Lula & the Workers Party
Vote in Lula and the Workers' Party and things will change! So thought the majority poor of Brazil in October 2002. Now, a year later, has much changed? Very little. Lula's hands are tied by the $260 billion foreign debt that Brazil's military dictators (1964-85) and their oligarch successors racked up.
Lula pledged to repay it in full and, with that pledge in hand, the International Monetary Fund has given him a $30 billion loan package to bail the country out of its most recent financial crisis. Lula has accepted all the conditions that go with the loan.
So who dictates Brazilian policy? The IMF. And, of course, the World Trade Organization, although with the WTO it appears there is still a little wiggle room as Brazil and other under-developed nations demonstrated in Cancún in September. Their refusal to accept tariff and investment policies that would keep them eternally poor scuttled the Cancún conference.
George Soros, a one-time currency speculator, explained it all to Brazilians in three sentences: "In the Roman Empire, only the Romans voted. In modern global capitalism, only the Americans vote. Not the Brazilians."
The outraged Brazilians voted for Lula anyway hoping to prove Soros wrong. Unfortunately, Lula has discovered that Soros was right. It is this strangle-hold on the global economy that summoned justice advocates in their hundreds of thousands to Seattle and to Genoa to protest. But the money barons and their client governments (most of them in the rich world) have scheduled their more recent conferences either in inaccessible places like Qatar, or in places where it is easy to exclude the protesters, places like Kananaskis and Cancún.
Brazil, along with Mexico, India and China, proposed that the Cancún conference eliminate all farm subsidies. But the agriculture lobbies in the European Union and the US are powerful and their governments subservient. These subsidies are the biggest single factor hurting agriculture in Third World countries. And they stay. Period.
Small wonder that the Archbishop of Tegucigalpa, Honduras, speaks of "savage capitalism" and that George Monbiot in the Prairie Messenger of Sept. 17, 2002, writes that today as before the French Revolution, "the desperation of the poor counterpoises the obscene consumption of the rich." To illustrate, Monbiot adds, "The 500 richest people on earth now own more than the entire gross domestic product of Africa, or more than the combined annual incomes of the poorest half of humanity."
Regarding the Cancún conference, Monbiot concluded after the talks broke down, "the poor nations kept their promises, the rich countries broke theirs." What little wiggle room Brazil possesses it uses under Lula and the Workers' Party. In the next two columns, we'll look at Lula's attempts to initiate land reform in Brazil. The failure to do so in the past 500 years is the root cause of slums and all the dread fruits of slums. Here too Lula must tread a fine line as the oligarchs and their tool, the military with the with the collaborationist US waiting in the wings, will pounce on the slightest mis-step.