According to Movement Leader, the Struggle Must Unify Urban and Rural Fronts
In an exclusive interview with the Portal IG, Gilmar Mauro, leader of the Landless Workers Movement, stated that the movement -- which has a constituency estimated to be around two million rural workers -- is building an alliance with urban sectors to take part in protests and put pressure on the Dilma administration to take concrete measures to confront social problems.
"The Leftists are lost and the elite has drawn in the protests to set their agenda. There was a depoliticization in the way in which the government denied the key role of social movements in historic victories and left them out of mediation. The protests have taken up with the Left and the fragmented social movements," said Mauro.
What is your assessment of the protests?
[The protests] are a healthy thing, important for the country, and they teach us several lessons. It is necessary to look at the forms of organization. The contemporary system no longer works for organizing the working class. So it is necessary to create new, horizontal, non-bureaucratic forms, without throwing in the trash can what has been built. The Free Pass Movement has placed on the agenda the demands of all workers and has spotlighted the crisis. The principal lesson is that nothing is accomplished without struggle.
Was the Left taken by surprise?
The Brazilian political model, affected by a global economic crisis, is itself in crisis. Leftists have lost their way and the the elite have drawn the protests into their agenda. There was a depoliticization in the way in which the government denied the key role of social movements in historic victories and left them out of mediation. The protests have taken up with the Left and the fragmented social movements.
What changed in the prevailing conditions?
Other forms of mediating conflicts have appeared. The cause of the Free Pass Movement, which has been around for eight years and is nothing new, has become a national agenda, in part thanks to the truculence of the PM in reprimanding the protests on Paulista Avenue.
What is the role of the protesters?
It is a new movement. The majority of its constituency is students, but in the midst are right-wing groups, such as the Neo-nazis and the Neo-integrationists. They are the ones who are leading the fray. I learned through the director of the DCE of the New University that there they took to the megaphone and the students were obliged to withdraw.
The Right is taking to the streets in league with some groups of military people from the far Right. They are weak, but they are there and they are mobilized. The dynamic pole of the protests is the dissatisfaction of the middle class. We, the rural workers and laborers, have not positioned ourselves until now, but we are building an alliance, and we have yet to enter the struggle.
What are you going to do from this point on?
We are going into the streets to vie for space with the Right. If there is something to be gained, there is something for everyone. This isn't opportunism. We're going to be side by side with the students, with agenda in hand: against the auctions of Petrobras, and for the forty-hour work week, land reform, democratization of the means of communication, urban renewal, and political reforms. It wasn't mentioned in the meetings of organizations involved, but I support the moratorium on public debt so that the government would be able to make social investments. For example, the government spends 49 % of the budget on debt service and 0.22 % on land reform. The street is the venue for raising these issues.
Where can this movement go?
The crisis is an open window and no one knows for sure what will appear. It can advance or regress. We progressives have a responsibility not to allow any turning back. The Right is clear that up to now the workers have only been helping out. We have no doubt that if today the Right had control of the protests they would advance some kind of "Down with Dilma" campaign. They are betting on that or, at the very least, making the government bleed to the last, as preparation for next year's elections.
Do you think that the objective is to topple Dilma?
There are three currents of thought among the social movements about the possibility of a coup; one says that it's out of the question and that, ergo, the probability is not discussed. Another discerns the risks and says that we ought to be worried. Between these two currents there is a middle term that doesn't view things with paranoia but thinks that it is necessary to be vigilant and not to count out the forces on the Right. I think that the situation calls for neither paranoia nor ingenuous ease. There is a clear sign of anti-leftist activism in the protests. I think we must neither overestimate the Right nor close our eyes.
Who are the players in this game?
The big question is the role that Lula will play in this process. He has clout with the working class, but he still hasn't said what he will do. We in the Landless People's Movement want to avoid the electoral debate. It doesn't interest us. It's a mistake, and would be political opportunism.
Dilma is playing a game of chess: she has put the opposition in an awkward position and has left them on the defensive. And we are not going to be involved in an asinine, David Luiz-style defense of the government (David Luiz, the all-star soccer player who allowed a penalty kick playing against the Italian team). Dilma must offer concrete solutions to social problems or deal with the risk of being worn down to a mere also-ran.
How would you react to an eventual move of the Right against the government?
Up to now nothing has been made clear, but it won't do to be careless, because nothing, not even a petition of impeachment, is off the table. The Right is positioning itself against the administration and against the opening of spaces for popular power. I think that what happened in Paraguay should serve as a warning.
Dilma runs the same risk, but here we would not allow the coup that unseated Lugo (i.e., Fernando Lugo, ex-president of Paraguay who was the target of a lightning-fast impeachment proceeding). Yes, Brazil is making progress. We won't take one step backward, nor would we cede power to the Right. That's the line in the sand. And were there an attempt at impeachment to bring down the government, we would resist it by any means necessary.
How does land reform figure into all this?
We have 400,000 families in settlements and 80,000 in encampments -- the strength of our numbers throughout this period, with the exception of the Lula government, when the number in the encampments reached 200, 000 -- and around 20,000 activists. For the Movement the most important thing at this point is to once again make land reform the order of the day. We are in more than a thousand municipalities and we are calling on people in the interior regions and in the marginalized neighborhoods of the big cities to be involved in actions.
What role will the Movement play going forward?
Through struggle we've gained the know-how to deal with moments of crisis. We don't want to put ourselves out in front as key players, but we know how to engage in struggle, and we will show up where we've been invited. We don't come with the pretension to direct the protests but to take part, and do so with the humility that the historical moment requires. The important thing is to unify rural and urban workers in a common agenda to move the country forward.