Stedile Says that Government Is Afraid to Lead in the Debate on Crisis

by Luciana Lima Reporter Agency Brazil Brasilia - The lack of debate and new ideas to combat the global financial crisis means the government and the entrepreneurial class cannot solve the current economic issues. This is the view of the leader of the Movement of Landless Rural Workers (MST), João Pedro Stedile, who in an interview to Agência Brasil, said the government is afraid of the debate on the crisis. "The government is afraid to lead in the debate on the crisis, fearing the electoral impact," he said. The MST's leader defended the nationalization of banks, the end of the primary surplus and the guarantee of employment as ways to build a "new economic model" for Brazil. He praised the housing program launched by the government, but had concerns about the implementation of building 1 million homes. "I never saw construction money to build housing for the poor," he criticized. For Stedile, the Growth Acceleration Program (CAP), identified by the government as an alternative to address the crisis, does not meet the anti-cyclical function. "The CAP is an old project from before the crisis. We need to think of other industrial ideas in order to resolve the problems of the people, not to export," he emphasized. Agência Brasil - How have the social movements, the MST in particular, seen the issue of the global financial crisis? João Pedro Stedile - Today, there is a consensus in the social movements, from labor unions to the church, that the crisis that is installed in the capitalist economy is international and that everyone will be impacted, it is profound, not only in production but will include social, environmental, political, and even the paradigms of capitalism. We are very concerned because what is missing in Brazilian society is a process of debate on the nature of the crisis so that the population is aware of it, can participate and build popular alternatives of resistance. The worst case is simply to be watching, on television, the interpretation made by the government or the capitalists. ABr - The interpretation of the current crisis, in your, opinion is wrong? Stedile - Of course the capitalists will want to get out of the crisis as quickly as possible and richer. To do so, they will pressure, as always, the State to transfer public money to them. With this, they will increase the exploitation of workers and unemployment and will reduce the population's living conditions. And the government, afraid of the crisis, will be saying that the lion is quiet and calm. We need for people to have space to discuss and, above all, that the media are not helping the capitalists. ABr - Why do you think the government is afraid of the crisis? Stedile - The government is afraid to lead in the debate on the crisis fearing electoral repercussions. There is only one way to broaden the debate. If social movements and the churches make this debate as a priority, using the alternative we have, the government has to leave the cocoon. The government seems afraid that it is out of the debate. It needs to open up and say that it does not know what to do, but call to discuss the problem. ABr - How is Brazilian agriculture feeling the effects of the crisis? Stedile - This crisis is reaching more fully in the agribusiness, which is, in essence, the capitalist mode of organizing agricultural production in Brazil. For this, they imposed a model, which we call industrial agriculture, totally dependent on inputs of agrochemicals and the international market. The international market will decline, the income of Europeans, Americans and Chinese will decrease and, therefore, will reduce the price of commodities and the market will fall. Of course, again, the capitalist agribusiness will want to place on the back of the workers the burden of the crisis. According to the government, in December, over 300 thousand workers lost their jobs. ABr - And in the settlements of the MST, what is the impact of the crisis? Stedile - In family and peasant farming, where the settlers are included, since the mode of production is not capitalist, which we have discussed, we are able to resist more the perversity of the crisis. We do not depend on employment, that is, there will be a revaluation of the role of food, or in the crisis the only money that is reserved is for food workers. You can cut the light, telephone, but not the food. We have an evaluation that the peasant people suffer less the effects of the crisis. ABr - will suffer? Stedile - will suffer, perhaps by reducing the pace of agricultural policies. That is what worries us. We are pressing the government to turn the crisis into an opportunity. To protect the population, this was the time to increase land reform, increase public investment in agriculture and to leave agribusiness out, leave out the major projects of the BNDES [the National Bank of Economic and Social Development] for the expansion of the planting of eucalyptus, for expansion of ethanol. These do not develop the country and create unemployment. This is the debate we are doing here. ABr - How do you evaluate the measures taken by the government so far to contain the effects of the crisis in Brazil? Stedile - The government, in good intention, decreased the percentage of compulsory deposits that banks need to make to the Central Bank. This was R$180 billion that private banks, which receive our cash deposits, no longer bring to the BC. The government's intention was that these banks invest in industry and production to reactivate the economy. But they buy securities of the internal public debt, they lend back to the government, at 12% interest. That is, banks are even more enriched. It's easy to make the calculation. It means that the government helped the banks to take ownership of R$20 billion in a single shot. Furthermore, many companies take the news of the crisis to reorganize its production process. There are companies that are taking profits, such as the Vale do Rio Doce, which announced R$20 billion profit and put 2 thousand workers on the street. It is a case to use the crisis to increase the exploitation of workers ABr - You think that the measures had no effect then? Stedile - The proposals of government and the ruling classes are the proposals of classical capitalism. The output that is being thought is more liberalism, more dependence on international capital. And also you can see that the Brazilian ruling class has not a development project in Brazil, contrary to what happened in the crisis of 1929, when the Brazilian bourgeoisie was articulated around the Getúlio Vargas government. Now the Brazilian bourgeoisie does not have a project for the country. It just wants to profit and that is a tragedy even for them. ABr - What do you and the social movements think needs to be done? Stedile - Lower interest is insufficient. What we need is a third alternative, which is a popular alternative. We need to discuss with the forces of organized society a new project for the country, a new economic model for Brazil. ABr - What will this new model include? Stedile - Some priority measures. The first would be the nationalization of the entire financial system. If you don’t control the movement of money, you will never reactivate production. Secondly, it is necessary to end the primary surplus. The government collects taxes from us and then separates R$200 billion to pay in interest. This must stop. You have to get this money that is left from the budget and invest in production. But it is not in any production. It is not in cars. You must apply the surplus to what the Brazilian population needs: Popular housing, mass transportation, trains, subway, schools. We have a huge education deficit. How do you make the jump to 10% of young people attending university, that we have, for the 80% that they have ins Bolivia? University building, hiring teachers, buying books, that is all industry. Only investment in education, which is the great thesis of Cristovam Buarque, could stimulate the economy. And the money has to come from the primary surplus, which must stop. I asked the economists who are friends of the MST to research the following: I am suspicious that Brazil is the only country in the world to maintain the primary surplus. In Europe, all countries are deficient. ABr - What more is needed? Stedile - Apply resources and ensure employment for everyone. Every Brazilian adult must have the right to employment. That is what Roosevelt did to get the United States out of the crisis and transform it into a world power. This is not new. That everything I am saying is not radical. ABr - How is the defense of agrarian reform in the context of the financial crisis? Stedile - Land reform settles the people in the country and empties the favelas. Moreover, it contributes to the production of food. The farmers/peasants are the only ones who produce food. Agribusiness produces cellulose, ethanol, cotton, soybean, but not food. The peasant is who produces milk, rice and beans. This is the way to enable agricultural production. But that is not to return to the former agrarian reform. ABr - What is the popular land reform? Stedile - Now we want another type of land reform. It is a land reform that combines the peasant with the cooperative agribusiness. Instead of BNDES investing to R$1 billion in Nestlé, for example, we should give the same value for 100 cooperatives of farmers that will pasteurize milk, make yogurt and sell in their area. We no longer need to fund Nestlé. You have to have cooperative of small farmers. Now, without public money the cooperatives won’t function, and that Nestlé cannot function without money from BNDES. Instead of BNDES investing R$1 billion in Aracruz [multi-national cellulose company], it should take that money and lend to farmers to reforest the banks of rivers. We could have other landscape in the country, an environmental shift. We would not have this madness of the monoculture of eucalyptus that unbalances all our nature. ABr - You spoke of the need for a program of building houses. How do you evaluate the program My House, My Life, launched by the government, which aims to build 1 million houses for the poor? Stedile - The program of housing is good. I hope that the government is capable of operation so that in fact 1 million homes are financed. My fear is that the government relies on the market. The government creates the conditions, it frees resources and says that the market will build 1 million homes. I never saw money invested in home construction for poor. Would it not be better to invest to stimulate the cooperatives, the volunteers who, anyway, will buy cement, glass, electric lights. But leaving it to companies to build is a hazard. It would be better to leave as state enterprise as Chávez [Hugo Chávez, president of Venezuela] does. ABr - What about the CAP? The government has emphasized that the program will help address the effects of the crisis. What do you think? Stedile - The CAP is an old project from before the crisis and aims to finance hydroelectric plants, ports and roads to the multinational export cheaper. But now, with the crisis, it is necessary to consider another matrix to resolve industrial problems of the people, not the export. ------------------------------ 8 April 2009 - 08h53 - Last updated on 8 April 2009 - 09h32