Stedile: The People Want Changes to Improve Their Lives

Monday, October 20, 2014

jpsBy Joana Tavares

Since last year, dozens of urban and rural social movements in Brazil have been discussing the presidential elections. In this second round, despite the limits of the neo-developmentalist PT governments, the social movements decided jointly to support Dilma Rousseff

In this interview, João Pedro Stédile, from the national coordination of the Landless Workers Movement (MST) and La Via Campesina, explains the reasons for that support, examines what it might mean for the country's return to neoliberalism and points out the way in which Dilma's second term could advance changes.

Brazil de Fato - This runoff is between two projects: neoliberalism, represented in the candidacy of of Aécio Neves, and the neo-developmentalism in Dilma's campaign. What would it mean for the country's return to neoliberalism?

João Pedro Stédile - If Aécio won, it would be a tragedy for the vast majority of the people. The economy would be under the domination of financial capital, transnational corporations and agribusiness.

Social policies would return to the practice of the “minimalist State”, which allows the market to solve everything as was the case with the FHC government and Aécio's government in Minas Gerais.

So there would be a devaluation of wages plus the right would have direct control over the judiciary and the media, increasing repression on the social movements.

In foreign policy, it would be a realignment subordinate to the United States and the dismantling of MERCOSUR, UNASUR and CELAC. Under these circumstances, it would generate a period of many confrontations, much instability.

So there is no doubt that to defend the interests of the working class, we must defeat the candidacy of Aécio Neves.

There is a widespread desire for change, which the candidacy of the PSDB has tried to appropriate. Could a second term of Dilma embrace these changes?

The people want change, but changes to improve their lives. Changes so that the state is more determined to solve the problems of the people. We still have many challenges, such as universal access of young people to university. Lula's and Dilma's governments doubled access to the university from 6 to 15% of young people, but we must think of the other 85%.

There is still a deficit of 8 million in decent housing. There is a lack of agrarian reform, lack of quality education and valuation of high school teachers. We want to reduce the workday to 40 hours.

And we need to restore the country's industrialization, the only way to increase assets and create more quality jobs. Many criticisms have been made of the 12 years of PT government for not addressing structural reforms, including agrarian reform.

What are the main limits of this neo-developmentalist project carried out by Lula and Dilma?

The main limits of neo-developmenaltism is that it was a program in which everyone won. But banks, construction companies and agribusiness won the most.

The dependence of the economy on international capital prevented the government from having the power to control the interest rate and the exchange rate and pass a tax reform so that the great fortunes and the rich would pay the bill.

A government with a class composition can even get some things electorally and politically right, but it does not quite have the strength to carry out structural reforms, in which the propertied classes lose part of their privileges.

And that's what happened. Faced with this impasse, part of the bourgeoisie that was in the government has fallen out. Therefore, a victory of Dilma for a second term would represent a new coalition of social forces, more center-left, which may require changes that solve people's problems.

The Congress just elected is even more conservative than the last. What does this mean for the advancement of the most popular measures?

The new Congress was the result of what we call hijacking of democracy by 117 Brazilian companies, which spent $R4 billion to finance their candidates and succeeded in electing them. Hence the crisis of representation of all parties, for now the elected owe more obligations to their funders than to groups.

What appears in Congress is the mirror of a larger political and ideological crisis, which affects the political activity and democracy.

Rousseff signaled that she supports the convening of a Constituent Assembly to reform the political system. Can this reform can improve the lives of the people?

We must prioritize the political reform that will affect the entire system, not just in financing campaigns or candidate lists. A reform that will also affect Congress, the judiciary and the media. The path to this is necessarily a constituent assembly, which would have to be approved by a legal referendum.

At the same time, we must encourage, stimulate and then put a maximum amount of energy into the social struggle. Because only if we win the constituent assembly, will we be able to implement structural reforms, if there is a new period of a rise in the mass movement across the country. Therefore, we will have an intense political struggle over the next four years.