Honoring Mexico on Cinco de Mayo

This week in North Philly Notes, we showcase books about Mexico in honor of Cinco de Mayo.

urban leviathanUrban Leviathan: Mexica City in the Twentieth Century by Diane E. Davis

Why, Diane Davis asks, has Mexico City, once known as the city of palaces, turned into a sea of people, poverty, and pollution? Through historical analysis of Mexico City, Davis identifies political actors responsible for the uncontrolled industrialization of Mexico’s economic and social center, its capital city. This narrative biography takes a perspective rarely found in studies of third-world urban development: Davis demonstrates how and why local politics can run counter to rational politics, yet become enmeshed, spawning ineffective policies that are detrimental to the city and the nation.

effects of the nationThe Effects of the Nation: Mexican Art in an Age of Globalization edited by Carl Good and John V. Waldron

What is the effect of a “nation”? In this age of globalization, is it dead, dying, only dormant? The essays in this groundbreaking volume use the arts in Mexico to move beyond the national and the global to look at the activity of a community continually re-creating itself within and beyond its own borders.

Mexico is a particularly apt focus, partly because of the vitality of its culture, partly because of its changing political identity, and partly because of the impact of borders and borderlessness on its national character. The ten essays collected here look at a wide range of aesthetic productions—especially literature and the visual arts—that give context to how art and society interact.

Ethical Borders sm compEthical Borders: NAFTA, Globalization, and Mexican Migration by Bill Ong Hing

In his topical new book, Ethical Borders, Bill Ong Hing asks, why do undocumented immigrants from Mexico continue to enter the United States and what would discourage this surreptitious traffic? An expert on immigration law and policy, Hing examines the relationship between NAFTA, globalization, and undocumented migration, and he considers the policy options for controlling immigration. He develops an ethical rationale for opening up the U.S./Mexican border, as well as improving conditions in Mexico so that its citizens would have little incentive to migrate.

Sounds Modern Nation smallSounds of the Modern Nation: Music, Culture, and Ideas in Post-Revolutionary Mexico by Alejandro L. Madrid

Sounds of the Modern Nation explores the development of modernist and avant-garde art music styles and aesthetics in Mexico in relation to the social and cultural changes that affected the country after the 1910-1920 revolution. Alejandro Madrid argues that these modernist works provide insight into the construction of individual and collective identities based on new ideas about modernity and nationality. Instead of depicting a dichotomy between modernity and nationalism, Madrid reflects on the multiple intersections between these two ideas and the dialogic ways through which these notions acquired meaning.

MinichCompFinal.inddAccessing Citizenship: Disability, Nation, and Cultural Politics of Greater Mexico  by Julie Avril Minich

Accessible Citizenships examines Chicana/o cultural representations that conceptualize political community through images of disability. Working against the assumption that disability is a metaphor for social decay or political crisis, Julie Avril Minich analyzes literature, film, and visual art post-1980 in which representations of nonnormative bodies work to expand our understanding of what it means to belong to a political community. Minich shows how queer writers like Arturo Islas and Cherríe Moraga have reconceptualized Chicano nationalism through disability images. She further addresses how the U.S.-Mexico border and disabled bodies restrict freedom and movement. Finally, she confronts the changing role of the nation-state in the face of neoliberalism as depicted in novels by Ana Castillo and Cecile Pineda.

Mexican Voices Border Region compMexican Voices of the Borders Region by Laura Velasco Ortiz and Oscar F. Contreras

Mexican Voices of the Border Region examines the flow of people, commercial traffic, and the development of relationships across this border. Through first-person narratives, Laura Velasco Ortiz and Oscar F. Contreras show that since NAFTA, Tijuana has become a dynamic and significant place for both nations in terms of jobs and residents. The authors emphasize that the border itself has different meanings whether one crosses it frequently or not at all. The interviews probe into matters of race, class, gender, ethnicity, place, violence, and political economy as well as the individual’s sense of agency.

Mexican American Women Activists: Identity and Resistance in Two Los Angeles Communities by Mary Pardo

mexican american women activistsMexican American Women Activists tells the stories of Mexican American women from two Los Angeles neighborhoods and how they transformed the everyday problems they confronted into political concerns. By placing these women’s experiences at the center of her discussion of grassroots political activism, Mary Pardo illuminates the gender, race, and class character of community networking. She shows how citizens help to shape their local environment by creating resources for churches, schools, and community services and generates new questions and answers about collective action and the transformation of social networks into political networks.

nothing nobodyNothing, Nobody: The Voices of the Mexico City Earthquake by Elena Poniatowska

September 19, 1985: A powerful earthquake hits Mexico City in the early morning hours. As the city collapses, the government fails to respond. Long a voice of social conscience, prominent Mexican journalist Elena Poniatowska chronicles the disintegration of the city’s physical and social structure, the widespread grassroots organizing against government corruption and incompetence, and the reliency of the human spirit. As a transformative moment in the life of mexican society, the earthquake is as much a component of the country’s current crisis as the 1982 debt crisis, the problematic economic of the last ten years, and the recent elections.

Musica Nortena sm compMúsica Norteña: Mexican Migrants Creating Community Between Nations by Cathy Ragland

Música norteña, a musical genre with its roots in the folk ballad traditions of northern Mexico and the Texas-Mexican border region, has become a hugely popular musical style in the U.S., particularly among Mexican immigrants. Featuring evocative songs about undocumented border-crossers, drug traffickers, and the plight of immigrant workers, música norteña has become the music of a “nation between nations.” Música Norteña is the first definitive history of this transnational music that has found enormous commercial success in norteamérica. Cathy Ragland, an ethnomusicologist and former music critic, serves up the fascinating fifty-year story of música norteña, enlivened by interviews with important musicians and her own first-hand observations of live musical performances.

New ImageSurviving Mexico’s Dirty War: A Political Prisoner’ s Memoir by Alberto Ulloa Bornemann

This is the first major, book-length memoir of a political prisoner from Mexico’s “dirty war” of the 1970s. Written with the urgency of a first-person narrative, it is a unique work, providing an inside story of guerrilla activities and a gripping tale of imprisonment and torture at the hands of the Mexican government.

Alberto Ulloa Bornemann was a young idealist when he dedicated himself to clandestine resistance and to assisting Lucio Cabañas, the guerrilla leader of the “Party of the Poor.” Here the author exposes readers to the day-to-day activities of revolutionary activists seeking to avoid discovery by government forces. After his capture, Ulloa Bornemann endured disappearance into a secret military jail and later abusive conditions in three civilian prisons.

Advertisements

Brazil Heads Toward 2018: Originalities and Tendencies

This week in North Philly Notes, Philip Evanson, co-author of Living in the Crossfire, pens a dispatch on Brazil’s anti-corruption campaign and next election.

Brazil’s ongoing investigations into corruption have been discussed with a certain sense of national pride, that they may offer something in the way of originality. The targets are white collar criminals in high places of government and the economy. Everybody knows there will be more revelations, arrests and indictments of political and business leaders that will continue to scandalize voter citizens. The judiciary remains diligently engaged in uncovering and prosecuting the guilty within the framework of law and established democratic institutions. It’s an effort to discover crime and punish the guilty carried through WITHOUT THE USE of exceptional powers of which there are few examples in history, certainly none in Brazilian history.

Are there other Brazilian originalities? President Michel Temer heads a conservative government that responds to wishes of entrepreneurial much more than labor groups. The former want more flexibility in hiring and laying off workers, outsourcing, etc. With Temer’s encouragement, the Brazilian congress revised parts of the 1943 Consolidation of Labor Laws (CLT). The CLT had acquired an almost sacrosanct status. Some of it is imbedded in the 1988 constitution. It served workers, employers and Brazil well during periods of economic growth, and economic turmoil. However, the Temer government now argued that changes were necessary, that the CLT needed to be modernized in order to satisfy domestic and foreign investors. It was necessary to break away from the bondage of bureaucracy and labor courts where workers bring thousands of suits each year against employers. Changes to the CLT enacted in 2017 were hailed with government fanfare. But there is also resistance to applying them led by labor court judges, lawyers practicing labor law, and labor law intellectuals. Labor law is a major area of Brazilian jurisprudence. The labor courts or Justiça do Trabalho are organized in a national system with regional tribunals. Critics of the changes argue that important principles protecting workers present in the constitution, obviously inspired by the CLT, cannot be modified by simple legislation. A new collective bargain agreement cannot leave workers worse off in benefits, working conditions, and salaries. Courts will be deciding these issues. A young Brazilian lawyer said to me, “No country has the kind of labor law and labor courts that we have.”

Layout 1Yet another originality, or at least unusual, is the system of election courts (tribuna eleitoral) which like labor courts are organized throughout the country in regional jurisdictions. There is a supreme court. In 2017, its members in sharply divided opinions voted 3 to 2 not to cancel the candidacy, and therefore of election of Michel Temer as Vice-President in 2014. Among the charges against him: Accepting illegal campaign contributions. While Temer survived, other executive branch office holders have not. In 2017, the judiciary has removed on average one mayor a week on charges of corruption.

Of corse, there are ways in which Brazil stands alone, or nearly alone in disrepute. Brazil has greater socio-economic inequality than any Latin American republic as measured in income distribution. The issue goes beyond Brazil’s standing in Latin America. Brazil belongs to a small group of countries that include Middle Eastern oil states, and the Union of S. Africa as examples of extreme inequality. New studies by both foreign and Brazilian researchers have focused on this issue, putting it in the spotlight of public discussion. One study compares bolsa familia or family grant program with investments in public education and asks how much each might reduce inequality. The conclusion: Both contribute, but investments in public education contribute more to reduce inequality. While the Temer government continues to proclaim its support for bolsa familia, it has cut support for education, and otherwise largely ignored mass anxieties. Another study by Irish economist Marc Morgan, a member of the Thomas Piketty, CAPITALISM IN THE 21ST CENTURY research group, produced the conclusion that if the annual income of the top 1% of the richest 10% of Brazilians, a group of 140,000 people, was reduced to that of the top 1% in France and Japan, and the money transferred to the poorest 50% of Brazilians, their income would nearly double. This is a striking demonstration of how low is the income of the bottom 50% of the population. The income of poor Brazilians, and for that matter a large portion of the Brazilian middle class is in fact very low both by world and Latin American standards. The income of the 80% of the Brazilian population below the top 20% is comparable to the poorest 20% in contemporary France. Low income helps explain why people in Rio de Janeiro are not riding a new Metro subway line in expected numbers. A preference for riding busses continues though surely not because the trip takes longer, and can be far less comfortable than the Metro. However, bus fare is R$3.60 while the Metro charges R$4.10 a ride. The difference is 50 centavos or about 16 cents which nonetheless represents an all-important difference for low income riders. Moving up to the richest 10% of Brazilian households does not mean immediately moving from low to high income. Entry into this group begins at 4,500 reais per month or about US$1,500.

The issue of high cost and low quality bus transportation remains a source of intense public dissatisfaction in many large Brazilian cities. Some of the blame can surely be placed on corrupt ties between bus owners and local politicians. The facts and dimension of this corruption are not fully known. However, a Federal police investigation in Rio de Janeiro—Operation Final Stop—culminated in August, 2017 with the announcement that R$500 million reais (about US$175 million) in bribes had been paid by bus owners to former governor Sérgio Cabral (in office from 2007 to 2013, but now serving a lengthy jail term for corruption) in exchange for higher fares, and other favors such as suppressing freelance van competition. However, bus riders are finally getting some relief. This discovery of large bribes paid by bus owners to politicians led to a judge to lower fares. The Federal police, a zealous army of young federal prosecutors, and a growing group of determined, well prepared judges are acting against white collar crime in an ever widening gyre of investigations, arrests, indictments and punishments.

Meanwhile, public security continues in a state of crisis in many areas of Brazil. I can attest to this in my Rio de Janeiro neighborhood of Leme. A Sunday in October saw an invasion of the nearby hillside favela of Babilonia by drug traffickers with a noisy exchange of gunfire. A group of Sunday visitors walking up the winding road of the nearby Duque de Caxias army base heard a soldier explain how the clearly audible gunfire was coming from both automatic rifles and hand guns. He added the army could stop the wars in the favelas in a week—there are conflicts in several of them between different drug gang factions–but the politicians won’t allow it. Too much money “esta rolando” or turning over. These are declarations the public is ready to hear and endorse.

Public security budgets have been cut since the great Brazilian recession of 2015. Gangsters or bandidos as Brazilians call them have been emboldened, and the police less and less able to respond. The violence often seems unchecked, and receives ample media coverage.  Public security has always been a leading issue on any list in which the public is polled. Brazil leads the world in number of homicides. The official count was 61,619 in 2016, and includes people murdered by the police. The crisis in public security more than any other issue will test the mettle of presidential candidates in the 2018 election.

As Brazilians approach 2018, they are processing new information about democracy and the rule of law under the socially progressive Constitution of 1988. Thirty or forty years ago, the leading issue was how to pay the tremendous social debt defined as raising the poor out of destitution and poverty. Now it is confronting white collar crime. There is consensus that the investigation and punishment of corrupt actors will continue. Otherwise what should be done, and is likely to shape the coming 2018 election ferment can be best observed by following the broad range of public and media discussion, and the actions of groups throughout Brazil ranging from landless rural and homeless urban workers to wealthy investors creating funds such as Vox Capital, a new fund with social impact ambitions led by Antônio Ermírio Moraes Neto, an heir to the Votorantim group, Brazil’s (and Latin America’s) largest industrial conglomerate. An example of Vox Capital funding is for production of a low cost respirator with easy maintenance requirements for ambulances and hospitals.  The idea of investing with social impacts in mind is said to be new in Brazil. A Brazilian banker explained: “In my 20 years in banking, I never had clients disposed to link the social with the financial.  They want to make money.” But Brazilians are always open to new ideas, and the appeal of the ethical is in ascendance.

Temple University Press is having a Back-to-School SALE!

TOP


SaleBOTTOM

Public Security: The Most Important Theme in Rio de Janeiro

In his second Olympic-themed blog entry, Philip Evanson, co-author of Living in the Crossfire, addresses the theme of public security in Rio during the Games.

Two term Rio de Janeiro Mayor Eduardo Paes, who has easily been the most interviewed and quoted public authority for the Rio Olympic games, has said more than once that public security is the most important theme in Rio de Janeiro. For Olympics organizers, a main question always has been will public security forces be able to control Rio de Janeiro’s rising street crime and newly emboldened gangs. A much less publicized question—How can anti-Olympics protesters be repressed without violating their human rights?—has already been answered: It can’t be done. The protesters demonstrate against what they view as public money misused on the Olympics because it is needed much more for health, education and various social programs. There are also protesters—some doubtlessly the same individuals—fighting against the impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff. They see impeachment now entering its final phase as a coup d’etat by her political party opponents against Brazilian social democracy. Not discussed at all in politically charged Brazil is the fear of sabotage by opponents of the Olympics or the government—such as setting fires in Olympic installations. All of the above are the various public security fears that must haunt an authority such as Minister of Justice Alexander de Moraes. Focused on Brazilian behavior which is what he knows best, Moraes has played down the possibility of foreign ISIL inspired terrorist attacks.

In the lead up to the Olympic games, public security preparations were usually discussed as numbers of police and of funding them. Taking the lead in providing security is the state of Rio with more than 30,000 police available for Olympic duties. However, for most of 2016, the state of Rio has been broke. On June 17, 81 year old vice-governor and economist Francisco Dornelles—acting in the place of Governor Luis Fernando Pezão then undergoing treatment for lymphoma—rattled Olympic organizers when he declared that Rio de Janeiro was in a “state of public calamity.” It was the first time in Brazilian history this designation had been used to describe anything other than a natural disaster. An immediate effect was the return of 50,000 Olympic event tickets. Dornelles also took experts in public administration by surprise. They questioned whether a “state of public calamity” could be applied to a fiscal collapse. But the wily acting governor, a veteran of 30 years of political combat in Rio de Janeiro, got what he wanted. He activated an immediate transfer of 2.9 billion reais, about 900 million dollars at the current exchange rate, from the federal government to Rio de Janeiro. The money was to help strengthen public security at a time when state police forces more and more appeared not up to the job protecting the people of Rio, the athletes, and the half million tourists expected for the Olympics. The transfer meant police and other public service professionals including teachers and health workers could expect to receive their salaries. One or more local gangs took notice and responded by hijacking a truck transporting containers just arrived from Europe. The containers carried the equipment of two German TV networks for transmitting the Olympic games. The truck was later abandoned. The containers had not been opened, and the valuable equipment was untouched and safe. But the gangsters served notice that they had interests of their own. Following this show of strength, some arrangement might be expected whereby organized crime groups will play a part in keeping Rio de Janeiro safe during the Olympics. Retail and wholesale drug trafficking no doubt continues with little interference. Brazil ranks second on the list of countries in consumption of cocaine, and Rio de Janeiro is a major port for the export of cocaine to Africa and Europe.

The police began to receive back salaries dating to May. Still, on July 4, the civil police staged an event at Rio’s international airport when they received passengers with  “Welcome to Hell” English language banners, and with stuffed figures of dead, bloodied police spread on a terminal floor. The message: Police would not die for Rio if they were not being paid. An exasperated Eduardo Paes viewed the spectacle as yet one more public relations disaster. He went on CNN and in an English-language interview pronounced Rio’s public security “Horrible.” He blamed the police, and the Rio state government. He insisted the city government of Rio had nothing to do with public security which is a state responsibility. But he also knew help was on the way. The next day Mayor Paes welcomed the arrival of federal armed forces, federal police, and soldiers of the National Security Force. Together with state police, they are now conspicuously present in order to discourage crime, and reassure visitors that Rio de Janeiro is a safe haven. Accordingly, 51,000 members of security forces have been deployed in metropolitan Rio. 22,000 members of the armed forces and federal police are assigned to protect the Olympic installations, the routes and public transportation taking people to and from the games, and the Tom Jobim international airport. With security apparently well in hand, a much subdued Paes declared on July 5th that the Olympics would surely be a tremendous success and leave a positive legacy for the city of Rio.

Layout 1This optimism lasted a little over two weeks. The evening of July 21 brought news that police were arresting 13 homegrown ISIS inspired would-be terrorists. All were self-indoctrinated converts to Islam. They communicated with each other via social media. Calling themselves “Defenders of Sharia,” they pledged allegiance to ISIS as virtual acts on the internet. One suspect was said to have tried to buy weapons in Paraguay.   Minister of Justice Moraes said the individuals were clearly amateurs, and in the early stage of planning something.

The arrests and revelations clearly added to public uneasiness in Rio de Janeiro, and mobilized authorities. Would Brazilian security forces be up to the job of thwarting one or more terrorist attacks? There was skepticism as can well be imagined. But people soon learned that the project of thwarting had become internationalized. Other countries, including the United States, France, Israel and Russia with their more experienced intelligence services were present for the Olympics and working with Brazilians which brought reassurance. Intelligence and other security agents—no doubt feeling their backs to the wall after all the recent terrorist attacks in different countries—seem absolutely determined to stop terrorists at the Olympics, be they a Brazilian home grown variety, or foreigners infiltrated into Olympic crowds and groups of tourists. It’s them against us. In this spirit of providing safety, wherever crowds of people gather in Rio, there are substantial numbers of well-armed police or other security forces reinforced by plainclothes agents.

Many people in Brazil and elsewhere no doubt believe that terrorist acts cannot be stopped entirely. The Rio Olympics offer a chance to show otherwise at least for a moment when several billion people around the world are watching the games on TV.  Minister of Justice Moraes has lately declared “minimal” and “approaching zero” the probability of a terrorist attack.

Brazilian Blues: Operation Carwash, The Oligarchs Strike Back

This week in North Philly Notes, Philip Evanson, co-author of Living in the Crossfire files another report from Brazil. 

The political crisis in Brazil has reached a climacteric. The oligarchs of the Brazilian congress came out from behind the scenes for all the world to see. The chiefs or caciques can no longer tolerate the “Carwash” investigations as they are being conducted. They see these investigations of venal politicians, with no one too prominent to be excluded, leading remorselessly to criminal charges, arrests, trials, and loss of political rights. One leader after another has been investigated and exposed to public scrutiny. Deeply wounded, they decided to have a go at trying to stop them. In fact, this was the plan from the beginning of the impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff in which Vice President Michel Temer was a central player as he saw friends and colleagues of many years being investigated and showing signs of crumbling under the pressure.

Layout 1First, Dilma had to be removed. She refused to use executive branch power to interfere in the investigations. Temer supported the impeachment, then as acting president he joined the effort to stop further investigations as least as currently practiced. When two ministers in his newly formed government were caught in phone taps plotting to obstruct justice, there was an enormous public outcry. Temer reluctantly bowed to it. He accepted their resignations, though his preference was to maintain them in their posts.

Then on Monday, June 6, Henrique Alves, Minister of Tourism was accused of corruption by Rodrigo Janot,  Prosecutor-General of the Republic (Procurador-Geral da Republica). This time Temer balked. He decided to keep Alves on the grounds that the accusations were old, that nothing new had been presented. The next day, Tuesday, June 7, Janot asked the Federal Supreme Court to order the arrest of former President José Sarney, Senate President Renan Calheiros, suspended Chamber of Deputies President Eduardo Cunha and Senator Romero Jucá for obstruction of justice in the Carwash investigations. The Federal Supreme Court has to decide whether to order the arrests since under the 1988 Constitution members of Congress, Ministers of State, the Pres and VP are all judged in the first instance by the Federal Supreme Court, a disposition which incidentally puts an intolerable burden on the Court.

Senate President Renan Calheiros quickly spoke up for the accused: “We ought not to worry ourselves about excesses committed against us.” What do the oligarchs want?   First, a different approach to plea bargains. The bargains are now made with individuals under arrest and sitting in jail. If they agree to a plea bargain, they get released. If not, they stay in jail. The change would require that bargains not be made with imprisoned persons. Such bargains have the quality of being coerced, and can be seen as examples of (light) torture. Second, that a new policy of leniency be extended to individuals who have been charged allowing them perhaps to plead guilty, cooperate, pay fines. Will they serve jail terms? If so, under what conditions and for how long? Will they lose their political rights, that is to hold elective office?  If so, and for how long?  These changes would complement the process already underway of making accords with representatives of big construction firms who paid bribes or “tips” (propinas) to politicians or political operatives, then recovered the money in overpriced government contracts. Under the accords, a firm would pay a fine for breaking the law, perhaps also their executives. The firm would then be allowed to resume signing government contracts in order to get on with the immense tasks of building Brazil’s infrastructure up to the level of a developed country.

More important than the fate of a politicians accused of various corrupt practices is the risk posed by impeachment to Brazil’s democratic institutions still undergoing the process of consolidation, and to social advances under the PT (Partido dos Trabalhadores or Workers Party) governments of Presidents Lula, and Dilma Rousseff since 2003. In a June 4th interview published online in the Mexican daily La Jornada,  writer and activist Leonardo Boff, member of the Franciscan order from 1959 to 1992 and a leading producer of liberation theology, remembered that 36 million Brazilians had risen out of poverty into the middle class during the Lula and Dilma presidencies. He pointed out that Brazil was also the country with the greatest number of popular organizations, and that they could stop the country from one day to the next. Earlier in March at the outset of the impeachment process, Boff had called on former president Lula in effect to return to active duty and assume leadership in saving Dilma’s mandate in order to preserve the social advances. In the June 4th interview, he alluded to the possibility of violence if members of popular organizations were provoked or humiliated. Acting President Temer has repeatedly said he plans no assault on social programs.

The fear of popular violence needs to be set beside the fact that mass political protests in all the large Brazilian cities in 2015 and 2016 have been peaceful, not violent. No one has been killed, and property has been almost always respected. The same can be said, with certain exceptions, of the mass protests of 2013. It is true that the MST (Landless Workers Movement) and its urban affiliate MTST (Homeless Workers Movement) are large militant popular organizations. Lula has referred to the MST as the army of its leader João Pedro Stedile. However, Stedile is a greatly respected leader and intellectual of the social democratic Left, and he does not preach or threaten to use violence. The MST and its causes continue to be supported by the Catholic Church. Also, the MST has always kept its independence. It was never an annex of the PT. Lula himself largely abandoned the popular organizations as President. He preferred to work through the political system with governors and mayors, getting resources to them, even when they were his political opponents. Experts called this the politics of “governability.” Lula’s explanation was somewhat different. He said he did not care about his opponents, but he did care about the people they governed who needed money from the federal government. Under Lula, Rio de Janeiro for example received more money from the federal government than ever before even though Cesar Maia, the mayor of Rio was a political opponent, and used his blog to criticize Lula regularly.

The Brazilian elite is viewed by its critics as unable to accept the new and higher status attained by blacks, mulattos, and the poor, and also that a former auto worker (Lula) and woman (Dilma) have twice each been elected president. The presumed inability to accept these new developments is sometimes referred to as an example of upper class hatred for their social inferiors, and various expressions of disdain and worse aimed at the PT, its government, Lula and Dilma can be treated as class conflict. At the same time, the programs to reduce poverty were put in place without any noticeable political opposition expressed in debate or Congressional votes. The Law of Social Quotas of 2013 was affirmative action that reserved half the seats in public universities for public school graduates, blacks and native indigenous Brazilians. It passed the Senate with only one vote against out of 81. Earlier in 2004, the Supreme Court unanimously upheld the constitutionality of racial quotas. Such actions suggest a politics not of hatred, but of ethical consensus to end poverty, and confront social class and race discrimination. In Brazil where the study of law is a serious, much practiced endeavor, these laws have been milestones in advances toward citizen equality before the law.

At present, Michel Temer himself and his government have little credibility. There is a chance that Dilma will not be found guilty as charged by the Senate and restored as President. But Temer is in power as acting president, and has come with a neo-liberal agenda to replace the social democratic  agenda of Lula, Dilma and the PT. Neo-liberalism was prominent in the two terms of Lula’s predecessor President Fernando Henrique Cardoso (1995-2002). A neo-liberal agenda means less government involvement in advancing a social agenda that favors low wage earners. It also means greater internationalization or openness of the economy, and reducing the state’s entrepreneurial role. The process of trying to implement this agenda began quickly. On assuming his task, Ricardo Barros the new Minister of Health announced  that “some universal rights guaranteed by the Constitution will have to be rethought.” He identified one as the universal right to health care under SUS or the United Health System. Not everyone enrolled could receive medical attention. Barros pleaded insufficient resources, arguing that Brazil had fallen into a situation comparable to bankrupt Greece. This seems a curiously inapt comparison considering the relative sizes of the respective Brazilian and Greek economies and populations, also the higher standard of living prevailing in Greece, and the far greater need to extend, not retract health care in Brazil. The public has been demanding greater access to better health care, a demand emphatically expressed in the mass protests of 2013. In labor law, the Boff interview referred to certain changes favored by the Temer government such as negotiations between unions and employers to change some work place rules and benefits in the name of increasing productivity. Executives of foreign firm executives are said to have expressed exasperation with what they regard as excessively bureaucratic rules for the workplace. The new government is anxious to appease them and attract foreign capital. However, Dilma Rousseff’s government  was considering similar changes, but set them aside as too ambitious at a time of  economic (the great Brazilian recession now in its third year) and political (the crisis of impeachment) turmoil. Temer is also said to want to restore the right of foreigners to buy land in Brazil which Dilma prohibited in 2010 fearing a large scale Chinese entry into commercial agriculture and stock raising. Also announced are further privatizations of state owned enterprises. Privatization has always been a key policy of neo-liberal economics, much favored by former president Cardoso, but resisted by Lula, Dilma and the PT. Finally, foreign policy is being reoriented in favor of more commercial agreements with Europe, and less integration with South American countries, such integration now labeled the partisan policy of a political party (the PT).

Unlike the l990’s, a neo-liberal program in 2016 seems suddenly antiquated, having fallen out of favor even perhaps at the International Monetary Fund which had presided over its creation. Christine Legarde, IMF General Director since 2010, noted the great boom in commodities of the first decade of the 21st century, having come to an end, would not return soon, perhaps never. Today’s IMF economists now admit that the benefits of neo-liberalism may have been oversold. The governments of Lula and Dilma never bought the neo-liberal package of policies, and neo-liberalism is now strongly questioned even in the United States as illustrated in the 2016 presidential primary elections. There may have been a neo-liberal heyday, but trying to resuscitate it in 2016 undermines even more the credibility of the Temer government. However, Leonardo Boff may be allowed the last word. He expects the solution to Brazil’s political crisis “will come from the street.” On June 10, there were anti-government protests in 24 cities. As of this writing, acting President Temer is under siege and cancelling public appearances.

%d bloggers like this: