Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, left, shakes hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping after a signing ceremony held at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, Friday, April 14, 2023. | Ken Ishii/Pool Photo via AP
The follies of U.S. plans for war and more war are being exposed now by Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva during his current visit to China.
On Friday, the day that the Washington Post reported the U.S. is planning to continue pouring weapons into the Ukraine war well into next year, Lula is in China backing that country’s peace plan for Ukraine by calling for an immediate ceasefire and negotiations.
China’s Foreign Minister Qin Gang declared Thursday that his country supports that approach and will send no weapons to either side in the Ukraine war. The U.S., simultaneously, was busy carving military landing strips in the jungles of Tinian, a small Pacific island, to be used against China if it makes any moves to claim its own territory—the island of Taiwan.
The military airstrips are close to where the U.S. launched the bombers that carried the atomic bombs dropped during WWII on the people of Japan.
U.S. militarization of Asia is driven by the increasing economic importance of the region, upon which both the U.S. and Europe have become dependent. In the view of powerful capitalist interests in the U.S., the region now needs to be controlled by the West militarily and economically. Hence the efforts by the U.S. to drive a wedge between Europe and China, just as it drove a wedge between Europe and Russia.
The U.S.’ anti-China and anti-Russia policies—along with the sanctions and threats of sanctions against them—have put the two countries in a position of shared resistance.
At the same time that Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Russia recently, Japan’s leadership was in Kiev, reflecting that the U.S., as it did with Germany in Europe, is pushing Japan to get involved in military activity against China and Russia.
Both Germany and Japan have been encouraged to give up their post-WWII pacifism and trade it in for militarization—with Germany’s armed forces turned eastward toward Russia and Japan’s against China.
The public in both Germany and Japan, remembering the horrors of fascism in the last century, has not been as quick as the U.S. would like in trading pacifism for war preparation. Peace demonstrations in both countries are growing larger by the week.
In addition to supporting China’s peace plan for Ukraine, Lula is joining with Beijing in a strong push to eliminate U.S. economic penetration of the entire global South. Some of the most powerful action that can be taken against U.S. control of the Asia-Pacific region is, in Lula’s eyes, economic action.
Key to this are efforts by Brazil and China to end the global South’s reliance on the U.S. dollar in trade and other financial transactions.
The two countries have agreed to carry out bilateral trade in their own currencies and ditch the dollar. Work is now underway on developing a new currency for the global South.
The New Development Bank, based in Shanghai, will play a major role in this process. Former Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, a close adviser to Lula, just became the bank’s new head, and her successor attended her swearing-in during his visit on Thursday.
The institution will provide an alternative to the U.S.-controlled International Monetary Fund and World Bank, being focused on the BRICS group of developing nations—Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa.
Some 99 loan projects have already been issued by the new bank, totaling $34 billion in new infrastructure.
“The New Development Bank is the product of a partnership among BRICS countries with a view to creating a world with less poverty, less inequality, and more sustainability,” Lula said on Thursday.
The efforts by Brazil and China to end the global South’s reliance on the U.S. dollar is not just in trade but in many other financial transactions, the Chinese and Brazilians say.
During his meeting with Xi Friday, Lula is also discussing investment, reindustrialization, energy transition, climate change, and peace agreements, according to the Brazilian government.
“As comprehensive strategic partners, China and Brazil share extensive common interests,” Xi said, according to information about the meeting released by the Chinese Foreign Ministry.
China is Brazil’s biggest export market, each year buying tens of billions of dollars of soybeans, beef, iron ore, poultry, pulp, sugar cane, cotton, and crude oil. Brazil is Latin America’s biggest recipient of Chinese investment, according to Chinese media.
One of the at least 20 bilateral agreements that Lula has signed in China already is for the construction of a sixth satellite under a binational program to monitor conservation and illegal logging in areas such as the Amazon. Under former President Jair Bolsonaro, the rainforest saw significant deforestation by the right-wing leader’s corporate allies.
When discussing the ceasefire and negotiations to end the Ukraine war, Lula saw the U.S., Russia, and Ukraine as all having shared responsibility for ending the war.
He said Ukraine should consider offering to relinquish its claims on Crimea which has a majority Russian, not Ukrainian, population. Before Russia’s invasion, Ukrainian President Zelensky had said that the status of Crimea and even other Russian ethnic-majority areas were negotiable.
Subsequently, Britain and the U.S. signaled “not so fast” to Kiev and increased the seemingly endless military aid being shipped to Ukraine. Zelensky, though he has previously expressed interest in China’s plan for a ceasefire, now says ideas such as the proposal by Lula are unacceptable.
In any case, Lula said there has never been a war in which a ceasefire and negotiations were an unreasonable approach. He turned down requests by the U.S. that he send weapons to Ukraine, saying he was interested instead in working for peace.
Lula is putting Brazil at the heart of issues crucial to the whole planet. The Asia-Pacific region is home to 60% of the world’s population and accounts for 65% of the world’s gross domestic product.
This is something too important for imperialism to pass up and explains why the U.S. military, NATO, and the Pentagon want to focus on this region—in addition to Europe, Ukraine, and Russia.
Roger McKenzie contributed to this article.
John Wojcik is Editor-in-Chief of People’s World. He joined the staff as Labor Editor in May 2007 after working as a union meat cutter in northern New Jersey. There, he served as a shop steward and a member of a UFCW contract negotiating committee. In the 1970s and ’80s, he was a political action reporter for the Daily World, this newspaper’s predecessor, and was active in electoral politics in Brooklyn, New York.
United States hegemony in Latin America is in question | credit Prensa Latina
The United States proclaimed the Monroe Doctrine 200 years ago and ever since has arranged Latin American and Caribbean affairs to its advantage. Nevertheless, struggles for national and regional independence did continue and the poor and marginalized classes did resist. Eventually there would be indigenous movements, labor mobilizations, and progressive and socialist-inclined governments. Cuba’s revolutionary government has endured for 63 years.
The U.S. political hold may have weakened, but U.S. control over the region’s economies remains strong; after World War II it extended worldwide. Now cracks are showing up. In particular, the U.S. dollar’s role as the world economy’s dominant currency may have run its course.
In 1944, 44 allied nations determined that the value of their various currencies would correlate with the value of the U.S. dollar instead of the value of gold. The nations since then have relied on the U.S. dollar for their reserve currencies, for foreign trade and in banking transactions.
There seemed to be good reason. The United States was supreme in producing and marketing goods and so, presumably, the dollar’s value would remain stable and predictable. The dollar would be readily accessible to bankers and traders and its valuation would be unambiguous. Nations could also build their currency reserves through the dollars they accumulated in the form of bonds sold by an increasingly indebted United States.
The United States has benefited. In currency exchanges involving the dollar, U.S. companies and individuals experience only minor add-on costs. U.S. importers know that the more the dollar strengthens in value, the less expensive will be products they buy abroad. U.S. borrowing costs overseas are relatively low because U.S. bonds, and the investments they represent in dollars, are appealing abroad, for a variety of reasons.
Dollar dominance has caused pain abroad. Exporters to the United States take a hit when the exchange value of the dollar weakens. Importers of U.S. goods are hurt when the dollar strengthens.
Most importantly, the U.S. government gains an opening to punish enemy countries through their use of dollars in international transactions. It imposes economic sanctions requiring that dollars not be used in a targeted country’s overseas transactions. The U.S. Treasury Department penalizes foreign banks and companies that disobey. Sanctioned nations have included Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Syria, Venezuela, Nicaragua, and more recently, China and Russia.
The U.S. government’s frequent resort to economic sanctions has greatly contributed to new stirrings on behalf of a new international currency system. Confiscation of currency reserves deposited in U.S. and European banks that belong to Iran, Venezuela, and Afghanistan have likewise encouraged calls for change.
On March 29 China and Brazil announced they would use their own currencies in trading with each other. China is Brazil’s biggest trade partner. China’s renminbi currency presently constitutes a major share of Brazil’s currency reserves.
Earlier in 2023, Brazil and Argentina proposed cooperation toward creating a common currency for themselves. At the January meeting of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), Brazilian President Lula da Silva opined that, “If it were up to me, I would promote a single currency for the region.” He would call it the “SUR” (South). The ALBA regional alliance in 2009 proposed an electronic currency called the “Sucre” aimed at reducing dollar dependency.
Former Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff is the recently named head of the New Development Bank which, headquartered in Shanghai, serves the BRICS nations (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa). The bank represents an alternative to the U.S. -dominated International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.
The shift away from dollar dependency is evident elsewhere. At a Russian-Indian “Strategic Partnership …Forum” recently, a Russian official announced that the BRICS states would be creating a new currency and that the formal announcement would be made at the BRICS summit meeting in Durban South Africa in August.
The BRICS countries account for “40% of the global population and one-fourth of the global GDP.” According to People’s Dispatch, Iran and Saudi Arabia, having recently signed a peace accord, will soon be joining BRICS. Egypt, Algeria, the UAE, Mexico, Argentina, and Nigeria apparently are giving consideration. The values of new currencies will rest not on another currency but on the value of “products, rare-earth minerals, or soil.”
Iran and Russia in January agreed on methods useful for bypassing the SWIFT banking system, the U.S. tool for servicing its dollar dominance. To evade U.S. sanctions, the two countries reply on their own currencies for most transactions.
At their summit in March, Russian and Chinese leaders reiterated their intention to expand bilateral trade and utilize their own currencies. China increasingly is using its own currency in transactions with Asian, African, and Latin American countries. The yuan “has become the world’s fifth-largest payment currency, third-largest currency in trade settlement and fifth-largest reserve currency,” according to Global Times.
Saudi Arabia is on the verge of selling oil and natural gas in currencies other than the dollar, and China occasionally pays Arabian Gulf nations in yuan for those products.
The finance ministers and governors of the central banks of the member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) met in Indonesia on March 28. At the top of their agenda were “discussions to reduce dependence on the US Dollar, Euro, Yen, and British Pound from financial transactions and move to settlements in local currencies”. The ASEAN nations, an alliance of 10 southeast Asian nations, are developing a digital payment system for member states’ transactions.
Dollar dominance may be losing its appeal closer to home. Former Goldman Sachs chief economist Jim O’Neill claims that, The U. S. dollar plays a far too dominant role in global finance … Whenever the Federal Reserve Board has embarked on periods of monetary tightening, or the opposite, loosening, the consequences on the value of the dollar and the knock-on effects have been dramatic.”
Gillian Tell, chair of the Financial Times’ editorial board notes that, “concerns are afoot that this month’s US banking turmoil, inflation and looming debt ceiling battle is making dollar-based assets less attractive.” Plus, “a multipolar pattern could come as a shock to American policymakers, given how much external financing the US needs.”
There are wider implications. Argentinian economist Julio Gambina bemoans “disorder in the world economy …[and] this attitude of unilateralism represented by the US sanctions.” Interviewed on March 29, Gambina points out that “wealth has a father and a mother: labor and nature.”
He adds that, “Latin America and the Caribbean … where inequality is growing the most … have a highly skilled working class, willing to carry forward the production of wealth. We have the resource of assets held in common for sovereign development through which the interests of our peoples and the reproduction of nature, life and society are defended.”
W.T. Whitney Jr. is a political journalist whose focus is on Latin America, health care, and anti-racism. A Cuba solidarity activist, he formerly worked as a pediatrician, lives in rural Maine. W.T. Whitney Jr. es un periodista político cuyo enfoque está en América Latina, la atención médica y el antirracismo. Activista solidario con Cuba, anteriormente trabajó como pediatra, vive en la zona rural de Maine.
The U.S. government has long intervened in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC). Now the U.S. military is paying attention to China’s economic activities there.
General Laura Richardson on March 8 reported to the Armed Services Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives on actions and needs of the Southern Command, which she heads. She has charge of all U.S. military operations in the region.
Citing the 2022 National Security Strategy, Richardson declared that “no region impacts the United States more directly than the Western Hemisphere …. [There] autocrats are working overtime to undermine democracy.” And security there “is critical to homeland defense.”
Richardson stated that “the PRC (People’s Republic of China) has both the capability and intent to eschew international norms, advance its brand of authoritarianism, and amass power and influence at the expense of the existing and emerging democracies in our hemisphere.” The Southern Command’s “main priority … is to expose and mitigate PRC malign activity.”
She sees a “myriad of ways in which the PRC is spreading its malign influence, wielding its economic might, and conducting gray zone activities to expand its military and political access and influence.” A “grey zone,” according to the NATO-friendly Atlantic Council, is a “set of activities … [like] nefarious economic activities, influence operations, … cyberattacks, mercenary operations, assassinations, and disinformation campaigns.”
Richardson highlighted China’s trade with LAC that is heading toward “$700 billion [annually] by 2035.” The United States, in her view, will be facing intense competition and presently “its comparative trade advantage is eroding.”
She added that, “The PRC’s efforts to extract South America’s natural resources to support its own population … are conducted at the expense of our partner nations and their citizens.” And opportunities for “quality private sector investment” are disappearing.
Competition extends to space: “11 PRC-linked space facilities across five countries in this region [enable] space tracking and surveillance capabilities.” Richardson complained of “24 countries [that] have existing Chinese telecommunication infrastructure (3G/4G), increasing their potential to transition to Chinese 5G.”
She expressed concern both about surveillance networks supplied by China that represent a “potential counterintelligence threat” and about Latin Americans going to China “to receive training on cybersecurity and military doctrine.” Richardson denounced China’s role in facilitating environmental crimes and pointed to “potential dual use for malign commercial and military activities.”
“Relationships absolutely matter,” she insisted, “and our partner democracies are desperate for assistance from the United States.” Plus, “if we’re not there in time, they … take what’s available, creating opportunities for the PRC.”
Moving beyond China, Richardson indicated that “many partner nations … see TCOs (transnational criminal organizations) as their primary security challenge.” That’s because drug-cartel violence leads to deaths and poverty and “illicit funds exacerbate regionalcorruption, insecurity, and instability.”
Her report avoids mention of particular countries other than offering brief references to Haiti, Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela. She criticized Russia for “military engagements with Venezuela and Nicaragua” and for spreading “false narratives.” Richardson praised Colombia for providing military training in other countries.
The Southern Command gains “exponential return” on supplying various countries with U.S. weapons and supplies. It conducts joint military exercises, and “provides professional military education to personnel from 28 countries.”
Richardson reported at length on processes she sees as fostering useful relationships between her command and the various governments and military services. The tone of urgency characterizing her discussion on China was entirely lacking.
General Richardson’s view that China has greatly expanded its economic involvement with the LAC nations is on target.
Since 2005, China’s state-owned banks have arranged for 117 loans in the region worth, in all, more than $140 billion. They averaged over $10 billion annually. Since 2020, China has made fewer loans.
Chinese trade with Latin America grew from $12 billion in 2000 to $448 billion in 2021. China’s imports of “ores (42%), soybeans (16%), mineral fuels and oils (10%), meat (6%), and copper (5%)” totaled $221 billion in 2021. The value of exported manufactured goods that year was $227 billion. By 2022, China had become the biggest trading partner in four Latin American countries and the second-largest in many others.
China’s foreign direct investment (FDI) has long represented China’s strongest economic tie to the region. FDI signifies funding of projects abroad directed at long-term impact. China’s FDI from 2005 to mid-2022 was $143 billion. Energy projects and “metals/mining” accounted for 59% and 24% of the total, respectively. Of that total, Brazil and Peru received 45% and 17%, respectively.
The FDI flow since 2016 has averaged $4.5 billion annually; worldwide, China’s FDI has contracted.
Chinese banks and corporations have invested heavily in lithium production in Argentina, Bolivia, and Chile, which, together, account for 56% of the world’s lithium deposits. China is the largest investor in Peru’s mining sector, controlling seven large mines and owning two of Peru’s biggest copper mines. Brazil is the world’s largest recipient of Chinese investments.
U.S. military intervention in LAC is far from new. Analyst Sergio Rodríguez Gelfenstein complements Richardson’s report with a three-part survey, accessible here, here, and here, of recent U.S. military activities in the region.
He indicates the United States now has “12 military bases in Panamá, 12 in Puerto Rico, 9 in Colombia, 8 in Perú, 3 in Honduras, 2 in Paraguay, as well as similar installations in Aruba, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Cuba (Guantánamo), and in other countries.”
Rodríguez maintains that, “levels of aggressive interference by Washington in the region have increased dramatically” and that U.S. embassies there are supplied with more military, Cuba, Nicaragua, and CIA personnel than ever before.
Rodríguez notes features of the LAC region that attract U.S. attention, among them: closeness to strategically-important Antarctica; reserves of fresh water and biodiversity in Amazonian regions; the Guarani Aquifer near the triple frontier of Brazil, Paraguay, and Argentina, the largest in the world; and huge reserves of valuable natural resources.
· The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is implementing a “master plan” for navigability of the Paraguay River and Plata River Basin. The nearby Triple Frontier area supposedly harbors international terrorism and drug-trafficking.
· The U.S. military facility in Neuquén, Argentina is turning from its alleged humanitarian mission to activities in line with local preparations for oil extraction.
· U.S. officials on October 13, 2022 announced that 95 military vehicles were being donated to Guatemala for drug-war activities.
· In Brazil in September 2022, General Richardson indicated that U.S. forces would join Brazilian counterparts to fight fires in the Amazon..
· The Southern Command’s fostering of good relations with Peru’s military has borne fruit. Under consideration in Peru’s Congress is a proposal to authorize the entry of foreign military forces. To what nation would they belong? Hint: former CIA operative and U.S. Ambassador Lisa Kenna met with Peru’s Defense Minister the day before President Pedro Castillo was removed in a parliamentary coup on December 7, 2022.
· In March 2023, two U.S. congresspersons proposed that U.S. troops enter Mexico to carry out drug-war operations.
· Presently the United States is making great efforts to establish a naval base on Gorgona island off Colombia’s Pacific coast. It would be the ninth U.S. base in Colombia, a NATO “global partner.”
· In Colombia, U.S. troops acting on behalf of NATO, are active in that country’s Amazon region supposedly to protect the environment and combat drug-trafficking.
· The U.S. National Defense Authorization Act of December 2022 awarded the Southern Command $858 million for military operations in Ecuador.
· In a second visit, the US Coast Guard Cutter Stone was plying Uruguayan waters in February ostensibly to train with local counterparts for search and rescue operations. The ship was also monitoring the nearby Chinese fishing fleet.
Rodríguez does not comment on U.S. interventions in Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela. That’s because they’ve persisted for “more than 60, 40, and 20 years, respectively” and each requires a “special report.”
John Quincy Adams returns
Proclaiming the Monroe Doctrine 200 years ago, Secretary of State Adams informed European powers that the United States regarded “any attempt on their part to extend their system to any portion of this hemisphere as dangerous to our peace and safety.”
General Richardson would apply the warning of that era to the PRC. Yet signs of hegemonic aspirations from that quarter are absent.
Commenting recently, Argentinian economist and academician Claudio Katz notes that, “China concentrates its forces in the economic arena while avoiding confrontations at the political or military level … Investments are not accompanied by troops and bases, useful for guaranteeing return on investments.”
Besides, China “does business with all governments, without regard to their internal politics.” That tendency, Katz writes, stems from the PRC having “arisen from a socialist experience, having hybrid characteristics, and not completing a passage to capitalism.” He maintains that China, with its economic involvement, contributes nothing to advancing socialism in the region.
W.T. Whitney Jr. is a political journalist whose focus is on Latin America, health care, and anti-racism. A Cuba solidarity activist, he formerly worked as a pediatrician, lives in rural Maine. W.T. Whitney Jr. es un periodista político cuyo enfoque está en América Latina, la atención médica y el antirracismo. Activista solidario con Cuba, anteriormente trabajó como pediatra, vive en la zona rural de Maine.
In the last week of October, João Pedro Stedile, a leader of the Landless Workers’ Movement (MST) in Brazil and the global peasants’ organisation La Via Campesina, went to the Vatican to attend the International Meeting of Prayer for Peace, organised by the Community of Sant’Egídio. On 30 October, Brazil held a presidential election, which was won by Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, affectionately known as Lula. A key part of his campaign addressed the reckless endangerment and destruction of the Amazon by his opponent, the incumbent President Jair Bolsonaro. Lula’s victory, helped along by vigorous campaigning by the MST, provides hope for our chance to save the planet. This week’s newsletter contains the speech that Stedile gave at the Vatican. We hope you find it as useful as we do.
Today, humanity is at risk because of senseless social inequality, attacks on the environment, and an unsustainable consumption pattern in rich countries that is imposed on us by capitalism and its profit-seeking mentality.
Part 1: What are the dilemmas facing humanity?
Climate change is permanent, and its impacts manifest every day with intense heat waves, global warming, torrential rains, tropical cyclones, and droughts in different regions across the planet.
The number of disasters/crimes has increased five-fold in the last 50 years, killing 115 people and causing economic losses of $202 million per day.
Environmental crimes have increased, such as deforestation, the burning of tropical forests, and attacks on all biomes, especially in the Global South. In 2021 alone, the world lost 1 million hectares of tropical forests.
The Amazon rainforest, which stretches across nine countries, has already lost 30% of its vegetation cover as a result of encroaching deforestation caused by the push to produce timber and make way for cattle ranching and soybean production, which are exported to Europe and China.
All biomes in the Global South are being destroyed to produce raw agricultural materials for the Global North.
Predatory mining affects the environment, water, and land as well as Indigenous and peasant communities as thousands of garimpeiros (illegal miners) mine gold and diamonds using hazardous materials such as mercury in Indigenous lands.
Never have so many agrotoxins (agricultural poisons) been used in agriculture in the South, affecting soil fertility, killing biodiversity, polluting groundwater and rivers, and contaminating what is produced and even the atmosphere.
Glyphosate is scientifically proven to cause cancer. Some 42,700 U.S. farmers who contracted cancer won the right to compensation from the companies that produce, sell, and use the glyphosate to which they were exposed.
Across the planet, more and more genetically modified seeds are being planted, including, as of 2019, a total of nearly 200 million hectares concentrated in 29 countries. These seeds cause genetic contamination in non-GMO seeds, affecting human health and destroying the planet’s biodiversity because they require the use of agrotoxins.
The oceans are polluted by plastics and other human waste, killing many species of fish and marine life. The massive use of chemical fertilisers has also caused ocean waters to acidify, putting all marine life at risk. Evidence of this can be seen in the large garbage patch in the Pacific Ocean, which covers over a million square kilometres.
The carbon dioxide emitted by burning fossils fuels and by individual transportation in automobiles causes pollution in large cities, which in turn causes the death of thousands of people, with 7,100 in the northeast and Mid-Atlantic region of the United States alone dying as a result of vehicle emissions in a single year.
Humanity is suffering under a public health crisis that is also inextricably connected to nature. Epidemics and pandemics have increased, creating a massive global health crisis that puts millions of people at risk. This phenomenon, often propelled by the increased transmission of diseases from animals to human beings (known as zoonoses), is a result of the simultaneous destruction of biodiversity alongside the expansion of the agricultural frontier by agribusiness and energy, mining, and transportation megaprojects as well as urban and large-scale livestock farming.
Many areas on our planet are protected by peasant and Indigenous communities. Capital attacks and seeks to destroy them in order to take control of the natural goods they protect.
We are undergoing an ecological-social crisis of the Earth system and of the balance of life. This global crisis affects the environment, the economy, politics, society, ethics, religions, and the meaning of our own life.
The billions of the world’s poorest people are the most impacted by the lack of food, water, housing, employment, income, and education. Deteriorating living conditions have forced them to migrate and have killed thousands of people, especially children and women.
This generalised crisis is endangering human life. Without bold action, the planet, which is under attack, could still regenerate, but without human beings.
Eduardo Berliner (Brazil), House, 2019.
Part 2: Who is responsible for putting humanity at risk?
Capitalism is facing a structural crisis. It is no longer capable of organising the production and distribution of goods that people need. Its logic of profit and capital accumulation prevent us from having a more just and egalitarian society.
This crisis manifests itself in the economy, in increasing social inequality, in the state’s failure as a guarantor of social rights, in formal democracy’s failure to respect the will of most people, and in the propagation of false values based solely on individualism, consumerism, and selfishness. This system is economically and environmentally unsustainable, and we must put it behind us.
The main parties directly responsible for the environmental crisis are large transnational corporations, which do not respect borders, states, governments, or the rights of peoples. Some of these corporations, such as Bayer, BASF, Monsanto, Syngenta, and DuPont, manufacture agrotoxins, while others run the mining, automobile, and fossil fuel-run electric energy sectors, and yet others control the water market (such as Coca-Cola, Pepsi, and Nestlé) and the world food market. Associated with all of them are banks and their financial capital. In the last decade, these corporations have been joined by powerful transnational technology corporations, which control ideology and public opinion (Amazon, Microsoft, Google, Facebook/Meta, and Apple). The owners of these companies are among the richest people in the world.
governments that cover up and protect corporate crime;
the mainstream media, which seek profit and serve corporate interests all whilst deceiving the people and hiding those who are responsible; and
international organisations formed by governments and captured by large corporations under the cover of phantom foundations, which directly influence these organisations and only repeat rhetoric and hold ineffective international meetings such as the Conference of the Parties (COP), which has now met 27 times. This is even the case with the United Nations and the Food and Agricultural Organisation.However, corporations are not the only ones to blame for the environmental crisis; they are aided by:All of these entities must respect the law.
I welcome the courageous position taken by Colombia’s President Gustavo Petro at the United Nations General Assembly in September 2022 and the encyclicals of Pope Francis. Both are a wake-up call to the entire world.
Tarsila do Amaral (Brazil), O Vendedor de frutas (‘The Fruit Vendor’), 1925.
Part 3: What solutions are we calling for?
There is still time to save humanity, and, with it, our common home, planet Earth. For this we need to have the courage to implement concrete and urgent measures on a global level. On behalf peasants’ movements and people’s movements in urban peripheries, we propose:
Prohibiting deforestation and commercial burning in all native forests and savannas across the world.
Prohibiting the use of agrotoxins and genetically modified seeds in agriculture, as well as antibiotics and growth promoters in livestock farming.
Condemning all decoy solutions to climate change and geoengineering techniques proposed by capital that speculate on nature, including the carbon market.
Prohibiting mining in the territories of Indigenous peoples and traditional communities as well as environmental protection and conservation areas and demanding that all mining be publicly controlled and used for the common good—not for profit.
Strictly controlling the use of plastics, including in the food and beverage industry, and making it mandatory to recycling them.
Recognising nature’s goods (such as forests, water, and biodiversity) as universal common goods at the service of all people that are immune to capitalist privatisation.
Recognising peasants as the main caretakers of nature. We must fight against large landowners and carry out popular agrarian reforms so that we can combat social inequality and poverty in the countryside and produce more food in harmony with nature.
Implementing an extensive reforestation program, paid for with public resources, that ensures the ecological recovery of all areas near springs and riverbanks, slopes, and other ecologically sensitive areas or areas that are experiencing desertification.
Implementing a global policy to care for water that prevents the pollution of oceans, lakes, and rivers and that eliminates the contamination of surface and subsoil drinking water sources.
Defending the Amazon and other tropical forests of Africa, Asia, and the Pacific Islands as ecological territories under the care of the peoples of their countries.
Implementing agroecology as a sociotechnical basis for food sovereignty, including the production of healthy food that is accessible to all.
Subsidising the financing needed to implement solar and wind energy systems, which will be under the collective management of populations worldwide.
Implementing a global investment plan to provide public transportation based on renewable energies that makes it possible to reorganise and improve living conditions in cities, allowing for urban decentralisation and making it possible for people to remain in the countryside.
Demanding that the industrialised countries of the North guarantee the financial resources to implement all of the necessary actions to rebuild the relationship between society and nature in a sustainable manner, understanding that these countries are historically responsible for global pollution and continue with unjust and unsustainable patterns of production and consumption.
Demanding that all governments stop wars, close foreign military bases, and halt military aggression in order to save lives and the planet, rooted in the understanding that peace is a condition for a healthy life.
Anita Malfatti (Brazil), Tropical, 1917.
For these ideas to materialise, we propose an international pact between religious leaders and institutions, environmental and people’s movements, decision-makers, and governments, so that we can carry out a programme that raises the consciousness of the entire population. We propose that an international conference be held so that we can bring together all collective actors who defend life. We must encourage people to fight for their rights in defence of life and nature. We must demand that the media assume its responsibility to defend the interests of the people and to defend equal rights, life, and nature.
We will always fight to save lives and our planet, to live in solidarity and in peace with social equality, emancipated from social injustices, exploitation, and discrimination of all kinds.
This text from João Pedro Stedile is a clarion call from the MST, which Noam Chomsky calls ‘the most important mass movement on the planet’. We hope to hear from you about these proposals, and we hope that movements around the world will take them up in their work.
Emiliano Di Cavalcanti (Brazil), Projeto de Mural (‘Mural Project’), 1950.
Supporters of outgoing Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro set up over 300 road blockades on October 31. The far-right leader has isolated himself since Sunday and has remained completely silent since his defeat.
As millions of Brazilians celebrated the return of Luiz Inácio Lula Da Silva to the presidency on Sunday, October 30, supporters of outgoing incumbent Jair Bolsonaro began blocking roads across the country in the latest attempt to undermine the historic election. The actions caused major disruptions throughout Monday, ultimately forcing the Supreme Federal Court (STF) to intervene.
Lula, of the Workers’ Party (PT), emerged victorious securing 50.9% of the votes against Bolsonaro’s 49.1% share. However, the far-right incumbent refused to officially concede defeat, canceled a press statement and isolated himself in the presidential palace, even as major allies accepted the election result.
Amid this arguably very deliberate silence, given Bolsonaro’s previous open threats to not recognize the electoral results and unsubstantiated claims of fraud, groups of Bolsonaristas began to shut down key highways in rejection of Lula’s victory, with some calling for a coup. The actions escalated throughout Monday, October 31, with scenes of protestors burning tires.
By 11PM local time, the Federal Highway Police (PRF) had reported approximately 342 total or partial blockades in 25 states, including the Federal District. Santa Catarina, where Bolsonaro has major support, recorded the most disruptions, followed by Rio Grande do Sul and Paraná.
Bolsonaro’s absence was interpreted as tacit support, with Bolsonaristas reportedly sharing messages on WhatsApp saying that the president was silent because he was “organizing” with the Armed Forces.
In one of the recordings circulating online, a protester could be heard threatening that they would only leave the streets “when the Army takes over the country”.
“It is the position of the president that will determine the direction of the protests… We are waiting for him to speak,” a protester told BBC News Brasil. “Either Bolsonaro goes to war, or he will disappear from the political scene, because then he is not the leader we thought.”
One of the major blockades took place on the Via Dutra highway, the main connection between São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. People stranded in the area reported facing harassment and violence at the hands of Bolsonarista protestors. Speaking to Brasil de Fato, a teacher said that people who were trying to hitchhike were being harassed, and that the windows of a car stationed where people were taking refuge were broken.
The protests were further bolstered by Bolsonaro-allied elected officials and politicians who have taken a hostile and combative stance against Lula. “The government of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva needs to know the terror of having us an opposition,” declared São Paulo councilor Fernando Holiday. Others called on the protesting truckers to not get “discouraged”.
Meanwhile, the National Confederation of Transport and Logistics Workers (CNTTL) strongly condemned the protests as “anti-democratic”. It added that the Confederation defended “above all, democracy, that is, it respects the sovereign results of the polls.”
In a separate statement, the organization added the protesting groups, which were allegedly being supported by sections of the Agribusiness sector, were “spreading the false claim that this demonstration is by truck drivers.”
The CNTTL stressed that the movement was not organized by workers, and that self-employed truck drivers and CLT workers were “victims of these blockades, since these [Bolsonarista] groups had hired truck freights with stones and earth to make it difficult to pass on the highways, a fact that constitutes a crime!”
The demonstrations were also opposed by the National Transport Confederation (CNT), stating that while it respected every citizen’s right to demonstrate, its exercise must not harm other people’s rights.
“In addition to economic upheavals, work stoppages create difficulties for people to move, including the sick, in addition to hampering access to the transport of basic necessities for the population, such as food, medicines and fuel,” it said in a statement.
The current governor of the state of São Paulo Rodrigo Garcia, who supported Bolsonaro in the second round, gave a press conference on the morning of November 1 wherein he affirmed that “We have a president-elect and that is president Lula.” He announced that there would be a R$100,000 per hour fine for anyone taking part in the road blockades and stated that: “The election is over. São Paulo respects democracy.”
The PRF had maintained that it had adopted “all measures for the return of normal flow” on Monday, including “prioritizing dialogue” while recognizing the “right of manifestation of the citizens”. However, videos circulating online have shown police telling protesters that “we are all in the same boat” and the “only order we have is to be here with you”. The CNTTL also accused police of “turning a blind eye” to illegal roadblocks”.
Police could also be seen diverting cars as groups of Bolsonaristas blocked a lane on the main access road to São Paulo.
The PRF stated that it had approached the Attorney General’s Office (AGU) for a court order to halt the protests and resume traffic flow.
Finally, late on Monday night, the Minister of the Supreme Federal Court, Alexandre de Moraes, ordered the PRF to immediately clear all obstructed roads. The decision was issued in response to a request filed by the CNT and the deputy electoral attorney general, Paulo Gonet. Moraes stated that if the order was not complied with by 12:00 AM on Tuesday, then the director general of the police, Silvinei Vasques, would face a fine of R100,000 ($19,302) per hour, a possible removal from office, and even arrest.
He also warned that protesters would face a similar fine if they did not clear the roads as ordered. Moraes had also summoned the justice minister, the attorney general of the Republic as well as the attorney generals in the states, and the commanders of the military police.
Meanwhile, several reports have suggested that Bolsonaro might finally make a statement on Tuesday, November 1.
Amid the attempted provocations, president-elect Lula has continued to receive messages of solidarity and support, and also met with Argentinian president Alberto Fernández on October 31.
“Bolsonaro doesn’t want to receive anyone,” aides say after Lula’s presidential election victory
President of Brazil Jair Bolsonaro, who was just defeated in the elections, isolated himself after the confirmation of the victory of former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva on October 30. The former captain canceled a press statement at the Alvorada Palace, in the capital of Brasília, right at the beginning of the vote count.
According to Globo, “Bolsonaro does not want to receive anyone.” The report continues, “ministers and deputies who tried to visit him this Sunday after the results of the polls were informed that the president does not want to see anyone at this time, not even his closest allies.”
Veja magazine corroborated: “Jair Bolsonaro, according to his aides, has isolated himself in the presidential quarters and is not taking phone calls from any close allies,” their report states.
Bolsonaro started out the election in the lead, Lula eventually won with 50.9% of the vote. When the data from the Superior Electoral Court (TSE) had already indicated that Lula was close to winning, the current president’s convoy left the Alvorada Palace, traveling towards Granja do Torto, the official residence occupied by the Minister of Economy, Paulo Guedes. Then the convoy returned to Alvorada.
Bolsonaro is the first president in the country’s history to lose the race for reelection since this became possible in 1997, during the Fernando Henrique Cardoso administration.
Thousands took to the streets to celebrate as Lula, the candidate of the Workers’ Party of Brazil, defeated Jair Bolsonaro in one the most crucial elections in the country’s history
Thousands took to the streets of Brazil to celebrate as Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva of the Workers’ Party (PT) was elected president on Sunday, October 30. With almost 50.9% of the votes, Lula, a trade unionist who was also president from 2003-2010, defeated incumbent Jair Bolsonaro of the Liberal Party who got around 49.1% in the run-off election. Lula is set to be in office from 2023-2027.
The second round of the presidential election was held after neither candidate managed to obtain the necessary 50% plus one vote in the first round held on October 2. Elections were also held for the post of Governor in 12 States. Around 156 million Brazilians were eligible to vote.
The results mark a remarkable comeback for Lula who just a few years ago was in jail on corruption charges which were later overturned. His campaign for this election was driven by the left, people’s movements, trade unions, and radical and progressive forces across the country.
Many in Brazil had pointed out that Lula’s victory would mark a key moment in the reversal of a number of processes that began with the constitutional coup against PT’s President Dilma Rousseff in 2016. Lula ran on the slogan of “bringing hope back to Brazil” and promised to respond to the immediate needs of the population and to recover the social and economic rights that have been lost in the last six years during the governments of Michel Temer (who succeeded Dilma) and Jair Bolsonaro. Lula’s years as president saw a drastic improvement in social indicators in Brazil.
Under Jair Bolsonaro, the COVID-19 pandemic ripped through Brazil, killing over 700,00 people. Bolsonaro’s tenure also saw a slashing of key welfare programs and the deterioration of Brazil’s famous health system as well as food sovereignty. The Bolsonaro presidency also saw an increase in attacks on the Amazon rainforests through deforestation which were accelerated by his relaxing environmental norms.
The Bolsonaro years were also marked by the right-wing gaining strength and becoming more aggressive with the president leading from the front, along with his family members. A close ally of former US President Donald Trump, Bolsonaro celebrated the brutal military dictatorship (1964-85)and relentlessly attacked democratic institutions, including the electoral system whose fairness he questioned repeatedly without providing any evidence. The run-up to the election on Sunday was marked by a massive fake news campaign by the right-wing.
Today, Brazilian voters are not just choosing between Bolsonaro and Lula — the far right and the Left — but whether their nation’s politics will be authoritarian or democratic.
Today, more than one hundred million Brazilians will vote in the second and final round of the country’s presidential election, which pits former president Luiz Inácio “Lula” da Silva against extreme-right incumbent Jair Bolsonaro. In the first round, held earlier this month, Bolsonaro finished more than five points behind Lula and seems poised to become the first Brazilian president ever to lose reelection. Nonetheless, polls have seemed to tighten in recent weeks and many observers expect a close contest today — raising the ominous prospect that Bolsonaro may refuse to concede defeat and attempt to cling to power.
What are the issues at play in Brazil’s historic election? How have the politics of COVID-19 factored in? And what does the future hold for the far-right project of Bolsonarismo, even if the man at its center loses the runoff? To explore these questions, Jacobin’s Luke Savage sat down with Vincent Bevins — who lived in Brazil from 2010 to 2016 and worked as a correspondent, wrote The Jakarta Method (which came out in 2020), and moved back to São Paulo last year to work on his second book.
To start with the basics: because neither major candidate received over 50 percent of the vote earlier this month, Brazil is going to be voting in the second round of its presidential election on October 30. Before we get to the runoff, can you walk us through what transpired in the first round a bit? The general impression seems to be that Lula somewhat underperformed what some polls suggested was possible. Can you explain the results of the first round and give us your impression of them?
After Lula got out of jail and recovered his political rights — his right to run for president, which he lost after trying unsuccessfully in 2018 to run for president against Bolsonaro the first time — many polls indicated he was going to absolutely trounce Bolsonaro, among other things because Bolsonaro had done such a poor job governing the country, especially during the pandemic. Now, only a couple of those polls suggested that Lula was going to actually clear the 50 percent hurdle necessary to wrap it up in the first round. Some people were hoping for that, though I didn’t myself think it was too likely. Now, he ultimately got 48.5 percent of the vote, which is only a little bit less than the 50 percent he would’ve needed. And if he had gotten that extra 1.5 percent, it would be a really resounding defeat for Bolsonaro. No Brazilian president has ever lost reelection ever since reelection has been allowed in Brazilian democracy.
Still, the result was a little bit less than what the more optimistic parts of the Left were hoping for.
What was more of a surprise was how Bolsonarismo as a political movement outside of Bolsonaro himself did across the country. It did quite well in Congress, especially in the Senate, snatching some key governorships and appearing to be positioned to snatch more. So the polls really underestimated Bolsonarismo’s support more than they overestimated Lula’s.
Can you put Bolsonarismo in context for us? I think there’s a similar problem or complexity at work when we talk about something like Trumpism in that you’re dealing with a political tendency that is very much based around a charismatic figure at its center, and is intimately linked in some ways to their personal affectations and style, but also has a separate life of its own.
I think that Bolsonarismo is more real than Trumpism. It’s a weird and contradictory coalition of forces in Brazilian society that came together as a result of his candidacy in 2018, and could well (though may not necessarily) continue to exist after Bolsonaro himself leaves the presidency and after his family stops being a force in Brazilian politics. What exactly is that strange and contradictory coalition of forces? Essentially, it’s an extreme right movement. Everybody that is a Bolsonarista, I would say, is opposed to democracy or is at least willing to cancel democracy for some kind of a higher purpose.
Bolsonarismo draws upon the support of the security services and people who support them. Evangelical Christians have also become a very important part of what Bolsonarismo is. At the beginning, there was a kind of a neoliberal, hardcore free-market component to Bolsonarismo as well. Paulo Guedes, who is literally a Chicago boy and used to work in Pinochet’s Chile, became finance minister. That support from the upper class, business, and national bourgeoisie is not quite as strong today as it was in 2018. But they were an important part of bringing this coalition together.
There are also the agricultural heartlands of the country, which are now seeming to be quite Bolsonarista. The fact that agriculture has done well under Bolsonaro’s government often has nothing to do with him. But the parts of the agricultural world that want to break laws and burn down even more of the Amazon rainforest than is allowed by current legislation, that want to invade indigenous territories, those people tend to be Bolsonarista just because Bolsonaro says these actions are good. So, it’s clear Bolsonarismo will be in power in some way, at least with a bloc in Congress and in control of state governments, even if Jair Bolsonaro loses and walks out of the presidential palace on January 1.
Outside observers, and by that I mainly mean those in the United States, are I think somewhat bound to see this election through a very particular set of reference points. And perhaps that makes some sense in broad strokes: Bolsonaro having some obvious similarities with Trump, among other things. But Brazil is a huge and complicated country with politics of its own — not just a Portuguese-speaking version of the United States. What would you say are the main issues at play in the election beyond those that most English-speaking media are liable to focus on?
The really simple answer to that question is that Brazil is in a much worse place than it was four years ago — and those Brazilians who can remember Lula’s government remember that things were better. Starvation and extreme poverty have jumped up under Bolsonaro, especially since the pandemic. And that is really what’s driven what I think is the major story of the campaign, which is that for the first time ever a sitting Brazilian president seems poised to lose reelection.
The comparison with the United States is an interesting one and it’s also kind of aggravating because, on the one hand, there are a lot of Trumpian things about Bolsonaro. On the other hand, Bolsonaro wants people in North America to think that. It’s an image that he (and some members of his family who are a little bit savvier when it comes to international relations and social media spin) has deliberately cultivated: that ‘I’m the Trump of the tropics and an ally of the Republican Party and Fox News in South America’; that ‘when they come after me down here, it’s the same thing as when woke professors and the Democratic Party come after you in North America.’ This has been done very explicitly, and I think there are reasons to do it. I mean, if a Republican were to reenter the White House, because of the sort of negative polarization in the most powerful country in the hemisphere, he would probably try to reach out to Bolsonarismo or perhaps take a really aggressive stance toward a possible Workers’ Party government in Brazil.
Bolsonaro’s personal history is very different from Trump’s, because Trump is a guy from television who, in my opinion, just wanted to stay on television and found in politics a way to do that. Bolsonaro, by comparison, is a creature of Brazil’s dictatorship — which of course came about as a result of the US-backed coup in 1964. He is a real believer in antidemocratic principles and a hardcore anti-communist. He’s not really a neoliberal, and he doesn’t care about economics. He’s not really religious, though he has made an alliance with Brazil’s growing evangelical Christian movement — which I suppose does resonate quite a bit with politics in the United States. But he’s somebody who, for his entire life, has believed that the Left needs to be crushed and that the democracy that has been constituted in Brazil since 1988 and the end of the dictatorship is a sham. This is a movement which has real ideological coherence in a way I don’t think Trumpism ever has. I have a hard time imagining that Trumpism could have the same longevity as Bolsonarismo.
In a televised debate earlier this month, Lula attacked Bolsonaro for his handling of COVID-19, and I’m very curious as to how much salience the pandemic has had throughout the campaign. Late last year, you wrote for New York Magazine that despite Bolsonaro’s anti-vaccine posturing, Brazil had had relatively few anti-vaxxers. Has that held during the campaign?
Yes, it has. I think that Bolsonaro (and especially his sons) instinctively try to import culture war stuff from the United States so they can see what sticks. From the very beginning, Bolsonaro really doubled down on the idea that COVID-19 wasn’t a big deal and people didn’t have to worry about it: everyone should work, the scientists saying that stay at home measures could work — that was a bunch of woke nonsense (though he wouldn’t have actually used that term). But this wasn’t effective, especially among urban elites. It did resonate within the hardcore base, though in a funny way: they would say ‘Yeah, we gotta look into those vaccines, there’s something wrong there . . .’ but then they would all get vaccinated anyway. So it didn’t really work here in the way that it did in the United States, and this was something that Bolsonaro lost important elite support over. Some of that migrated from the cities and countryside, and from the (let’s call it) respectable, civilized, pro-business right to the hyper-radicalized Bolsonarista base. And this is a strategy he has: he will often import things from the United States. Sometimes they work, and sometimes they don’t.
Something else he’s tried to import from the United States is this idea that the voting system cannot be trusted. For almost the whole of last year, he was trying to set up a narrative that, if he were to lose, it would be fake because the voting system here can’t be trusted. Again, this makes no sense compared to the US context. In the United States, you have a diverse array of voting mechanisms in different states. In Brazil, no serious international observers think there’s anything strange about the way the votes are counted — it’s uniform across the country. The story Bolsonaro has been telling also calls into question his own victory and the victories of all his allies, so we’re now seeing — at the last minute — a pivot to a different narrative about how the election might be stolen from him, which has to do with censorship and court intervention.
So yes, he imports these things even when they don’t work and, while that may cost him domestically, I think in the long term the Bolsonaro family has the idea of creating an alliance with the Republican Party. And they maybe do need something like that in order to survive, because if Bolsonaro had been soundly defeated in the first round, the family could have all faced jail time. I mean, they’ve certainly committed enough crimes to deserve it. The question was whether or not the political system would prosecute these kinds of cases given the explosiveness of such a scenario. And, now that they have a decent base in government, it might be less likely.
Anyway, its political effectiveness aside, COVID-19 questioning has been a big part of his campaign rhetorically. And that’s the direct result of the intentional Americanization of Brazilian politics, and Americanization of Brazil.
On the French far right, and I suppose across much of the far right globally, there’s been a lot of Americanization for obvious reasons. Has the specific framework of woke versus anti-woke actually penetrated the Brazilian context? You’ll hear French politicians like Marine Le Pen, for example, talking about “le wokeism,” and in that context, it gets discussed as a kind of pernicious import from the United States that needs to be repelled. What is the equivalent to that in Brazil? Has the rather nebulous binary of woke and anti-woke made its way into the lexicon of Bolsonarismo?
Not linguistically. But, as a vibe? Absolutely. The thing about Bolsonaro is that he has quite a coherent narrative going back to the 1990s, which is that the Left has been culturally and politically hegemonic, it tells you what you’re supposed to think, and there’s been (as he would call it) communist indoctrination. So that’s been the way that he’s looked at all of these things since the 1990s. And there have been a number of powerful, far-right ideological figures in Brazil — especially Olavo de Carvalho, this strange philosopher that lived in the United States and posted on Facebook all day long — who have used this framework of cultural Marxism or communist indoctrination.
So this would all fall within that: rights for LGBTQ people, recognition of diversity, using the state in any way to try and help poorer Brazilians — that’s all just communist indoctrination. Bolsonaro brought Tucker Carlson here and they had a conversation where they tried to find common discursive commonalities between their two discourses, and it wasn’t very hard to find them. Some of it was ridiculous because PT (Lula’s Workers’ Party) is very much working class and Carlson seemed to think it was the Brazilian equivalent of Brooklyn liberals that were voting Lula into power. But, in general, they did find a lot of common ground in terms of discourse.
And that’s not a coincidence, because Brazil is deeply influenced by US culture — not only in terms of the internet but also television and political discourse. The only other politics that Brazilian media pay attention to are those of the United States. A lot of woke-era vocabulary has certainly entered Brazilian Portuguese. You can, for example, get “cancelado” (canceled), which is something that the right rails against here. But “woke” itself hasn’t quite made it, even if the discourse around it absolutely overlaps.
There are two recent incidents I want to ask you about. Several days ago, police attempted to arrest a retired politician and an ally of Bolsonaro’s (Roberto Jefferson) and he responded by firing on them and throwing grenades? Bolsonaro has also apologized after footage emerged of him telling a story about an encounter with some teenage girls. What exactly is going on here?
Both of these episodes have been bad for Bolsonaro but I think one has been worse. They’ve also become live campaign elements and have really dominated a lot of the conversations in recent weeks. One is very real, and the other is, perhaps, less so beyond the fact that Bolsonaro can’t speak about young women without sexualizing and insulting them. In that case, Bolsonaro told this story about how he was walking around the outskirts of Brasília (the capital) and (in his telling) he saw some young women who were ‘all dressed up’ and said ‘Why are you dressed up?’ The best way to translate the phrase he used next is that he said ‘there was some chemistry.’ As he told it, he then asked them if he could go back to their place and asked ‘What are you doing?.’ And then — remember, this is the version of the story that he wants the Bolsonarista listener to hear — they said ‘We’re prostitutes because we’re Venezuelan and the Left destroyed our country, and this is all that’s left for us.’
None of this makes sense in the way that he told it, because, if he were to have stumbled upon that horrible situation, he shouldn’t have gone on a podcast, he should have called in the police to stop these young women from being sex trafficked. This strange attempt to pin sex work in Brazil on the Left in Venezuela doesn’t make a lot of sense either, because he’s the president and there are, as I think I mentioned earlier, millions of young people who can’t get enough food here. So, if you want to find Brazilians that are in very difficult situations (because of him) it’s not hard to do. Anyway, journalists went back and looked into this and the Venezuelan women said ‘No, he did come here, but we’re not sex workers.’ He just made that up or thought it, and I think this incident really is just another example of him not being able to talk about women without sexualizing or insulting them — and hinting at the idea he was having sexual thoughts toward underage immigrants.
Now, the story with Roberto Jefferson — who is a longtime friend and ally of the Bolsonaro family — definitely happened because it was filmed and he wanted everyone to know about it. This guy is kind of nuts and even many on the Right will admit to that. He’s been under house arrest, apparently for being part of a digital criminal organization which is using social media to push for antidemocratic measures. Now, this part is kind of strange and I don’t exactly understand the sentence, but they basically said he couldn’t be under house arrest anymore because he’d been violating the terms of his house arrest by using social media. And they sent someone to go pick him up and, instead of cooperating, he tried to mount some kind of heroic martyr’s stand and go down in a blaze of glory because they wouldn’t let him post on the internet. He ended up coming out, shooting some federal police, and throwing a grenade at them. And this has become a huge scandal that even Bolsonaro has been forced to distance himself from. Usually, Bolsonaro will back anything happening on the Right that’s provocative. In this case, he actually went and said, ‘We’re not that close, and this is not the kind of thing I support.’
But another problem for Bolsonaro is that the incident reminded everyone that his son Eduardo, when he was eighteen, was on the books for receiving a salary for work he performed as a congressional assistant in Brasília while he was a full-time student in Rio de Janeiro — and the man who hired him for this job, which must have been fake (and if it was not fake, it would’ve been illegal to hire him for it) was Roberto Jefferson. This is the kind of low-level corruption that everyone believes the Bolsonaro family has been involved in forever. They never got involved in the high-level corruption that became the subject of the Lava Jato investigations because they weren’t important enough in Congress. So, this is not only a problem because somebody that has been photographed many times with Bolsonaro tried to kill a bunch of police — which is a big deal given the pro-security-forces orientation of Bolsonarismo — but also because it reminded people of the corruption Bolsonaro’s son was apparently involved with many years ago.
It’s bad for Bolsonaro because he was already behind in the polls, though they had been getting closer. So if this stops them from tightening further, it may be enough to lose him the election. It’s only Tuesday, and of course something even more insane could happen before Sunday, but this was too mediatized an event to stop people from talking about it and, well, everybody is talking about it.
Polling ahead of the first round of voting suggested, on average, a Lula lead of about eleven points – though he finished by only five. Ahead of the runoff at the end of this month, polls have still given Lula an edge but have also seemed to tighten further. Perhaps predictably, Bolsonaro has started attacking pollsters (Brazil’s House of Representatives is even set to pass legislation criminalizing inaccurate polls — though its future in the Senate looks more uncertain). I’d like to ask you about that, but I’m also curious how you account for the electoral resilience of Bolsonarismo? Brazil’s GDP has fallen since he was elected in 2018. There’s also been an increase in hunger, to say nothing of nearly seven hundred thousand COVID-19 deaths. All of these likely contributed to what was at one time a Lula lead of almost thirty points. Things look quite different now. How would you account for what’s become an unexpectedly close election?
It’s a good question. One part of it that’s troubling and hopefully ephemeral is that Bolsonaro found his real base after 2018. There was just a strange grouping of people that got together behind his candidacy largely out of rejection for what had come before. But, as I said, agricultural parts of the country can believe somewhat rationally that Bolsonaro is better for their interests. Evangelical Christians can probably believe, albeit with less evidence, that he’s somebody who can push for the sort of moral policies that Lula would not (and that’s an area where fake news comes into play, but you can create a stable base with that kind of representation of Lula).
The other dynamic, which I think is really important for explaining the shifts in polling that have transpired over the last few months, is the massive and shameless use of the state to pour money into every part of the country where it might influence voters. Bolsonaro entered office with a neoliberal finance minister who promised to be transparent and anti-corruption. And what’s happening now is a use of the state to flood money into the pockets of political allies, anybody that can help influence voting, and anybody that might be convinced to change their vote to an extent that’s really never been seen before.
It’s quite shocking, and I think even some of the most seasoned analysts of Latin American politics have been surprised that he’s moved forward a lot of welfare payments to the months just before the election. Lula still leads among the poorest Brazilians, but not as much as he did a few months ago. And the best explanation for this is that Bolsonaro gave them money. Everyone knows the finance minister is going to cut all of that off immediately in January, and he already has plans to do so. This is purely to get people to vote one way rather than the other, and it’s very bad for state finances.
Then there’s been this (as it’s been called) multibillion dollar secret budget which allows local lawmakers allied to Bolsonaro to basically spend money locally however they want. There’s already considerable evidence of corruption coming out of this secret budget — towns are making up the numbers, e.g. a town with eleven thousand people that performed seventeen thousand dental procedures in the last two weeks, and other stuff in this vein.
So, in addition to the sort of organic base of Bolsonarismo growing throughout four years in power, you have the shameless use of state finances to try to influence votes at the last minute.
As a final question, would it be fair to say that the proportion of economic versus cultural politics at play in Brazilian politics at the moment favors the latter? From abroad, the impression of Bolsonaro is that he’s very much a culture warrior, and that seems to be one of the ways he’s been able to mitigate the drag of the country’s poor economic performance over the past four years on his own electoral prospects. How would you characterize the final stage of the election in terms of whether economic or cultural issues are prevailing?
I would say it’s more the cultural. If it were economic, you would not see such a big discrepancy between male and female voters. White men are the only demographic category in Brazil that go for Bolsonaro over Lula (black women, by contrast, vote for Lula something like four to one). Bolsonarismo is powered by the petty bourgeois or middle class (but not that educated) white man that has weaponized his identity — which resonates with Trump’s support — that is, the kind of white man that believes he is at risk of having his privilege taken away and thinks he can attack those below him with the help of someone above him. In other words, the classic base for the extreme right: the angry, frustrated, emasculated, petty bourgeois man, in coalition with agribusiness and small scale producers. That’s more or less the organic and economic base.
But the real core of the Bolsonarismoist movement is not so strictly rational. The committed Bolsonaristas really believe in it. His spending offensive has gotten some of Lula’s base to come over to his side in the last few weeks, but Lula is still ahead amongst people who care, first and foremost, about where their food is coming from next month. But that part of the story — the classic, extreme right base, the anti-democratic man — I think that is at the core of what Bolsonarismo is.
Vincent Bevins is a journalist and the author of The Jakarta Method: Washington’s Anticommunist Crusade and the Mass Murder Program That Shaped Our World.
A Venezuelan couple use the Francisco De Paula Santander Bridge to cross between Urena, Venezuela, and Cucuta, Colombia, Aug. 6, 2022. | Matias Delacroix / AP
Colombia’s new president Gustavo Petro wants peace. Colombia’s military, the largest in Latin America, except for that of Brazil, stands in the way. It benefits from U.S. largesse while attending to U.S. needs. Its intelligence branch, discussed here, is not about peace and reconciliation.
The U.S. government, militarily involved in Colombia for decades is likewise an obstacle to peace. As explained recently by analyst Hernando Calvo Ospina, military cooperation has been central to the U.S.-Colombian alliance. He details how since World War II the United States has partnered with Colombia in dominating the entire region to maintain access to strategic resources, exclude Communism, and suppress left-wing movements. Calvo Ospina mentions Colombian-U.S. drug-war operations and the two countries’ addiction to military and ruling-class power. This is the setting for the intelligence operations described below.
Colombian intelligence operations serve U.S. imperialist objectives as they target Cuba and Venezuela. Colombian governing authorities appear to have forgotten the legacy of independence hero Simón Bolívar who, up against Spanish rule and U.S. pretentions, fought for Latin American unity. In 1829 he remarked that, “The United States appear to be destined by Providence to plague America with misery in the name of liberty.” He was denouncing unencumbered U.S. license to control Spanish America, as proclaimed in the Monroe Doctrine of 1823 and still in force.
Trump-era national security advisor John Bolton recently boasted he had planned coups to unseat the Maduro government in Venezuela. Current White House advisor on Western Hemisphere affairs Juan González took a different tack while speaking in Colombia in August: “40 years ago the United States would have done everything possible to avoid the election of Gustavo Petro and, once elected would have done everything possible to sabotage his policies.” Now, says González, the United States wants to collaborate and “navigate that change.”
Meanwhile, Petro wants young people to choose social service and not do military service. His government will be negotiating peace with National Liberation Army (ELN) guerrillas. He rejects the U.S.-promoted drug war and has re-established diplomatic relations with Venezuela, the object of U.S. hybrid war. On August 12, Petro named new military chiefs and replaced 40 generals and admirals because of corruption and human rights violations.
This report turns to Colombian military intelligence. The Revista Raya website, directed by Edinson Bolaños, recently published three articles on Colombian intelligence operations that began in 2016 and continued for almost six years. (See the end note for possible translations in English of “raya.”)
Face-off against Cuba
The first article, titled “International Espionage: Operation Cuba,” appeared on the website on August 19. One learns that, “Revista Raya had access to thousands of classified Colombian military intelligence documents where evidence appears of spying on Cuban diplomats and officials, left-leaning [Colombian] political leaders, journalists, and social leaders.” The folders contained “profiles of targeted personnel, photographs, videos of subjects being followed, maps, sketches and drawings.”
Agents posing as journalists or photographers mapped routes to facilities used by diplomats. They photographed the interiors of the Cuban embassy, consulates, and diplomats’ quarters, and also diplomats’ automobiles and license plates. They monitored diplomats’ encounters with Colombian activists and politicians. Operatives gained access to phones, computers and on-line communications.
They were able to alter the text of the Cubans’ email communications. Colombian intelligence operatives communicated their findings with U.S. counterparts. U.S. documents with responses and commentary show up in the files.
Operatives attended solidarity gatherings in Colombia and farther afield – at a Sao Paolo Forum of leftist political parties, for example. At these venues, they identified attendees, monitored conversations, gained access to email communications, and informed intelligence agencies in home countries of their citizens’ participation in leftist or pro-Cuba activities. They spied on solidarity gatherings at the Julio Antonio Mella International Camp near Havana.
People attending various events had their phone calls intercepted, among them: Cuban ambassador José Luis Ponce and Vice Consul Kendry Sosa, leftist senators Iván Cepeda and Gloria Flórez; Communist Party leaders Jaime Caycedo and Carlos Lozano Guillén; and FARC lawyer Diego Martínez. Among attendees monitored at the Sao Paolo Forum in 2019 were Communist Party member Gloria Inés Ramírez, now President Petro’s labor minister, and leftist senator Piedad Córdoba.
One purpose for the phone monitoring, according to Revista Raya, was to unearth or install material suggesting that Cuban operatives were promoting the protest demonstrations that rocked Colombia in 2019 and later, and contributed to the election of President Petro. The intelligence units also sought to connect Cuba’s government with leftist insurgents in Colombia, particularly the National Liberation Army (ELN).
According to documents in the report, agents “sewed” information in the computers of ELN guerrilla leaders suggesting the “complicity of Cuba’s government with the ELN in manufacturing the violence associated with the social protests.” Nothing appeared in the files indicating that Cuba’s government actually did promote anti-government activities, according to Revista Raya.
Agents planted “evidence” of alleged terrorism undertaken by ELN guerrilla leader Andrés Vanegas Londoño, alias “Uriel,” and sent it to Colombian prosecutors and to Interpol. They communicated his location in Choco department. Uriel died in a bombardment of his camp 20 days later, on October 25, 1920.
Encouraged by its U.S. partner, Colombia’s government has long taken steps to destabilize Venezuelan society and government operations, and more so recently. Secret operations have taken place in Venezuela’s border region with Colombia. Colombian narco-traffickers are active there, and also Colombian paramilitaries. A small U.S.-Colombian force, Operation Gideon, carried out a maritime invasion of Venezuela in 2020.
Colombian military intelligence engaged with agencies and personnel of Venezuela’s government. On August 24, Revista Raya published “International Espionage: Objective Venezuela. The survey covers destabilization plans and monitoring of Colombian and Venezuelan politicians and Venezuelan diplomats.
Colombia’s intelligence service secreted 28 spies within various branches of Venezuela’s military. As part of so-called “Operation Vengeance,” operatives “tried to encourage the Venezuelan Army to carry out military operations against the ELN,” whose detachments were active in Venezuelan territory. They created hostile pamphlets and audio recordings and attributed them to the ELN.The spies “totally infiltrated” the communications of a Venezuelan press attaché in Bogota and monitored his contacts with prominent Colombian politicians of the left. Colombian officials later expelled him.
Citing “another hundred documents,” Revista Raya shows that, during the presidency of President Iván Duque (2018 -2022), Colombian spies entered, photographed, and took material from the Venezuela’s consulate in Cartagena. The Colombian intelligence operatives attended primarily to consul Ayskel Torres.
Under “Operation Sunset,” they “monitored her contacts with leftist social leaders in the region and her “sentimental relationship” with the “military attaché of a Caribbean country.” They were blackmailed and the latter provided a list of “cooperating” contacts.
Spying ceased after February 23, 2019, when The Maduro government broke relations with Colombia. The spies had monitored Venezuelan diplomats’ communications about the safety of money and sensitive documents lodged in an Embassy strong box. After the Venezuelans had departed, spies entered the building, took photographs, opened the strong box and stole documents and money.
The last section of this three-part Revista Raya series is titled “International Espionage: Massive Profiling.” Documents were cited that contained “telephone numbers, homes addresses, political preferences, work places, email addresses, nationalities, and date of identification” for 450 persons. The article presents political profiles of eight individuals as examples of other profiles that were created. Dozens of images appear.
The targeted individuals included “political, social, and union leaders and also diplomats and officials of the Cuban and Venezuelan governments.” Intelligence agents descended on them when they attended “commemorations and political events relating to socialist countries,” or “peaceful mobilizations and … political events in Colombia.”
This last article in the series identifies the chief of Navy Intelligence as the individual primarily responsible for the illegal spying.
Rear Admiral Norman Iván Cabrera Martínez heads that agency now. He served as naval attaché at the Colombian Embassy in Washington and the U.S government awarded him a Meritorious Service Medal. Cabrera Martínez assumed his post on August 27, 2022.
Colombian Communist Party secretary general Jaime Caycedo, the object of spying, commented to Revista Raya: “We … think this is a violation flagrant of our rights and constitutional liberties …[We] attach great importance to the journalistic work you are doing. You showed how we fell into their hands. You explained how public resources and public entities were used to maltreat citizens with this illegal profiling and to spy on diplomats of friendly countries with diplomatic relations.”
Note: The meaning in English of “raya,” as used in the website’s name, is mysterious here. We opt for “line-by-line review.” “Raya” may signify victim or despised person in that a “tienda de raya” in Mexico was a store operated by a company or hacienda relying on a laborer’s written line for a signature. A possibility from Colombia is “detective.” Another commentator suggests “memorable happenings.”
W.T. Whitney Jr. is a political journalist whose focus is on Latin America, health care, and anti-racism. A Cuba solidarity activist, he formerly worked as a pediatrician, lives in rural Maine. W.T. Whitney Jr. es un periodista político cuyo enfoque está en América Latina, la atención médica y el antirracismo. Activista solidario con Cuba, anteriormente trabajó como pediatra, vive en la zona rural de Maine.
Former Brazilian head of state Lula da Silva launches presidential candidacy after Bolsonaro’s “irresponsible” rule | credit: AFP
Brazilian supporters hope to overturn far-right leader’s ‘reckless and criminal’ rule
A mesmerized hush fell over the crowd as João Camarero took to the stage with his seven-string guitar and plucked the opening notes of a national anthem that has become a symbol of the political struggle for Brazil’s soul.
“O land adored above all others, ’tis thee, Brazil,” sang the South American songstress beside him, Teresa Cristina, as thousands of spectators added their voices to the hymn’s call for a future of liberty and love.
Behind the musicians stood the man the audience hoped could make that dream reality: the former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who on Saturday announced he would seek to return to power in October’s election so as to end what he called Jair Bolsonaro’s era of tyranny, destruction and hate.
“Brazil needs to go back to being a normal country,” the 76-year-old leftwinger told elated supporters at a rally in São Paulo, many visibly moved by the rendition of a national anthem that has been appropriated by Bolsonaro’s far-right movement and which, along with the presidency, progressive Brazilians want to reclaim.
It was time, Lula declared, for Brazil to decide whether it wished to be a country of democracy or authoritarianism; truth or lies; tolerance or obscurantism; education or automatic rifles; environmental preservation or depredation.
“Never was it easier to choose – and never was it so important to make the right choice,” he said.
There was euphoria below the stage as the former president, who governed from 2003 to 2011, outlined plans to build a more stable and compassionate country from the wreckage of Bolsonaro’s “reckless and criminal” rule under which Amazon deforestation has soared and more than 660,000 lives been lost to Covid-19.
“I feel I’m part of history … and we feel happy to be on the right side of history,” said Maria de Lourdes, a retired bank clerk who clutched a crêpepaper flower symbolising her yearning for change.
Polls suggest Lula should comfortably beat Bolsonaro, a Donald Trump-admiring nationalist whose radical rhetoric and calamitous coronavirus response mean he is abominated by many of Brazil’s 215 million citizens.
But analysts, and Lula allies, say Bolsonaro is a formidable political opponent with a ferociously loyal support base representing perhaps 25% of voters. To ensure victory, they believe the former president must build an invincible pro-democracy coalition stretching all the way from the hard-left to the centre-right.
“It’s important not just that Lula wins, but that Bolsonaro loses badly,” said the political columnist Celso Rocha de Barros, who fears that in the event of a narrow Lula victory Bolsonaro will refuse to concede, alleging fraud, and launch a coup to supposedly “reestablish democracy”.
Lula’s mission advanced at the weekend with the unveiling of his anti-Bolsonaro alliance, Vamos Juntos Pelo Brasil (Let’s Pull Together for Brazil). The bloc includes seven leftwing and centre-left parties and hopes to expand before the vote on 2 October.
As a gesture of his unifying intentions, Lula named Geraldo Alckmin, the centre-right former governor of São Paulo and a one-time presidential rival, as his running mate.
The Guardian last interviewed Alckmin in 2006 and the moderate conservative was trekking through Rio’s largest favela in search of votes to defeat Lula in that year’s presidential election. “Brazil has not grown,” Alckmin said of Lula’s first term in power, blaming his opponent for economic stagnation.
Times have changed. On Saturday, Alckmin urged voters to back his once-improbable partnership with Brazil’s first working-class leader. “Lula … isn’t the first, second or third way,” Alckmin said. “He’s the only way [to end] the most disastrous and cruel government” in Brazilian history.
Randolfe Rodrigues, a progressive senator who is part of Lula’s campaign team and tipped as a future minister, vowed to work tirelessly to build a multi-party alliance against Bolsonaro, a former paratrooper who openly celebrates the military dictatorship that ruled Brazil from 1964 to 1985.
“2022 isn’t an election like all of those which Brazil has held since the return of democracy. In none of the previous elections … was Brazilian democracy at stake,” Rodrigues said. “In 2022, it is.”
As Lula supporters streamed out of the auditorium and a giant Brazilian flag – another national symbol leftwingers are trying to wrestle back from the right – was removed from the stage, Rodrigues urged his country to seek inspiration from France, where rival politicians recently pulled together to defeat the far-right candidate Marine Le Pen in presidential elections.
“Macron’s victory was a balm for us Brazilians – the French gave us a great example that we must follow here in terms of tolerance and unity,” he said.
Rodrigues said the world was “living through a species of fascist international, represented by Trump in the United States, [Viktor] Orbán in Hungary and [Vladimir] Putin in Russia”.
Defeating that movement’s South American representative had global significance. “This is a civilizing mission,” he said.