretary and twice the energy secretary of Rio Grande do Sul state. With the energy sector struggling in Brazil, Rousseffs pre-ministerial attitude towards the nationalisation of power has prompted private sector fears that nationalization might become the first major event in the sector under her rule. Rousseff advocates a wider use of wind power in Brazil, quoting Bob Dylan: "The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind."
Miguel Rossetto appointed as Minister of Land Reform. is referred to by one right wing think tank in the US as a member of the PTs most radical wing and a supporter of illegal land invasions, referring to his links with MST, Brazils Landless Movement -- hundreds of thousands of landless Brazilians seizing fallow farm land.
Having said that, thousands from the Landless Workers Movement (MST) marched in protest to Brasilia last month and saw the president come to meet the protesters rather than wait for them at his palace. His rather blunt and bold message to them: For those who are in a hurry, I ask you to wait until the end of my [four year] term. In an interview in December Lula re-iterated his intention of settling 400,000 landless rural families and providing another 130,000 with property rights by the end of his term of office.
Running Social Welfare is Benidita da Silva, Brazil's first Afro-Brazilian woman senator, who comes from an inner city slum and reputedly still lives there. Da Silva is an interesting barometer for the tensions within the Lula cabinet. Theres a row going on somewhere in the background where Da Silver is being accused of ineffectiveness and inaction. Her defence is that the austerity measures have meant that her ministry is starved of funds. She is currently under siege on a number of fronts and may not survive for too much longer in this position. See The Frying of a Black Minister in Brazil for one version of the story.
How many countries can boast a Culture Minister who has jammed with Jimi Hendrix? Not surprisingly, perhaps the most popular appointment was of Brazilian national music icon Gilberto Gil as Culture Minister.
In a two part article tracking eight days with Gil, Minister of Cool, The Observer describes his appointment as follows: Since the Sixties, Gil has been one of the most famous singers and composers in Brazil and in the middle of that decade was part of the dadaist and popular anti-establishment movement called Tropicalia. His oblique lyrics criticising the military dictatorship of the time landed him in prison, and then exile in London for two years. Since January this year, in the most exquisite case of chickens coming home to roost, he has been Brazil's Minister of Culture.
While the appointment might seem to be a minor one, Gils brief, the democratization of culture will impact a number of areas. An obvious one is Gils personal crusade to use hip-hop as a way of dealing with youth issues in Brazils favelas.
Sitting on the top floor of Edifico Italia, Sao Paulos tallest building, I asked Oscar Motomura, one of Brazils most respected business strategists, what advice he would give to Lula and he told me that, Id tell him to invite the people to join him. Thats all.
In the middle of 2003 Lula ran a campaign into order to head off impatience from the people on the progress he has made to date. The campaign presented the simple message that in order to build a house one has to first build the foundations and that people need to be patient while Lula works on building solid foundations. This has been Lulas message to the electorate to date. If however the Lula Revolution is to live up to its ambitions then the advice is sound. Lula needs to stop acting as if government is something that simply happens to the people, as opposed to something that the people actively participate in, build and take responsibility for together.
just wait 'til the "social entrepreneurs"(1) get together with the "lifestyle entrepreneurs"(2) :D look out!